Vance in the NYT

by Henry Farrell on July 17, 2009

The “New York Times Magazine”: has a long, appreciative article on Jack Vance, which seems to me to be more or less exactly right on his virtues (his wonderful prose, most especially his characters’ ornate conversational style, which confects a froth of cupidity, _amour-propre_ and sundry other ignoble motives into spun-sugar extravagances of rococo diction), while touching on some, at least of his flaws (poor ability to plot; I would also note his difficulties in creating complex characters, especially female ones). The NYT piece has a nice illustration of the former from _Eyes of the Overworld_, describing a conversation between Cugel, whose efforts to become a vendor of purportedly magical artifacts have proved unavailing, and the far more successful proprietor of the neighboring booth, who possesses many small items of great value.

bq. “ ‘I can resolve your perplexity,’ said Fianosther. ‘Your booth occupies the site of the old gibbet, and has absorbed unlucky essences. But I thought to notice you examining the manner in which the timbers of my booth are joined. You will obtain a better view from within, but first I must shorten the chain of the captive erb which roams the premises during the night.’

bq. ‘No need,’ said Cugel. ‘My interest was cursory.’ ”

Vance’s description of the foppish Ivanello, whose facial expressions run “the somewhat limited gamut between amused indifference and easy condescension,” is shorter, but has some of the same flavor.

One topic that the piece’s author doesn’t touch on is Vance’s sociological imagination, which I’ve always admired. He has a particular interest in status relations – the society of his late novel, _Night Lamp_, where everyone strives to become members of clubs of ever-increasing exclusivity, culminating in the Clam Muffins who are at the top of the social pyramid, is described in especially droll terms. But the village in _Cugel’s Saga_, where the men sit all day on pillars to soak up the purportedly healing fluxes of the upper atmosphere, while paying assiduous attention to which of them has the highest pillar, is a very nice discussion of the relative nature of status games (Cugel discerns that they don’t pay any attention to the absolute height of their pillars and uses this to bilk them). One of the novels in the _Planet of Adventure_ series (sadly, I don’t think it is the gloriously named ‘Servants of the Wankh’) has a set-piece that anticipates Mancur Olson on the distinction between stationary and roving bandits. I’ve wanted for years to write a short piece on the sociology of Jack Vance (and now that I have tenure can perhaps do the occasional thing for pure fun). Anyone have suggestions for other sociologically rich parts of the Vance corpus?



Gareth Rees 07.17.09 at 5:45 pm

Vance’s Demon Princes series is rich in invented societies (it also has pretty tight plotting, but exemplifies Vance’s inability to create decent female characters). The Palace of Love visits the planet Sarkovy, where the Sarkoy are obsessed with poisons and somewhat lax in their morals otherwise: “The essence of the crime was neither ‘trafficking with a notorious criminal’ nor ‘betrayal of guild secrets,’ but rather ‘selling fixed-price poisons at a discount.'” The Face features the desert-dwelling Darsh, with curious relations between the sexes, and their effete and racist Methlen neighbours. “Pride, in the Darsh male, expresses itself as plambosh, a swaggering willful flamoyance, a reckless disregard for consequence, a perversity which automatically conduces to contempt for authority. If, by one means or another, such as public humilation, this pride is fractured or destroyed, the man is ‘broken’ and thereafter becomes almost eunuchoid.”

The Book of Dreams also has a portrayal of a master criminal who’s at heart a bullied science-fiction fan trying to get revenge on his childhood tormenters.


