The Eyes of the Overworld is the first of Vance’s picaresque novels about the scoundrel Cugel. Here he is sent by a magician he has wronged to a distant unknown country to retrieve magical lenses that reveal the Overworld. Conniving to steal the lenses, he escapes and, goaded by a homesick monster magically attached to his liver, starts to find his way home to Almery. The journey takes him across trackless mountains, wastelands, and seas. Through cunning and dumb luck, the relentless Cugel survives one catastrophe after another, fighting off bandits, ghosts, and ghouls—stealing, lying, and cheating without insight or remorse leaving only wreckage behind.
Betrayed and betraying, he joins a cult group on a pilgrimage, crosses the Silver Desert as his comrades die one by one and, escaping the Rat People, obtains a spell that returns him home. There, thanks to incompetence and arrogance he misspeaks the words of a purloined spell and transports himself back to the same dismal place he began his journey.
©2010 Brilliance Audio, Inc.; ©1980 Jack Vance
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.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
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.
The narrative style of this book is wonderfully charming, but something you need to be prepared for. At first I was expecting that the 'strange' style of writing was only for the forward, or an intro, and was impatient for it to hurry up and go to "normal" part of the story. Once I realised the whole book was written that way I was able to relax and enjoy the story. The use of language and the variety is just wonderful, and I will be looking for more. If you enjoy words you will appreciate this book. The narration was great also, suited the language of the book.
As to the story - it's a lot of fun, and I found myself making excuses to find time to listen for more, waiting to see what would happen. A good old-fashioned adventure.
It's very well done. My only gripe is that Cugel sounds a bit more oafish than I had imagined. My impression when I read the book was that Cugel was severely deluded about his intellectual abilities - quite arrogant - but nonetheless a sharp intellect. But the narrator makes him sound more like a Longshoreman with slight speech impediment than a quick-witted but unlucky scammer.
I would still recommend this to anyone. It's a riveting listen for a raod journey.
The writing is great no matter who reads it. Vance is a unique voice in 20th C American literature.
The wrong voice for Cugel, but a great Iocunu.
Great but minor caveats. I feel petty complaining. Morey did a stellar job and kept me listening.
I began reading Jack Vance 30 years ago and have collected all of his books that I can find. It was delightful to find him on audible and Arthur Morey is the perfect narrator for his work. Listen and enjoy!
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