Good morning ladies and Gentlemen ! Bonjour Mesdames et Messieurs ! Here i am again. Sorry for the lengthy wait, the checkup took a bit after the testflight. But now the ship is cleared again for flight, so let´s take to new horizons. Today we travel to the lands of the Dying Earth. No. no, not this one, or at least not in our time. This is the one of Jack Vance, a world and work that inspired the likes of Gene Wolfe and others in creating something similar; a fantasy world that is rooted in science-fiction, most probably inspired by the planetary romances of Edgar Rice Burroghs and others. And as there are many classics I didn´t read yet, I decided as a fan of science-fiction and fantasy ( or genre literature as it is mostly mentiponed nowdays ) why not make the focus of this year something that combines both; though there will also be another great project for this year, and that is wisiting the Earthsea of Ursula K Leguin. But for starters lets stick to the Dying Earth.
I encountered the universe of the Dying Earth some time ago through the anthology The songs of the Dying Earth, compiled by G. R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. It was a tribute to Jack Vance and his strange, beautiful creation. I got mesmerize in a way i get just rarely. It gave me a taste of Vance´s creation, so i decided that I have waited enough with the exploration of his work.
I got me the compendium Tales of the Dying Earth from Gollancz to effectuate the above mentioned exploration, but I will rather study and evaluate the body of work, one by one. In this post I will be scrutinizing the anthology – first book contained in the compendium – The Dying Earth, which contains 6 tales, ranging from short stories through novelettes to novellas, which are a somewhat strange classifications for me coming from a non english language culture, I mean we have short stories – and they bear the name novella – full blown novels, and we have stories that are bigger than a short story, but not enoguh to be a ful blown novel, so called little novels, and I have a somewhat ambiguous feelings seeing that in english they have even two expressions for these. novelettes and novellas. It´s all kind of confusing, as the novelettes tend to feel like short stories in our own language. But enough of semantics, let´s look at the content of the actual anthology.
I like the fact that the first book in the compendium is an anthology of shorter stories; firstly because I allready said at least couple of times here on the blog: I am a sucker for anthologies; secondly as it gives smaller bites to taste a variety of things awaiting in the whole body of work, so it´s easy to measure what is to our taste and what is to be expected.
So the first story is that of Turjan of Miir. A neat short story of a wizard´s endeavor on learning the art of cloning I would say, though it entails a scullduggery too. So it´s science and adventure in one pack. And the really neat part of it is that there is no literal evil, or good, the reader gets to decide that for himself. Is Turjan an evil wizard/scientist who is partaking in abhorrent actions against natural laws, or is he simply a curious disciple of sciences, or something in between ? Well who knows …
The next story is Mazirian the magician, a fellow rival wizard of Turjan. In this story – that seems to be chronologically also after the earlier one – Mazirian imprisoned Turjan so that he could coerce him to giving up information on his cloning experiments. However these efforts are not bearing fruits at the time of story. In the meanwhile Tsain, Turjan´s partner is harassing with her presence Mazirian, which ends after a time in Mazirian pursuing Tsain. In the pursuit Mazirian encounters other hostile creatures and is forced to fight them, expanding one spell after the other till he runs out, and the subsequent encounter brings his demise forth, meanwhile Tsain escapes and manages to free Turjan. An interesting story, that evokes the random encounters from my RPG sessions. So it´s not just the magic mechanics that were inspired by the work of Jack Vance.
And so comes the next story: Tsais. Tsais – whom we already met in the first story, and also sister of Tsain – a creature cursed to perceive everything as ugly and evil, now coming to Earth from Embelyon in search for beauty and love, only to find evil and horror at first, but then stumbling upon Etarr, a cursed being himself. Together they search for justice. A story resembling a fairy tale, but happening in a land far stranger, than one has seen before. I enjoyed it.
The next tale is that of Liane the Wayfarer. And although Liane is the protagonist, the real stars of this story are Chun the Unavoidable and Lithe. And it was fun reading the original, as I knew the gist of the story from the Songs of the Dying Earth.All I want to say here: “Liane, I´m sorry, I´m so sorry …”.
And so we arrive to the story Ulan Dhor Ends a Dream. Ulan – the nefew of prince Kandive, an accomplished magician and ruler of the city of Kaiin – an accomplished swordsman and budding magic user, embarking on a journey to retrieve two tablets promising knowledge and power. But ends up revealing a nasty “prank” that went on for more than a few years ( approximately 5000 years ) and finding his true love. Not a small feat.
And so we arrive to the last story of the volume: Guyal of Sphere. A story of search, mainly that of knowledge, and becoming a great adventure that we are used to experiencing in our typical fantasy pen and paper role playing games ( yes, mainly Dungeons and Dragons ). Guyal gets to travel the known world of his time, just to meet all kind of people of dubious reputation, just to find more than he bargained for. At a point the story reminden me of the action adventure games of the Legend of Zelda series, exploring a dark dungeon while fending off fiends that pop ot of nowhere. More than satisfying read.
In overall I was very pleased with this book, a read that was new and nostalgic at the same time. I can see that some of the younger readers might be dissapointed with it, as there are so many good contemporary fantasy/sci-fi writers today, and their style, brand might be a lot more complex, so that thay find that of Jack Vance´s somewhat lacking, but well that is not something that one can help with; I mean appreciating history, previous accomplishments takes a certain taste, that not everybody attains, but that is allright.
And so we arrive to the end of our today´s journey. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. We will be back soon, with new adventures. Till then be safe and merry. Captain of the I.S.S. Rover over, and out !