Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Veggie Books: Lyonesse

I finished the mighty tome of Lyonesse novels, and yes, I admit it, Jack Vance is brilliant. I particularly enjoyed the female characters who weren't in the least bit keen on being saved by anybody. Madouc in particular reminded me of The Paper Bag Princess*. She's going on her own quests and is going to get her own answers. I loved her, and the final book in the trilogy in particular.

There's really no element that's weak about the books. I didn't always follow where the characters were off to, geographically speaking, but I think that's a personal fault of mine. I'm really rubbish at computing that kind of information, but it didn't stop my enjoyment of the novels. The dialogue and the descriptive writing are also excellent throughout. How unusual it is to find a fantasy trilogy that's not falling down somewherew in the writing. How terrible it is to have to say that. How come we're happy to accept lazy writing in fantasy, with all those stereotypical relationships and long-winded paragraphs? Hm. Anyhoo, that's for another discussion. What I'm really interested in is, of course, the vegetable situation.

I pleased to report there are lots of vegetables to choose from. And fruit. And bread and meat, and ale. The food is nicely covered throughout, and most of the time ended up making me hungry. Like the section below, where the innkeeper Dildahl is trying to get his guests to eat the fish on the menu because he can then charge an exorbitant price for it:

'I can offer a succulent pie of crayfish tails, or a brace of fine brown trout, at their prime, sizzling in butter and vinegar.'

Harbig scanned the board. 'They are not written on the menu. How are the prices? Fair, or so I expect, with the whole lake at your doorstep?'

'When it comes to fish, we are at our best! What of two dozen pilchard, with lemons and sorrel?'

'Toothsome, no doubt, but price, man! What of the price?'

'Oh ha ha, I am not certain; it varies with the catch.'

Harbig dubiously eyed the menu. 'Lentil soup might be tasty.'

'Soup is off,' said Dildahl. 'What of a plate of splendid salmon roe, with capers and butter, and a salad of cress and parsley?'

And so continues the negotiations, but Dildahl will find these two guests are not as innocent to his thieving ways as they seem. Enjoyably, this is only the smallest of asides and not at all important to the main plot, but it gives the whole thing colour and flavour. Get it? The vegetables add the flavour. Heh.

*Thanks Alis for introducing the Munchie and me to The Paper Bag Princess! I recommend it for the parents of all little girls who develop alarming Disney fixations.


Tim Stretton said...

If ever there was a blog post I wanted to read, it's Jack Vance reviewed by Aliya Whiteley.

One thing you always get from Vance is loving attention to food, and vegetables play a full part in his balanced diet.

Vance is never afraid of an aside like the Dildahl episode; it's one of the great joys of his writing.

I knew you'd like it! [crows and preens insufferably] What next? I have a cornucopia of Vance recommendations!

Aliya Whiteley said...

Go on then, tell me which one to get next. But I've just started Molly Keane's Good Behaviour, which is cold and precise and the opposite of Vance. But still great writing.

Tim Stretton said...

Emphyrio and Tales of the Dying Earth are both in print, and should be devoured.

The Demon Princes anthologies (Vols 1 and 2) also look to be in print and are among his best work (and this series surely has the best meals). Track down also the Planet of Adventure omnibus and you have probably read all the "must read" Vance (although I doubt you will want to stop).

I'd also recommend excavating Showboat World, not his most significant work but one I think will appeal to your sense of humour (also riffed in The Last Free City).

C. N. Nevets said...

I'd second the vote for Emphyrio, personally. I'm not as widely read in Vance as Tim, but I've always had a soft spot for that one.

C. N. Nevets said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aliya Whiteley said...

Emphyrio it is then! On the wishlist for my birthday.

Tim Stretton said...

If the MNW get-together comes off I'll bring you a copy of Showboat World which is unaccountably out of print...

Aliya Whiteley said...

Yay! Tim, you must be the leading Vance expert in the UK. It's a shame this extensive knowledge does not allow you to make heaps of money. Unless I'm missing some element of practical application.

Tim Stretton said...

Regrettably, my store of knowledge, lovingly compiled over 30 years, has no commercial application. It is even less remunerative than my calling as a fiction writer.

My friend and former Vance Integral Edition colleague Alun Hughes has claims to be an even greater expert. His essay on VIE textual restoration methods (http://integralarchive.org/essay-alun.htm), as well of being of professional interest to you, also takes its epigraph from the aforementioned Showboat World:

Wilver the Water-walker said thoughtfully: “I would resign my important position in an instant to rejoin the old troupe! What do you say, Master Zamp? Why should we not revive the glorious old times?”
“Never be guided by sentimentality!” advised Zamp. “I advise you all to remain with Garth Ashgale, whose terms of employment are stable; as I recall he discharges only the notoriously incompetent.”
“He can also be a difficult task-master,” grumbled Wilver. “He wants me to perform my act without glass stilts, which is difficult.”
“We all have similar problems with Ashgale,” said Thymas. “For instance, in his production The Extraordinary Dream of Countess Ursula Gandolf and I must simulate strange animals in questionable poses.”

Aliya Whiteley said...

Strange animals in Questionable Poses - that's going to be my next short story title.

Arch said...

A surprising number of years ago, Jack Everett, my writing buddy and I wanted to add a sixth volume to the Jack Vance's Demon Princes series. Although warned by the sf anthologist, Mike Ashley, that getting in touch with Jack Vance was a likely as plaiting fog, we perseveered. We actually succeeded but alas, Mr. Vance was not happy with the idea. We therefore created a universe not unlike the Gaean Reach in which a Kerth Gersonesque character did battle with criminals. Indded, Nick Gevers, a reviewer and Vance enthusiast gave our first novel a pleasing response.
"The Faces of Immortality" and "To Rule the Universe" are available as eBooks at www.ArchimedesPresse.co.uk, and from www.SmashWords.com.
If you enjoy reading or writing humerous sf... check out -

jack59 said...

Love your blog Aliya but as Tim Stretton seems to have named most of Vance's great novels perhaps I can suggest his Durdane series and his Alastor novels.I particularly enjoyed Wyst:Alastor which has many references to bounteous food.
Perhaps you would like to review 'The Faces of Immortality' or its sister book 'To Rule the Universe' which were mentioned earlier? I could email you an electronic copy should you desire.

And if you ever need any more passages from Vance quoting I have every book he has ever written.


Aliya Whiteley said...

I really loved Showboat World and will review that shortly - have still got to get round to Emphryio.

Jack, does your book contain a vegetable? It's the mark of a great novel, you know.