There are many constants to the fiction of Jack Vance. Imaginative and unpredictable plotting, dialogue of the humorously esoteric, and travel of the most exotic, there is a certain, indefinable joie de vivre that seems to perpetually bubble just below the surface of his stories and novels. Having now read Vance’s (rather short) autobiography This Is Me, Jack Vance! (2009), the reason becomes imminently clear.
A mix of light biography and travelogue, Vance’s record of himself is filled with the people, places, and accomplishments most prominent to his mind—what he calls in the introduction “a ramble across the landscape that has been my life.” From the opening sentence “I was born in San Francisco…” to the closing, a dedication to his wife, Vance skips the mundane details to recount the events and experiences that cling closest to memory, and the people who shared those times with him. Thus despite his life covering nearly the entirety of the 20th century, almost no world history is contextualized, everything kept personally salient.
And it’s an enormously envious life. Seaman, carpenter, potter, musician, Hollwood script writer, journalist, boatman, world traveler, jack of all trades, and of course, science fiction and fantasy writer, This Is Me, Jack Vance! is the account of a man who has lived life to the fullest, who has seen the world, and who is ready to spend the rest of his days in peace and relaxation. Where some biographies succeed on the inherent drama (e.g. Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr.), Vance’s is a refreshing break. It is the account of happiness and a life well-lived, of never waiting for something to happen, but making it happen; of times with friends; of seeing the unique places of the world; and meeting some of its esoteric inhabitants; of loving your wife and children, building your own home, and being fully satisfied for what you have.
Certainly some readers will be disappointed that Vance does not give away any of his trade secrets, or go into detail about any of the books he writes. That is, after all, the reason 99% of people know Vance. Though it’s obvious in his fiction that Vance relished the process of writing, it seems apparent in the autobiography that it was more a means to a way—a special talent that could bring him the things he wanted, rather than a need to feed or trophy to beat his chest about. Considering how unique Vance’s oeuvre is, this is saying something.
Written around the age 92, it is perhaps unavoidable that This Is Me, Jack Vance! possesses the tone of an elderly man—a man proud, yet at the same time trying to capture life before the memories disappear and time runs out. Sounding more like a memoir than pure autobiography, indeed it is a ramble—and a pleasantly envious one at that. If more people possessed the spirit and vigor of Vance (that title!), the world would be an amazingly better place. Hat’s off to you, Jack.