The Dying Earth

Jack Vance
The Dying Earth Cover

Vance testing the waters


The Dying Earth (1950)

A wunderkammer of sorts, and perhaps the most explicit exploration of Vance's far future, preapocalyptic world. The sun's power is waning, with its dying rays permeating the atmosphere with a reddish glare, while twisted, gnarled trees and succulents dominate the lush setting. We meet the amateur sorcerer Turjan, his failed gene-mod experiments, a set of opposite twin women (who kind of have agency!), and some monsters. You get the sense that the stories only exist for the sake of world-building, but it's worth it when the world is so intriguing. It's enjoyable, even when every other mystery is "this woman may or may not be a witch," which provokes a few good-humored eye rolls.

Gene Wolfe has credited Vance with inspiring the setting of The Book of the New Sun, and this particular set of stories most brings to mind the lush decay and disconnect of Severian's world, though this is clearly just a surface read and nothing like Wolfe's narrative puzzles. (Though, I really thought Vance was going somewhere with those twin women, but, alas, no.) (I really wanted more of T'sain and T'sais.)