Read for the 2010 TBR Lite Reading Challenge.
I’ve been trying to get my hands on The Dying Earth for years now (I have all the other books written in this particular world, but for some reason, the first was the hardest to locate). It’s one of those seminal earlier works of science fiction (or science fantasy as the blurb on this edition labels it) that people seem to either love, or hate. I’ll admit I was a little worried that it wouldn’t live up to all the hype. Thankfully, I seem to be on a good run with books I’ve already heard a lot about, and I really enjoyed reading these tales.
The book is a series of short stories, some very loosely related, that take place in a far future Earth, where an ancient red sun travels through a deep indigo sky. There are nameless ruins of ancient civilizations across a landscape completely unfamiliar to our own, and the people are no longer quite as they were in the dim recesses of the past. There’s magic, which is possibly science, and many other strange and wonderful things. What makes this book is the language. I hesitate to compare Vance to Patricia McKillip, because their style is not the same, but his way with words gives me the same kind of pleasure I have reading McKillip’s work. It’s like a word painting, and everything is vividly drawn.
My favorite story is probably the last in this book: “Guyal of Sfere”. Guyal is a young man with a thirst for knowledge, and when his father is no longer to satisfactorily able to answer his questions, he sets out on a journey to the far north, to find the Curator of the Museum of Man, who is thought to have the answers to all questions. His journey brings him through a variety of landscapes, with encounters with many different peoples, each more unexpected than the last. With the gorgeous prose, it’s an incredible journey to read.
I would definitely recommend this book. It may have been published in 1950, but it’s a timeless world that I can’t imagine will ever be dated in the way that some older science fiction has become. I’ll also add that I’m not the kind of person that easily enjoys poetry, or very poetic prose, so I have to imagine that if I can enjoy Vance’s writing, which could be seen as poetic, it can’t be bad enough to scare off other poetry-phobes like me.