The Dying Earth is a fascinating place, set in a distant future where the moon has vanished and the sun hangs red in the sky, nearly exhausted of its energy. Civilizations once glorious and advanced have collapsed into ruin and decadence, struggling to survive the cold temperatures and the monstrous beasts that have risen. And technology has devolved and yielded to a resurgence of the ancient art of magic. This is the world that Jack Vance crafted in a series of short stories, which were collected into the 1950 book THE DYING EARTH, and from that moment and with the subsequent stories that followed, Vance has been an inspiration to countless writers.
Some might be surprised by the names of the inspired who have gathered here with SONGS OF THE DYING EARTH, for it is a cavalcade of a great many of the true stars of the genre: Tad Williams, Glen Cook, Elizabeth Hand, Tanith Lee, George R.R. Martin and Neil Gaiman, amongst many other amazingly gifted and well-known names. Dean Koontz drops in to deliver an introduction simply titled "Thank You Mr. Vance." In his piece he describes his own early work in the science fiction world as not memorable "and some was execrable." Only when he sat down and finally cracked open Vance's work, which he had been collecting but not reading, did he find something that created a shift in his own writing. "Reading so much of his fiction in such a short time led me to the realization that I was withholding my soul from the stories that I wrote." Such was the depth and vivid design of the world and the words of Jack Vance.
What you get in terms of the stories is nothing less than revelation, and wondrous revelation at that. Anyone who wanted to know more about The Dying Earth, things Vance only hinted at during his initial run of stories, will find a treasure trove here. The world of The Dying Earth is further explored, opening up the land for readers, but also there is the treat of having more stories to expand the lives of Vance's long-time legends: Cugel the Clever, Rhialto the Marvelous, Chun the Unavoidable, Turjan, Guyal and Lith.
Walter John Williams probably best captures the tone and essence of the Dying World stories with his installment, "Abrizonde," while Tad Williams provides the funniest selection with "The Lamentably Comical Tragedy (or The Laughably Tragic Comedy) of Lixal Laqavee." Editor George R.R. Martin contributes as well, with a fascinating story of strangers in "A Night at the Tarn House," while Neil Gaiman wraps things up so wonderfully, as he often does, with "An Invocation of Incuriosity." Dan Simmons goes one step further and constructs a whole new novella.
From story to story you would be hard-pressed to find any one that fails to engage, though some soar a bit higher than others. But with a collection of star-studded fantasists such as this, the knockouts far outweigh the jabs. Alongside each story is a note from the author illustrating how Vance has inspired him or her over the years. It is obvious that each writer has long been held rapt by his work. So what better way to repay him than to devise a collection in his honor?
Based on the work provided within the pages, Vance should be quite proud. He's deserving of the praise he gets in writing circles, and now he’s rewarded with an anthology befitting his status as a revered author of quality.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on March 28, 2011
Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance