Thursday, October 13, 2022

Wyst: Alastor 1716

Though Jack Vance is probably best known among fans of roleplaying games for his works of fantasy, such as his The Dying Earth and its sequels, his works of science fiction are every bit as remarkable, filled with the same memorable characters, imaginative locales, and wild reversals of fortune that are the hallmarks of his long career as a writer.  

During the 1970s, Vance wrote three science fiction novels set in an area of human-colonized space known as the Alastor Cluster. The third of these, Wyst: Alastor 1716, follows the travels of a restless young man who enters and wins an art contest, the prize for which gives him a round-trip ticket to any world in the Cluster he chooses, along with some spending money. The young man chooses Wyst, whose society is governed by the philosophy of "egalism" that decrees that every person is equal to every other – with somewhat predictable results. Like so many of Vance's works, Wyst is thus equal parts adventure story and satire.

I mention this all because Sword Fish Islands, the company behind the excellent Hot Springs Island, has published an illustrated, fine press version of Wyst: Alastor 1716 in cooperation with Spatterlight Press, which preserves and promotes Jack Vance's literary legacy. Sword Fish Islands very kindly asked me to write the afterword to this edition, which touches on, among other things, the role Vance's stories played in inspiring many of the earliest creators of roleplaying games, particularly Gary Gygax.

If you're a fan of well made, limited editions of classic literature, you might find this lovely new edition of Wyst to your liking.  


  1. Jack Vance is undoubtedly my favourite SF and fantasy author, and vies with Len Deighton as my overall favourite.

    I've just bought my nephew (a keen 5e and sometime BX player) Rhialto the Marvellous for his 14th birthday. It was the first one I read.

    My favourite Vance book would be Showboat World set on the Big Planet. It seems ripe for a Netflix adaptation.

    I've not read these three novels, but will look into them.

  2. I’m wondering about this statement from The Stafford House Campaign regarding D&D:

    “Worse yet, the game system, based upon a fictional, magic system constructed by one of America’s most conservative fantasy writers, had little in common with magic of the world we live in.”

    Any idea why Greg Stafford describes Vance that way?

    1. While I'm not sure it's easy to categorize Vance's politics, I suppose some of his books might give the impression that he was broadly "conservative." Wyst, for example, is a satire of utopian socialism. Perhaps that's what Stafford meant.

      It's also possible that he was speaking not of Vance's politics but of his imagination, suggesting that his fantasy worlds were very traditional in outline. If so, I'm not sure I'd agree but it's another possible interpretation of the quote.