content by

Hector DeJean

A Lean, Mean, Writing Machine: Jack Vance Was Science Fiction’s Tightest Worldbuilder

I’m a big fan of concise stories. If a writer fills a three-volume science fiction epic with 2000 pages of detailed worldbuilding, intriguing speculative concepts, and captivating character arcs, that’s all well and good, but if that writer can get that down to 300 pages, that’s better. And if a writer goes further and nails it in 150 pages—well then, that writer can only be Jack Vance.

Vance produced well over 70 novels, novellas, and short story collections over the course of his writing career, creating fantasy stories and mysteries as well as science fiction, and even producing a substantial number of doorstoppers that would have impressed George R. R. Martin with their girth. Vance’s extensive oeuvre has its imperfections—especially glaring today is his near-complete lack of interesting female characters—but at their best the books set an excellent standard for the construction of strange new worlds. Three tales in particular, The Languages of Pao (1958), the Hugo Award-winning The Dragon Masters (1962), and The Last Castle (1966), squeeze artfully assembled civilizations into focused, tight paragraphs. Other authors might have used these worlds as settings for bloated trilogies, but Vance quickly builds each society, establishes his characters, delivers the action, and then is off to create something new. I can’t think of any other author who put together so many varied worlds with such efficiency.

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7 Times Pop Singers Played Aliens or Robots (For Better or Worse)

The second episode of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams presents one of Dick’s signature visions of a future gone terribly wrong in an episode called “Autofac.” The standout performance is Janelle Monae’s turn as Alice—who, like many of Dick’s characters, is a robot designed to appear human. Even off-screen, on a typical day, Monae is a performer who looks, sounds, and moves like someone from a higher plane of existence. Her voice and motions on Electric Dreams are those of a being noticeably different from humanity—and probably superior. It’s a wonderful bit of casting that follows a long tradition of rock and hip-hop superstars who have played robots and aliens in television and film; perhaps there’s an argument to be made that the best school for learning how to depict fascinating, otherworldly beings is the concert stage.

When you consider these various performances together, the question becomes: Who did it best? Which stars gave us a compelling vision of otherworldly, futuristic existence, and which couldn’t even give a convincing depiction of being from next week? The following is by no means an exhaustive list of singers whose forays into acting led them to sci-fi’s frontiers, but it does cover some memorable highs and lows…

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