Jack Vance is my favorite author, so another collection of Vance’s works by Subterranean Press is a welcome treat! Dream Castles: The Early Jack Vance Volume Two, edited and lovingly introduced by Terry Dowling and Jonathan Strahan, collects ten of Vance’s works:
- “The Dogtown Tourist Agency” (originally published in Epoch, 1975) — Miro Hetzel, a private investigator whose “fees are calculated subjectively,” goes to the planet Maz to discover how a client’s competition is creating a better but less expensive product. While there, he gets caught up in the doings of a couple of strange alien cultures.
- “Freitzke’s Turn” (Triax: Three Original Novellas, 1977) — Another Miro Hetzel SF mystery set in the Gaean Reach. This time Miro must track down the outrageously pompous villain Dr. Faurence Dacre, who got revenge on the man who married his girlfriend by… oh, I can’t tell you. It’s just so wonderfully hilarious that you must find out for yourself.
- “Dream Castle” (Astounding Science Fiction, 1947) — After getting fired because he tried to save his clients money, a builder starts his own company and decides to steal his former employer’s customers by offering them something even better.
- “Golden Girl” (Marvel Science Stories, 1951) — This is a sad story about the loneliness of exile. Like Robinson Crusoe, but with an alien as the protagonist.
- “Sulwen’s Planet” (The Farthest Reaches, 1968) — Two distinguished and arrogant linguists fight over the discoveries to be found on crashed alien spaceships.
- “Cholwell’s Chickens” (Thrilling wonder Stories, 1952) — A bored rich young woman who was abandoned in a tavern on a far-off planet decides to go back and find out who her parents were. After a few days of investigation, she discovers that she does indeed have some family, but they’re not anything like what she was expecting. This was a bizarre little story with some fun twists, and one of my favorites in the collection. Most of Vance’s protagonists are men, so a female is a nice change of pace in this story.
- “A Practical Man’s Guide” (Space Science Fiction Magazine, 1957) — Ralph Banks is a practical man who edits a practical magazine. He’s very good at sorting through all the letters he gets and sifting out the crackpots’ ideas. But he just can’t help but try out the latest one that crosses his desk. “A Practical Man’s Guide” is short and amusing.
- “The Narrow Land” (Fantastic Science Fiction Fantasy, 1967) — Here Vance develops a strange world with an amphibious alien race. This is the story of how the alien Ern become conscious, fights to survive in the world he was born into, discovers the history of his race, and plans for its future. Really nice world-building.
- “The Enchanted Princess” (Orbit Science Fiction, 1954) — A film producer becomes obsessed with the vibrant princess he sees in a movie and the blind girl at he meets at a children’s clinic. Could they be the same person? I liked the ideas in this story.
- “Son of the Tree” (Thrilling Wonder Stories, 1951) — Joe Smith is working his way across the universe in search of the man who his girlfriend is obsessed with. As he’s closing in on him, he gets stuck on a planet of peaceful Druids who worship a very big tree. Things get funny when the Druids try to export their culture to a neighboring planet of warriors.
Each of these stories feels very much like Jack Vance — clever and competent protagonists, bizarre alien races, sparse and witty dialogue, a lofty but frugal writing style. I enjoyed most of them for this reason.
If you’re new to Jack Vance, Dream Castles isn’t a bad place to start, but it isn’t the best place either. These stories are entertaining, but they hardly begin to reach the heights that Vance can attain. It’s like starting off for the top of the mountain and deciding to stop halfway up. This isn’t Jack Vance’s best work, but even so, mediocre Vance is something to be admired. Fans who don’t own these stories in another collection will definitely want to read these. The best ones are “Freitzke’s Turn,” “Cholwell’s Chickens,” “The Enchanted Princess” and “Son of the Tree.”