Emphyrio (Millennium SF Masterworks S)

by Jack Vance

Paperback, 1999

Status

Available

Call number

813

Collection

Publication

Gollancz (1999), Paperback

Description

Far in the future, the craftsmen of the distant planet Halma create goods which are the wonder of the galaxy. But they know little of this. Their society is harshly regimented, its religion austere and unforgiving, and primitive - to maintain standards, even the most basic use of automation is punishable by death. When Amiante, a wood-carver, is executed for processing old documents with a camera, his son Ghyl rebels, and decides to bring down the system. To do so, he must first interpret the story of Emphyrio, an ancient hero of Halman legend.

User reviews

LibraryThing member duhrer
Yet again I am delighted to have encountered (through the Gollancz SF Masterworks series) a book I would never otherwise have read.

Ghyl Tarvoke is a curious young man, who drifts aimlessly through his young world, allowed by his father the freedom to live somewhat outside the strictures of society.
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When his father is killed for contradicting the simplistic understanding of the police and judiciary, Ghyl rises beyond his childhood dreams of star flight and adventure to uncover truths worth sharing.

The story unfolds slowly, with a tempo that only gradually rises in the second act, and which finally hits its stride well into the third act. Vance takes the time to build the environment of his characters in lavish (but never tiring) detail. Thus, we care when Ghyl makes his break from polite society, and delight when the rough cloth of his society finally shows signs of unraveling.

This is a very good book, well worth the time to read.
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LibraryThing member clong
This offers less action than your standard Vance tale, but quite a bit more to think about. In many ways it reminds me of the novels of L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

The setting is planet run by largely paternalistic and in many ways quite forgiving government. People who work hard and mind their own business
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are supported by a safety net which cares for their basic needs. People can freely leave the system, but then forego the safety net. There is, however, a quite stringent prohibition against mechanical duplication, whether of goods or the printed page. Sounds fairly innocuous, right?

As our protagonist comes of age in this society he longs for greater opportunity, and finds himself and those around him facing difficult decisions. He and they then have to live with the consequences of those decisions. There is a hidden mystery running through the book which, once answered, both seems obvious, and validates the protagonist’s actions in a very satisfying way.

One of the best books by one of the best science fiction authors. Give it a try.
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LibraryThing member wirkman
One of Jack Vance's very best efforts, almost a meditation on anomie and a dark satire on the welfare state. I'm tempted to call it a great book.
LibraryThing member argonheart
Impressive style, interesting ideas and a melancholy atmosphere: this is probably Vance's finest singleton.
LibraryThing member edella
amazon: Jack Vance began to publish SF in 1945, and his 1950 science- fantasy classic The Dying Earth established him as a master of exotic, ironic style--still the hallmark of his 1990s novels. Emphyrio dates from 1969 and is perhaps his best handling of a favourite theme, a young boy's rebellion
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against a fossilized and unfair society. Ambroy, on the far world Halma, is a city of fine craft-workers where quiet tyranny wears the smiling face of a welfare state. Social workers with draconian powers enforce strict laws against mechanical duplication (each work of art must be unique), while priests of the absurd state religion go from door to door being loftily officious. Dissatisfied young Ghyl Tarvoke more or less prankishly runs for Mayor of Ambroy under the name of legendary hero Emphyrio--a quixotic act which leads indirectly to his master-craftsman father's tragic punishment and death, to despairing involvement in his wild friends' spaceship hijack plan, and to shocking revelations about Ambroy's real rulers. Legend says that Emphyrio long ago brought peace to Halma by uncovering truth, at the cost of his life. After colourful adventures Ghyl finds himself similarly placed: the truth can redeem the city he loves but means great personal loss. A fine, strangely underrated novel, now reissued as #19 in the Millennium SF Masterworks series. --David Langford
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LibraryThing member ropie
Certainly not an average writer is Jack Vance. Emphyrio is perhaps the most highly regarded of his stand-alone novels. In it, Ghyl, the young hero, is on the trail of a fabled being of yore, the eponymous Emphyrio, and finds himself using the same name in a bid to overturn the wrong-doings of the
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revered Lords of his isolated home planet.

