For weeping Wednesday, I submit to you some joyful weeping for marvelous writing. Jack Vance is a master of dialogue, preferring the oblique and polite to the crass and overt. Often you find yourself reading a passage again, smiling to yourself as you recognize a snide cleverness deadpanning underneath the gentlemanly discourse of scholars. This segment is taken from The Eyes of the Overworld, part of The Dying Earth series of short stories.
We join our antihero Cugel shortly after he’s apprehended in the process of robbing the mediocre yet potent Iucounu the Laughing Magician. In recompense, Cugel is impressed into service for an arduous quest in a far-off land to secure at least one of the Eyes of the Overworld, manifest as a violet hemisphere. Cugel’s fierce loyalty has just been secured through the insertion of a wickedly barbed parasite into Cugel’s viscera, whose removal depends entirely on the Laughing Magician.
“I trust you suffer no deficiency of memory,” said Iucounu. “But even if this becomes the case, and if you neglect your prime responsibility, which is to say, the procuring of the violet cusp, Firx is on hand to remind you.”
Cugel said, “Since I am now committed to this enterprise, and unlikely to return, you may care to learn my appraisal of yourself and your character. In the first place–”
But Iucounu held up his hand. “I do not care to listen; obloquy injures my self-esteem and I am skeptical of praise. So now—be off!”
As you might gather, Vance’s writing vocabulary is big. Pretty big. Really big even. Some might even say… superduper big. But grace abounds: the context is almost always quite clear. Did you learn a new word today? I did at my first read as well!
Next week: “Show, don’t tell.”