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Vance, Jack 1916–

Vance, Jack 1916–

(Peter Held, John Holbrook, Ellery Queen, John Van See, John Holbrook Vance, Alan Wade)

PERSONAL: Born August 28, 1916, in San Francisco, CA; son of Charles Albert (a rancher) and Edith (Hoefler) Vance; married Norma Ingold, August 24, 1946; children: John Holbrook II. Education: University of California, Berkeley, B.A., 1942. Politics: "Above and between Left and Right."

ADDRESSES: Home—6383 Valley View Rd., Oakland, CA 94611. Agent—Ralph Vicinanza Ltd., 432 Park Ave. S., Ste. 1205, New York, NY 10016.

CAREER: Writer. Worked briefly for Twentieth Century-Fox film studio. Military service: U.S. Merchant Marine, served during World War II.

MEMBER: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

AWARDS, HONORS: Edgar Allan Poe Award, best first novel by an American author, Mystery Writers of America, 1961, for The Man in the Cage; Hugo Award, World Science Fiction Convention, best short fiction, 1963, for "The Dragon Masters"; Nebula Award, best novella, Science Fiction Writers of America, 1966, and Hugo Award, best novelette, 1967, both for The Last Castle; Jupiter Award, best novelette, 1975, for The Seventeen Virgins; World Fantasy Awards, life achievement, 1984, and best novel, 1990, for Lyonesse: Madouc; GilgamXs Award, 1988; named Grand Master, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, 1997.



Vandals of the Void (juvenile), Winston (Philadelphia, PA), 1953.

The Space Pirate, Toby Press (New York, NY), 1953, published as The Five Gold Bands, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1962, first hardcover edition, Underwood-Miller (Columbia, PA), 1993.

Big Planet, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1957.

Slaves of the Klau, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1958.

The Languages of Pao, Avalon (New York, NY), 1958.

The Dragon Masters, introduction by Norman Spin-rad, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1963.

The Houses of Iszm [and] Son of the Tree (also see below), Ace Books (New York, NY), 1964.

Future Tense (short stories), Ballantine (New York, NY), 1964.

Space Opera, Pyramid Publications (New York, NY), 1965.

Monsters in Orbit [and] The World Between, and Other Stories, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1965.

The Brains of Earth (also see below) [and] The Many Worlds of Magnus Ridolph (short stories), Ace Books (New York, NY), 1966.

The Blue World, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1966.

The Last Castle (short stories; bound with World of the Sleeper, by Tony R. Wayman), Ace Books (New York, NY), 1967.

Eight Fantasms and Magics: A Science Fiction Adventure (short stories), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1969, published as Fantasms and Magics, Mayflower (London, England), 1978.

Emphyrio, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1969.

The Worlds of Jack Vance (short stories), Ace Books (New York, NY), 1973.

The Anome (in "Durdane" series), Dell (New York, NY), 1973, published as The Faceless Man, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1987.

The Brave Free Men (in "Durdane" series), Dell (New York, NY), 1973.

The Asutra (in "Durdane" series), Dell (New York, NY), 1974.

The Gray Prince, Bobbs-Merrill (Indianapolis, IN), 1974.

Showboat World, Pyramid Publications (New York, NY), 1975.

The Moon Moth, and Other Stories, Dobson (London, England), 1975.

The Best of Jack Vance (short stories), introduction by Barry Malzberg, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1976.

Maske: Thaery, Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1976.

Nopalgarth (includes The Houses of Iszm and Son of the Tree), DAW Books (New York, NY), 1980.

Galactic Effectuator (short stories), Underwood-Miller (Columbia, PA), 1980.

Dust of Far Suns (short stories), DAW Books (New York, NY), 1981.

The Narrow Land (short stories), DAW Books (New York, NY), 1982.

Lost Moons (short stories), Underwood-Miller (Columbia, PA), 1983.

Suldrun's Garden (in "Lyonesse" series), Berkley Books (New York, NY), 1983, published as Lyonesse, 1984, published as Lyonesse I: Suldrun's Garden, Underwood-Miller (Columbia, PA), 1985, published as Lyonesse: Suldrun's Garden, Science Fiction Book Club (Mechanicsburg, PA), 1986.

