Playing in another author’s sandbox

Matthew Hughes

The universes created by legendary science fiction author Jack Vance are being preserved in a new series, and this award-winning author was enlisted to write one of the tribute stories.

by Matthew Hughes

A few years ago, I visited a public library in a small town on Vancouver Island. As I walked in, I saw a display of new arrivals. One of them was a continuation of Robert B. Parker’s series about two laconic gunfighters roaming the Old West and hiring out as lawmen.

I had already read three or four of the series, which featured Parker’s brilliant minimalist character creation and his incomparable skills with dialogue. I immediately snapped up the new book.

Cut to later in the day. I’m sitting comfortably in the well-appointed house where I’m housesitting, the daily horse-tending chores finished (mostly involving shovel and hay). I open up the Parker book and begin to read. I’m several pages in when I experience the reading equivalent of taking a mouthful of a favorite beer and finding the taste is … not right. Flat. Insipid.

I think, “Jeez, has Parker started to lose it?”

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I close the book and it’s only then that I realize the large-type rendition of his name at the top of the front cover is followed by an apostrophe and an ess.

Down at the bottom is another name: the guy who actually wrote the book.

Turns out Parker was dead, but his publisher, and presumably his estate, didn’t want to forego the revenue stream he had been generating for them for so many years. So they hired a guy to take his characters and his situations and run with them.

A kind of stumbling, clumsy run, where Parker had loped like a carefree gazelle.

There’s a lot of that sort of thing happening in corporate publishing today, where a book is only a commodity produced to make money for the shareholders.

I’m several pages in when I experience the reading equivalent of taking a mouthful of a favorite beer and finding the taste is … not right.

Well, that’s not what’s happening with the legacy of Jack Vance.

Jack’s son, John, has started up a small press with Koen Vyverman. They began by publishing e-book and paperback editions of the complete Vance oeuvre, using the texts generated by hundreds of volunteers around the world for the Vance Integral Edition.

The reason: because Jack Vance was a unique voice in science fiction and fantasy. If you want my opinion, and that of many others, that unique voice was one of genius. It also had a profound and lasting effect on scads of genre authors over the decades he was publishing. The proof: the statements by authors as diverse as George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Robert Silverberg, Dean Koontz, Terry Dowling, and (for what it’s worth) me, in the tribute anthology, Songs of the Dying Earth.

They read Vance when they were young, and he struck them and stuck to them.

Well, now that unique voice of genius is stilled forever. But the legacy lives on, and recently it has taken a new path: Spatterlight Press has created a publishing series called “Paladins of Vance.” John Vance is licensing other authors to create new stories set in “Vance Space,” the universes that his father opened up: the Dying Earth, the Oikumene and the Beyond, the Alastor Cluster.

I have done my best to honor the legacy of Jack Vance, who struck me at the age of thirteen and stuck with me ever after.

As John told me, “We look upon ‘Paladins of Vance’ as an experiment, not so much to generate revenue but as a way to keep a light shining on Dad’s legacy. It’s not easy to manage or predict outcomes, but we’ll see what happens, and keep our options open.”

So, the novels appearing in this series are not Frankensteinian reanimations of iconic Vance characters, no Kirth Gersen Rides Again or The Return of Adam Reith. The chosen authors are licensed to set new stories, with new characters, in the universes Vance created.

Which is a wonderful idea, because those milieus of fantasy and space opera are far too good to be left to dwindle in SF’s rearview mirror. And that ineffable mood that permeates so much of Jack Vance’s works, the world-weariness at the end of time, the clash of antiheroes and ingénues questing for revenge—that, too, deserves to endure.

I am proud to have authored one of these tributes to the unequaled imagination of Jack Vance. Barbarians of the Beyond, now coming out from Spatterlight, tells the story of Morwen Sabine, the grown-up child of a couple who were stolen into slavery when the Demon Princes raided Mount Pleasant.

Escaped from bondage, Morwen makes her way across the Beyond, returning to the world Providence, with a plan that would end with her buying her parents’ freedom. But Mount Pleasant has been repopulated, and things are not as simple as they seem.

I have done my best to do honor to the legacy of Jack Vance, who struck me at the age of thirteen and stuck with me ever after.

His son has graciously allowed me to play in his father’s sandbox. I’ve built the best castle I could.

Matthew Hughes is an award-winning Canadian author who writes space-opera science fiction and fantasy mostly set in his extrapolation of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth. He’s won the Endeavour Award and the Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award, and has been shortlisted for the Aurora, Nebula, Philip K. Dick, Endeavour (thrice), A.E. Van Vogt, Neffy, and Derringer Awards. In 2021, Matthew was inducted into the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association’s Hall of Fame. In 2007, Matthew took up a secondary occupation—that of an unpaid housesitter—so that he could afford to keep on writing fiction yet still eat every day.

Learn more about Matthew at his website, and connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, and Patreon.

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