Book Review: The Gray Prince by Jack Vance

download (2)I’d previously reviewed Jack Vance’s The Dragon Masters, which I loved. Like that book, The Gray Prince is a blend of science fiction and fantasy. Jack Vance is a master of that blend, and I recommend him to anyone who would desire reading that kind of mix.

However, I can’t readily recommend The Gray Prince. As a book it’s okay, but I feel it ends abruptly and lacks cohesiveness. There’s also a few other issues.

The book follows a small family, with Schaine Madduc returning to her homestead from the space port. Kelse, her brother, is antagonistic towards their old friend Jorjol. Jorjol is a native Uldra who was raised on the homestead, but in later days has become known as “The Gray Prince”, a leader of a rebellion against the human land barons, who took the aliens’ lands.

The main problem with the book is its use of the alien language and personal names. The Uldra use several unique terms that are difficult to explain. Vance describes it in passing, but mostly uses them to immerse the reader in the world. That’s normally fine, but in this instance there’s so many terms that I couldn’t follow it.

The names are another issue. The first third of the book I kept confusing Kelse and Schaine, and I thought Uther Madduc (Kelse and Schaine’s father) was Jorjol’s actual name. I had to refer to a character list online to figure out everything!

As another positive, the morals of the book are interesting. One could say they’re “shades of gray”, to throw a turn of phrase. The land barons are by no means the “good guys”. Uther and Kelse were both clearly bigoted towards Jorjol, and the consequences of those actions are seen in the events of the book.

Ultimately, I’d say that the problems with the book have to be weighed against the creative worldbuilding and storytelling. I think Jack Vance was a talented enough writer to warrant a read of this book, if only because of the recommendations online. However, I think it was just “good”, not great.


You might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Book Review: Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

You might also like some of my other work on this blog:

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Writing Descriptions

Poetry: “Cardinals in Spring Snow”

Poetry: “Cardinals in Spring Snow”

Northern_cardinals_on_snow

Two cardinals hover,
In warm morning light,
Twirling to old lands,
Crimson wings alight.
~
Rolled clouds move swiftly,
Ready to burst forth,
White manna poured out,
Paint on rusted earth.
~
Bird chirps cease,
Hidden crickets quell.
~
The warm red feathers,
Loosing foggy breath,
Warmth sought inside holes,
Life hiding from death.
~
By next cold sunset,
A cardinal flew away,
Shivering alone,
The snow’s price was paid.

 


It snowed here recently. As a result, I saw wildlife get covered in it. The image of Spring life covered with snow was an incongruity I couldn’t ignore.

– Frank Ormond

Writing Descriptions

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I was talking to an author friend of mine about his book. Honestly, it was a great read and I was impressed by one element in particular: his descriptions.

He was great at it! Not too many, but not too few. It felt like he let the reader’s imagination control the imagery, but gave enough to ground the story to a specific image. It worked well.

That being said, I noticed my own failings quickly. I’m awful at over-description!

The Curse of Over-description

The symptoms are straining for any author trying to craft amazing fiction. You get bogged down describing in detail every facet of a world you’re trying to build. It’s especially easy for speculative fiction or memoirs, because you really want to paint a picture in those genres.

There’s a good way to fix it, though. You simply have to figure out what a reader needs. It helps to have friends to read your work in the early stages, or alpha readers when you get to the point of allowing strangers to take a look at your manuscript.

My friend ended up explaining that he didn’t actually have the same issue I did, but that he did have his own issue. You see, there’s an equally dangerous possibility with writing: under-description.

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A Barebones Manuscript

The Curse of Under-description

The symptoms are easy to fall into once you start to “trim the fat” in your writing. There’s too many ways to end up with a barebones manuscript.

You need to make sure to figure out what’s important to properly convey. Is it really important that the reader knows that the spaceship you’re discussing had five PD-40 Ion Engines with small carvings of elephant tusks and inscriptions in runes around the edges? Or is it better to say there’s five ornate ion engines?

Well, it depends. You can do “info dumps” as Ben Bova called them, but don’t do them constantly. You need a gentle touch!

Once again, those early readers are important. Get a friend to read through it, someone who’s going to be honest with you.

Hopefully this helps you! It comes from a personal place to me.


