Jack Vance’s Maske: Thaery. Plus Beer Tasting Notes.

I can conceive of no reason not to accompany a review of Maske: Thaery, by the sui generis literary genius Jack Vance, with a review of a few brews. And I might as well do it while watching a football game. If that seems an unexpected, odd, and yet ultimately compelling combination, welcome to the Jack Vance appreciation society. And yes, this is being written before the posting date.

There is no doubting that one is reading a Jack Vance novel. His style is unmistakable. It remains consistent across all genres he played with, and still becomes both his fantasy and his science-fiction: urbane, quirky, mannered, understated, filled with imaginative detail, and language that appears at once esoteric, archaic, and otherworldly. His use of color is nonpareil, his bon mots on par with Oscar Wilde.


Tinsel Trousers. Eureka Heights. Spiced Golden Ale. 7.5%. Pours deep gold, almost amber. Pleasantly spiced. The kind of liquid Christmas cookie I’d want after clambering down yet another chimney to lavish undeserved presents on another entitled brat. Could use a bigger nose; the aroma does not clue you in to the flavor.


Maske: Thaery is one of Vance’s distant future science-fiction novels, like his Alastor or Demon Princes books. The protagonist should be familiar to the Vance reader: prideful, quick-witted, resourceful, bold, and egocentric. There is always a refreshing touch of the picaresque about a Vance hero.

The story occurs primarily on a planet dominated by a religious group (and a couple of schismatic/splinter factions.) They represent a second, much later colonization. The religion values the status quo and despises technological innovation and outside influences. A few hundred years have passed since, along with certain social changes. Vance does his usual fantastic job of depicting unique societies (the colonists, splinter groups, and the older, prior human colonists) and their distinctive laws, customs, attire, etc. And he throws in, mid-way through the book, a second planet, replete with an entirely different society, etc. At this point the man was just showing off.


Christmas Ale. Bells. Scotch Ale. 7.5% Pours a dark caramel. No nose to speak of. Bland. A coal in your stocking.


The hero, a second son, seeks employment in the big city. With a letter of introduction from his uncle (in a bit that erroneously made me think we might be getting into Three Musketeers territory) he finds employment with an organization that turns out to be an intelligence service. Various early events coalesce. We get a properly villainous villain (who is in some distant way a mirror of the hero), secondary villains, a far from straightforward romance (nebulous and unresolved), action, deceit, battles, a sea voyage, intrigue, considerations of the impact of tourism, and much more.


Excessive stress. But that’s merely due to the football game. I will eschew externalities. Instead, I will drink beer, thus controlling internality.


Coffee Porter. Real Ale Brewing. 6.6%. Pours a creamy head, motor oil dark. Latte, vanilla porter nose. Taste fulfills the promise of the aroma. I wish I had a tub of vanilla ice cream with which to make a float.


The odd, fantastic events near the end are, to an extent, adumbrated at earlier stages of the narrative. Still, aspects of the culmination seem out of place, as if imported from another narrative. The anticipated showdown does not materialize in the conventional sense. As a writer that is refreshing. As a reader I found it somewhat disconcerting. Nonetheless, up to that point — and even to an extent through and beyond that point — I was content. And the denouement, well, that almost made up for it. I laughed, and I don’t ascribe that response to the beer. That final bit of misdirection might have been the impetus for the whole book. I can imagine some bar room banter suggesting it..


Harmony. Saint Arnold Hazy IPA. 6.5%. Pours a straw gold, without a great deal of haze. Texas is not, after all, the Northeast. Still, it is a mild IPA, geared for the palettes of those who pucker at hop bitterness. Not bad.


Tight football game. A real nail biter. This is the sort of drama that you cannot script. Or, well, you can, but cannot impose it upon reality. I need a drink. Maybe two.


If you’d like something to read to accompany a beer or two, may I suggest something of mine? Pour a cold one and read Thick As Thieves. Or perhaps you would like to pass the morning with a Bloody Mary and Reunion. I have plenty of options for you. Cheers.


  1. Fun write-up, Ken. I’m not a big IPA drinker, but will give the St. Arnold’s a try. I loved their wheat beer, but haven’t seen it available in a few years.

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