Dying Earth

Dying Earth is a fantasy series by the American author Jack Vance, comprising four books originally published from 1950 to 1984.[2] Some have been called picaresque. They vary from short story collection to fix-up (novel created from older short stories) perhaps all the way to novel.[2]

The first book in the series, The Dying Earth, was ranked number 16 of 33 "All Time Best Fantasy Novels" by Locus in 1987, based on a poll of subscribers,[3] although it was marketed as a collection and the ISFDB calls it a "loosely connected series of stories".[4]

Dying Earth
Cover of The Compleat Dying Earth omnibus edition
Dust jacket of the 1999 omnibus edition

The Dying Earth (1950)
The Eyes of the Overworld (1966)
Cugel's Saga (1983)
Rhialto the Marvellous (1984)
AuthorJack Vance
Cover artistvarious
Gerald Brom, depicted[1]
CountryUnited States
GenreFantasy, Dying Earth subgenre
Media typePrint
No. of books4 by Vance (see sequels)


The stories of the Dying Earth series are set in the distant future, at a point when the sun is almost exhausted and magic has asserted itself as a dominant force. The Moon has disappeared and the Sun is in danger of burning out at any time, often flickering as if about to go out, before shining again. The various civilizations of Earth have collapsed for the most part into decadence or religious fanaticism and its inhabitants overcome with a fatalistic outlook. The Earth is mostly barren and cold, and has become infested with various predatory monsters (possibly created by a magician in a former age).

Magic in the Dying Earth is performed by memorizing syllables, and the human brain can only accommodate a certain amount at once. When a spell is used, the syllables vanish from the caster's mind. Creatures called Sandestin can be summoned and used to perform more complex actions, but are considered dangerous to rely upon. Magic has loose links to the science of old, and advanced mathematics is treated like arcane lore.

The Dying Earth exists alongside several Overworlds and Underworlds. These help add a sense of profound longing and entrapment to the series. While humans can, with relative ease, physically travel to the horrific Underworlds (as Cugel does on several occasions, to his dismay) the vast majority of the population are only capable of mentally visiting the wondrous Overworlds through rare artifacts (IE through the "Eyes of the Overworld") or dangerous magic phenomena (such as the ship Cugel encounters in the deserts). Though they can look at the wonders and pretend they are really there, humans can never truly inhabit or escape to these utopia as their physical bodies remain stuck on the Dying Earth and will die with the sun regardless. These siren-like visions of paradise lead to the deaths, insanity, and suffering of many, especially during Cugel's journeys.

While most remaining civilizations on the Dying Earth are utterly unique in their customs and cultures, there are some common threads. Because the moon is gone and wind is often weak (the sun no longer heats the earth as much) the oceans are largely placid bodies of water with no tide and tiny waves. To cross them, boats are propelled by giant sea-worms. These worms are cared for and controlled by "Wormingers". In addition, the manses of magicians, protected by walls and spells and monsters, are relatively common sights in inhabited lands.


Vance wrote the stories of the first book while he served in the United States Merchant Marine during World War II.[5] In the late 1940s several of his other stories were published in magazines.

According to pulp editor Sam Merwin, Vance's earliest magazine submissions in the 1940s were heavily influenced by the style of James Branch Cabell.[6] Fantasy historian Lin Carter has noted several probable lasting influences of Cabell on Vance's work, and suggests that the early "pseudo-Cabell" experiments bore fruit in The Dying Earth (1950).[7]


The series comprises four books by Vance and some sequels by other authors that may be or may not have been canonical.

One 741-page omnibus has been issued as The Compleat Dying Earth (SF Book Club, 1999) and in both the US and UK as Tales of the Dying Earth (2000).[8]

Stories by Vance

All four books were published with Tables of Contents, the first and fourth as collections. The second and third contained mostly material previously published in short story form but were marketed as novels, the second as a fix-up and the third without acknowledging any previous publication.

1. The Dying Earth (the author's preferred title is Mazirian the Magician) was openly a collection of six stories, all original, although written during Vance's WWII service. ISFDB calls them "slightly connected" and catalogs the last as a novella (17,500 to 40,000 word count).[4]

  • "Turjan of Miir"
  • "Mazirian the Magician"
  • "T'sais"
  • "Liane the Wayfarer" (also known as "The Loom of Darkness")
  • "Ulan Dhor Ends a Dream" (also known as "Ulan Dhor")
  • "Guyal of Sfere" (It mentions a "Lost Book of Kells", but a later publishing changed the name as there IS a book of Kells.

