Book Review – Ports of Call by Jack Vance
Myron Tany longs to journey into space, to see exotic places and to experience grand adventures. He believes he has a shot of doing this when his eccentric (and rich) great aunt Hester becomes obsessed with a finding a modern fountain of youth on a distant planet. She has a starship she won in a slander case and the location of the planet. She also has a crew, but Myron proves to her that they are not what they claim to be and he assumes the captaincy of the ship before they depart.
This promising plot is abandoned on page 68 when Myron is thrown of his great aunt’s ship for trying to ditch the gold-digging hitchhiker making moves on her. After this, we hear no more of Hester, the fountain of youth, or anything resembling a coherent plot.
The remaining pages (232) have Myron taking a position on a tramp interstellar freighter, picking up cargo, passengers, and interesting experiences as they hop from one quirky port of call to another.
The settings are imaginative, the characters are promising, but both are undeveloped. The story, such as it is, appears assembled from brainstorming notes with, perhaps, a deadline but certainly without an outline.
The prose style, however, is exceptional. I suppose it would better to say that it appealed to me in that it reminded me of things written in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. Other readers may not like it. I could not help thinking of Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad (1869) when I read this because it is also about a ship hopping from one port to another; it also provokes a few smiles, and it, too, has no plot.
I suspect that there is a very good book, or maybe a series, lurking somewhere in the characters and settings presented here. Ports of Call, unfortunately, is not it. There are too many unresolved questions, too many loose ends, and too many potentially great characters left undeveloped for me to recommend it.