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10 thoughts on “The Dying Earth

  1. says:

    I did not like this book much the first time I read it, but after reading it a second time while visualizing its characters as puppets, I found I liked it much .This book particularly the first three stories irritated me I found its wizards to be contemptible creatures, morally inferior products of a degenerate age, capable only of memorizing a few detailed spells and casting them by rote Vancian Magic, which later became a key element of Dungeons and Dragons I was also appalled by their sexism even the best try to fashion ideal women from scratch, while the majority desire only to catch women, cage them and rape them the real reason for all their pathetic little spells In addition, the book s prose particularly the wizards speeches is grandiloquent and eccentric, harsh and grating, and crammed full of hard words Such words I remember thinking to myself remind me of what Shakespeare s Angus says of Macbeth s titles they hang loose about him, like a giant s robe Upon a dwarfish thief This Renaissance reference must have unearthed old memories, for soon I was transported back to grad school at Ohio State, some forty years ago At the time I was studying John Marston, and I was having a good deal of trouble enjoying his tragedies Antonio and Mellida, Antonio s Revenge because the speeches were so pompous, so ridiculously passionate, the plots so elaborate and absurd Then I discovered a fact that changed my reaction completely Whereas Shakespeare wrote for a general audience at an open air theater featuring adult actors, Marston wrote for an elite audience in a candlelit indoor theater featuring an acting company of children Each of these passionate, pompous speeches filled with mammoth emotions and murderous intent had been declaimed in chiaroscuro by a costumed child Knowing this, I could now appreciate Marston s mix of humor and biting satire He was using grand speeches in the mouths of children to show us the littleness of man, a poor paltry creature of monumental passions trapped in a flickering world.So I read The Dying Earth again, as if it were a Punch and Judy show mounted with magnificent sets Puppet wizards and puppet women now moved through a muted landscape, in a world of distilled evil dominated by a decadent sun Sometimes they seem like mischievous children, sometimes like degenerate dwarfs, but at other times they seem like creatures of some new myth, a promise of stories to come beyond this dying world.So my advice is stick with it Imagine the characters as puppets or children or mice if you have to, but read this book all the way through until you get to the end These stories which are among Vance s first get better as they go along, and the last three are very good indeed The most interesting, at least as a literary influence, is Ulan Dhor Ends a Dream This account of a metropolis where two different peoples live side by side, completely unable to perceive each others existence, bears striking similarities to China Mieville s The City and the City, My favorite is Liane the Wayfarer, about a quest for a tapestry possessed by Chun the Unavoidable, but equally as good is the novella about the inquisitive Guyal of Sfere, who has many questions to ask the Curator of The Museum of Man.

  2. says:

    Jack Vance s genre defining, fundamentally influential 1950 fantasy novel about swords, sorcery and ancient technology while the red glow of a dying sun spins over a far future earth is a SF F gem.A collection of related short stories, Vance s mastery of the language and his ability to weave a tale has never been better Imaginative and uniquely original, Vance sets the table for decades of speculative writers since.The heart of this work is Vance s characterization Introducing characters like Liane the Wayfarer and Chun the Unavoidable, Vance crafts a kaleidoscope of personalities that revolve in a dynamic tension that brims with vitality and weird life.Finally, this is a demonstration of Vance himself This is something like watching a foreign film and being fascinated by the action but being unable to completely follow the dialogue Vance s genius is Fellini like in its originality and distinct character.

  3. says:

    I lived beside the ocean in a white villa among poplar trees Across Tenebrosa Bay the Cape of Sad Remembrance reached into the ocean, and when sunset made the sky red and the mountains black, the cape seemed to sleep on the water like one of the ancient earth gods All my life I spent here, and was as content as one may be while dying Earth spins out its last few courses Two bright stars on the science fiction fantasy firmament have gone to sleep Jack Vance and Iain M Banks I know of no better way to honour them than to go back to their imaginary worlds and spend some quality time there, like a couple of old friends sharing a dram and reminiscing about the good old days and the crazy adventures we ve been through in our youth.I ve been aware of The Dying Earth for years, it s been often mentioned as a defining moment in the history of speculative fiction, one of the foundation stones supporting a whole modern edifice of stories and autors for whom mr Vance is an inspiration I kept putting it off not out of reservations about it being dated or overrated, but like a collector who keeps a good bottle of wine for a special occasion or for a rainy day, when the blues gets to you and you start to wonder what s the point of all this reading.The point in case is imagination it is like a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly and given proper, wholesome food or it will shrivel and grow cynical and bitter There is wonder, poetry and a sense of adventure in this slim opening volume than in many so called epic doorstoppers published recently The secret ingredient that colours every landscape and every character portrait is a deep seated melancholy, an awareness of the fragility of life and the unavoidable coming of Death The scenery plays as much a role in the story as the heroes who move like ants among gigantic ruins A dim place, ancient beyond knowledge Once it was a tall world of cloudy mountains and bright rivers, and the sun was a white blazing ball Ages of rain and wind have beaten and rounded the granite, and the sun is feeble and red The continents have sunk and risen A million cities have lifted towers, have fallen to dust In place of the old peoples a few thousand strange souls live There is evil on Earth, evil distilled by time The end of times is closer to a whimper than a bang, despite what the summer blockbuster movies predict every year The Sun is tired, the Earth is tired, the people are tired Yet, like the indian summer returning in one glorious fire for one last time before the coming of winter, the plant and animal life burst into incredible shapes and lush, exotic colours, wild magic replaces the rigid laws of physics although Vance proposes mathemathics as the original source of spells and wild carnivals roam the streets of the last cities of Man.In a development similar to Fritz Leiber and to other writers of the period, the genesis of the book and the setting came through short stories offered to fanzines and literary magazines Also in a sign of the times, the magic intensive fantasy world receives a scientific angle that allows it to reach out to hardcore SF fans The ambiguous nature of the main characters, none of them clear cut good or bad, gives the book a modern feel by moving away from the knight in shining armor or evil overlord stereotypes often associated with classic fantasy The first set of six stories is loosely tied together by recurring characters and a common geographical location 1 Turjan of Mir is a mix of science and magic, crossing over effortlessly between the tropes of SF and fantasy, a trend that will continue in later stories Turjan is a magician, hoarding the last known spells preserved from the vast knowledge of his forebears He also dabbles in genetics, using a cloning vat to try to grow up human beings In a move that predates the rules of Dungeons Dragons role playing games, he can only store up to four spells at a time in his mind, learned from books and forgotten after use In a move that prefaces the psychedelic mind blowing trips of the 1960 s, he sets out on a quest to find the greatest magician of his time, Pandelune, who lives in a hidden many coloured realm of vermillion skies and turquoise forests There he meets T sais a fiery whose mind cannot differentiate between good and evil, beauty and ugliness Pandelune sends him on another quest for a priceless magical artefact and Turjan has to use both his sword and his sorcerous spells All of this in just the first short story, delivered in flawless prose.2 Mazirian the Magician is an even powerful sorcerer than Turjan, capable of holding six spells in his mind instead of four, questing after the same secret genetic recipes His garden is another place of wonder, on the edge of a dark and foreboding forest, home to monsters and dangerous places and to one secretive who taunts Mazirian daily by coming close and then evading his spells and escaping back into the trees An epic chase between the two will satisfy the most ardent action movie junkie.3 T sais is the twisted from the first story, who leaves the safe haven of Pandelune s realm and comes to Earth to learn about love and self control She comes across another tormented soul, a man cursed by his own wife to wear the face of a demon The highlight of the story is a Walpurgis night the two are witnessing, a macabre festival of witches, demons and lubricity.4 Liane the Wayfarer is an evil trickster, the prototype of the thief from the above mentioned Dungeons Dragons lore, a sharp dresser in primary colours, a smooth talker always with a knife behind his back He is not immune to love though, and when he meets the witch Lith he sets out on yet another quest in order to gain her attention Among the wonders we see is the white city of Kaiin, where sorcerers gather at an inn to decry the sorrowful state of their art and daze each other with minor feats of magic Later Liane explores a ruined temple and meets Chum the Unavoidable, the avatar of Death.5 Ulan Dhor is a young sorcerer apprentice notice the presence of magic in every story who is sent to recover the greatest magic spell from a distant island The spell is written on two stone tablets, each controlled by a fanatical religious sect A lucid and bleak analysis of intransigence and brain washing is coupled with a high octane chase across the skyscrapers dotting the island and with a possible romance for Ulan This fifth story has the most overt scientific references anti gravity, airplanes, nanotechnology in a post apocalyptic setting It reminded me a lot of the Robert E Howard pulps.6 Guyal of Sfere closes the collection and is my favorite in a difficult to decide contest, where each story tries for the top spot It is also the most archetypal, mythical, timeless concept a young man s journey in search of wisdom He caparisoned the horse, honed the dagger, cast a last glance around the old manse at Sfere, and set forth to the north, with the void in his mind athrob for the soothing pressure of knowledge Guyal is a defective human being in the eyes of most of his contemporaries Instead of accepting the inevitable doom with resignation and epicurean lassitude, he is constantly asking questions Why this Why that Where do we come from Where are we going What is there to find beyond the horizon Why strive for a pedant s accumulation I have been told Why seek and search Earth grows cold man gasps his last why forego merriment, music, and revelry for the abstract and abstruse The answers may be provided by the all knowing Curator of the Museum of Man, at the end of a torturous journey across mountains and tundra Guyal is helped along by three magical artefacts, a gift from his father a spell of protection, a magic sword and a self inflating, unbreachable tent The journey has about everything like Ulysses he escapes enchantment through music, like Perseus he rescues a damsell in distress and later fights a gorgon a creature from the demoniacal dimensions that threatens the ruined museum and demands human sacrifices You see what I mean about archetypal heroes The reason I prefer this story is probably the fact that it is the most optimistic one instead of turning the eyes inward and contemplating destruction, Guyal is raising his head, staring at the promise of distant stars With the romantic angle added, I m thinking now of another classic SF story Logan s Run.There are no big wars or complicated political plots in this novel, the author preferring instead to focus on individual destinies, yet I would still call the work epic in its scope, as the single threads mesh together into a majestic vista I will add new threads like the witch Lith weaving her golden tapestry as I read the next three books in this setting.

  4. says:

    Let s do some quick math Jack Vance s The Dying Earth was originally published in 1950 I was born in 1969 I first started playing Dungeons and Dragons, in earnest, in 1979 It is now 2014 On second thought, screw the math You can plainly see that my reading of The Dying Earth is tardy, given that Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson cited Vance s work as influences on the development of the Dungeons and Dragons game.And how.More than an influencer, The Dying Earth is a wholesale supplier of DD wares In the first story, Turjan of Mir, we see something akin to alignment, the fact that wizards must memorize their spells from spellbooks, the limitation which I always thought was a rule to add game balance I was wrong that mages can only memorize so many spells a day, and at least one spell that was almost lifted verbatim from Vance to Gygax and Arneson the Excellent Prismatic Spray, which appears in DD as Prismatic Spray, unless it is cast by one of the wizards Bill or Ted, in which case it is the Most Excellent Prismatic Spray, Dude.Now, that s not to say that The Dying Earth is one long hack and slash DD adventure Far from it Vance is a far sophisticated writer than Gygax or even Arneson who, in my humble opinion, is the better of the two compare Arneson s wrting on his Blackmoor campaign with that of Gygax s Greyhawk campaign setting Gygax had stuff, Arneson had better original writing So don t go in expecting a Choose Your Own Adventure Vance is choosing the adventure for you, and his characters and their quests are meant to be read, not played These characters, in these situations, would crumble in the hands of a lesser artist like the 12 year old me that would have tried to create DD stats for these characters and sent them on a killing spree through a non descript dungeon crawl.I will admit that the first couple of stories were a bit trite The thin plot devices and moralistic tales read like a poorly copied fairy tale than a good work of fantasy I d love to know the order these stories were written in, as they got better as the book progressed By the end, they were outstanding.The second to last story in the book, Ulan Dhor, follows the journey of the titular novice sorcerer in his quest for the lost city Ampridatvir, once ruled by Rogol Domedonfors, a wizard of great power Ulan Dhor is sent there by his mentor, Kandive, to recover the lost magic of Rogol Domedonfors by bringing together two tablets which, when combined, will restore the magical power that once held sway in the city Along the way, he encounters a strange culture and even stranger magic the magic of the ancients that once held sway before the sun began its slow death One can see that this story might have influenced M John Harrison s Viriconium or Jeffrey Ford s Well built City.The final, longest, and most compelling story, Guyal of Sfere, follows another adventurer on a quest to find the Museum of Man to speak with the Curator, from whom Guyal wishes to gain knowledge Again, the seeker travels into strange lands, encountering strange customs and cultures, in a story that is, at first, less about the magic though magic does play a part and about the men and women Guyal meets in his journey Only when Guyal and his new travelling companion, Shierl, make their way into the Museum of Man does magic play a major role And this is strange, strange magic, of the kind that would fascinate nerds like me for decades to come There is a hint of absurdism in the tale, which reinforces the bizarre feel of the story Suffice it to say that we encounter one of the most disconcerting demons I have ever had the dis pleasure of reading about which is saying something, given my particular reading tastes I could see this story influencing Gene Wolf s Book of the New Sun and, to some extent, Book of the Long Sun, which could make for some compelling historical analysis of which I am not capable.What started out as a not particularly spectacular read ended up as something excellent I will be reading of Vance s work, not because it s assigned reading for a class in Dungeons and Dragons history for which I was really tardy , but because the writing in the last half of the book was excellent, the characters less shallow than much of modern fantasy, and the strangeness endearing to this strange reader.

