Greeted with both cheers and censure, this phalanx of broadsides, occasional pieces, screeds and tracts was written between 2000 and 2007, and originally published in some of the sixty three issues of Cosmopolis and twenty three issues of Extant—the Vance Integral Edition project’s monthly electronic magazines (on line at integralarchive.org)—as well as Arthur Cunningham’s Jack Vance: Critical Appreciations and a Bibliography (The British Library, 2000) and as preface to The Dragon Masters and The Languages of Pao (VIE, 2002). Stripped of much that is topical and project specific, they are here given a more incisive and permanent form. Among texts not included are Visual Jazz (which demands color reproductions) and—to list some of the catchier titles—Normal Man and Exotic Woman, Art is Fantasy, A Syncretic Phylology of the Vancian Locale and The Vancian Delights of Herodotus.
It was thanks to Norma Vance that my first Vance essay, Winged Being Plucking Fruit from the Tree of Life, was published by Arthur Cunningham. From its forty perfervid pages I have plucked the central node which, as The Plain of Standing Stones, is coda to this volume. Most of the texts however are presented in chronological order1, with shifts to help articulate the progress of my preoccupations.
Several early Cosmopolis writings were attempts to distance Vance from a label which obscures his universal appeal. They are not included though they are the only ones where his literary influences, L. Frank Baum and Wodehouse in particular, are treated. The essays dealing with science fiction are reworked from warmups (published in Cosmopolis 22 and 39) for the introduction to The Languages of Pao and The Dragon Masters, which, in a form revised from Extant 17—itself a revision of the original—opens this collection. The label problem, attacked from another angle in What Kind of Artist is Jack Vance, has lost none of its pertinence but is not a fundamentally artistic question.
Through reaction to other Vance commentary—which then as now is so rare that any scrap is precious—I was led first to the Cadwal article with its political concerns, and then, bit by bit, to philosophical and artistic issues. A great deal more might be said—important stories, and issues crucial to Vance as artist are barely mentioned—but I flatter myself that a way of proceeding and some useful ideas emerge.
With regard to my experience as EditorinChief of the VIE I will quote Machiavelli: How dangerous a thing it is to make oneself the head of a new thing which concerns many people, and how di£cult it is to manage it and to bring it to its consummation, would be too large and too exalted a matter to discuss. Another exalted matter is my debt of gratitude to those VIE allies without whose help this volume would not be possible—to say nothing of ‘the quickness of their fast speed’ by which so much was accomplished in January and February of 2009. A company of paladins already famous in the annals of the VIE, they are: Charles King, Bob Luckin, Greg Hansen, Thomas Rydbeck, the cool and clever Brian Gharst, Chris Corley, and that miraculous champion Marcel van Genderen. For an exceptional contribution I must particularly thank author Tim Stretton—whose world can be explored at timstretton.blogspot.com. Their many thoughtful suggestions contribute in no small measure to what clarity and interest these writings may have—to say nothing of freedom from an absolutely embarrassing mass of typos. Those which remain (which will, I fear, be copious enough) must be set upon my own ‘scroll of honors’ in blotches of purple ink. Don’t let them tell you, Children, that learning to spell and write correctly is without importance! Clothes make the man, and that’s that. Even my own father—a bohemian if there ever was one, and to whom I owe my discovery of Vance—admits that if he knew me from my letters only (prior to the catastrophe of the computer age I was an epistolary addict) he would think I was a “complete idiot”—an opinion neither exclusively familial nor based on spelling alone. All of which shows how friends are not merely useful; like commentary on the work of Jack Vance they are precious, and rare.
I am also most grateful to VIE Effectuator Bob Lacovara of Afton House, and Stefania—the VIE “girlinMilan”, incomparable blackhaired daughter of il Comandante Zacco—as well as my colleague Joel Anderson, VIE Master Composer, for his Overworld eye which has squinted me along the rocky rim—to say nothing of Koen Vyverman and Menno van der Leden for TOTALITY—the ‘Vance Vocabulary Search Tool’, a unique post-VIE web resource.
To all this loyalty and generosity I owe not only this book but the essays themselves.
Paul Rhoads, March 2009, La Goilarderie, France