The Vance Treasury – You can help!

As I mention in the post below, Terry Dowling and I will soon be starting assembling the manuscript for The Jack Vance Treasury. The Treasury will collect between 175,000 words and 225,000 words of Jack’s best short fiction. It is our intention to assemble a completely definitive selection of Jack’s short fiction, a single volume argument for why he is an important and fascinating writer, the book that will always be the first stop for new Vance readers in years to come.

The reason I’m posting now is that you can help. If you’re an interested Vance reader we would welcome your input. Post your thoughts in the comments for this post, list what stories should be included, what we might be overlooking, and what should be dropped.

While we are working on the Jack Vance Treasury, we welcome any comments from Vance’s readers. Our working list is:

  1. A Bagful of Dreams
  2. Assault on a City
  3. Coup de Grace
  4. Gift of Gab
  5. Green Magic
  6. Guyal of Sfere
  7. Liane the Wayfarer
  8. Morreion
  9. Noise
  10. Rumfuddle
  11. Sail
  12. Shape-Up
  13. The Dragon Masters
  14. The Kokod Warriors
  15. The Last Castle
  16. The Man from Zodiac
  17. The Men Return
  18. The Miracle Workers
  19. The Mitr
  20. The Moon Moth
  21. The Narrow Land
  22. The New Prime
  23. The Seventeen Virgins
  24. The Sorcerer Pharesm
  25. When the Five Moons Rise

I’d add a quick thanks to all the good folks at the VIE, whose hard work digitising texts are making our job much easier.

Note: I managed to delete this post earlier. This is a quick re-creation of it. I’ll try to re-do it properly late.

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24 Comments

  1. Jonathan, I think the list is excellent, really. I’d add “Green Magic” to the “absolutley indispensable” category.

    The only two stories that immediately occur to me as potential replacements for any on the list are “The Gift of Gab” and “The Potters of Firsk”, both somewhat uncharacteristic Astounding pieces. Also, if you wanted an early pulpy long Vance piece that I think is quite good of its kind but not really Vance at the top of his form, I have a fondness for “New Bodies for Old” aka “Chateau D’If”.


    Rich

  2. An excellent idea, and an excellent list. That said, I would not include ‘When Hesperus Falls’ or ‘When Five Moons’ rise, which are decent but not Jack’s best work. ‘Chateau d’If’ would be a much better choice. I think ‘Coup de Grace’ would be a better Ridolph inclusion than ‘Kokod Warriors’, although perhaps both merit inclusion. ‘Flutic’ and ‘The Murthe’ both merit serious consideration.

    Utterly certain inclusions should be expanded to comprehend ‘Green Magic’,’The Miracle Workers’ and ‘Sail 25’.

    ~Tim

  3. While I’m definitely going to be reading them over the next few weeks, I’m beginning to question whether we’ll use a Ridoplh story at all. I’m sure I heard somewhere that Vance himself didn’t consider them to be amongst his best work. I will look at “The Murthe” again, but I remember “Flutic” as very minor indeed, really an opening to a tale, rather than a stand-alone in its own right.

    As to your inclusions: the consensus certainly supports that view. I’d be surprised not to see them in the final book.

  4. Leaving out ‘The Gift of Gab’ would be criminal negligence if you are trying to represent Jack Vances “best” work.

  5. Mike – Your post sent me back to review the list I’d posted. It’s an early one we sent to the publisher, and it omits several stories, including “Gift of the Gab”. I’ve posted a revised list.

