SF Grand Master Jack Vance, 96, died May 26, 2013 in Oakland CA. Vance was one of the most influential SF authors of the postwar period, and his visionary imagination and sophisticated, often playful use of language inspired countless SF writers, including Avram Davidson, Harlan Ellison, Matthew Hughes, George R.R. Martin, Michael Moorcock, and Gene Wolfe. His landmark Dying Earth sequence, set in the far future, began with collection The Dying Earth (1950) and continued with novel The Eyes of the Overworld (1966), Cugel’s Saga (1983), Rhialto the Marvelous (1984), and several related stories. Vance redefined the nature of planetary romance with his Big Planet (1952), and continued exploring that universe in sequel Showboat World (1975).
John Holbrook Vance was born August 28, 1916 in San Francisco CA. He worked as a bellhop, in a cannery, and on a gold dredge before attending the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied engineering, physics, and journalism, though he never graduated. A lifelong musician and music lover, Vance’s first published works were jazz reviews for The Daily Californian.
Vance worked as an electrician at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, leaving the area a month before the December 1941 attack that brought the US into WWII. His poor eyesight made it impossible for him to serve in the military, but he memorized an eye chart and joined the Merchant Marine. He wrote his first published story, “The World-Thinker” (1945), while at sea. Before becoming a full-time writer in the 1970s, he worked as a seaman, surveyor, and carpenter, among other occupations. He married Norma Genevieve Ingold in 1946; she died in 2008. Vance traveled the world extensively, living and writing in Tahiti, South Africa, Italy, and Kashmir, among other locales.
He published short fiction prolifically in the pulps in the late ’40s and early ’50s, contributing regularly to Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories. Notable short works include “Telek” (1952), “The Moon Moth” (1961), and Hugo- and Nebula-award winning novella “The Last Castle” (1966).
Most of Vance’s novels take place in series. In addition to the Dying Earth, major works include the Demon Princes sequence, the Planet of Adventure series, the Durdane trilogy, the Alastor Cluster sequence, the Lyonesse fantasy series, the Cadwal Chronicles, and the Ports of Call series. He also published numerous standalone SF/F novels and mysteries. His autobiography, This Is Me, Jack Vance! (2009), won a Hugo for Best Related Book.
Vance won the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement in 1984; the SFWA Grand Master Award in 1997; and he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2001.
For more, see his entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. See the July issue of Locus for a complete obituary.