The Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance

June 23, 2005 at 12:00 am | Posted in 3 stars, Book Reviews, Science Fiction | Leave a comment

Unlike The Dying Earth which takes place in the same world, The Eyes of the Overworld is a novel and not a short story collection, but it is easy to forgive the reader for suspecting otherwise. Like many writers in science fiction’s short story era, Vance has here written a novel whose structure can be described as profoundly episodic. There is, from what I can tell, a little more going on under the hood here than in Dying Earth…the setting remains impressive, the writing remains strong, and now there are some real ideas worth considering, starting with the objects named in the title. Unfortunately, whatever gains this helped the book make in my mind were erased by my distaste for the character. There’s nothing wrong with antiheroes on the face of it, I suppose, but making the reader like a book but hate the protagonist is a difficult task for any author. It is also a device unsuited for an episodic story, in my opinion.

Of course, a cursory search of the Internet will reveal many people who are huge fans of this book and its main character. It’s not worth going into spoilers to discuss it in detail, but suffice to say I was not won over. Ultimately, this is the sort of book which justifies the existence of the word “picaresque”. Don’t worry if you don’t know what that means (“depicting in realistic, often humorous detail the adventures of a roguish hero of low social degree living by his or her wits in a corrupt society”)…picaresque stories are so out of style that the word has for the most part fallen into disuse. I suppose I am nothing if not a product of my culture, since I feel like they are out of style for a reason. Recommended only for those who have especially liked Vance’s other work.

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