Thursday, 6 August 2009

Jack Vance, Lyonesse (1983)

I'm finishing off an afterword for this excellent-looking new Gollancz edition of the complete Lyonesse trilogy; so my head is full of Vance right now. That's a wonderful thing to have filling your head, by the way. What an incomparable and superb writer he is! And of all his books, Lyonesse really is one of his best. There's so much to say about it (there are, for instance, so many elements from it that have worked their way into my own novels, sometimes unconsciously) ... but for now I'll confine myself to a quick browse through the cover art of various editions. First editions first; that's the rule:


And very nice too, although Suldrun (there) is a little too sweet and pretty for the character as she appears in the book; and the enormity of the bugs alarms me a little. Plus the cover blurb ('Vintage Vance ... and you can't say better than that. It never lets you down' Frank Herbert), by suggesting that, maybe, you suspect perhaps you might be let down, tends to undersell what is, after all, a masterpiece. This one:

... has a kind of Tuner's Dido Building Carthage vibe to it, and is also very pretty. Although I'm not sure a picture of a blonde woman washing her heel quite gets to the heart of Vance's vision: which for all its intricately stylish range has almost nothing to do with heel-washing.


This is the edition I first read the story in, and it accordingly has a close place in my heart. And I like the landscape and especially the Jenga-ish, on-the-point-of-toppling castle. But the stiffly sat whitebearded gnomes in the bottom right are a false step, visually; and as with the other images there's nothing in this that captures the beautifully estranged, uniquely laminated and fine-grained splendour of Vance's prose. Still it's closer to the mood than this oddly Wagnerian Czech edition of the novel (apologies for the keystoning, and blurriness):

Those are some forearms she's got there. Here's the book in Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks livery:

Which is perhaps the loveliest of the lot, although a little, I don't know, mournful and subdued. Where, we might wonder, are Vance's pavane-like liveliness, and wit, his grotesque rapidity? And then, whilst google-image-search cycled through Lyonesse covers, my eye fell excitedly upon this one:

'Yes!' I thought: 'a weird smoking fishmouth sloth-armed monster flying past two sword-carrying, surfing hobbits! That's more like it!' For although there's nothing in the novels to suggest such a scene, this at least gets a little closer to the mood of Vance. But of course this is not Vance; this is by the, I have no doubt, excellent Sam Llewellyn and is a completely different novel. A shame, really. And now that I come to look at it, the title appears to be the much less pronouncable Lyqnesse; so I'm starting to go off it a little.

17 comments:

Sam Ll said...

I wrote the book. Actually it is called Lyonesse, but Art Nouveau can be so semilegible....

and I fear it is not Jack Vance's Lyonesse, but the one we heard about in the legends of my childhood in the Isles of Scilly, which were once the mountains of that beautiful, doomed land.

Adam Roberts said...

Thanks for stopping by, Sam. I've not read your novel, but I'll try and rectify that at the first opportunity.

David Langford said...

Useless Information Dept: the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks cover art (by Mike Van Houten) also appeared on the 1986 UK Grafton edition of the second volume, Lyonesse II: The Green Pearl.

Mark Gerrits said...

After seeing that Czech cover, I take back everything I've ever said about America producing the worst possible book covers.

Is this new edition getting the same kind of packaging as the recent complete Conan chronicles? The cover design looks very similar. It'd be great if this turned into a series of seminal fantasy omnibuses, like a more upscale version of their Masterworks series. (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser next please, Gollancz!)

Adam Roberts said...

Mark G: exactly so. And I second your sentiments.

David: thanks!

David B. Ellis said...

I'm pretty underwhelmed by all those covers. The Sanjulian painting for the cover of Madouc is great though.

Jonathan said...

You didn't use "enormity" to refer to size, did you Adam? From OED: " {dag}3. Excess in magnitude; hugeness, vastness. Obs.; recent examples might perh. be found, but the use is now regarded as incorrect."

Adam Roberts said...

Ooo, I think it's clear from context that it's the extreme wickedness of the insects that concerns me. You can tell just by looking at them how wicked they are. Look at that butterfly!

Kat @ FanLit said...

I am very happy about this reprinting. Most of my generation of fantasy readers is unaware of Jack Vance's work, and that is shameful. Kudos to Gollancz for bringing it back!

Gareth Rees said...

although there's nothing in the novels to suggest such a scene

Not even the journey of Glyneth and Kul the Killer through Tanjecterly?

ericf said...

Any chance you know what version of the first novel (Suldrun's Garden) this edition uses? So far, the only edition which has had the original text is the Underwood edition. All other editions have been cleaned up (language is Brittish English or American English in the respective editions) before being published. I would like to buy this nice edition but unless it contains the original, unedited, version of Vance's novel I won't bother.
ericf

Adam Roberts said...

Ericf: the new Gollancz edition uses the text from the author-approved Vance Integral Edition.

ericf said...

Thanks for letting me know that.
Ericf

8thRay said...

I can't believe I didn't know this was coming out. I instantly ordered it, of course. My original softcovers are pretty beat by now. I love everything Vance wrote, particularly the Dying Earth books, but I consider Lyonesse to be his crowning achievement.

8thRay said...

Jeesh, I just noticed I commented on a year-old page. Talk about being out of touch...

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