 

Maybe you’ll like some of my other posts on writing:

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

Going from Outline to Manuscript

Writing with Inspiration

Or maybe a couple of my reviews:

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Book Review: Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

Book Review: Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge by Mike Resnick

seven-views-of-olduvai-gorgeI don’t know if it’s cheating to review this, but I received a small pamphlet, about 40 pages long, of Mike Resnick’s novella “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge”. Since I read it as a single bound material, I guess it counts as a “book review”.

I liked this story! I really enjoyed it after a small adjustment period.

The story follows alien scientists researching the origins of humanity, who has gone extinct thousands of years ago. Humanity was an empire that stretched across the stars, but they began from a small world called Earth. There are seven flashbacks related to seven artifacts recovered related to humanity, and the scientists learn more about human nature as it goes on. Ultimately, it shows how humanity came about, and how it grew to become the dominant force in the galaxy.

Mike Resnick is renowned for his prose, and this story is no exception. His still with words is fantastic, and as a writer, his ability to plot out fiction shines through.

“Seven Views” is a fantastic story, and one I’d recommend to anyone interested in science fiction. It’s a great story about human nature.

The ending, without getting into spoilers, is a great way to cap the crescendo on human nature.


 

You might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Book Review: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

Fantastic_novels_194803This is a story I’ve wanted to read for along time. It’s early speculative fiction, and often categorized as either sci-fi or fantasy, but after reading it I can say it’s definitely a fantasy story. The story is more of an adventure tale than anything, which makes sense given the state of publishing back then.

The story follows Kenton, who is whisked away to a bizarre ship that’s divided into two halves. It travels an unknown sea, and is said to belong to the goddess Ishtar. Aboard the ship, Kenton has a unique sword and is mistaken at first for a messenger of the gods.  After it’s revealed that he isn’t who they thought, he’s already met the two other main characters: Sharane, priestess of Ishtar, and Klaneth, a priest of Nergel.

Kenton, upon seeing Sharane in all her beauty, falls for her instantly. The story is then a love story between Kenton and Sharane, with Klaneth serving as the main antagonist. Kenton goes through several adventures and meets people who become his friends along the way.

Ultimately, I think it was a solid book. It’s a great example of the kind of adventure fiction that was popular in the mid-twenties. While it’s certainly a product of its time, I think it’s well worth a read for anyone interested in the history of speculative fiction.

[Spoiler] A major failing for the story is the ending. I really don’t think it ended well. It felt like it ended with no real resolution.


If you liked this, you might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Or maybe one of my posts about writing:

75% Writing, 25% Coping

Turning a Hobby into a Career

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

75% Writing, 25% Coping

chalkboard-1927332_960_720Rejection isn’t something a writer should fear. We all get hit by it, one rejection at a time. I’ve lost count of the amount of rejections I’ve had since I got serious about writing. It’s what happens.

I think to myself: am I really improving? What am I doing wrong?

It’s worrying to think I’m missing something, I’m failing to meet someone’s approval.

In truth, I feel like I’ve improved. I look back at my early work and scoff. There’s no way  anyone could reasonably look over my work and think it was written by a skilled storyteller.

But it also feels like I’m at the edge. Like all I need is a little more improvement and I’ll be there. I have the ideas, the realization of what it is I like about these stories, but all I need is a little something more. I need a spark, a small light to kindle the flame of my writing. There’s something missing, but I don’t know what.

But it’s more than that. I sometimes really worried my dream of being published won’t come true.

Even now more lessons strike my heart. I think to myself about how I write and realize I need to write as I think. An easy thing to say, but a personal realization to me nonetheless.

But I have to cope. The writing game is 75% writing, 25% coping.

Writing with Inspiration

creativity_idea_inspiration_innovation_pencil_paper_plan_business-714869I often struggle to find a push to write when I’m feeling ill or tired. Since I have a full time job and a family, I’m often tired and just want to relax. However, I think once motivation is conquered, the next hurdle is inspiration.

Where do you find inspiration?

Inspiration can come from anything. Other stories, people you’ve met, ideas you have in the shower, friends and family, and just generally living your life. That last part is important. How can you write about people and events if you don’t live your life?

Being an introvert, I get it. I get tired talking to people and meeting large groups, but I do it to interact and learn about human interaction. Your character dialogue might improve if you learn how other people talk. Who knows, you might even get inspired by a stranger to create a brand new character!

If you find yourself being boxed in, without an idea to move forward with, try stepping out and seeing the world and the people in it. Maybe that will help you as it has me.

Ultimately, inspiration is a result of what you put into it. Go out and experience things, and write about similar things.


You might like some of my reviews:

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

Book Review: The “Troy Rising” Trilogy by John Ringo

You might also like some more of my writing posts:

Turning a Hobby into a Career

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Shadow_of_the_torturerThis is the first book in “the Book of the New Sun” series, and honestly one of the best books I have ever read. I said this about The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance, and it stands true still.

This book follows Severian, who starts out as an apprentice torturer. The guild he’s in is respected for their craft and though they have a dark job to do, they don’t hire the bloodthirsty or sadistic. Instead, they pick children at a young age and teach them about it and seemingly participate as a part of the justice system. It becomes somewhat clear that torturers exist as both a means of punishment from the judicial branch and an executioner.

Severian commits a crime among his guild, having fallen for a woman they kept imprisoned in their halls, and is sent on assignment to another city. They would have liked to kill him, but his masters seemingly had pity on him for the situation and wanted to spare him his death.

Ultimately, it follows his travel to another city, his challenge to a duel, and his subsequent ritual in order to meet the requirements of the duel. Though the ending is a bit lacking (it was obviously set up for a sequel) there are hints of future events from the narrative of Severian himself. You know he survives the duel, you know something will happen to raise his status in society, but you don’t know what.

The world is fascinating, full, and vibrant, with rich characters and an interesting setting. Wolfe really shines here with the fleshed-out guild of torturers and the unique social structure the society seems to employ.

Ultimately, I consider this among the best fantasy works I’ve ever read, though it seems to mention some science fiction elements.

If you’re a fan of those genres, give it a chance and see if it works for you. I, meanwhile, will begin to read the next book.


You might like some of these other reviews:

Book Review: The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

You may also like my work on writing:

Finding Your Writing Style

Dodging Derivatives

Book Review: The Universe Maker by A. E. van Vogt

universemaker

I have been thoroughly impressed by A. E. van Vogt. I previously reviewed his books Voyage of the Space Beagle and Slan. He’s a good author, if not a little dated.

The Universe Maker, however, is such an odd tale it’s impossible to properly give it credit in a short review.

Morton Cargill, a heroic soldier from the 20th century, is accused of drunk driving and killing a woman. He doesn’t remember it, but all the evidence suggests it was his fault. As a result, he flees the scene and tries to escape.

The story involves a fight on the future earth 400 years later. It’s between floating airships of middle Americans and a city of Shadows, humanoid shaped creatures of mysterious origins and powers.

Two notes on Cargill’s character:

  1. Cargill never feels like a sympathetic character. Maybe it’s my modern reading, but a drunk driver is not a good person in any context. As such, he’s immediately disliked.
  2. Cargill does things for the end result, seducing two girls in an effort to take control from them. He’s again unsympathetic due to this, but he does feel unique and real.

He’s well-written, and as such holds a whole story on his own.

Downsides of this book are that, yes, it feels a little dated, and it also feels a little repetitive.

However, if you can hold on until the end, that ending is superb.


You might like some of these other posts:

Book Review: 1632 by Eric Flint

Dodging Derivatives

Book Review: The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

TheSirensofTitan(1959)Kurt Vonnegut is an author I was exposed to early on in my life. In high school I read the short story “Harrison Bergeron” which impacted me the rest of my life.

However, when I was older I truly appreciated Vonnegut as an author when I read The Sirens of Titan.

It’s difficult to put down what this book was about. A succinct summary seems impossible. It follows a history laid out in detail that spans multiple worlds and times.  The ideas, the concepts, and the setting are all interesting and hold up for the most part. Some of the science is a little dated, but it’s charming in a way that Triplanetary was not.

The image of the sirens will always stay in my mind, as will the idea of the Unmoved Mover being a power source. Vonnegut is a skilled author and this is one book I recommend to anyone who enjoys science fiction.

I know this is a short one, but it’s a really complicated story to delve into.


You may like some of my other posts:

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

Book Review: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

You may also like my posts about writing:

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

Finding Your Writing Style