This is Me, Jack Vance!, by Jack Vance

Mr. Vance is at least self-aware enough to put “Or more properly, hospital This is I!” on the title page, sale so I feel better about the book and him as a person. Apparently he’s really well-known and has been publishing books and short stories for about sixty years; despite his prolific output, occasional convention appearances, and friendships with other major writers (Poul Anderson, Frank Herbert), his personal life is apparently rather unknown. However, he has written in three major genres (science fiction, fantasy, and mystery) and has won two Hugos, a Nebula, a Jupiter Award, an Edgar (mystery equivalent of a Hugo), and two World Fantasy awards. In addition to that, he’s a SFWA Grandmaster.

This isn’t a novel, actually — it’s an autobiography. It’s 208 pages of Jack Vance being relatively candid and actually talking about his entire life. It will be published by Subterranean Press later this year. He had the fortune to live during a very interesting time — he was born in 1916 — and has traveled to an insane amount of places. In some ways, the book is sort of a travelogue. It’s relatively chronological — it starts at the beginning and ends with him describing his current situation — but doesn’t necessarily follow every event in order. He rambles a bit, and digresses often, but it’s probably the only source for so much of the information one might want to know about Mr. Vance.

As I said, he was born in 1916, to a family with money who was in the high society of San Francisco at the time. However, things happened, and by the time the Great Depression hit, the family was destitute. His mother ended up working at various jobs, especially after his parents divorced, to support herself and the five children (of which Jack was in the middle). Jack himself put off starting any sort of college for years because he couldn’t afford it, and he needed to work to send money to his mother. However, he did attend community college briefly in Porterville, CA (where, incidentally, my mother-in-law got her associate’s degree in dental assisting) and then, some years later, spent a year or two at the University of California, Berkeley.

After a stint in the Navy — actually, I think one in the Navy and one in the merchant marines — he met and married his wife, Norma, who was eleven years his junior. He kept working at odd jobs, but eventually started publishing enough fiction that he could live off that money. She was apparently enormously helpful in this pursuit, and not only could they live off the money, but they could afford, every five years or so, to travel around the world and stay for months at a time. (I think Mr. Vance is one of the more well-off science fiction writers.) They set up semi-permanent residence in Oakland, and built a house there — it took something like 30 years to be completed to their specifications.

I feel like I’m writing a report on Mr. Vance, but it’s a ninety-something-year-old man chatting about his life. What else can I do? He’s a very engaging memoir-ist, I’ll give him that, and he’s definitely had a varied and full life. His list of Weird Writer Jobs probably tops most people — he tried to pass himself off as a welder once, he worked as a carpenter for a while, and he worked in a ketchup-making plant. He’s spent some time in nearly every country I can think of (except Timbuktu), and at one point he was in possession of a VW Bug with a butterfly painted on its rear end. While this isn’t exactly a volume that I think everyone must snap up and read, it’s quite enjoyable and if one’s a big fan of Mr. Vance’s works, I’d say it’s worth a Sunday afternoon. 4/5 stars

2 thoughts on “This is Me, Jack Vance!, by Jack Vance”

  1. Thank you for the brief review of a book which will no doubt be of interest mainly to Jack’s many devoted fans (of whom I am one).

    Allow me to make a correction to one supposition made here. Jack Vance is decidedly NOT one of the more “well-off science fiction writers” (a term he deplores). In actual fact, despite being lauded and honored as our one remaining Grand Master of Speculative Fiction of his generation (at minimum), he has never been as popular or as remunerated as he deserves.
    He has been successful enough, and the proof of that is that he kept doing it, giving us a body of work that will stand the test of time. And that is something that can be said of hardly any other “science fiction” writers of his or any later generation.

  2. Thank you for reading my review! I usually use ‘speculative fiction’ for anyone who crosses the lines between fantasy, sf, and horror; I don’t know why I didn’t, in that case.

    I can only compare Mr. Vance’s experience to that of my grandparents, who are roughly the same age (my paternal grandfather was born in 1923), and my grandfather never, ever had anywhere near enough money to buy or build multiple houses, take several-month-long vacations in Tahiti or other exotic locations, or even send his children to college — and he was a schoolteacher. So, in my experience, Mr. Vance displays the trappings of a certain amount of money — which is significantly more than the average American, even in 1950.

    Given, I’m certain he doesn’t have as much money as Spielberg, or even the Westerfield-Larbalestier pair, and I’m also certain that he deserves more, but claiming that he isn’t actually ‘well-off’ is an exaggeration.

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