Richard J 07.17.09 at 6:26 pm

Emphyrio starts off in what seems like a conventional 50s sci-fi trope – the generalised 3rd world translated to a dim and distant backwater of the galaxy, but rapidly mutates into a more interesting excursion on colonial exploitation, IIRC. Any book in which the aristocracy are literally inhuman monsters garbed in a simulacrum of human flesh…

(Also has the great bit in which why being expelled from the city is such a one-way procedure…)


bob mcmanus 07.17.09 at 6:42 pm

The Languages of Pao? Sapir-Whorf linguistics used to create a stable caste society

Jack Vance defined SF by his idiosyncrasy, as in “If Jack Vance writes publishable SF, then what is SF, anyway?”


marmolubio 07.17.09 at 7:08 pm

The three Alastor novels are quite interesting from a sociological perspective. “Alastor: Trullion” was written in the early seventies and depicts the development and eventual decline of an ascetic, work-centered subculture within an—apparently at least—carefree and easygoing society. It’s like a weird inversion of 60’s hippie counterculture (the novel was written in the early seventies I think). It also includes some intriging bits on the relationship of music and sports with war, violence and sex.

“Alastor: Wyst” features the rare exception to the “Vance writes weak female characters” rule in the figure of Skorlet. It’s an interesting dystopia… apparently Vance intended it as a satire of the welfare state but I think towards the end it also satirizes prejudices rooted on tradition.

What else… the fiercely misogynistic chillite cult in “The Anome” is an interesting cultural construction, they remind me a bit of the “no girls allowed” rule at Mount Athos.

Finally, the strange institution of “awaile” in “Servants of the Wankh” is reminiscent of, well, “amok”, “going postal”, and high school shootings.


Henry 07.17.09 at 7:14 pm

Gareth – yes – and one of the interesting bits of the NYT piece is that Treesong may be a version of Vance himself. Bob – thanks – when compiling my mental list years ago, I had included the Languages of Pao, and then promptly forgotten it.


James Enge 07.17.09 at 7:28 pm

Great post–I look forward to your sociologies-of-Vance piece.

The “Alastor” novels are all set in different, carefully constructed societies (where the society affects how the story plays out). Vance’s own social opinions are sometimes evident (in “Wyst” for instance, which has a reductio ultra absurdum welfare state) but not painfully so: he’s always writing fiction, not propaganda.

I think Vance plots better than people seem to be giving him credit for. But plot itself has a very poor literary reputation these days, so it may be a way of secretly praising him.


sg 07.17.09 at 7:30 pm

It’s worth noting that Jack Vance was a significant influence on the creators of Dungeons & Dragons, which has been a fairly solidly reliable cultural entity for some time now. Thanks Jack!


Gareth Rees 07.17.09 at 7:38 pm

sg: Yes, the magic system in D&D is based on several key elements from the story “Mazirian the Magician” in The Dying Earth: (1) whimsically named spells; (2) which have to be memorized; (3) and which can only be used once before having to be re-memorized; (4) each magician has a limited capacity for memorization; (5) which can be improved with practice. “They would be poignant corrosive spells, of such a nature that one would haunt the brain of an ordinary man and two render him mad. Mazirian, by dint of stringent exercise, could encompass four of the most formidable, or six of the lesser spells.”


JamesP 07.17.09 at 7:46 pm

Talking of gaming, Robin Laws’ DYING EARTH game – endorsed by J.V. – is really quite excellent, as are several of the supplements.


sg 07.17.09 at 7:47 pm

and it’s a really important part of the flavour of early D&D (less over time). So we have Vance to thank (whether for good or ill is a matter of personal preference) for this. Yay Jack.


Dave Empey 07.17.09 at 9:40 pm

One of his very early novels (perhaps the earliest?), The Blue World, features an interesting society derived from a group of criminals who crash-landed their prison transport on the eponymous planet. Each type of crook became a caste; e.g. the Advertisermen (very low-caste) or the Hoodwinks (who became operators of a sort of optical telegraph.)

Marune: Alastor 933 describes the Rhune Realm, where eating is considered as disgusting as defecating, and night, which comes only once a month, is a time for otherwise law-abiding and proper lords and ladies to commit terrible crimes.


