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Jack Vance was an American science fiction and fantasy book writer in the twentieth century. His most popular work was the ‘Dying Earth’ book series. In this lesson, we will talk about Vance’s life and work.

Meet the Mystery Man

Jack Vance

American author Jack Vance went by many pseudonyms including John Holbrook Vance, Jay Kavanse, Ellery Queen, Peter Held, Alan Wade, and John van See.

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Vance was known for writing science fiction short stories for pulp fiction magazines, and a variety of science fiction/fantasy novels. The Dying Earth series was his most popular set of stories. They were originally published in literary magazines and later published as four novels. Jack Vance made significant contributions to the science fiction and fantasy genres. In this lesson, we will discuss Jack Vance’s life and his work.

The Life of Jack Vance

Early Years

Jack Vance was born as John Holbrook Vance in San Francisco, CA on August 28, 1916.

After his parents divorced, he moved with his mother to his grandparents’ home in Oakley, CA. He spent the rest of his youth in that region. From a young age, he developed a love for reading, which inspired him to write stories.For a short while, Vance worked several jobs to support his family because his grandfather died, leaving no money to subsist upon. After saving enough money, Vance attended UC Berkeley, taking a variety of classes in the liberal arts and sciences. He graduated from Berkeley in 1942.After graduation, he spent time traveling.

He tried to join the military but was turned away because of his bad vision. That didn’t stop him though: he memorized the eye chart for the vision test and became a Merchant Marine sailor, transporting cargo around the world.


During the San Francisco Renaissance, Vance made his first steps toward a career as a professional writer.

The San Francisco Renaissance began in the 1940s and was pioneered by several major writers in an effort to return to literary arts after World War II. The heart of the movement was about sharing and reading work together throughout the area.In 1945, Vance published his first story, ”The World-Thinker,” in the science fiction magazine Thrilling Wonder Stories. His short stories started to appear in a variety of science fiction magazines, and he quickly became well known in the industry.His memorable Dying Earth series began as a collection of short stories published in 1950.

He loved the story’s characters and setting so much that he returned to it. Between 1965 and 1984, he published three more books for the series titled The Eyes of the Overworld, Cugel’s Saga, and Rhialto the Marvellous. An earth in which the sun is going out is the setting of these books, and it was so popular that it became a major sub-genre of science fiction.Although Vance wrote great science fiction, he spent a lot of time writing mystery and fantasy stories too. Under the pseudonym Ellery Queen, he wrote The Four Johns and The Madman Theory, two mystery novels.Vance won a Hugo Award for his novella The Dragon Masters in 1963.

The novella was published in a science fiction magazine and on its own. The story is about two societies. One controls aliens that look like lizards on one planet, and lizard like aliens use humans in the same way on another planet.

Like The Dragon Masters, many of Vance’s works were first seen in pulp magazines before being picked up by a publisher.Jack Vance became a household name in the world of science fiction, earning a handful of awards and recognitions for his work. He was awarded the Nebula Award for Best Novella (1966) and Hugo Award for Best Novelette (1967) for The Last Castle. He was named a Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 1997, which is considered the highest honor available to sci-fi writers.

Later Years

By the 1980s, Vance had become legally blind, making it hard to write.

But like before, it didn’t stop him; in fact, he had a specialized computer software program designed for him so he could continue writing. Vance wrote up until his death, with a novel and an autobiography published before his death. By the time of his death, on May 26, 2013, he had written over 60 novels and short story collections, but not all his writings were published.

Jack Vance Had A lot to Say

On Being His Own Boss

Jack Vance, like many writers, didn’t want to work under another person. He said that being a subordinate ”seems to limit you; when you’re working in an office, you’re a creature in a small cell under somebody’s supervision and surveillance.” Vance adamantly argued that he would ”never work in an office,” even for a high-paying writing gig because it is so limiting to his creativity that he wouldn’t have written anything worth reading.

On Storytelling

Storytelling is an art, and the key to stellar storytelling is to make the writer forget about the author. According to Vance, ”a reader is not supposed to be aware that someone’s written the story.

He’s supposed to be completely immersed, submerged in the environment.” The story needs to suck the reader all the way into it as if it were real. That’s good storytelling to Vance.

On Reading

Jack Vance was a big believer in reading. When he was alive, he ”read and read and read.” The Wizard of Oz books influenced Vance, but other than that he didn’t ”read other science fiction.” It seems that Vance spent a lot of time reading fantasy books, but he didn’t let other science fiction stories influence him.

Lesson Summary

Jack Vance was an American science fiction and fantasy writer whose career spanned from the 1940s up until his death in 2013. He grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, working different jobs before working as a seaman for the Merchant Marines. He went on to write dozens of short stories and novels, many of which were published in science fiction pulp magazines, before being published as stand-alone novels, novellas, or short story collections. He wrote the famous Dying Earth series, made up of four books. When he wasn’t writing science fiction, he wrote mystery and fantasy novels, with some of the books under the pseudonym Ellery Queen. By the end of his life, he had won several awards and was made a Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 1997.

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