My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Dying Earth series is Jack Vance’s best known work. Set in a time far in the future when the Earth is in its last days, this, the first volume, contains six interrelated stories of magic and adventure. These were originally published as short stories in the 1940s, so there is very little continuity, and certainly no overreaching plot, within this book. A few characters appear in more than one story. In fact, one character seems to go to his death in one story, but is alive and well in a subsequent one. This gave the book a sort of Pulp Fiction-ish feel, where events are not necessarily in chronological order, but nevertheless comprehensible.
Vance paints a vivid mental picture with his prose. Sometimes the descriptions actually get a bit too flowery, but the overall effect is quite enjoyable. At the same time, Vance is very economical with his words, letting ideas pour forth rapidly and not dwelling on anything too long. Modern fantasy writers would have taken the ideas in this 156-page book and made them into at least a trilogy, and we wouldn’t have anything more interesting or exciting than what Vance gives us.
Jack Vance is one of the grand masters of science fiction and fantasy. A strong case can be made that his works influenced modern fantasy as much, if not more, as Tolkien. If you haven’t read any of his works, this would be a great place to begin. Modern readers may find some of it a bit sparse compared to what they’re used to, and yes, some of the sexism has not aged well, but I think most readers will enjoy the amazingly rich world Vance created.