Anderson 07.17.09 at 9:40 pm

I would also note his difficulties in creating complex characters, especially female ones

To say nothing of homosexual characters, who are invariably villains when they appear at all – Casmir and Tamurello come to mind.

Vance’s view of women seems to be summed up in “The Murthe,” a good story but not one to warm the heart of any feminist reader, except perhaps one with a term paper to write on “The Murthe.” Can’t fault him for not jumping out of his early-20th-century skin, I suppose.

… And definitely, his facility at sketching bizarre social customs, in such a manner as to suggest that our own are equally bizarre in their own way, is one of the great charms of his work. I tend to think of Vance as an Enlightenment philosophe, looking at his running commentary on religious and political authority.


Jon H 07.18.09 at 1:24 am

Cool. I recently started reading the Dying Earth stories, due to the D&D connection.


Doug M. 07.18.09 at 8:19 am

I think Casimir and Tamurello are almost the /only/ homosexual characters in Vance. And their sexuality is pretty secondary to their wickedness.

Incidentally, _Suldrun’s Garden_ is the rule-breaker for Vance, as it has a reasonably well-developed female character — yeah, she’s passive, but she’s a complete character — and also a complex plot, or really several interwoven plots.

Doug M.


marmolubio 07.18.09 at 9:46 am

Strictly speaking, Casimir and Tamurello are bisexual, although I’m not sure what to make of it.

Also, one may speculate about the sexuality of Ankhe at Afram Anacho in the Planet of Adventure series…

Some time previously Anacho had explained the Dirdir sexual processes. “Essentially, the facts are these: there are twelve styles of male sexual organs, fourteen of the female. Only certain pairings are possible. For instance, the Type One Male is compatible only with Types Five and Nine Female. Type Five Female adjusts only to Type One Male, but Type Nine Female has a more general organ and is compatible with Types One, Eleven and Twelve Male.


musical mountaineer 07.18.09 at 4:45 pm

Sociology in Vance, huh. Well, what about the basic premise of the Demon Princes series: interstellar travel so cheap, and habitable planets so plentiful, that anyone who wants a planet of his own can not only have one, but can probably keep it secret. The results: a small sphere of space which remains governable (the Oikumene), and a large anarchic space where criminals, religious zealots, adventurers etc. can pursue their various ends (the Beyond).

Consider the various ad-hoc institutions which Vance has arise in this situation. The IPCC, which seeks out criminals beyond. The deweaseling corps, “the only disciplined organization of Beyond”, which exists to expose and kill IPCC agents. Interchange, which standardizes the ransom process for kidnap victims (kidnapping being ridiculously easy).

There are parallels between the world of the Demon Princes and the internet. In both cases, something which had been scarce is now plentiful and cheap (space travel, information transfer). Like Beyond, the internet resists governance: there is effective (despite being hardly organized) opposition to taxation of internet commerce; it is impossible to truly squelch any kind of communication, no matter how offensive (even child pornography); criminals and spammers operate from what amount to secret planets, and can reach anywhere instantly.


musical mountaineer 07.18.09 at 4:59 pm

Oh, and how could I forget, the Institute! A society of academics wielding tremendous influence, which they use to curtail technological progress. They hold the secrets of abundance and eternal life, and pointedly guard those secrets from the human race. Their rationalizations, the attacks on them, and their responses make for some entertaining reading. And it’s all very recognizable from our own world.


SqueakyRat 07.18.09 at 9:13 pm

“Somewhat limited gamut” would have been funnier without “somewhat limited.”


Tim Wilkinson 07.18.09 at 10:08 pm

#15 – pace your remark, its not just a matter of ‘strictly speaking’, either – it’s an important (real-world) social fact that bisexual counts as homosexual (and even ‘gay’) – just as anglo-african, say, counts as ‘black’ (in Europe and N America anyway.)

