Jack Vance was a seminal figure in the development of modern fantasy - so much so that it's nearly impossible to imagine the genre as we know it today without him. In the course of his more than 50-year career, he has published dozens of major novels, as well as collections filled with marvelously crafted stories, winning the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, the Edgar Award, the Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America, and several World Fantasy Awards, including the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award.
Vance's masterpiece, The Dying Earth, may be the most influential fantasy novel of the 20th century, surpassed only by J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. It has not only inspired several generations of fantasy writers, from Gene Wolfe and Michael Moorcock to Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin, but its influence has reached deep into the realms of graphic novels, comics, fantasy role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, and even computer gaming.
The anthology Songs of the Dying Earth has assembled one of the most distinguished casts of authors ever - including Dan Simmons, Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin, Paula Volsky, Mike Resnick, Robert Silverberg, Lucius Shepard, Tad Williams, Tanith Lee, Liz Williams, Glen Cook, and eleven other famous writers - to write stories in honor of the genius of Jack Vance, stories using the bizarre and darkly beautiful far future setting of the Dying Earth, near the very end of Earth's lifespan, where mighty wizards duel with spells of dreadful potency under a waning and almost burnt-out red sun, and adventurers and cutpurses strive to hoodwink and out-trick each other in haunted forests full of demons and monsters strange almost beyond comprehension.
Authors include George R. R. Martin (editor and author), Gardner Dozois (editor), Dan Simmons, Neil Gaiman, Paula Volsky, Mike Resnick, Robert Silverberg, Lucius Shepard, Tanith Lee, Liz Williams, Jeff VanderMeer, Kage Baker, Elizabeth Moon, Elizabeth Hand, Walter Jon Williams, Howard Waldrop, John C. Wright, and Glen Cook. Preface by Jack Vance.
©2009 George R. R. Martin; (P)2009 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
This tribute to one of the still living masters of fantasy made me realize just how under-represented the works of Jack vance are in audiobook form. The writers here have captured the odd cadences,the delicate pallettes of imagery and the whimsical ideas Mr Vance has entertained his readers with for countless decades. You can feel the respect of their tellings for the original works throughout,and until these treasures find their way to this website,I heartily invite all to have a taste of what Vance is and hope this will prompt the appearence of the classics these homages sprang from.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
Jack Vance’s Dying Earth books (and other works) no longer have the following that they did back in the ‘60s or ‘70s, which seems to be when most of the contributors to this collection were in their own formative years and discovered him for the first time. Judging from the “names” here (Simmons, Martin, Gaiman, Silverberg, Williams) and the praise that each author has to offer, Vance seems to have had a profound impact on a generation of fantasy and speculative fiction writers.
Which I guess isn’t surprising. The Dying Earth is one of the definitive creations of fantasy, a decadent world eons in the future, when the sun is about to go out. Populated by bizarre monsters, sorcerers, other-dimensional beings, and humans who have adopted a certain self-serving, fatalistic outlook, it’s a world somewhere between Hieronymus Bosch, The Wizard of Oz, and fables of old. Then, there’s Vance’s distinct style, which uses overly literate prose and obscure vocabulary in service of humor that’s by turns sly and slapstick.
While there are a few weak stories, most of the authors here do a fine job of channeling Vance’s playfulness and imagination, and expanding on some of the Dying Earth’s more amusing, grotesque, or fascinating components.
• “Grolian of Almery” by Matthew Hughes: in which a roguish traveler trapped in a sorcerer’s former house, the sorcerer’s former apprentice, and the disembodied spirit of the sorcerer himself engage in a battle of wits at the nexus point between several universes. This one has all the signature Vance elements: an amoral protagonist (who’s still more likeable than his opponents), sardonic humor, and some creatively weird interdimensional creatures.
• “The Traditions of Karzh” by Paula Volsky: an indolent young man is given a lethal incentive to acquire some magical abilities, and his quest carries him into the clutches of a pelgrane, one of the Dying Earth’s horrifying monsters. Clever, scary, and entertaining.
• “The Green Bird” by Kage Baker: Cugel the Clever, Vance’s despicable “hero”, gets into new shenanigans while trying to steal an obnoxious talking bird (who happens to know important spells) from two unpleasant spinsters. However, Cugel may be in for more than he bargained for. Baker’s humor is a hoot.
• “The Lamentably Comical Tragedy of Lixal Laqavee” by Tad Williams: a fraudulent “wizard” blackmails a real wizard into providing him with some spells. His error becomes clear when one of those spells leaves him magically chained to an ogre-like deodan, leading to a novel cross-species meeting of minds. This one is both funny and dark.
• “A Night at the Tarn House” by George R.R. Martin: Martin is my favorite author here, and his dark showdown at in an inn in the middle of nowhere, between several characters who are all hiding their true identities, didn’t disappoint.
• “An Invocation of Incuriosity” by Neil Gaiman: this melancholy story takes us all the way to the final day of the Dying Earth, and back through time.
All in all, I don’t think it’s necessary to have much experience with Vance to enjoy this collection, though his style, which is lovingly replicated here, won’t be to everyone’s taste. My only complaint is expressed by what one of the collection’s gnarlier characters says about munching on tiny Twk-Men: tasty, but they still leave you hungry. Alas that there wasn’t more common thread between the stories.
