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The Dying Earth by Jack Vance
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The Dying Earth (1950)

by Jack Vance

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Dying Earth (1)

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7821611,788 (3.86)1 / 14
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English (13)  Finnish (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (15)
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Couldn't finish it. Got halfway through and had had enough. The stories were arranged in an order that was all over the place. The characters caricatures. The dying Earth itself didn't play much part in the parts I red, wich is not want I was after. This was not the book for me. ( )
  StaticBlaq | Apr 26, 2015 |
I've read a short story in this series & it was OK. I think it was in one of the early "Flashing Swords" anthologies. I don't care for the style of writing. The world is certainly imaginative, but too chaotic & there is no real characterization. Also there are too many weird names to keep track of in the bits & pieces I listen to. Nope, just not going to work for a whole book. Moving on. ( )
  jimmaclachlan | Aug 18, 2014 |
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

The Dying Earth is the first of Jack Vance’s Tales of the Dying Earth and contains six somewhat overlapping stories all set in the future when the sun is red and dim, much technology has been lost, and most of humanity has died out. Our planet is so unrecognizable that it might as well be another world, and evil has been "distilled" so that it's concentrated in Earth's remaining inhabitants.

But it's easy to forget that a failing planet is the setting for the Dying Earth stories, for they are neither depressing nor bleak, and they're not really about the doom of the Earth. These stories are whimsical and weird and they focus more on the strange people who remain and the strange things they do. Magicians, wizards, witches, beautiful maidens, damsels in distress, seekers of knowledge, and vain princes strive to outwit each other for their own advantage.

What appeals to me most is that The Tales of the Dying Earth are about how things could possibly be in an alternate reality. All speculative fiction does that, of course, but Jack Vance just happens to hit on the particular things that I find most fascinating to speculate about: neuroscience, psychology, sensation, and perception. These are subjects I study and teach every day, so I think about them a lot. One thing I love to consider, which happens to be a common theme in Vance’s work, is how we might experience life differently if our sensory systems were altered just a bit. I find myself occasionally asking my students questions like "what would it be like if we had retinal receptors that could visualize electromagnetic waves outside of the visible spectrum?" (So bizarre to consider, and yet so possible!) They look at me like I'm nuts, but I'm certain that Jack Vance would love to talk about that possibility. And even though The Dying Earth was first published in 1950, it doesn’t feel dated at all — it can still charm a neuroscientist 60 years later. This is because his setting feels medieval; technology has been forgotten. Thus, it doesn’t matter that there were no cell phones or Internet when Vance wrote The Dying Earth.

I also love the constant juxtaposition of the ludicrous and the sublimely intelligent. Like Monty Python, Willy Wonka, and Alice in Wonderland. [Aside: This makes me wonder how Johnny Depp would do at portraying a Jack Vance character…] Some of the scenes that involve eyeballs and brains and pickled homunculi make me think of SpongeBob Squarepants — the most obnoxious show on television, yet somehow brilliant. (Jack Vance probably wouldn't appreciate that I've compared his literature to SpongeBob Squarepants. Or maybe he would!)

Lastly, I love Jack Vance’s “high language” (that’s what he called it), which is consistent and never feels forced. This style contributes greatly to the humor that pervades his work — understatement, irony, illogic, and non sequiturs are used to make fun of human behavior, and I find this outrageously funny. As just one example, in one story, Guyal has been tricked into breaking a silly and arbitrary sacred law in the land he’s traveling through:

“The entire episode is mockery!” raged Guyal. “Are you savages, then, thus to mistreat a lone wayfarer?”

“By no means,” replied the Castellan. “We are a highly civilized people, with customs bequeathed us by the past. Since the past was more glorious than the present, what presumption we would show by questioning these laws!”

Guyal fell quiet. “And what are the usual penalties for my act?”…

“You are indeed fortunate,” said the Saponid, “in that, as a witness, I was able to suggest your delinquencies to be more the result of negligence than malice. The last penalties exacted for the crime were stringent; the felon was ordered to perform the following three acts: first, to cut off his toes and sew the severed members into the skin at his neck; second, to revile his forbears for three hours, commencing with a Common Bill of Anathema, including feigned madness and hereditary disease, and at last defiling the hearth of his clan with ordure; and third, walking a mile under the lake with leaded shoes in search of the Lost Book of Kells.” And the Castellan regarded Guyal with complacency.

“What deeds must I perform?” inquired Guyal drily.


If you want to find out what three deeds Guyal had to perform, you’ll have to get the book!

I listened to Brilliance Audio’s production of The Dying Earth and the reader, Arthur Morey, was perfect. He really highlighted the humorous element of Vance’s work. It was a terrific production and I’m now enjoying the second Dying Earth audiobook (which is even better than this first one!). By the way, I want to say that I’m extremely pleased with Brilliance Audio for publishing these stories!

Jack Vance is my favorite fantasy author. His work probably won’t appeal to the Twilighters, but for those who enjoy Pythonesque surreal humor written in high style, or for fans of Lewis Carroll, Fritz Leiber, and L. Frank Baum, I suggest giving Jack Vance a try. If you listen to audiobooks, definitely try Brilliance Audio’s version! ( )
1 vote Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

The Dying Earth is the first of Jack Vance’s Tales of the Dying Earth and contains six somewhat overlapping stories all set in the future when the sun is red and dim, much technology has been lost, and most of humanity has died out. Our planet is so unrecognizable that it might as well be another world, and evil has been "distilled" so that it's concentrated in Earth's remaining inhabitants.