#16 – But the internet infrastructure and access points are controlled by a small number of mostly large firms, and states – apart from monitoring and datawarehousing usage info – can quite literally pull the plug on it if they really want to…


David 07.18.09 at 11:24 pm

I’ve been reading Vance for nearly 50 years now. As far as weakness in regards to plot, it seems to me that it manifests primarily in his endings, whether in one-off novels or, particularly, in a series. Still, much can be forgiven if you have an appreciation for his wonderful style. Just as I can pick out Mahler from just a few chords, I think I could pick out a bit of Vance from a few lines of dialogue or character description.


Zamfir 07.19.09 at 8:53 am

“Somewhat limited gamut” would have been funnier without “somewhat limited.”

Ys, but it would have made it a pure joke, instead of an amusing line. Books with many real jokes can become tiresome really fast.


Paul 07.19.09 at 12:12 pm

Just as I can pick out Mahler from just a few chords, I think I could pick out a bit of Vance from a few lines of dialogue or character description.

It’s true, there is something that dialogue and character description that lends itself to an adjective “Vancian.”

The aforementioned Dying Earth roleplaying game. for instance, rewards players for managing to have their characters speak in this manner.


David 07.19.09 at 2:44 pm

Henry: your learned monograph on status relationships in the works of Jack Vance could be built around his great short story The Moon Moth .


Bloix 07.19.09 at 3:21 pm

I read the Times article this morning, and wasn’t impressed. The quoted passage, which appears to be a ponderously humorous “spider to the fly” story in which an elaborately polite style fails to mask a transparently villainous intent — a technique that has been around for a very long time to good effect, as for example in the character of the Bicolored Python Rock Snake in Kipling’s “The Elephant’s Child” — contains two soliscisms:
“I thought to notice you” – “I thought to” means “it occurred to me,” which makes no sense. He apparently means “I thought I noticed you,” but uses” I thought to,” which is old-fashioned and therefore overly formal, but unfortunately incorrect.
“My interest was cursory” – “cursory” means perfunctory or superficial. Applying it to one’s interest in something is incorrect or at least unidiomatic. What he intends, I think, is something like idly curious, which isn’t what it “cursory” means.

What I suspect from this and the “somewhat limited gamut” line is a writer with a wobbly command of the stylistic devices he likes to use.


bob mcmanus 07.19.09 at 4:35 pm

23:a writer with a wobbly command of the stylistic devices he likes to use.

1) Simple humour, on various levels. Cugel is not a grammarian.

2) I have always been interested in what might be called the cognitive effects of style on a reader. The ornate and challenging language of a Wallace Stevens, Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, Vance obviously can work to slow the reader down. The “speedbumps”, for instance the feeling that “cursory” is being used “incorrectly,” can either be an unfamiliar vocabulary or a vocabulary used in unfamiliar ways.

2a) Romance genre writing for example, with its heavy use of adjectives, should not be dismissed as “badly written” but be examined in order to determine how that style works>/i> for/on those readers that enjoy it.

3) SF uses all the tricks. Created words & names (Vance wrote the definitive article on SF naming), words used in unfamiliar ways (“The door dilated”), specialized words and jargon from science sometimes used in speculative or imaginative ways (“photon torpedo”). I’m more interested in the ways that language works on sympathetic or resistant readers than tring to judge it according to a set of precriptive rules.


Jonathan 07.19.09 at 6:30 pm

He says he “thought to notice” and means he believed to notice, when in fact he saw clearly. The circumspect speech is customary. This is not remotely close to a solecism, and I’m a bit surprised that a native speaker of English would think it so, if you are. It is also not in the least unidiomatic to describe interest as cursory.


Bloix 07.19.09 at 6:50 pm

“the cognitive effects of style on a reader”

Have you ever read Meredith’s The Egoist? It’s like hiking through sand- you have to slow way, way down and you relax your attention for a moment. Once you do that, it’s hilarious. But the demanding style disarms your sense of moral superiority and makes you more open to the incisive critique of assumptions about class and gender – or would have done, I think, to a reader 100 years ago.


