This is a far-too-brief collection of rarely seen early works from science fiction master Jack Vance. "The Men Return" is a bizarre sortie into a world from which causality has departed and no cause is followed by a predictable effect. Man as a thinking creature is helpless in this environment, and the world is best suited for those beings who can somehow intuit the appropriate action. Vance tries to show (with limited success) that logic is only one way of dealing with the universe, and it may not always be the best way. Unfortunately, the idea of a world governed by no natural laws at all is so ethereal that even Vance can't really bring it off; instead we get only the helplessness and desperation of creatures who are about to die. "Hard Luck Diggings" shows sci-fi detective Magnus Ridolph finding out who is killing the workers on a distant planet. "First Star I See Tonight" covers the murder mystery from the other direction, as an unscrupulous astronomer finds a short cut to advancing his career. Neither of these stories are particularly memorable, although "Star", with its unexpected ending is probably the better of the two. A little more wildly imaginative is "The Potters of Firsk" wherein the urn-makers on a distant planet use human bones for their pottery until a desperate bureaucrat teaches them the secret of yellow glaze. "Noise" is a very strange, almost poetic piece about a man marooned alone on an unknown planet who comes to doubt his own sanity. Is his colorful world of faerie life forms real, or a product of his overstressed mind?
Vance has some fascinating ideas here, but his execution is not always up to par in these early stories. But surely the biggest problem with this collection is its brevity. Ignoring the unfinished children's story "Cat Island", a published interview, and "A Vance Encyclopedia", readers get less than 90 pages of science fiction for their money. With the lengthy introduction by Russel Letson, this edition clearly is intended more for scholars of Vance's work than for his fans.