Thursday, 15 February 2001
Jack Vance: The Dying Earth (1950)
Review number: 754
Jack Vance's debut is something of a fantasy classic, and was a big influence on writers like Michael Moorcock. Although described as a novel in the list of Vance's works at the front of his books, it is really a collection of linked short stories.
The links are more to do with setting and characters than shared plot elements, and some even contradict others (as dead characters live again, for example). The setting is most important; like Moorcock, Vance gives atmospheric background a high priority. This setting is nominally the earth of the far future, a world full of decadent magic (many of the secrets of the past being lost or poorly comprehended) and many dangers, including creatures who have taken shape from the many centuries of humankind's nightmares.
Each story takes the form of a short quest, and are successful enough to leave the reader regretting the introduction of a new protagonist with the next story; we want to know what happens next. The major failing is, paradoxically, that there is too much invention; it is hard to get our bearings in the world Vance portrays. Still, this ensures that the stories will repay re-reading.