Dan Schwent's Reviews > Tales of the Dying Earth

Tales of the Dying Earth by Jack Vance
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Jun 23, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: birhday-2010, pulp, sf, fantasy, 2010
Read from August 18 to 24, 2010

Earth is on its last leg. The sun is a red giant, the moon has vanished, and magic has returned.

This omnibus includes the following four books:
The Dying Earth: The Dying Earth is a collection of linked short stories. And here they are:
Turjan of Miir: Turjan, a wizard, seeks the help of Pandelume, another wizard, in creating artificial life. Turjuan is a good intro to the Dying Earth. The basics of the setting are covered and it sets the tone for the rest of the short stories. The story itself is pretty simple. Turjan has to do a favor for Pandelume in exchange for his secrets.

Mazirian the Magician: Mazirian covets Turjan's secret of artifical life, and also T'sain, the woman Turjan has created. MtM was like an extended chase scene showcasing some of the weirder denizens of the Dying Earth. I liked it but so far all the wizard characters have been nearly interchangeable.

T'sais: T'sais, the woman created by Pendelume, comes to earth to find beauty. What she finds is trouble, as well as a disfigured man named Etarr and the sorceress that cursed him. More of the Dying Earth is revealed and the ending is definitely worth the read.

Liane the Wayfarer: In order to win the hand of a witch named Lith, Liane seeks to recover half of a stolen tapestry. But is he a match for Chun the Unavoidable? Liane is almost like a prototype for Cugel, the protagonist of later Dying Earth stories, amoral and greedy. Chun's robe of eyeballs is a chilling image.

Ulan Dhor: Ulan Dhor, nephew of Prince Kandive, goes to the ancient city of Ampridatvir to retrieve the magic of Rogol Domendonfors in the form of two tablets. Instead, he finds a bizarre city where everyone wears green or grey and can't see people wearing the opposing color. Can Ulan find the two tablets and take them back to Kandive? This story was easily my favorite so far. Even though it was only twenty pages, a lot of ideas were crammed into it. It's becoming easier to see how Vance influenced so many that came after him.

Guyal of Sfere: Guyal's father gets tired of his inquisitive nature and sends him looking for the Museum of Man, where the Curator can answer all of his questions. Only Guyall finds trouble along the way... Guyal's tale takes him into the odd culture of the Saponids and against ghosts and demons. The message of this tale seemed to be "Don't forget the past but don't worship it either."

Eyes of the Overworld: Caught in the act of robbing the wizard Iucounu, Cugel the Clever is flung to the other side of the world, tasked with retrieving the missing Eye of the Overworld. Can he retrieve the Eye and get revenge on Iucounu?

Here's where the Dying Earth kicks it up a notch. Cugel is a scoundrel and a liar; a classic anti-hero. He lies and bluffs his way from situation to situation. He brings to mind Roger Zelazny's Jack of Shadows, as well as Hugh Cook's Drake Douay.

There is a lot of dry humor in this story as Cugel gets flung across the world, imprisoned, sent back in time, and imprisoned again, never forgetting about getting revenge on the one who "wronged" him. Vance's P. G. Wodehouse influence is visible in the dialogue and in the situations.

Cugel's Saga: Cugel's woes continued as he is flung across the world a second time by Iucounu. This time, Cugel gets himself indentured as a worker retrieving scales in a pit of muck and, later, as a worminger aboard a ship. Will he ever get back home and finally give Iucounu a taste of what's coming to him?

Cugel's Saga was even better than the Eyes of the Overworld. Once again, Cugel lied and cheated his way back to Almery to get his revenge on Iucounu. Vance's Wodehouse influenece was even more visible in this tale. Cugel is a like a sociopathic version of Uncle Galahad or Uncle Fred.

Rhialto the Marvellous: Rhialto the Marvellous is a collection of three novellas starring Rhialto the Marvellous.
The Murthe: The Murthe, a witch-goddess from the distant past, arrives in the present to take over the world and turn the men into women. A creature from the past has persued her and must rally the wizards against her.

Even for a fantasy story, this one is pretty sexist. Still, it's hilarious, especially when the wizards fall victim to the squalm.

Fader's Waft: Another wizard launches a smear campaign against Rhialto and he has to traverse time and space to redeem himself.

Hilarious. I have to think Terry Pratchett's wizards are influence by Rhialto and company.

Morreion: Rhialto and company attempt to solve the mystery of Morreion, a wizard who disappeared aeons ago, along with the origin of the IOUN stones.

As in the previous story, the bickering and pettiness amoung the wizards is hilarious, much in the vein of P. G. Wodehouse. The ending was poignant and was a perfect example of Vance's penchant for anti-heroes.

