I’ve been accumulating so many reading materials of late that I had resolved to take a breather before buying anything else. I don’t think that’s going to hold, unfortunately.
Despite having only just finished reading my second Vance story, I think I may be a fanboy now. There’s something I find truly engrossing about his work. Even with those long chapter introductions that I’m not always a fan of, the skill with which he builds his worlds is amazing to me.
There are some writers (Herbert with Dune stands out to me) who don’t seem to make up their worlds; rather they gradually reveal them to the you, as if these were real places and people. Everything fits together and feels organic. It is just believable. Doesn’t always happen for me these days with modern writers, so I’m glad to be discovering these old greats.
I was recently part of a Twitter scrum in which Asimov came up. There were some strong opinions expressed.
This conversation, along with some similar threads out there in the blogosphere, led me to realize another commonality among some of my favorite scifi authors (among which I would count both Vance and Asimov).
It’s been posited that Asimov fell under a Hemingwaysian influence – that is, he became very frugal and spartan with his word usage. I did notice that in the past, though I didn’t make the connection to Hemingway. I would brazenly assert, however, that such a characteristic isn’t all that dissimilar from the style of Jack Vance, once you delve beneath the surface. Vance doesn’t skimp on his descriptors, but I haven’t felt like he overdoes it with unnecessarily long or drawn-out blocks of text. I would say that what I like about these writers is their sense of word economy. In a technical sense, this means no awkward or bumbling phrases or sentences. No glaringly unneeded words. But beyond this, it means they employed the language to achieve their desired effect. For Vance, this may mean a few beautiful and well-flourished sentences painting the image of a haunting alien world. For Asimov, it may be that his focus is entirely on captivating dialogue and intrigue; he illustrates the very basics of a scene and leaves the reader’s imagination to color in the details. Two very different but masterful manipulations of language to tell a story, and neither goes beyond what they deem necessary to convey the essence of his tale.
Star King, the first book in the Demon Princes series, lays the foundation for a very simply-premised revenge story. In Kirth Gersen, we get one of those almost-Gary Stu protagonists that I’ve waxed about – deadly, intelligent, brave, but not invincible. We see him outmaneuvered at times, and we also see him struggle with the ladies. But he’s a winner; he perseveres, and though he can be a little bit of a bastard, he tries to follow his moral compass, meting out cold vengeance upon the wicked and sparing whatever compassion he can for innocents caught up in his orbit.
Vance also did well marrying the scifi and hardboiled detective genres. Gersen does some solid sleuthing without seeming unreasonably lucky or brilliant, and we’re provided some building suspense as he tries to pick out the villain that’s right under his nose.
Next up on the docket is the second Witcher book, but I’ll be back to the Demon Princes soon. The first entry was a great story, even as a standalone. I’ll be tracking down the sequels.