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Jack Vance, dead at 96
May 29, 2013 1:45 PM   Subscribe

“While we are alive we should sit among colored lights and taste good wines, and discuss our adventures in far places; when we are dead, the opportunity is past.” ― Jack Vance (1916-2013)

Jack Vance (previously on the blue), eminently quotable author, musician, merchant marine veteran, has died at the age of 96.

Vance's publishing career stretched for over half a century and included rococo fantasy, space opera, and mystery (as John Holbrook Vance), winning awards in all three fields. He also dabbled in early television writing, and there were several adaptations of his mystery work. His influence was pervasive and often indirect: his conception of magic from the Dying Earth books formed the basis of magic in Dungeons and Dragons and several different tabletop RPG products were based directly on his books. In recent years he had retired from writing due to failing vision, but after his final novel, dictated an autobiography. More recently, a volume of tribute stories was released: Songs of the Dying Earth, including contributions from such fans as Robert Silverberg, Neil Gaiman, and George R.R. Martin.

His readers were many; in 1999, dissatisfied with the many changes imposed upon Vance's works by unsympathetic editors, a group of enthusiasts began working on the Vance Integral Edition, which collects his restored works in 44 hardbound volumes. In an unrelated move, Vance's coinages of words were so numerous and fertile that a lexicon of his invented words was published several years ago.
posted by ricochet biscuit (109 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thank you for posting this, you did it better than I ever could.

A great iconoclast; nobody ever wrote adventure stories with more panache.
posted by selfnoise at 1:46 PM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


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posted by New England Cultist at 1:47 PM on May 29, 2013


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posted by motdiem2 at 1:48 PM on May 29, 2013


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posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:52 PM on May 29, 2013


Oh NO

-.-

His Star King seared my young adolescent heart.
posted by infini at 1:52 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is terrible-- and I never wrote to tell him how much he meant to me.
posted by jamjam at 1:53 PM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sad news. He was a truly great writer and a good human being.

Add Gene Wolfe to the list of people he influenced.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:54 PM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


At first I was like, what movies was he in? Then I clicked and was like, oh, another of bit of my teenage years has gone.

I was a bookseller for 6 years and loved to suggest Vance to kids that understood that stuff.

I never got to meet him at any of the cons or book fairs, but I always wanted to.

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posted by cjorgensen at 1:55 PM on May 29, 2013


Although he held true to his word that Lurulu in 2004 would be his final novel, so we all knew there was nothing more forthcoming, this still subtracts a remarkable mind from the world. On balance though, dying peacefully in one's sleep a couple of weeks shy of one's 97th birthday after decades of being lauded by one's peers is a better exit than most of us will get.

I cannot say this about many authors, but there was literally no one else like him.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:01 PM on May 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


96 is a pretty damn good innings, and look how much he accomplished! So, you know, bittersweet.

Plus, though he's been around forever, I've never actually read one of his books, so I've got a wealth of stuff to go through by the sounds of it. I just finished Goldman's Magician books and was looking for a worthy follow-up so this could be it.

Anyone got any recommendations for places to start within his oeuvre?
posted by Sparx at 2:01 PM on May 29, 2013


Oh hell no.
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posted by Iridic at 2:02 PM on May 29, 2013


Thank you for this. I read The Dying Earth when I was very young-- 8 or 9-- and it changed everything about language and reading for me.
posted by jokeefe at 2:05 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by rocketman at 2:05 PM on May 29, 2013


Damn, damn, damn. Loved The Dying Earth series. :(

He lived a good, long life.

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posted by zarq at 2:06 PM on May 29, 2013


I remember receiving a letter from a recently broken up exboyfriend - as in shattering first real college love - just weeks after the break up, commiserating on Asimov and saying nobody else would ever understand the loss.

Oh thank you Matt Haughey. For building this upside down blog.
posted by infini at 2:10 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


44 VOLUMES?

Man, my library is never going to spring for that.
posted by GuyZero at 2:10 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of a very small number of authors who struck me as someone who just straight up loved language and communication and life.

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posted by lord_wolf at 2:18 PM on May 29, 2013


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posted by dragoon at 2:21 PM on May 29, 2013


"Do the stars hiss and sizzle when rain comes by night?"

--- from the Tales of the Dying Earth
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:22 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


96 is a pretty damn good innings, and look how much he accomplished! So, you know, bittersweet.

