I haven't read much by science fiction author Jack Vance, but the one or two books I read, long ago, I enjoyed greatly. One thing that stood out about Vance's writing was the way he occasionally used fancy words combined with a deadpan delivery that would be very hard to imitate ("The Green Chasch loped up on their massive beasts, holding yellow and black flags afloat on their lances, signifying truculence and bellicosity. -- Planet of Adventure")
I'm not sure why I never read more of his work, but I've stored a mental note for years that said, "Read more Vance." Last week, I got the chance when I received this graphic novel adaptation of a classic Vance short story called "The Moon Moth," beautifully adapted by Humayoun Ibrahim.
The story takes place on a planet with a post-scarcity society in which everyone wears elaborately constructed masks appropriate to their social status. The inhabitants also carry a bunch of different musical instruments with them, because instead of talking to each other, they sing and play a particular instrument suited to the content and context of the conversation. (Ibrahim begins the graphic novel with a two-page spread describing a dozen or so of the musical instruments used on the planet Sirene. I referred to the spread several times as I read the story.) The characters' word balloons are rendered in a way that makes them look like they are being sung with a particular emotion.
"The Moon Moth" is about a man (I think he's from Earth), who gets sent to Sirene as a kind of emissary. He isn't prepared to live in this society, where a minor social gaffe can easily result in an instant beheading by the offended party.
"The Moon Moth" is the name of the story, but it is also the name of the low-status mask the Earthman ends up wearing. Initially he chose a high-ranking mask but was warned he would be killed quickly because he wouldn't know how to comport himself like a person worthy of such a mask. The society's paper-thin layer of over-the-top politeness, covering a draconian code of honor and punishment, reminds me of the Samurai culture (at least the way I understand it from reading James Clavell's Shogun.
From what I've read about Vance as an author (there's a good good forward in this book about Vance by Carlo Rotella), he's not interested in elaborate plots. Instead, he is able to create very weird, but completely believable, worlds, and write about them in such a way that you feel you are in them. This comic book version of "The Moon Moth" did that for me, and it also had a very satisfying conclusion. I'm not going to wait to read more Vance -- I bought Tales of the Dying Earth, an omnibus volume with four Vance novels: The Dying Earth, The Eyes of the Overworld, Cugel's Saga and Rialto the Magnificent.
Buy The Moon Moth on Amazon
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects