Sword & Sorcery: "An earthier sort of fantasy" discussion

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Group Reads > 2013 7-8 Jack Vance

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message 1: by S.E., Gray Mouser (new)

S.E. Lindberg (selindberg) | 1678 comments Mod
With the recent passing of Jack Vance, we’ll reflect on his work this Summer (July-August). A parallel group read with the theme of “Anything in your own To-Read pile” will also be going. As always, the masthead image for the group reflects these new topics.

The Masthead is a montage created from the first edition of the first four books of The Dying Earth series: The Dying Earth, The Eyes of the Overworld, Cugel's Saga, Rhialto The Marvellous.

Credits go to artists (L to R): Unknown, 1950; Jack Gaughan, 1966; Kevin Johnson, 1983; Stephen E. Fabian, 1984

The Dying Earth by Jack Vance The Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance Cugel's Saga by Jack Vance Rhialto The Marvellous by Jack Vance


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

The Eyes of the Overlord and Cugel's Saga are two books I love to re-read. Something about Cugel's immoral opportunism just seems to fit perfectly with Vance's style, especially his penchant for (as it seems to me) deliberately artificial (but highly amusing) dialogue.


message 3: by Periklis, Fafhrd (last edited Jun 23, 2013 07:57AM) (new)

Periklis (periklisbegzos) | 426 comments Mod
I've started the omnibus edition, Tales of the Dying Earth a couple of years ago. My favorite "book" remains volume 1 (The Dying Earth) but I'm really looking forward to reading Cugel's Saga for the first time for the group read.


message 4: by S.E., Gray Mouser (new)

S.E. Lindberg (selindberg) | 1678 comments Mod
I have had the The Dying Earth series in my To-Read Queue forever, so it fits both groupread themes for me. I am a big fan of Clark Ashton Smith and Darrell Schweitzer, and I heard this is reminiscent of their style.


message 5: by Dan (last edited Jun 26, 2013 10:18PM) (new)

Dan (TheGreatBeast) | 213 comments This is a good excuse to finally read Jack Vance's Dying Earth series, so I guess it fits in both categories for group reads too. Just gotta polish off Joe Hill's nos4a2 first, been on a horror kick for the last while.

S.E.: if it is anything like Clark Ashton Smith that is a good sign!


message 6: by David (new)

David | 4 comments The Tales of The Dying Earth omnibus is what made me a reader of science fiction and fantasy. It's without a doubt my most favorite book and I'm happy to read along with this group. You can clearly see Jack Vance's influence in other writers and I'm now going to name names and titles. Liz Williams "Banner of Souls", Steve Aylett "Fain The Sorcerer", Dan Simmons "Hyperion" "Ilium" and "Olympos", Michael Shea "Niftt the Lean", Michael Swanwick's " Dragon's of Babel" and practically all of Matthew Hughes' books. Even Roger Zelazny wrote "Jack of Shadows" as a tribute to Jack Vance. And we can not forget that other master Gene Wolfe and his "Book of the New Sun" series. Needless to say, I'm excited.


message 7: by S.E., Gray Mouser (new)

S.E. Lindberg (selindberg) | 1678 comments Mod
Just saw that Howard Andrew Jones posted a quick blogpost about Cugel's Saga...though he has commented on Vance a few times before.

http://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_...


message 8: by Howard (new)

Howard Jones (joneshoward) | 67 comments Here's where I wrote about him in a little greater depth. (http://www.howardandrewjones.com/unca...) Since that post I've not only finished off The Dying Earth sequence and the Demon Princes novels, I've read the three Alastor books and some short stories. And I've begun to realize more and more that Vance is one of my favorite writers. I'm actively on the hunt for other books by him.

Here I was thinking that I was old enough I'd be unlikely to discover more absolute favorite writers, but in the last couple of years I've added a western writer to that number (I never used to read westerns!), and now I think I'm moving Vance up among my very top five or ten. So far he has never failed to entertain, instruct, and get me thinking.


message 9: by Fletcher (new)

Fletcher Vredenburgh | 91 comments Guess I'll read all of Rhialto the Marvellous for the first time. I'm always surprised by his books. I'm really curious about Araminta Station and its sequels.


message 10: by Howard (new)

Howard Jones (joneshoward) | 67 comments Just polished off Vance's Planet of Adventure sequence for the second time and found it as un-put-downable as I had the first time.

I'm about halfway through my re-read of The Dying Earth now.


message 11: by Joseph, Code name TBD (new)

Joseph | 903 comments Mod
I discovered Vance -- well, the first three Dying Earth books, at least -- back in college and just devoured them. I was very lucky in my timing -- I moved to the Twin Cities in 1990, when I could, every week, go to Uncle Hugo's Science Fiction Bookstore and come back with grocery sacks full of used Vance DAW paperbacks. (And the complete Wagner Kane series, but that's a different topic ...)


message 12: by S.E., Gray Mouser (last edited Jul 03, 2013 07:05AM) (new)

S.E. Lindberg (selindberg) | 1678 comments Mod
Joseph wrote: "I discovered Vance..go to Uncle Hugo's Science Fiction Bookstore..."

Hey Joseph, I know that bookstore. I went to a U-Minn Engineering course there in Coating and had a free afternoon. Found it.. and got a half dozen books...and had to pull myself away from the cardboard/bin of rolled up Frazetta prints.


message 13: by Joseph, Code name TBD (new)

Joseph | 903 comments Mod
S.E. wrote: "Hey Joseph, I know that bookstore. I went to a U-Minn Engineering course there in Coating and had a free afternoon. Found it.. and got a half dozen books...and had to pull myself away from the cardboard/bin of rolled up Frazetta prints."

They're still alive and well. I've been going there for the past 23 years now, as can be attested by some of the photos on my profile page.


message 14: by David (new)

David | 4 comments The Dying Earth. Is it fantasy? Is it science fiction. Turjan of Miir experiments with creating a life form but fails. Turjan recalls the words of the Sage, who says,"In ages gone, a thousand spells were known to sorcery and the wizards effected their wills. Today, as Earth dies, a hundred spells remain to man's knowledge, and these have come to us through the ancient books... incantations, cantraps, runes, and thaumaturgies that have ever wrenched and molded space..."
Jack Vance may well be talking about Mary Shelly's Frankestein or Albert Einstein and modern science without ever losing the magic and wonder of it all.


message 15: by Sean (last edited Jul 08, 2013 07:39AM) (new)

Sean (capthowdy) | 75 comments I am really looking forward to this group read. As soon as I finish the rest of Swords Against Death (summer hit and along with it, slowed my reading significantly... its so much easier to get through books when it's -30 degrees celcius).

I have never heard of Araminta Station! I'll have to add that to my to read shelf for after I one day finish the Dying Earth series. I have finished his Tschai (aka Planet of Adventure) series recently though.

I am curious if you folks are reading Vance Digital Editions (or the rare Vance Integral Editions). I've been buying the digital ebooks from http://www.jackvance.com and have been very happy with them. There appear to be many changes to what is questionably the 'author's preferred texts' (i.e title names, and so forth.

My read for this is going to be:
Cugel the Clever by Jack Vance

I am a LiTtLe frustrated because last year I bought:

Mazirian the Magician by Jack Vance
I was planning to plug my way through the series and then they release a nice omnibus:
The Dying Earth (The Dying Earth, #all) by Jack Vance .
I'll get no savings but now have to decide... do I want them as all nice individual ebooks (i.e. get them separately since buying the omnibus will not save me anything), or... just buy the danged omnibus! I am leaning toward nice individual ebooks since there is no additional cost for me.

Anyone have the omnibus already? http://www.jackvance.com/ebooks/shop/... Does it come as one ebook or do they send you all the books?


message 16: by Joseph, Code name TBD (new)

Joseph | 903 comments Mod
Sean wrote: "Anyone have the omnibus already? http://www.jackvance.com/ebooks/shop/... Does it come as one ebook or do they send you all the books?"

I'm not certain -- I had actually bought all of the individual titles before they started releasing the omnibus collections. I'd recommend emailing them to ask -- they've always been really responsive when I've talked to them in the past, and have been more than willing to help me out.


message 17: by Paul (new)

Paul | 24 comments I found these (The Dying Earth) in the local library years ago and loved them. He was one of the pioneers of the un-heroic fantasy popular today... if you consider his stuff fantasy.


message 18: by Joseph, Code name TBD (last edited Jul 08, 2013 08:08AM) (new)

Joseph | 903 comments Mod
And speaking of the VIE ...

http://www.goodreads.com/photo/user/5...


message 19: by S.E., Gray Mouser (new)

S.E. Lindberg (selindberg) | 1678 comments Mod
Just finished The Dying Earth (review here = http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...). I was struck by two main things: (1) Vance's influential naming of magic items/spells...and (2) his "beauty" theme. I copy/paste my review-blurb (below) of the prior...to ask folks if they agree that Vance seems to be the originator. I can't think of anyone to precede him. Agree/Disagree?

Codifying Magic - Role Playing Game (RPG)s: Tolkien maybe credited for inspiring "fellowships" of Dwarves, Elves, and Humans to go adventuring (a key trope for RPGs), but his magic-system was never codified well. Some ontology, or approach to classifying, was also needed...and already provided, actually. Before "Lord of The Rings", Vance delivered The Dying Earth, and seems responsible for providing RPG-franchises with the needed approach: captivating brand names. Vance's Items and Spell titles simply exhibit self-evident credibility : Magic Items such as Expansible Egg, Scintillant Dagger, and Live Boots...and Spells such as Excellent Prismatic Spray, Phandaal's Mantle of Stealth, Call to the Violent Cloud, Charm of Untiring Nourishment. Three decades after The Dying Earth was published, the broader fantasy culture apparently caught on to the branding of spells and magic items (i.e. 1980's Dungeons & Dragons… or even magic-based card games like Pokemon, etc.).


message 20: by Joseph, Code name TBD (new)

Joseph | 903 comments Mod
S.E. wrote: "Just finished The Dying Earth (review here = http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...). I was struck by two main things: (1) Vance's influential naming of magic items/spells...and (2) his "b..."

Yep, definitely agree. Gary Gygax specifically cited Vance as an inspiration for the D&D spell "memorization" mechanic and lifted any number of spell and item names more or less directly from Vance.


message 21: by S.E., Gray Mouser (new)

S.E. Lindberg (selindberg) | 1678 comments Mod
Joseph, wow... I had no idea the connection was that clear! Thanks for clueing me in on Gygax.


message 22: by Joseph, Code name TBD (new)

Joseph | 903 comments Mod
S.E. wrote: "Joseph, wow... I had no idea the connection was that clear! Thanks for clueing me in on Gygax."

You're welcome! Vance even made it into the game, after a fashion -- Gygax used the name "VECNA" (anagram of Vance) for a legendary undead wizard. (Although I never noticed the anagram until it was pointed out recently.)


message 23: by Dan (last edited Jul 18, 2013 11:16PM) (new)

Dan (TheGreatBeast) | 213 comments I finally just started The Dying Earth today. I'm only 2 chapters in so far but I am enjoying it. He uses some very strong and surreal imagery a trait I greatly enjoy.


message 24: by Phil (new)

Phil Emery | 57 comments Joseph wrote: "And speaking of the VIE ...

http://www.goodreads.com/photo/user/5..."


Very much enjoyed the review.
I think Vance, particularly with those initial The Dying Earth six stories, is a fascinating contributor to the S-&-S landscape. For my money there are several categories of fantasy which mine directly or otherwise what Robert Howard started and Vance fits into an area I call 'Neo S-&-S'. These are stories that, although broadly s-&-s are particularly sophisticated (employing irony) in the presentation of the supernatural - an approach that could be called 'wonder en passant'.
These six stories are extraordinarily varied, as has been pointed out, but I think my umbrella fits over all of them. (And irony or not, there's an affecting melancholy about them.)


message 25: by Sean (last edited Jul 24, 2013 11:23AM) (new)

Sean (capthowdy) | 75 comments S.E. wrote: "Just finished The Dying Earth (review here = http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...).

Great review! Are you considering continuing with the saga?

Has anyone ever read this tribute collection?

Songs of the Dying Earth Stories in Honour of Jack Vance by George R.R. Martin


message 26: by Joseph, Code name TBD (new)

Joseph | 903 comments Mod
Sean wrote: "S.E. wrote: "Has anyone ever read this tribute collection?

Songs of the Dying Earth Stories in Honour of Jack Vance "


Not yet, although it's on my shelf. I have to admit I've gotten a little skeptical about these kinds of anthologies over the years -- seems like there's often more "miss" than "hit".

Not entirely on-topic, but a couple of the better examples that I found were William Hope Hodgson's Night Lands, Volume I: Eternal Love and William Hope Hodgson's Night Lands Volume 2: Nightmares of the Fall, both edited by Andy W. Robertson. I think they probably worked because Hodgson's original Night Land is almost unreadable.


message 27: by S.E., Gray Mouser (new)

S.E. Lindberg (selindberg) | 1678 comments Mod
Sean wrote: "S.E. wrote: "Just finished The Dying Earth (review here = http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...). Great review! Are you considering continuing witht he saga?
"


Thanks, Sean. Yes, I am reading Cugel's wayfaring in "The Eyes of the Overlord" (published 1966). Given the 16yrs span since the previous installment (1950, The Dying Earth), I am struck with the remarkably consistent pacing, tone, and themes.

Never heard of the tribute collection.


message 28: by Joseph, Code name TBD (last edited Jul 22, 2013 12:05PM) (new)

Joseph | 903 comments Mod
S.E. wrote: "Thanks, Sean. Yes, I am reading Cugel's wayfaring in "The Eyes of the Overlord" (published 1966). Given the 16yrs span since the previous installment (1950, The Dying Earth), I am struck with the remarkably consistent pacing, tone, and themes.

Never heard of the tribute collection."


There was also A Quest For Simbilis by Michael Shea -- a Vance-authorized sequel to Eyes of the Overworld, although I suppose it was "decanonized" when Vance subsequently wrote Cugel's Saga. I think Shea has a better grasp on Vance than most, but I prefer Shea's own stuff -- Nifft the Lean and In Yana in particular, both of which I'd recommend to Vance fans.


message 29: by Howard (new)

Howard Jones (joneshoward) | 67 comments Shea was actually very clever with the sequel (in all sorts of ways -- but I refer specifically to the plotting) so that Cugel is left... well, I'd be giving something away if I spelled it out. Nothing is ruined for the series, however, the way Shea handled matters.


message 30: by Dan (new)

Dan (TheGreatBeast) | 213 comments Getting near the end of The Dying Earth. I honestly didn't expect it to be a series of short stories loosely tied together, the first 3 chapters are based on what seemed to be one plot. I am surprised in a good way though, because each story has it's own uniqueness, and it's fun to explore the cities of the Dying Earth.


message 31: by Dan (new)

Dan (TheGreatBeast) | 213 comments Phil wrote: "Joseph wrote: "And speaking of the VIE ...

http://www.goodreads.com/photo/user/5..."

Very much enjoyed the review.
I think Vance, particularly with those initial The Dyi..."


I agree. Other authors of the time who I feel grew S&S at the time were Moorcock and Leiber.


message 32: by Dan (new)

Dan (TheGreatBeast) | 213 comments I finished off the Dying Earth last night. It was a really enjoyable read, I think the last two stories were the best of the bunch.


message 33: by Bill (new)

Bill Ward | 23 comments I've been on a Vance kick for the last six months or so and, like Howard said above, I feel like I've discovered a new favorite author. Not that I didn't always like his work, but the more I read, the better I like it.

I also finished up the Demon Princes novels recently, and it's interesting how they really transform into something unique and strange at the end of the series (supervillians motivated to revenge an insulting remark by a neighbor, or terrorize their high school reunion?).

