Remembering a Master

One of my favorite authors died last week. Jack Vance has been eulogized now all over the internet by more influential authors than me, and more eloquently by people who knew him better. (Matthew David Surridge wrote up a nice overview at Black Gate, and John O’Neill talks about Vance’s importance in the field in another essay there.)

I love Vance’s first Dying Earth novel, The Dying Earth, and the four books from his Planet of Adventure sequence, and I enjoy much of his other work as well. I have much of it left to read, and I’ll probably start dipping back into his fiction in remembrance this week.

The intellect, wit, and sheer invention to be found in Vance are marvelous. I can’t think of anyone who’s brought to life so many odd and fascinating human cultures, which is why I always recommend Vance not just to fantasy readers, but to writers who want to improve their world building. That said, often character building becomes almost incidental to Vance in preference to verbal cleverness and imagination, leading to a different kind of writing than that I usually enjoy, which is why I often read him in small doses.  I find him rich, but brilliant, like a really rare and excellent dessert I wouldn’t want to eat every day.

The only other writer I like whose work affects me in a similar way is Clark Ashton Smith, but I prefer Vance’s world building to Smith’s, who never manages to fully engross me (if you looked at my shelves you could see my difference in preference — I’ve given away a lot of my Smith, who I am unlikely to re-read much, but there are at least a dozen Vance books on my shelves, and I will probably pick up more). Vance can sweep me away through an entire novel, or even sequence of novels (I found the four Planet of Adventure books impossible to stop reading).

In remembrance of a master writer, I think this week I’ll finally get around to reading the last two Dying Earth books, or maybe finish off his Demon Princes novels. I have a number of unread Vance books on my shelf. Unlike rich desserts, they will keep on my shelf without spoiling, awaiting the moment when they will be most delectable.