Maske: Thaery - Jack Vance quintessential Jack Vance adventure novel. swiftly-paced, drily witty, deeply ironic, byzantine in its layers of back-story and multiple displays of world-building yet happily trim and stripped-down in its actual verbiage, featuring a sardonic young hero, his icy love interest and various mysteries that he is only slightly interested in solving.

Jubal Droad is a high-caste Glint in the land of Thaery, on the planet Maske, on the outskirts of the Gaean Reach. unfortunately being a noble son of Glint means practically nothing in the big city of Wysrod, where his homeland of Glentlin is an embarrassing country cousin to more sophisticated family members. Jubal is instantly identified as redneck. he gets offended. Jubal gets offended quite a lot; he chafes frequently at any sign of snobbery or high-handedness. fortunately for Jubal, he is a lad with both connections and some very dear secrets, and he is quickly given a job as an "Inn Inspector". which is code for glamorous, jet-setting spy. Jubal barely cares. it's just another job and his main goals are making lots of cash, getting his revenge on with a noble who offended him, and then, well, he doesn't know. doing something. he'll figure it out. whatever. and so the Grand Adventure begins! ha.

that 'whatever' is one of the wonderful qualities of this novel. this may be a novel featuring a spy tracking down a nefarious villain across three worlds, while getting embroiled in the affairs of the aristocracy and dealing with a violent regime change back home, but the tone of the whole thing is so charmingly nonchalant. Jubal may be seething with fury and resentment in general, gnashing his teeth with frustration at the cold treatment he receives from a lady who turns him on with that cold treatment, and forever haggling with his boss over money... but he is also so nonchalant about it. most characters in Vance novels are this way: oh so sardonic. i love the elegant and stylishly low-key way that all the characters converse with each other. this may be a pulp novel of sorts, but it is also pure style. Jack Vance, as ever, has a skilled and delightful way with words. i read this all in one long afternoon in the park and it was pure enjoyment.

Masque: Thaery has a real economy of words and yet the various science fantasy ideas on display are well thought-out, wide-ranging, just brimming over with creativity. there is enough imaginative awesomeness in this book to fill a whole mega-series of science fantasy, and yet the novel clocks in at a slim 216 pages.

i found two things to be particularly enjoyable.

at one point, Vance spends several pages detailing various luxury tours that are available on a vacation planet. the tours described are wonderful flights of the imagination and i loved reading about them. but i did wonder - why spend so much time on something that has nothing to do with the plot? and then i forgot that, and continued to enjoy the narrative. but at the end - with the surprise reveal of the villain's surprisingly banal motives being based on mercenary exploitation of natural places for luxury tourism - the lengthy descriptions of luxury tours elsewhere made quick sense. i reread them again and noticed the subtle things that had escaped me at first: native animals being exploited; natural places being transformed and prettified for tourist eyes; sex tourism; the drug trade; exploitation of natural resources; etc. i appreciated the subtlety of the foreshadowing, and i appreciated even more the secretly furious perspective of the author on such things. who would have guessed that Vance would be such an ardent progressive when it comes to environmentalism? the heinous and gruesome ending for the villain illustrates exactly how Vance feels about raping natural places. plus some fairly brutal irony in the actual mode of (slow, slow) death.

the second thing: a lot of odd footnotes and a really random glossary. here's one entry from the glossary, describing points an employer must consider when using the services of the human-ish Djan:
One Djan performs aimlessly unless supervised.

Two Djan become intense; they either quarrel or fondle each other.

Three Djan create a disequilibrium; they work with agitation and resentful energy.

Four Djan form a stable system. They respond equably to orders but exert themselves only moderately and indulge themselves in comfort.

Five Djan form an unstable and dangerous combination. Four will presently form a group; the fifth, ejected, becomes resentful and bitter. He may go "solitary."

Six Djan yield one stable set and a pair of defiant lovers.

Seven Djan create an unpredictable flux of shifting conditions and a turmoil of emotions.

Eight Djan, after considerable shifting, conniving, testing, plotting, backbiting, yield two stable groups.