Dying Earth by Jack Vance

June 22, 2005 at 12:00 am | Posted in 3 stars, Book Reviews, Science Fiction | Leave a comment

Jack Vance is considered in some quarters to be one of science fiction’s great literary authors. It is easy to see why: he is a writer possessing creativity and evocative power to a degree that is much rarer in science fiction authors than it should be, given the nature of the genre. Vance’s stories in the Dying Earth setting are among his most widely known and influential. I absolutely love Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun which owes much of its setting to Vance. So why does this just get three stars from me?

The first problem is Vance, like many writers of his era (the stories in Dying Earth date back to around 1950) is very much a short story author. Unlike some of his other work, this book is really just a short story collection where the stories share a common setting and, occassionally, common characters. The stories are pretty good, thanks to Vance’s qualities I mention above. But if there was any depth there, I could not detect it (and indeed the only reason I have any doubt is the notoriously subtle Gene Wolfe’s liking for Vance). Both the novelette The Dragon Masters and the novella Last Castle that I reviewed a week or two ago had a great deal more going on than these stories do. I’m sure the setting and writing were amazing…in 1950. While the stories have a certain historical interest due to their influence, I really don’t think it is worth the effort to seek them out.

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