The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

June 4, 2005 at 12:00 am | Posted in 4 stars, Book Reviews, Science Fiction | Leave a comment

This is the first book I had read by Jack Vance, but I was familiar with his reputation as the favorite author of some people whose opinion I really respect (Gene Wolfe, Michael Dirda). I didn’t really know what to expect given the generic fantasy title and cover art. I certainly didn’t expect what I got, which was a very subtle and clever science fiction story that made use of bio-engineering in a way I would consider impressive in a current work. And it’s from 1962. The portrayal of alien thought process was also absolutely top-notch.

Basically, the story is everything people claim the Asimov/Clarke Golden Age was, but wasn’t actually. Sure, those stories were inventive, but the invention often didn’t age well. The wooden dialogue and clunky prose seems hopelessly awkward now. On the evidence of this story, Vance was five times the writer that Asimov and Clarke were in terms of mechanics and at least their equal when it came to invention. I recommend it highly. My copy includes a novella called “The Last Castle” which is almost up to the same standard.

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