Jack Vance, an award-winning writer of mystery, fantasy, and science fiction, died this week at age 96. Hard science fiction magazine Locus reports that Vance died on May 26th in Oakland, California, where he lived for many years. His official fan site has confirmed the news, and fans of his work are invited to post a memorial message online. Vance is the author of dozens of books and many short stories, published under both his own name and multiple pseudonyms over six decades. He's best known for the Dying Earth series, a four-book cycle set in the far future, and his work has won the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards. In 1997, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America awarded him Grand Master status, and he was inducted into the Fantasy and Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2001.
Generally, Vance kept a low public profile, but in 2009, he published This Is Me, Jack Vance!, an autobiography that also won the Hugo Award for its year. Before establishing himself as a full-time writer in the 1970s, he spent a series of stints as a Merchant Marine, electrician, and gold dredge worker among other occupations. He enjoyed an over 60-year marriage to his wife Norma, who died in 2009; their son, John, became an engineer.
Vance's prolific writing never elevated him to the level of fame enjoyed by contemporaries like Ray Bradbury or Frank Herbert. But many in the science fiction community considered him a master of his chosen genres, and often criminally underrated. "The engineer in him is always on view," said author Michael Chabon in a 2009 New York Times retrospective. "They're always adventure stories, too, but they're also problem-solving puzzles. He sets up these what-ifs, like a syllogism. He has that logic-love like Poe, the Yankee engineering spirit, married to erudite love of pomp and pageantry. And he has an amazing ear and writes a beautiful sentence."