1916 was a good year. There seem to have been several major writers to have been born that year, among them Jack Vance, whose 100th birthday was yesterday.
To be honest, I’ve never been a great fan of his sometimes florid writing style, though his brilliant many-worlds novella, “Rumfuddle”, (collected in Terry Carr’s Best Science Fiction of the Year 3) has always been a great favourite. But he was a major figure in the genre, winning Hugo, Nebula, Jupiter and World Fantasy Awards, including a Hugo Award for his autobiography, This is Me, Jack Vance!
He began writing in the mid-1940s, and for my taste his early fiction contained his best work. These are some that stand out for me.
This is a collection of linked stories that introduced his Dying Earth series of novels. It’s fantasy, but it also explores (and gives its name to) a key theme in science fiction. The Moon is gone, the Sun is burning out, and the Earth is a cold, barren place where survivors battle for existence with monsters and magic.
The promise of immortality for a few comes at a cost. The battle to achieve the status needed to earn the immortality treatment leads to the downfall of many, and those who fall short are assassinated. It’s a grimly logical story that explores the underside of utopia.
A short novel that won a Hugo Award as Best Short Story. It’s set on an alien world where massive storm fronts track the line dividing night from day across the planet, so humans can only operate during the day. Lizard-like aliens have been captured and bred as dragons to aid the military against alien raiders, but before they can face the next attack by alien raiders the humans have to find a way to settle the wars that have developed between their own different groups.
One of the consistent themes in Vance’s work is the degeneration of human society, which often splits into warring groups. This is also the case in Big Planet, a colourful planetary romance typical of much of his work set on a planet that is several times bigger than Earth. A team from Earth arrives to stop the slave trade, but their ship crashes and they face an immense 40,000 mile journey to reach safety while local warlords pick them off and they start to clash among themselves.
From Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate.