Volume 23, Number 04, Summer 2005


By Jack Vance

Tor Books, 2004, $22.95
Reviewed by Anders Monsen
July 2005

Lurulu is Jack Vance’s sequel to his 1998 novel, Ports of Call, a picaresque novel rife with mood and impression. Each word, each phrase is etched with care and attention. Due to the length of time between the two novels, Lurulu opens with a chapter summarizing the events of the first book.

Since childhood Myron Tany imagined a life traveling the stars. His parents dismissed this dream as impractical, telling him to study more grounded matters; Myron thus supplemented his studies to include areas related to space. During his university years he lived with his eccentric aunt, Dame Hester, who through the fruits of a legal settlement won a spaceship, the Glodwyn. Seeking a promised fountain of youth on a distant planet, Hester departs into space, Myron functioning as captain. Sadly Hester falls under the spell of a con-artist, booting Myron off the ship. He gains employment as the supercargo on the Glicca, a merchant ship traveling from port to port in search of goods. Myron yearns only to locate the Glodwyn and exact justice upon the two individuals responsible for stranding him on a distant planet.

Lurulu thus picks up the tale of the Glicca and its crew, now ambling toward the fabled planet Coro-Coro. Maloof, the captain of the Glicca, also seeks justice for a past wrong. The other two members of the crew express deep yearnings of their own. Schwatzendale, the engineer, is more practical, hoping to gain back money lost in a came of cards. The more sensitive Wingo looks to religion and metaphysics to grant him inner peace. The term “lurulu,” coined by Vance through the mouth of Maloof, approximates a feeling when yearnings are gratified. It’s been said that the feeling of possessing something never surpasses the longing for that possesssion. And yet Maloof believes “lurulu” can be attained, like the fabled equilibrium of economic theory.

Vance’s sequels tend to evolve from the original goal to something far different. In Ports of Call, Myron sought justice against his aunt and the scoundrel instrumental in haing him kicked off the Glodwyn. In Lurulu, Myron states this steadfastly as his constant goal, but the final confrontation is dealt with swiftly, almost as an aside.

Instead, the point of this novel is not something as simple as plot or resolution of an outlined goal through a series of escalating events. Rather, reading this book is like sitting on a porch in Africa, admiring the sunset while enjoying a good bottle of wine. The pace is languid, though not without action. Vance employs droll humor to make his points, deflating Wingo’s religious aspirations by pointing out the harsh realities of a planetary pilgrimage. Shown to Wingo in a romantic light, the truth of the matter is far more taxing on the soul and flesh. This is often the case: we humans tend to idealize things (the grass is always greener, for example), but reality is far more complex and often tends to disappoint the dreamers. Poor Myron, too, find that his long-distance love from Ports of Call has moved on while he kepts up his faithful correspondence with her; Myron loved an idea, while his beloved took a more practical approach.

As the four shipmates and friends discover through their voyages and adventures, settling down after achieving the stated goals leads perhaps only to a temporary state of “lurulu.” Is the point of the novel then to shatter such a notion? Perhaps. And in this process, readers will enjoy a superbly written novel of a kind rarely seen today. Jack Vance may be near the end of his career, but he has lost none of the talents and skills honed over 60 creative years.

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