Jack Vance; fantasy footnote or literary titan?

MWagner

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Literary titan.

Vance's inventiveness is unmatched in fantastical fiction. His works feature hundreds of cultures and races, each more exotic than the last. The worlds he describes - the geography, customs, and often comically predatory relations between the various species - are the product of a sparkling imagination. And it's all portrayed with a deft touch compared with the turgid and heavy-handed exposition other genre authors typically rely on.

Vance's mastery of language was second to none, in or or out of the SFF genres. He played with diction and phrasing like a virtuous on the piano. The wit and interplay in his dialog is some of the funniest I've read - my wife can usually tell when I'm reading Vance because of how often I laugh out loud.

Take the opening lines from The Dying Earth:

Turjan sat in his workroom, legs sprawled out from the stool, back against and elbows on the bench. Across the room was a cage; into this Turjan gazed with rueful vexation. The creature in the cage returned the scrutiny with emotions beyond conjecture.

It's all there - Vance's deliberately overwrought and yet word-perfect diction; the weirdness bordering on the macabre; the wry tone that raises a chuckle.

However, his appeal is narrow. If you don't enjoy exotic inventiveness, arch wit, and a detached irony, then Vance is not for you. The fantasy genre, and its audience, has been veering away from Vance's approach to fiction for decades. Where modern readers want to climb into the skin of a sympathetic character and experience intense surges of emotion and catharsis, Vance's work is told at a remove. You don't inhabit his characters; you observe them explore and scheme and quip their way across a fantastic landscape the way you watch a pantomime of shadow-puppets.

I expect this irony detachment is why younger readers tend to bounce off Vance, in spite of the reverence that superstar influencer GRRM holds him in. His approach is simply at odds with the expectations of today's audience.
 

Fried Egg

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Of the various works of Vance I have read over the years; I have broadly held all his books to be in high regard.

The only works of his I found to be exceptional were those comprising the Lyonesse trilogy. A masterpiece of epic fantasy that should be regarded as highly as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. It must be around ten years since I read it so I think it must be due for a re-read.
 

Al Jackson

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Yeah I think (like Cordwainer Smith) Jack Vance is a unjustly unknown author in SF and Fantasy.
I like more this straight SF like Big Planet and the clever and funny Space Opera.
 

picklematrix

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Of the various works of Vance I have read over the years; I have broadly held all his books to be in high regard.

The only works of his I found to be exceptional were those comprising the Lyonesse trilogy. A masterpiece of epic fantasy that should be regarded as highly as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. It must be around ten years since I read it so I think it must be due for a re-read.
I agree with this. Lyonesse has that mystical fairytale kind of tone to it, but at the same time it is pretty darn dark in places. I love them.
 

picklematrix

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Sometimes I do wish that Vance had a broader mainstream appreciation. But that was probably never going to happen due to the content and style of his work. His books are like albums made by underground bands that not many people have heard of, or at least they are not household names.
 

Hugh

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I've bought a fair number of old Vance paperbacks in the past year, almost all very cheap, printed in the 1980s. I'd assumed that he must have been very popular at that time.
 

Stephen Palmer

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Of the various works of Vance I have read over the years; I have broadly held all his books to be in high regard.

The only works of his I found to be exceptional were those comprising the Lyonesse trilogy. A masterpiece of epic fantasy that should be regarded as highly as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. It must be around ten years since I read it so I think it must be due for a re-read.
Hear hear! (except for volume 3, which lets the trilogy down).
 

Teresa Edgerton

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I've bought a fair number of old Vance paperbacks in the past year, almost all very cheap, printed in the 1980s. I'd assumed that he must have been very popular at that time.
According to the best of my recollection he was popular back then. If not a household name broadly, at least one in the SFF community (which, admittedly, was a great deal smaller then than it is now).
 

The Ace

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For me, he tends to waver between extremes. I loved the, "Demon Princes," but found the, "Dying Earth," mediocre, and could never get a handle on, "Lyonesse."

Conversely, I found the, "Moon Moth," quite entertaining.
 

Stephen Palmer

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He certainly was popular.
Harper Collins had a lot of his books on the go, and they wouldn't have published him otherwise...
 

Hugh

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And then there are all those volunteers who put such effort (and finance) into producing the Vance Integral Edition. There was a fair bit of noise about that at the time.
 
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