“The Moon Moth,” Jack Vance, 1961 – A new ambassador arrives to a highly organized culture with two peculiarities: hierarchical “character” masks used in lieu of personal identity and a language spoken through musical instruments.
Comments: Fantastic story of mores/customs, communication, identity, symbolic function of clothing, and class. Online text. Read in The Road to Science Fiction: 4 and Modern Classics of Science Fiction. In the latter, Gardner Dozois notes that Vance’s The Dying Earth was perhaps the largest influence on Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun. This story [“The Moon Moth”] is “a marvelous evocation of a complex and richly detailed alien milieu as well as a silly satiric examination of how manners and morals an values change with fluid ease from society to society (a typical Vance motif), full of vivid color and moments of haunting strangeness, all laced with Vance’s typical dour irony and deadpan humor.” Like Lafferty, it eschews naturalism, using a “highly idiosyncratic prose style” and “both have their characters spout theatrical, deliberately non-naturalistic, hieratic dialogue of a sort that never actually came out of anyone’s mouth…” Relies heavily on “personal formula…using the same basic frameworks, plots, and types of characters and situations again and again…”
Author: Wikipedia: “John Holbrook Vance (born August 28, 1916 in San Francisco, California) is an American mystery, fantasy and science fiction author. Most of his work has been published under the name Jack Vance. He has also written 11 mystery novels as John Holbrook Vance and three as Ellery Queen, and has once each used pseudonyms Alan Wade, Peter Held, John van See, and Jay Kavanse.”