The universal appeal of Jack Vance


As I mentioned below, I grew up as a big fan of Jack Vance.  I found him so eccentric that I'm always surprised to find how many other fans of his there are.  Even Eliezer Yudkowsky, on one of my favorite blogs, Less Wrong, praises him, in a blog entry on whether awfulness is a requirement for intense fandom.   His point:  Vance was not awful, in fact was a real craftsman, and still has intense fans.

Well, I don't know how intense.  And there always comes that terrible question about one's youthful loves:  can an adult read them?  Vance's prose, widely praised, is ornate, bookish, and arch, very much a specialized taste.  One of my favorite passages, still resonant after all these years, is from The Palace of Love, the third of the Demon Princes novels.  Edelrod, a poisoner from a planet of poisoners, explains a poison that looks like a lump of gray wax:

Observe this deadly material.  I can handle it without fear:  I am immunized!  But if you were to rub it on an article belonging to your enemy--his comb, his ear-scraper--he is as good as gone.  Another application is to spread a film over your identification papers.  Then, should an overofficious administrator hector you, he is contaminated, and pays for his insolence.

The exclamation mark is also a characteristic of the dialogue of Bruce Sterling, now that I think about it.  Not an obvious successor, but there is a connection when you look.

Vance's plots are collections of coincidences and misunderstandings, his favored women seductive and remote,  his cultures each built around some key obsession, his aristocrats pompous and bumbling, his aliens genuinely weird, and his novels journeys through beautiful and elegant puzzles.  I see Gene Wolfe as the closest thing to an adult Vance.

And, of course, he has been an influence on me.