  6. Dear Jonathan,

    I applaud any publication of Vance, particularly when it uses VIE texts, so I whole hardtedly welcome your Vance Treasury. Your proposed selection, as you suggest, brings us back to our previous exchange. In particular your list does not include ‘Dodkin’s Job’; it prefers the Rhialto story ‘Morreion, to ‘The Murthe’, and the Cugel episodes ‘The Seventeen Virgins’, ‘The Sorcerer Pharesm’ and ‘A Bagful of Dreams’ to ‘Flutic’. I applaud your inclusion of ‘Assault on a City’ since it would seem to be one of Vance’s most ‘reactionary’ works, but I do not regard it as one of his first rank stories. Again, it is my opinion that all Vance is good, but since the vocation of The Vance Treasury is ‘a completely definitive selection of Jack’s short fiction, a single volume argument for why he is an important and fascinating writer, the book that will always be the first stop for new Vance readers in years to come’, and since you invite comments, I will make the following comments and suggestions.
    Your proposition, which does not seem well ballanced, breaks down as follows:

    2 Stories from Mazirian The Magician:
    Liane the Wayfarer
    Guyal of Sfere

    3 Cugel stories:
    The Sorcerer Pharesm
    The Seventeen Virgins
    A Bagful of Dreams

    1 Rhialto story:
    Morreion

    2 Magnus Ridolph stories:
    Coup de Grace
    The Kokod Warriors

    The contents of VIE volume #9:
    The Miracle Workers
    The Dragon Masters
    The Last Castle

    4 famous classics:
    The Moon Moth
    Green Magic
    The Men Return
    Sail 25

    6 sci-fi novellas:
    Gift of Gab
    The Narrow Land
    Shape-Up
    The Man from Zodiac
    Rumfuddle
    Assault on a City

    4 shorter early stories:
    Noise
    The Mitr
    The New Prime
    When the Five Moons Rise
    _____

    My comments and suggestions:

    ‘Guyal of Sfere’, which I think is the best Mazirian story, is certainly enough from this early work for a one volume treasury; I would drop ‘Liane the Wayfarer’, which is in any case a proto-Cugel story.
    All the Cugel stories are marvels, and all have the same trouble ‘standing alone’ as ‘Flutic’, which is my personal favorite, but with Cugel it is impossible to make a wrong choice or to have too much. Still, a single volume does not permit an infinity of choices. I would limit myself to one each from the 2 Cugel books.
    Rhialto is on a level with Cugel, and ‘Morreion’ is excellent but, at least to me, this story from 1970 is not on the same level as ‘The Murthe’, from 1979, or ‘Fader’s Waft’ from 78. Since you regard the former as politically dubious, why not at least prefer ‘Fader’s Waft’?
    ‘Coup de Grace’, and ‘The Kokod Warriors’ are the two late-great Ridolph stories, but it seems to me that, for a one volume treasury, ‘Coup de Grace’ would be sufficient or, if one wants to get some of Vance’s rare aliens in there, to prefer The Kokod Warriors’, but not both in such a volume.
    As for ‘The Miracle Workers’, ‘The Dragon Masters’ and ‘The Last Castle’, these three greats are, in essence, three versions of the same story, so that one of them would cover this aspect of Vance. ‘The Last Castle’ is probably the best choice.
    ‘The Moon Moth’, ‘Green Magic’ and ‘The Men Return are all musts for a treasury, but ‘Sail 25’, for all its popularity, including with the author himself, seems to me not quite up to the level of the others, and I would not include it.
    ‘The Gift of Gab’ is greatly enjoyable story in its evocation of life on pelagic mining barges, but it is one of those times when Vance is a bit more science-fictiony than usual. ‘The Sub-standard Sardines’ for example, handles the same theme (teaching fish to talk) more successfully. I would not include it. ‘The Narrow Land’ is non-typical Vance, and like ‘Gift of Gab’ leans a bit heavily on scientific concepts. Personally I would not regard it as essential Vance. Assault on a City’ is excellent but I do not rate it in the very first rank.
    ‘Shape-Up’ and ‘The Man from Zodiac’ are, again, very similar stories, a series in which Château d’If also fits. Of these ‘The Man from Zodiac’, though not absolutely first rate, is the best, and a nice example of a phase of Vance’s inspiration.
    ‘Rumfuddle’, for all its virtues, again leans on science fiction concepts, and the ‘clever’ ending is perhaps more clever than is good for it. I do not rate it as prime Vance.
    ‘Noise’, ‘The Mitr’, ‘The New Prime’, and ‘When the Five Moons Rise’, all have nice things, but despite Vance’s own affection for ‘The New Prime’, I, personally, do not rate any of these stories as absolutely first rate Vance. The melancholy atmospheres of ‘Noise’, ‘The Mitr’, and ‘When the Five Moons Rise’ is as well expressed in ‘Guyal of Sfere’ or other works. It would not be necessary to have more than one of these stories, in which case ‘Noise’ is perhaps the best choice.
    With the suggested elliminations you would then have the room for the first rate novella, ‘The Houses of Iszm’, and perhaps 2 shorter novels, such as ‘Emphyrio’ and ‘Maske:Thaery’, which would give something for people really to sink their teeth into. And among shorter works I strongly recommend ‘Ullward’s Retreat’, (also one of Vance’s own favorites) and the amazingly neglected ‘Sulwin’s Planet’, both of which are among Vance’s very strongest shorter works. ‘Dodkin’s Job’, despite your opinion that it is ‘obvious and heavy handed’, seems to me one of Vances best works, a story that cannot be overpassed. Finally, among short comic works, I am a fan of ‘Meet Miss Universe’, which uses the same futurist corporate setting featured in such stories as ‘Shape-up’, and though sheer fluff, is beautifully constructed and delightful.
    So my recommendations, given in chronologcal order by composition (per the VIE chronological list in volume #44), with second choices between brackets, are:

