Jack Vance is another author whose works I generally missed during my early years of reading. My library shows that I have read The Grey Prince and The Faceless Man. Both I remember as good, and the former sticks with me the most. The Killing Machine was another that was listed on Gardner Dozois' recommended reading list. Originally published in 1964, the book is a sequel to the The Star King, but it stands alone well enough. The book depicts the struggle of a man, Kirth Gersen, to avenge the death of his family at the hands of the five Demon Princes.
One of these Demon Princes is Kokor Hekkus, known as the Killing Machine. Twice Hekkus slips through Gersen's hands, until Gersen finally tracks him to the mysterious planet Thamber, cut off from the rest of the galaxy. There, Gersen must find Hekkus and kill him, aided by the Princess Alusz Iphigenia Eperje-Tokay. (I love that name.)
I can not do the plot justice. Just as Silverberg in The Book of Skulls uses stylistic characterization, Vance uses elaborate plot devices and interwoven details to make a gripping and exciting story. I should say that the fight scene between Kirth Gerson and the Tadousko-Oi hetman is the best written fight scene I have ever read.
Vance creates a galaxy that is extremely intricate. The front-matter to each chapter provides humorous and witty insight into the universe of Kirth Gerson. Vance's humor, while subtle, permeates the book. Characters such as Myron Patch are there to provide humor with their indignant response to the world and Gerson's single-minded goal of revenge.
The Killing Machine is a gripping page-turner, as good as anything I've ever read. I heartily recommend it, if you haven't already read it.
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