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4.3 out of 5 stars
Tales Of The Dying Earth (FANTASY MASTERWORKS)
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 4 June 2007
Utterly ineffable. Words fail me. In fact, I think the only person capable of describing this masterpiece in words would be Jack Vance himself. But I shall try:

Vance is renowned as an author whose vocabulary knows no bounds - and who frequently stretches the bounds to suit his needs - but he is much more than that... he is a word-magician, a summoner of moods and a conjurer of visions.

"The Dying Earth" is in fact a collection of several short stories that occasionally prove to be related. The brevity of the characters is congruous with the fugitive moments that amount to a lifetime on Earth, and just as we begin to love - or hate - one of them, they are snatched from our grasp and we are left aching to know more.

"The Eyes of the Overworld" and "Cugel's Saga" relate the adventures of Cugel the Clever as he comes across personages as ephemeral as those of the first volume. "Rhialto the Marvellous" is also a collection of related stories based around a rather bohemian group of latter-day wizards.

The tales of witchcraft and wizardry, rogues and rascals and blackguards in unimaginably distant future never cease to amaze. Vance's evocative pasticcio of non-conformist surrealism, spatters of humour and almost poetic eloquence, make this all-too-fleeting visit to the Dying Earth a deeply escapist experience. Lighter-hearted than Tolkien yet gloomier than Pratchett, and completely different in approach to anything else, this is in a class of its own.

Minor downside: LOTS of stupid editing mistakes in this edition, but at this price for all four books, mustn't moan! (By the way, the Foreword that appears to be missing is at the beginning of "Rhialto the Marvellous" on page 584, not of the whole book.)
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58 of 63 people found the following review helpful
on 5 March 2002
Quite a good book, but do yourself a favour and avoid this issue, the Fantasy Masterworks edition. Why I hear you ask? I looks as though the book has never been proof read.........
1. The book is bound in such a fashion that you cannot read the left hand pages to the margin without irreparably damaging the spine of the book. This abates at around 100 pages into the book.
2. There are numerous spelling mistakes including a central character being spelt differently three or so times in the book.
3. On page 610, 50 pages into Rhialto the Marvellous, there is a footnote about the "Blue Principals". For further information, according to the footnote, you need to see the forward section of the book. OK I think to myself, and begin leaving in from the cover of the book, looking for an explanation as to what these Blue Principals are. They have been mentioned numerous times on this, and subsequent pages, and low and behold, there is no forward section. Anyone care to tell me what all that is about then?
I have enjoyed the works of literature within this abysmal excuse for a "work of art", as the "Fantasy Masterworks" title would have you believe. The books contained within are good and entertaining, but the avoid this edition like the plague.
The main reason I read this collection was due to someone posting on Amazon that Gene Wolfe's breathtaking saga "The Book of the New Sun", was a "copy" of this collection. Unfortunately, that person was sorely mistaken. This is a very enjoyable collection of stories, Cugels adventures are very good, but in this edition the first 100 pages of the book and Rhialto the Marvellous are marred by bad design and sheer stupidity on behalf of the publishing house. I would recommend purchasing a different edition and definitely NOT this one.
It is also worth bearing in mind when reading this book, that The Dying Earth is in fact a collection of very good short stories, sharing characters in-between stories.
Rant over. Did enjoy it though :)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 3 May 2009
I confess that this book first seized my attention because I thought it was apocalyptic science fiction (which it isnt really) and because of some truely fantastic cover art work (I have seen a couple of other editions with covers that dont sell the book as much at all, I believe this cover illustrates a tragic story from early in the first section).

My previous experience of reading Vance was an abortive attempt to read Emphyrio (S.F. Masterworks) which I did not like at all and turned me off the author, this book has been so great a read that I've had to rethink my estimation of this author altogether. It was such a pleasure to read, I was so grateful it was a longer book (infact a number of books collected together), the use of language and style are great, evoking memories of both Dune and The Arabian Nights.

The book deals with an impossibly distant future, in which the past, relics of which abound the planet, would still be the distant, distant future of our present (or possibly even the "present" depicted in most futuristic sci fi). The ways in which technology or science have been subsumed within mystical or fantastical systems of thought is reminiscent of Dune (S.F. Masterworks), though unlike Dune there isnt anything which harks back to an earlier/present age like ZenSunni hybrid religosity. The magicians or descriptions of wizardology and weird creatures was reminescent of Arabian Nights: Tales from the Thousand and One Nights (Penguin Classics).

