Review: The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

For my first ever book review, I’m going with one of the godfathers of science fantasy. My reasons for doing so are threefold:

1: This blog will cover both genres, so it makes a sort of cosmic sense to begin with an author who writes both.

2. One of my favourite series of all time is the Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe, who borrows heavily from Vance’s dying earth motif.

3. It’s what I happen to be reading at the moment.

The first thing you need to know about this book is that it was published in 1950. So while it isn’t overtly sexist (debatable) there is a notable dearth of strong female characters here. Conversely, if you dig all powerful male wizards who never suffer the slightest shred of self-doubt, then this sequence of loosely related tales is definitely for you.

What I do like, though, is that Dying Earth is fucking weird. Creepshow scientists recreate humanity in chemical vats, magically endowed women replace men’s faces with demon larvae heads, and at one point we meet an entity known only as Chun the Unavoidable.

But my favourite WTF moment occurs when a godlike character rebuilds a city in seconds using his tentacular powers, allows its inhabitants to gaze upon his perfect creation, and then kills the lot of them for being unworthy of residing there. (in a sequence that starts out as a mirror image of China Meiville’s City and the City, by the way)

The prose takes a bit of getting used to as well, mostly due to the sheer pace of the separate narratives being told. Despite taking place on an ancient earth where even the sun can barely be bothered to rise, these stories move with dizzying speed. (I’m not much of a short fiction reader, so maybe this will be normal for those of you who are)

Overall though the book was successful in holding my interest, except for the last sequence which lost me a little bit. This was my first go at Vance, and although I won’t be scrambling to read more (partly because reviewing 20 of his novels in a row would be pretty dull) I do plan on picking up his Demon Cycle and Lyonesse series somewhere down the track.

Prose: B

Plot: C

Characterisation: C-

Originality: A

Weird factor: A+

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ODDNOVELS is a book review blog that I write just for the hell of it. If it's weird or wildly speculative, you will find it here.