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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Lurulu, by Jack Vance

I have read what Jack Vance has said is his final work of fiction (he has been a published author since about 1950, mostly fantastic literature). That book is Lurulu, which was published in 2004 by Tor. (See here for a review, which includes a summary of the plot.)

I have previously posted on Vance, including some discussion of his religious beliefs. It is dangerous to assume that a character is speaking for an author, but here's a quotation from the book, which indicates that he doesn't take religion, of any kind, very seriously:
Wingo was greatly interested in comparative metaphysics. He paid more than casual attention to the sects, superstitions, religions, and transcendental philosophies which he encountered as the Glicca travelled from world to world and, whenever he wandered strange places, gave careful attention to local spiritual doctrines -- a practice which incurred Schwatzendale's disapproval.
"You are wasting your time! There are a hundred thousand of these creeds; they all talk the same nonsense, and all want your money. Why bother? Religious cant is the greatest nonsense of all!"
"There is much in what you say," Wingo admitted. "Still, is it not possible, that by some odd chance one of these hundred thousand doctrines is correct and precisely defines the Cosmic Way? If we passed it by, we might never encounter Truth again!"
"In theory, yes," grumbled Schwatzendale. "But in practice, your chances are next to nil." (p. 23. Wingo and Schwatzendale are two of the four man crew of the Glicca. The other two are Captain Maloof and Myron Tany, the bookkeeper, who are the main characters.)

Most of Vance's books feature a young man, finding himself. Myron plays that role here. Women don't play a major role in Vance's fiction, and that is true of Lurulu. There is plenty of eating, with menus described, and plenty of dialog, often featuring unusual words taken from Vance's splendid vocabulary. It's a typical Vance novel.

So what is lurulu? As far as I can tell, this is a word made up by Vance for this book. Lurulu, as I understand it, is happiness, or very close to it. The characters occasionally discuss it, but don't define it. While I was reading the book, I was reminded of sehnsucht, a term from C. S. Lewis. Vance, however, wrote about a state that could never really be achieved -- near the end, the four characters find themselves in luxury, but decide, after a short time in that state, that they prefer to be traveling around space as a freighter crew. Lewis believed that humans were subject to a longing that couldn't be satisfied outside of a relationship with God.

Vance was still entertaining in 2004, but, as usual, lacked depth. He never wrote about interesting scientific possibilities in his science fiction. His characters were usually not very deep. His novels were mostly novels of setting, dashing through many different types of societies, with bizarre customs and behavior. The books are worth reading, but generally not emotionally or intellectually gripping.

Thanks for reading!

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