The first book of the four in this series is essentially a collection of singular stories, although there is over lapping in the featured characters, the second book is an expanded narrative featuring the quest of a single character although the chapters are like minature tales, the third book is another story featuring the character introduced in the second book and the style is the same while the final story is a return to the wizardry featured previously.

The characterisation is great and each individual is compelling and their fortune or misfortune really draws you in; it makes for undistracted reading. In a pretty unique way Vance's characterisation is romantic despite being fantasy fiction; bad guys are convincingly redeemed or come to such terrible grief that it provokes horror or sorrow; good guys are still capable of the most reprehensible things in a fix or readers are only afforded momentary glimpses of goodness.

This has got to be a good place to begin with Vance, I also recommend it to fans of the genres or books I've mentioned in this review. Its a kind of unique sci-fi fantasy mash up.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 19 October 2005
This is my favourite book of all time and it grows in my estimation each time I read it.
A word to the uninitiated, it carries a wordy prose, and I wouldn't recommend pausing to pull out a dictionary every time you get to a word you don't understand, just soak up the overall ambience.
The book is a semi-dystopia, set in a time when the sun is at the end of its rein. The world is an inherently selfish place with most individuals out to screw over their counterparts (though this is not always the case). The book really captures the romance of decay (as the poets of Venice used to obsess about), and so the stories, despite containing many villainous fiends, are overwhelmingly beautiful tales, and are not in anyway sadistic horror stories.
Tales of the Dying Earth also contains the most reluctant hero ever, Cudgel, who carries all of the selfish traits that embrace this dying and fascinating world. The stories about Cudgel are absolute peaches and very amusing to boot.
Jack Vance (and this is the greatest book to realise this) had the most fantastic imagination and ability to tell his stories in a sublimely clever fashion.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
What amazes me most is that Vance is so little known. I first read his sublime Lyonesse saga on the advice of a friend and have been spreading his gospel ever since. I picked up this tome on a whim many years ago and currently re-reading it for perhaps the sixth time. I just keep finding more and more in this book, it is a masterpiece.

As many, many reviewers have said before me, the word play in this book is just astonishing. As the sun crawls the sky like a moribund old man and earth grows mellow under the dying light, magic and mischief is rife amongst the few thousand remaining people. Amongst the general rabble, wizards guard their folios and spells with selfish zeal. Creatures steal through the lands, deodands, erbs, grues and pelgranes.

Amongst this odd mix of religion, forgotten civilisations, ruins, artifacts and lost knowledge, the irascible mischief maker Cugel stalks the land. This man, long of nose and limb, is hands down the funniest character I have ever had the pleasure to read about. He is, in turns a genius but, as often as not, a dotard who is overwhelmed by events, fooled by roustabouts and cads and cheated as much as he cheats.

This heady mix of mischief and counter-mischief is beautifully written, even the demi-humans who crawl under the earth a suprisingly eloquent in their speech and debate points of religious thought, morality and legal issues.

This book must be read to be appreciated, the word play leaves you at once reeling from the sheer scope yet warmed to the heart with the characters.

I urge you to read this, digest it and spread the word.

Nirvana exists in the far future where a rehumy old sun glows maroon in mellow old age.

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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 12 January 2003
This book is worth reading simply for Cugel's Saga alone.
Perhaps the ultimate anti-hero, Cugel's trials and tribulations are often hilarious, sometimes sad, always audacious, and the procrastinator varies between being extremley clever and incredibly unsighted by his own vanity.
Overall, the melancholic atmosphere evoked in this work is almost oppresive at times, and certainly portrays the last days of Earth in a suitably fatalistic manner.
The inhabitants of the Dying Earth are indeed only concerned with living out their final days in as much comfort and splendour as possible, and will take whatever action is necessary to reap profits from others' misfortunes.
Vance is a superb author, and never have I seen a greater use of language than in his works, this being perhaps the most refined and grandiose example of them all. If you want to learn vocabulary, forget the dictionary, read Jack Vance books.
This is indeed a Masterwork, and it is good to see Jack Vance getting some of the recognitian he richly deserves.
This book certainly deserves five stars.
Just so! Precisely so!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 January 2014
This is a compendium of four Jack Vance books set on "Earth" at the end of the age when the sun is dying. Once it gets going, it is very amusing. Even the dying sun is a comic character.

