Jack Vance (1916-2013)

Jack Vance, one of science fiction’s most respected writers, died May 26 at the age of 96.

Vance’s first published story, “The World-Thinker,” appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1945. Another sale early in his career was to 20th Century Fox, who also hired him as a screenwriter for the Captain Video television series.  Over the years Vance wrote more than sixty books in three genres, including 11 mystery novels as John Holbrook Vance and three as Ellery Queen.

While I enjoyed every Vance story I ever read, it was his five-novel Demon Princes series that really hooked me. They relate Kirth Gersen’s revenge on five notorious criminals who carried his village off to slavery when he was a child. The first three books came out in the 1960s, then he didn’t write another for 12 years. I was afraid he’d never finish. I was able to start breathing again when the last two were announced by DAW, finally appearing in 1979 and 1981.

Two traits that set Vance apart from many other writers were use of an elevated diction, and his power to create future cultures that felt deeply changed from our own by time and technology. As Sidney Coleman said in a review for F&SF, “his people are true citizens of the future, not just twentieth-century Americans in fancy dress.”

Dick Lupoff delivers Jack Vance's 2010 Hugo.

Dick Lupoff delivers Jack Vance’s 2010 Hugo.

Jack Vance was a Guest of Honor at MagiCon, the 1992 Worldcon, named a SFWA Grand Master in 1997, and recognized with a World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement in 1984. He was inducted to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2001.

Vance’s “The Dragon Masters” won the Hugo in 1963. His 1966 novelette “The Last Castle” won both the Hugo and Nebula.

In 2010 his autobiography This is Me, Jack Vance! (Or, More Properly, This is “I”) won the Best Related Book Hugo.

In 1946, Vance met and married Norma Genevieve Ingold (she died in 2008).

In years gone by Frank Herbert and Poul Anderson were among Vance’s closest friends. The three jointly built a houseboat which they sailed in the Sacramento Delta. The Vances and the Herberts lived near Lake Chapala in Mexico together for a period.

[Thanks to Sam Long and John King Tarpinian for the story.]

Denvention 3’s Classics of Science Fiction

Denvention 3 accepted John Hertz’ suggestion to program discussions of the “Wonders of 1958,” selected classics of science fiction. Read up and join in! The list of books and John’s notes appear on the Denvention 3 website. But let me save you a click —

Mile Closer to the Stars – Classics of Science Fiction
Book discussions led by John Hertz

We are in the golden-anniversary year of 1958, a golden year for science fiction. We’ll celebrate with five Classics of SF book discussions on books published that year and still famous, often reprinted, worth re-reading or first reading now. Look for them in the program grid as “Wonders of 1958.”

James Blish, A Case of Conscience and The Triumph of Time
Some call Conscience Blish’s finest book. Is it science fiction? Is it a story? Is its best moment when the Pope says “What did you do about it?” In the same year came the last of the four Cities in Flight novels. Is it a success standing alone? How does Time compare to Conscience?

Algis Budrys, Who?
This penetrating study of identity, loyalty, uncertainty may be both more bleak and more hopeful than it seems. If there is a sermon, it is preached by silence. Budrys is known for his deftness and timing; here too are poetry, a fundamental grasp of tragedy, and the surprises of love.

Robert Heinlein, Methuselah’s Children
By painting portraits Heinlein repeatedly asks the next question.  What if your lifespan was two hundred years?  What if you didn’t care?  If you are hunted, should you run?  Where should you go?  Here too is the first and perhaps best of Lazarus Long.  Extra credit: compare the carefully rewritten 1941 version in the July-September Astounding.

Fritz Leiber, The Big Time
Spiders are the good guys, and our hero is a woman.  The first Hero was a woman too, go look up Leander.   Indeed this is a very classical book; it preserves the unities of time, place, and persons, which is mighty strange, considering.  There’s slashing drama, and if you’ve never been a party girl, it might not be what you think.

Jack Vance, The Languages of Pao
With four worlds in the spotlight, one populated by fifteen billion, this is a story of one boy and one man.  Knowledge may be power.  Concentration and diversity may each be extreme.  The characters say linguistics is the science here; perhaps it is really cross-cultural study, or patience.  Vance’s own language is the gold.