the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Jack Vance’ Category

The Dying Earth, by Jack Vance

published in 1950

where I got it: borrowed from a friend

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In preparation for Vintage month, a friend lent me Vance’s Tales of the Dying Earth, a beautiful volume that includes the four novels of the Dying Earth series: The Dying Earth, The Eyes of the Overworld, Cugel’s Saga and Rialto the Magnificent. For this review, I’ll only be discussing the first book, The Dying Earth, originally published in 1950. Hopefully I’ll eventually have time to read the other three novels in this volume.

First, a word on what the Dying Earth is. Like many of Vance’s works, The Dying Earth takes place on a far future Earth, where the sun is old and reddened, the Earth starved, whithered, and nearly empty of population. Residents of the doomed planet are strange, nihilistic and fairly amoral. Why worry about the future, or anything, for that matter, when the Sun is expected to burn out at any moment, followed by darkness and starvation? In this far future, magic and science are identical. Much knowledge has been lost, and wizards roam the planet, using ancient words to create and destroy. Spells must be memorized, and once used they are instantly forgotten. A wizards power depends on how many spells are owned, and how many can be memorized at a time.   The world may be ending, but knowledge is still power.

Less a plot driven novel, and more a collection of interrelated short stories, Vance wrote most of The Dying Earth in the 1940s while serving in the Merchant Marines. Each chapter, a story unto itself, follows a character and their unique adventures.  I noticed a recurring theme of one character trying to trick or trap another character, which made the adventures feel a bit like sci-fantasy Grimm’s fairy tales.  A perfect blend of science fiction and fantasy, it’s no surprise that The Dying Earth was so inspirational to the countless people who read it, many of whom grew up to become writers themselves.

While reading the The Dying Earth I was reminded of Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun (which he says Vance was of great inspiration) and M John Harrison’s Viriconium stories.  The writing, and especially the dialog is on the formal side, but trust me, it’s worth getting used to.

Read the rest of this entry »

(As part of Vintage Science Fiction month, I’m going to be posting short bios about many of authors I’m reading. Many of these authors are “new to me”, so feel free to add your thoughts in the comments)

Let’s talk about Jack Vance.

Born in 1916 in California, Jack Vance spent most of his childhood there. Formulating wild fantastical stories at an early age, Vance’s imagination was encouraged by his family.  He attended University of California, Berkeley, and  studied Engineering, Physics, English and Journalism.  He  wrote his first science fiction short story during his time at Berkeley, but was derided by an English professor for trying to pass it off as a proper assignment.

Like many writers, Vance had a variety of careers – naval electrician, carpenter, surveying engineer, along with a stint in the Merchant Marine. Unfortunately, his decaying vision often made work difficult.

Friendly with Poul Anderson and Frank Herbert, Vance was exactly when and where he needed to be to create some of the most treasured science fiction and fantasy known.  After selling his first short story in 1945, Vance wrote and published consistently into the 1990’s, publishing more than 60 novels to date. Considered by many to be the greatest living science fiction writer, Vance has won nearly every possible genre award, many multiple times.

Best known for his Dying Earth stories (which I’ll be reviewing tomorrow), Vance published science fiction, fantasy, and mystery.  A theme seen in The Dying Earth stories, and elsewhere in his writings is that of a far future Earth, where humanity has colonized other planets and travelled among the stars.  It’s been so long since our “birth”, that we’ve forgotten where we came from. In 2009, the anthology Songs of the Dying Earth was published. A tribute to Jack Vance, in honor of how many authors his work has inspired over the years. The anthology features short works by Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick, Lucius Shepherd, Elizabeth Moon, Kage Baker, Tad Williams, and many more.

At at 95, legally blind, and “retired”, Vance continues to dabble in writing, using custom written voice recognition software.  His autobiography, This is Me, Jack Vance! was published by Subterranean Press in 2009.

What Jack Vance books have you read? what did you think of them?  How did you discover him?

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.