2. Eyes of the Overworld (the author's preferred title is Cugel the Clever) was a fix-up of six stories, presented as seven. All were novellas by word count (7500 to 17,500). Five were previously published as noted here.[9]

  • "The Overworld", from F&SF December 1965
  • "Cil" (1966), the original component
  • "The Mountains of Magnatz", from F&SF February 1966
  • "The Sorcerer Pharesm", from F&SF April 1966
  • "The Pilgrims", from F&SF June 1966
  • "The Cave in the Forest", originally the first part of "The Manse of Iucounu"
  • "The Manse of Iucounu", from F&SF July 1966

3. Cugel's Saga (the author's preferred title is Cugel: The Skybreak Spatterlight) was marketed as a novel. ISFDB calls it "[t]wice as large and less episodic than Eyes of the Overworld" but qualifies that label. "This is marketed as a novel, but there is a table of contents, and some of the parts were previously published (although none are acknowledged thus)." It catalogs previous publication of three chapters without remark on the degree of revision.[10]

  • "Flutic", the first part of the first chapter, published separately in the Italian anthology Fantasy (March 1996) and rereleased in English in Coup de Grace and Other Stories, a sampler of the Vance Integral Edition
  • "The Inn of Blue Lamps"
  • "Aboard the Galante"
  • "Lausicaa"
  • "The Ocean of Sighs"
  • "The Columns"
  • "Faucelme"
  • "On the Docks"
  • "The Caravan"
  • "The Seventeen Virgins", from F&SF October 1974
  • "The Bagful of Dreams", from Flashing Swords #4, ed. Lin Carter, May 1977
  • "The Four Wizards"
  • "Spatterlight"

4. Rhialto the Marvellous was marketed as a collection, a Foreword and three stories, one previously published.[11] The Foreword is non-narrative canonical fiction presenting the general state of the world in the 21st Aeon (a "short story" loosely).


Some sequels have been written by other authors, either with Vance's authorization or as tributes to his work.

Michael Shea's first publication, the novel A Quest for Simbilis (DAW Books, 1974, OCLC 2128177), was an authorized sequel to Eyes. However, "When Vance returned to the milieu, his Cugel's Saga continued the events of The Eyes of the Overworld in a different direction."[12]

The tribute anthology Songs of the Dying Earth (2009) contains short fiction set in the world of the Dying Earth by numerous writers alongside tributes to Vance's work and influence.

In 2010 Shea wrote another authorized story belonging to the Dying Earth series and featuring Cugel as one of characters: "Hew the Tintmaster", published in the anthology Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery, ed. Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders (Eos, 2010, pp. 323–362).[13]


WorldCat contributing libraries report holding all four books in French, Spanish, and (in omnibus edition) Hebrew translations; and report holding The Dying Earth in five other languages: Finnish, German, Japanese, Polish, and Russian.[14][a]

The whole first volume (six stories) has been translated also into Esperanto together with two Cugel stories and made available on-line as e-books by a long-time fan and Vance Integral Edition co-worker. Permission to translate and distribute (only into Esperanto) was obtained informally direct from the author and, since his death in 2013, continues with ongoing permission from the author's estate. To date these are three: Mazirian the Magician, The Sorcerer Pharesm, and The Bagful of Dreams available for free download as EPub, Mobi and PDF.[15]


The Dying Earth subgenre of science fiction is named in recognition of Vance's role in standardizing a setting, the entropically dying earth and sun. Its importance was recognized with the publication of Songs of the Dying Earth, a tribute anthology edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois (Subterranean, 2009). Each short story in the anthology is set on the Dying Earth, and concludes with a short acknowledgement by the author of Vance's influence on them.


Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun (1980–83) is set in a slightly similar world, and was written under Vance's influence. Wolfe suggested in The Castle of the Otter, a collection of essays, that he inserted the book The Dying Earth into his fictional world under the title The Book of Gold (specifically, Wolfe wrote that the "Book of Gold" mentioned in The Book of the New Sun is different for each reader, but for him it was "The Dying Earth.")'. Wolfe has extended the series.[16]

Michael Shea's novel Nifft the Lean (1982), his second book eight years after A Quest for Simbilis, also owes much debt to Vance's creation, since the protagonist of the story is a petty thief (not unlike Cugel the Clever), who travels and struggles in an exotic world. Shea returned to Nifft with 1997 and 2000 sequels.[17]

