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Jack Vance
Illustrated by Humayoun Ibrahim
The Moon Moth
First Second
US Trade Paperback Original
ISBN 978-1-596-43367-0
Publication Date: 05-22-2012
114 Pages; $17.99
Date Reviewed: 03-11-2012
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2012

Index: Science Fiction Mystery  

Who we are and how we present ourselves to those around us are central themes of any human life; and they're tough to write about in fiction without sounding pretentious, portentous or boring. In his 1961 short story 'The Moon Moth,' science fiction writer Jack Vance created the planet of Sirene, where the natives all wear elaborately designed masks to indicate their social status, and communicate by musical instruments selected for different situations. With a nice bit of science-fiction ingenuity, Vance created a setting where the differences between self and presented-self are externalized, allowing him to examine them in the bright light of day.

Newly appointed Consular Representative Edwer Thissel is sent to Sirene and finds himself in the mask of the Moon Moth. He has a lot to learn, and makes his share of mistakes. When his off-world minders inform him that Haxo Angmark, a wanted criminal and murderer, is seeking refuge on Sirene, he must find an outlaw who can hide his real face behind a mask. In a brief space, Vance offers readers a crisply imagined mystery, an innovative thriller and an examination of social mores, all presented with an imaginative flair.

The justly esteemed First Second publishing company now offers readers a gorgeous graphic novel version of that story, adapted and illustrated by Humayoun Ibrahim, with colors by Hilary Sycamore. The decision to adapt a (longish) short story as opposed to one of Vance's many novels may seem strange until you immerse yourself in this world. For this reader, the decision seems ideal. Expanded by the art, the story takes on more heft and gets more pages. There's certainly enough story here to satisfy any reader, but not so much as to overwhelm any reader.

Ibrahim has done a wonderful job illustrating, laying out, translating (as it were) and pacing Vance's original work. The whole design ethos is as crisp and clean as Vance's prose. 'The Moon Moth' is a very easy book to look at. Ibrahim offers nicely but not overly detailed visions of the masks, and cleverly lets readers know when his characters are singing versus when they are speaking.

Hilary Sycamore's colors are just beautiful. She keeps things simple and light, preserving an uncluttered look. Her work is an essential part of the whole that perfectly presents a visualization of Vance's imagery and his underlying intent. Carlo Rotella offers readers an informative introduction.

Our inner and outer identities are the ever-shifting wave we ride through each day of our lives, and the tension between them is what pulls us forward. Vance's science-fictional exploration of this inner conflict is a tribute to the power of the genre; this graphic novel is a tribute to the power of that form to expand the message and artistic visions of prose. It's a great introduction to a great writer, smart, sharp and to the point. It may well be the first step to bringing the work of Jack Vance to a wider audience who have yet to discover that outer space is a perfect place to explore our inner lives.

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