FANTASTICAL: extravagantly fanciful; marvelous.

jack vanceThe headline in Monday’s New York Times read:

Jack Vance, Novelist of the Fantastical, Is Dead at 96

The obituary, written by Bruce Weber, told the story of Jack Vance, the incredible author who rocked the literary world with his inventive and challenging ideas for over six decades.  I have to admit to not being a reader of Vance’s books, but his name and his fame are well known to me and to millions of others. Jack Vance wrote graphic, shocking novels that challenged every convention known to modern readers.  Bruce Weber calls him a fantasist, a word not appearing in my lexicon, but which means that he indulged in extravagant fantasies and wrote about them in a way that captured the imagination of his readers.   They might take place in totally imaginary places, among people or creatures that stretch  the imaginations of people like me.  As Weber points out, some people said his genre was science fiction but Vance rejected that attachment, preferring to see his work as exploring the inner and hidden fantasies and visions  of real people.

But in spite of his fame, it was not the death of Jack Vance that caught my attention.   It was the wonderful headline and the language of the story that captured me.  Weber uses language in the same way John Williams uses tunes and tones.  Listen to the first few notes of The Theme from Starwars and you are already soaring into the magical places the film is about to transport you.

It feels to me that Weber is writing under the influence of Vance.  He is writing an obituary, but it feels like something more than that.  It is a tribute to a mind, a vocabulary, and a vision of reality that Vance explored in his 60+ books.

Speaking of the writing tradition of Vance, Weber says this:

“Suitable for his often other-wordly settings, Mr. Vance wrote a stylized, attention-getting prose, not baroque exactly but not lacking in ornamentation or eccentric music, and full of vivid, sometimes lurid imagery.” (NYT, 6/3/13, p. A15)

From my perspective, this is a self-referential commentary on the way in which Weber captures Vance the author, the fantasist, the artist.    It was a pleasure to read the tribute to Vance, and to relish the quarter page over coffee on an other-wise grey and damp Monday morning.


Bookjacket Credit:  Jack Vance

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