Jack Vance

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Re: Jack Vance

Postby Estraa on Saturday, 21 November 2009, 1:32 am

I'm neither the site maker nor affiliated with the site in any way, but I do have a Lafferty suggestion to make, having read most of his novels: I would start with Arrive at Easterwine, assuming I wanted to start from the uncompromising top. Other candidates would be Fourth Mansions, Past Master, The Devil is Dead, Not to Mention Camels. They are all surprisingly different from one another, so that if you don't like one you might still like another.
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Re: Jack Vance

Postby owlcroft on Saturday, 21 November 2009, 10:38 pm

If you're going to try Lafferty, be sure you have read up on him ahead of time: he can seem bizarre and incomprehensible if you don't have a key to what he's doing (in pretty much all his works).

Heinlein, Asimov, Clark, and their kin are missing most commonly because they don't write very well. Clark, for example, spun off all sorts of clever or even exciting ideas, but presented them in prose that is, well, let's say, rather obviously by an engineer. There's nothing deadly wrong about the prose of any of those chaps, but it's mostly dead and flat; moreover, their characters tend to be (especially, and famously, Asimov's) "walking, talking ideas", with which it is mighty hard to empathize.

Obviously, all that is subjective. But if you read a few randomly selected pages by, say, Cordwainer Smith or M. John Harrison or most any of the authors with a few stars here, then try those fellows, the difference in quality--in the sheer pleasure of absorbing the words--ought to shriek out.
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Re: general

Postby DavidTate on Saturday, 21 November 2009, 11:08 pm

Welcome!
steveplant wrote:So I was thinking I'd try R.A. Lafferty next, whom I have also never heard of. Any suggestions?

I would recommend the collection "900 Grandmothers" as the place to start. If you hate them all, don't look any further. If you love 2/3 of them and don't get the other third, you'll be pretty much in my shoes, and can start trying to find new stories (e.g. "Continued on Next Rock") and revisit the opaque third now and then.

I'm not familiar with the novels; others here can offer better advice there (though not, perhaps, help on actually FINDING them).
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Re: Jack Vance

Postby owlcroft on Tuesday, 24 November 2009, 10:16 pm

As to the novels, Estraa's suggestions are generally sound. But mind that (correct) observation that Arrive at Easterwine is "uncompromising". I'd be more inclined to perhaps ease in, maybe with Past Master. The only problem with easing in is that with books like that, which are less obviously bizarre than many others, is that there is greater room for confusion on the part of the reader who is not already somewhat prepared for Lafferty--so perhaps going in at the deep end is better after all.
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Re: Jack Vance

Postby steveplant on Monday, 01 March 2010, 11:03 pm

Thanks for your comments on my initial posts. I have been enthralled by Jack Vance now for months, am in the fourth book of the Demon Princes, and though I can't say it ranks with the Lyonnesse Trilogy overall in humor or in the depiction of magic and imaginative situations, it's still a great read. Vance's ability to depict alien worlds complete with plausible cultural eccentricities and food and clothing is just brilliant. Not to mention his unsurpassed vocabulary, real and imagined!
On the other hand, I tried two R.A. Lafferty books, Arrive at Easterwine and The Devil is Dead. Got about 50 pages into each before realizing that I just didn't get it, and wasn't enjoying either. So who do I try next, Cordwainer Smith? Or?
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Re: Jack Vance

Postby DavidTate on Tuesday, 02 March 2010, 12:55 am

steveplant wrote:On the other hand, I tried two R.A. Lafferty books, Arrive at Easterwine and The Devil is Dead. Got about 50 pages into each before realizing that I just didn't get it, and wasn't enjoying either. So who do I try next, Cordwainer Smith? Or?

Let me reiterate my recommendation for the collection 900 Grandmothers. It's fairly easy to find, and (to me at least) a more accessible place to start with Lafferty. If you want to start with pure fun, read "Narrow Valley" or "Primary Education of the Camiroi". Then maybe "Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne" and the title story. Still having fun? Try "Slow Tuesday Night" and "Name of the Snake". By that point, you'll either want to read them all (and anything else you can find), or you'll have put down the book and given up on Lafferty short fiction.
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Re: Jack Vance

Postby Estraa on Wednesday, 03 March 2010, 8:18 am

Perhaps I shouldn't have mentioned The Devil is Dead. I honestly think you might still quite like Past Master, even Not To Mention Camels.