  5. says:

    There is some strange depressing morbid fascination in imagining the world our Earth an uncountable number of millennia in the future as an unrecognizably changed tired, dying ancient world orbiting the tired, dying ancient red Sun It s the world in its last breaths, with the knowledge that eventually the life will stop with the Sun Soon, when the sun goes out, men will stare into the eternal night, and all will die, and Earth will bear its history, its ruins, the mountains worn to knolls all into the infinite dark Jack Vance s The Dying Earth is made of six short stories, somewhat interconnected, all set on future ancient Earth under the light of the dying Sun It s a sad world, with the inhabitants reduced to a tiny fraction of the former populations, with science lost and replaced by magic albeit somehow, in the far past, rooted in the ancient lore of mathematics , with hints of the former civilizations none of them ours hidden in the ancient ruins, with people squabbling over spells and knowledge and survival It s a bleak yet fascinating universe Earth, mused Pandelume A dim place, ancient beyond knowledge Once it was a tall world of cloudy mountains and bright rivers, and the sun was a white blazing ball Ages of rain and wind have beaten and rounded the granite, and the sun is feeble and red The continents have sunk and risen A million cities have lifted towers, have fallen to dust In place of the old peoples a few thousand strange souls live There is evil on Earth, evil distilled by time Earth is dying and in its twilight Written in the 1940s and published as a collection in 1950, these stories apparently became an inspiration to quite a bit of the modern fantasy It s easy to see why despite overall not being heavy on traditional plot, the stories are captivating mostly through the intricately created world of Vance s stories, with beautifully crafted atmosphere, with vivid and a bit baroque descriptions It s overall dark and yet darkly enchanting, a world where there s no clear good or evil but rather people just scrapping to see another day.In the end, however, there is a glimpse of hope hope that comes not through cunning sorcery but through knowledge, giving this fantasy story a path into the land of science fiction, giving a he of something new to the world of old Guyal, leaning back on the weathered pillar, looked up to the stars Knowledge is ours, Shierl all of knowing to our call And what shall we do Together they looked up to the white stars What shall we do 3.5 stars.

  6. says:

    Strange to think that this was the series that inspired Martin and Wolfe in their fantasy endeavors Going from their gritty, mirthless rehashes of standard fantasy badassery to Vance s wild, ironic, flowery style was jarring going directly from Anderson s grim, tragic Broken Sword to this was tonal whiplash.At first I didn t know what to make of it the lurid, purple prose, the silly characters, the story which jumped from idea to idea with abandon I mistook it at once for the unbridled pulp style of early century genre authors like A Merrit or Van Vogt, but soon it became clear that there was something complex at work.Vance is rushing from one idea to the next, heedless of contradiction or pace, but it is not merely an unbridled mind on a romp It is a style recognizable to any scholar of Fairy Tales, or of the Thousand and One Nights, where absurd characters and situations are paraded before the reader as wry commentaries subversions of social s and preconceptions Vance s characters are not psychological studies, not realistic, but archetypal and foolish, traipsing from one peril to the next and then back out again, in the vein of Lewis Carroll.Yet Vance is not as wild as Carroll or Peake, not as unpredictable or insightful He has some shining moments, but I did not find that they entirely excused the broken pacing and shallow characters The tongue in cheek reversals were simply not constant enough to make the world suitably subversive.Yet there still remains an original voice and vision here which has been very influential though not always fruitfully As someone who grew up in basements playing old Dungeons Dragons modules and even designed a parody of them , it became immediately clear to me where Gygax had taken his inspiration From the endless series of strange wizards vying for power to the nonsensical dungeons where one might face a giant demon head, a talking crayfish, an Aztec vampire, and an evil chest one after the next, I was immediately stricken with an uncomfortable nostalgia.Yet Gygax like Wolfe and Martin was unable to reproduce any of the wit or joy of Vance s creation, though whether they didn t recognize it or were merely incapable of recreating it I cannot say In any case, I find it disappointing that so few authors have tried to mimick the sheer, ironic pleasure with which Vance comported himself I know Pratchett tried to do something similar in his work, but sadly, I ve never found his writing funny.Then again, many fantasy authors are desperate to prove themselves mature authors in a mature genre , but as C.S Lewis knew, the rejection of childlike mirth is the sign of adolescence, not adulthood.Somewhat problematic in Vance s work, though not as bad as many later genre authors, is the secondary roles he gives to women It seemed particularly glaring at first, since it opens with male wizards creating and chasing around beautiful, naive women, and the only strong woman is an aberrant creation who is easily talked down and made to change her mind Yet the men are also often fools and simply swayed, as is the nature of a Fairy Tale, so there is some equality there.Beyond that, the descriptions of men versus women are often treated differently, with women being described physically and in terms of their beauty and while a man is rarely described as a physical presence at all This is only Class I gender inequality, and nearly ubiquitous in genre writers, but a part of me hoped that Vance might let his unfettered exploration of concepts spill over and subvert the characterization of women, but it was not to be.In many ways, Vance can be seen to represent a middle ground between the unhinged visions of Carroll and Peake and the straightforward authors of the genre, but as it went on, I began to wish that Vance would distinguish his work either by making it wild and hallucinogenic, or by making it structured and purposeful As it was, I felt he too often inhabited a middle ground which was easily muddied by imprecision.My List of Suggested Fantasy Books

