The Narrow Land is a collection of six short stories and one novella by Jack Vance. This was my first exposure to Vance after The Dying Earth. What it doesn’t have is the magic of The Dying Earth stories. But it is better by a large margin than the average collection of short stories you would see today. The stories remind me a lot of the original Twilight Zone, which I tend to consider the platonic ideal for science fiction short stories.
The Narrow Land
This is the title story represented by the cover art on my copy. It’s a mix of pulp weirdness and New Age interest in social science fiction. Lizardmen crawl out of a primordial ooze. Some develop more crests than others. Vaguely does some interesting things with gender, but ultimately it’s all worldbuilding and little story.
The Masquerade on Dicantropus
This is the sort of “hearth-and-home” story Kristine Kathryn Rusch talked about grade-A jacklegs like James Blish dismissing when they were written by women, and the kind of story modern speculative fiction writers with literary pretensions try and fail to write. There is a space man who crash lands on an alien planet with alien people and ziggurats, but this is a story all about adultery.
Where Hesperus Falls
This is the shortest and perhaps the best story in the collection. A man granted accidental immortality in a science experiment tries to kill himself. Exceedingly clever, and handles a necessarily dark premise without the nihilism a more modern treatment would’ve given it.
The World Thinker
An earthman hunts a fugitive across the stars. A much better take on a penny-ante god than Star Trek. This reminds me a little of Brandon Sanderson’s Perfect State too.
Not my favorite story, but a much better take on the fae than you typically see these days. One Bright Star by John C. Wright is sort of a fusion of this and The Chronicles of Narnia.
The Ten Books
Man-and-wife explorers discover a utopian human civilization on an unmarked planet. I despise utopian fiction, but this is more than tolerably done.
Chateau D’If (novella)
Has everything from this collection been redone, and not as well? Chateau D’If reminds me of Death Becomes Her. The Chateau D’If targets men, though. The pitch is simple, “Jaded? Bored? Want Adventure? Try the Chateau D’If.” Five bored bros toss in ten grand for one of their number to check it out. Chateau D’If offers a ten-thousand- and a ten-million-dollar option. Should’ve taken the second option.
4 of 5 Stars.
Throwback SF Thursday: Who Fears the Devil? by Manly Wade Wellman was originally published at the Castalia House Blog.