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on 11 May 2013
I've known about Jack Vance since I was a kid. He was name-checked constantly as influencing a lot of the writers I was into back then, along with HP Lovecraft, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, etc - all writers who, before the advent of Amazon (and now Kindle) it was hard to find in publication. A couple of tatty copies of their more well-known works might be available in a library if you were lucky, and in the end I just forgot about them. But I'm very glad I did because I don't think I would have appreciated Jack Vance when I was 12. Tolkein, yes. Donaldson, yes. But those writers - and many more besides, who produce the kind of epic fantasy I enjoyed as a child - do not rely on wit, which is such an enjoyable element of Jack Vance's style. Kids don't do wit. (I'm a teacher, so I know that all too well.)

Having rediscovered Vance while on a search for fantasy writing with some literary credibility (taking in and discounting Steven Erikson and George R R Martin along the way) I have finally found what I was looking for. Not only does Vance have a great imagination, with more original ideas per novella - sometimes, per page - than some writers expend on a whole trilogy, his fabulous prose often makes me laugh out loud.

This particular collection of short stories is an absolute joy. Any book that contains the words "flicked the leathery buttocks of their mounts with their quirts" deserves five stars in my opinion. And the great part about it is, he was so prolific, over such a long career, I have dozens of his works still left to read.
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on 7 August 2012
If you have experienced Vance elsewhere and enjoyed his writing this is a must buy. Typically competent, cool and slightly ruthless Vance heroes abound in these stories written with Vance's trademark exotic language which is always a joy to read.
Perhaps a little more cynical than some of his longer works such as Lyonesse or perhaps the cynicism is more concentrated in the short stories. All the usual imagination and presentation of unusual worlds and races operating on different rules from our own. I just love reading Vance and have always enjoyed any of his works I have read. This collection is no different.
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on 14 May 2015
A huge treat for Vance fans or for those unfamiliar with the author’s earlier works. This electronic volume contains three of his novellas from the 1960s – The Miracle Workers, The Dragon Masters and The Last Castle – two winners of the Hugo award and one nominee.

The stories follow similar themes: settlers on another planet / returnees to Earth have regressed to feudalism / effete ineffectuality. An implacable alien enemy tries to destroy the humans, who are too busy fighting each other / consider it beneath their dignity to mount an effective response. One or more independent-minded individuals are prepared to adapt to overcome the challenge, and thanks to them humanity lives to fight another day.

The stories are concise yet elegantly written, the characters colourful and eloquent, the societies they inhabit immersive and beautifully realised. Disappointingly – although entirely in keeping with the era in which they were written – the three tales between them boast just two female characters, both ornamental, but this minor quibble should not detract from the feast.
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on 24 April 2013
Three short stories: The Miracle Workers, The Dragon Masters, and The Last Castle. The first two being the stronger I think. What is there to say really, other than Jack Vance is a master of his craft. Not a single wasted paragraph, sentence, or word to be found anywhere. So many authors of today would have taken those stories and blown them out to be 1000 page tomes, the curse of the word processor perhaps. Not Vance though, wildly imaginative stories laid out with broad strokes of the pen, just enough done to let the reader imagine the details. Perfection.
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on 16 January 2013
I can but echo D. Greer's opinion. This is a must-read for any Vance enthusiast, and also an ideal starting-point for anyone wondering what all the fuss is about. These three stories (The Miracle Workers, The Dragon Masters and The Last Castle) whisk you away into effortlessly created worlds where somehow the most extrafalarious scenarios are just another day for the equally extraordinary societies therein.

"The Miracle Workers" was for me the unexpected delight of the day, with its Hoodoo Jinxmen settlers and spumescent indigenous lifeforms. "The Dragon Masters" carries us to a land where local dragon-breeders would do well to put aside their quibbles in the face of a more ominous threat. Finally, "The Last Castle" starts a tad on the over-explicative side, but turns out to be a worthy comrade to the other stories herein. Yes, I'm being deliberately vague - I would hate to spoil this for anyone!

My sole complaint is that, although actually fairly long as far as short stories go, all good things must come to and end - and this is no exception.

Buy this immediately.
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on 13 December 2012
This is a great collection by Vance, probably my favourite even ahead of the Dying Earth shorts.

I was originally looking for the omnibus of Dragon Masters and The Last Castle, two Hugo-award winning novellas that were reprinted together a few years ago. That reprint is now very expensive, so i looked for a kindle edition. I couldn't find any info on the content of this collection (ISFDB can't keep up with these kindle reprints), so took a punt. I was happy to find it contained both the novellas i wanted, and a third story, The Miracle Workers, which was also Hugo nominated and very good.

All three of the stories are enjoyabe and typically Vancian, and all explore very similar themes, so fit together very nicely.

So overall a great read, and collects 3 of Vance's most recognised stories (to reiterate: The Dragon Masters, The Last Castle, The Miracle Workers) .
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on 11 November 2012
I read The Dragon Masters on its original appearance in Galaxy around 1960. (Why does Gateway omit bibliographical details? Surely this publication series is for the enthusiast?) I remember the superb illustrations, by Jack Gaughan perhaps, as much as the story. Sadly, I no longer have this magazine. I hadn't read it since, for some reason, and had forgotten just how unimportant the conflict plot was and how superb was the atmosphere and the details of the various adapted humans and "dragons" - actually another intelligent race. It felt unique when I first read it and it stands up now.

The three stories date from around the same time and are about small conflicts in forgotten outposts of the human expansion across the galaxy, all in more or less feudal societies. Still very enjoyable.
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on 8 April 2015
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