    Guyal of Sfere
    (Meet Miss Universe)
    The Men Return
    Green Magic
    Coup de Grace (or The Kokod Warriors)
    (The Man from Zodiac)
    Ullward’s Retreat
    Dodkin’s Job
    The Moon Moth
    Sulwin’s Planet
    The Sorcerer Pharesm
    The Last Castle
    Emphyrio
    Maske:Thaery
    Fader’s Waft
    The Seventeen Virgins

    Paul (Rhoads)

  7. Second on “Green Magic” as a must-be-included title. It seems to be a more personal story than much of Vance’s oeuvre.

  8. I would certainly purchase such a book – and I would like to suggest “The Secret” for inclusion – a very different Vance story, beautifully written.

  9. Paul: Thank you for your interesting comments. I’ll certainly keep them in mind while working on the book. I will say, I can’t see omitting “The Dragon Masters”. I will stress that, for me, this book has two purposes. To gather Vance’s best work in a single volume, and to be the place where new readers start. So, I’m looking for the best and most accessible stories possible.

  10. I struggle to see the affection for ‘Dodkin’s Job’. It’s very dated. We’re looking for stories that seem timeless. The point is not to create a historical record, but to create a vital, living book. That said, I will definitely re-read it and Terry and I will definitely seriously consider it for inclusion.

  11. Jonathan,

    If you like ‘The Dragon Masters’ so much (who would disagree?), I can only suggest you therefore do not include ‘The Miracle Workers’ or ‘The Last Castle’, which are such similar works in setting, tone, theme and treatment, and together would deprive you of space to include, for example, a wonder such as ‘The Blue World’ or even a first rate masterpiece like ‘Maske:Thaery’ or ‘The Magnificent Showboats’.
    I would also be interested to hear on what basis you regard ‘Dodkin’s Job’ as ‘dated’. To me this story seems like one of Vance’s most ‘timeless’, or certanly one that is more and more pertinent with each passing year. It’s point is that, in a technocracy, the real influence is exerted from below. I adressed this matter in Extant #12, where I quote a passage from a book called ‘Representative Bureaucracy’:

    “The flow of work within the hierarchy is both upwards and downwards. Some matters, such as parliamentary questions or occational suggestions for new legislation, reach the department through the Minister. Others originate in the lower reaches of the hierarchy, often in the course of contact with members of the public, and make their way upward. Perhaps, if the
    question involved is of sufficient importance it may even come to the attention of the Permanent Secretary or the Minister.
    But except in the case of matters of major policy or questions of unusual importance, the actual decisions will be made and action take lower down…Minutes and memoranda pass up and down the line until by a selective process they reach their
    proper level and are disposed of…there is a sense in which the higher administrative officers and particularly the ministers are
    in the hands of subordinate officials.
    The system, obviously, offers exceptional opportunities for sabotage…”

    Paul

  12. I agree that “The Last Castle” and “The Dragon Masters” are in many ways similar stories: still, they are quite different as well, and I’d still include both.