  7. says:

    1950, a time of transition from swashbuckling square jawed heroes with huge brains and spaceships falling headlong into a deep future world where everyone is surrounded by death, old tech indistinguishable from magic, and to make things worse, the sun is dying This is the last hurrah of Earth and it seems that everyone is trying to make the most out of it, grognak the barbarian style.What Isn t this SF Sure But it s still pretty much entirely classic Sword and Sorcery We ve got curses and transformations, 50 s style misogyny, master wizards and apprentices of maths and old tech, thieves and warriors I can t help but think it d make, with a bit of good retooling, a fairly interesting SyFy production.Nothing big budget, though.Some of the ideas are pretty standard science rah rah, getting your life back on track rah rah, and being your best before it all ends, which is a pretty cool message after coming out of WWII and wanting to dive into a bit of imaginative science fantasy, but let s face it, we ve all seen movies as good along these lines, or it s equivalents, all throughout the decades since.I m not saying this is a bad collection of short stories all placed in a similar setting and the same time, because it isn t bad at all It s a serial adventure with different characters and it shows us something really interesting about the days in which this was published Like the fact that short story authors could actually make something of a living once upon a time What fantasy that is Seriously, it s good sword and sorcery in a SF backdrop, and if you re in the mood for something like that, you really can t go wrong with picking this classic up.

  8. says:

    To read The Dying Earth by Jack Vance is like to find oneself inside the fabulous canvas painted by some artist exiled to the end of the fatigued time Or in the garden of paranoia Deep in thought, Mazirian the Magician walked his garden Trees fruited with many intoxications overhung his path, and flowers bowed obsequiously as he passed An inch above the ground, dull as agates, the eyes of mandrakes followed the tread of his black slippered feet Such was Mazirian s garden three terraces growing with strange and wonderful vegetations Certain plants swam with changing iridescences others held up blooms pulsing like sea anemones, purple, green, lilac, pink, yellow Here grew trees like feather parasols, trees with transparent trunks threaded with red and yellow veins, trees with foliage like metal foil, each leaf a different metal copper, silver, blue tantalum, bronze, green indium Here blooms like bubbles tugged gently upward from glazed green leaves, there a shrub bore a thousand pipe shaped blossoms, each whistling softly to make music of the ancient Earth, of the ruby red sunlight, water seeping through black soil, the languid winds And beyond the roqual hedge the trees of the forest made a tall wall of mystery In this waning hour of Earth s life no man could count himself familiar with the glens, the glades, the dells and deeps, the secluded clearings, the ruined pavilions, the sun dappled pleasaunces, the gullys and heights, the various brooks, freshets, ponds, the meadows, thickets, brakes and rocky outcrops.But the denizens of this fantastic world remain mischievous and frivolous and there is no greater fun for them then some magic frolics.Fantastic thoughts can only emerge from the fantastic mind

  9. says:

    Earth, mused Pandelume A dim place, ancient beyond knowledge Once it was a tall world of cloudy mountains and bright rivers, and the sun was a white blazing ball Ages of rain and wind have beaten and rounded the granite, and the sun is feeble and red The continents have sunk and risen A million cities have lifted towers, have fallen to dust In place of the old peoples a few thousand strange souls live There is evil on Earth, evil distilled by time Earth is dying and in its twilight

  10. says:

    This was AMAZING I fell in love with Jack Vance reading this novel and I can not for the life of me understand why I never read any Jack Vance before I blame myself and the entire world for this oversight and I intend to correct the problem immediately What an amazing combination of condensed writing and huge amounts of story I can t believe this is only 156 pages long and yet Vance left no stone unturned as far as telling a complete story I am off to read Vance.

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