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Jack Vance, August 28, 1916 — May 26, 2013

Thursday, May 30th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Dying Earth HillmanJack Vance, one of the greatest fantasists of the 20th Century and one of the last living links to the pulp era, died Sunday at the age of 96.

Vance was an electrician in the naval shipyards at Pearl Harbor in 1941, working for 56 cents an hour. He left a month before the Japanese attack; during World War II, he was in the Merchant Marines.

His first published story, “The World-Thinker” in the Summer 1945 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories, was written at sea. Over the next six decades, he wrote more than 60 books (and perhaps as many as 90).

Vance was a prolific contributor to the pulp magazines in the 40s and 50s, especially Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder. Some of his most famous work during this period included “The Five Gold Bands” (Startling Stories, 1950), “Son of the Tree” (Thrilling Wonder, 1951), “Telek” (Astounding Science Fiction, 1952), “The Houses of Iszm” (Startling Stories, 1954), and “The Moon Moth” (Galaxy, 1961).

Vance won his first Hugo Award for the brilliant novella “The Dragon Masters” (Galaxy, 1962); “The Last Castle” (Galaxy, 1966) won both the Hugo and Nebula Award.

During this period, he also wrote most of the stories that were collected as The Dying Earth in 1950. Famously, Vance was unable to sell his collection to genre publishers, as a result one of the most important works of American fantasy was published by tiny Hillman Periodicals, who chiefly published comics.

The original paperback edition of The Dying Earth is highly prized by collectors today.

Vance was an early master of series SF and fantasy. In addition to The Dying Earth (four books), his most famous series include Lyonesse (3), The Demon Princes (5), The Cadwal Chronicles (3), Alastor (3), the four Planet of Adventure novels, and others.

Jack VanceIn addition to his short fiction awards, Vance won many major awards for his longer work. Lyonesse: Madouc won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1990; and Vance won the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement in 1984.

He also won the SFWA Grand Master Award in 1997, and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2001. His 2009 autobiography, This Is Me, Jack Vance!, won the Hugo for Best Related Book.

Vance’s influence is still felt today. Michael Shea’s first novel, A Quest for Simbilis, was a Vance pastiche (what we’d call fan fiction today). The 2010 Jack Vance tribute volume, Songs of the Dying Earth, included contributions from George R.R. Martin, Dan Simmons, Robert Silverberg, Tad Williams, Glen Cook, Neil Gaiman, and many others.

Subterranean Press has published three volumes of The Early Jack Vance (so far), including Dream Castles. And one of my favorite role playing games, the Dying Earth RPG, was published by Pelgrane Press in 2001.

Jack Vance died on Sunday, May 26, at the age of 96 at his home in Oakland, California.


  1. He will be sorely missed. I started reading a collection with The Moon Moth in it last night; brilliant stuff.

    His final work:

    Comment by Joe H. - May 30, 2013 2:18 pm

  2. Joe,

    That’s a great link! I just may have to buy that jazz album.

    I listened to THE DYING EARTH a few years ago, when I was commuting three hours to Champaign every week. That book kept me company through many lonely hours on the prairie in Illinois…

    Comment by John ONeill - May 30, 2013 2:27 pm

  3. The guy was a legend. Chun the Unavoidable FTW.

    Comment by peadarog - May 30, 2013 4:48 pm

  4. Sad to hear this, even if Vance was a bajillion years old. He was, and still is, one of my favorite authors. My SFBC omnibus of the Dying Earth stories is a treasured possession. I always loved his style of writing. Nobody wrote a yarn like Vance did. Hopefully someone is already scouring his computer for unpublished works.

    Comment by CMR - May 30, 2013 7:56 pm

  5. […] Sunday, May 26, veteran genre writer Jack Vance died at the age of 96. John O’Neill posted a fine overview here of his career; testament to Vance’s influence on other writers can be seen in remembrances by […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Dying Earth: An Appreciation - June 2, 2013 7:24 pm

  6. > Hopefully someone is already scouring his computer for unpublished works.


    I find it starting that no one knows for sure how many books Vance wrote.

    Sure, pulp writers were notorious for writing under multiple pseudonyms, and many (like Vance) wrote in mutliple genres. But how can the official Wikipedia account of his body of work state “he has written more than 60 books — perhaps almost 90.” That’s as many as 30 unknown novels!

    So no need to imagine literary discoveries lurking on his hard drive… there may be dozens of published Vance novels out there to be discovered and cataloged. :)

    Comment by John ONeill - June 3, 2013 2:58 pm

  7. […] examples? As I mentioned in Jack Vance’s obituary last week, the first edition of The Dying Earth is one of the rarest and most sought-after genre paperbacks […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » Adventures in Bookselling: The Paperback Harry Dresden - June 3, 2013 6:58 pm

  8. […] Vance died on May 26th of last year, and Frederik Pohl passed away less than four months later, robbing us of […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » Travel the Magic Highways with The Early Jack Vance, Volume 3, edited by Terry Dowling and Jonathan Strahan - March 1, 2014 3:27 pm

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