Jack Vance, The Wizard of Appendix N
I come at last to Jack Vance. Arguably he should be first, to the devil with alphabetical order. Look, there isn’t a lot I need to say about Jack Vance. There are encomiums a plenty to the man, and rightly so. His urbane, genteel command of the language, smoothly integrating an archaic lexicon with slang and invented words is nonpareil. Of course, in context of Appendix N and Dungeons and Dragons every commentary on Vance must refer to The Dying Earth, Vancian Magic, and such iconic spells as Phantasmal Spray.
So I’m not going to. It’s been said; you don’t need to read me repeating it.
Jack Vance is a bit of an idol of mine. He lived the sort of writerly life one could envy — except perhaps for the late onset blindness. Vance’s output virtually defines prolific. I came to his writing relatively late. In a way I’m pleased by that. Not only am I old enough to appreciate certain nuances, certain winks and nudges I might have missed in my youth, I’m practically guaranteed to have enough Vance to last the rest of my life. And that’s a comforting thought.
I finished the last of the The Demon Princes last night. What a virtuoso display of imagination, Vance tossing off one fully developed and startling original planet and culture after another. Demon Princes is a five volume series of single-minded revenge sci-fi. Yet it never flags or grows dull. The characterization is typically Vancian; eccentric and memorable. Every character speaks with effortless Vancian eloquence. The badinage is tremendous fun. And when the story ends, it ends. There is no interminable denouement with the hero wondering “what now?” or considering the emptiness of the revenge. The story was over so Vance stopped writing it.
What I’m saying is, if you haven’t read Vance, go read him. If you have, you know what I mean and you should go read more. Or re-read him. Pick up Lyonesse again, or the Cugel’s Saga. Me, I’ll be picking up whatever I can next trip to the bookstore. Big Planet looks good.