Plus, though he's been around forever, I've never actually read one of his books, so I've got a wealth of stuff to go through by the sounds of it. I just finished Goldman's Magician books and was looking for a worthy follow-up so this could be it.

Anyone got any recommendations for places to start within his oeuvre?


I admit, it's hard for me even as a Vance superfan to feel sad at his passing, because I honestly have a hard time imagining anyone having a cooler, more productive and colorful life in the 20th century. And he left us with so much consistently good writing!

In terms of cracking in, I love the Tschai/Planet of Adventure series, the Cadwal Series, the Demon Princes, and the Lyonesse series. You might want to start with a nice single novel, though, like Emphyrio, which is really cool.

I actually started with the second book in the Cadwal series, Ecce and Old Earth, which my high school library was giving away for free. I had never heard of him before. I grabbed a pile of books, expecting the usual adolescent fantasy crap (my library had a lot of Piers Anthony), and about a page in I hit red alert. "What... is this writing??? What... is this style???" Been hooked like a fiend ever since.
posted by selfnoise at 2:24 PM on May 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


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posted by zardoz at 2:25 PM on May 29, 2013


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Even his biography on Wikipedia (second link) is an exciting read.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:27 PM on May 29, 2013


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posted by adventureloop at 2:27 PM on May 29, 2013


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He'll probably be back as a lich, mind.
posted by Artw at 2:28 PM on May 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


*Thread deleted for the following reason: Relax, everyone - Jack's only resting for his next spell.
posted by Smart Dalek at 2:33 PM on May 29, 2013


*Just* finished rereading Dying Earth and Rhialto the Marvelous. There's lots of his work I've yet to read. What a wonderful author. RIP.
posted by edheil at 2:34 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by aught at 2:34 PM on May 29, 2013


By coincidence, Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber has just started a series on "The Sociology of Jack Vance," which I hope will capture some of the inventiveness that I found so appealing about his novels and stories. (Here's their obit thread.)

I'm sorry to hear about his death, but glad for his sake that he had such a long life, and for my sake that's he's left such an archive for me to continue reading.
posted by col_pogo at 2:36 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by Halloween Jack at 2:37 PM on May 29, 2013


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posted by jabo at 2:38 PM on May 29, 2013


What I love about Jack Vance:

The language, effortlessly ornate, whether it is coming from the author or a character, high or low.
The unstoppable variety of local customs - foods, drinks, dances, clothes, and hats. Always the hats.
The haggling.
The most delightfully self-centered amoral bastards I can recall, in Cugel and Rhialto.
The grinding. Vance is the only author I can think of that actually had grinding - the slow tedious accumulation of wealth, usually the worst part of a computer adventure game - as a recurring important plot element. Somehow it works.
The complete eradication of the lines between science fiction, realism and fantasy. The opening scene of The Demon Princes takes place on a planet that has nothing on it but one inn. Hey, why not?

As with Guided By Voices, it took me a few tries to get into his work, and then I couldn't get out. He's responsible for some of the most pleasurable reading experiences I've ever had.
posted by dfan at 2:40 PM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also: SFWA Grand Master Jack Vance, 96, Plays Ukulele with Gusto
posted by dfan at 2:40 PM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Damned good innings.
posted by Decani at 2:41 PM on May 29, 2013


Only zaffre, azure, celeste in my Excellent Prismatic Spray
Desultory IOUN stones no more curvet and grow grey
Intimate a disconsolate nuncupatory:
The Dying Earth has died a little more today
posted by adipocere at 2:42 PM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


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posted by dhruva at 2:43 PM on May 29, 2013


I cast

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posted by Gelatin at 2:49 PM on May 29, 2013


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posted by drezdn at 2:50 PM on May 29, 2013


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posted by DreamerFi at 2:53 PM on May 29, 2013


To die in one's sleep, at 96, after life fully lived and adventures taken and books written? No tragedy here. Just gratitude, from me.

No dot, just a little, gleaming star: *
posted by jokeefe at 3:01 PM on May 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


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posted by brennen at 3:15 PM on May 29, 2013


Bleh. I am in the middle of reading The Star King right now, too. I was just thinking the other night, as I lay on my couch, reading said book, how much glee I get from reading Jack Vance. I love the bizarro character descriptions, the ridiculous names, the hyperformal battles of wits between completely amoral characters... and the dense footnotes that hint at the endless depths of the worlds he created.

