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Jack Vance: Night Lamp

Another Vance novel — I guess I’ve read over twenty by now —and it pretty much goes according to formula, but hey, I love the formula. An adventurous young man has to achieve his destiny by overcoming a smattering of obstacles on various worlds spanning the galaxy, each of which has some charmingly odd culture and people who love to haggle.

Night Lamp was published in 1996, so it’s pretty late Vance, and it feels kind of loose (not that his novels are ever particularly tight), but everything does pretty much fit together in the end. Around a quarter of the way through, I was thinking, “Hey, this is really good, I wonder if this would be a good recommendation for newcomers to Vance.” But then things slow down a little as the focus shifts to the reminiscences of a second character, and I felt that the pace never quite recovered. In addition, a new plot element (which, to be fair, had been hinted at earlier) popped up literally 90% of the way through the book, mostly just made me feel uncomfortable for the characters involved, and was then resolved in a completely unsatisfying manner. That left a weird taste, and the book was already a bit overlong (close to 400 pages) anyway. So overall I’m not going to put this up there with his best. If you’re not a Vance fan there are better places to start, and if you are you’ll probably read it anyway, and still get some enjoyment out of it. And how many books have as a major plot point a quest to become a member of the exclusive social club the Clam Muffins?*