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Thursday, 30 May 2013

The eyes that saw the overworld

Jack Vance is dead. He was 96, so the news was hardly surprising, but for me the sun dimmed all the same. His warmth and imagination came through so strongly in his work that every reader felt they had a personal relationship with him. I never sailed to Catalina on his yacht, or danced and sang on the beach, or feasted on sausages and beer and argued philosophy with him into the small hours, and yet those seem too real to be mere fancies. For no other writer is it so true that to read his work is to share his joy and humanity.

And then there's the creative debt. Any writer of fantasy, and especially of gamebooks or role-playing games, is standing on the shoulders of Vance.
Mazirian made a selection from his books and with great effort forced five spells upon his brain: Phandaal's Gyrator, Felojun's Second Hypnotic Spell, the Excellent Prismatic Spray, the Charm of Untiring Nourishment, and the Spell of the Omnipotent Sphere. This accomplished, Mazirian drank wine and retired to his couch.
Dungeons and Dragons borrowed freely from the magic system he described in "Mazirian the Magician", but failed to capture the beauty and wonder of a world sunk in the dreamlike depths of the distant future. I shouldn't be casting the first stone, though. Vance's first Lyonesse novels, Suldrun's Garden and The Green Pearl, were big influences on Dragon Warriors and Blood Sword. In whatever I have done well, Jack Vance deserves half the credit; and none of the blame when I have transmuted the gold of his ideas badly.

One of the Dying Earth stories that established Vance's early reputation is available online: "Liane the Wayfarer". If you've never read his work, I envy you. The greatest reading pleasure available in fantasy and SF still awaits.

If Jack Vance's writing has touched you, raise a toast or leave a message of gratitude here.

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