Friday, August 09, 2013

Friday's Forgotten Books, August 9, 2013

FOR MORE LINKS, PLEASE SEE B.V. LAWSON right here. We are joined by a new reviewer this week, Kelly Robinson, so please say hi to her. 

If you would like to read some tributes to Jack Vance who died this year, you can find them here. 

Jack Vance, The Last Castle (1966) Winner 1967 Nebula and Hugo Awards for best short novel, Patti Abbott

I am a complete novice not only to Vance but to fantasy fiction in general. The Last  Castle has some general resemblances to Game of Thrones (my only anchor). There are castles, political intrigue, and in place of dragons, sentient birds. Roughly, the narrative centers around a civilization of Earth people who live in clusters of walled castles. They live opulent lives supported by high technology.

The capital is Castle Hagedon. Surrounding these structures are peasants imported from other planets, Nomads who prey on them and are intermittently defended by the castle folk, and “expiationists” (an extreme back-to-earth group apparently émigrés from the castles. The society is run by another imported group, the Meks, whose digestive systems have been replaced by sacs filled with syrup by the ruling class. The Meks repair and maintain the infrastructure until one day they rebel. Like all ruling classes, these people are shocked by the sudden and unexpected violence. Were not the Meks well treated? How could they have the capability to create an army? An interview with a captured Mek offers a subtle exploration of the attitudes of the oppressors and oppressed. The Castle Hagedon falls. The Meks take over the planet.

The Last Castle is an intriguing examination of the mentality of colonists and the oppressed, not unlike what has occurred in Algeria, South Africa, and other imperial outposts. 


Ed Gorman is the author of the Dev Conrad series as well as many westerns, anthologies, short stories and other crime fiction novels. You can find him here.

The Vengeful Virigin, Gil Brewer

F. Scott Fitzgerald once noted that Hemingway (then at his peak) wrote 
with the authority of success while Fitzgerald (then in the dumps) 
wrote with the authority of failure.

The authority of failure is what animates virtually all of Gil Brewer's 
work and certainly The Vengeful Virgin  is no exception. In outline 
it's nothing new--a very James M. Cainian scenario in which a TV 
repairman gets involved with an eighteen year old temptress who is 
taking care of a dying old man (and one we don't take to at all). He's 
promised to leave her a fortune when he dies. The trouble is he's dying 
very slowly. It won't surprise you that the temptress has thoughts of 
inviting the Reaper in a little ahead of schedule.

What makes this one of Gil Brewer's most successful novels is that a 
couple of the plot turns are truly shocking and that he is in complete 
control of his material. He paces this one well right up to the end. 
And the end is a powerhouse.

I mentioned the authority of failure. In Brewer's case it's usually 
because his protagonists let their dissatisfaction with their lot 
become a kind of self-pity that lets them justify whatever they need to 
do to improve their lot. They generally learn too late that maybe the 
old TV repair gig wasn't so bad at all.

Contrast this attitude with the reckless but doomed romantics of 
Charles Williams (whom I prefer). They're smarter than Brewer's men and 
there's rarely any self-pity. They seem to be on some kind of quest, 
which is a twist on the Cain-style tale. Yes they meet a bad girl. Yes 
they do something stupid. But what gets them through is enormous energy 
and a sense of mission and an undertow of anger. They're like Brewer's 
men, too, failures. But they are the tarnished knights that Phillip 
Marlowe and all his imitators only pretended to be.


Anonymous said...

Interesting choices, Patti! You know, Your mention of Vance reminds me that I haven't read as much fantasy/sci fi as I ought to; it's a genre I haven't really explored.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

My entry today--- Kevin's Corner: FFB Review--Jack Vance Day

Anonymous said...

Ed's "the authority of failure" is a perfect analysis for the Gil Brewer short stories I've been reading. The group of stories from 1955 in particular have some mind-blowing plots that almost make the reader feel suicidal! I can only imagine how he felt when he wrote them.

Jeff M.

George said...

Like Ed Gorman, I prefer Charles Williams over Gil Brewer. But both writers can scintillate readers with their unique works.

Kelly Robinson said...

Thanks for the welcome! I'm looking forward to reading everyone's entries and to discovering more great forgotten books.

BV Lawson said...

I got your link, Kevin! It's up at

Charles Gramlich said...

I liked Vance's more adventure oriented stories. Never quite got into his more complex stuff.

Todd Mason said...

Well, Patti, as you can guess, George R. R. Martin (of GAME OF THRONES big money and fame now) is one of many who owe a huge debt to Vance, and have yet to come close to Vance's achievement in the field.