I remember when I was first getting into science fiction, I borrowed a friend's dad's copy of The Hugo Winners Volumes 1 & 2 and the Jack Vance short stories in there just leaped out at me like none of the others. They were imagination untethered. I've reflected before that Jack Vance and Jack Kirby have a lot in common. They both had such singular voices and such boundless enthusiasm.

Here's an excerpt from The Star King, by the way, a typical Jack Vance character's description:

Into the hall stepped the strangest human being of Gersen's experience.

"And there," said Teehalt with a sick titter, "you see Beauty Dasce."

Dasce was about six feet tall. His torso was a tube, the same gauge from knee to shoulder. His arms were thin and long, terminating in great bony wrists, enormous hands. His head was also tall and round, with a ruff of red hair, and a chin seeming almost to rest on the clavicle. Dasce had stained his neck and face bright red, excepting only his cheeks, which were balls of bright chalk-blue, like a pair of mildewed oranges. At some stage of his career his nose had been cleft into a pair of cartilaginous prongs, and his eyelids had been cut away; to moisten his corneas he wore two nozzles connected to a tank of fluid which every few seconds discharged a film of mist into his eyes. There was also a pair of shutters, now raised, which could be lowered to cover his eyes from the light, and which were painted to represent staring white and blue eyes similar to Dasce's own.

posted by picea at 3:37 PM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Dammit. It's not a surprise at this late stage of course, but there was still this moment of heartbreak when I just read this news, that selfish moment of "another writer who was important to me who I'd never got to tell this".

Vance was huge in the Netherlands in the seventies and eighties, perhaps the most translated sf writer here and I read every book of his the local library had. Even in (often uninspired) translation his feel for language shone through.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:46 PM on May 29, 2013


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He was amazing. I wish I could find more of his books to read.
The Dying Earth is a defining work for me.
posted by Mezentian at 3:47 PM on May 29, 2013


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posted by Chrysostom at 3:52 PM on May 29, 2013


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posted by Kevin Street at 3:59 PM on May 29, 2013


I started with The Dying Earth on a business trip. I'd been up all night and was as tired as anything, but I had found the Masterworks of Science Fiction languishing in a bargain bin for $2 and it seemed like a good investment since Gary Gygax had recommended it way back when I was playing D&D.

So, I rescued it and took it home, and because it was big and chunky I took it on my trip because there is nothing worse than being away from home, or in an airport, without a book.

I'd read The Dragon Masters and found it unremarkable, a bit Douglas Hill.

I devoured The Dying Earth cycle over the next two days. I am sure it changed by vocabulary for the better, because I had to keep pulling out my dictionary to look up some of his obscure words.

I've been buying up every single Vance book I can find every since, and gradually spacing out reading them over the past 10 years, although many booksellers have never heard of him and it's been a hard ask.

I once almost paid $100 for a copy of Throy because, in 10 years of searching, I'd never found a copy anywhere. Now, typically, I keep finding copies.
posted by Mezentian at 4:00 PM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


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posted by immlass at 4:02 PM on May 29, 2013


Here's an excerpt from The Star King, by the way, a typical Jack Vance character's description:

If I were not 24 hours away from my own bookshelf, I would post the footnote from Lyonesse about the peripheral goings-on on the isle of Scola. It is maybe two paragraphs long and shows more imagination and ornate world-building than any of the last dozen fantasy trilogies I have run across. And then once the tale is told, Scola is never mentioned again.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:02 PM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


On balance though, dying peacefully in one's sleep a couple of weeks shy of one's 97th birthday after decades of being lauded by one's peers is a better exit than most of us will get.

I realized after I wrote this that I neglected to add that he and his late wife Norma had over sixty years together, and travelled the world for many of those years. Another goal that many of us can only aspire to.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:08 PM on May 29, 2013


I need to soak myself in herndyche to adequately express my grief.

His characters are so exquisitely rude to one another.
posted by bad grammar at 4:16 PM on May 29, 2013


Damnit. I loved the Pnume. And their hats. And the zuzhma kastchai. A great life well lived.
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posted by Fibognocchi at 4:23 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Long time since I read Mr Vance, I'll have to load up the kindle.

