Jul 5, 2014

Escape from a Bitchy Obitus

cover art of the DAW edition
Can Ghyl escape?
I've previously commented on the rather gloomy and dismal setting of Emphyrio. In this science fiction story by Jack Vance, we tag along with Ghyl as he grows up on the planet Halma and discovers that his people are economic slaves of alien masters.

According to John Dolan, there is only "one truly sad Vance novel": Emphyrio. In the legends of Halma, Emphyrio is a long-dead hero who resisted an alien invasion and for his trouble he ended up having a spike driven through his head. Nothing is quite as it seems to be in Ghyl's world, and he must rediscover the lost and obscured history of his people's past.

I read this story in the format of the DAW paperback shown to the right. That's poor Ghyl about to get run over. Vance often seemed to have fun with the pulp fiction plot device of introducing a horrible and complex way of killing the hero, fortunately so complex that it might not actually work.

The Killing Machine
On the planet Halma, if you are a convicted criminal you might find yourself exiled to the country next door, only to discover that rival "nation" is very small, no bigger than a small stony courtyard. Worse still, periodically a set of grinding wheels roll the length of that courtyard, flattening out all residents.

In Vance's Alastor Cluster novel, Trullion, the mentor Akadie is awaiting "justice" and fearing that he fill be executed upon the prutanshyr along with a gang of pirates. However, it is his lucky day and the executioner's machinery jams. "Sixty-two pirates to be killed, and yesterday the thing managed to grind asunder only a single man." Glinnes shows up and is able to spring Akadie from jail, revealing that he had been imprisoned on the basis of false claims by the scheming Lord Gensifer.

Kedidah the sexivationist
In both Wyst and Araminta Station, Vance depicted entire industries grown up around suicide. In Wyst, the lovely Kedidah is seduced into a stint as sheirl for the Ephthalotes. Her pathetic adventures in sexivation end with the team's loss and her being defiled by a mechanical demon. She slinks off to the Pier of Departure in Disjerferact and loses herself in the golden prisms of Halcyon House.

However, in Emphyrio, Vance allows us to escape the dismal tone of the story's beginning when Ghyl escapes from his killing machine and goes on to liberate his people.

A Bitchy Obitus
I was rather startled by the tone of Dolan's obituary for Jack Vance. I'm particularly surprised by the suggestion that Emphyrio was written for "his son, the one person he seems to have loved". As far as I can tell, his wife Norma was Vance's loving muse and partner through his entire writing career.

More Cover Art
Through the years, I've seen some strange cover art for Emphyrio, perhaps none more shocking than the dance scene shown to the left.

Yes, within the story, Ghyl does attend a dance, but this seems like a strange scene to select for the cover. This ballroom cover art makes it look like Emphyrio is a Broadway musical!

Recently I've seen new cover art for some foreign language books such as  Emphyrio et autres romans.

I like the alien-looking creature that appears in this cover art (image to the right).

The guy with the gun on his shoulder (shown to the left) seems out of place and does not adequately transport us into an alien setting.

Thank you, Jack, for so many great stories where the aliens lurk for so long, just off stage...and there is always the young hero who will defend us.....

"To me it seems to be important to believe people to be good even if they tend to be bad, because your own joy and happiness in life is increased that way, and the pleasures of the belief outweigh the occasional disappointments. To be a cynic about people works just the other way around and makes you incapable about enjoying the good things."  -Isaac Asimov

A reader of the Exode Trilogy might wonder if we humans are nothing but slaves to the alien Huaoshy. As discussed in my next blog post, although we can rightfully think of the Huaoshy as having created the human species, the aliens are rather indifferent towards we Earthlings.

As shown in the image to the left, I like to poke fun at the idea that Huaoshy and their robot-like pek might come to Earth and enslave humans for some mundane purpose like mining gold.

The Exode Saga (image credits)
However, I have no interest in "alien invasion" stories beyond the fact that readers might, because of their long exposure to the alien invasion literature, wonder about the motives of the pek.

I bundle up this human tendency towards xenophobia and put it right into Exode, allowing Parthney's handlers at Lenhalen to fret endlessly about the fate of we Earthlings.

Related reading: a quick summary of Emphyrio
more covers

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