The Complete Magnus Ridolph (short stories), Underwood-Miller (Columbia, PA), 1984.

Light from a Lone Star, Nesfa Press (Cambridge, MA), 1985.

Lyonesse II: The Green Pearl (in "Lyonesse" series), Underwood-Miller (Columbia, PA), 1985, published as The Green Pearl, Berkley Books (New York, NY), 1986, published as Lyonesse: The Green Pearl, Grafton (London, England), 1986.

The Augmented Agent (short stories), edited by Steven Owen Godersky, Underwood-Miller (Columbia, PA), 1986.

The Dark Side of the Moon: Stories of the Future (short stories), Underwood-Miller (Columbia, PA), 1986.

Green Magic: The Fantasy Realms of Jack Vance (short stories), Tor Books (New York, NY), 1988.

Araminta Station (in "Cadwal Chronicles" series), Tor Books (New York, NY), 1988.

Lyonesse: Madouc (in "Lyonesse" series), Underwood-Miller (Columbia, PA), 1989, published as Madouc, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1990, published as Lyonesse III: Madouc, Grafton (London, England), 1991.

Durdane (includes The Anome, The Brave Free Men, and The Asutra), Gollancz (London, England), 1989.

Chateau d'If and Other Stories, Underwood-Miller (Columbia, PA), 1990.

Ecce and Old Earth (in "Cadwal Chronicles" series), Tor Books (New York, NY), 1991.

Throy (in "Cadwal Chronicles" series), Underwood-Miller (Columbia, PA), 1992.

When the Five Moons Rise (short stories), Underwood-Miller (Columbia, PA), 1992.

Night Lamp, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1996.

The Laughing Magician, illustrated by Steve Fabian, Underwood Books (Grass Valley, CA), 1997.

Ports of Call, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1998.

Coup de Grace and Other Stories, Vance Integral Edition (Oakland, CA), 2001.

Gold and Iron; Clarges; The Languages of Pao (excerpts from novels), Vance Integral Edition (Oakland, CA), 2002.

The Flesh Mask; Strange People, Queer Notions; Bird Island (excerpts from novels), Vance Integral Edition (Oakland, CA), 2002.

The Domains of Koryphon, Vance Integral Edition (Oakland, CA), 2002.

Mazirian the Magician, Vance Integral Edition (Oakland, CA), 2002.

Golden Girl and Other Stories, Vance Integral Edition (Oakland, CA), 2002.

Lurulu, Tor Books (New York, NY), 2004.

Cugel the Clever, Vance Integral Edition (Oakland, CA), 2005.

Cugel, the Skybreak Spatterlight, Vance Integral Edition (Oakland, CA), 2005.

The Palace of Love, Vance Integral Edition (Oakland, CA), 2005.

Wild Thyme and Violets: Other Unpublished Works and Addenda, Vance Integral Edition (Oakland, CA), 2005.

The World Thinker and Other Stories, Vance Integral Edition (Oakland, CA), 2005.

The Man in the Cage; The Deadly Isles, Vance Integral Edition (Oakland, CA), 2005.

Son of the Tree and Other Stories, Vance Integral Edition (Oakland, CA), 2005.

The Dogtown Tourist Agency and Freitzke's Turn, Vance Integral Edition (Oakland, CA), 2005.

Gadget Stories, Vance Integral Edition (Oakland, CA), 2005.

Author of a novelette, "The Seventeen Virgins," c. 1975. Work represented in anthologies, including Three Trips in Time and Space: Original Novellas of Science Fiction, Hawthorn Books (New York, NY), 1973.


The Dying Earth (short stories), Hillman (New York, NY), 1950, reprinted with illustrations by George Barr, Underwood-Miller (Columbia, PA), 1976.

The Eyes of the Overworld (short stories), Ace Books (New York, NY), 1966, reprinted with an introduction by Robert Silverberg, Gregg Press (Boston, MA), 1977.

