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Despite all that variety, there is not much chance of mistaking a book by Jack Vance for anyone else's work (or vice-versa). There are two overarching characteristics that mark a Vancetale: mordant dialogue of a flavor nearly unique (only in his tales is, to my knowledge,comparable) and extraordinarily rich, vivid, awesomely complete portrayals of wildly bizarre-seeming yet (on reflection) utterly plausible human societies or worlds or people. Those are nothis only excellences, but they are the ones that immediately hallmark his work.

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And that is about all we ever hear of Smade's Tavern save for a chapterful of things that happen there but that could just as well have happened in any nondescript--consider thatword!--tavern anywhere. But Vance can work his magic in even fewer sentences:

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Period: end of sentence, end of paragraph, end of chapter, end of Euville. An entire world, defined well enough that we can supply from our own minds, pointed by the description, enoughmore to make a place we can visualize well--all that in scarcely over a hundred words, several of which are germane to the tale proper and not the imagined world. And Vance can and does dothat sort of thing over and over, all the time.

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--nor is he unable to manage complexities when he chooses, for in a few instances (such as the "Lyonesse" series) his plots are complex yet competent.

Great Science-Fiction & Fantasy Works: Jack Vance

My own belief is that Vance can best be conceived as a tailor of prose, to whom plots are the tailor's dummies on which to array the wonderfully cut and remarkably colored garments thatare his real business. The dummies must be sturdy and shaped well enough to properly hold and show off those garments, but fashioning such dummies is not what his craft is all about.

The speculative-fiction work of Jack Vance evaluated as literature.

In the other three areas of pleasing, Vance is triumphant. His language use is literally wonderful: he coins exotic words so true to roots that one needs to search an unabridgeddictionary to discover which of his unfamiliar terms are real (his vocabulary is monumental) and which of his coining. --those are indictionaries you can pick up and read; --those are pure Vance (, though not to be found in my copy of the OED, turns out also to be a realword, or name anyway).

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Let me try to assess those excellences methodically. As I have said repeatedly on this site, in my eyes the four chief ways in which books may please us are language use, plot, setting,and characterization, so I will speak of each in turn.

THE SATURDAY ESSAY: population control, water and …

In three of those four ways, Vance is superb--richly, inimitably so; only of plotting can we say that it is not a great strength with him. Grasp, if you will, that that is very differentfrom saying that his plots are weak or defective, for they are not--it is simply that his plots are not one of the great attractions that make us seek out his works.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Love-Hate Relationship with Science Fiction

On the whole (though not invariably) his plots are linear and episodic: the point of view is solely that of the protagonist, and the action proceeds steadily through a sequence ofrelatively distinct episodes. Moreover, there is frequently heavy reliance on coincidence--as if the idea is to get on with the main business of the day, and never you mind how we getthere. Vance is neither unaware of plotting mechanics--