Archive for July 7th, 2014

Jack Vance – The Dogtown Tourist Agency

Monday, July 7th, 2014

It has been a while since I picked up a Jack Vance novel. I have as good as his complete science fiction and fantasy bibliography, even as it is all the Dutch translation, and I have thus read them all at least once already. While most of his novels are short the one I picked up belongs to the shortest ones. One could dub it also a long novella, depending on the definition to follow. The Dogtown Tourist Agency (1975) has a somewhat peculiar title. It reveals something about the plot while the plot takes a while to get there. The Dutch title of the novels is much less literal and more powerful: The Machines Of Maz.

The novel itself is science fiction only in the setting of the story. Vance uses it to introduce and explore strange worlds, societies and cultures. The technology used is a strange mishmash of old and new things. The Vance universe is however an old future age where technological progress has been exchanged for a relatively stable universal society. Is it realistic or probable? One should not seek the answer when reading Jack Vance. His aim is to tell a captivating and engaging story where you can get baffled, amused or get a laugh while there can be found hidden messages for those who like to give it more thought.

The protagonists of Vance’s novels are often made in the same mold. I have often compared them to Clint Eastwood. You see him in different settings and roles but essentially his character has a versatility that makes it feel like you are seeing the same magnetic person who you can’t stop enjoying to experience. The protagonist in The Dogtown Tourist Agency is no different. Compared to the usual character format he has a colder, more business-like attitude who grabs his opportunities when he sees them. It are these details that create the subtle differences that make these familiar protagonist unique in each novel.

Most of Vance’s novels are too short to have much character development. The pace of the story is fast as Vance does not dwell on too many details or overly long thoughts or dialogues and the narrative only follows the protagonist of the story. It is all about the effectiveness of his writing and it is this where he excels in. He requires few words to trigger the imagination of the reader and immerse him in the story.

The plots of Vance’s novels usually conform to a similar nature. While the protagonist has a considerable influence on the development of the story there are always outside events that collision with what he is trying to achieve. This can either result in a negative or a positive effect. While this setup is used frequently by Vance it is something that is not seen to this extent in other novels because what it does it put things into perspective. This is just a minor story, a peculiar tale that is worthwhile to be told. There is much more going on and these events on the background elicit the curiosity of the reader as one does not see the complete picture. One has to guess, make up theories, even when it is not of real importance to the main story. It is a strength of Vance that he always knows to employ.

As I am a huge fan of the works of Jack Vance, this novel certainly gets no bad review. Even his poorest works are still on an average quality level. The Dogtown Tourist Agency is one of his many small gems. Despite the relatively short length it holds plenty of story and one will feel just as satisfied at the end when reading a much longer novel. Vance wrote another story with the same protagonist called Freitzke’s Turn although it is no more than a solid short story.