But it's easy to forget that a failing planet is the setting for the Dying Earth stories, for they are neither depressing nor bleak, and they're not really about the doom of the Earth. These stories are whimsical and weird and they focus more on the strange people who remain and the strange things they do. Magicians, wizards, witches, beautiful maidens, damsels in distress, seekers of knowledge, and vain princes strive to outwit each other for their own advantage.

What appeals to me most is that The Tales of the Dying Earth are about how things could possibly be in an alternate reality. All speculative fiction does that, of course, but Jack Vance just happens to hit on the particular things that I find most fascinating to speculate about: neuroscience, psychology, sensation, and perception. These are subjects I study and teach every day, so I think about them a lot. One thing I love to consider, which happens to be a common theme in Vance’s work, is how we might experience life differently if our sensory systems were altered just a bit. I find myself occasionally asking my students questions like "what would it be like if we had retinal receptors that could visualize electromagnetic waves outside of the visible spectrum?" (So bizarre to consider, and yet so possible!) They look at me like I'm nuts, but I'm certain that Jack Vance would love to talk about that possibility. And even though The Dying Earth was first published in 1950, it doesn’t feel dated at all — it can still charm a neuroscientist 60 years later. This is because his setting feels medieval; technology has been forgotten. Thus, it doesn’t matter that there were no cell phones or Internet when Vance wrote The Dying Earth.

I also love the constant juxtaposition of the ludicrous and the sublimely intelligent. Like Monty Python, Willy Wonka, and Alice in Wonderland. [Aside: This makes me wonder how Johnny Depp would do at portraying a Jack Vance character…] Some of the scenes that involve eyeballs and brains and pickled homunculi make me think of SpongeBob Squarepants — the most obnoxious show on television, yet somehow brilliant. (Jack Vance probably wouldn't appreciate that I've compared his literature to SpongeBob Squarepants. Or maybe he would!)

Lastly, I love Jack Vance’s “high language” (that’s what he called it), which is consistent and never feels forced. This style contributes greatly to the humor that pervades his work — understatement, irony, illogic, and non sequiturs are used to make fun of human behavior, and I find this outrageously funny. As just one example, in one story, Guyal has been tricked into breaking a silly and arbitrary sacred law in the land he’s traveling through:

“The entire episode is mockery!” raged Guyal. “Are you savages, then, thus to mistreat a lone wayfarer?”

“By no means,” replied the Castellan. “We are a highly civilized people, with customs bequeathed us by the past. Since the past was more glorious than the present, what presumption we would show by questioning these laws!”

Guyal fell quiet. “And what are the usual penalties for my act?”…

“You are indeed fortunate,” said the Saponid, “in that, as a witness, I was able to suggest your delinquencies to be more the result of negligence than malice. The last penalties exacted for the crime were stringent; the felon was ordered to perform the following three acts: first, to cut off his toes and sew the severed members into the skin at his neck; second, to revile his forbears for three hours, commencing with a Common Bill of Anathema, including feigned madness and hereditary disease, and at last defiling the hearth of his clan with ordure; and third, walking a mile under the lake with leaded shoes in search of the Lost Book of Kells.” And the Castellan regarded Guyal with complacency.

“What deeds must I perform?” inquired Guyal drily.


If you want to find out what three deeds Guyal had to perform, you’ll have to get the book!

I listened to Brilliance Audio’s production of The Dying Earth and the reader, Arthur Morey, was perfect. He really highlighted the humorous element of Vance’s work. It was a terrific production and I’m now enjoying the second Dying Earth audiobook (which is even better than this first one!). By the way, I want to say that I’m extremely pleased with Brilliance Audio for publishing these stories!

Jack Vance is my favorite fantasy author. His work probably won’t appeal to the Twilighters, but for those who enjoy Pythonesque surreal humor written in high style, or for fans of Lewis Carroll, Fritz Leiber, and L. Frank Baum, I suggest giving Jack Vance a try. If you listen to audiobooks, definitely try Brilliance Audio’s version! ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (26 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jack Vanceprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Barr, GeorgeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Emshwiller, EdCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Foss, ChrisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hildebrandt, GregCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hildebrandt, TimCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Poyser, VictoriaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Taylor, GeoffCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0583120911, Paperback)

The setting is in an age millions of years into the future of Earth, decades before the Sun goes Red Dwarf to wipe us all out. Humanity is almost extinct, and in an age where science and sorcery are interchangeable, powerful wizards try to recreate people using alchemy and chemical cloning vats. Most of their experiments create short-lived monsters. After one experiment fails spectacularly, a leading mage summons aid from another, for which he has to perform various near impossible magical tasks. This other magus has already failed to create a perfect woman, leaving his creation free to wander the World, though she is incapable of seeing or understanding what is beautiful. She tries to destroy every living thing, flowers and wizards alike. Together, the magicians, one of who is never seen by the other, create a twin of the hate-filled woman, and she is perfectly formed. She is even able to subdue her sister-clone's passion for destruction. T'sais, the woman filled with hate, embarks on a quest to find love and beauty in he dying World, finding both love and hate on her quest. In another thread, a wayfarer, who rashly tries to use it to gain a woman's love, finds a powerful amulet carelessly discarded by one of the magicians. He finds himself pursed relentlessly by the unstoppable and terrifying, if aptly named Chun The Unavoidable. Two other characters embark on a quest to find a library that holds the sum of all human knowledge, a place guarded and threatened by demonic ghosts. They find themselves assigned to protect it until the end of the World, which they know to be soon, but they value the work well enough to standby their duty.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:35 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Travel into the future: to an Earth with a dwindling red sun that meekly fills a dark blue sky; an Earth that is on the brink of dying out; an Earth where science and magic mean the same thing; an Earth populated with vibrant, interesting people and creatures that are unaware of the fate their planet has in store for them.… (more)

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