The Archonate stories by Matthew Hughes — the 1994 novel Fools Errant and numerous works in this millennium[18] — take place in "the penultimate age of Old Earth," a period of science and technology that is on the verge of transforming into the magical era of the time of the Dying Earth. Booklist has called him Vance's "heir apparent." (Review by Carl Hays of The Gist Hunter and Other Stories, Booklist, August 2005)


The original creators of the Dungeons & Dragons games were fans of Jack Vance and incorporated many aspects of the Dying Earth series into the game. The magic system, in which a wizard is limited in the number of spells that can be simultaneously remembered and forgets them once they are cast, was based on the magic of Dying Earth. In role-playing game circles, this sort of magic system is called 'Vancian' or 'Vancean'.[19] Some of the spells from Dungeons & Dragons are based on spells mentioned in the Dying Earth series, such as the prismatic spray. Magic items from the Dying Earth stories such as ioun stones also made their way into Dungeons & Dragons. One of the deities of magic in Dungeons & Dragons is named Vecna (an anagram of Vance).[20]

The Talislanta role-playing game designed by Stephan Michael Sechi and originally published in 1987 by Bard Games was inspired by the works of Jack Vance so much so that the first release, The Chronicles of Talislanta is dedicated to the author.

There is an official Dying Earth role-playing game published by Pelgrane Press with an occasional magazine The Excellent Prismatic Spray (named after a magic spell). The game situates players in Vance's world populated by desperately extravagant people. Many other role-playing settings pay homage to the series by including fantasy elements he invented such as the darkness-dwelling Grues.

See also


  1. ^ The German national library (DNB) catalog lists German-language translations of all four Dying Earth books, which establishes some under-reporting by WorldCat. Beside non-participation, there may be some confusion regarding "(the) dying earth" as the first of four book and as the entire series.


  1. ^ 'The Compleat Dying Earth (first omnibus) publication contents at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2012-06-05.
  2. ^ a b Dying Earth series listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database Retrieved 2012-05-09.
  3. ^ "Best All-time Fantasy Novel Results, 1987". Locus Online. Retrieved 27 August 2013.
  4. ^ a b The Dying Earth title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database Retrieved 2012-05-09. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
  5. ^ Jack Vance (2009). This is Me, Jack Vance. Subterranen Press. p. 65. ISBN 978-1-59606-245-0.
  6. ^ Lin Carter, Imaginary Worlds, New York: Ballantine Books, 1973, p. 151. ISBN 978-0345033093
  7. ^ Carter, pp. 151-53.
  8. ^ ISFDB reports three different cover artists and identical contents including pagination. The Compleat Dying Earth title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. 2012-.
  9. ^ The Eyes of the Overworld title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2012-05-09.
  10. ^ Cugel's Saga title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database Retrieved 2012-05-09.
  11. ^ Rhialto the Marvellous title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database Retrieved 2012-05-09.
  12. ^ A Quest for Simbilis title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2012-06-05.
  13. ^ "Hew the Tintmaster" title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. 2012-06-12.
  14. ^ Works by or about Vance, Jack 1916-2013 in libraries (WorldCat catalog). Retrieved 2012-06-05.
  15. ^ http://esperanto.us
  16. ^ Solar Cycle series listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. 2012-.
  17. ^ Nifft series listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. 2012-.
  18. ^ Archonate Universe series listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. 2012-.
  19. ^ GURPS Thaumatology- page 56
  20. ^ "JACK VANCE & THE D&D GAME". Gary Gygax (© 2001 Gary Gygax All rights reserved; Article for Profantasy – c. 2,400 words). dyingearth.com. Retrieved 2011-09-19.

External links

Casshern Sins

Casshern Sins (キャシャーン Sins) is a reboot of the 1973 anime series Casshan, produced by Tatsunoko and animated by Madhouse. The series discards the continuity presented in the original Casshan anime series, in which Casshern was a cybernetic superhero battling the evil robotic forces of Braiking Boss in a post-apocalyptic Earth. In Casshern Sins, Casshern is presented as a cyborg subordinate of Braiking Boss who was ordered to assassinate the savior of mankind, and has thus doomed the Earth to ruin. Casshern Sins made its English broadcast premiere on Funimation Channel on December 14, 2010. A manga adaptation was published in Jive's Comic Rush Magazine. In the United States, the series began airing on Adult Swim's Toonami block as part of its premiere on May 26, 2012.

Cugel's Saga

Cugel's Saga is a picaresque fantasy novel by American writer Jack Vance, published by Timescape in 1983, the third book in the Dying Earth series, the first volume of which appeared in 1950. The narrative of Cugel's Saga continues from the point at which it left off at the end of The Eyes of the Overworld (1966).

