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SFF Author: Jack Vance

fantasy literature author Jack Vance(1916-2013)
John Holbrook (Jack) Vance wrote science fiction, mystery, and fantasy under several pennames. He has won several Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards. In 1997 he was named a Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) Grand Master.



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The Dying Earth: Ludicrous and sublimely intelligent

The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

The Dying Earth is the first of Jack Vance’s Tales of the Dying Earth and contains six somewhat overlapping stories all set in the future when the sun is red and dim, much technology has been lost, and most of humanity has died out. Our planet is so unrecognizable that it might as well be another world, and evil has been “distilled” so that it’s concentrated in Earth’s remaining inhabitants.

But it’s easy to forget that a failing planet is the setting for the Dying Earth stories,


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The Eyes of the Overworld: Vance at his best

The Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance

I’ve already said, numerous times, how much I love Jack Vance, so I’ll skip all that this time. You can read other reviews on this page if you missed that.

The Eyes of the Overworld is the second part of Tales of the Dying Earth and the main character is one of my favorite Vance characters: the self-titled Cugel the Clever. Cugel is not the kind of guy you want to have dealings with — he’s clever,


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Cugel’s Saga: Who could imagine such protean depravity?

Cugel’s Saga (aka The Skybreak Spatterlight) by Jack Vance

Cugel “the clever” is one of the scummiest, nastiest, lowliest rogues in all of fantasy literature. He’s got no morals and no respect for women, he’s often a coward, he’s not good looking, nor is he particularly good with a sword. In the words of one of Cugel’s acquaintances, “who could imagine such protean depravity?” The answer, apparently, is Jack Vance. And that’s why Cugel is one of my favorite “heroes” — because he belongs to Jack Vance.


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Rhialto the Marvellous: Flagrant and wild!

Rhialto the Marvellous by Jack Vance

“Flagrant and wild!”

If you’re a fan of Jack Vance, of course you’ve read, or plan to read, Rhialto the Marvellous, last of the Dying Earth books. If you’ve not read any of Mr. Vance’s work, you can start here — it isn’t necessary to have read the previous installments.

Rhialto, who has earned the cognomen “Marvellous” (this has something to do with him being a bit of a dandy) is one of the last of Earth’s magicians,


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Big Planet: Disappointing compared to later Vance works

Big Planet by Jack Vance

Big Planet is an early work by Jack Vance, and like much of Vance’s early output is a little uneven in quality. The plot is fairly straightforward. Centuries before the events of the story take place, a huge planet is discovered in a neighboring solar system. Despite its size (around 25,000 miles according to a later novel set in the same setting) the planet is of low density, with earthlike gravity and atmosphere, but lacking in metals, making ownership of any metal object valuable.


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To Live Forever: Vance writes about things that fascinate me

To Live Forever by Jack Vance

Note: You may also find this book published with the name Clarges.

In Clarges, a city in the far future, humans have conquered death. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough room for billions of immortal people to live forever, so they’ve passed the fair-play act which divides society into 5 phyle which must be maintained at certain population ratios. Those who choose to participate in fair-play must register in Brood, the lowest phyle, and receive 82 years of life, after which an “assassin”


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The Languages of Pao: One of my favorite Vance books

The Languages of Pao by Jack Vance

Jack Vance
is known as a master stylist who, at his best, has an exquisite way with the written English language, a tribute in many ways to his idols P.G. Wodehouse and the unjustly forgotten Jeffery Farnol, among others, but Vance is also a writer of thought-provoking and unique ideas. The Languages of Pao is Vance at the top of his game as far as exploring unusual concepts. The premise of the story is based on a theory known as “Linguistic Relativity” or the “Sapir–Whorf hypothesis” and in layman’s terms it basically means that the language a person speaks shapes human thought patterns and behavior,


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The Dragon Masters: Great characterization in the Vancian style

The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

Jack Vance
won the 1963 Hugo Award for Best Short Story for this little gem of a tale which is a favorite of many of Vance’s fans, your present reviewer included. The story takes place vast millennia into the future on a planet known to its inhabitants as Aerlith. Aerlith is a harsh world, where slow rotation leads to long nights and days (analogous to several “earth” days). The human beings living on the planet are descended from spacefarers who fled an earlier interstellar war and who have lost all industrial knowledge as well as the capability of space flight.


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The Star King: Like James Bond in space

The Star King by Jack Vance

When he was a child, Kirth Gersen’s village was raided and massacred by the five Demon Princes. He and his grandfather escaped and, at his grandfather’s encouragement, Kirth has spent his life training and preparing for revenge. Now it’s time…

Jack Vance‘s DEMON PRINCES saga consists of five short science fiction novels which each tell the tale of how Kirth Gersen tracks down and deals with one of the evil men who killed his family. In the first installment,


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The Killing Machine: Nobody outdoes Vance for sheer inventiveness

The Killing Machine by Jack Vance

After successfully dispatching the first of his lifelong enemies in the previous novel, The Star King, Kirth Gersen now takes on the second of the five demon princes, Kokor Hekkus, aka “The Killing Machine.” The Killing Machine is even more fun than The Star King. It’s full of diverse characters, exotic venues, hilarious fashions, weird food, awesome architecture, and bizarre machinery. Nobody outdoes Jack Vance for sheer inventiveness. The plot moves rapidly and contains plenty of action and suspense.


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The Palace of Love: Three of Vance’s best supporting characters

The Palace of Love by Jack Vance

Two down and three to go… In order to exact revenge on Viole Falushe, the third Demon Prince, Kirth Gersen must first discover who Mr. Falushe is, and then find and infiltrate his famous Palace of Love.

The actual plot, while just as brisk and fun as usual, isn’t the most entertaining aspect of The Palace of Love. This volume is particularly charming because of Jack Vance’s exquisite characters — three in particular:

  1. Vogel Filschner was rejected by the prettiest girl in school when he was a pimply 14-year old geek.

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The Face: Clever and satisfying

The Face by Jack Vance

Here’s another thoroughly delightful installment (book 4 of 5) of The Demon Princes. The plot is as usual: Kirth Gersen is hunting down one of the Demon Princes who destroyed his family and homeland when he was a boy. There’s no doubt that Gersen will kill Lens Larque; the question is how he’ll kill him and what adventures he’ll have on the way.

The Face distinguishes itself by introducing a couple of cultures which Vance uses to make fun of human behavior.


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The Book of Dreams: I’m going to miss Kirth Gersen

The Book of Dreams by Jack Vance

The Book of Dreams is the final book of Jack Vance’s The Demon Princes saga. Kirth Gersen must find and eliminate his last elusive enemy: Howard Alan Treesong. As usual, he has the help of his reluctant banker and there’s a new Innocent Pretty Young Female to attend to, also.

The Book of Dreams is reminiscent of The Palace of Love (the third Demon Princes novel),


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The Blue World: More great stuff from Vance

The Blue World by Jack Vance

What’s to be said about Jack Vance that hasn’t already been said? The man is simply one of the most imaginative writers of the 20th century. His sci-fi fantasy styled adventures are deceptively simple, but the complexity of being human hides just below the surface, rearing its head in profound fashion in the middle of all the humor and fun. Vance’s 1966 The Blue World is no different.

Our hero, Sklar Hast, is an assistant hoodwink living on Tranque Float.


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City of the Chasch: Finally! PLANET OF ADVENTURE on audio!

City of the Chasch by Jack Vance

City of the Chasch (1968) is the first book in Jack Vance’s PLANET OF ADVENTURE series. I’m so excited that Blackstone Audio is finally getting these produced in audio format! City of the Chasch was just released a few weeks ago and the following books, Servants of the Wankh, The Dirdir, and The Pnume, will be released in the next three months (one per month).


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Servants of the Wankh: Still trying to get off that crazy planet

Servants of the Wankh by Jack Vance

Servants of the Wankh (1969) is the second of Jack Vance’s PLANET OF ADVENTURE stories. It’s a direct sequel to City of the Chasch, which you’ll want to read first, though Servants of the Wankh has a short but thorough recap of the story so far. Adam Reith was stranded on the planet Tschai after his spaceship crashed there. He is now back to full health,


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The Dirdir: The best PLANET OF ADVENTURE book so far

The Dirdir by Jack Vance

Poor Adam Reith. He’s still stranded on the planet Tchai where he is the only Earthman on a world where nobody believes in Earth and everyone thinks he’s crazy. All of Adam’s efforts to leave have, so far, only resulted in him becoming a wanted criminal. After escaping from the Chasch in the first book (City of the Chasch) and from the Wankh in the previous book (Servants of the Wankh), Adam wants to travel to the domain of the technologically-advanced Dirdir.


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The Pnume: Will Adam escape the Planet of Adventure?

The Pnume by Jack Vance

The Pnume is the final book in Jack Vance’s PLANET OF ADVENTURE quartet. These four short novels, which were published between 1968 and 1970, combine to tell the story of Adam Reith’s adventures on the planet Tschai after his spaceship crash-landed there. Adam has been trying to gather resources so that he can build a new spaceship and leave Tschai. Besides just wanting to return home, he also wants to warn Earth that there are other sentient creatures out there who may threaten Earth.


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Emphyrio: One of Vance’s more ideological pieces

Emphyrio by Jack Vance

After establishing himself as a writer of short fiction, Jack Vance began to shift toward novels in the 1960s. Given more space (ha!) to create, his unique voice rounded into form and imagination, and the decade can be marked as the upswing of his career — particularly given the exclamation point the TSCHAI: PLANET OF ADVENTURE series places on the end. Tucked neatly in the middle of the publishing of these four novels, however, is a stand-alone novel: Emphyrio. Interestingly, the title is not taken from the name of a locale or culture,


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Maske: Thaery: Fun and quick

Maske: Thaery byJack Vance

Jack Vance was a fairly prolific author during his writing career, publishing over sixty novels and various short stories in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and mystery. During the 1960’s and 70’s many of his science fiction stories were set in a far future milieu which he termed the Gaean Reach. In these stories interstellar travel is common place, as is colonization of a multitude of solar systems throughout the galaxy. While some of the colonized planets contain alien life forms with which the human colonies have to co-exist,


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Suldrun’s Garden: Beautiful and complex, full of fascinating characters

Suldrun’s Garden by Jack Vance

As I’m writing this, Jack Vance’s under-appreciated Lyonesse trilogy has been off the shelves for years. My library doesn’t even have a copy — it had to be interlibrary loaned for me. Why is that? Publishers have been printing a seemingly endless stream of vampire and werewolf novels these days — same plot, same characters, blah blah blah. If not that, it’s grit. We all want grit.

Or maybe it’s that more women are reading fantasy these days and publishers think we want to read about bad-ass heroines who kill vampires.


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The Green Pearl: Florid imagination, deliberately peculiar

The Green Pearl by Jack Vance

The Green Pearl is another engrossing adventure in Jack Vance’s whimsical world. This installment of Lyonesse mainly follows Aillas, now King of Troicinet, as he seeks revenge on the Ska, tests his infatuation with Tatzel, deals with a couple of traitors, and tries to thwart the ambitions of King Casmir of Lyonesse who, unbeknownst to Casmir, is Aillas’s son’s grandfather. We also spend quite a bit of time with Shimrod, Glyneth, Melancthe, and some new and excellent characters such as the duplicitous innkeeper Dildahl,


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Madouc: Lyonesse is Pythonesque

Madouc by Jack Vance

Well, here’s the finale of Jack Vance’s Lyonesse, and I’m sorry to see it end. This novel was about Madouc, the changeling princess of Lyonesse, and her interactions with Casmir, Sollace, Aillas, Dhrun, Shimrod, Throbius, Sir Pom-Pom, Umphred, Twisk, et al.

Madouc maintains the quality of this excellent trilogy — it’s filled with clever prose, charming characters, and lots of imagination. Jack Vance’s careful planning produced a tight plot and Madouc wrapped up all the loose ends from Suldrun’s Garden and The Green Pearl.


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The Cadwal Chronicles: The first two books are some of Vance’s best

THE CADWAL CHRONICLES by Jack Vance

The 1980s found Jack Vance moving into his sixth decade of life. Imagination still sharp, he produced such works as the LYONESSE trilogy, the second half of the DYING EARTH saga, as well as began THE CADWAL CHRONICLES with Araminta Station published in 1989. The novel is on par with the best of Vance’s oeuvre. The second novel in the series, Ecce and Old Earth, sees only a slight decline in quality, the story furthered in fine fashion.


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The Jack Vance Treasury: A wide array of Vance’s oeuvre

The Jack Vance Treasury by Jack Vance (edited by Terry Dowling & Jonathan Strahan)

While I don’t think there’s any one novel or short story or even collection of Jack Vance‘s work that comes close to capturing all the best aspects of his writing, I do think that this 633-page Subterranean Press collection does a fairly good job of exposing the reader to a wide array of Vance’s oeuvre. In addition to eighteen stories that span much of Vance’s writing career, there’s a brief comment from Vance himself after each story that gives a little view into how his mind worked while in creative mode,


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Wild Thyme, Green Magic: Cagey heroes & exotic locales

Wild Thyme, Green Magic by Jack Vance

I’m a big fan of Jack Vance’s wild imagination and his “high-end” writing style (his description, as I learned in this book). So, I was happy to get a copy of Wild Thyme, Green Magic, an assortment of his fantasy and science fiction tales which have previously been published in several SFF magazines and have now been compiled and edited by Terry Dowling and Jonathan Strahan and published by Subterranean Press.


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Hard-Luck Diggings: The Early Jack Vance

Hard-Luck Diggings: The Early Jack Vance

I adore Subterranean Press because they’re regularly publishing the kind of classic and new speculative fiction that you might have a hard time finding otherwise. They ignore teen trends and market demands and focus on producing high quality volumes of excellent fiction complete with beautiful covers and interior art.

Hard-Luck Diggings is a collection of 14 of Jack Vance’s unconnected short stories that were written early in his career, when he was perfecting his style and writing the kind of tales that were currently popular and likely to be purchased by publishers.


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Dream Castles: The Early Jack Vance Volume Two

Dream Castles: The Early Jack Vance Volume Two by Jack Vance

Jack Vance is my favorite author, so another collection of Vance’s works by Subterranean Press is a welcome treat! Dream Castles: The Early Jack Vance Volume Two, edited and lovingly introduced by Terry Dowling and Jonathan Strahan, collects ten of Vance’s works:

  • “The Dogtown Tourist Agency” (originally published in Epoch, 1975) — Miro Hetzel, a private investigator whose “fees are calculated subjectively,” goes to the planet Maz to discover how a client’s competition is creating a better but less expensive product.

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The Guiding Nose of Ulfänt Banderōz: An homage to Jack Vance

The Guiding Nose of Ulfänt Banderōz by Dan Simmons

A few years ago Subterranean Press published what has ever since been my favorite anthology of all time — Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance. It’s a hefty collection of stories written by 22 authors who consider Jack Vance an influence on their own work. Each wrote a story set in Vance’s DYING EARTH universe and many of them attempted — often quite successfully —Vance’s trademark style. Each also wrote an afterward which explains how Vance influenced them personally.


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The Moon Moth Graphic Novel

The Moon Moth by Jack Vance; adapted as a graphic novel by Humayoun Ibrahim

My favorite Jack Vance story is “The Moon Moth,” so when I heard that First Second had a graphic novel version of the story, I was extremely excited. However, I also was nervous, as one is when a favorite novel is made into a movie: Will the adaptation live up to my high expectations? In this case, I’m pleased to report that Ibrahim’s The Moon Moth,


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Magic Highways: The Early Jack Vance Volume 3

Magic Highways: The Early Jack Vance Volume 3 by Jack Vance

Subterranean Press continues collecting the early works of Jack Vance with Volume 3, titled Magic Highways, which was released last month (the previous editions were Hard-Luck Diggings and Dream Castles). Magic Highways includes a 6½ page introduction by editors Terry Dowling and Jonathan Strahan and 16 “space adventures” which Jack Vance wrote during the decade from 1946 (when he was 29 years old) to 1956.


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Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance

Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance is the best anthology I’ve ever read. These stories will be enjoyed by any SFF reader, but they’ll be ten times more fun if you’ve read Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth, because they are all written in honor of that fantastic work. Each tale is written in the style of Vance,


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Rename this horrible cover!

Now, you know we love Jack Vance — he’s one of our favorite speculative fiction authors — but some of the covers on his books are truly atrocious.

This one here, in fact…

We think the title Space Opera is just too generic for this striking cover. Can you help us rename it?

Here’s the description, if it helps:

Space Opera — (1965) A society matron underwrites the interstellar tour of an Earth opera company, performing Beethoven, Mozart and Rossini for bewildered human and alien audiences on a kaleidoscopic range of planets.


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Thank you, Jack Vance

Jack Vance passed away on May 26, 2013. He has been a major influence on science fiction and fantasy since he published The Dying Earth in 1950. We’d like to thank author Matthew Hughes for sharing what Jack Vance meant to him. 

Jack Vance: An Appreciation by Matthew Hughes

When you’re young and on the upward curve of your life, you’re in the business of doing things for the first time. Most of those things — your first kiss, your first date,


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Previous SFF Author: Jean-Christophe Valtat

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    Words fail. I can't imagine what else might offend you. Great series, bizarre and ridiculous review. Especially the 'Nazi sympathizer'…

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