    Good as Maske: Thaery and Emphyrio are (and they may be my two favorite standalone Vance novels), they are novels, and would take up a disproportionate amount of space in my view.

    Also I think the undeniable fact that “The Gift of Gab” is “more science-fictiony” than usual for Vance should not be regarded as a disqualification but as a point in its favour, as showing his range. (And I cannot agree that “The Sub-Standard Sardines” is better!)

  13. Rich,

    just to make my point clear: if a volume is to be an introduction to Vance, and since that volume must be limited is size, it seems to me logical to use that limited space to showcase the breath of Vance’s inspiration. I myself am the Editor in Chief of the Vance Integral Edition, and as such I have presided over the publication of the totality of Vance’s work, all of which I regard as wonderful, so it implies no denigration of individual choices if I suggest that, in my view, they are not the best choices for an introductory ‘treasury’. It is in that logic that I suggest ‘Last Castle’, or ‘Dragon Masters’, or ‘Miracle Workers’, but not more than one of these three.
    My point about ‘Gift of Gab’ is that the ‘gadget’ aspect of the story (Vance’s own term) is more promenant than is good for the story. In this sort of opinion I follow the author’s own view–though, of course, what really counts is what his readers–of whom I am one–think. So I am by no means saying the story is not wonderful. Personally I love it, and I think it has a special charm all its own. But its substance (scenes of interplanetary economics and a probe into non-human intellegence) is, it seems to me, is handeled better in other stories, such as ‘The Substandard Sardines’ or ‘The Houses of Iszm’, because, in these stories, the gadget aspect is better integrated. I do not say that ‘Substandard Sardines’ is ‘better’ than ‘Gift of Gab’–though I think it is a wonderful example of Vance’s sci-fi/mystery ‘fluff’ mode; my point is that the business of teaching fish to talk, which occurs in both stories, is better handled in the former. Both go into technical details about it, and it is a concept amusing in itself, but, at least in my opinion, in the latter it ends up draging on the story a bit, whereas in the former it remains a lively and fully integrated aspect.
    As for including a short novel; since the volume hopes to be an introduction, and since Vance’s shorter work is confined to his early period, with a few exceptions in the middle period, and since the proposed treasury is to be over 400 pages long, it seems to me the only way to give an introductory reader a fuller idea of Vance would be to include one of the middle period novels. The early work, wonderful as it is, is surpassed by the mature work.

    Paul

  14. Paul: We’re not particularly focussing on the breadth of Vance’s inspiration. That’s a laudable goal, but our is to assemble the stories that are the best today. If that means assembling a book that’s all SF or all fantasy or all Cugel the Clever stories, then so be it. The prime concern is that this be the BEST possible book for the new/modern reader. For that reason, we’re willing to look to include “Last Castle”, “Dragon Master”, and “Miracle Workers”, if they are the best. We’re not concerned whether we represent gadget stories or any other kind of story, especially, though we may. In terms of story length, it’s outside our intention or indeed our remit to include a novel (or pretty much anything more than 40k). I think we’re going to struggle to get everything we want to into a mere 175,000 words or so. Getting an entire novel – like Emphyrio at 70k or Mask: Thaery at 62k sees pretty much impossible. I am curious though: if you set aside all considerations of balance, all ideas of representing the full range of Vance’s palette, which do you think are the best pieces of short fiction, simply on their own merit? – Jonathan