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database calls Cugel's Saga "[t]wice as large and less episodic than Eyes of the Overworld", and catalogs it as a novel rather than a fix-up, but also qualifies that label. "This is marketed as a novel, but there is a table of contents, and some of the parts were previously published (although none are acknowledged thus)."

Dying Earth genre

Dying Earth is a subgenre of science fantasy or science fiction which takes place in the far future at either the end of life on Earth or the end of time, when the laws of the universe themselves fail. Themes of world-weariness, innocence (wounded or otherwise), idealism, entropy, (permanent) exhaustion/depletion of many or all resources (such as soil nutrients), and the hope of renewal tend to dominate.

Dying of the Light

Dying of the Light is American author George R. R. Martin's first novel, published in 1977 by Simon & Schuster. Martin's original title for this science fiction novel was After the Festival; its title was changed before its first hardcover publication. The novel was nominated for both the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1978, and the British Fantasy Award in 1979.Dying of the Light is set in the same fictional "Thousand Worlds" universe as several of Martin's other works, including Sandkings, Nightflyers, A Song for Lya, "The Way of Cross and Dragon" and the stories collected in Tuf Voyaging.

Jack Vance

John Holbrook "Jack" Vance (August 28, 1916 – May 26, 2013) was an American mystery, fantasy, and science fiction writer. Though most of his work has been published under the name Jack Vance, he also wrote 9 mystery novels using his full name John Holbrook Vance, three under the pseudonym Ellery Queen, and one each using the pseudonyms Alan Wade, Peter Held, John van See, and Jay Kavanse. Some editions of his published works give his year of birth as 1920.

Vance won the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 1984 and he was a Guest of Honor at the 1992 World Science Fiction Convention in Orlando, Florida. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America made him its 15th Grand Master in 1997 and the Science Fiction Hall of Fame inducted him in 2001, its sixth class of two deceased and two living writers.Among his awards for particular works were: Hugo Awards, in 1963 for The Dragon Masters, in 1967 for The Last Castle, and in 2010 for his memoir This is Me, Jack Vance!; a Nebula Award in 1966, also for The Last Castle; the Jupiter Award in 1975; the World Fantasy Award in 1990 for Lyonesse: Madouc. He also won an Edgar Award for the best first mystery novel in 1961 for The Man in the Cage.

A 2009 profile in The New York Times Magazine described Vance as "one of American literature's most distinctive and undervalued voices". He died at his home in Oakland, California on May 26, 2013, aged 96.

Le Dernier Homme

Le Dernier Homme (English: The Last Man) is a French science fantasy novel in the form of a prose poem. Written by Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville and published in 1805, it was the first story of modern speculative fiction to depict the end of the world. Considered a seminal early work of science fantasy, specifically of the dying earth subgenre, it has been described by Gary K. Wolfe as "A crucial document in the early history... of what became science fiction".Le Dernier Homme was translated into English in 1806 – poorly, and neither credited to de Grainville nor described as a translation from a French original – under the title Omegarus and Syderia, a Romance in Futurity. This translation remained the only English version available until 2003, when a new translation by I. F. Clarke and Margaret Clarke was published.

List of Dying Earth characters

This is a list of characters in the Dying Earth series by Jack Vance.

List of works by Jack Vance

This is a complete list of works by American science fiction and fantasy author Jack Vance.

Love (2011 film)

Love is a 2011 science fiction drama film produced and scored by the alternative rock band Angels & Airwaves. The film is the directorial debut of filmmaker William Eubank. The film's world premiere took place on February 2, 2011 at the 26th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival and the film was later featured in the Seattle International Film Festival, FanTasia 2011, and a number of other festivals around the world. The film was screened in 460 theatres across the United States on August 10, 2011, in the Love Live event.Love portrays the personal-psychological effects of isolation and loneliness when an astronaut becomes stranded in space and through this, emphasizes the importance of human connection and love. Additionally, it touches on the fragility of humanity's existence (explored through a dying Earth-apocalyptic doomsday scenario) inspired by the cautions of Carl Sagan in Pale Blue Dot and considers the importance of memories and stories as humanity's legacy.

Mighty Samson

Mighty Samson was a comic book series published Gold Key Comics. A post-apocalyptic adventure, it was set in the area around New York City, now known as "N'Yark", on an Earth devastated by a nuclear war. The series was created by writer Otto Binder and artist Frank Thorne.