Cugel's Saga, Timescape Books (New York, NY), 1983.

Rhialto the Marvellous, Baen Books (New York, NY), 1984.


To Live Forever, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1956.

The View from Chickweed's Window, Underwood-Miller (Columbia, PA), 1978.

The House on Lily Street, Underwood-Miller (Columbia, PA), 1979.

The Dark Ocean, Underwood-Miller (Columbia, PA), 1985.

Strange Notions, Underwood-Miller (Columbia, PA), 1985.


(Under pseudonym Alan Wade) Isle of Peril, Mystery House (New York, NY), 1957.

(Under pseudonym Peter Held) Take My Face, Mystery House (New York, NY), 1957, reprinted under name Jack Vance, Underwood-Miller (Columbia, PA), 1988.

The Man in the Cage, Random House (New York, NY), 1960.

The Fox Valley Murders, Bobbs-Merrill (Indianapolis, IN), 1966.

The Pleasant Grove Murders, Bobbs-Merrill (Indianapolis, IN), 1967.

The Deadly Isles, Bobbs-Merrill (Indianapolis, IN), 1969.

Bad Ronald, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1973.


The Star King, Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1964.

The Killing Machine, Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1964.

The Palace of Love, Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1967.

The Face, DAW Books (New York, NY), 1979.

The Book of Dreams, DAW Books (New York, NY), 1981.

The Demon Princes, Volume 1: The Star King; The Killing Machine; The Palace of Love, Volume 2: The Face; The Book of Dreams, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1997.


City of the Chasch, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1968.

Servants of the Wankh, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1969, published as Wankh, Bluejay Books (New York, NY), 1986.

The Dirdir, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1969.

The Pnume, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1970.

Planet of Adventure (contains City of the Chasch, Servants of the Wankh, The Dirdir, and The Pnume), Tor Books (New York, NY), 1993.


Trullion: Alastor 2262, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1973.

Marune: Alastor 933, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1975.

Wyst: Alastor 1716, DAW Books (New York, NY), 1978.

Alastor (contains Trullion: Alastor 2262, Marune: Alastor 933, and Wyst: Alastor 1716), Tor Books (New York, NY), 1995.


The Four Johns (novel), Pocket Books (New York, NY) 1964, published as Four Men Called John, Gollancz (London, England), 1976.

A Room to Die In (novel), Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1965.


Bird Isle, Underwood-Miller (Columbia, PA), 1988.

Also author of works under pseudonyms John Holbrook and John Van See; author of television scripts for six episodes of the series Captain Video, 1952–53. Contributor of fiction to periodicals, including Thrilling Wonder Stories, Startling Stories, and Worlds Beyond.

A collection of Vance's manuscripts is held at the Mugar Memorial Library, Boston University, Boston, MA.

SIDELIGHTS: Jack Vance ranks among the leading science fiction writers of the second half of the twentieth century. In a career that began in 1945, Vance progressed from short stories to novellas to novels to whole series of novels, building a body of work in excess of seventy-five published books. Along the way, he developed a universe all his own, full of far-flung worlds—often in turmoil, decay, or complete ruin—with richly detailed exotic cultures of fantastic, magical creatures and human beings. As Norman Spin-rad explained in an essay in Tim Underwood and Chuck Miller's Jack Vance: "Whether he is describing an expiring millennial Earth steeped in magic born of rotting history, or a galactic cluster of 30,000 stars, or the planet Aerlith under the baleful eye of the wandering lizard star, Vance creates baroque tapestry." Spinrad continued: "Not content to limit himself to the mere world-creation of traditional science fiction, Vance adds those graceful superfluities that give his times and places baronial richness, late Renaissance grandeur, and the weight of cultural and aesthetic substantiality."

