Science Fiction novel
by Jack Vance
. * * *
Musicologists Hilyer Fath and Althea Fath, while on the
world of Camberwell to study the music of one of the local tribes, happen
upon a horrible scene: four youths beating a small boy. Camberwell
doctors labor mightily to treat his injuries, and by some miracle, he survives.
As the boy is obviously not a native, he has no real place on Camberwell.
So, after he is stabilized, the childless Faths take him home to their
own world of Gallingale.
Now, Gallingale is a very odd place itself, a world where social status
comes from the club one belongs to. Everything is "comporture": Butter
up the right people, wait your turn for a spot in a better club, stab your
competitors in the back, but politely. Schmeltzers, or people who
try to jump to a higher social status without earning it, are considered
the worst moral lepers imaginable. The Faths choose not to participate
in this regime, and are accorded a certain measure of respect for their
beliefs, but of course they're never invited to the right parties, and
never manage to get tenure.
Into this society they bring young Jaro Fath. He doesn't remember
the beating, but nightmares constantly trouble him. Psychologists
tell the Faths that the beating was bad enough, but there is something
worse, something related to the reason he was in a position to be attacked
by the Camberwell youths in the first place.
All in all, Gallingale is not too bad a place for Jaro, and we watch
him grow up under the Faths' idiosyncratic guidance. However, Jaro
can't escape his past. He wants to know where he came from, but the
Faths won't tell him. Eventually, he must go out and discover why, and
if you read the book, so will you.
If a few works by Jack Vance occasionally disappoint, Night Lamp
is not one of them. It has all the hallmarks of a Vance: a Galaxy-sweeping
plot, biting allegories, moral tests passed and failed, and of course an
immense vocabulary. Night Lamp
is a beacon in the darkness
that proves the old man still has it in him.