R.I.P. Jack Vance

Jack Vance, the creator of the real Baron Bodissey*, has died in California at the age of 96.

There is no greater pleasure than reading than a Jack Vance novel. When my current eye trouble developed several months ago, I put aside all other pleasure reading and concentrated on re-reading all his novels and stories, just in case there would come a time when I could no longer read.

Mr. Vance published his first story in 1945, his last novel in 2008, and his autobiography in 2009, so his professional fiction-writing career spanned sixty-four years. I have been reading his work for about fifty years.

He lived much longer than I expected, but still, I mourn his passing.

Here’s an obituary from The Verge:

Prolific science fiction and fantasy author Jack Vance dies at 96

Jack Vance, an award-winning writer of mystery, fantasy, and science fiction, died this week at age 96. Hard science fiction magazine Locus reports that Vance died on May 26th in Oakland, California, where he lived for many years. His official fan site has confirmed the news, and fans of his work are invited to post a memorial message online. Vance is the author of dozens of books and many short stories, published under both his own name and multiple pseudonyms over six decades. He’s best known for the Dying Earth series, a four-book cycle set in the far future, and his work has won the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards. In 1997, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America awarded him Grand Master status, and he was inducted into the Fantasy and Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2001.

Generally, Vance kept a low public profile, but in 2009, he published This Is Me, Jack Vance!, an autobiography that also won the Hugo Award for its year. Before establishing himself as a full-time writer in the 1970s, he spent a series of stints as a Merchant Marine, electrician, and gold dredge worker among other occupations. He enjoyed an over 60-year marriage to his wife Norma, who died in 2009; their son, John, became an engineer.

Vance’s prolific writing never elevated him to the level of fame enjoyed by contemporaries like Ray Bradbury or Frank Herbert. But many in the science fiction community considered him a master of his chosen genres, and often criminally underrated. “The engineer in him is always on view,” said author Michael Chabon in a 2009 New York Times retrospective. “They’re always adventure stories, too, but they’re also problem-solving puzzles. He sets up these what-ifs, like a syllogism. He has that logic-love like Poe, the Yankee engineering spirit, married to erudite love of pomp and pageantry. And he has an amazing ear and writes a beautiful sentence.”

A more detailed obit from Locus:

Jack Vance (1916-2013)

SF Grand Master Jack Vance, 96, died May 26, 2013 in Oakland CA. Vance was one of the most influential SF authors of the postwar period, and his visionary imagination and sophisticated, often playful use of language inspired countless SF writers, including Avram Davidson, Harlan Ellison, Matthew Hughes, George R.R. Martin, Michael Moorcock, and Gene Wolfe. His landmark Dying Earth sequence, set in the far future, began with collection The Dying Earth (1950) and continued with novel The Eyes of the Overworld (1966), Cugel’s Saga (1983), Rhialto the Marvelous (1984), and several related stories. Vance redefined the nature of planetary romance with his Big Planet (1952), and continued exploring that universe in sequel Showboat World (1975).

John Holbrook Vance was born August 28, 1916 in San Francisco CA. He worked as a bellhop, in a cannery, and on a gold dredge before attending the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied engineering, physics, and journalism, though he never graduated. A lifelong musician and music lover, Vance’s first published works were jazz reviews for The Daily Californian.

Vance worked as an electrician at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, leaving the area a month before the December 1941 attack that brought the US into WWII. His poor eyesight made it impossible for him to serve in the military, but he memorized an eye chart and joined the Merchant Marine. He wrote his first published story, “The World-Thinker” (1945), while at sea. Before becoming a full-time writer in the 1970s, he worked as a seaman, surveyor, and carpenter, among other occupations. He married Norma Genevieve Ingold in 1946; she died in 2008. Vance traveled the world extensively, living and writing in Tahiti, South Africa, Italy, and Kashmir, among other locales.

He published short fiction prolifically in the pulps in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, contributing regularly to Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories. Notable short works include “Telek” (1952), “The Moon Moth” (1961), and Hugo- and Nebula-award winning novella “The Last Castle” (1966).

Most of Vance’s novels take place in series. In addition to the Dying Earth, major works include the Demon Princes sequence, the Planet of Adventure series, the Durdane trilogy, the Alastor Cluster sequence, the Lyonesse fantasy series, the Cadwal Chronicles, and the Ports of Call series. He also published numerous standalone SF/F novels and mysteries. His autobiography, This Is Me, Jack Vance! (2009), won a Hugo for Best Related Book.

Vance won the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement in 1984; the SFWA Grand Master Award in 1997; and he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2001.

See the July issue of Locus for a complete obituary.

As Dymphna tweeted, “Flags at Schloss Bodissey will be flying at half-staff for a fortnight.”

