Anyone who has played D&D has probably heard of Jack Vance. His books influenced how spell-casting works in Dungeons and Dragons. He, and other authors of his time, helped to shape how Gygax and others viewed fantasy in the early years of our hobby (not to mention millions that have joined since).
I read quite a bit, but haven’t really made much of a dent in the “Appendix N” list of books. Many of those authors are becoming difficult to find, and I always seem to have a stack of other books to read anyway, so I just haven’t gotten around to many of them.
I thought it was important to read some of Jack Vance’s work though. I have been told repeatedly, since the 70s, that he was one of the most influential writers on RPGs. I started with “The Dying Earth”. I couldn’t find the second book in the series right away so I read “The Dragon Masters” next. During that time, I managed to locate “The Eyes of the Overworld” (the 2nd book in the Dying Earth series) and just finished it last night.
Out of all the books he’s written, three is just the tip of the iceberg. But, as the Dying Earth series is his defining creation, I think I’ve read enough to form an opinion: he just doesn’t live up to the hype.
Don’t get me wrong. I think it is worthwhile reading his books. He is amazingly creative and has a very unique outlook, allowing him to invent aspects of his stories that are entirely new and different. This is one of the things I read fantasy stories for, in order to find bits and pieces that I can steal and use in my own game. But as a writer, he just doesn’t do it for me.
I remember reading one of Stephen King’s books years ago. I had been riveted to the story, turning page after page as fast as I could. After tearing through 30 or so pages, I put the book down to go get a glass of water. While walking to the kitchen I thought back and realized that during those 30 or so pages, almost nothing happened. There was no action. Nothing happened that moved the plot forward. We weren’t given any information that was vital to the story. Really, it was an entire chapter that could have easily been removed from the book and no one would have noticed. But when I was reading it, I was completely lost in the story. Now that is the sign of really good writing.
That’s what I found lacking in Jack Vance’s stories. I was bored. He presented some amazing ideas, but he did so in a manner that completely failed to grab my attention. I will continue to read his other books, as they do provide tantalizing tidbits, but I must say that after years of anticipation, I was sorely disappointed.