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posted by sammyo at 4:24 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by mstokes650 at 4:28 PM on May 29, 2013


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posted by Monsieur Caution at 4:33 PM on May 29, 2013


One thing I really admired abotu Vance was - despite the oft-times ornate and whimsical nature of his books - he took to writing as a job and a craft. There was never any romanticism in the way he talked about his books and I feel like he paid attention like a craftsperson, too. That nuts-and-bolts, solid-basics conception and execution of writing is something always worth championing, imho.

What a fantastic canon to leave behind.
posted by smoke at 4:38 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hey, those Integral edition books sound great... hmm, sold only by subscription, $1500 the set, all long gone of course but wait...
Edition Andreas Irle, in cooperation with VIE composer Joel Anderson, is currently studying ways of publishing VIE facsimilie paperbacks and casewrap hardcovers via Print on Demand. We hope for more news on this exciting prospect by August 2007
:(


This NYT Magazine piece, related to that tribute volume, I feel like I remember seeing linked from mefi at some point, but I don't see it in the links above. Kinda fluffy, but it does have quotes from a couple of those fans of his.

can't figure out how to make a . baroque, so I guess just

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posted by hap_hazard at 4:40 PM on May 29, 2013


Wow. Never read Vance, though I was aware of his influence on Gygax, as an avid D&Der from way back.

I think I'll check out some of his work.

"The Dying Earth" you say?
posted by darkstar at 4:43 PM on May 29, 2013


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posted by fings at 4:45 PM on May 29, 2013


I'm not going to be sad, although of course it's a loss to the rest of us. We should all be so lucky to make such a good death after so many years of full, happy life and success in our fields. Most of us won't be, but if anybody did, I'm glad it was Jack Vance.

In case anybody doesn't know, the Integral Edition now has a very large amount of his catalog available for purchase as DRM-free ebooks.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 4:49 PM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Jack Vance was the Johnny Cash of Science Fiction. Both were more stylists than innovators, but with really distinctive styles which never really went out of fashion over the course of long careers.

A good start is the first thing that I ever read by him, the often anthologized short story 'The Moon Moth', which is hilarious. My favourite novel is 'Emphyrio', which is subtle and haunting, with interesting ideas about authenticity and mythology.

Were out of money now, but I have a deck of cards...
posted by ovvl at 4:50 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel like I can recommend “Songs of the Dying Earth". It was close to Vance in style in tone, but few ever reached it. But it was nice to see people playing in his sandbox, and most of them genuinely seemed to be paying tribute. It's not where I would start, but when you run out of Dying Earth it's not a bad way to end.

I remain sad “This Is Me, Jack Vance!” seems to have gone out of print as soon as it was released. I may be forced to eBay that sucker.
posted by Mezentian at 4:54 PM on May 29, 2013


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posted by chaosys at 5:00 PM on May 29, 2013


We were lucky to have had him for so long.
posted by interrobang at 5:01 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


"The Dying Earth" you say?

As good a place as any to start and indeed my own entry point 35 years ago. The Dying Earth proper was his first novel and is in fact six interlinked short stories. They centre on different characters, and someone who appears briefly in one may be the viewpoint character of the next story, and so on. Vance is already a remarkable writer then, but the style is not as majestic as it later became. The Eyes of the Overworld and Cugel's Saga are probably the best place to start: they form one long narrative, and despite the second one being a sequel to the first one, published seventeen years later, the action picks up a couple of minutes after the previous book's story ends. They are both picaresques, with each chapter forming its own more or less self-contained story. The last of the four is Rhialto the Marvellous, which returns somewhat to the format of The Dying Earth, being three interlinked short stories (I think one approaches novella length). Unlike TDE, they maintain the same protagonist all the way through.

Although The Dying Earth books are great, I find myself fonder of the Lyonesse books these days: TDE was published from 1950 to 1984, while the three Lyonesse books came along in a few years in the mid- to late-1980s. He has more control and to my mind, his language was never sharper nor his wit drier. Again, I am far from my books so this is necessarily a paraphrase: at one point a character is travelling through some woods and hears a ruckus ahead -- in a clearing he finds a lank, furry creature tied between two trees while a troll thrashes him with a club. The victim implores the troll to stop and is crying out that "a mistake has been made! My name is Grofinet!"

The traveller inquires of the troll, "Why do you beat poor Grofinet?"