The first book is really a collection of short stories which don't particularly relate to one another. I'm not a fan of short stories but I have to say these ones drew me in quite quickly and I did enjoy them. They are much more serious than the tales in the other books but you do get a sense of the absurdity of the universe that the author has created.

The second and third books are novels telling the tale of the unbelievably unlucky Cugel. A breathtaking huckster whose schemes are usually comical in one way or another. I absolutely loved them.

The final book is also a series of short stories about a bunch of end-time wizards who are continually trying to pull a fast one on one another. Not quite as funny as the Cugel books but the legalistic debates are very entertaining.

Brilliantly inventive, never dull and packed with all sorts of weird beasts and characters. Fantasy as it should be.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 February 2009
Tales of the dying Earth is just that: a compendium of several stories set around the theme of a far, far future when the sun is on the verge of finally going out. Because it is a compendium, it is rather bitty. The early stories are a bit labored, as Mr Vance obviously hadn't quite worked out the style and the tone. But if you persevere, you are amply rewarded, especially with the arc about Cugel.
This is fantasy that a medieval writer might have written, if they ever could do such a thing. The tales are quirky, full of all kinds of strange and exotic magic and technology, and very, very funny. Because they really are so different not everyone will "get them" and it's hardly surprising that there are mixed reviews. I would suggest that reading "tales of the dying earth" is a risk well worth taking, just in case you are one of the many (like me) who couldn't put the book down!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
"Tales of the Dying Earth" is a collection of 4 novels written over 35 years - "The Dying Earth" (1950), "The Eyes of the Overworld" (1966), "Cugel's Saga" (1983) and "Rhialto the Marvellous" (1984). All are set in the far future as the sun flickers and dies, with magicians, lost marvels, time travel and trickery.

The Dying Earth is a succession of linked short stories, with the protangonist of story A becoming a bit player in story B, and so on. The chapters cover the adventures of Turjan, Mazirian, the "sisters" T'sain and T'sais, Liane the Wayfarer - and the unforgettable Chun the Unavoidable.

The real jewel of the collection - although this is to distinguish Miss Universe from the mere runners-up - is the centre novels Overworld and Saga, both of which deal with Cujel the Clever (admittedly self-titled) who is not so clever after all, as a rule. Cujel is a thief, swindler, rogue, and rake, who is motivated by greed, lust and revenge. Both novels are about Cujel's long quest to avenge himself on Iucounu the Laughing Magician, who had the temerity to catch Cujel robbing his manse, and set him a hard task as penance.

Cujel's view of the world is unique - his ego astonishing, his cunning low. Yet, he somehow manages to escape any danger, but usually without funds, treasure, or willing woman.

Rhialto the Marvellous is a last collection of 3 stories, after the magician of the same name. Rhialto is more sinned against than sinner, although a cursory thought about the state of (female) witches in the world - ie, there are none, as is made clear by the first tale - shows him as no saint. Rhialto deals with potential ensqualmation, jealousy and more in his comparatively simple life.

All of these characters are individuals, well written and placing in an intriguing world. Vance is a true wordsmith, both in the creation of dry, witty dialogue and in the description of the dying earth itself. There are layers of meaning and imagery in each sentence - sometimes, it seems, in each word - and it is a joy to read, even if a dictionary is required on occasion.

These are pure stories - nominally "fantasy" or "science fiction" or whatever - but really modern adult fables. They are about people, and human nature, and the flaws that come with being human. There is no preaching or exhortation to self-improvement; what is, is, and this book can simply be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys reading
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on 8 October 2013
I have never before read a published book containing so many spelling mistakes. The occasional typo I would understand, but this book is absolutely riddled with them to the point of ridicule, often going so far as to replace whole words and confuse names, rendering the meaning of sentences hard to decipher for the reader. It's like somebody sat down and copied the text, but was somewhere entirely else with their thoughts. It is particularly unforgiving because Tales of the Dying Earth uses a larger vocabulary than your average novel. You'll read words you've never even seen before and the joy of this will be somewhat diminished by the fact that 10% of all words are misspelled.

Now you're probably thinking that I'm making a fuss over something silly and trivial, but trust me: you will begin to notice it, then it will slowly creep up on you, irritating you more and more until you are annoyed enough to rant in a review nobody is probably ever going to read. Do yourself a favor and avoid this edition.
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