The Dying Earth (The Dying Earth, #1) by Jack Vance
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 more.
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 books 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 Shakespeares Angus says of Macbeths titles: they “hang loose about him, like a giants 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, Antonios 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 Marstons 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 Vances 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 Mievilles 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.”
City of the Chasch - Jack Vance
The Dying Earth (Unabridged)
The stories in The Dying Earth introduce dozens of seekers of wisom and beauty - lovely lost women, wizards of every shade of eccentricity with their runic amulets and spells. We meet the melancholy deodands, who feed on human flesh and the twk-men, who ride dragonflies and trade information for salt. There are monsters and demons. Each being is morally ambiguous: The evil are charming, the good are dangerous. Nothing of Earth was raw or harsh—the ground, the trees, the rock ledge protruding from the meadow; all these had been worked upon, smoothed, aged, mellowed. The light from the sun, though dim, was rich and invested every object of the land
Cancel anytime. Months after the Waterless Flood pandemic has wiped out most of humanity, Toby and Ren have rescued their friend Amanda from the vicious Painballers. They return to the MaddAddamite cob house, newly fortified against man and giant pigoon alike. Accompanying them are the Crakers, the gentle, quasi-human species engineered by the brilliant but deceased Crake. Their reluctant prophet, Snowman-the-Jimmy, is recovering from a debilitating fever, so it's left to Toby to preach the Craker theology, with Crake as Creator. Some feel the Lady, newly risen from centuries in thrall, stands between humankind and evil.
Please type in your email address in order to receive an email with instructions on how to reset your password. The stories included in The Dying Earth introduce dozens of seekers of wisdom and beauty, lovely lost women, wizards of every shade of eccentricity with their runic amulets and spells. We meet the melancholy deodands, who feed on human flesh and the twk-men, who ride dragonflies and trade information for salt. There are monsters and demons. Each being is morally ambiguous: The evil are charming, the good are dangerous. All are at home in Vance's lyrically described fantastic landscapes like Embelyon where, "The sky [was] a mesh of vast ripples and cross-ripples and these refracted a thousand shafts of colored light, rays which in mid-air wove wondrous laces, rainbow nets, in all the jewel hues Nothing of Earth was raw or harsh-the ground, the trees, the rock ledge protruding from the meadow; all these had been worked upon, smoothed, aged, mellowed.