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Friday, 19 July 2013

Jack Vance: A Flash Non-Fiction [With Lots Of Pics]




Jack Vance, a lifelong writer of science-fiction and fantasy, died on May 26 2013. He was little-known outside the genre, but highly popular, prolific and respected.
He has won a mantelpiece of awards, the Hugo three times, the Nebula, the Jupiter Award, World Fantasy Award [and the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award], an Edgar for his mystery novel THE MAN IN THE CAGE, and is a SFWA Grand Master. Four years before his death, TheNew York Times Magazine described Vance as "one of American literature’s most distinctive and undervalued voices."
Vance was born in 1916, and spent his childhood in California, after which he had a string of badly-paid jobs. He worked as an electrician in the naval shipyards at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, and left only a month before the Japanese attacked it. His eyes were weak from childhood and this prevented a further career in the military, until he memorised an eye-chart to get in the Merchant Marines.A lifelong love of water and boats showed through in his future career.
He was a man of many talents; a minor jazz musician, a house-builder, a fine boatman, and an accomplished traveller, as well as his prolific writing. He married in 1946, and remained married until his wuife’s death in 2008,.
Vance wrote many science fiction short stories in the late 1940s and through the 1950s, which were published in magazines. He has said he got inspiration from a heavy childhood reading, and was taken with authors including Jeffery Farnol, a writer of adventure books, whose style of 'high' language he mentions, P.G. Wodehouse, L. Frank Baum, James Branch Cabell, Edgar Rice Burroughs,   Robert W. Chambers, Jules Verne and Lord Dunsany.  He was yet another great genre writer to be heavily influenced and encouraged by the magazines, Wierd Tales and Amazing Stories. These cheap ‘pulp’ magazines have left an outstanding and long-lived legacy; Robert E Howard, Robert Bloch, H.P.Lovecraft, Fritz Leiber, Clark Ashton Smith, etc
One of his first writing jobs was as a screenwriter for the TV series Captain Video. His first published story appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1945, and since then has produced over sixty books. THE DYING EARTH was an early series of short fantasy stories, set in a far distant future in which the sun is slowly going out, and magic and technology coexist. Theis became a long-running and popular sequence and has given its name to that particular brand of far-future science-fantasy, the Dying Earth genre. This seqwuence continued with titles like THE EYES OF THE OVERWORLD, CUGELS SAGA, RHIALTO THE MARVELLOUS, and THE LIGHTNING MAGICIAN. I think you can get a sense of the alien wonder simply be reading the title’s of many of Vance’s works; MAZIRIAN THE MAGICIAN, THE BLUE WORLD, THE DEMON PRINCES, THE HOUSES OF ISZM, THE DIRDIR, THE PNUME, the unfortunately titled SERVANTS OF THE WANKH, CITY OF THE CHASCH, THE DRAGON MASTERS, NIGHT LAMP, SLAVES OF THE KLAU, THE DARK OCEAN, THE MAGNIFICENT SHOWBOATS, LYONESSE, THE DEADLY ISLES and many many more. Colourful covers contain colourful characters and although usually set in a science-fiction background and setting, but featuring societies that have often evolved back to a mediaval-style fantasy type. His influence can be seen in a vast amount of writers but most especially Brian Aldiss, Michael Moorcock, Gene Wolfe,and Phillip Jose Farmer. The sci-fi authors Poul Anderson and Frank Herbert were close personal friends of Vance.
His poor eyesight continued to fail throughout his life, and in the 1980s he was declared blind, but still managed to write using specially-written computer software.
He died on May 26 2013. I had read a handful of his short stories in the past, and had a couple of yet-unread novels on my shelves. But, in that strange way of sychronicity, I read of his recent death in a magazine and within days I discovered his 1966 novel THE BLUE WORLD in a charity-shop in my home-town. More coincidence abounds, as a quick glance at the book tells me of a similar setting to my recently published [on Smashwords] story BLUE. Well, I’ve now read THE BLUE WORLD [review to follow] and I’m pleased we went in different directions with the setting. However, I had – and still have – plans for follow-up stories to BLUE, and I will work into them my own little tribute to Jack Vance.
For any fantasy or science-fiction readers who have not yet encountered his clear but magical words, I give a whole-hearted recommendation.
RIP Jack Vance 1916 - 2013

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