Closing Thoughts: What a difference 15 years makes! I was 18 the first time I visited the Dying Earth and didn't care for it all that much. With age comes wisdom and I loved the Dying Earth on my second visit. While it's influential to fantasy and Dungeons and Dragons in particular, it isn't the breezy read a lot of people expect. It reads like a mix of Fritz Leiber and P.G. Wodehouse. Vance's anti-heroes are the inspiration for countless that came later. Cugel the Clever has risen to become one of my favorite fantasy characters. I came for the SF but stayed for the subtle humor and uniqueness. If you've lost your taste for heroes and crave fantasy, a visit to The Dying Earth will do you no ill!
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Quotes Dan Liked

Jack Vance
“What are your fees?" inquired Guyal cautiously. "I respond to three questions," stated the augur. "For twenty terces I phrase the answer in clear and actionable language; for ten I use the language of cant, which occasionally admits of ambiguity; for five, I speak a parable which you must interpret as you will; and for one terce, I babble in an unknown tongue.”
Jack Vance, Tales of the Dying Earth


Reading Progress

08/19 page 17
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02/17 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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message 1: by Dan (last edited Aug 18, 2010 10:36AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan Schwent I attempted reading the Compleat Dying Earth around the turn of the century and had too many other things going on. I've got higher hopes for this attempt. I remember enjoying that parts I was reading when I was able to concentrate.


Mohammed Cugel Stories that is the second collection is the stories that made Dying Earth legendary.


message 3: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan Schwent The Cugel stories are the only ones I remember from the first time I tried reading this.


message 4: by Mohammed (last edited Aug 19, 2010 09:28AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mohammed The first collection is very short,weird little stories. Hard to remember them even if i remember them because they were my first taste of Jack Vance. I wasnt impressed until i read my first Cugel story.


message 5: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Buying this as soon as I have the cash.


message 6: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan Schwent Michael wrote: "Buying this as soon as I have the cash."

The Science Fiction Book Club used to have an affordable hardback collection but they don't offer it anymore.


Mohammed Glad you like it,the subtle humour,Cugel the Clever,the unique world is why you like DE. What did you think of his prose style ? He is known as the premiere stylist in SF. DE was my first too, wonder where you will go next. He has written many great SF,Science fantasy,fantasy.


message 8: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan Schwent I liked his prose a lot once I got into it. I'll probably try Planet of Adventure or The Demon Princes next.


message 9: by Mohammed (last edited Aug 25, 2010 08:49AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mohammed I would recommend Demon Princes first since its his most famous SF works and his most popular work alongside Cugel stories.

They are Space Opera but they are much more Vance style and not action oriented space opera like DE isnt adventure fantasy. Just a warning so you dont expect new Space Opera with alien,human wars. But really you are used to different authors like Vance in SFF.

Planet of Adventure is fun though, its Sword and Planet that is clearly written by someone who enjoyed ERB John Carter,Liegh Brackett as a kid.


message 10: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Ulan Dhor, nephew of Prince Kandive, goes to the ancient city of Ampridatvir to retrieve the magic of Rogol Domendonfors in the form of two tablets. Instead, he finds a bizarre city where everyone wears green or grey and can't see people wearing the opposing color.

Admit, you made this bit up.


message 11: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan Schwent Miriam wrote: "Ulan Dhor, nephew of Prince Kandive, goes to the ancient city of Ampridatvir to retrieve the magic of Rogol Domendonfors in the form of two tablets. Instead, he finds a bizarre city where everyone ..."

No, that's actually in the book. After centuries of disagreement, the two sides simply stopped being able to perceive one another.


message 12: by Miriam (new)

Miriam It must be a satire. No one could take seriously the name Rogol Domendonfors.


Mohammed Thats not even weird name by Jack Vance standards ;)

Its no satire, that story is pretty straigtforward compared to other series in the series.


message 14: by Gary (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary Sometimes it's good to grow old Dan! I agree with you Vance's books are subtle and they give a gentle pleasure consistently, not the 100mph and often gory romp of more recent fantasy writers.
I have just picked up a compilation of stories by writers paying tribute to Jack Vance, so I'll let you know how that goes in due course.


message 15: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Did I hear someone say "Fritz Leiber?" I will read this.


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

Man, I did not like this at all. I respect it for influencing Dungeons & Dragons with the Vancian magic system, but I just couldn't get into the stories or the writing.


message 17: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan Schwent I hated it the first time I tried to read it. The stories featuring Cugel are better than the others.


message 18: by Tim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tim This omnibus is the first I read from Jack Vance, although he sort of was on my list of stuff to read, only when was undecided.

I'm almost done with the first part, The Dying Earth, and so far I like it a lot. Not just the stories, but also the writing style, the choice of words. Actually quite refreshing (yes, it was written tens of years ago, but still... ;-)) compared to most contemporary writers.

Anyway, you made a very good review. I like how you dissected it all and added your thoughts on each part afterwards. Makes the review all the more complete. :-)


message 19: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan Schwent Tim wrote: "This omnibus is the first I read from Jack Vance, although he sort of was on my list of stuff to read, only when was undecided.

I'm almost done with the first part, The Dying Earth, and so far I l..."


Thanks! The book really takes off once Cugel takes center stage in the second and third books.


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