R.I.P. Jack Vance, 1916-2013
Just found out he died last weekend...
Jack Vance's impact on science fiction can't be overestimated. His Dying Earth series alone would be enough to make him one of the genre's most important figures. But he also gave us the Demon Princes series and several others, and he helped revitalize the planetary romance genre with Big Planet. He died over the weekend in Oakland, aged 96.
A science fiction Grand Master, Vance is probably best remembered for his four Dying Earth novels, which take place in a far-future Earth where the sun has dimmed and magic has been reestablished as a dominant force. They feature a brilliant picaresque adventure tone, including the unforgettable thief Cugel the Clever, and they were also celebrated in a recent anthology Songs of the Dying Earth, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. These books contain Vance's characteristic ironic, lightly humorous style, which has influenced generations of science fiction writers.
But he also made a huge impact with his five-book Demon Princes series, in which Kirth Gersen takes his revenge on each of the five monsters who condemned his village to slavery.
His novel The Languages of Pao is a brilliant look at the Sapir-Worf Hypothesis and how language can be used to manipulate people — in this case, how changing people's language can make them more warlike.
Fred: War, Nobby. Huh! What is it good for?
Nobby: Dunno, Sarge. Freeing slaves, maybe?
Fred: Absol—well, okay.