Chris Williams 07.20.09 at 12:10 am

(a) How much, if any, distance is there between Vance himself and his fictional sociologist Unspiek, Baron Bodissey?

(b) Are ungoverned societies all the same?

(c) In Vance, to what extent are hierarchies innate or actively chosen? Take, for example, the ostensibly hierarchical, but actually fiercely egalitarian society found in ‘Big Planet’. I forget which one – guests sleeping in book room. But Henry will work it out.

(d) ‘IPCC’ – morphic resonance or what?

(e) Before writing ‘Showboat World’, did Vance ever encounter the museum ship ‘Success’?


ajay 07.20.09 at 11:30 am

The quoted passage… contains two soliscisms:


“My interest was cursory” – “cursory” means perfunctory or superficial. Applying it to one’s interest in something is incorrect or at least unidiomatic.

Not so. It is perfectly correct and idiomatic English to say, for example, “X took only a cursory interest in politics”.

“I thought to see” is an antiquated way of saying “I thought I saw” but it is also correct – it can also, equally correctly, mean “I expected to see” but obviously it doesn’t in this case.

The “somewhat limited gamut” line is also entirely correct. “Gamut” means a range – like the word “range”, “gamut” alone normally implies a wide range – the character has only a limited range of facial expressions.


derek 07.20.09 at 11:53 am

Yes, but “somewhat limited” is telegraphing the joke. Vance should have trusted “between amused indifference and easy condescension” to bear the weight, as it easily could have.

Dorothy Parker’s more famous quip, that Katherine Hepburn’s acting “ran the gamut from A to B,” gets it right.


Tangurena 07.20.09 at 2:27 pm

I for one would appreciate it if the Vance Integral Edition were made available again (which was all of his books and short stories). Or, failing that, if I could find someone willing to part with their’s. As this is about 44 volumes, it is a rather large set of books.


David 07.20.09 at 6:45 pm

# 11 “Blue World” is not early Vance; I think it came out in the mid-60s, around the same time as “Emphyrio” but after the more philosophically based “Languages of Pao” and, not mentioned here yet, “To Live Forever”.

# 17 I don’t recall the Institute ever being credited with possessing immortality. That, OTOH, is the theme of “To Live Forever,” in which the Amaranth (Class Five) are immortal. In a society of scarcity, the Emigration Office executes citizens when they reach their appointed age; strict selection (meritocratic or corrupt) allows a small proportion of each cohort to move to the next higher Class with longer life (the classes are Brood, Wedge, Third or Slope, Verge, and Amaranth). Typically for Vance, the hero is a refugee from the system (why, we learn at the end) who has become a free individual with no fixed life expectancy but also no chance of becoming Amaranth. So he destroys the system.

I can’t remember what Vance I first read, it may have been a Dying Earth story or “The Dragon Masters”. It was well over 35 years ago, in any event. In 1976 I had hoped to welcome Vance to Denmark, but his travels took him past, though I received a courteous letter from South Africa. In 1977 I persuaded Poul Anderson to introduce us, and we (fiancée and I) visited the Vances in Oakland a couple times. I am sorry to hear that his wife died, and I hope he manages to finish his autobiography.

Many, if not most of Vance’s sf novels and stories share the theme of an individual (reminiscent in more ways than one of Van Vogt’s “competent man” or Heinlein’s system-breakers) who, without always intending to, breaks open a stagnant society: see all those mentioned as well as “The Dragon Masters”, “The Last Castle”, “The Miracle Workers”, the Durdane trilogy, the Araminta novels, etc. etc. “The Moon Moth” is odd man out here, as it ends with the outsider protagonist being accepted by the rigidly hierarchical society to which he is emissary. Whether any sociology can be developed from this scheme I don’t know.

Trivia dept.: “Baron Bodissey” is the nom de guerre of a right-wing American blogger who runs the website “Gates of Vienna”.

