Poetry & ProseReligionSpace & Spatiality

On The Narrow Land

[Just mov­ing some of my longer book reviews here from else­where. This one was ori­gin­ally pos­ted on 16 june 2013.]

This short story col­lec­tion had been lying around the house for a while, but when Vance sadly passed away recently, I decided to dust it off. Although I already had a pretty pos­it­ive opin­ion of Vance based on Lyo­n­esse, The Nar­row Land sur­prised me with a couple of really good tales. All seven were enjoy­able and show how diverse sci­ence fic­tion can be, but the first and the last were the best.

The title story of the col­lec­tion explores a kind of alien bio­logy in which one spe­cies can have three pretty diver­gent physiolo­gies depend­ing on whether a young comes from one two or three eggs. The ones and twos are most com­mon, and each have sep­ar­ate soci­et­ies, but the story fol­lows Erg, who gradu­ally dis­cov­ers that he is dif­fer­ent from the others.

In between, there was a good pic­ture of a demi­urge God in “The World Thinker”, a wry humour about an immor­tal man not allowed to kill him­self in “Where Hes­perus Falls”, as well as sev­eral obser­va­tions about human space col­on­isa­tion and explor­a­tion in mul­tiple stories.

Chat­eau d’If”, finally, is an excel­lent detect­ive-like story about what it would be like if people could swap memories/identities/bodies for a fee. Vance man­ages to make sev­eral inter­est­ing points about liv­ing a good life, and how oth­ers can profit from people want­ing to escape from aging bod­ies or bor­ing pro­spects. The money earned from the body-swap­ping inter­est­ingly goes toward con­struct­ing a massive Empyr­ean Tower reach­ing toward heaven. I’m not going to spoil the whole story for you, but this is one worth reread­ing some time.