Half a century after he started publishing, Vance showed in this story that he still had his gift. For Vance fans, the characters are familiar types, but the writing flows just as smoothly as ever.
Ports of Call is a travelogue, somewhat in the mode of Big Planet (but broader) or Space Opera (but less farcical). In brief, a young man is forced to make his way as a member of a spaceship crew, visiting all manner of planets. As always, the worlds are strange, the customs bizarre, the decisions whimsical.
The book has a broader range of well-developed characters than usual. Where Vance often relies on a fairly ‘normal’ narrator and weird, barely human companions or foils, here the crew of the spaceship are interesting and reasonable individuals in their own right.
Some of the decoration is familiar. For example, Vance expands slightly on one of his favorite risks – that innocent actions can lead to unexpected – and undesired – marriage. (Since he seems to have been quite happy with his own lifelong marriage, it’s best not to read into this anything but humor.) But the total is nonetheless very entertaining.
So far, so good, and one of Vance’s better books. Unfortunately, whether through editorial pressure, bad planning, or some other cause, the book stops at what one might feel is about the 2/3 or 3/4 mark. There’s a quick epilogue (strange in a book so obviously designed for a sequel) that pretends to set up the sequel, but basically the book simply ends mid-stream. Given that the sequel, Lurulu, is so slim, it’s hard to escape the conviction that it was all intended to be published as a single volume. Had that happened, I’d have been very pleased. But this book, as it stands, is incomplete and unsatisfying.
Overall, the main portion of an excellent Vance work. If I end up buying all his work electronically (Spatterlight Press), I’ll consider simply merging Ports of Call and Lurulu into the one volume I feel they’re meant to be.
I do recommend this, provided you buy Lurulu at the same time. The two together make a good story.