This is early Vance: not the earliest, but close. I will list the stories with their first published dates:
Hard-luck diggings, 1948 - Vance's fifth story sold!
The temple of Han, 1951
The masquerade on Dicanthropus, 1951
Abercrombie Station, 1952
Three-legged Joe, 1953
The absent-minded professor, 1954
When the five Moons rise, 1954
The Devil on Salvation Bluff, 1955
When Hesperus falls, 1956
The Phantom milkman, 1956
Dodkin's job, 1959
In addition each story is followed by a one-pager by Vance on story-writing, travel, editors... These come from his autobiography (2009) of from conversations between Vance and one of the editors of this volume, Terry Dowling. Fascinating stuff - Vance tells us about his writing techniques (did you know all of lyonesse was written after he had gone completely blind? And another really interesting short paragraph on which writers influenced him, from C.L. Moore to Wodehouse and Jeffery Farnol, Rice Burroughs and Ashton Smith.
The stories themselves vary in style and quality, but there are some gems among them.
All in all a handsome, well-produced volume, with some hard-to-find early short stories. Not the book to start with if you want to get a taste of Vance (in this case I suggest you try the Tschai novels, or Lyonesse); but certainly recommended to hardcore fans!
on 25 March 2011
I can't provide an unbiased review of this book, Jack Vance is undoubtedly my favourite author of all time. Having read virtually everything he has ever written it's becoming more and more difficult to find new material to read at a reasonable price. This collection of stories has been a very welcome release and once again provided a much needed visit to distant parts written in Vance's inimitable style. I very much enjoyed it although I confess familiarity to some of the stories included (not an issue for those less obsessed with Vance's works). None the less I can whole heartedly recommend it.
This is, indeed, some early short story work by Vance, published in the period 1949-1959 (out of a career ranging from 1945 - 2006). There is a companion volume, Dream Castles, due Feb 2012, and then there is all the earlier Vance collection from Sub Press as well, if you like the short stories of Jack Vance. If you don't know Vance, well, you could start here, I suppose, but I'd say go read the Dying Earth stuff, or Lyonesse, first. This isnt - quite - Vance in full flower, with bone-dry wit and cutting dialogue, but it is definitely quirky, and out of the ordinary.
The stories themselves are a mix of sci-fi hard and soft, mystery fiction set in 1950's America, and some horror tales. "Abercrombie Station" is probably the best of them, but I did enjoy them all, even the experimental "DP!" told in the form of newspaper clippings. Each story is self-contained, and just long enough.
The little "Afterwords" were nice but might have expressed differently - by which I mean that each afterword was largely a generic little tidbit, not really relating to the story it followed in any meaningful way. You learn some fun facts about Jack Vance, sure, but to call it an afterword to a specific story is inaccurate.
If you like sci-fi, Jack Vance, or short stories, you should pick this up, if you can.