Vance also developed a characteristic style. As Washington Post contributor Michael Dirda observed: "What one first notices in the work of Jack Vance is the style." The critic elaborated: "The sentences are processional—richly ornamented, courtly, measured, slightly ironic. The syntax is never fancy, but the vocabulary possesses a faintly archaic flavor…. The polite diction suggests a civilized observer … who analyzes in detail the social structures of alien worlds while describing the doings and misadventures of various outsiders, misfits, and rebels." Richard Tied-man, in an essay collected in Jack Vance, highlighted the author's "use of uncommon words." He noted that "the stories are bedecked with rare words, exotic idiom, and rich texture. The unusual word … is used to produce the utmost variety of color and effect. The language is consistently rich yet such exotic words do not seem to intrude."

Vance avoids the excess that can result from rich style, in the opinion of Chris Gilmore, by balancing his love of language with the other requirements of his craft—storytelling, characterization, and discovering the ironic. Gilmore wrote in the St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers: "Vance constantly strives that every sentence, whether narrative, dialogue or description, should be perfectly balanced, every image perfectly focused and serving to highlight the characters of the people involved…. Best of all, every line is permeated with Vance's love of irony, which ranges from the airiest banter to the blackest and most venomous." Dirda recognized that Vance's use of style sets him apart from most of his contemporaries in science fiction and even other genres. "Like a few other genre writers—[P. G.] Wodehouse or [John] le Carre come to mind—Jack Vance is a craftsman of an unusual order, whose books show all the signs of being a true oeuvre, the products of a single inventive intelligence." Dirda concluded: "In anything he writes one hears that refined, inimitable, addictive voice—there is his triumph."

Vance launched his writing career in 1945 with the publication of the short story "The World Thinker" in Thrilling Wonder Stories, one of the pulp magazines of that time. He continued to develop his skills little by little in other stories in other pulps, including Startling Stories and Worlds Beyond. "I'm not one of these chaps who was an instant success," Vance told Charles Platt in a rare interview for Dream Makers. "There was a long period in which I wrote a lot of junk, as an apprentice, learning my trade. I found out I was no good at gadget stories, or at least they were very boring to me, and I found out that I didn't enjoy writing whimsy, and I finally blundered into this thing which I keep on doing, which is essentially a history of the human future."

One strand of this history of the human future begins in Vance's first published book, The Dying Earth. The book is not a novel but rather a collection of stories in which different characters inhabit the same futuristic setting. As the title suggests, these stories take place in the twilight of the earth's history. Yet, rather than an exploration of the results of human evolution or challenges of life caused by the threat of an expanding sun, Vance's stories have more the feeling of fantasy. In an essay published in Jack Vance, science fiction writer Robert Silverberg called the book "a continuation of the work of Scheherazade by other hands, a Thousand Nights and a Night romance of never-never land." He added: "To Vance, the dying Earth is only a metaphor for decline, loss, decay, and, paradoxical though it may sound, also a return to a lost golden age, a simple and clean time of sparse population and unspoiled streams, of wizards and emperors, of absolute values and the clash of right and wrong."

Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Russell Letson recognized the same characteristics. He wrote: "The milieu is certainly that of fairy tale: magical duels and heroic quests in a decaying world of ruined cities and monster-haunted forests under the red light of a dying sun. The characters in these stories seek power or knowledge, and they compete fiercely for it." Yet, as Letson pointed out, "as in much of Vance's work, it is less the characters or actions than the settings, atmosphere, and above all the language that make these stories in The Dying Earth memorable." For Peter Close, writing in Jack Vance, The Dying Earth is "a chaotic, shapeless, uneven book—often brilliant, occasionally crass, bejewelled with splendid descriptive passages, exotic invention, polished dialogue, vivid metaphor, rare vocabulary. In its range of themes and settings, it displays almost all of Vance's talents and weaknesses."

