Tuesday, September 01, 2009
Earlier this summer I saw a NYTimes profile of Jack Vance which aroused my interest. I'd never read him during the hey-day of my sci-fi geekdom, and then Steven Hart, who rarely steers one wrong, wrote his own appreciation post, and I ordered the Dying Earth novels via Alibris.com.
The Dying Earth is a stunner, one of the most curiously inventive fantasies I've read. I don't know how to categorize it because it's not really a novel and it's not really sci-fi, and it's not exactly fantasy either. But Vance's prose is superior to almost every other sci-fi/fantasy writer; not once did I have to wince at a clunky or pedestrian passage in this charming little book, and if you enjoy imaginative and well-wrought prose but maybe not so much the fantasy, I would nonetheless recommend you read this book. It gave me chills, heebie-jeebies, and tingly pleasures. There is a remarkable torrent of imaginative and provocative ideation here.
Once upon a time I took a graduate lit class helmed by Phil Stevick at Temple U. If memory serves, it was titled "The Modern Short Story," and the texts were concentrated amongst magical realists writing in short forms. It was my intro to Borges, Calvino, Fuentes, et al. That class blew the top of my head clean off, and Vance could have been on that syllabus, as stylistically and imaginatively he is their equal.