Audiobook narrator, Arthur Morey, who performed several Cugel books, is part of the Dying Earth experience for me. The wry, exaggerated sincerity of his dialogue reading goes very well with Vance-ian wit, and he adds an extra layer of absurdity to demons and monsters who wax philosophical. As always, I enjoy that his Cugel sounds like Richard Nixon.
Hey Audible, don't raise prices and I promise to buy lots more books.
Reviewers on Audible are all over the rating-board with this one but reviewers of the written version of Songs Of the Dying Earth pretty much agree: this is a great title. On Audible, one reviewer wrote that if you like Jack Vance’s style, this book is for you but if you don’t or don’t yet know Jack Vance, steer clear. I disagree with the last part of this statement. It would suggest that either Jack Vance in general is an author to avoid or that this work does not represent the writings of the Jack Vance. Neither could be further from the truth.
I wondered for the longest time why Fantasy and Science Fiction were often lumped together in the same genre. Separately they were not even similar. For me, at least, Fantasy has always seemed to be about the past and SciFi much more forward looking. Steampunk is kind of exception but in general, again, only for me, the two genres were quite disparate. Not so in the writings of Jack Vance. Particularly in the “Dying Earth” series, one has to think that a dying earth per se is not about something in the past nor even the present. And yet when we read about people, characters, places and things in this series, it very much and simultaneously conjures up feelings of a long past, possibly a middle- or dark-ages-kind-of-time. There is this tension between the past and the future or maybe it is the present but then the tension is between multi-universes or our earth and another earth far, far away. But this is Jack Vance pigeon hole if we must categorize him: Science Fiction and Fantasy at its best.
Jack Vance’s influence on this genre cannot be overestimated. Not that it necessarily always matters, but he has won every significant award in this category. This is a collection of short stories that reflect why so many accolades have been showered upon him. George R.R. Martin edits the work with some of the most esteemed other authors in the field contributing. In general, I think that the book is very well done.
So, bottom line what I would suggest is this: If you know of Jack Vance and like or dislike his style then simply let that be your guide. If you do not know Jack Vance, this would be a great place to start. I did not think ever one of the stories was great but they were all good and some were great. The narration of the audiobook is well-done. The selection informs and entertains. There is a lot of supplementary information conveyed about the author, the series and other masters in the science-fiction-fantasy genre.
I would have given this 5 stars--except for the fact that the reader is a real mis-match for the material. Morey has a voice and approach that would be great for a gritty realistic crime novel, but for these flights of fantasy, with an emphasis on flowing language and exotic locales Morey works against the material.
You don't have to be a Vance fanatic to enjoy these tributes to his most famous creation - they are all finely wrought far future fairy tales, visionary and playful. This collection provides excellent storytelling for any lover of fantasy.
The stories are all well-crafted in the style of Jack Vance. That is this book's strength and weakness.
Jack Vance's work is a very particular style that it far from universally appreciated. If you already know you like his work, then I wholeheartedly recommend this book with the single caveat that the reader is a bit dry. If you don't like Jack Vance, or don't know if you like his work, then do not, under any circumstances get this book.
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
This is an excellent collection of twenty-two Dying Earth tales by a wide range of fantasy, science fiction, and horror writers, all of whom have been influenced by the work of Jack Vance (in particular his stories set on the Dying Earth), all of whom try their best to balance paying homage to the master and his world and style and stories with doing their own things.
Most of the authors succeed in the endeavor, writing tales that are humorous, beautiful, grotesque, scary, and provocative, the best ones (in my opinion) being by Robert Silverberg, Matthew Hughes, Terry Dowling, Mike Resnick, Walter Jon Williams, Kage Baker, Phyllis Eisenstein Lucius Sheperd, Tad Williams, Elizabeth Hand, Byron Tetrick, Dan Simmons, and George R. R. Martin.
The reader, Arthur Morey, does an excellent job here (as he does with The Dying Earth), the dry quality of his voice meshing perfectly with the dry quality of the writers channeling Vance and unifying all their stories. Morey is convincing when speaking like a philosophical deodand making the best of a difficult situation, an amoral fire witch cooly plotting a holocaust, a half-breed demon chaffing at his bonds, a Twk man driving a hard bargain, a self-serving wannabe mage deluding himself that he is tricking a mage-hunting girl, a female warrior scarred (physically and emotionally) imagining revenge on Cugel the Clever, an unctuous uncle explaining that he has poisoned his nephew because he cares for him, a na??ve, good-natured boy searching for his father, and so on.
Another merit of this collection is that all the stories close with afterwords by their authors revealing how and when they first encountered Vance???s work and what it has meant to their careers and lives. If you are a fan of Vance and or of his Dying Earth books, and if you are a fan of good fantasy and science fiction, then you would probably like this book a lot.
I don't want to listen to the biography of each of the contributing authors, especially not a long list of the their published works, before the start of each story. It might not have been so bad if skipping a chapter missed this out but doing that seems to jump right into the middle of the story. It's a shame as I've read the anthology and there are some quality stories in there.
"Songs of the Dying Earth"
While I really enjoyed the stories which were written by some of my favorite Authors, it was largely spoilt by the poor narration and was more of monotone drone than anything else, unfortunatley I have another Jack Vance audio book waiting by the same narrator, it's been put to the back of the pile until I can steel myself to listed to him again.
While the stories rated 4 stars the narrator rated 1star in my opinion.
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