Jack Vance, who penned his first short stories while serving in the U.S. Merchant Marine the 1940s and became a prolific, award-winning author of elaborate works of science fiction, fantasy and mystery, has died. He was 96.

Vance died Sunday at his home in Oakland, Calif., of what his son, John Holbrook Vance II, described as complications of old age. “Everything just finally caught up with him,” his son said.

Among his best-known works was “The Dying Earth,” a collection of linked fantasy stories first published in 1950 that told of life on the planet in the far distant future, with a weak sun ever in danger of burning out. Complete with heroic quests and magical duels, it is considered to have influenced many more recent fantasy writers, including “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin, and was later expanded into several novels.

Vance’s writing was known for its formal, almost courtly style, and for colorfully inventive vocabulary.

Vance, who published more than 60 books, collected various honors over his career, including several Hugo awards, a prestigious science fiction and fantasy prize. He won Hugos in 1963 for “The Dragon Masters,” in 1967 for “The Last Castle” and in 2010 for his memoir “This is Me, Jack Vance!” Other awards included an Edgar, for mystery writing, for “The Man in the Cage,” published in 1961.

But for many of his fans, he never received quite the credit he was due. In 2009, a New York Times magazine profile described him as “one of American literature’s most distinctive and undervalued voices.”

John Holbrook Vance was born Aug. 28, 1916, in San Francisco, the son of Charles and Edith Vance. After his family fell on hard times during his early childhood, he grew up mainly on his grandparents’ farm near Oakley in Contra Costa County, Calif. He attended the University of California, Berkeley.