Saturday, July 18, 2009

Jack Vance in the New York Times

Thanks to everyone who pointed me toward this article about Jack Vance from the New York Times. The article includes both an assessment of his work by other authors and critics and an interview with Vance himself, all of which is quite fascinating, especially if you're a fan of his work, as I am. Once I finish up my current reading, I think I'll be re-reading all of his tales of The Dying Earth, since it's been a while since I did so.


  1. Nice piece on Vance.

    There must be something in the air.I discovered Vance by reading his short story the Miracle Workers in a SF Anthology years ago, but after long putting it off, I finally purchased The Dying Earth weeks ago.

    I am probably not alone in under appreciating this man's talents and I feel a bit poorer for ignoring his stuff for so long.

  2. James, you should read (or reread) The Last Castle and The Dragon Masters, too, if you can get hold of them.

  3. "...boyishly slim young women with an enigmatic habit of looking back over their shoulders."

    I love Jack Vance! Thanks for sharing the article, one point ME to it!
    : )

  4. Thanks for the link to the article. I'm glad to see Jack Vance getting such high profile recognition. I started reading him in college (long ago) and was soon buying as many of his books as I could find.

    His alien worlds and societies are among the most unusual ever imagined. His dialogue and description, so delicate and formal, yet slyly humorous...I can think of noone like him.

  5. When I saw your blog post the first thing that came to my mind was that Jack had died. At 93, that wouldn't be a surprise, but I'm glad to see instead that he is getting this kind of major media recognition in his own lifetime. He is truly the Master to me, and his tragi-comic conception of human nature and the universe has profoundly shaped my own.

  6. Thanks for the link!

    The Dying Earth is only the beginning. Also read the sequels Cugel's Saga and The Eyes of the Overlord. Set in the same world is Rhialto the Marvellous.

    Then there is A Quest for Simbilis by Michael Shea, which is a near-perfect imitation of Vance's voice.

    For less sardonic fantasy, the Lyonesse trilogy is one of the best ever.

    If you like sci-fi adventure, then start with the Demon Princes series.

  7. This was a good read, and seemed to capture that particular something about Vance - the tone of his language, the way he sets up his stories, and even his persona. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

    Will we see his works in the "Literature/Classics" section one day, as we see Poe or Lovecraft? Or is genre an eternal straightjacket where no accomplishment, however outstanding, will classify you as anything but a hack writer?

  8. Lyonesse easily ranks with LotR for my favorite novels of all time.

    I had a similar experience to the author with regards to getting hooked. My first page of Cugel’s Saga, picked up in my local Burien branch of Seattle’s King County Library system, immediately grabbed me with its fantastic language. I remember exactly that I was hooked at the very point when he used “vicissitudes” in a sentence (which Totality tells us he’s actually done 16 times in print).

    Cugel was a man of many capabilities, with a disposition at once flexible and pertinacious. He was long of leg, deft of hand, light of finger, soft of tongue. His hair was the blackest of black fur, growing low down his forehead, coving sharply back above his eyebrows. His darting eye, long inquisitive nose and droll mouth gave his somewhat lean and bony face an expression of vivacity, candor, and affability. He had known many vicissitudes, gaining therefrom a suppleness, a fine discretion, a mastery of both bravado and stealth. Coming into the possession of an ancient lead coffin after discarding the contents he had formed a number of leaden lozenges. These, stamped with appropriate seals and runes, he offered for sale at the Azenomei Fair.

    The same library had a copy of Suldren's Garden, and my heart was taken. I fell just as hard as I did for LotR, which my father read to me and my brother as bedtime stories when we were too young to read it ourselves.

  9. I recently bought a compilation that includes the Dying Earth, the Cugel stories and Rhialto the Marvelous. Within two pages of the first Dying Earth story I felt that I finally understood magic in D&D. It was as if a giant missing puzzle piece fell into place and suddenly something that had bothered me quite a lot about the game no longer seemed so out of left field. I knew that the magical system was often called Vancian magic, but I guess I didn't realize how much it was lifted whole-cloth from the Dying Earth stories. Thanks for the link to the interview, I am glad that Vance is still alive (I read and loved a lot of his sci-fi when I was a kid, I had just never been exposed to his fantasy).

  10. I read the Planet of Adventure as a teen, but only discovered the Dying Earth and Cugel in my late 30s. Kicked myself for that! Truly great stuff--surpasses most other fantasy writing by leaps and bounds. But maybe I had to be over 30 to truly get into Vance, Wolfe, and Clark Ashston Smith? You certainly need to have gotten over the "heroic" and "epic" fantasy stuff...