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Have you ever had the dream where you open a door in your house, and it leads to a new room, or new series of rooms, that has somehow been hiding from you? I found this dream a good metaphor for "The Houses of Iszm" by Jack Vance, and not just because the book had "houses" in the title. Every work by Jack Vance that I have read has had a textured and realistic telling of a seemingly simple concept, all within a story that advances itself without an overbearing authorial presence.

The Houses of Iszm was published in 1964 as half of an Ace Double. As discussed, this format often produced stories that were science-fiction classics, despite the exigencies of the medium. The story is based around an easy concept: a man from earth is visiting a world where a species of alien grows organic houses. As in the later Dune and Norstrilia, the biological secret product of a planet is in high demand, and many people want to steal it for various motives. Is our protagonist, surrounded by a group of bizarre, yet unfailingly polite aliens, a hero, a villain, or an innocent bystander? The book becomes a mystery novel as the protagonist, as well as the reader, tries to figure out what is going on. I feel that in certain ways the mystery aspect of the book wasn't fully developed, which is perhaps due to the format.

Jack Vance's works might have aged better than any other science-fiction writer from his era. This book lacked any major signs of being outdated. Its technological predictions also seemed to be fairly accurate: it has versions of DNA Testing, teleconferencing, and self-driving cars. But what probably makes the story seem current is the lack of any obvious author tracts on politics or society, which tend not to age well.

I won't say that this book is some type of lost treasure and that reading it is necessary for understanding the history of science-fiction. But for me, it was an engaging find that kept me busy for an afternoon.

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