The novel has a pulp-ish charm to it - a simple, brave protagonist in an exotic but faintly barbaric world, where gentle craftspeople carve out an existence for themselves largely for the benefit of the upper classes. Vance weaves a delicate and enchanting society, one not without credibility and parallels with sections of out own planet (which also makes a brief appearance as a sort of legendary cradle of civilization) and knows how to raise the emotion of the reader with just a few well-placed lines. To me this is a sort of space fantasy, where 'space yachts' can skip over the light years as easily as we can walk to the shops and most problems can be resolved within a few paragraphs, but this is all for the betterment of the flow of the action, of course. I actually can't think of a bad word to say about this book and look forward to reading more Vance.
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LibraryThing member salimbol
Some intriguing world-building with a clever mingling of the old and the new, social commentary that mingles light but still bitter cynicism and absurdity to great effect, jewel-bright prose and a bit of a mystery to unravel - all of this made Emphyrio a pleasure to read. However, the slow and
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fairly delicious buildup of the story is marred by the rather abrupt and perhaps too romantic ending, meaning that the preceding narrative felt as if it was shot through with a foreboding that wasn't warranted.
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LibraryThing member questbird
Quite good, end is a bit abrupt.
LibraryThing member write-review
Tale of Insidious Slavery Overthrown

Jack Vance’s Emphyrio, somewhat clunky at times with an ending that while revealing and dramatic does tax credulity, demonstrates and advocates for the power of individuals to unveil great injustice and overthrow it for the benefit of all. The novel remains
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readable, enjoyable, and instructive more than 50 years after first published for its core message of individual strength and persistence in the face of convention and tradition.

Hundreds of years preceding the open of the novel, the planet Halma had been ravaged by numerous wars. A group of lords swooped in, capitalized a rebuilding of society, and remained to rule the land, and collected a yearly percentage of all goods and labor sold for their efforts. They organized a guild society of various crafts, the foundation of which was artisan goods made by hand and sold to neighboring planets through one distribution concern they controlled.

Protagonist Ghyl Tarvoke is born into this world and lives with his father Amiante, a carver of fine wood panels. It’s expected by society that Ghyl would take up his father’s craft. However, Ghyl desires more from life, especially after he gets a glimpse at how the lords and ladies live. He learns of a mythical hero, Emphyrio, who rose up from the people to defeat monsters terrorizing the populace. Over time, as the novel follows his life from boyhood to young adulthood, he comes to believe that Emphyrio actually lived. After various adventures with friends, that include small acts of rebellion against the strictures of society, and the theft of a lord’s space yacht, he sets out in earnest to solve the mystery of Emphyrio.

His travels take him to Earth, progenitor of all the settled worlds, including Halma, where he pursues his research at the Historical Institute, an archive that preserves and records all human history throughout the settled worlds. That brings him back to Halma’s moon, Damar. A race of squat creatures occupy Damar and earn their living by making puppets, which supply the worlds with entertainment. These are biological puppets, as the Damarans possess the ability to use their own bodies to create them. And therein lies the heart of the Emphyrio mystery, as well as the curious richness of Darmarans, replete with adornments that match the lords of Halma. For, as Emphyrio learned, and for which he was executed, the lords were actually creations of the Darmarans. The percentage of Halma’s labor went to Darma and the guild people of Halma were, unbeknownst to them, economically enslaved to the Darmans. Ghyl, assuming the name Emphyrio, forces the one lord entrusted with he truth each generation to reveal all, and forever after Emphyrio is honored as the freer of people.

The novel turns on the belief that one individual armed with belief and persistence can upend an entire entrenched system. Looking back to the turmoil of the late 1960s meshed with the American ideal of individualism, readers can appreciate how this essentially Carlylean idea would hold appeal. And for many, it probably still does.
Show Less
LibraryThing member write-review
Tale of Insidious Slavery Overthrown

Jack Vance’s Emphyrio, somewhat clunky at times with an ending that while revealing and dramatic does tax credulity, demonstrates and advocates for the power of individuals to unveil great injustice and overthrow it for the benefit of all. The novel remains
Show More
readable, enjoyable, and instructive more than 50 years after first published for its core message of individual strength and persistence in the face of convention and tradition.

