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Engineer Al's Sci-Fi Library: Jack Vance

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17 Jun 2015 11:38 #204487 by iguanaDitty
On that list I am a huge fan of Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John stories, which was recently reprinted by paizo under their planet stories line.

Great Appalachian horror-fantasy type stuff. Really nails the feel; Silver John plays a silver-stringed guitar and songs are an important part of the stories.
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17 Jun 2015 12:12 #204491 by engineer Al
Glad to see that there is some excellent conversation going on here. My favorite part of posting these blogs has been getting recommendations from you guys for stuff I haven't read. I just ordered THE FACE IN THE FROST on Amazon. Unfortunately WHO FEARS THE DEVIL, which is the collection of "Silver John" stories published by Paizo, seems to be OOP and of course selling for unreasonable prices. Hopefully it will be reprinted soon as it looks very interesting.
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17 Jun 2015 12:14 #204492 by Mr. White
Along with Jack Vance, Gene Wolfe is an author I've been meaning to give a read. How do they compare? I guess it would be Dying Earth v New Sun?

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17 Jun 2015 12:56 #204494 by Shellhead
Gene Wolfe is an excellent writer, though his prose is less flashy than Vance's. Wolfe does interesting things, like significant tonal shifts and unreliable narrators, and his New Sun works provide a rich setting. However, Wolfe often ends his earlier stories with frustrating ambiguity. Not in a classic way where the reader can choose whichever interpretation is most satisfying, but more in a what-the-hell-just-happened way. Maybe he just doesn't know how to end stories, or maybe it's an extreme stylistic choice on his part. The other interesting thing about Wolfe is that his writing continues to impress, even in just the last few years. Fans of Lovecraft should read An Evil Guest.
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17 Jun 2015 16:08 #204498 by Josh Look
Just ordered the Dying Earth books. There may not be an author that I've been "meaning to get around to" more than Jack Vance.

Great article as always, Al.
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17 Jun 2015 18:14 #204505 by Matt Thrower
You can say again about Wolfe being fond of ambiguity. I threw Solider of the Mist across the room in a rage when I got to the end.

The Books of the New Sun don't read at all like Vance to me. They're very clever, multi-layered and evoke an extraordinary sense of place. But they also have a tendency toward being plodding. And the series is over long. At times, it just felt like Wolfe was getting a little too fond of his own cleverness.
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17 Jun 2015 19:12 #204509 by Shellhead

MattDP wrote: You can say again about Wolfe being fond of ambiguity. I threw Solider of the Mist across the room in a rage when I got to the end.

The Books of the New Sun don't read at all like Vance to me. They're very clever, multi-layered and evoke an extraordinary sense of place. But they also have a tendency toward being plodding. And the series is over long. At times, it just felt like Wolfe was getting a little too fond of his own cleverness.


If you ever give Wolfe another try, pick something that he has written in the 21st century. His stories are more focused, with better pacing, and the endings steer clear of ambiguity, aside from the unreliable narrators. I do like the unreliable narration, because it gives a story at least one extra layer of depth. Here is the story, and then here is the narrator's understanding of the events in the story. For example, an unreliable narrator might congratulate himself mentally on handling a conversation with his wife well, but a reader might read the dialogue and shake his head, thinking "you shouldn't have said that."
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17 Jun 2015 21:45 #204513 by Josh Look
Amazon really jacks the price up on Paizo's Planet Stories books for some reason...The Complete John Silver is available directly from Paizo at a fairly reasonable price.

paizo.com/products/btpy85jz?Who-Fears-th...Complete-Silver-John
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17 Jun 2015 22:06 #204515 by DukeofChutney
I actually like a Soldier of the Mist, and have its follow up in progress. As for Vance vs Wolfe. Vance is easier to read and more of a fun first approach, Wolfe is very intellectual. In The Book of the New Sun and a Soldier of the Mist he is studying the realities of translating ancient texts and whether you can really trust or understand the account as the writer intended. Vance, at least in the Dying Sun and the other bits I've read isn't trying to make some sort of grand observation, he's writing fantastic fiction. I'm not sure who i prefer.
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18 Jun 2015 02:11 #204516 by Frohike
I thought the Memento-style conceit of the Latro series was brilliant but I definitely had some detective fatigue/frustration during the last half of the story. The lacunae in the Book of the New Sun were just leading enough to allow for some pretty awesome conclusions to be deduced on a single read, but the stretch with the Talos "play" always feels like purgatory to me and Urth of the New Sun just wasn't written as well as the rest of the series; to the point where I wished I hadn't read it and tainted my experience. Gotta love Baldanders though (I always picture him as Andre the Giant).

I think my favorites of Wolfe are some of his older, shorter ones: The Fifth Head of Cerberus because of its weird, loosely but not-so-loosely interrelated novellas told from different vantages that still held together as a prismatic whole, and Peace because it initially reads like a surrealist gothic rambling that someone like Djuna Barnes might have written but contains a twist that, once perceived, mutates the book into something more evil and intentional.

I still think some of his work is hit-or-miss depending upon how much he decides to (or is a able to) formulate characters that can remain as points of identification despite narrative unreliability. I never got through the Long Sun series because Patera Silk was just too damned boring and I walked away from the Wizard Knight still thinking that Sir Able of the High Hart was mostly a little shit.

Anyway, enough rambling about Wolfe. Time to read some more Vance.

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18 Jun 2015 09:08 #204526 by Shellhead
I got through the Long Sun series just fine, only to stumble into one of Wolfe's worst endings. I literally do not understand how that last book ended. If Wolfe was a comedian, it was as though he finished his set by speaking in tongues and then dropping the mike. I ignored Wolfe for many years after that, until I read Home Fires a few years ago. It wasn't his best work, but it was much more accessible, and I have since read more of the modern Wolfe books and found them enjoyable.
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18 Jun 2015 09:18 #204528 by engineer Al

Josh Look wrote: Amazon really jacks the price up on Paizo's Planet Stories books for some reason...The Complete John Silver is available directly from Paizo at a fairly reasonable price.


Wow, Josh! Thanks for sharing this incredible resource. Not just Amazon, by the way. Prices were high on some other used book sites I tried. What a strange place the internet is. . .

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18 Jun 2015 09:31 #204530 by Mr. White

engineer Al wrote:

Josh Look wrote: Amazon really jacks the price up on Paizo's Planet Stories books for some reason...The Complete John Silver is available directly from Paizo at a fairly reasonable price.


Wow, Josh! Thanks for sharing this incredible resource. Not just Amazon, by the way. Prices were high on some other used book sites I tried. What a strange place the internet is. . .


I've never heard of Silver John, but now feel like I can't live without reading these stories. Thanks!
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