Pelgrane Press

Pelgrane Press Ltd is a British role-playing game publishing company based in London and founded in 2000. It is co-owned by Simon J Rogers and Cat Tobin. It currently produces GUMSHOE System RPGs, 13th Age, the Diana Jones award-winning Hillfolk RPG, the Dying Earth Roleplaying Game, and other related products. It publishes fiction under the Stone Skin Press imprint.

Red Planet (film)

Red Planet is a 2000 science fiction thriller film directed by Antony Hoffman, starring Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss and Tom Sizemore. Released on November 10, 2000, it was a critical and commercial failure. The film was Hoffman's only feature film; he primarily directed television commercials.

Rhialto the Marvellous

Rhialto the Marvellous is a collection of one essay and three fantasy stories by American writer Jack Vance, first published in 1984 by Brandywyne Books, a special edition three months before the regular (below). It is the fourth and concluding book in the Dying Earth series that Vance inaugurated in 1950. One of the stories was previously published.

Science fantasy

Science fantasy is a mixed genre within the umbrella of speculative fiction which simultaneously draws upon and/or combines tropes and elements from both science fiction and fantasy. In a science fiction story, the world is scientifically possible, while a science fantasy world contains elements which violate the scientific laws of the real world. Nevertheless the world of science fantasy is logical and often is supplied with science-like explanations of these violations.During the Golden Age of Science Fiction, the fanciful science fantasy stories were seen in sharp contrast to the terse, scientifically plausible material that came to dominate mainstream science fiction typified by the magazine Astounding Stories. Although at this time, science fantasy stories were often relegated to the status of children's entertainment, their freedom of imagination and romance proved to be an early major influence on the "New Wave" writers of the 1960s, who became exasperated by the limitations of "hard" SF.Eric R. Williams lists the following "microgenres" which can belong to science fantasy: Discovery, Dying Earth, ET Relations, Mad Scientist, Space Opera, Sword and Planet. Carl D. Malmgren classifies science fantasy by the type of the violation of science and distinguishes the following main types: the time-loop motif, the alternate-present world, the counterscientific world, and the hybridized world.Distinguishing between science fiction and fantasy, Rod Serling claimed that the former was "the improbable made possible" while the latter was "the impossible made probable". As a combination of the two, science fantasy gives a scientific veneer of realism to things that simply could not happen in the real world under any circumstances. Where science fiction does not permit the existence of fantasy or supernatural elements, science fantasy explicitly relies upon them.

Songs of the Dying Earth

Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance is a collection of short fiction and shorter essays composed in appreciation of the science fiction and fantasy author Jack Vance, especially his Dying Earth series. Edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, it was published in 2009 by Subterranean Press.Twenty-two authors contributed short fiction and an Afterword, about thirty pages on average. Fifteen of the stories are novelettes (7500 to 17,500 words), six are shorter, and The Guiding Nose of Ulfänt Banderōz by Dan Simmons is a novella highlighted on the cover of the second U.S. edition.As of May 2012 there have been British (Harper) and American (Tor) hardcover and trade paper editions, an American audio edition, and two numbers of an Italian-language serialization.

The Claw of the Conciliator

The Claw of the Conciliator is a science fantasy novel by American writer Gene Wolfe, first released in 1981. It is the second volume in the four-volume series The Book of the New Sun.

The Dying Earth

The Dying Earth is a collection of fantasy short fiction by American writer Jack Vance, published by Hillman in 1950. Vance returned to the setting in 1965 and thereafter, making it the first book in the Dying Earth series.

It is retitled Mazirian the Magician in its Vance Integral Edition (2005), after the second of six collected stories.

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database calls it a "slightly connected series of stories" but it was ranked number 16 of 33 "All Time Best Fantasy Novels" by Locus in 1987, based on a poll of subscribers. Similarly, it was one of five finalists for the Best Novel "Retro Hugo" in 2001 when the World Science Fiction Society provided 50th anniversary recognition for a publication year without Hugo Awards.

The Eyes of the Overworld

The Eyes of the Overworld is a fantasy fix-up novel by American writer Jack Vance, published by Ace in 1966, the second book in the Dying Earth series that Vance inaugurated in 1950. Retitled Cugel the Clever in its Vance Integral Edition (2005), the book features the self-proclaimed Cugel the Clever in linked stories.

The components of the fix-up were five short works published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction from December 1965 to July 1966, and one original to the book.

The Sword of the Lictor

The Sword of the Lictor is a science fantasy novel by American writer Gene Wolfe, first released in 1982. It is the third volume in the four-volume series The Book of the New Sun.

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