Anyway, nothing beats Vance in picaresque brilliance as far as I know (be sure to read his Cugel books and Rhialto the Marvelous stuff if you already haven't), but, in certain ways, Cabell gets close in Jurgen, Figures of Earth, and The Silver Stallion (of course, he wasn't aiming to be Vance, but I've heard that Vance was aiming to be Cabell in his first stories).
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Re: Jack Vance

Postby owlcroft on Wednesday, 03 March 2010, 11:06 pm

If you go to Lafferty next, be sure you have read the Lafferty essay here, because he's a strange writer easily mis-read.

Beyond that thought, well, dear me, the whole site is recommendations. But if you like Vance, you might try the work of M. A. Foster, an insufficiently known author whose style is somewhat reminiscent of Vance. The work is not pastiche or any such, and quite good by almost any standard; but there are stylistic parallels.
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Re: Jack Vance

Postby Jeroen on Friday, 16 April 2010, 4:41 am

I have recently read Vance's The Languages of Pao

The plot of The Languages of Pao is clearly in service of the point that Vance wants to make about languages and how they influence our thought patterns. He "convenienty" arranges the two mayor civilizations in this book so that he can make this point. It makes it all a bit artificial, but Vance has imagination and style, so I still enjoy it.

I too have tried to read Lafferty. I read the 900 Grandmothers collection and some of the stories I liked, others I didn't really get. Then I found his book Not to Mention Camels in my local bookstore, but I gave up after 50 pages or so. I remember it as sheer chaos.
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Re: Jack Vance

Postby owlcroft on Friday, 16 April 2010, 9:26 pm

(We probably ought to start a new thread to discuss Lafferty, but I'm lazy and will continue on this one.)

If you haven't recently read or re-read the Lafferty essay here, you might find it of some assistance. I will, though, quote a few of the more salient bits:
Lafferty is never "realistic." However ordinary his settings may seem when first we start one of his tales, we must remember that for a certainty they are surreal fantasies in the truest sense of those words. I think the most apt analogy for Lafferty's works is animated cartoons. Things in Lafferty tales happen at the breathless, breakneck pace--and with the madcap ad hoc paralogic--of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. We believe none of it because we are never for a second expected to believe any of it, any more than we are expected to "believe" what happens to Bugs and Elmer; we do not participate to behold "slices of life" but to behold madcap exaggerations and distortions of it. The single worst error a reader new to Lafferty can make is to think that a world Lafferty introduces in apparently ordinary science-fiction terms actually is (even by science-fiction standards) ordinary.

{...}

That brings us to the next key a reader needs to unlock Lafferty's code: Lafferty is a devout, conservative Roman Catholic, and his strongly held beliefs pervade and indeed power all his major works. Moreover, while Lafferty's encyclopedic knowledge of Catholic lore (and lore in general, for that matter) is spread throughout his tales, those tales invariably focus on what Lafferty clearly sees as the central malady of our time: the collapse of values--a problem that goes beyond any one particular religion or even philosophy, and so gives a powerful vitality and universality to Lafferty's curiously coded visions.

{...}

Lafferty's plots, his settings, his characterizations are as bizarrely jumbled as his language. The tale you are reading is never the tale he is telling. (The more I reflect on Lafferty, the more significant that statement seems.)

{...}

In a Lafferty tale--a Lafferty hyperparable--the plot, the settings, the characters are a swirling snowstorm of symbology, sometimes naively plain and sometimes hauled up from deep in the Jungian racial memory or the collective unconscious (Lafferty disdains such notions but is nevertheless fluent in both their formal terminology and their actual content). To shift metaphor, Lafferty fires these symbols at us like a manic machine-gunner; they interweave, they burn the air; they hit their targets, they miss wildly; but the gunner keeps his finger locked to the trigger. It is hard to read a sentence of Lafferty, impossible to read a paragraph, without being hit by one or more symbolic names or acts, sometimes large, sometimes small.

Understand that while Lafferty's works are woven almost wholly of symbol-thread, they are not allegories. In allegory, the tale you are reading is comprehensible, a simplified playing out of the tale the author wants to tell. Lafferty is telling the tales he wants to tell in a waving of symbols akin to the frantic waving of arms of a mute pregnant with vital news. Lafferty waves, he dances, he plays intellectual charades with us; but he does not deal in allegory.

