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Tales of the Dying Earth Paperback – December 1, 2000
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“Vance is the greatest living SF writer. His work continues to exhibit imagination, originality, and style, three things sadly lacking in 95% of the SF being published nowadays.” ―George R. R. Martin
“You can't possibly pass up any book by Jack Vance . . . He has perfected the trick of creating new worlds so deceptively real that after a while your own home seems imaginary.” ―Jerry Pournelle
“There is a flavor to [Vance's] work that you can't find elsewhere, an underlying current of good humor and quick-wittedness that makes you reluctant to turn that last page and return to a far less interesting reality.” ―Science Fiction Chronicle
“Vance has virtually no peer when it comes to creating sophisticated yet decadent worlds.” ―Starlog
“Vance demonstrates his talent for creating exotic and sometimes bizarre cultures that offer ironic commentary on the excesses and foibles of human society. The author's arch prose and dry humor have won him an avid following.” ―Library Journal
“The works of Jack Vance have boasted an ardent following for the past four decades, and his newest should be cause for rejoicing among the faithful. The remarkable high consistency of Vance's poetic writing, coupled with his extraordinary visions of exotic planets, is one of the treasures of speculative fiction.” ―Washington Post Book World
About the Author
Jack Vance is one of the greats of science fiction. He has been writing for more than 60 years, and in 1997 was honored as a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America. He is the author of dozens of science fiction and fantasy novels, including the World Fantasy Award winning Lyonnesse series, and the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning The Last Castle. He lives in Oakland, California.
Top customer reviews
The Dying Earth is a succession of linked short stories, with the protangonist of story A becoming a bit player in story B, and so on. The chapters cover the adventures of Turjan, Mazirian, the "sisters" T'sain and T'sais, Liane the Wayfarer - and the unforgettable Chun the unavoidable.
The real jewel of the collection - although this is to distinguish Miss Universe from the mere runners-up - is the centre novels Overworld and Saga, both of which deal with Cujel the Clever (admittedly self-titled) who is not so clever after all, as a rule. Cugel is a thief, swindler, rogue, and rake, who is motivated by greed, lust and revenge. Both novels are about Cugel's long quest to avenge himself on Iucounu the Laughing Magician, who had the temerity to catch Cujel robbing his manse, and set him a hard task as penance.
Cugel's view of the world is unique - his ego astonishing, his cunning low. Yet, he somehow manages to escape any danger, usually without funds, treasure, or willing woman.
Rhialto the Marvellous is a last collection of 3 stories, after the magician of the same name. Rhialto is more sinned against than sinner, although a cursory thought about the state of witches in the world - ie, there are none, as is made clear by the first tale - shows him as no saint. Rhialto deals with potential ensqualmation, jealousy and more in his comparatively simple life.
All of these characters are individuals, well written and placed in an intriguing world. Vance is a true wordsmith, both in the creation of dry, witty dialogue and in the description of the dying earth itself. There are layers of meaning and imagery in each sentence - sometimes, it seems, in each word - and it is a joy to read, even if a dictionary is required on occasion.
These are pure stories - nominally "fantasy" or "science fiction" or whatever - but really modern adult fables. They are about people, and human nature, and the flaws that come with being human. There is no preaching or exhortation to self-improvement; what is, is, and this book can simply be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys reading.
Similar to Heinlen, Hubbard, and a few others from that generation, Vance treats his female characters as little more than window dressing.
I picked up this book because I saw an article that said Gary Gygax was inspired to create a system of magic based on what he read in these stories.
The first novella, The Dying Earth, is actually a collection of six short stories which are only very loosely related. Pure fantasy, lots of magic and sorcery, a few interesting life forms and moderately entertaining story lines.
In the second novella, Eyes of the Overworld, we meet our protagonist for the next 500 pages, Cugel the Clever. Cugel is a rapscallion of sorts, not a particularly good person, except by comparison. He is certainly clever, as he survives adventure after adventure solely by virtue of his wits and willingness to suspend all moral value.
The third novella, Cugel's Saga, is simply a continuation of the previous story. Cugel is transported to the far reaches of the known world and must find his way home again. On the way, he meets and outsmarts many species of humanoid and animal specie, as well as sorcerers and mythological creatures. As in Planet of Adventure, the author does a masterful job of creating strange life forms and imbuing them with mores, cultures and traditions. His sense of imagination is stunning and highly entertaining.
The final novella in the quartet, Rhialto the Marvelous, is essentially three short stories, focused on a consortium of 20-30 minor magicians and their often adversarial relationships. The first of these, I found virtually unreadable. The second and by far the longest was quite enjoyable. The third, while not as engaging as the second, was entertaining nonetheless.
As mentioned before, Vance is a master of imagination and excels in the creation of landscapes, cultures and alien life forms, while avoiding stereotype. As another Amazon reviewer so perceptively put it, when commenting on these creations:
"Fictional characters definitely, but also vehicles for Vance to express his sharply perceptive take on the human condition in all its extremes of exaltation and debasement, hilarity and wickedness."
For fans of science fiction and fantasy, I cannot recommend Vance's work highly enough.
Most recent customer reviews
For them, I suppose a quote from the Dying Earth is in order, “I understand the...Read more