Cugel’s Saga – Jack Vance (1983)
Following on from ‘The Eyes of The Overworld’ we rejoin Cugel, who has been transported back across the world to Cutz by the Magician Iucounu and is attempting to find his way back.
Far more Swiftian and satirical than the previous novel this displays Vance’s preoccupation with the absurdities of social rules and customs, such as the island where the men are forced to cover their faces as well as their bodies, lest they arouse the passions of their rapacious womenfolk.
It’s basically a series of morality tales in which, Cugel either outwits, or is outwitted by, a series of tricksters and con-men. Tellingly, when Cugel ends up with ill-gotten gains he almost immediately loses them again.
Vance’s overall point seems to be that despite the civilisations which have risen and fallen between our time and this far future earth where the Sun is about to expire, human nature has not essentially changed. Greed, Pride, Stupidity, Intolerance and Malice are not in short supply.
Despite the rather formulaic construction of each section, which sees Cugel lying, cheating, scheming and plotting his way in and out of rather convoluted situations, it is still a marvellous book which holds a mirror to our own society and forces us to question our own cultural habits, which in some cases are every bit as absurd as Vance’s caricatures.