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End of an Era?
on 3 December 2004
I'd given up hope on this one, as the publication date slipped back and back. Not to be morbid, but might this be the last new Vance book we get? If so, it must be read in an interesting light by die hard fans of one of SF's greatest authors.
And it really is a book for die hard fans only. Like Ports of Call, the almost total absence of a meaningful plot or real character development means it must be read for the wit, eccentricity and extravagance of the language. If you're new to Vance, start with the Demon Prince series or Araminta Station.
Lurulu is a whimsical journey through various ports and towns of Gaean Reach. It is beautifully written; it is funny - not 'laugh out loud' but 'wry smile' funny. And it reprises many familiar Vance themes - the footloose lifestyle, repressive relationships with family and tradition, portside drinking and camaraderie, over the top impresarios, strange local customs. Unusually for Vance, the family relationships concern mother/aunt and son, rather than father and son as is usual in his works (Emphyrio, Araminta Station, Wyst).
This is a collection of incidents, vignettes and impressions. No story or character is developed, nuanced or extended. The central character is almost invisible - some of the bit parts are more memorable.
If you have explored the Gaean Reach previously and happily in Vance's many books, then you will enjoy this as a commentary/companion to his more robust stories. Otherwise, you'll probably wonder what all the fuss is about.
If this is the time for a retrospective on Vance's career, what does Lurulu tell us? That quality of language and uniqueness of vision can carry a book in the absence of plot; that the real science behind science fiction is as much anthropology as physics; that certain images, descriptions and impressions can live on long after the last page is turned.