After exploring other worlds in several other stories and novels, Vance returned to the milieu of The Dying Earth in 1966 with the novel The Eyes of the Over-world. Cugel the Clever, a picaresque rogue and Vance's favorite character, dominates this tale, and his journey across the treacherous planet to retrieve a magic cusp forms the heart of the novel. Letson believed that while "the characters are no less amoral and self interested and the world no less savage and dangerous," this story is "less elegiac than the earlier ones, and the atmosphere is lightened by picaresque escapades and by the avoidance of the serious themes of love and loyalty." The Eyes of the Overworld ends with Cugel, who has acquired the magic cusp and completed his hazardous journey, outwitting himself at the last moment and being thrust back to where he began. "Whereas The Dying Earth as a whole is plotless and subtle in form," observed Robert Silverberg, "The Eyes of the Overworld carries a rigid skeleton beneath its picaresque surface." He added that "Eyes is a single unified construct, heading forward from its earliest pages toward an inevitable end and the inevitable final ironic twist; one admires the perfection of Vance's carpentry, but it seems a lesser achievement than the relaxed and flowing pattern of The Dying Earth." Even so, Silverberg concluded: "The book is a worthy companion for the classic earlier novel: enormously entertaining, unfailingly ingenious, richly comic, a delightful fantasy…. Taken together, they are two key works in the career of this extraordinary fantasist."

The Eyes of the Overworld represents Vance's first foray into series fiction—setting subsequent books on the same worlds, continuing similar themes, and sometimes revisiting the same characters. Since the publication of The Eyes of the Overworld, Vance has placed many of his books into some series. The "Dying Earth" series continued with Cugel's Saga and Rhialto the Marvellous. The first of these recounts the further ventures of Cugel. Here, Cugel must again complete the journey, by a different but equally dangerous route. In his Washington Post review of the book, Michael Dirda stated that "any reader who has ever enjoyed the voyages of Sinbad, the club stories of Mr. Joseph Jorkens or the tales of Tarzan will hardly find a more diverting literary entertainment … than 'Cugel's Saga.' Mellower, softer, less rich in texture and invention than 'The Eyes of the Overworld,' it nonetheless possesses that distinctive winey tang that is Vance's alone." Darrell Schweitzer, in an essay in Science Fiction Review, also recognized Vance in top form. He commented: "Vance's sardonic wit and enormous inventiveness are going full force. The story is filled with memorable scenes, deliciously ridiculous (but often sinister) situations and striking images." Schweitzer made special mention of "Vance's ability to sketch in a whole society in a few lines, then make it real, where any other writer would have only been able to produce a one-dimensional gimmick."

Vance started another series in 1964. The "Demon Prince" series is a revenge saga in which Kirth Gerson grows up and then sets out to hunt down the five Demon Princes who murdered his parents. In the "Planet of Adventure" series (also known as the "Tschai" series because it is set on the planet Tschai, a world over 200 light-years from the future Earth), Earth astronaut-explorer Adam Reith is descending to Tschai's surface in a scout ship when he witnesses the destruction of his mother ship and all the members of his expedition. The novels in the series relate Reith's experience of the planet's various cultures, human and alien, as he searches for a way to return to Earth. The novels of this series, according to Mark Willard in an essay in Jack Vance, "are imbued with greater vitality, a more down-to-earth urgency, a lesser detachment, and a more skillful threading of fantasy through the framework of gritty reality than the body of Vance's earlier—and already excellent—work."

Among Vance's many non-series works, a few have received special attention. The Dragon Masters "examines the conflicts and misunderstandings that arise between humans within a culture, humans of different cultures, and human and alien," noted Letson. Two separate human cultures—one split by warring factions—and a race of marauding reptiles vie for dominance of Aerlith, a backwater among planets. The conventions that Vance employs in this novel set it up as a "space opera," a subgenre in the science fiction field. However, as Spinrad suggested, Vance's "style and sardonic stance transform what in other hands would be a straightforward science fiction story into a kind of sophisticated Grimm fairy tale entirely of a piece with works like the Cugel stories or the Dying Earth tales." Letson came to a similar conclusion. He wrote: "The web of parallels, oppositions, and ironies in the relationships that support the plot sets The Dragon Masters above routine space opera; it is, in fact, a fable about the puzzle of human—or alien—nature, the incommensurability of different world views, and the survival value of flexibility."