The troll pauses and replies, "Why does anyone do anything? From a sense of purpose; for the sake of a job well done."

The traveller muses, "That is a good response, but it leaves many questions unanswered."

There is something hilarious about the courtly, measured rhetoric that these ruffians and monsters address each other with.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:02 PM on May 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


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Seems too pithy and not witty enough for Vance but it will have to do.
posted by graymouser at 5:04 PM on May 29, 2013


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posted by seasparrow at 5:27 PM on May 29, 2013


For those lamenting hearing too late of the Vance Integral Edition, jackvance.com sells ebooks of many of the VIE editions of his books.

I missed out on the VIE but when the Compact VIE was announced I talked myself into buying a set, and do not regret it one bit. The books are gorgeous. There may be a second printing (blog) coming, if anyone else out there is as nuts as I am...
posted by dfan at 5:31 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh no. No no no. He got me through adolescence... well, and everything since. I still consider mutual Vance Appreciation as a friendship multiplier.

Rest well, world-builder. Thank you for Magnus Ridolph.

Universe, you damn well better leave Pratchett alone. Please.
posted by clever sheep at 5:33 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by Bron at 5:39 PM on May 29, 2013


Just downloaded the four books in the Dying Earth cycle from Amazon. Looking forward to starting the first tonight. Thanks for the recommendation!
posted by darkstar at 5:48 PM on May 29, 2013


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posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:21 PM on May 29, 2013


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posted by Faint of Butt at 6:50 PM on May 29, 2013


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posted by mfoight at 6:52 PM on May 29, 2013


Wow, he was a major influence in my adolescence. Fell in love with the Lyonesse books and never really fell out of love with them. Tried desperately to imitate him, failed, but that was okay. I still had the master.

Glad he had a long and fulfilling life.

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posted by Athanassiel at 6:54 PM on May 29, 2013


I remain sad “This Is Me, Jack Vance!” seems to have gone out of print as soon as it was released. I may be forced to eBay that sucker.

It's kind of buried under the interface, but it is indeed one of the ebooks for sale on his website.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 7:27 PM on May 29, 2013


As a callow youth, I first stumbled upon Vance through a collection of Hugo winning novellas and short stories. Dragon Masters and Last Castle just stunned me. We lost a major talent today. Grandmaster doesn't even do him justice.
posted by Ber at 7:28 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


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Thank you for Howard Alan Treesong, the Pnume and many happy re-reads.
posted by N-stoff at 7:32 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by tdismukes at 7:37 PM on May 29, 2013


For so many worlds:

The Dying Earth that Cugel desperately and dissolutely wanders in The Eyes of the Overworld.

The Oikumene and Beyond that Kirth Gershen hunted the Demon Princes through.

Tschai where Adam Reith is stranded and struggles to escape.

Durdane where Gastel Etzwane and the mysterious Ifness wander in search of a way to stop the ravaging Roguskoi.

Lyonesse (and Tanjecterly) where mages and warriors, kings, and princesses, fairies and trolls, make love, intrigue and war in the time before the elder isles sink into the sea.

For Breakness, Big Planet, the Blue World, and Banbeck Vale. For Castle Janeil, for Halma, for Maske. For the Gaian Reach and Alastor Cluster.

For all these and the worlds they inspired (Viriconium, New Sun, The World below the Golden Cloud, Golter, and so many more):

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posted by wobh at 10:40 PM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


The sun is dimmer and redder today.
posted by happyroach at 11:08 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Any planet I discover will be called Alphanor
posted by fallingbadgers at 11:16 PM on May 29, 2013


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posted by misterbee at 11:32 PM on May 29, 2013


ricochet biscuit:

BETWEEN DASCINET AND TROICINET was Scola, an island of crags and cliffs twenty miles across, inhabited by the Skyls. At the center a volcanic peak, Kro, reminded all of its presence with an occasional rumbling of the guts, a wisp of steam or a bubble of sulfur. From Kro radiated four steep ridges, dividing the island into four duchies: Sadaracx to the north, Corso to the east, Rhamnanthus to the south and Malvang to the west, nominally ruled by dukes who in turn gave fealty to King Yvar Excelsus of Dascinet.

