I’ll try writing something more substantial about the man and his work later, but I just heard the sad news that author Jack Vance passed away. And on the same day as Otto Muehl, to boot (26 May). He was
96 [not 98 as I originally said, whoops].
Vance’s Dying Earth books rank among my favorite works of fantasy ever—hell, favorite books ever. As many have observed, Vance was one of our finer, stranger authors who never got the attention he deserved largely because his books had covers like this:
Here’s how Carlo Rotella put it in a 2009 NY Times profile:
Dan Simmons, the best-selling writer of horror and fantasy, described discovering Vance as “a revelation for me, like coming to Proust or Henry James. Suddenly you’re in the deep end of the pool. He gives you glimpses of entire worlds with just perfectly turned language. If he’d been born south of the border, he’d be up for a Nobel Prize.” Michael Chabon, whose distinguished literary reputation allows him to employ popular formulas without being labeled a genre writer, told me: “Jack Vance is the most painful case of all the writers I love who I feel don’t get the credit they deserve. If ‘The Last Castle’ or ‘The Dragon Masters’ had the name Italo Calvino on it, or just a foreign name, it would be received as a profound meditation, but because he’s Jack Vance and published in Amazing Whatever, there’s this insurmountable barrier.”
I haven’t read anything more than The Dying Earth series, but have always intended to. Shame on me. (Jeremy M. Davies, who first got me to read Vance, was just telling me last week that I should check out The Languages of Pao.)
I know of only one Vance film adaptation: in 1961, his mystery novel The Man in the Cage was adapted for television, as an episode of Boris Karloff’s Thriller. You can watch it here (I’ve not seen it myself).
I’ll try writing more about The Dying Earth later, and why it moved me so. Until then, godspeed Mr. Vance, and I only hope your passing inspires others to check out your great work. (You can read some here.)