IT’S NOT THAT HE RENDERS whole worlds so vividly and so succinctly, peopling vast and history-thick galaxies with one or two spare sentences.
It’s not the cinematic sweep of his prose, which respects his readers’ visual imagination by meeting it halfway; the mad genius of his invention, which conjures up aliens both A*L*I*E*N and logical in the extreme — as well as their customs, currency and literature; nor his subtle command of language and love thereof, of its effect on the listener’s ear as well as his intellect, of conversations as oblique as they are elegant.
Actually, it is all of the above, and more, but what I love most about Jack Vance is his laconic sense of perspective. E.g., from page 65 of the Ace Double edition of The Houses of Iszm, where one character consoles another against the world’s unfairness:
The Szecr sub-commandant twirled his viewer. “The Universe is eight billion years old, the last two billion of which have produced intelligent life. During this time not one hour of absolute equity has prevailed. It should be no surprise to find this basic condition applying to your personal affairs.”
(P. S.: Dying Earth is great, too.)