Thursday, July 14, 2011

Vance’s Dying Earth

I just finished the 3rd book in Jack Vance’s Dying Earth Saga, and I thought it was time to say a little something about them here. First off, these are my reviews of the individual books.

The Dying Earth

I read this one in part because it is mentioned as one of Gary Gygax's inspirational sources for Dungeons and Dragons, and a lot of D&D bloggers talk about it. It's a short book, and I read it very quickly, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys non-standard fantasy!

Eyes of the Overworld

The second book in Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series focuses entirely upon a single character: Cugel. This change does not prevent a grand exploration of the Dying Earth with its dim red sun. It is a truly fantastic world, more so than most fantasy authors even come close to creating. Cugel makes for an interesting tour guide, as he is much more of an anti-hero than you generally get in such a book. But then there are few that would qualify as having high moral standards on the Dying Earth. Yet Cugel is both a product of the Dying Earth and a fairly enjoyable scoundrel, in spite of, or because of his many flaws.

Cugel’s Saga

The third book of the Dying Earth saga continues to follow Cugel as he once again has to make his way back to the Laughing Magician. Cugel continues to navigate the world under the dim red Sun. He is an interesting contrast in character traits, often conflicting, even contradictory! Yet he can fairly easily be defined by his two main traits: he is selfishly lazy and highly goal motivated. This leads him to engage in some really vile acts, yet at other times can be surprisingly kind. His fortune is constantly on the rise or decline, and it’s usually doing the opposite of what he thinks it’s doing.

Art by Marc Simonetti

So what do I see of Vance’s Dying Earth in DnD? Vancian spell casting obviously, but even more the eons of history that are sprinkled fairly liberally all over the world! Treasures that are forgotten in long buried cities, abandoned towers, or even at the bottom of mud pits! Be it simple coins, fine wines, scales of a god, or ancient blades, it doesn’t seem to take much effort to find them if you bother to look, though often the dangers are great.

Another thing is the acknowledged power of magic, yet the lack of awe it inspires. It seems that magic, even something so amazing as a flying ship doesn’t turn too many heads.

I was also surprised by the waxing and waning of people fortunes. Cugel gains and loses more fortunes over the course of the books than many DnD characters, and he's fairly pragmatic about the whole thing too.

All in all, some great inspirational reading, and I'm looking forward to picking up Songs of the Dying Earth to see what the likes of Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin (along with 20 other authors) can do with Vance's world.


  1. Do Ioun stones appear in the D.E. books? I just finished a Vance short story that was all about them.

  2. Ok, I will TRY to read these again, I somehow get bogged down in the first book...

  3. I have a copy of "Songs of the DE" and am in my third reading. The book contains a marvelous group of short stories wreathed with rococo images and satisfying endings. You won't be sorry if you get a copy. I have just about everything by Jack Vance and, in some case, several duplicates (like DE 1st printing through 3rd printing,) To say he has influenced my writing is putting it mildly.