by wjw on May 30, 2013

Jack Vance died a few days ago, but the news was only released today.  He was 96.

Admiration for Jack’s works came late to me.  I read some Vance when I was a teen, but either I read the wrong stuff, or I simply didn’t Get It.  But coming to Vance as an adult, I Got It indeed, and I’m pleased I was able to contribute to Songs of the Dying Earth, the Jack Vance tribute anthology edited by GRRM and Gardner Dozois.

I have to say, that generation of SF writers was a tough bunch.  Unless they were the victim of a tragic early death (Stanley Weinbaum) or killed by war (as was, belatedly, Cyril Kornbluth) they had long, long careers.  Vance, Jack Williamson, Andre Norton, Ray Bradbury, Nelson Bond, L Philip Jose Farmer, Sprague de Camp, and Arthur C. Clarke all lived into their nineties.  Frederik Pohl is in his nineties now and still writing, at least on his blog.  Hal Clement, Damon Knight, Kurt Vonnegut, Fritz Leiber, Clifford Simak, and Robert Heinlein lived into their eighties, and Ursula Leguin is in her eighties and still writing.  Isaac Asimov died at a relatively youthful 72.

You might well think that writing science fiction is the key to a long, productive life. I’m sure as hell going to do my personal best to prove that it is.

And to that end, I’ve spent the last couple days prepping for a routine medical procedure which may help to increase the odds of my survival.  Which is to say, a colonoscopy.

The prep is certainly no fun, though the procedure itself is brief and painless— and interesting, if you have the turn of mind to watch the whole thing on television, which you can.

And the doc turned up a polyp, which he duly excised, thus possibly preserving me from colon cancer for another few years.

I mention this because not because I find my colonoscopy of interest to anyone in particular (least of all me), but because of my admiration for a writer who never had the chance to join the Long-Lived SF Writers’ Club, because he died when he was in his fifties.

If Roger Zelazny had a colonoscopy when he was supposed to, he might still be with us, producing brilliant works of fiction that would have us gaping with pure admiration.

I thought someone with that much talent would never die.  I was wrong.

So kids, if you’re over 50, it’s time to make an appointment with a gastroenterologist for that special little procedure that can save your life, so you can grow up to be a respected and worshiped elder like Fred Pohl or Ursula Leguin.

Plus, you get to watch your insides on TV.  Won’t that be cool?


Invader ACE May 30, 2013 at 10:21 am

I saddened to hear about Jack Vances passing. I was twelve when I started reading the Tschai series in swedish translation and I loved it from the get go. In fact, since the publisher only translated the first two books, I had to learn to read english so that I could read the rest as well.
I’ve recently started re-reading Vance again, I’m done with the Cadwall chronicles and starting on the demon princes. Good stuff!
And I totally agree with Zelazny. If I had to take a single book with me to an island it would be Lord of Light. And, as with the Vance stuff, I currently reading the Amber series again.

The second book I’d take to an island? ‘Voice of the Whirlwind’.

bta May 30, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Yeah, I grew up reading Asimov, Clarke, Williamson, Bradbury, Heinlein et al. Mind you, I’m of an age that isn’t so far from that that they achieved – and whisper who dares, there wasn’t nearly so much sf available way back then as there is now. And sadly, I doubt that later generations of readers would buy their books in preference to newer authors. But we were fortunate indeed that so many of them had such talent.

However, longevity is one thing, actually remaining masters of their craft is something else. If you fancy stirring the pot, list those that you think wrote as well in their 60s & 70s (or later) as they did in their 30s & 40s.
I’ll make an opening bid with Jack Williamson.

btw, realised that the only writer of sf to win a Nobel Prize is still with us -Doris Lessing, now well into her 90s and still writing until recently. Of course, she didn’t win the Nobel for her sf, in fact many think the NP was delayed because of it, but she’s always reckoned that it was her best writing.

PhilRM May 30, 2013 at 8:59 pm

bta – I’d add Vance himself to that list. He wrote the wonderful “Nightlamp” when he was 80.

TC/Writer Underground May 30, 2013 at 10:01 pm

I bought the giant, six-volume collection of Zelazny’s works, and while I’m only halfway through, I remain astonished by the quality of the work he produced in just the first years of his career.

Zelazny survived the release of the movie version of Damnation Alley, so I guess I figured he was going to live to 100.

Dave Bishop May 31, 2013 at 9:33 am

I’m sorry to hear of the passing of Jack Vance. I discovered his stuff, at the age of about 19, in a wonderful shop called Fantast (Medway) Ltd., run by Ken Slater, in the (English) Fenland town of Wisbech. I bought a handful of Vance’s books in the form of ‘Ace Doubles’ with cover illustrations by Jack Gaughan. I remember that those books hit me like the proverbial train – I had never read anything like them! For the next few decades each new Vance book represented a special occasion – like Christmas!

Rest in peace, Jack. Your books were, and of course still are, very special.

Jerry May 31, 2013 at 9:45 am

Wow. Sic transit gloria mundi. Ave, Jack Vance!

Yeah, I had my first colonoscopy a couple of months ago. Everyone and his brother warned me about the industrial-strenght colon blow they make you take the day before the procedure. I had Vaseline and baby wipes at the ready, and planned to live in the bathroom all day. The pharmacist even told me to keep a happy thought: “When the cramps get really bad, just remember that you are almost through.” What a crock of nothing! Yeah, the stuff did what it was supposed to do, and it tasted like sour gatorade, but it was so much Not A Big Deal. Later, when I asked to remain un-grogged for the procedure, one of the nurses seemed startled, as if I’d grown an extra head or something. The G.I. guy was okay with it, though, and totally unsurprised. It was actually quite amusing at the moment of insertion – the nurse was watching me closely to see if I wanted to be alert for some Deviant twist. Her face told the whole story in a single glance. And I agree with WJW that the process was pretty painless and VERY interesting. Who says there’s nothing good on TV any more?

Oz May 31, 2013 at 10:58 am

It *was* cool, yes. Husband chose to be knocked out for his, I wanted to watch my insides. So you come down from 10k feet on the mountain and get probed. Wow. The glamor. The “fun” as you wrote in another post.

Jerry June 1, 2013 at 3:06 am

Jack Vance’s “Rumfuddle” was, hands-down, the best time travel story ever written. I don’t know why he chose a post-Victorian, Jules Verne-esque style, even though it was set in a 1970s universe. I have never been able to look at time travel stories the same way since: are they simple-minded, or has the author even stopped to plumb the implications of a time machine? Mr. Williams, have you ever done a time travel story? I expect you would do stunning and amazing things.

Chris Mills June 1, 2013 at 11:04 am

Glad to hear that you are looking after yourself and getting your regularly scheduled maintenance.

Invader ACE June 1, 2013 at 12:36 pm

The problem with Vance:s best books are that they are series. So I’d need to bring the omnibus editions 🙂 But if I did, it would be a toss-up between Cadwal, the Tschai series, the Durdane series or the Alastor books.

Jim Janney June 5, 2013 at 2:54 am

This is like losing, not one favorite author, but four or five: Vance wrote so much, in so many different styles (although the voice was always distinctively his).

“While we are alive we should sit among colored lights and taste good wines, and discuss our adventures in far places; when we are dead, the opportunity is past.”

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post:

Contact Us | Terms of User | Trademarks | Privacy Statement

Copyright © 2010 WJW. All Rights Reserved.