Magic Highways: The Early Jack Vance, Volume Three
by Jack Vance
Edited by Terry Dowlling and Jonathan Strahan
Cover Artist: Tom Kidd
Review by Steve Sawicki
Subterranean Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596065604
Date: 31 March 2013 List Price $45.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Jack Vance is a grandmaster of science fiction, having cut his teeth on the pulps of the 40s and 50s and then continue on through the magazine eras of the 60s and 70s all the while producing novels. Vance's writing is distinctive, although much of the early Vance reads as if it could have been penned by any number of other writers working at the time. While some of the language and dialogue use that Vance came to be known for is present here, it is in the infant stages. Instead, the sixteen stories within this book fall mostly to the space opera subgenre. As such they are gems.
Vance's work contains consistent themes of the everyman working to gain his fortune by plying the trade routes of the universe, a course replete with pirates, ne'er do wells, scoundrels, and rogues. Many of Vance's characters are rogues themselves, working to get a leg up on the competition but almost always doing so by playing by the rules, albeit they might be of the unspoken kind. Vance's universe is well populated with people and aliens and commerce flourishes and rules the spacelanes. In this volume lie the kernels of Vance's later series, Magnus Rudolf and the Dying Earth to name two.
In full disclosure, I am a huge fan of Jack Vance. I also grew up reading the magazines of the 60s which were not that far removed from what was being published in the previous decade. So, for me, much of this was like coming home.
I admit to a lot of trepidation before I started reading, wondering if the work would hold up of if I would read it and just hate it. While it certainly is dated in many ways it also reads particularly well all things considered. I would have to say that if you want some idea about what fiction was like in that time period you could do a lot worse then look here. If you are a Jack Vance fan, like I am, then this is simply a must read.
It's fun and it's a piece of literary history and it certainly will help you understand where a lot of that later fiction came from. I recommend it.