Timescape-Pocket Books -1976              "The Best of Jack Vance" Pocket Books - 1976
  • Preface to the Collection by Jack Vance
  • Capturing Vance by Barry N.Malzberg

Preface to the Collection

Quite candidly, I don't like to discuss, let alone analyze, my own stories. Still, I have been asked to prepare a preface to the following collection, and no subject other than the stories themselves seems appropriate.

These are all stories I like, naturally enough. They date across approximately fifteen years. I have a special affection for "Ullward's Retreat" and "Sail 25." Otherwise there is little I can say that the stories can't say better for themselves.

Instead, I'll make a remark or two about my personal approach to the business of writing. In the first place, I am firtnly convinced that the writer who publicizes himself distracts his readers from what should be his single concern: his work. For this reason, after a few early vacillations, I refuse to disseminate photographs, self-analysis, biographical data, critiques and confessions: not from innate reserve, but to focus attention where I think it belongs.

I am aware of using no inflexible or predetermined style. Each story generates its own style, so to speak. In theory, I feel that the only good style is the style which no one notices, but I suppose that in practice this may not be altogether or at all times possible. In actuality the subject of style is much too large to be covered in a sentence or two and no doubt every writer has his own ideas on the subject.

Without further generalities, I commend the reader's attention to the stories themselves.

J. V.

Capturing Vance

I have the theory that the titles of first published stories are symbolic. They seem to intimate the direction of a career. Certainly it is appropriate that Robert Heinlein, who with John W. Campbell turned this field around in the forties, first appeared in 1939 with "Life-Line" and that Tom Sherred's almost singlehanded attempt to forge new directions in 1948 was called "E for Effort." Then my own first published science-fiction story was called, "We're Coming Through the Windows," amply predicting an eight-year output of some three million words, and Silverberg's in a 1956 Astounding was titled, with equal appropriateness, "To Be Continued" (and howl). There may be something profound here. Jack Vance's first piece in a 1947 issue of Astounding was "IM Build Your Dream Castle" * and sandwiched among Simak, Tenn, Asimov, other large figures of that time, it attracted little notice.

But by the early fifties Jack Vance's dream castles were becoming noticeable to a great many. Ten years later he had emerged, notably with "The Last Castle" and The Dragon Masters as the logical successor to James Schmitz, the greatest Portrayer of total alienness in science-fiction. By this time, 1976, any fool knows that Jack Vance is one of the ten most important writers in the history of the field.

He has accumulated that importance quietly and wholly on the basis of his work. To the best of my knowledge he has never entered the social life of science-fiction, preferring to live iconoclastically and well in the far West where he has let his work and only his work make a contribution. I cannot recall any other writer in science-fiction who has managed to make a similar reputation without self-promotion and sovial involvement in the field's interstices, which makes even more of a statement as to the value of his fiction.

Vance is remarkable. His landscapes are wholly imagined, his grasp of the fact that future or other worlds will not be merely extensions of our own but entirely alien has never been exceeded in this field. There are two equally legitimate ways of regarding science-fiction. If you look at the genre as necessarily being one kind of thing close-up, then Robert Silverberg is probably the best the field has ever had; but if you look at it in another, equally viable, equally defensible, way, then only James Schmitz can touch Vance. He is simply one of the best there ever has been at grasping that the material of science-fiction will feel differently to those who live through it, and has brought that difference alive.

He is also one of only two writers, the other is the brilliant short-story writer Avram Davidson, to have won both science-fiction's Hugo Award and the Edgar Award of the Mystery Writers of America, the latter for best first novel back in the mid-sixties. Most science-fiction readers are unaware of the fact that under his real name, John Holbrook Vance, Jack Vance has had an impressive parallel career as mystery novelist. The man is a professional who works to the limits he perceives. As a science-fiction writer, the dimensions of his accomplishment grow in retrospection yearly; Jack Vance is eventually going to be perceived as one of the foundation blocks of the field. He has already influenced two generations of writers: those like Larry Niven and Terry Carr who came up in the sixties doing alien landscapes with rigor and integrity, and younger writers like Gardner Dozois who, thanks to Vance, are now able to take the alienness for granted and work with it comfortably for an audience that has been educated to understand it.

Jack Vance built his dream castle for all of us. Elegantly furnished with loops and spires and rooms yet undiscovered it will not, I suspect (in contradiction to the first line of his novella), be overwhelmed. Ever.

9 August 1975: New Jersey

* Whoops!  Reginald's Contemporary Science-Fiction Authors says that Vance's first story in 1945 was "The World-Thinker." Same difference, say I.

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