- Jul 3, 2011
The tribute anthology is terrific. There is also a rather good critical appreciation of Vance published by the British Library.
Do any of them play D&D (particularly any edition apart from 4th)? In that case, they've used Jack Vance's magic system and some of Jack Vance's spells.
Vance is hugely important, influential and inspirational. However, he is certainly relatively obscure in his own right. His main influence is the authors who read him and were inspired to go on to write their own things. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the creators of Dungeons and Dragons, were the most important writers influenced by him. They moved the Dying Earth magic system into D&D hook, line and sinker. Gene Wolfe was also massively influenced by The Dying Earth when he wrote The Book of the New Sun (The Dying Earth itself is in the story, as a tome called The Book of Gold). Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Dan Simmons and Tad Williams are also all huge Vance fans.
Most notably, Jack Vance is George R.R. Martin's favourite author and elements of Vance can be found in many of Martin's works, particularly Tuf Voyaging.
I do strongly recommend Songs of the Dying Earth, the tribute anthology (written with Vance's permission) Martin and Gardener Dozois assembled a few years ago. A very strong collection of stories set in Vance's world, and it's fun to see Cugel back in action again.
Good information, many thanks.The British library is a real place in London, roughly equivalent to the Library of Congess in its scope. The old reading rooms, in the British museum, are also open to the public. The modern building is well worth a visit for its extraordinary permanent free exhibitions (Magna Carta/Codex Siniaticus etc). It is a short walk from Kings Cross/St Pancras railway stations. It gets a copy of pretty much all books published in English, indexes by the isbn number you will find next to the library of congress number.
The book Jack Vance: Critical Appreciations and a Bibliography has gone up rather surprisingly in price since I got a copy for a tenner off ebay a few years ago (I just checked on Amazon) so unless you are feeling really flush, best to get it on inter library loan, or through your university library if you have access.
I'm fairly young - 21 - I've heard of the name but haven't read any of his work. I'm not averse to reading his stuff but he's fairly far down on an ever expanding tbr list.
Wow. I haven't seen Conn around for awhile. I hope he never sees this thread.
Massively abridged from the SFE (apologies for the even-more-academic-than-usual aura given off by some of this):
[In the late 40s to 1950] Vance was beginning to compose the kind of story that would eventually make him one of the most deeply influential authors in the sf and fantasy genres after World War Two, an impact greater than that generated by fellow inventors of the modern (post-Edgar Rice Burroughs) Planetary Romance like Leigh Brackett, C L Moore or Clark Ashton Smith. The depth and duration of this influence may have something to do with Vance's long prime as a creative figure, for he was writing work of high quality nearly half a century after he came into his own voice, creating an oeuvre whose surface flamboyance never obscured an underlying seriousness. Authors clearly (and often explicitly) influenced by Vance include such widely divergent figures as Jack L Chalker, Avram Davidson, Terry Dowling, Harlan Ellison, Ursula K Le Guin (though the influences here were almost certainly governed by a mutual concern with Anthropology), George R R Martin, Michael Moorcock, Dan Simmons and Gene Wolfe. There are many others: though their points of view are radically dissimilar, it seems clear, for instance, that the adrift protagonists-in-bondage and the peneplainal venues characteristic of early J G Ballard give off a Vancian aura.
Within the broad remit of the Planetary Romance, Vance created two subgenres, the first being the Dying Earth story that takes its name from his first book, The Dying Earth...
Vance's second original sophistication of the Planetary Romance, the big planet story, again takes its name from his first novel to exemplify it: Big Planet...
As Vance's created worlds became richer and more complex, so too did his style. Always tending towards the baroque, it had developed by the time of The Dragon Masters into an effective high-mannered diction, somewhat pedantic, and almost always saturated with a rich but distanced irony. Vance's talent for naming the people and places in his stories (a mixture of exotic invented terms and obscure or commonplace words with the right resonance) increasingly generated a sense that dream ethnographies were being carved, almost as a gardener would create topiary....
As a landscape artist, a visionary shaper of potential human societies, Vance was central to both sf and Fantasy. For many of his fellow writers, and for a large audience, he was for more than half a century the field's central gardener of worlds. In 1984 he received the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement; in 1997 he received the SFWA Grand Master Award. He was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2001.
He also won a Hugo and Nebula for the 1963 novelette "The Last Castle," a 1967 Hugo for "The Dragon Masters" (novella, I think), a World Fantasy Award for the 1990 novel Lyonesse: Madouc, and a Hugo for his 2010 autobiography, This Is Me, Jack Vance! (Or, More Properly, This "I").
I'm actually late in following up on Vance, personally - his Hugo winners were among the first SFF stories I read but it's only in the past several years that I've read several novels and a series and many more stories but have still only touched the tip of the iceberg. He's not so far one of my very favorite authors or anything, but he's certainly good and certainly huge and hugely important and not just historically. The cool thing about The Dying Earth, for instance, is that it's set so far in the future and is so much a science fantasy that it's essentially timeless.
I agree that there are so many "classics" it's practically impossible to read them all but he'd certainly be on a short list, rather than the long one.
For me, Vance is a good example of a highly mannered author whose style can be very appealing for a brief time, and later becomes off-putting.
In contrasting them with Tolkien I'm not thinking primarily of what, around here, is called "world-building." I think "world-builders" can amass huge quantities of details while writing work that is utterly unreal. Tolkien does much more than build an elaborated imaginary world with its own languages, histories, etc etc. His work is rooted in deep realities of a wholesome human life, permeated with wisdom. And so Dunsany and Vance are anti-Tolkiens. Their work is thoroughly unreal, not just set in imaginary worlds but having very little human depth. They are habitual ironists and it's a very, very easy, unearned irony -- and so it is likely to appeal to bright adolescents.
So: Vance is a fantasy footnote; no literary titan.
Recently reread the dying earth books. Absolutely fantastic, and even better the second time round. I'm going to read planet of adventure soon. His works always contain a lot of fun and excitement. It may not be Dostoyevsky, but in its way, I think Vances writing is timeless and supremely well written.
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