Wealhtheow's Reviews > Emphyrio

Emphyrio by Jack Vance
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Apr 05, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: grand-masters, sci-fi

Far in the future, young Ghyl rebels against the system that would have him carve wood his whole life, without hope of luxury or travel. He is raised by his thoughtful, brave, but slightly unworldly father. His father teaches him to read archaic script, including the ancient covenant of their world and the legend of Emphyrio. Inspired, Ghyl first tries to run for mayor, (view spoiler)

I read this in the same spirit as a child eating their vegetables. I've never yet enjoyed "classic" sf (a category in which I throw Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, etc), but I feel like I ought to read it in order to properly understand and appreciate the genre. The Worlds Without End Grand Masters Challenge provided the prod to do so. It was better than much of the trashy fantasy I read, but not by much. Although ostensibly sf, the tech obeys no physical laws--Ghyl never worries about running out of spaceship fuel, nor is there any explanation for how any of the tech works, and the alien construct creatures make no logical sense. The childhood of Ghyl is described in interminable detail, to no point I could discern. The dialog is stilted and unbelievable, like a mix of Dostoyevsky-translated-into-English and Socratic dialogs. Ghyl has the same vocabulary and thoughts as a nine-year-old as he does as an adult. He is a bit of a cypher; the other characters have even less personality. And the plot just doesn't make sense. BUT. The female characters are not treated any differently than the male by the author (although they do still follow 20th century roles, and are only present in the story as love-interests). Some effort was clearly put into the world-building; certain details are very vivid.

To my mind, this book would have been much better if it had been either been much shorter or a bit longer. As a novel, the pacing is very ragged: we spend chapter upon chapter watching Ghyl grow up, and then no time at all (view spoiler) Alternately, if every part of the story was as rushed as the climax, the first half wouldn't be so out-of-place and boring.

I don't intend to read any more by Vance--but I don't regret reading this. It's got at least a few ideas to it, and the descriptive text (if not the dialog) are good.
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