You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Thursday, March 15, 2012


(In a year or more of reading SF and horror, I have found a surprising amount
 of literature relating to authors --  bios, memoirs, and letters. WHO WRITES THIS STUFF will take an occasional look at what I've found.)

I have already had to return this book to the library because I had it through 
inter-library loan, and late fees for inter-library loan are death. So I am a bit self-conscious about saying bad things about it, without being able to make specific references. But here goes.

I am currently reading the Dying Earth cycle by Vance out of a commitment to exploring Golden Age SF and a challenge issued by the website Worlds Without End to read a book by one of the Grand Masters of Science Fiction each month for the year 2012. Such fantasy fiction is not to my taste, but I looked forward to Vance's memoirs to see where this stuff came from. Vance, however, states that he is not interested in writing a nuts and bolts book about SF writing. He wants to tell his personal story, and he is doing so via dictation. An operation for glaucoma almost blinded him in the 1980's. Since then he has worked with computers, early versions of voice recognition software, and for the memoirs diction. His wife dies during the dictation of the book, but at this writing he is still alive in his mid-nineties.

So it seems churlish to say the book is not very interesting. There are many biographical tidbits a reader might want to know more of, but perhaps it's the dictation method and a natural diffidence that keeps them from print. The memoirs turn into an overlong "What I Did on my Summer Vacation" report. There is little personal insight and essentially no relationship betweenf the life, which involved periodic adventurous world travel, and the fantastic fiction it produced. It is not surprising late in the book in what passes as some personal reflection to learn that Vance prefers cozy to hard-boiled crime fiction. It is not unlike the account he gives of his own life.

I am not, or at least not yet, a Vance fan. But they are legion. I wonder what they have made of this lukewarm memoir?


  1. I am a Vance fan and have been for about 6-7 years now. First off, I would not recommend starting with The Dying Earth. The writing is not a good indication of Vance's style as the stories in the book were written in the late 40's. I would say the best place to start is with one of his later series such as the Tschai books or even the Demon Princes books. Compared to TDE, the writing is cleaner, more direct, but still brilliant and instantly recognizable as Vance.

    As for the autobiography, I enjoyed it, but as I said, I am a fan. It reads like a set of reminisces instead of a proper autobiography. Vance has never been keen to discuss writing and I didn't expect the book to cover the subject in any great detail. I hope that you will try to read something else by him, as the two books you mentioned just don't represent the man's great style and wit. Oh, and humor! He has some really funny moments in his work. Anyway, enough of that and happy reading.

  2. I am surprised that I am enjoying the Dying Earth stories as much as I am. The first volume, where most of the stores are really short, impressed me by their swiftness and inventiveness. But I am not a fantasy reader and may get bogged down now that the stories are getting longer.

    If you are not already, you should join World's Without End. It is a good guide -- that you probably don't really need -- to sf, fantasy, and horror fiction, and you can write short or long reviews on what you are reading now or read decades ago. Or just read what others have to say.

    Thanks for the comments on This is Me. I have also read Jack Williamson's Wonder's Child and should write about it in the next week or so.