Book review: EMPHYRIO
When some folks say “space opera,” they use the term scornfully. I don’t. My first brush with sci-fi as a kid was Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars series, then E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensmen stuff and things by the great Leigh Brackett. My tastes grew more sophisticated as I grew older, but I still adore good space opera. (What, after all, is
Remarkably, I haven’t read much Vance until recently, and then at the urging of one of this blog’s regular readers. I read one of Vance’s Demon Prince novels a few months ago, but TheSilentCritic recommended Emphyrio specifically, so when I found a copy at the local used book shoppe, I grabbed it. Very good stuff. Fun stuff. It’s filled with star-hopping, space pirates, and high adventure. And plenty of swash is buckled, so to speak.
But Emphyrio is also one heck of a good freedom novel. And it’s one I’ve never before heard discussed in libertarian geek circles.
The first half of the book details the “coming of age” of Ghyl Tarvoke on the planet Halma, which is “ruled” by elite, arrogant Lords and a mercantilist welfare system. Vance’s depiction of a “benevolent” state and its stifling class system is, I think, well done and convincing. In the book’s second half, the “pirate” Ghyl searches among the planets for the key to his homeworld’s despotic origins and to the secrets behind the legendary hero Emphyrio. The jacket copy on my edition of Emphyrio asks, “Was he the legendary liberator…or tomorrow’s space pirate?” The answer is, satisfyingly enough, both.
Now almost four decades old, Emphyrio ranks among the best freedom novels I’ve read. I’m glad to have finally caught up with it.