Warren Zevon and Jack Vance (and other analogies between musicians and SF&F writers)


Well-Known Member
Apr 17, 2017
In another thread I compared Jack Vance to Gilbert and Sullivan (and Archer) because both combine high culture and low humor, write manic, topsy-turvy plots, and there isn't really anything quite like either.

However I think that there might be at least as much of an analogy with Warren Zevon (not coincidentally my favorite musician), insomuch as both have a cynical yet sympathetic view of human nature and share a fondness for obscure references, dark humor, and irony. Vance's stories combine a fatalistic belief that people are terrible with an optimistic, upbeat endings. Warren Zevon's songs often combine fatalism and humor, as with "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner," "The French Inhaler," or the entire album Life'll Kill Ya.

Gilbert and Sullivan, when I think about it, might be closer to Robert Sheckley or Terry Pratchett: found of creating worlds which are absurd even on the face of things yet employ the humor of recognition. Though all three also take a jaded view of human nature, it's more absurdist than cynical, and there's not nearly the same degree of underlying darkness.

On one hand, it might seem absurd to compare SF&F writers to writers of music. On the other hand, I think that the reason I like all five are rather similar: they reflect a view of human nature which I share, though probably leaning more towards the fatalist optimism of Vance and Zevon.


Oct 23, 2008
It's a neat idea for a thread but I'm having a hard time coming up with anything to add, especially on such a pervasively thematic level as you were doing, vs. just connecting odd bits.

John Shirley actually wrote lyrics for late Blue Oyster Cult and his first SF novel takes its title from a song on Blue Oyster Cult's first album (Transmaniacon/"Transmaniacon MC"). The climax of his novel, Eclipse, involves a sort of concert in which the setlist included that BOC song, The Clash's "London's Burning," Velvet Underground's "White Light/White Heat," the Stones' "Slave" and "Street Fighting Man," Dead Kennedys, The Fall, New Order, U2, The Call, and Killing Joke. Rather eclectic, but the punkier stuff seems Shirley-like. Though Shirley is pretty eclectic, fictionally, as well.

Tanith Lee and Siouxsie Sioux seem to share a dark, goth thing intermixed with a science-fictional streak.

Maybe some guys like Zelazny and Varley, with their early short fiction, are somewhat Hendrix like. Obviously showy virtuosos but with undeniable talent whose glitz really is the cherry on top of some fundamentally solid stories/songs. Brilliant fires that burned hot and quick.

Neal Asher and Carcass (and Death and some others) seem to go well. Ultraviolent bombast but done with precision skill.

Alastair Reynolds nods to Echo and the Bunnymen and others in his work but it actually seems more compatible with Sisters of Mercy. Kind of big, a little repetitive, but with clever little things that keep it fresh, and pretty dark and goth, too.

Allen Steele pays frequent homage to the Grateful Dead in his writing, but he seems more like a ZZ Top guy. Kind of bare bones and old school and capable of much more but still really fun and enjoyable most of the time. But the Dead's slackness also fits.

Rudy Rucker and Man or Astro-Man seem like a good fit. Kind of geeky, kind of cool, an odd mix of B-movies, surf (and gnarl), and math/technology type-stuff. Gonzo humor.

But these are just random authors and bands - not necessarily my top few favorites of either and nothing systematic - nothing I can draw an existential/personal conclusion from.

I'd sure like some genuine punk SF, though. Somebody who writes short, tight songs/stories whose focus is on the sonic/imaginative effect and getting people to move to the rhythm/respond to the ideas rather than the expert noodly musicianship/wordplay. People who understand and respect aspects of their past and want to transform and extend it into the future and to fly in the face of the current consensus. People who have a sense of fun and whimsy vs. blah depression or at least combat the latter with the former. People who are anti-authoritarian in every way, including against themselves as authorities. More Ramones and Cramps authors.

Nozzle Velocity

Well-Known Member
Jul 14, 2018
Dallas, TX, USA
I think about this occasionally. My two absolute favorite writers are Jack Vance and J. G. Ballard. With Ballard, I suppose most types of ambient music would do. I think of Brian Eno & Jon Hassell's Possible Musics as the perfect soundtrack to the Vermillion Sands stories. Jack Vance makes me think of Claude Debussy and his bittersweet obsession with the beauty and sorrow found in the physical world. Vance was short on moral lessons and long on visual spectacle and eccentric characters, all influenced by his world travels. Both Vance and Debussy were criticized as being structurally weak with seemingly random twists and turns occuring in their work. I'll take a second helping, thank you.
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