A Bad Year for Good Writers

A Bad Year for Good Writers

Jack Vance has died. Following close on the heels of Iain Banks’ announcement, it’s starting to seem a gloomy year for science fiction fans. Of course, unlike with Banks, few could say that Vance didn’t have a full run. He’d died at the age of 96, after a long, full life that saw his skills recognized (even if he downplayed them).

Regular readers of this blog know that I consider Jack Vance one of the greatest things ever to happen to science fiction, or to literature in general. I like him so much that I spent big bucks to buy a copy of the Compact Vance Integral Edition (CVIE), in addition to all the paperbacks I already own. The fact that there is a Vance Integral Edition (actually, several versions), put together by dedicated volunteers, and there’s a substantial market for it, tells you most of what you need to know. I’ll probably buy all his books again as e-books as well.

Not all of Vance’s writing is genius – he wrote some stories as Ellery Queen that were only acceptable – but a lot of it is. I’ve been working my way through my CVIE and posting reviews on Goodreads – discovering new stories, enjoying old ones. I’m now in the middle of Suldrun’s Garden, part of Vance’s late rebirth in the Lyonesse series. I didn’t like it that much when I first read it – I felt it was stiffer than work like Languages of Pao or The Dying Earth or any number of others. But I like it much more this time around – yes, it’s a less exotic setting (Earth), but it still has the moody, picaresque sense that much of Vance’s earlier work offered.

If by some chance you haven’t heard of Jack Vance – maybe you’re too young, or you started reading SF recently – check him out. Start almost anywhere you like, but I recommend the Alastor series (copied by many, but never equaled), Night Lamp (terrific stand-alone novel), any of the collections of his shorter work, or the wonderfully named The Magnificent Showboats of the Lower Vissel River, Lune XXIII South, Big Planet.

No author I’ve ever encountered had Vance’s way with language – at once a work of art and a curious plaything. He’s in the very sparse lineup of science fiction greats, with Roger Zelazny and Arthur C. Clarke, but for sheer facility and fun with language, he’s head and shoulders above them all.

Jack Vance got a lot of the credit that was due him as an author during his life. If there’s one thing he missed out on, it was mainstream recognition as a literary author to be reckoned with. The New York Times profiled him in 2009, but it didn’t make him a household name. There’s  no indication that he cared, any more than his down-to-earth characters might have cared about the aloof, preening characters he surrounded them with.

For myself, I’m glad I encountered Vance’s writing a long time ago, and have had all those years (and more to come) to read and re-read and keep enjoying his work. I’m sorry he’s gone, but I’m overwhelmingly glad that he wrote as much as he did, and left us all so much to treasure.