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Emphyrio (S.F. MASTERWORKS) Paperback – 14 Oct 1999

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Gollancz; New Ed edition (14 Oct. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 185798885X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1857988857
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.5 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 315,690 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Jack Vance began to publish SF in 1945, and his 1950 science- fantasy classic The Dying Earth established him as a master of exotic, ironic style--still the hallmark of his 1990s novels. Emphyrio dates from 1969 and is perhaps his best handling of a favourite theme, a young boy's rebellion against a fossilized and unfair society. Ambroy, on the far world Halma, is a city of fine craft-workers where quiet tyranny wears the smiling face of a welfare state. Social workers with draconian powers enforce strict laws against mechanical duplication (each work of art must be unique), while priests of the absurd state religion go from door to door being loftily officious. Dissatisfied young Ghyl Tarvoke more or less prankishly runs for Mayor of Ambroy under the name of legendary hero Emphyrio--a quixotic act which leads indirectly to his master-craftsman father's tragic punishment and death, to despairing involvement in his wild friends' spaceship hijack plan, and to shocking revelations about Ambroy's real rulers. Legend says that Emphyrio long ago brought peace to Halma by uncovering truth, at the cost of his life. After colourful adventures Ghyl finds himself similarly placed: the truth can redeem the city he loves but means great personal loss. A fine, strangely underrated novel, now reissued as #19 in the Millennium SF Masterworks series. --David Langford

About the Author

SALES POINTS * #19 in the Millennium SF Masterworks series, a library of the finest science fiction ever written * ¿All Vance¿s novels have exotic locales and cultures, resourceful heroes and vigorous action, but in Emphyrio they are raised to the pitch of perfection, making the novel a tremendous pleasure to read, and giving it also a mysterious beauty¿ ¿ Kim Stanley Robinson * ¿Jack Vance is our greatest living SF writer, and Emphyrio is one of his very best books, a magical tour de force of mystery, marvel, invention, incident, world-building and wordplay. But be warned: reading Vance is addictive¿ ¿ George R.R. Martin

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mark A. Preston on 2 Sept. 2009
Format: Paperback
Having been a great fan of Jack Vance I have read many of his books and recently embarked on Emphyrio for the third time. It is a gloriously simple story to read and any reader will be aware that the core of the story is the nature and power of Truth - very much with a capital "T" - and the folly of deception. Less obvious is the powerful tale of the ultimate futility of hidden measures of control; powers behind the throne, puppet masters on the stage of affairs and secret rulers hidden from view are ultimately vulnerable to the power of truth.

One aspect of the story often missed is the satirical critique it offers against the ultimate in socialist welfare state mechanisms. Most of all of the stultifying effects of hyper-regulation even in an apparently benevolent society. Event the names are crafted skilfully - the father-figure of the hero is named for "friendliness" and the story tells how he became a victim of the society he was impartially observing with a friendly eye. His son, the hero of the tale, is named for guilt and together they show how obsessive regulation can inculcate guilt in the subjects of those rules.

While most of Vance's books layer such meanings into the tale, this is one of the most powerful and moving - as well, incidentally, as being one of the best written. It has long been a puzzle to me how this story could be overlooked by the awards bodies since it is by head and shoulders a greater work than many which have been credited with a raft of Hugo and Nebula awards.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Manly Reading TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 11 Oct. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The city of Ambroy, on the planet Halma, is a place best described as "medieval Stalinist" with secret police, remote lords in their Eyries, powerful nepotistic guilds, and a welfare and taxation system which seems fine when you think about it, except for the fact that the game is rigged and no one is in fact paid anything like what they worth. On this world, incredible craftsmen produce priceless works of art, unknowing all the while. It's a depressing and bleak place, but that's not the worst of it, as it turns out.

You can argue that Jack Vance doesn't write "science-fiction" but rather social satire that just happens to have aliens and spaceships in it. The story here is really in the telling, and a plot summary is largely a waste of time, and probably misleading as well. Ghyl Tarvoke is our hero: we see his relationship with his father (but there is no maternal relationship at all) and how that shaped him into becoming a thief, pirate, scholar and revolutionary (remember that any plot descriptions are misleading, even if literally true).

Vance here is writing a story about human nature, people and their follies and foibles, as well as about power structures and unquestioning obediance to "how things have always been" (the religion involving "leaping" to some end never made clear, is both superb and confounding). There is action and contemplation in equal measure; one can read this on a few levels and enjoy it on all of them. This is a really accessable starting point for Vance - short and yet complex, with a style unmistakely unique that leads you deeper and deeper into the tale. Go read some of the sample above, and if you like it, you could do a lot worse than buy it.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Cj Conneally on 13 May 2010
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What a book! I found this book totally satisfying. Sci-fi with a deep and meaningful undertone. The story is as mad as they come, but written superbly. I read it during a 2 week holiday and I didn't realise how good it was when I was reading it, even though I was gripped. It was only when I read Dune and the Stars My Destination (both V Good)later in the holiday did I realise how good emphryrio was, as that was the one i was thinking about. Totally unique.
A Highly recommended, thought provoking, piece of excellant literature.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By niels on 10 Nov. 2011
Format: Paperback
Without wanting to give away anything about the story, I have to say, during some phase of this book, it got to me so much, I had to put down the book for a while... That doesn't happen to me very often.

Of course its well written as all Vance books, and the ending is pretty amazing, its a surprise in more than one way and leaves you thinking "this wasn't fantasy, this was about reality"...
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Emphyrio on 12 Nov. 2010
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Jack Vance is my favourite author and I hope to eventually read everything that he has written. I have started my review this way to make my bias clear. I won't give anything away about the story but will merely state that this novel is on a par with such works as Durdane, The Demon Princes, Planet of Adventure and Lyonesse.
If you have read Jack Vance's work before, you don't need to know anything else; if you haven't, this is an excellent place to start.
I'm not just giving this book five stars, I'm giving it five stars compared to the rest of Jack Vance's work.
If you are unfortunate enough to not enjoy it then you probably won't enjoy anything else he has written.
If you do, then you are in the enviable position of being able to read everything else he has written for the first time.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By VicHoon on 20 Oct. 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A swift story to read, written with that unique vocabulary that is typical of Vance, this is not science fiction in the true sense. It's a fantasy, with planets. That's a good thing, because Vance immerses you in a strange world with a stifling society that works with a strange logic. The central theme of Emphyrio is Truth - the motivation of the protagonist. The prologue is deceitful and clever, instilling the protagonist's fate with a sense of unease. I disagree with other reviewers' criticism of the rushed ending: Vance has a habit of sweeping major events at a fast pace; the ending is satisfying, and will leave you pondering the book for a long time afterwards.
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