Finally, a candidate for sociological analysis might be “The Gray Prince”, a stand-alone novel about a planet with a strange apparent history, settled by technological Earthers on one continent and neo-feudal land-barons on another. Again, the story revolves around the undermining of this system by outsiders, although Vance springs a huge surprise about the history of the planet along the way. The novel is execrated by many for its apparent glorification of the feudal culture of the land-barons, but that requires not reading between the lines. And who wouldn’t want to be a land-baron, anyway?


musical mountaineer 07.20.09 at 7:14 pm

Solecisms or no, the exchange between Cugel and Fianosther is amusing; I can’t resist posting another excerpt from the same book. This is when Cugel has been caught burgling Iucounu the Laughing Magician’s manse, and Iucounu has inflicted on him the parasite Firx and is now preparing to send him far away after the Eye of the Overworld:

Iucounu pointed to a cage. “This will be your conveyance. Inside.”

Cugel hesitated. “It might be preferable to dine well, to sleep and rest, to set forth tomorrow refreshed.”

“What?” spoke Iucounu in a voice like a horn. “You dare stand before me and state preferences? You, who came skulking into my house, pillaged my valuables and left all in disarray? Do you understand your luck? Perhaps you prefer the Forlorn Encystment?”

“By no means!” protested Cugel nervously. “I am anxious only for the success of the venture!”

“Into the cage, then.”

Cugel said, “Since I am now committed to this enterprise, and unlikely to return, you may care to learn my appraisal of yourself and your character. In the first place-”

But Iucounu held up his hand. “I do not care to listen; obloquy injures my self-esteem and I am skeptical of praise. So now — be off!”


Anderson 07.20.09 at 9:59 pm

Incidentally, Suldrun’s Garden is the rule-breaker for Vance, as it has a reasonably well-developed female character—yeah, she’s passive, but she’s a complete character—and also a complex plot, or really several interwoven plots.

Well, look what happens to her. And then look what happens to Glyneth — lively female character, then she marries, and poof! disappears from Book 3, ’cause she is having babies.


Chris Williams 07.21.09 at 9:06 am

Fair point re Glyneth, but Book 2 is also driven by Madouc. I think that in Lyonesse Vance may have been actively trying to develop dynamic female characters. But that was never one of his many strengths. I have Vance firmly placed in the box marked “reactionary artists whose work I love anyway”.


Anderson 07.21.09 at 4:06 pm

I have Vance firmly placed in the box marked “reactionary artists whose work I love anyway”.

Exactly right.


David 07.21.09 at 6:40 pm

Since J.V.’s style, rather than the sociology deducible from his worlds, is a theme here, I wonder if anyone else, sufficiently addicted to sf, remembers another (though lesser) master of the baroque irony: Keith Laumer, esp. in his Retief stories. That writers as different as Vance and Laumer can be given the same label — sf — as people like Arthur C. Clarke or Ursula LeGuin merely shows, once again, that the label is horribly inadequate. But what else do we have?

“Sf’s no good,” they bellow till we’re deaf.
“But this is good!” “Well, then, it’s not sf.”
Kingsley Amis dixit.

Speaking of tone, there really is a large spectrum of Vance styles. The Dying Earth & Cugel stories are at one extreme; the Araminta Station, Alastor, and Lyonesse novels in the middle; and the Demon Princes and others at the other.

I think it was “The Dragon Masters” I read first, bought as a double-ACE with “The Last Castle” in L.A. in the summer of 1973.


David G. 07.22.09 at 9:21 am

I have to support Vance in his inclusion of “somewhat limited” here. It sustains the narrative voice as that of dry observation rather than inserting a joke directly in the narrative. And Vance is always detached – he would never pun or joke directly in the omniscient voice.