  15. Jonathan,

    I don’t think wanting ‘the best’ means too much in this context, since most of Vance’s texts are first rate, and one can only distinguish between most of them (with a tiny handfull of exceptions) with the catagories ‘excellent’, ‘super excelent’ and ‘super-duper excellent’. So, in my view, you can’t really go wrong on that score, and likewise the question of what will appeal to ‘todays’ reader–it comes down to a matter of taste. In Vance, however, there is a wide variety of moods and themes, so it seems to me that for a volume which is to be ‘the place where new readers start’, the real choices are less about quality than about this wide appeal, which is, in itself, one of the appealing aspects of Vance; his richness. The people who enjoy Vance for what he is savor this breadth for its own sake, so to speak–or rather what this breadth bring to each work, something not immidiatly apparant in any individual story. There are some readers, however–bless them all–who love his dark fantasy side, or others who prefer his gadget side, or still others who prefer his comic side. Each will propose a different list of ‘Vance’s best’ and each list will probably be, from my own sort of point of view, as good as the other in terms of shere quality.
    Furthermore the shorter works are almost all confined to the early period, which is not where the ‘very best’ work is. Furthermore, if you do not insist on filling up a 225,000 word space with what I caracature as repetitions of the same wonderful thing, you would certainly have room for a 60,000 word novel or two. This would still leave you with 100,000 words for storter works, which is amply sufficient, it seems to me, for the ‘very best’ ones, a quick list of which would be:

    The Men Return
    Dodkin’s Job
    The Moon Moth
    Green Magic
    Sulwin’s Planet

    These, in my opinion, the ‘simply best’ of Vance’s stort stories.

    The ‘simply best’ novellas, again in my opinion, would be:

    The Houses of Iszm
    The Dragon Masters (or replace with ‘Miracle Workers’ or ‘Last Castle’)

    If you want some of the early sci-fi novellas, I think both ‘Noplegarth’ and ‘The Son of the Tree’ are rapturously wonderful, but I could not prefer them to almost any middle period shorter novel and, if I were editor of your treasury (which I am not; I am, with the help of Tim Stretton, the editor of the totality of Vance’s work!) I would not.
    As for Cugel and Rhialto, as I say, you can’t have too much, but why have too much in an introductory volume at the expence of other flavors? In my opinion the ‘simply best’ in these catagories are :

    Flutic
    The Murthe

    But, again, any other choices would have my approbation; still, if you ask my opinion of ‘the best’, there it is, and if you want my reasons in detail, I am willing to give them. Basicly I think these two episodes are perfections, and by that slim margin stand above the rest.

    As for ‘early stories’, I think the best include ‘Kokod Warrios’ and ‘Coup de Grace’, but why have two Ridolph stories? Why serve chocklate cake only, great as it is, when you have a vanilla cake that is just as good? Other most excellent early stories, in my opinion, include:

    Meet Miss Universe
    The World Between

    But again, these early stories, as wonderful as they are, cannot be compaired to such 50-60k texts as ‘The Blue World’, ‘The Domaines of Koryphon’, ‘Marune’, ‘The Dogtown Tourist Agency’ (which is a novella, probably 30k) or ‘Maske:Thaery’.

    Paul

  16. I must say I disagree that “The Houses of Iszm”, “Son of the Tree”, and “Nopalgarth” are among Vance’s best long stories. The first two are very early, and to be honest I prefer “Chateau D’If” and even “Planet of The Damned” aka “Slaves of the Klau” from the same period. (And I have long speculated that “Nopalgarth” might be similarly early — it seems uncharacteristic of Vance’s 60s work.)

    Indeed, Paul, your comment implies that “Nopalgarth” is indeed early. Can you amplify?

    I agree that the late, elaborated, mature, Vance work is usually longer, indeed novel length. But I think Jonathan’s lists amply demonstrate that their is sufficient short and medium length stuff to more than fill a volume.

    I am also interested in details on the differences between the two versions of “Guyal of Sfere”. I hadn’t known that there were different versions!

    Thanks,
    Rich

  17. Son of the Tree is from from 1950.
    Houses of Iszm is from 1953.
    Nopalgarth is from 1964.
    Chateau d’If is from 1949.
    These are the years they were written, not first published.
    I do not claim that Vance

  18. (post iterupted)

    I do not claim that Vance’s early work is bad. I think it is wonderful. Nor do I claim that because one story is earlier than another it is better. My point is that, generally speaking, the later work is even stronger than the earlier, and that, in the context of an ‘introductory treasury’ volume, as I would interpret that goal, and also because the shorter works tend to be consintrated in the early period, the problem is ticklish.
    I would solve it by using two prinsipals: avoiding duplication of theme/style/mode, and trying to get as much later work is as possible into the volume–without prejudice to the best early work.
    ‘Gold and Iron’, by the way, is from 1952.

