John Holbrook Vance (b. August 28, 1916) is generally described as an American fantasy and science fiction author, though Vance himself objects to that label. He writes under his own name and the pseudonyms Jack Vance, John Holbrook, Ellery Queen, Alan Wade, Peter Held, and John van See. He has won Hugo Awards--in 1963 (for The Dragon Masters) and 1967 (for The Last Castle)--the Nebula Award in 1966 (also for The Last Castle), the Jupiter Award in 1975, the World Fantasy Award in 1984 and in 1990, a SFWA Grand Master Award in 1996, and an Edgar (the mystery equivalent of the Hugo) in 1961.
He has written over sixty books (http://isfdb.tamu.edu/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?Jack_Vance). Many fall into series: perhaps the most notable are the four-book Dying Earth series, the source of numerous imitative works by many authors; the five-novel 'Demon Princes series', considered by some his acme; the four-novel 'Tschai' series (also commonly known as the 'Planet of Adventure' series); the 'Durdane' trilogy; the 'Alastor Cluster' threesome; and the Lyonesse' fantasy trilogy; but there are several others. Many of Vance's science-fiction series belong to a large vision of man's future called the 'Gaean Reach', occurring at various times in that future history, but the connections are not significant to understanding each individual series (though they allow Vance the opportunity to use in one series delightful references to certain persons, such as Navarth, the mad poet, and certain imagined books, such as the multi-volume study Life by Baron Bodissey, mentioned in others).
Vance's science fiction and fantasy novels are typically straightforward, linear narratives, which can easily seduce a careless reader into mistaking them for 'space opera', which they are not. Vance's tales characteristically feature a strong protagonist--sometimes strong by nature, sometimes forced to strength by circumstance--in quiet but tense opposition to an enfeebled society that he eventually redeems, often without its plaudits or even its notice. Others--a minority, but an important one in his oeuvre--display anti-heroes (such as the ironically mistitled 'Cugel the Clever' in his 'Dying Earth' tales) receiving the slings and arrows of what they--but not we--regard as outrageous fortune. Vance's works by and large are, under the hood, morality plays, howsoever subtle.
But the chief attractions of Vance's novels are not their linear plots, but Vance's exquisite and bone-dry ironic language and his rich evocation--often in but a few words--of alien, complex, absurd, yet thoroughly human societies. Vance often creates in what amounts to a throwaway paragraph a world more fully realized than many writers manage in an entire doorstop-thick volume.
Another of Vance's special talents is the telling of tales-within-tales by use of chapter-heading quotations (notably the adventures of one Marmaduke) and footnotes (the ability of a novelist to use footnotes as an effective component is rare, close to unique).
A remarkable project, the Vance Integral Edition, a volunteer, nonprofit effort, has collected all of Vance's work into a uniform set of volumes, with scrupulous attention to proofing and restoration of often-corrupt texts to their intended state.