Wild Thyme, Green Magic: Cagey heroes & exotic locales

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book review Jack Vance Wild Thyme, Green MagicWild Thyme, Green Magic by Jack Vance

I’m a big fan of Jack Vance’s wild imagination and his “high-end” writing style (his description, as I learned in this book). So, I was happy to get a copy of Wild Thyme, Green Magic, an assortment of his fantasy and science fiction tales which have previously been published in several SFF magazines and have now been compiled and edited by Terry Dowling and Jonathan Strahan and published by Subterranean Press. Wild Thyme, Green Magic also includes several informative excerpts of a 1986 interview with Mr. Vance and a couple of short bios written by Norma Vance, Jack’s wife.

Of the 12 stories (one is really just a glorified outline), I was completely tickled, enraptured, beguiled, or otherwise delighted by 8 of them. (None of them are bad — all have their entertaining moments.) Most of the tales star one of Jack Vance’s intelligent and capable heroes, which is one of the reasons I like his stories so well: his heroes don’t whine, do stupid things without cause, or get out-smarted by bad guys. Many of them have bad morals and ethics, but they are not witless, lazy, or incompetent. (And they usually have cool names like “Magnus Ridolph.”)

However, some of them are so self-righteous and snooty as to become obnoxious, and I found this to be the case with Alice, heroine of the first short, “Assault on a City,” a story about the dangers of “subjectivity” and “over-civilization.” While I appreciate, and even agree with, Mr. Vance’s position, I felt that in this story he abandoned his usually subtle social satire in favor of a heavy-handed harangue.

The second story, “Green Magic” is a fantasy about boredom, knowledge, and the possibility that ignorance is bliss. I particularly liked this one for its imaginative elements. Next is “The World-Thinker,” Vance’s first published story. It’s quintessential Vance — exotic locales, strange creatures, bizarre ideas — and better than the first two stories. “The Augmented Agent” and “Coup De Grace” are amusing sci-fi adventures with very clever heroes.

“Chateau d’ If” was the longest story in the collection and, fortunately, the best. It was about a group of bored young men who decide to pay a lot of money to have an unknown adventure. I would have enjoyed reading an entire novel based on this short. It was quirky, creepy, intense, humorous, wonderful. The next story, “The Potters of Firsk,” was particularly entertaining because, as explained in Dowling and Strahan’s introduction, it concerned Jack and Norma Vance’s love of the art and science of ceramics.

“The Seventeen Virgins” was another favorite of mine and stars the familiar Cugel the Clever, an immoral and rascally rogue. He gets up to some pretty hilarious tricks in this adventure which begins and ends with him evading pursuit. Cugel reminds me that Jack Vance doesn’t just tell us that his heroes are clever — he shows us their clever (and usually amusing) deeds.

“Ullward’s Retreat” was another social satire that was just too heavy-handed for me. “Seven Exits from Bocz” was a very short, disturbing, and fascinating piece about revenge.

“Wild Thyme and Violets” is an outline of a story that, to me, didn’t feel like Jack Vance. Perhaps that’s because it wasn’t fleshed out in his usual style, or perhaps it’s because it didn’t have an identifiable Vance-type hero (except for maybe Mersile the mountebank who makes only a brief appearance), but this piece is included as an example of how Vance went about the logistics of writing, so it’s interesting for that reason alone.

I had a hard time getting into the last story — “Rumfuddle” — because it was so angsty, but once the premise was explained at the end, I thought it was clever. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel that way until the end.

I recommend Wild Thyme, Green Magic to any Jack Vance fan — you’ll enjoy this collection of typical Vance stories: cagey heroes (some of them already familiar), exotic locales (again, some familiar), high adventure, grand and sometimes bewildering ideas, sarcasm, irony, and occasional ten-dollar words. If you’re not yet a Jack Vance fan, here’s a good collection to get you on your way. I suggest starting with “Chateau d’ If,” “The Seventeen Virgins,” and “The World-Thinker.” If you don’t find those stories highly entertaining, there’s probably no hope for you.

Wild Thyme, Green Magic — (2009) Publisher: When Jack Vance decided to become a writer, a million-word-a-year man as he put it so pragmatically at the time, he also gave fantastic literature one of its most cherished and distinctive voices. Though primarily a novelist throughout his long and distinguished career, this Hugo, Nebula, Edgar and World Fantasy Award-winning Grand Master also produced many short and mid-length works. Wild Thyme, Green Magic collects an alien’s handful of these wondrous tales, among them the author’s first-ever sale, The World-Thinker, the unforgettable Chateau D If, the stylish Green Magic, the macabre, gothic Seven Exits from Bocz, and The Seventeen Virgins, a rousing adventure with Cugel the Clever set in the author s acclaimed far-future Dying Earth.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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