Jack Vance, who passed away on May 26th 2013, was one of the Grand Masters of the genre. He won the Hugo, Nebula, Jupiter and the World Fantasy awards for his varied works (which also included some science fiction.) And lest anyone feared he was sitting on his laurels – he also managed an Edgar Award for a mystery novel.
But I loved him for his fantasy works – which by the way did not run into the thousand of pages and multi-epic volumes with no ending in sight.
Among my battered and yellowed collection of sword and sorcery/fantasy books are an extremely old copy of The Dying Earth (which if I dare to read one more time will disintegrate into fragments) and The Eyes of the Overworld.
“Since like subsumes like, the variates and intercongeles create a superpullulation of all areas, qualities and intervals into a chrystorrhoid whorl, eventually exciting the ponentiation of a pro-ubietal chute; the ‘creature,’ as you called it, pervolved upon itself; in your idiotic malice, you devoured it.” — the sorcerer Pharesm, in The Eyes of the Overworld
If the true protagonist of fantasy is the actual sub-creation of another reality – as posited by Tolkien and Lewis – and if the sub creation must be dependent on the language that defines it, then Vance stands as their co-equal. With maybe a distracted nod to Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique cycle and a languid wave at Mervyn Pike’s Gormenghast, Vance went one step further: To a somewhat foetid, picaresque world on it’s last gasp with the sun ready to gutter out.
Unlike Ashton’s lapidary detachment toward the terminal moment of our world, the remnants of humanity in Vance’s work are still going about their daily life as best they can. Living, loving, backstabbing – and dying with great gusto and pithy comments at the ready.
Cugel the Clever, became by default the point of view character in The Eyes of the Overworld and Cugel the Clever. He also managed the interesting feat of being published in what can only be considered pre-internet fanfiction in Michael Shea’s A Quest for Simbilis.
No Conan in any way imaginable, Cugel the Clever left no kingdoms or legends in his wake – mostly it was disaster and jilted women. And the ending of The Eyes of the Overworld is one of great epic fails of all times, a quite subversive turn on the whole revenge genre.
Godspeed, Mr. Vance.
“Cease the bickering! I am indulging the exotic whims of a beautiful princess and must not be distracted!” – Cugel the Clever.