Acquisitions (31): Jack Vance

Jack Vance: The Languages of Pao (1958)

Jack Vance (1916-2013)

[Purchased 26/11/19 - Xanadu Book Exchange, Papamoa]:

Jack Vance. The Languages of Pao. 1958. New English Library. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1979.

Jack Vance: The Languages of Pao (1979)

Gentleman Jack Vance

A couple of days ago I found myself back at that strange Mecca for secondhand booklovers, Xanadu Book Exchange in Papamoa (just outside Tauranga). It's no easy task to find it, especially with Bronwyn trumpeting 'We're never coming back here! I hate this place!' every five seconds, as she read out the GPS instructions from her phone.

Last time I was there I bought a beautiful edition of Pepys's diary. This time it had been picked over rather more assiduously by the locals, but there are still what seem like hundreds of aisles of books to explore.

Among other things, I picked up a few more books by Jack Vance to add to my collection. He's such a prolific author that I had to check each title against the running total in my bibliography notebook to see if I already had them. They're not exactly rare, but there are an immense number of different paperback editions with diversely garish covers. Here are the titles:

Jack Vance: Slaves of the Klau (1980)

The Languages of Pao. 1958. New English Library. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1979.

Slaves of the Klau. 1958. Coronet Books. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1980.

The Galactic Effectuator. 1980. Coronet Books. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1983.

Jack Vance: The Galactic Effectuator (1983)

I remember that John Dolan once told me that if he had the chance, the type of writer he'd really like to be would be a pulp sci-fi author. I have to agree. The idea of being one of these scribes who pumps out a new novel every few months, between intervals of dreaming up new stories for the pulps and the slicks, is one of those ambitions like being a rodeo cowboy or a fearless test pilot: a pipe-dream, yes, but a strangely harmless one.

Jack Vance is the pulp-king par excellence. His fiction is always stylish and readable, composed with panache and intelligence, despite the recurrence of the same basic themes.

Richard Usborne: Clubland Heroes (1953)

There's generally a superman type in each of his stories, who applies intelligence and cunning (with occasional bouts of compassion) to the sacred task of getting his own way. Some of these are more reprehensible than others (Cugel, for instance), but they are - to a man - unflappable: a little like Raffles or those other Edwardian sensation heroes: Dornford Yates' Berry, or Sapper's Bulldog Drummond.

The other thing he excels in is endlessly inventive descriptions of new alien planets. His favourites ('Big Planet', for instance) tend to be extremely large, quite populous, and full of diverse landscapes - peaks, canals, space-ports. In his fantasy settings ('Lyonesse', for instance), he subtracts technology and amps up the environmental richness, but otherwise there's not otherwise a great deal of difference. If you like Vance's SF, you'll like his fantasy, and vice versa and contrariwise.

The first of his works I came across, in an old copy of Galaxy when I was still a teenager, was his Hugo and Nebula award-winning novella The Last Castle.

Jack Vance: The Last Castle (1966)

This was quite a revelation to me. It showed me that not all Sci-fi writers wrote 'fiction for young engineers' (Ursula Le Guin's famous characterisation of the Campbell era) - the wit, the vivid descriptions, and the doom-laden atmosphere of the story propelled him straight away to my pantheon of alt-lit heroes.

It wasn't till years later that I read the story again, and it had faded slightly in the interim, I'm sorry to say (or perhaps it was just that I wasn't then so aware of his basic battery of tricks). In the meantime, though, I'd fallen in love with Lyonesse and Night Lamp and a number of his later masterpieces.

There's a certain authoritarianism and cynicism in Vance's view of the world - a slight suggestion of Nietzschean ruthlessness in the actions of at least some of his heroes. I'm not sure how much I actually want to know about the man himself. Judging from the picture below, he was certainly a cat-lover. And he's given me countless hours of enjoyment. What more, in the final analysis, does one really need to know?

