Locus Online has an obituary that summarizes Vance’s life, plus there’s the Wikipedia entry linked to in the above paragraph. I’ll not repeat what they’ve written. Rather, I want to make this a more personal reflection.
I’ve read a bit of Vance’s work over the years, but I’ve never really jumped in with both feet. No particular reason, really, other than there were so many other books competing for my attention. I started reading the Planet of Adventure Series a couple of years ago and examined the first and second of the four volumes in that set. It was my intention to finish the series later this summer. It still is. Since most of my reading of his oeuvre has been science fiction, I’m posting this tribute here rather than on the main blog.
I read “The Last Castle” and “The Dragon Masters” in high school, as well as a few other titles here and there. Subterranean Press has published a number of omnibus editions of Vance’s work as well as his autobiography over the last few years. Most of these titles are out of print. I’ve got all of them, and have dipped into them a little. They’re not slight volumes.
The series Vance wrote that has most stuck out in my mind isn’t The Dying Earth. I’ve not read that one yet. It’s on the list. What really impressed me was the five novel sequence known as The Demon Princes.
The backstory is that a group of five intergalactic criminals wipe out the population of a colony planet to prove what badasses they are and that they aren’t to be messed with. The five are known as the Demon Princes because they’re so evil. One man and his nephew survive. The man raises the nephew to be the ultimate hunter and killer. In each of the five books, he goes after one of the Demon Princes. The first three books were written in the 1960s, and they’re quite good. As good as anything being written at the time, and better than most space opera that’s been written since then.
But the last two volumes, The Face and The Book of Dreams, were written in the late 70s and early 80s, and they’re the real standouts in the series. They’re completely different from anything that was being written then or now. And they’re completely different from each other. Each of them has an ending that has stayed with me for decades. It’s a rare book that can do that. Usually the ending is the first thing I forget while the opening of a book is what sticks in my mind. Of the two, I prefer the ending of “The Face” a little more simply because of the joke that Vance has spent a goodly portion of the book setting up, and setting it up so that it’s a natural extension of what’s happening all along.
The Demon Princes series was reprinted a while back by the SFBC in a two volume edition. Tor did the same around that time as well. It’s a series worth tracking down.
Jack Vance was unique, a one of a kind writer, a master of the English language. We shall not see his like again any time soon, a conclusion others will no doubt reach in a more elegant manner than me. Rather than what I had planned to work on, I’m going to read some Vance this evening to honor his memory.
Rest in peace, sir.