Science Fiction novel by Jack Vance* * * *  (explanation)

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.

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