August 28

1916 Birth of an under-rated author

Reputation is a fickle goddess; she attaches herself to the most undeserving of characters while those who truly merit fame often go unrecognized. This is certainly true for authors of fiction. Prolific drones like Margaret Atwood or Gore Vidal are lauded, while superior writers are condemned to ignominy because they are classified as “genre” writers. I will today, in a small way, make up for that by bringing to your attention the writing of Jack Vance.

The career of John Holbrook “Jack” Vance spanned a seventy-year period in which he won plaudits for his works of fantasy, science fiction and crime under his own name and pseudonyms including “Ellery Queen”. 

Vance was a master of plotting, dry wit, and, best of all, strange possible cultures. He might be termed the greatest sociologist of speculative fiction. To read a Vance novel is to be plunged into worlds where all communication might be sung, or where automation has been banned, or where the choice of the mask you wear determines your social status.

For fantasy fans I recommend the Lyonesse trilogy, for lovers of picaresque derring-do there are the Demon Princes novels and the Planet of Adventure series. You can find humour in the detections of Magnus Rudolph or Space Opera. The Pleasant Grove and Fox Valley Murders and the Cadwal Chronicles will tax your powers of deduction. My personal favourites are “The Moon Moth”, Emphyrio, and The Face. Give Vance a try; he will not disappoint.

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