Critics have found that Vance's later works generally maintain the standards of earlier ones. Reviewing Night Lamp, a tale of a decadent society and a boy of the future who grows up and seeks the truth about a past he does not remember, Gerald Jonas in the New York Times Book Review wrote that Vance is "at the top of his form." Writing in the Washington Post Book World, Schweitzer characterized the novel as "almost an adventure-story-cum-mystery of manners" and remarked that "if Thackeray had written science fiction, it might have come out like this."

Vance's long, prolific career, filled with books of great imagination and style, have made him a standout among science fiction writers. Spinrad observed that "the science fiction genre has produced but a handful of true stylists—that is, writers whose sentence-by-sentence prose is fine enough, idiosyncratic enough, subtle enough, and consistent enough from page to page and book to book to become the major interest in reading their work…. And no science fiction writer does it with the Roman luxuriousness and razor-edge control of Jack Vance." For Letson, the author's achievement is also based in his consistency. "Whatever shape there is to Jack Vance's career comes from constants—theme and scene and language above all—rather than from features that change much with time," concluded Letson, "and those are the traits that mark him as an individual and an artist."



Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 35, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1985.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 8: Twentieth-Century American Science Fiction Writers, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1981.

Hewett, Jerry, and Daryl F. Mallett, The Work of Jack Vance: An Annotated Bibliography and Guide, edited by Boden Clarke, Borgo Press (San Bernardino, CA), 1994.

Levack, Daniel J.H., and Tim Underwood, Fantasms: A Bibliography of the Literature of Jack Vance, Underwood-Miller (Columbia, PA), 1978.

Platt, Charles, Dream Makers, Volume 2: The Uncommon Men and Women Who Write Science Fiction, Berkley Books (New York, NY), 1983.

Rawlins, Jack, Demon Prince: The Dissonant Worlds of Jack Vance, Borgo Press (San Bernardino, CA), 1986.

St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.

St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Stephensen-Payne, Phil, and Gordon Benson, Jr., Jack Vance: A Working Bibliography, Galactic Central (Leeds, England), 1988.

Stephensen-Payne, Phil, and Gordon Benson, Jr., Jack Vance: A Fantastic Imagination, Borgo Press (San Bernardino, CA), 1992.

Temianka, Dan, editor, The Jack Vance Lexicon: From Ahulph to Zipangote; The Coined Words of Jack Vance, Underwood-Miller (Columbia, PA), 1992.

Underwood, Tim, and Chuck Miller, Jack Vance, Taplinger (New York, NY), 1980.

Vance, Jack, The Best of Jack Vance, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1976.


Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, September 13, 1983, p. 109.

Bestsellers, June 15, 1966, p. 126; November 1, 1967, p. 311.

Booklist, July 1, 1976, p. 1514.

Foundation, March, 1977, p. 48.

Library Journal, February 15, 1992, p. 172; January, 1994, p. 172.

New Yorker, June 25, 1960, p. 107.

New York Herald Tribune Book Review, April 3, 1960, p. 11.

New York Times Book Review, July 3, 1966, p. 20; September 10, 1967, p. 60; April 10, 1969, p. 28; May 25, 1969, p. 43; November 3, 1996, Gerald Jonas, review of Night Lamp, p. 24.

Publishers Weekly, May 26, 1989, p. 57; April 5, 1993, p. 69; April 26, 1993, p. 61; September 16, 1996, p. 74.

San Francisco Chronicle, April 24, 1960, p. 30.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review, October, 1979, p. 128; July-August, 1983, p. 52.

Science Fiction Review, November, 1977, p. 36; May, 1979, p. 48; February, 1984, Darrell Schweitzer, review of Cugel's Saga, p. 45.

Science Fiction Studies, November, 1976, p. 302.

Village Voice, July 7, 1975.

Washington Post, December 13, 1983, Michael Dirda, review of Cugel's Saga, p. B8; October 27, 1985; April 7, 1986.

Washington Post Book World, April 26, 1981, p. 6; March 24, 1983, p. 8; January 27, 1985; January 26, 1997, Darrell Schweitzer, review of Night Lamp, p. 6.


Jack Vance Home Page, (April 12, 2006).

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