In practice the Skyls, a dark crafty race of unknown origin, were uncontrollable. They lived isolated in mountain glens, emerging only when the time came for dreadful deeds. Vendetta, revenge and counter-revenge ruled their lives. The Skyls' virtues were stealth, reckless elan, blood-lust and stoicism under torment; his word, be it promise, guarantee or threat might be equated with certainty; indeed the Skyl's exact adherence to his pledge often verged upon the absurd. From birth to death his life was a succession of murders, captivities, escapes, wild flights, daring rescues: deeds incongruous in a landscape of Arcadian beauty.

On days of festival truce might be called; then merry-making and reveling exceeded rational bounds. Everything was to excess: tables groaned under the weight of food; fabulous feats of wine drinking were performed; there was passionate music and wild dancing. In sudden spasms of sentiment, ancient enmities might be resolved and feuds of a hundred murders put to rest. Old friendships were made whole, amid tears and reminiscences. Beautiful maidens and gallant lads met and loved, or met and parted. There were rapture and despair, seductions and abductions, pursuits, tragic deaths, virtue blighted and fuel for new vendettas...
posted by chortly at 12:38 AM on May 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


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posted by lucien_reeve at 2:36 AM on May 30, 2013


Thanks, chortle -- that's the one. Although now that I recall, it is not a footnote but an introduction that sets up a conflict between Troicinet and Dascinet, but the conflict is resolved in two more pages and Scola and the Skyls never appear again in the story.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:56 AM on May 30, 2013


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posted by inire at 4:02 AM on May 30, 2013


What I love about Vance's prose is the effortless denseness of it. He's one of those writers who can pack an epic into novella length without making it seem compressed.

And based on the comments quoted in the NYT piece, he seemed as satisfied with his life as he expected to be. If you gotta go (and we all do), he done alright.

(Plus, more evidence for my ongoing case that you don't need to be a drunk or a reprobate to be brilliant and significant.)
posted by lodurr at 4:16 AM on May 30, 2013


Oh my, just going through the links and... Vance created Bad Ronald?
No wonder I have it here to watch.
posted by Mezentian at 4:17 AM on May 30, 2013


It feels strange that I can no longer describe him as the living writer I admire most. I am glad that my life has overlapped with his.
posted by an opinicus at 4:48 AM on May 30, 2013


... I have never been able to explain the sumblime moment in Suldren's Garden where I realized I was reading something unlike anything I had ever read. It was my first reading of JV and I honestly went from "Why am I continuing to read this crap?" to "Oh - that's why!" in seconds.
posted by Golem XIV at 6:03 AM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I remember reading the Planet Of Adventure series when much younger than I am now and being captivated by the language and the ideas (and it's a series that had its own controversies). It's also a series that still stands as a very solid read today.

The Dying Earth was equally brilliant and it demonstrated Vance's skill at penning not just the peculiar conundrums that Cugel finds himself in, but also a wonderful malicious tact for the various cruelties that fall upon some of his unluckier characters.

I've got a particular soft spot for his short story Noise though. It's a very captivating description of being cast away on a world that has several different coloured suns and it reveals his talent for laying out a dreamlike narrative.
posted by panboi at 6:22 AM on May 30, 2013


A magnificent writer, a brilliant career.

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posted by Slithy_Tove at 7:02 AM on May 30, 2013


This is an account of the controversy alluded to by panboi.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:41 AM on May 30, 2013


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posted by paulg at 9:09 AM on May 30, 2013


A few additional notes

I meant to, but somehow left out Talislanta from the list of world's Vance influenced.

If you are looking for places to start, Eric Walker's A Few Words About Jack Vance (subject of y2karl's post in the OP) is a great overview of Vance's work and what's great about it. Although I recommend the article there are a few things I disagree with. For one, I would have ranked The Eyes of the Overworld among the "Very Good" or even "Excellent" works. Big Planet also deserves a better ranking, IMO. I actually recommend against the later Dying Earth books. Well, Rhialto the Marvellous is ok, but as far as I'm concerned, there really is no reason to read any further adventures of Cugel after The Eyes of the Overworld.

I was also distressed to hear about the change from "Wankh" to "Wannek" in the VIE editions of the Tschai books. Seriously, all four of those books have titles which any 9-year-old could make a mildly naughty pun of. In the pornographic adaptation of the series in my mind they are: 1. City of the Chatch, 2. Servants of the Wank (natch), 3. The Doodoo, 4. The Poon. I can't be the only person who thought of these, and I doubt my enjoyment of the series was the least affected by it. This change is inane and the justification for it ridiculous.

posted by wobh at 9:34 AM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


A damned fine life: long, well led and certain to be well remembered. If I can leave a tenth of a percent of the mark Jack Vance did, I'll be shocked.