To close the circle: Lafferty's core message is invariable--the good must resist the mindbreakers, must not yield to the pleasures of mindless pleasure, must do what is often hard and painful.


Not to Mention Camels is not one of Lafferty's premier works, but it is still a pretty good book; but if you don't have the concepts outlined above clearly in mind, it--like most of his work--will seem bizarrely out of focus. Remember above all else: The tale you are reading is never the tale he is telling.
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Re: Jack Vance

Postby Estraa on Wednesday, 01 September 2010, 6:36 am

There is now a Gollancz volume compiling the Lyonesse novels, and its contents are based on the Vance Integral Edition texts, it is the first of its kind. I don't know how long it will remain in print, but at the moment it's the best deal in books. For those who already have their Vance in satisfying editions, the volume includes a substantial and interesting afterword by Adam Roberts, who doesn't feel compelled to belittle Vance as a writer and so doesn't, which is a nice touch and something you rarely see in serious literary criticism.
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Re: Jack Vance

Postby owlcroft on Monday, 27 September 2010, 5:13 pm

[This post was a response to a prior post now deleted as spam.]
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Re: Jack Vance

Postby Estraa on Monday, 27 September 2010, 5:39 pm

That's just a copy-paste of the last message of the first page of this thread, only the link is added. I vote for a ban, as well as putting the knowledge of its ip address to good mischievous use.
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Re: Jack Vance

Postby owlcroft on Tuesday, 28 September 2010, 12:52 am

Thank you for the heads-up on that. I feel like a true doofus for not noticing it. The poster, and his message, have been deleted.

It amazes me the number of such things I have to deal with on this not heavily trafficked site.
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Re: Jack Vance

Postby Terry Tornado on Monday, 29 November 2010, 9:33 pm

On the subject of Jack Vance, at his best there is no one like him, but at other times you get the feeling he was just churning it out. This was undoubtedly the result of having to earn a living writing SF, and I suppose it was all part of learning to master his craft, but I think some of the time he took so little interest in what he was doing he just couldn't be bothered to do it well. However, what I particularly love about Vance is his mastery of irony. There are very few writers with his ability to tell you one thing by saying something else. And in his best works the ironic attitude is implicit in his very style, and most notably in his dialogue. Vance is an absolute genius at dialogue, something that I don't think is very often recognized.
By the way, a heads up: The section on Vance's short stories lists two volumes: Future Tense and Dust of Far Suns with the note that they are nearly identical, they differ by one story. This is actually incorrrect. Dust of Far Suns is a 1981 DAW reprint of the 1964 Ballantine Books volume Future Tense and contains exactly the same stories. A comparison of the Tables of Contents of the two volumes may make it appear as though one story is different, but that is just because the story originally titled "Sail 25" was renamed "Dust of Far Suns" in the '81 reprint.
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Re: Jack Vance

Postby owlcroft on Tuesday, 30 November 2010, 7:22 pm

Thank you for the heads-up on those two collections. I have just modified the entries accordingly (this will show at once in the "master list", but may take a day or so to propagate to the Vance author page).

Yes, I agree that most very early Vance was "rent-payer" stuff--most notably the excrutiating written-to-order juvenile Vandals of the Void. But he hit his stride fairly quickly.
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Re: Jack Vance

Postby Aaron Singleton on Saturday, 04 December 2010, 5:00 pm

vancian wrote:Jeroen

I don't know if you have got around to reading the 4th and 5th of the Demon Princes books, but it is worth noting the large gap between publication dates. The first 3 came out in the mid 60's and the last 2 in 1979 and 81.

Seems likely that Jack was dissatisfied and took that long to work out where he was taking it - personally I think they are the best 2 - the wait was worth it.



This is my first post here, although I've had the main site in my favorites for a few years now. I only noticed there was also a forum today. As far as Vance goes, I feel qualified to comment on his work as I have read 99% of it with the exceptions being a couple of his mysteries and very early SF. I am also a subscriber to the new Compact Vance Integral Edition and have been a Vancian for about 6 years I guess.

The post I quoted about The Demon Princes books is not correct. Vance wasn't struggling to come up with an ending or suffering from writer's block; he was waiting for a publisher who was interested in publishing the existing books as well as buying the two (at the time) unwritten DP novels. You can hear all about in this interview from 1976.
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Re: Jack Vance

Postby Lucidus on Wednesday, 22 December 2010, 9:06 am

I have just received my copy of the Gollancz Black Books complete Lyonesse trilogy, and while I am thrilled to have these books available in a quality edition, I do have some nits to pick.

It is an impressive tome, at just over 1000 pages, with a cover of black leather - it actually smells like leather - and excellent quality paper. Anyone who loves books will get a little thrill just from holding it. It is actually made like a paperback, in that the pages are not sewn together, but rather glued directly to the backing. I have not seen a hardcover book put together this way before. Presumably there are advantages in cost and size; I just hope it holds up over time. The book does not fall open to the hand as easily as a regular book. It requires noticeable pressure to keep the pages flat while reading, and I find my hands becoming very tired after a while.

The cover text and title are printed in gold onto the surface of the leather, not embossed. I find the effect a little cheap and hard to read, but others disagree.

The tragedy of this edition is the map of the Elder Isles. In the original, the little map was crude, to put it kindly, but easy to read. It was clearly intended only as a very rough guide. Gollancz has had it redrawn more artfully and moved to the endpapers, an truly excellent idea which is undermined by the fact that the new map is riddled with obvious errors. Within seconds of first opening the book, I noticed that the kingdom of 'Dahaut' was misspelled as 'Haut.' Many other errors have become apparent as I have continued reading:

- 'Bulmer Skeme' is rendered as 'Bulmer Skerne' (but 'Slute Skeme' is correct);
- 'Lirlong' is rendered as 'Irlong;'
- Tawzy Head appears on the island of Skaghane, not on the main island where it belongs;
- and the forest of Tantravalles should extend both north and south of Twitten's Corner.

Comparing the new map to the original, it is easy to see how the artist could have made these mistakes, but how did they get past the editors? Hadn't anyone at the publishers actually read the books?

For completeness, I will also mention minor errors in the genealogy chart (for example, 'Trewan' is shown as 'Trewn') and in the listing of Vance's published works ('Araminta Station' is listed as 'Amanita Station').

I am left wondering whether the publishers are genuine Vance enthusiasts, or just canny businessmen who recognize the existence of such enthusiasts. Either way, as someone who could never afford the Vance Integral Edition, I hope we will see more Vance reissued in the Black Books series.
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Re: Jack Vance

Postby owlcroft on Thursday, 23 December 2010, 8:19 pm

Dear me: it sounds dreadful. I am accustomed to reprints having errors, often risibly obvious ones (I have just been re-reading the Peter Wimsey mysteries in editions that are mostly omnibus hardcover reprints, and they, too, are riddled with silly errors). Often such junk is owing to the original 's having been scanned in and the result poorly proofread--for instance, lower-case I's and l's being interchanged, though that doesn't sound like the case here. One would think that with fantasy, in which it is routinely expected that there will be copious numbers of invented names, especial care would be taken proofing such names; that it was not is a warning sign.

It's hard to say whom they affect worse: re-readers, who wince at the mistakes, or new readers, who don't realize they're getting a corrupted version.

I am fortunate enough to own an original VIE. I wonder what the market is in used copies of the whole or (as I expect one would find) constituent volumes: I've never looked. But this editions sounds like, to be blunt, a rip-off. That binding, for example, augers ill for the long term.

Still and always, some Vance is better than no Vance.
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Re: Jack Vance

Postby Terry Tornado on Sunday, 27 March 2011, 9:26 pm

Does anyone know how many Magnus Ridolph stories there are?
I have the 1980 edition of The Many Worlds of Magnus Ridolph, which contains eight: "The Kokod Warriors", "The Unspeakable McInch", "The Howling Bounders", "The King of Thieves", "The Spa of the Stars", "Coup de Grace", "The Sub-Standard Sardines", and "To B or Not to C or to D". I've also found another Magnus Ridolph story, "Hard-Luck Diggings" in the 1985 collection Light From a Lone Star, which makes a total of nine. However, on the dust jacket of the Underwood-Miller book, The Dark Side of the Moon, published 1986, I see an advertisement for The Complete Magnus Ridolph that reads: "At last, all ten witty tales together, including two "lost" stories never published in book form." Can anyone cast some light on these two "lost" stories?
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