cover image Night Lamp

Night Lamp

Jack Vance. Tor Books, $23.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-312-85685-4

Young Jaro comes home to find a man torturing his mother. The boy repels the stranger, then obeys his mother's command to kill her in order to end her pain. Then the fleeing Jaro is nearly beaten to death by malicious older boys. Brain-damaged, the memory of his early life mostly gone, he is nursed back to health by a childless couple. Adopted by them, Jaro leads a mostly happy life, but though his new parents want him to be an academic, he yearns to become a spaceman and to discover the truth behind his mysterious past. Vance (Throy, 1993), who has been publishing SF for close to half a century and has won just about every major award during that time, is near the top of his form in this leisurely tale of interplanetary adventure and financial skullduggery. The pleasure of Vance's books lies in his mannered, heavily ironic language, and in the bizarre societies he creates. His characters, most of whom are rogues, love verbal fencing and often alternate rapidly between violent hyperbole and terse understatement. His cultures abound in strange social customs, preposterous academic pursuits and elaborate costuming. This new novel is unlikely to appeal to the MTV crowd, but it will yield rich rewards to those with the patience to savor its humorous complexities. (Oct.)