Gonna read The Demon Princes this weekend and raise a glass.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:37 AM on May 30, 2013


I'm sorry to hear of his passing.

.
posted by ersatz at 9:57 AM on May 30, 2013


I was also distressed to hear about the change from "Wankh" to "Wannek" in the VIE editions of the Tschai books. Seriously, all four of those books have titles which any 9-year-old could make a mildly naughty pun of.

The word's got a lot more weight here in the UK but I agree that the change was unnecessary.
posted by panboi at 10:53 AM on May 30, 2013


My father might be his biggest fan. Sad news.

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posted by JBennett at 12:43 PM on May 30, 2013


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posted by finnegans at 2:51 PM on May 30, 2013


Fucking Hell. I was this time for sure really truly going to write him a fan letter after school ended this week.

I read the Dying Earth when I was about twelve. At the time I was hoovering up every scrap of fantasy and science fiction I could find. I was hooked for life. He made everyone else's alien/future worlds seem flat and derivative. His made-up words managed to be both evocative and roll off the tongue, and of course I later found out that a lot of what I took to be inventions were in fact actual words. I loved that he never left a meal undescribed even if it was only a bit of rusk and a cup of verbena tea. Whenever I visited a bookstore or library, the first thing I'd do was check the V's in the science fiction section in case there was a new Vance book. I still do this reflexively, even though I think I have all of his science fiction and fantasy (though not, alas the Integral edition.)

There have been some really wonderful Vancian quotes in this thread already. I'd like to offer one that is atypically high-fantasy (it is a passage from a long-dead nobleman's autobiography) but relevant in an obituary thread:

"Here am I, Taubry of Methune: the one, the singularity who is I. My qualities are excellent; they encompass virtue, imagery, humor and bliss. Needless to say, there has never been another like me, and never shall the cosmos know my like again, since I stand at the apex of sentient life. How then have I transcended all others, across all of time? Have I performed prodigies? Have I solved the classic mysteries? How then? By my secret; why should I not yield the truth? No reason that would not label me an ingrate. So--what of this noble secret? It is tantalizing in its simplicity: I refer to my joy in being.

So all you who come after: if you be beautiful maidens, sigh for a heart-struck moment; if you be gallant cavaliers, shrug a respectful shrug; alas! None of you may fall in with the rhythm of my gorgeous life, and this will be a pity, for all of us."
posted by gamera at 6:26 PM on May 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


44 VOLUMES?

Man, my library is never going to spring for that.


If you mean municipal library, you are likely right (if it is anything at all like mine). My decades-long love of his work stemmed from me checking The Eyes of the Overworld out my local library when I was twelve. Then, thirty-plus years ago, they had about forty of his titles. These days they have zero.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:48 AM on May 31, 2013


Another choice bit: in Madouc the title character is a willful and wayward princess who is struggling against the strictures of her governess, Lady Desdea. One day Madouc pelts Desdea with rotten quinces from behind a balustrade but is discovered by the king, Casmir. As Desdea looks up to find the source of the fruit she see the king frowning down and rushes off in confusion.
Casmir slowly drew back. He looked down at Madouc. "Why did you throw fruit at Lady Desdea?"

Madouc said artlessly: "It was because Lady Desdea came past first, before Lady Marmone."

"That is not relevant to the issue!" snapped King Casmir. "At this moment, Lady Desdea believes I pelted her with rotten fruit."

Madouc nodded soberly. "It may be all for the best. She will take the reprimand more seriously than if it came mysteriously, as if from nowhere."

"Indeed? And what are her faults, that she deserves such a bitter reproach?"

Madouc looked up in wonder, her eyes wide and blue. "In the main, Sire, she is tiresome beyond endurance and drones on forever. At the same time, she is sharp as a fox and sees around corners. Also, if you can believe it, she insists that I learn how to sew a fine seam!"

"Bah," muttered Casmir, already bored with the subject. "Your conduct is in clear need of correction. You must throw no more fruit!"

Madouc scowled and shrugged. "Fruit is nicer than other stuffs. I well believe that Lady Desdea would prefer fruit."

