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Friday, January 28, 2005

Jack Vance

Jack Vance is one of the great craftsmen of fantastic literature in English. (He also seems to have a strong following in translation, especially in French.) He has been writing for a long time, from The Dying Earth, 1950, to the present. Some of his work is clearly fantasy, some is science fiction. I am defining the latter as fiction which extrapolates the present (usually into the future) more or less realistically. The former is less linked to the real world as we know it, and often involves magic of some sort.

Vance's craft consists in his fertile imagination, and in his baroque use of words. He isn't great on character development, and many of his plots are weak, but his settings are amazing. He tosses out whole new societies often, sometimes almost in every paragraph. Religions, mating customs, food, pastimes, music and language are some of the colors he gives his strange cultures.

I have created some pages, on the theme of vengeance in Vance's works (his imagination has been fertile on that theme) and with some links to other pages on Vance. Vance has used both science-aided vengeance, and fantastic vengeance (spells, and the like) in his works. Vengeance is found as a major component of most of his fiction. I have also created a page on the work of Patricia A. McKillip, a current major writer of fantasy, who has presented characters who have had serious wrongs done to them, but pulled back from taking vengeance, in several of her books.

See Romans 12:18-20.

Here's an example of Vance's baroque style, as well as of his imagination working on a remarkable type of vengeance--a spell making someone omniscient (!):

Stung by the derision of Widdefut, Sartzanek retaliated with the Spell of Total Enlightenment, so that Widdefut suddenly knew everything which might be known: the history of each atom of the universe, the devolvements of eight kinds of time, the possible phases of each succeeding instant; all the flavors, sounds, sights of the world, as well as percepts relative to nine other more unusual senses. Widdefut became palsied and paralyzed and could not so much as feed himself. He stood trembling in confusion until he dessicated to a wisp and blew away on the wind. -Jack Vance, Lyonesse, (New York: Berkley, 1983) p. 112.

Warning--there are plot spoilers on my pages on these authors. For me, who has read both these authors over and over, and probably will do so again, knowing a few plot details doesn't matter. For others, it might.

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