"Then let's visit the Jiraldra, where we can discuss Wellas and Nai the Hever and what lies beyond Zangwill Reef, and I'll describe the music of Eiselbar."
"An idea of great merit! 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."
Jack Vance was a Science Fiction
author who also wrote some mystery
novels under his full name, John Holbrook Vance. He had been writing, continuously, since the 1950s. He passed away in 2013. Arguably, he is most well-known for the Dying Earth
series, set in the last days of Earth when technology has become a kind of magic; this system of magic was a huge influence on Dungeons & Dragons
. However, he has also written a massive amount of incredibly diverse science fiction and fantasy, making his work fairly hard to categorize.
Many of his science fiction works share a common, very broad setting called the Gaean Reach, a huge area with many, many settled stars. The area is so large that the works actually have little in common, except some details of shared culture.Vancian Magic
is named after Jack Vance.
Some of his better known works include:
Tropes extant within the works penned by this fine author; let the reader not assay overmuch
- An Aesop: One of the stories with T'sais is definitely one, some of the other Dying Earth stories could be said to be one also. Arguably, Cugel the Clever learns that backstabbing is bad and trust is good by the end of his second book.
- Anti-Hero: Liane the Wayfarer. Also Cugel. Also Magnus Ridolph. In fact many of Vance's characters are Anti Heroes.
- Almighty Janitor: The short story Dodkin's Job, in which the janitor isn't even aware he's basically in charge.
- Artificial Human: T'sais and T'sain
- Awesome McCoolname: Jack Vance. Seriously.
- Badass Bookworm: The Curator, Guyal of Sfere
- Blue and Orange Morality: A constant theme in his works. No two settings have the same prevailing moral code.
- Bold Explorer: Ports of Call features Myron Tany, a wannabe bold explorer who lucks out when his great-aunt, Dame Hester, receives a spaceship as part of a legal judgment, and reluctantly agrees to let him use it. Unfortunately for Myron, Dame Hester insists on coming along.
- Brain in a Jar: Rogol Domedonfors, ruler of Ampridatvir
- Clarke's Third Law: Ampridatvir
- Character Development: Cugel the Clever behaves quite differently towards the end of the second book, capable of making friends who he does not plan to backstab later.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Cugel the Clever goes through one and a half books before he is finally cured of this disease
- Dating Catwoman: Aillas, protagonist of the Lyonesse trilogy, falls in love with the haughty viking-like maiden Tatzel while being a slave at her father's castle. He escapes, comes back as a warrior king, kidnaps her and undergoes many adventures together with her, saving her life several times. Throughout he acts as the perfect gentleman, not taking advantage of his power over her. At one moment she actually offers him sexual favors in exchange for her liberty - but Aillas, wanting a love she is unwilling and unable to give him, declines the offer and sets her free anyway. Finally, when Aillas brings his army to assault the castle, Tatzel takes up a bow and arrow and dies among the last-ditch defenders. The victorious Aillas sadly refuses to look for "the body of the valiant maiden" among the scorched bodies in the ruins of the castle, and goes on to find another and more rewarding love.
- Defrosting Ice Queen: Skirl Hutsenreiter in Night Lamp fits this fairly well. As do many of Vance's female characters, really. In Planet of Adventure, Adam would perhaps have been smarter to keep Ylin Ylan in the fridge.
- Determinator: Kirth Gersen, from the The Demon Princes series. Kirth is quite aware of his own nature and frets about what happens to Determinators who achieve their goal.
- Devil in Plain Sight: In the The Demon Princes series, all the villains are essentially this.
- Dwindling Party: The student space-crew of Sail 25 in Dust Of Far Suns, though they're trying to graduate, not just survive. Two of them don't even get off the ground.
- Eldritch Abomination: Pandelume looks like one, to the point that anyone who looks upon him will instantly go insane, but he behaves like a pretty nice guy. Magnatz is a more straightforward example, since he is unambiguously evil.
- Encyclopedia Exposita: In many of the Gaean Reach novels, Vance quotes at length from the philosophical encyclopedia Life, by Unspiek, Baron Bodissey (who was excommunicated from the human race by the Assemblage of Egalitarians. The Baron's response was to comment, "The point is moot." To this day the most erudite thinkers of the Gaean Reach ponder the significance of the remark.).
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Chun the Unavoidable, who because of his rather unusual cloak also qualifies as Eye Scream, since it is made out of woven-together human eyeballs.
- Feudal Future: Several of Vance's stories - notably The Last Castle, The Dragon Masters and The Miracle Workers - are set in future societies that have devolved into medievalism. In the latter two this is because a spaceship crashed and the officers set themselves up as lords of the marooned crews.
- Fictional Sport: Hussade in Trullion: Alastor 2262. Hadaul in The Face.
- Footnote Fever: Used to provide much of the background within his novels, and introduce social rules and languages.
- Happy Place: The Overworld
- Jerkass: Cugel the Clever, who was downright evil for the first book he was in.
- Jerkass Genie: The sandestin in the Dying Earth stories.
- Just Before the End: The Dying Earth, of course.
- Kraken and Leviathan: The focus of The Blue World (novel) and The Gift Of Gab (short story). In the latter, they are man-sized squid, but a larger creature with prehensile arm is also present.
- Lost Technology: Plenty of it.
- Lotus-Eater Machine: The Eyes of the Overworld.
- Made of Evil: Blikdak, who is literally unravelled to death
- A Man Is Not a Virgin: The hero of Emphyrio.
- Moral Myopia / It's All About Me: Vance loves this trope. Common in his minor, short-term villains.
- Narrative Filigree: A constant in the works of Jack Vance. World building is an objective in and of itself. In Lyonnesse we learn the exact layout of Suldrun's garden, the names of the plants, how it looks at several times and day and times of year. For the grand plot it would suffice to simply confine Suldrun to her garden. Vance will build up a history, a religion, a race, a river or a plain, never necessarily needing it to advance the core story.
- Vance will seriously create societies and planets to mention them in passing without any relevance to the nominal story.
- Our Nudity Is Different: In "The Moon Moth", everybody keeps their faces covered at all times by stylized masks that show the wearer's current social standing. Not even spouses ever see each other's naked faces.
- In Trullion: Alastor 933, it is considered obscene to watch someone eat, and even spouses will block their faces with a screen during meals.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Very common in his writing and often used by jerkass characters. Reading Vance is a great way to expand your vocabulary.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Vance visits every point on the scale in his many different worlds — being most at home with cynicism. The Dying Earth setting seems like it is an extremely cynical Crapsack World in most respects, but there are often morals that you'd expect to find much further on the Idealistic scale.
- Solar Sail: Sail 25 in Dust Of Far Suns. The crew are forced to find alternative methods of getting home when they find themselves at escape velocity.
- Twist Ending: Most common in the shorter stories and novellas.
- Vancian Magic: The Trope Namer. Incidentally, the way it was described in the Dying Earth books had little in common with the magic of Dungeons & Dragons — there were no spell levels of any kind, and it was possible for anyone to attempt to memorize and cast any spell given enough practice. In addition, extremely powerful spells that could kill people instantly were apparently quite common. Of course, without sufficient practice, Hilarity Ensues
- Wild Card: Cugel the Clever,
- You Didn't Ask: In the Planet of Adventure series. Anacho has spent the first two books assuming that Adam Reith is crazy because he claims to have come from some other planet called "Earth". Until Traz mentions that he saw Reith's space boat.