"Throw no other stuffs either. A royal princess expresses displeasure more graciously."

Madouc considered a moment. "What if these stuffs should fall of their own weight?"

"You must allow no substances, either vile, or hurtful, or noxious, or of any sort whatever, to fall, or depart from your control, toward Lady Desdea. In short, desist from these activities!"
A page later we pick it up with Desdea herself:
Madouc's assumptions were incorrect. The event in the service yard had strongly affected Lady Desdea, but not instantly was she prompted to alter her philosophical bent, nor, by extension, her methods for teaching Madouc. As Lady Desdea hurried along the dim corridors of Castle Haidion, she felt only a great bewilderment. She asked herself, "How have I erred? What was my fault, that I have so incited His Majesty? Above all, why should he signal his disfavor in such an extraordinary manner? Is there some symbolism here which evades me?"
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:03 PM on May 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Holkerwoyd lies stark at last, his puppets peering into his mouth...

What a gift Vance was to us all.

My favourite novel is 'Emphyrio', which is subtle and haunting, with interesting ideas about authenticity and mythology.

It was his masterpiece.

In an unrelated move, Vance's coinages of words were so numerous and fertile that a lexicon of his invented words was published several years ago.

If only they had thought to record his pronunciations of his words and personal and place names -- that is what I wanted from the VIE.
posted by y2karl at 8:55 AM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I somehow never got around to reading his stuff until Lurulu, then I dove in. I loved his sense of the weird and off-kilter. I loved how he loved launching off in strange directions. It was like I'd been holding a place for it in my mind the whole time.

I hope people keep discovering the hidden wonders he created.

.
posted by fleacircus at 2:51 PM on June 4, 2013


By way of explanation for the comment above...

From Emphyrio:
Holkerwoyd gave a casual wave. "We may yet meet again, thought I suspect not. The years come fast. Some morning they'll find me lying stark, with puppets climbing over me, peering in my mouth, tweaking my ears."
Holkerwoyd the puppet master's second farewell to Ghyl Tarvoke.

Holkerwoyd was a self-portrait of Vance in the book he wrote for his son John Jr.

I figured this out on my own and then asked this of an agent or someone connected with Vance back in the day. My supposition was correct in regards to Holkerwoyd. I contacted this person when I did drylongso, my internet radio program, sending the URL on to Vance, thinking he would like the music. Which he would, for the most part. Never heard back from him or anyone connected, though.
posted by y2karl at 12:39 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks to this thread, I DLed the Kindle versions of the Dying Earth series and finished them last week. Some very enjoyable prose, some hit-and-miss, but definitely worth the read. Thank you MeFi!

I think my favorite part of the series is probably the very first short story about Mazirian the Magician. It was actually very moving and reminded me intensely of the wistful and fey feel of some of the short stories in U.K. LeGuin's The Wind's Twelve Quarters. It really hits my sweet spot for this genre of fantasy and I am especially grateful to have encountered Mazirian's tale.

I also really enjoyed the second whole volume (Cugel the Clever). Excellent writing and a compelling character. The prose sometimes gets in its own way, but it's a minor thing, considering how entertaining the tale it. The third volume (also about Cugel) was fairly derivative of the preceding one, but still entertaining. The fourth volume, Rhialto the Marvellous, was hit-or-miss, sometimes meandering, but it was still good. It was also fascinating to see some of the origins of magic so fundamental to the classic D&D universe (IOUN stones and some of the spells, for example).

I enjoyed Vance's writing so much I just today downloaded the Lyonesse series and started on the first (eponymous) book. The writing seems much more taut and less flashy than the Dying Earth. I'm truly grateful to MetaFilterians for pointing out Vance's oeuvre and regret that I have come to it so late, after Vance has passed.

R.I.P. to a great and influential author and, from all accounts, an extraordinary guy.

(By the way, I have to give a shout out to reading e-books on a tablet. I use the Kindle app on my iPad and it has revived my reading habit. I used to read 1-2 books a week and, over the past five years, my dwindling eyesight has made it less and less enjoyable. I tried audiobooks, but I find that I often fall asleep after a few minutes of narration in most cases. But with the e-book, I set the text to white on black background, bump up the text size a bit, and it's perfect. It has made me an avid book reader again!)
posted by darkstar at 5:17 PM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


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