Planet of Adventure and Dying Earth are also terrific series, I'm long due to reread both. I managed to pick up a nice omnibus of Lyonesse for my shelf as well, I have yet to read it.

Big Planet and its 'sequel' Showboat World were fun romps, both of them journeys over a strange landscape of odd human cultures. Showboat World in particular was a lot of fun -- competing showman with riverboats decked out as mobile theaters (complete with decks that can slant up to dump unruly crowds into the water) engaging in all manner of skullduggery and double-crossing. The original paperback I have has a wonderfully dumb cover that has absolutely nothing to do with the story.

The Languages of Pao was also terrific, this one and To Live Forever were both more of SF style novels. The former in particular addressed the idea of language as a determinant of culture -- a mastermind creates all sorts of specific castes in a newly conquered society, each unable to think outside the scope of their carefully engineered language.

I still have stacks of unread Vance, scads of unbought Vance, and plenty I want to reread. Amazing to think I've probably read 30+ of his books and I still feel like a novice when it comes to his work, there's just so much of it.

And it's all really, really good.


message 34: by Howard (last edited Jul 31, 2013 12:08PM) (new)

Howard Jones (joneshoward) | 67 comments Bill wrote: "I've been on a Vance kick for the last six months or so and, like Howard said above, I feel like I've discovered a new favorite author. Not that I didn't always like his work, but the more I read, ..."

Hey Bill, I'm right there with you. I'm waiting to read Showboat World until a new hardback copy comes out in August, but I have the sequel in old paperback form already. I've also got the Ariminta Station books nearby, and a number of standalones.

I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy Lyonesse. It has all of the standard Vance strengths, plus the addition of more character depth than he sometimes shows us.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading more. I'm stepping away for a little while, but I'll be coming back. And this time it won't be years until I try his work again.


message 35: by Sean (last edited Aug 01, 2013 08:42AM) (new)

Sean (capthowdy) | 75 comments Cugel the Clever by Jack Vance

I finished Cugel the Clever and enjoyed it. I liked it better than Mazirian the Magician because it didn't jump to different characters as the stories were all interconnected through the main character and his exploits on how to get home.

I tended to enjoy it most when Cugel was proving his namesake, and also being quite funny and unremorseful towards anyone else whether they were friend or foe.

I hope to get to the next one, Cugel: the Skybreak Spatterlight soon as the ending of Cugel the Clever (view spoiler)

Still though, the Dying Earth series is second in my mind to the Tschai series. I loved every one of those books.


message 36: by Howard (new)

Howard Jones (joneshoward) | 67 comments They deliver different things, but they're both delicious courses from a master chef.


message 37: by Joseph, Code name TBD (last edited Aug 03, 2013 11:05AM) (new)

Joseph | 903 comments Mod
When I first read it, I really, really liked The Dying Earth by Jack Vance (and this was the cover of the edition I first read), but The Eyes of the Overworld was the book that really made me a Vance fan for life.


message 38: by Phil (new)

Phil Emery | 57 comments Howard wrote: "They deliver different things, but they're both delicious courses from a master chef."

That's an excellent way of putting it. Vance was one of the real stylists - never seemed to put a foot/sentence wrong.


message 39: by [deleted user] (new)

Ooh, I love Vance! I definitely came to Vance via Gygax to see the roots of the D&D game. That Dying Earth collection was my first taste of Vance as well. I love the Cugel books, and I am very curious to read the Shea sequel to the books especially hearing that it works within the series. I am not such a fan of Rhialto, but the rest of the stories are quite good.

My favorite of his is definitely The Blue Planet, and I also really enjoyed Ports of Call. I need to get my hands on the sequel though. I have Big Planet and The Dragon Masters sitting on my shelf waiting for a read.

I love the cleverness of Vance's dialogue and the subdued and conniving way his characters interact with each other. There's a lot of that in the Cugel books as well as Ports of Call which I consider almost "Cugel in Space." :P


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