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I've heard mention of Jack Vance and his Dying Earth books more than a few times in fantasy circles, but this is the first work of his that I've read. Now, I can see why writers like George R.R. Martin and Dan Simmons consider him such an influence. Vance was quite imaginative and his droll, literate style of writing set him apart from many of his contemporaries.
This novel offers plenty that dedicated fantasy readers will find appealing. Its hero, Cugel, is a thorough scoundrel who manipulates others in a variety of clever, sometimes heartless ways, then puts on a shameless show of innocence that would do an embezzling politician proud, but he's constantly finding his gains reversed, so you end up feeling some sympathy for him. The world of the Dying Earth is a colorful, baroque place populated by decadent societies, strange religions, weird, dangerous creatures, magicians, and interesting magical devices. Such is Vance's inventiveness, that I lost count of the number of times I recognized an idea or an object I'd seen in some later book, by another author. There's even a virtual reality of sorts. Not everyone will like Vance's deliberately ornate style of writing, but for me, it was part of the charm. The excessively formal way the characters speak to each other while indulging in all sorts of low-minded acts can be quite funny.
That said, some of the book's initial charms wear a little thin after a while. There's little structure to the overall plot -- Cugel just roams from one misadventure to the next, repeating his scheming and self-aggrandizing claims in each new place. Only a few characters persist through the whole novel. And the stilted language does get a bit tiresome -- after a while, you just want a bartender to talk like a bartender, or a brutish monster to talk like a brutish monster.
But, never mind, there's plenty of wit and creativity here, and its not hard to see Vance's influence on the fantasy genre. Which is to say, on those authors who aspired to better writing than Ron E. Howard, but took their worlds a little less seriously than Tolkien did. Picture the sort of book that Terry Gilliam might have made into a movie, and you have Eyes of the Overworld.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
This is one of my favorite books, and it is great to hear it aloud. Jack Vance' style is literary, ornate, baroque, challenging, decadent. He makes up words, and re-purposes words that have fallen out of common vocabulary. This is book 2 of The Dying Earth, set millions of years in the future, as the wretched remnants of humanity wait for the sun to go out. Magic and science both work, within limits, and the remains of epochs of civilization (including the products of genetic engineering) are all around. I enjoy the contrast of what is happening (theft, violence,hunger), and the elevated language the characters use to converse. Cugel is amoral, not quite as clever as he thinks he is, and just trying to survive.
I can't wait for the next one.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful