Memories of Jack Vance

My friend the late Bruce Serafin and I shared an enthusiasm for Jack Vance. We had different ideas about why Vance was a good writer, but the pleasure we took in his books was equal. Like many science fiction writers, Vance was a libertarian who detested the left, but that didn’t stop him from writing books like Emphyrio, about youth trying to live on a world drained of life by a business oligarchy made up of puppets—a devastating allegory of capitalism as we know it today. He should appeal to the young people of Occupy, but maybe not—maybe he has too much of the capitalist frontier mentality. One thing is certain, his books are very funny. Here is a direct quote from the blog of another well known science fiction writer, Frederick Pohl:

One weekend last summer — to be exact, on the morning of 19 July, 2009 — a lot of New Yorkers got a surprise when they opened their Sunday Times Magazine. What they found was particularly pleasing to those among them who chanced to be science-fiction fans, for there in that prestigious journal was a critical — and very favorable — essay on a writer that it called “one of America’s most distinctive and underrated voices.” And the owner of that voice, it said, was none other than our own Jack Vance.

Vancekipper

Captain Vance

It was not only Carlo Rotella, the critic who wrote the Times piece, who thought so. He was able to quote Michael Chabon (“Vance is the most painful case of all the writers I love who I feel don’t get the credit they deserve. If The Last Castle or The Dragon Masters had the name Italo Calvino on it, or just a foreign name, it would be received as a profound meditation.”) and Dan Simmons, who said that discovering Vance “was a revelation for me, like coming to Proust or Henry James…. He gives you glimpses of entire worlds with just perfectly tuned language. If he’d been born south of the border he’d be up for a Nobel prize.”

 

I toyed with the idea of starting a little club of Vance fans, for there were a few in Vancouver, usually talented and very individualistic people. One was the late film critic Mark Harris. But when I think of Vance Bruce always comes to mind. He kept going on about the precision of the prose. Bruce was also very supportive of my writing, and often pressed me to finish my history of art in British Columbia. Alas, all publishing possibilities for that book fell through, so it likely will not appear.

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