[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.