*   Unspiek Baron Bodissey was not an actual character in Jack Vance’s books, but an imaginary galactic litterateur and savant whose epigrams and socio-political observations were quoted in footnotes, or discussed by characters, in various novels. The Demon Princes series holds perhaps the greatest repository of Bodisseiana, but the Baron reappeared in later works, and made cameo appearances in the last two novels, Ports of Call and Lurulu.

12 thoughts on “R.I.P. Jack Vance

  1. It is criminal to not report Mr. Vances ifluence on Dungeons and Dragons. The original magic system used is heavily based on ideas from his dying earth series.

  2. Another fan of Jack Vance! I’ve consumed a lot of his books during my formative years. R.I.P. and thanks for everything.

    By the way, a heritage such as that which authors like him have given to our civilization, is what I call an “enrichment”. Not the mockery of values and pure evil that they’re shoving down our throats nowadays.

  3. Vale, Jack Vance,

    I was a fan of the “Planet of Adventure” series, like Azimov’s novels, his stories don’t ‘show their age’.

  4. I have read everyone of Mr. Vance’s novels, and I passed them on to my daughter, who even collects duplicates of these novels. We will both miss him very much.

  5. That’s a lot of books, Oldguy.

    Was reading Madouc earlier today, then saw this notice by Baron Bodissey on Vance’s death.

    Vance gave you just enough info for your own imagination to hoist the scenery, which works. And most everyone is intelligent in Vance’s worlds. In fact, I want to live there, in that imaginary world where folks communicate with nuance; whether hero, villain and peasant or nobleman. You get

    Lots of foodstuffs and beverages
    Descriptions of locales and movements
    Sexual, both normal and homosexual, but no lingering (not asexual like Tolkien)
    Vance missed the memo about feminism
    Classical European stylings
    Far off worlds that seem not too far off
    Wacky religions
    Wonderful bantering

    Another Vancian sideline aspect I love; you never know when he is going to do it: the brief philosophical argument! Never lasts for more than a minute but always funny and often profound as well. Like:

    “’One dark midnight a student entered the Baron’s chamber and awoke the Baron from his sleep. The student cried out, ‘Sir, I am distraught with anxiety! Tell me once and for all: what is Truth?’

    The Baron groaned and cursed and finally raised his head. He roared, ‘Why do you bother me with such trivia?’ “The student gave a faltering response. ‘Because I am ignorant and you are wise.’ “Very well, then! I can reveal to you that Truth is a rope with one end!” “The student persisted. ‘All very well, sir! But what of the far end which is never found?’ “‘Idiot!’ stormed the Baron. “That is the end to which I refer!’ And the Baron once more composed himself to sleep.’”

    That final quote of the Baron is almost identical in style to Hakuin Zenji’s hilarious sermons and rants in the The Essential Teachings of the Zen Master Hakuin and Wild Ivy, at one point, where he is being awakened from sleep and begged to teach.

    Jack is da man. Jack knows funny like nobody. Jack would be our Cervantes but he’s nuncupatory in a post-mod system. And who will take up Jack’s pen? I’m guessing nobody.

    PS, Baron, I heard there are some well done audio cd’s of some of Vance books.

    Salute to Vance!

  6. I will add him to my list of authors to read. I was once an avid Sci/Fi reader. I lost interest when it headed into the fantasy mode. From the descriptions, I would enjoy his works.

  7. You New —

    Hoho, I know the source of that quote. It is from Mr. Vance’s penultimate novel, Ports of Call.

    Baron Bodissey makes a final brief appearance with an apothegm in the sequel, Lurulu.

  8. Jack Vance was always one of my favorite authors from an early age. ‘Six Magics’, ‘The Languages of Pao’, ‘The Worlds of Magnus Ridolph’ , The entire Planet of Adventure series, The Last Castle, The Dying Earth Series…

    And yes, his stories are timeless and not dated at all.

    I recently ran across his web site about a month ago ( I had no clue he was still alive) and left a rave message with a request to pass it on to him if possible. I doubt he got it, but I certainly hope he did! An amazing talent.

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  10. Dear Baron,
    You begin your excellent obituary with a very bold statement of absolute truth:
    ‘There is no greater pleasure than reading a Jack Vance novel.’
    I have found this phrase to reflect absolute truth, more so than a rope with only one end.
    This truth has marked most of my reading years that now span four decades.

    Beyond praise for the man, I must here express my dismay at a society that largely ignored his works as a sad reflection of quality standards in the ‘western’ world, and will try and honor him one last time by recalling a quote I have often used as a template in the course of two decades in the medical profession:

    ‘My fees are not too high. Your wage scale may simply be too low.’ Showboat World, p.132

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  12. I have 42 paperback books of his that I could pass on to someone that may be new to the experience of Jack’s worlds but has trouble locating his works.

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