As far as solecisms go, the wondrous thing is that in the seeming oddity of his word choices, Vance actually redefines and expands how words can be used. Any reader familar with his work can have no doubt that he is in complete command of his vocabulary and diction. The occasional true lapse might occur once or twice in a whole book (and it is difficult to say how many of these are the results of editorial interference). It’s an amazing balancing act, pure artifice sustained at great length. His imitators have been many, but they never match the man’s ear, the balance of the phrases, sentences, paragraphs.


David 07.22.09 at 1:28 pm

@35 & 36. Agreed. Rather famously, in 1968 The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction ran an ad denouncing the war in Viet Nam that was signed by many of the leading SF writers of the time. A few issues later they ran a counter ad, supporting the war, signed by rather fewer authors. Of those authors only Jack Vance and R. A. Lafferty (another overlooked, fine stylist) were writers whose work I really loved and respected.


David G. 07.23.09 at 1:37 am

More on “I thought to notice”: a Google book search brings up the same wording in 19th century writers several times, including Thackeray. The point is that while Fianosther is being pompous, Vance is never pompous: he has his blowhards and prevaricators, and his men of action, and they speak as they should.


Gary Farber 07.27.09 at 12:52 am

“Many, if not most of Vance’s sf novels and stories share the theme of an individual (reminiscent in more ways than one of Van Vogt’s “competent man” or Heinlein’s system-breakers) who, without always intending to, breaks open a stagnant society”

This was pretty much the standard model of (John W.) Campbellian sf of the era. Although Vance was not particularly one of Campbell’s proteges, and published all over the magazine landscape of the time, particularly in Galaxy, it seems a point worth mentioning as regards this theme.

“in 1968 The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction ran an ad denouncing the war in Viet Nam that was signed by many of the leading SF writers of the time. A few issues later they ran a counter ad”

It was both the June, 1968, issue of Galaxy, and The Magazine of Fantasy And Science Fiction, actually, to be nitpicky.

I thought it was great to see Jack Vance get such mainstream recognition, myself, even if it came so late; at least he was alive to see it, unlike Phil Dick.


Gary Farber 07.27.09 at 1:01 am

“Of those authors only Jack Vance and R. A. Lafferty (another overlooked, fine stylist) were writers whose work I really loved and respected.”

Ray Lafferty is indeed another brilliant stylist, and sui generis writer, overlooked by the mainstream. His politics were also unique, somewhat conservative, highly Catholic, and just odd. I’ll never forget the time he wrote the 1979 Worldcon committee (which I ended up being Director of Operations for, and retroactive Vice-Chair), denouncing us all as Nazis for allowing the Worldcon to become “politicized” by allowing Guest Of Honor Harlan Ellison to use it as a forum to campaign for passage of the ERA (the convention being held in Arizona, one of the few remaining states that had not passed the ERA, and thus was being boycotted by NOW, and Ellison was a huge supporter of NOW, doing many speaking/fund-raising engagements on its behalf). (Harlan’s solution was to keep his commitment to show up at the con, a commitment made long before the boycott, but to vow not to spend a penny in the state, and to urge everyone else to do their best to spend no money in Arizona; he rented an RV and lived out of it throughout his week in town, while also talking up the ERA at every opportunity he could.)

Now, this “politicization” of the Worldcon was surprisingly controversial, as many fans took the view that somehow the world of science fiction should be isolated from Outside Politics (such as the mere idea that women should have equal political rights — but, then, that idea wasn’t even accepted in the country as a whole, of course), so Lafferty was hardly the only person to contribute to what became a huge uproar in the sf world at the time, but he was the only person to somehow find it a reason to call the organizers “Nazis.”

On the other hand, you could find him at endless numbers of sf conventions, wandering the halls late at night, from party to party, always a drink in his hand, always aimiably soused, and more often than not until he was dozing off in a lobby chair in the no longer early morning.

Sf writers can be peculiar, and Lafferty was, unsurprisingly, one of the more peculiar. And brilliant as a stylist.

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