Jack & Norma with Joe the Cat (1952)

John Holbrook ['Jack'] Vance


  1. Tales of the Dying Earth. Fantasy Masterworks. London: Gollancz, 2001:
    1. The Dying Earth (1950)
    2. The Eyes of the Overworld (1966)
    3. Cugel’s Saga (1983)
    4. Rhialto the Marvellous (1984)

  2. The Demon Princes. An Orb Edition. 2 vols. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, Inc., 1997:
    1. The Star King (1964)
    2. The Killing Machine (1964)
    3. The Palace of Love (1967)
    4. The Face (1979)
    5. The Book of Dreams (1981)

  3. Planet of Adventure. A Tom Doherty Associates Book. New York: Tor Books, 1991:
    1. City of the Chasch (1968)
    2. Servants of the Wankh (1969)
    3. The Dirdir (1969)
    4. The Pnume (1970)

  4. The Durdane Trilogy. New York: Ace Books, 1978:
    1. The Faceless Man (1971)
    2. The Brave Free Men (1972)
    3. The Asutra (1973)

  5. Alastor. An Orb Edition. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 2002:
    1. Trullion: Alastor 2262 (1973)
    2. Marune: Alastor 933 (1975)
    3. Wyst: Alastor 1716 (1978)

  6. Lyonesse. Fantasy Masterworks. London: Gollancz, 2002-3:
    1. Suldrun’s Garden (1983)
    2. The Green Pearl (1985)
    3. Madouc (1989)

  7. The Cadwal Chronicles. New English Library. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1989-94:
    1. Araminta Station (1988)
    2. Ecce & Old Earth (1991)
    3. Throy (1992)

  8. Standalone Novels & Novellas:

  9. Big Planet. 1952. Gollancz SF Collector's Edition. Victor Gollancz. London: Orion Books Limited, 2002.

  10. The Languages of Pao. 1958. New English Library. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1979.

  11. Slaves of the Klau. 1958. Coronet Books. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1980.

  12. The Dragon Masters / The Last Castle. 1962 & 1966. New York: ibooks, Inc., 2003.

  13. The Houses of Iszm. 1964. Granada Publishing Limited. London: Mayflower Books Ltd., 1974.

  14. The Blue World. 1966. Gollancz SF Collector's Edition. Victor Gollancz. London: The Orion Publishing Group, 2003.

  15. Emphyrio. 1969. SF Masterworks, 19. Millennium. London: Victor Gollancz, 1999.

  16. The Grey Prince. 1974. VGSF. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1990.

  17. Showboat World. 1975. Coronet Books. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., 1977.

  18. The Galactic Effectuator. 1980. Coronet Books. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1983.

  19. Night Lamp. A Tom Doherty Associates Book. New York: Tor Books, 1996.

  20. Ports of Call. A Tor Book. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, Inc., 1998.

  21. Collections:

  22. Vance, Jack. Fantasms and Magics: A Science Fantasy Adventure. 1969. Mayflower Books. London: Granada Publishing Limited, 1978.

    Still to obtain:

    [novels & novellas]:

  1. "Overlords of Maxus" [novella] (1951)
  2. "Telek" [novella] (1952)
  3. The Five Gold Bands (aka: The Space Pirate / The Rapparee) (1953)
  4. Vandals of the Void (1953)
  5. "Three-Legged Joe" [novella] (1953)
  6. To Live Forever (1956)
  7. "The Miracle Workers" [novella] (1958)
  8. "The Moon Moth" [novella] (1961)
  9. "Gateway to Strangeness" (aka: "Dust of Far Suns" / "Sail 25") [novella] (1962)
  10. Son of the Tree (1964)
  11. Monsters in Orbit (1965)
  12. Space Opera (1965)
  13. "The Brains of Earth" (aka: "Nopalgarth") [novella] (1966)
  14. Maske: Thaery (1976)
  15. Lurulu (2004)

  16. [collections]:

  17. Future tense (1964)
  18. The World Between and Other Stories (1965)
  19. The Many Worlds of Magnus Ridolph (1966)
  20. The Worlds of Jack Vance (1973)
  21. Lost Moons (1982)
  22. The Narrow Land (1982)
  23. The Augmented Agent and Other Stories (1986)
  24. The Dark Side of the Moon (1986)
  25. Chateau D'If and Other Stories (1990)
  26. When the Five Moons Rise (1992)
  27. The Jack Vance Treasury (2007)
  28. Wild Thyme, Green Magic (2009)
  29. Dowling, Terry & Jonathan Strahan, eds. The Early Jack Vance. Burton, Michigan: Subterranean Press, 2010-15:
    1. Hard-Luck Diggings (2010)
    2. Dream Castles (2012)
    3. Magic Highways (2013)
    4. Minding The Stars (2014)
    5. Grand Crusades (2015)

  30. [autobiography]:

  31. This Is Me, Jack Vance! (Burton, Michigan: Subterranean Press, 2009)

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