Hundreds of years preceding the open of the novel, the planet Halma had been ravaged by numerous wars. A group of lords swooped in, capitalized a rebuilding of society, and remained to rule the land, and collected a yearly percentage of all goods and labor sold for their efforts. They organized a guild society of various crafts, the foundation of which was artisan goods made by hand and sold to neighboring planets through one distribution concern they controlled.

Protagonist Ghyl Tarvoke is born into this world and lives with his father Amiante, a carver of fine wood panels. It’s expected by society that Ghyl would take up his father’s craft. However, Ghyl desires more from life, especially after he gets a glimpse at how the lords and ladies live. He learns of a mythical hero, Emphyrio, who rose up from the people to defeat monsters terrorizing the populace. Over time, as the novel follows his life from boyhood to young adulthood, he comes to believe that Emphyrio actually lived. After various adventures with friends, that include small acts of rebellion against the strictures of society, and the theft of a lord’s space yacht, he sets out in earnest to solve the mystery of Emphyrio.

His travels take him to Earth, progenitor of all the settled worlds, including Halma, where he pursues his research at the Historical Institute, an archive that preserves and records all human history throughout the settled worlds. That brings him back to Halma’s moon, Damar. A race of squat creatures occupy Damar and earn their living by making puppets, which supply the worlds with entertainment. These are biological puppets, as the Damarans possess the ability to use their own bodies to create them. And therein lies the heart of the Emphyrio mystery, as well as the curious richness of Darmarans, replete with adornments that match the lords of Halma. For, as Emphyrio learned, and for which he was executed, the lords were actually creations of the Darmarans. The percentage of Halma’s labor went to Darma and the guild people of Halma were, unbeknownst to them, economically enslaved to the Darmans. Ghyl, assuming the name Emphyrio, forces the one lord entrusted with he truth each generation to reveal all, and forever after Emphyrio is honored as the freer of people.

The novel turns on the belief that one individual armed with belief and persistence can upend an entire entrenched system. Looking back to the turmoil of the late 1960s meshed with the American ideal of individualism, readers can appreciate how this essentially Carlylean idea would hold appeal. And for many, it probably still does.
Show Less
LibraryThing member mkfs
A society where peons are paid subsistence wages so that their rulers can live in luxury: Jack Vance's searing indictment of communism. Or is it? Advancement is possible, with successful guild members and welfare opt-outs becoming quite successful, and the lords themselves receive a paltry 2% and
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live in sparse residences: Jack Vance's searing indictment of capitalism. What exactly is going on here?

The protagonist seems flustered when he attempts to develop a hatred of the society that Vance seems so keen for him to undo:
The Welfare Agency worked, by and large, for the benefit of the recipients. The guilds enforced the standards of excellence by which Ambroy survived in relative ease and security. The lords extracted their 1.18 percent from the economy, but that amount hardly seemed excessive. What then was wrong? Where was truth?


The answer, of course, lies firmly in the tradition of 60s individualist manifestos like The Prisoner: Vance hates totalitarian bureacracies. There should always be room for individual exceptions, with the blind application of law and tradition used to guide actions of the many, but not to destroy a life which, while nonconformist, has committed no immoral or violent acts. It's clear that Vance would have chafed under the strictures of the society he has laid out.

It certainly feels like Vance was very close to this book. The descriptions of the wood carver's work, the attention to nautical detail in describing spaceships and their voyages, appear to be drawn from life. His skewering of organized religion seems genuine, even if he contrived to invent a faith more ridiculous than any known on earth - and that's up against some pretty stiff competition, if you include the Pastafarians.

Returning to the story, of course there is something going on, and after some wide ranging adventures the hero confronts the situation, setting up what should be a showdown put feels more like a rushed ending. Which is fine - it's not really a showdown sort of book.
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Awards

Prometheus Hall of Fame Award (Finalist — 2021)

Language

Original publication date

1969-??-??

Physical description

208 p.; 7.6 inches

ISBN

185798885X / 9781857988857
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