Thursday, March 30, 2017

Appendix N Madness Day 30: Anderson vs Vance

Mighty Conan has slain even Great Cthulhu to advance to the final round of Appendix N Madness.

Appendix N Madness Semifinal B: Poul Anderson vs Jack Vance

Poul Anderson defeated Fred Saberhagen, Fredric Brown and Leigh Brackett to climb to the semifinals. Jack Vance had a much harder row to hoe, besting Lin Carter, Roger Zelazny and Michael Moorcock to top the SAGA / Amra bracket.

Jack Vance was made a Grand Master by the SFWA in 1997. The very next year, 1998, Poul Anderson was the recipient of the same award. Vance's first short story appeared in 1945, "The World-Thinker" in Thrilling Wonder-Stories. Anderson's first, "Tomorrow's Children," in 1947 in Astounding Science Fiction. Anderson died younger than Vance, but both men lived and wrote in similar times and compare well to one another. Both wrote works that were more science fiction and works that were more fantastical.

The similarities are, of course, far from complete. Vance's fantastic writing, particularly, was infinitely more romantic in its tendencies, while Anderson never abandoned rationality. Even Three Hearts and Three Lions is immersed in scientific ideas. The Dying Earth is much more willing to handwave the fact that its magic is, to use Arthur C. Clarke's term, "sufficiently advanced technology."

In the 1963 L. Sprague de Camp anthology Swords and Sorcery, Anderson was one of the eight featured authors. His story "The Valor of Cappen Varra" tells the story of a minstrel who defeats a troll through, well, his own valor. Cappen would later be worked into the Thieves' World shared-world  In the next de Camp anthology, The Spell of Seven, Jack Vance's "Mazirian the Magician" appears. It would later be featured in The Dying Earth.

Anderson was a science fiction writer who was fascinated with mythology. None of the fantasy that I've read fails to have a real-world mythological referent, whether the Matter of France in Three Hearts and Three Lions (Holger Carlsen / Ogier the Dane) or his more frequent stops in Norse myth (The Broken Sword, Hrolf Kraki's Saga, "The Valor of Cappen Varra," etc).

Vance, on the other hand, wrote science fiction that blended seamlessly into fantasy. This is clearest in the Planet of Adventure series, which could have been a weird fantasy work had it not started in a spaceship. His Dying Earth series, undoubtedly his masterwork, took this further: it was a world where science had gone pear-shaped and everything was basically magical. He did write the Lyonesse trilogy that was thoroughly fantastical, and possibly linked to the Dying Earth over millennia.

Of our two authors, Vance was by far the superior wordsmith. It is difficult to over-emphasize the way he uses decadent language and razor-sharp wits to create the Dying Earth - it is simply a central component of the series. Both beauty and horror are evoked in a way that would make most of the other authors in this tournament flushed with jealousy.

The other thing to distinguish Vance is that he has had a few genuine followers among literary authors. Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun takes its cue from Vance's The Dying Earth. Michael Shea had written an authorized Cugel novel, The Quest for Simbilis, before Vance wrote Cugel's Saga. Shea's Nifft the Lean and its sequel The Mines of Behemoth are also in the same vein. And recently Matthew Hughes has been writing high Vancian stories in his Archonate universe; in May his Raffalon anthology will be published and I'll write about it here.

You can vote in the poll here.

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