Birthday Reviews: Jack Vance’s “Liane the Wayfarer”

Birthday Reviews: Jack Vance’s “Liane the Wayfarer”

Cover by Paul Callé
Cover by Paul Callé

Jack Vance was born on August 28, 1916 and died on May 23, 2013.

Jack Vance won his first Hugo Award in 1963 for the novella “The Dragon Masters.” He won his second in 1967 for the novelette “The Last Castle,” which also earned him a Nebula Award. In 2010 he won a Hugo for Best Related Work for his autobiography This Is Me, Jack Vance (Or, More Properly, This is “I”). His novel Lyonesse: Maduoc won the 1990 World Fantasy Award. In 1975 his novelette “The Seventeen Virgins” won the Jupiter Award and in 1977, a translation of The Dragon Masters won the Seiun Award. He also won the Emperor Norton Award in 2005 for Lurulu. Vane received the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1984 and was the Guest of Honor at MagiCon, the 50th Worldcon, in Orlando, Florida in 1992. In 1997 he was named a Grand Master by the SFWA and received the Forry Award from LASFS. The next year he received a Lifetime Achievement Prix Utopia. Vance was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2001.

“Liane the Wayfarer” was first published as “The Loom of Darkness” in the December 1950 issue of Worlds Beyond, edited by Damon Knight. The same year it appeared in a small press run of Vance’s collection The Dying Earth. In 1976 Lin Carter selected the story for his anthology Realms of Wizardry. Vance included it in his 1979 collection Green Magic. It was reprinted in A Treasury of Modern Fantasy, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Terry Carr (also known as Masters of Fantasy). Tom Shippey used the story in The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories. Silverberg used it in The Fantasy Hall of Fame and Vance included it in Tales of the Dying Earth. When Martin H. Greenberg invited authors to select a work they enjoyed reading for his anthology My Favorite Fantasy Story, George R.R. Martin selected “Liane the Wayfarer.” It showed up again in the Vance collection Mazirian the Magician. Eric Flint, David Drake, and Jim Baen used it in their anthology The World Turned Upside Down. The story appeared up again in The Jack Vance Treasury and was read on the Drabblecast #282. Paula Guran used it in her 2017 anthology Swords Against Darkness. The story has been translated into German three times, Italian and Dutch twice each, and once into Esperanto.

The title character in “Liane the Wayfarer” is a sociopath, willing to kill anyone on a whim or the vaguest belief that they might do him harm at some point in the future. He revels in the good fortune of finding a magical diadem while burying his latest victim and learns that the crown will render him invisible. When he finds out that there is a beautiful witch living in a nearby clearing, he goes to find her with the intent of making her his true love.

Liane’ misogyny is struck down, however, by the witch, Lith, who refuses to even consider Liane’s protestations of love or ownership of her affections. She informs him that unless he can perform a service for her, she would not be his. Not seeing this trap, Liane agrees to retrieve a portion of tapestry for her from Chun the Unavoidable.

Vance plays up all the negative that should crop up amongst the standard fantasy hero, imbuing Liane the Wayfarer with an ego and an amoral view of life. He is the best at anything, and anyone who might stand in the way of getting what he deserves is inconsequential. Of course, in this world, there will always be a bigger sociopath and Liane eventually comes up against Chun the Unavoidable, unable to believe that Chun may be more powerful than him.

Reprint reviewed in the anthology My Favorite Fantasy Story, edited by Martin H. Greenberg, DAW Books, 2000.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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Joe H.

One of my all-time favorite stories by one of my all-time favorite writers.

Rich Horton

If you thought I would complain about you featuring Jack Vance, well, you’d have been wrong! One of my favorite writers. And a great magazine cover, too!

But still — there was another World Fantasy Award winning writer born on this date, also one of my favorites: Robertson Davies!


This is a great story. When Liane bargains the Twk-man for information and stops at three pieces I believe this is the inspiration for Grrm’s Arya having to collect pieces of unknown information each day.

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