Jack Vance: Books & Short Stories

Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Virginia has a Master's degree in Curriculum and Development and a Ph.D. in English

Jack Vance was a prolific 20th-century author who wrote mystery, fantasy, and science fiction novels. Though he won many awards for his work, he remains an undervalued voice in American literature. This lesson gives an overview of his career.

Jack Vance the Man

John Holbrook Vance had a long and prolific career as a writer, publishing most of his work under the name Jack Vance. He also used various pen names, including Ellery Queen, and published nine mystery novels using his whole name John Holbrook Vance.

Jack Vance on his boat on San Francisco Bay
Jack Vance

Though he is widely known among fans of science fiction and mystery stories around the world, many people are not familiar with Vance's stories. Science fiction and fantasy seem to appeal to particular people, and the venues for these genres are sometimes seen as less literary than other types of fiction. Authors often struggle with low publishing quality and high demand for quick production of material. Also, editors sometimes make many changes over which the authors have little control. You can imagine how frustrating it must be to work so hard to produce good material quickly and then barely recognize your own story!

Short Stories

With his first published story, ''The World-Thinker'' in Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1945, Jack Vance became a well-known and regular contributor to many science fiction/fantasy periodicals. Two of his earliest stories are Weird Tales and Thrill Book,which focused more on fantasy and the paranormal. Unfortunately, many early science fiction stories were written by doctors and scientists who were not professional writers, and their stories reflect a lack of writing skill. Later writers like Vance, Robert A. Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke elevated the content of these stories and novellas considerably.

A copy of Galaxy Magazine featuring a Jack Vance story
Galaxy Magazine

You may have heard of famous science fiction author Isaac Asimov. His periodical publication was called Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. One of the most popular of these magazines, Amazing Stories, remained in publication from 1926 to 2005, producing 607 issues. As World War II ended and the Cold War began, themes changed to reflect the fear of nuclear destruction and enemies from unknown places. Jack Vance wrote stories for these periodicals, sometimes called pulp magazines, throughout the 40s and 50s.

Actually, the earliest writing Vance did was a series of fantasy stories written while he served in the Merchant Marines during World War II. These were published in 1950 under the title The Dying Earth.

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