michael chabon

Now the earth really is dying

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.)

Massive People / 1 Comment
May 29th, 2013 / 9:22 pm

NYTBR has got some interesting stuff going on this weekend, mostly in the form of its bylines. They’ve got William T. Vollmann reviewing Crossers by Philip Caputo, August Kleinzahler on a new biography of Thelonious Monk, Amy Bloom on a book about feminism (When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present), and George Packer on Mark Danner’s Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War. Plus, you know, a bunch of other stuff. The usual run of whatever, plus as near as I can tell there seems to be only one new entry this week into the NYT’s famous vortex of nobody-gives-a-shit. That would be David Kamp (The United States of Arugala) reviewing the new Michael Chabon essay collection, Manhood for Amateurs (yikes!) which features that infamously stupid essay about childhood that made everyone hate him. Anyway, here’s the beginning of the Vollmann review:

Once when I was so weak with amebic dysentery that all time not spent on the toilet was passed in bed, I found in my host’s house one book in a language I could read. It was one of those storm-tossed but ultimately upbeat women’s romances, a genre I had not yet sampled. I read it, then read it again and again, since there was nothing better to do. If I ever have the luxury of repeating such an experience, I hope to do so with a Philip Caputo book. For how many decades in how many used bookstores have I seen “Horn of Africa” standing steadfast, a Rock of Gibraltar compared with the mere boulders of Ken Follett and Sidney Sheldon? And only now, with a half-century of my life already over, have I finally learned whom to turn to for a good potboiler in my next wasting sickness!

Palette, cleansed.

The subconscious syntax of Michæl Chabon’s hair

Michæl Chabon can’t keep it up — that wisp of hair that seems to always hang on his forehead all the time. At first glance, one sees a random tuft from a man perhaps too deep in thought to use a comb more than once a day; but I started noticing that these locks made grammatical marks, as if to suggest “don’t just read my book, read my face.” I once went to a Chabon reading at the public library. He called the organizers from his cell phone minutes before the event claiming public transit was crazy. “More fountain water for me,” I thought.

The following is a list of the subconscious syntax of Michæl Chabon’s hair, including excerpts which illustrate said grammatical functions.

1. The Apostrophe


Chabon is not in the business of the avante garde, so there will be no mind blowing today, just a pretty legit use of apostrophes. From The Amazing Adventures of Kavelier & Clay, which won the Pulitzer in 2001:

As soon as the German army occupied Prague, talk began, in certain quarters, of sending the city’s famous Golem, Rabbi Loew’s miraculous automaton, into the safety of exile.

That was a pretty nice use of two apostrophes, both as possessive ones. I tried to find apostrophes used as contractions, but couldn’t, so I’ll put some of my own. I have a feeling maybe good writers aren’t supposed to use contractions. Ain’t that shit.


Author Spotlight / 23 Comments
September 8th, 2009 / 2:30 pm