Best of Jack Vance" Pocket
Books - 1976
to the Collection by Jack
Vance by Barry N.Malzberg
Preface to the Collection
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.
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.
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.
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.
further generalities, I commend the reader's
attention to the stories themselves.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
BARRY N. MALZBERG
1975: New Jersey
Whoops! Reginald's Contemporary Science-Fiction
Authors says that Vance's first story in 1945
was "The World-Thinker." Same difference,
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