Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Jack Vance Offers a Little Salt with my Words

Reading Jack Vance's Emphyrio at the moment. I have to say that, against my own expectations regarding my previous experiences of Mr Vance, I'm really enjoying it. It's probably something to do with the weird future culture he's created. But then I love the kind of 'lots of inferences' baroque sci-fi typified by Frank Herbert's Eye collection, Zelazny's Lord of Light (read right before I started in on Emphyrio) or Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality stories.

Unlike the Dying Earth stories I really get a sense of depth and scale in the back story of Emphyrio. I think it was Bruce Sterling who - after Arthur C. Clarke - called this kind of thing the 'unwritten book' of the author's research and world building. You never actually see the stuff in the unwritten book (by definition), but you can certainly infer its existence from the content and style of the written book.

So, yeah. Vance. I'll be cooking me some humble pie then...

In other news:
  • Batting about some ideas about polearms and Babylonia recently. Hopefully the grogosphere hivemind won't pip me at the post on these.
  • Giant centipedes don't get enough love. They need a random table of their own they do. I shall see that this injustice against our shoe-bankrupted insectile friends is rectified!
  • Currently looting the One Page Dungeon competition pdfs for all they're worth. There's more delicious braincustard in there than you can waggle a serving spoon at.
  • Percentile thief skills make no sense in a game where almost nothing else uses %ages. Dyson Logos has given me much food for thought...
  • The Octopus class by Amityville Mike (he's quite mad you know) is now canon for the Vaults game


  1. Another book by Vance with great worldbuilding is "Alastor", especially the first novella.

    Not in the sense of conveying a great depth of history, but more in the sense that all aspects of the society described "click together", making it oddly convincing despite its strangeness.

  2. @anon: cheers for the pointer. I'll have to look that one up.

  3. If you're into sci-fi, try the "Demon Princes" series. You will find no lack of deep world-building there - Vance invents whole planetary cultures and historys, sometimes merely for a single page of the story.

    For fantasy, the "Lyonesse" trilogy.

    "The Dying Earth" setting was supposed to be shallow; merely a stage for his sardonic humor. :D


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