    Obviously people prefer different stories. To me ‘Son of the Tree’ and The ‘Houses of Iszm’ are among my favorites of the novellas. If I had to choose, I prefer them to, say, ‘Rumfuddle’, even though that story is from 1972, because it is, in my view, too much of a ‘gadget’ story to be in the top rank. This is not because it is based on a concept, but because the story, unlike others, does not as successfully, in my view, integrate and transcend the concept. Nopalgarth is likewize something of a ‘concept’ story, but I find it effective, and have always had a special affection for it.
    Obviously one can fill a 200k word volume with strong short work from the early period, but my understanding of the goal of the ‘Vance Treasury’ editors is that they want to make a one volume case for why Vance is such as great writer, and also that the volume serve as a introduction to Vance for new readers. At the VIE we tried to do something similar with our so called ‘Gift Volume’ (“Coup de Grace and other stories”), but that was a slim volume. It’s contents were:

    Alfred’s Ark
    The Moon Moth
    Coup de Grace
    Flutic
    Dodkin’s Job
    Green Magic
    The Murth

    Alfred’s ark is only 10 (VIE) pages long. I think its first rate, and it is one of Vance’s own favorites, but it does not get much attention, almost certainly because it is not a science fiction story. However it is a window on a side of Vance that is not too apparant, namely that he published 14 (count them!) mysteries. These books are excellent, even if they do not have an immidiate appeal to a ‘science fiction reader’, and they are by no means the work of another artist. ‘Bad Ronald’, an incredible book in itself, is obviously the precursor to the Demon Princes, just as Paul Gunter, of “House on Lily Street”. Ronald, like Kokor Hekkus and Howard Alan Treesong, creates a mythical world, and Paul Gunter–again like Treesong–writes a personal credo. These books, I emphasise, are not merely interesting in how they forshadow other things, but are compelling in themselves, just as the Bain stories are probably among Vance’s most atmospheric.
    My feeling is that many more people could be profiting from Vance than currently do because interest in him seems crystalized upon certain science fiction and fantasy aspects. I have nothing against these aspects as such, I just see Vance in what I believe is a larger way.
    But obviously the ‘Vance Treasury’ is not going to include any of the mysteries, and probably not ‘Alfred’s Ark’ either. If I were one of its editors, however, I would at least try to include one of the storter middle period novels (my vote goes to ‘The Domains of Koryphon’) which is not even half again as long as ‘The Dragon Masters’ (30k and 50k). Also, again in my opinion ‘The Domains of Koryphon’ is a distictly superior work to ‘The Dragon Masters’–though no one should tax me with not loving the latter. I have not only illustrated it in detail (see the VIE version of the story), I am also engaged in making a computer game based on it. However. I also think ‘The Blue World’ (another ‘lost world’ story) or ‘Magnificent Showboats’ or ‘Emphyrio’ or ‘Maske:Theary’ are superior to ‘The Dragon Masters’.
    And since the Vance Treasury editors are working with 200+k words…

    Paul

  19. Side note to Rich Horton:

    I too had my suspicions that Nopalgarth might have been an older unsold manuscript, dusted off to fill out an Ace Double. But I asked Vance about this directly, and while he didn’t rate the story highly, he did say he wrote it at the time.

  20. I for one am very fond indeed of the Sheriff Joe Bain mysteries — absolutely delightful stuff. It’s a damn shame he couldn’t continue the series. They are among my favorite Vance stories. For one thing, they seem to evoke that place, presumably a version of Vance’s own home, extremely well.

    David — thanks for the note about Nopalgarth.

  21. One favourite of mine – an early (1951) short from Galaxy, is ‘Winner Lose All’, which has a nice, other-worldly quality, unusual in that it’s not strictly a ‘story’ in the normal sense. Worth considering, I think!

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