Jack Vance, The Dying Earth (1950)

Jack Vance, Den döende jorden [The Dying Earth] (1983 - Delta Science Fiction [158], Sweden), uncredited cover artist.
Jack Vance, Den döende jorden [The Dying Earth] (1983 – Delta Science Fiction [158], Sweden), uncredited cover artist.

The Dying Earth is the first Jack Vance novel I have read, but it left me wanting for more. This is good stuff.

As title suggests, the Earth is really dying. The sun is red, the old civilizations gone and replaced with a world of magic. There are scary creatures lurking in the forests, and little pockets of humans in different valleys seem to have developed into strange, indolent tribes, each with its own quirks. The purists among us would say that this is a fantasy novel, and not a SF novel. But I dont care – this is a fascinating sliver of Earth, set in a distant future, decadent and decaying, and a story told in believable and beautiful prose.

In this far future, the post-modern society has forgot most technologies. What is left is a hundred spells, each so complicated that the magician needs to read and remember them in full in order to cast them. The very best magicians can only remember up to a handful of spells at any given time, and once cast they have to be reread in order to be cast again. Only one magician knows all spells – that’s Pandelume, who lives on the abandoned Moon.

The novel consists of eight stories that are but loosely connected. It is the story of Turjan, a magician who travels to Pandelume in order to learn how to create functional humans through magic, and a follow-up story of how this created prodigy saves him from an even worse, more evil magician. There are stories about quests for lost knowledge, of libraries under the earth infested with demons, and strange places with peculiar folks and habits. One tribe even have domesticated humans as walkers, instead of horses, and feasts on their flesh.

Actually, what I do want to say is: read this book. And then go and read more of Jack Vance – I know I will.

Jack Vance, The Dying Earth (1950), uncredited cover artist.
Jack Vance, The Dying Earth (1950), uncredited cover artist. A lovely pulpish cover, complete with a nude woman draped in shower curtain and a flying long-nosed condor. The guys in fishermen hats in the front could do with some trimming of eyebrows.

 

Jack Vance, The Dying Earth (1969), cover artist Ed Emshwiller.
Jack Vance, The Dying Earth (1969), cover artist Ed Emshwiller. Graphic cover, good colours, and a lovely black organic machine with kissing lips!

 

Jack Vance, The Dying Earth (1972), cover artist Chris Foss.
Jack Vance, The Dying Earth (1972), cover artist Chris Foss. A Whomping Willow on the cover long before Harry Potter was even borne.

 

Jack Vance, The Dying Earth (1977), uncredited cover artist.
Jack Vance, The Dying Earth (1977), uncredited cover artist. Oh, here I am fighting one of the evil enemies of the Gummy Bears!

 

Jack Vance, The Dying Earth (1979), uncredited cover artist.
Jack Vance, The Dying Earth (1979), uncredited cover artist. Harmonic cover. Or, actually, too harmonic in my humble opinion.

 

Jack Vance, The Dying Earth (1986), cover artist Victoria Poyser.
Jack Vance, The Dying Earth (1986), cover artist Victoria Poyser. Robin Hood is offering a flower to a maiden on horseback. And some plantfolks in the front…

 

Jack Vance, Un Monde Magique [The Dying Earth] (1992), cover artist Michelangelo Miani.
Jack Vance, Un Monde Magique [The Dying Earth] (1992), cover artist Michelangelo Miani. In the future we will… have strange swim gear.
Jack Vance, De stervende Aarde [The Dying Earth] (1974), cover artist Bruynel.
Jack Vance, De stervende Aarde [The Dying Earth] (1974), cover artist Bruynel. The Flying Dutchman, in space?
Jack Vance, De Stervende Aarde [The Dying Earth] (1994), cover artist Michael Whelan.
Jack Vance, De Stervende Aarde [The Dying Earth] (1994), cover artist Michael Whelan. The robed guy is either entering or exiting the wooden vagina sculpture.
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