Jack Vance is often described as a master literary stylist. This assessment is at least partly based on an artistic use of language that at times elevates prose to the level of poetry. In the grand tradition of definition, by comparison, Vance is like Clark Ashton Smith, or Cordwainer Smith, or Ray Bradbury, or Ernest Bramah - but he is always and unmistakably Jack Vance.
Vance's first book, a collection of loosely related short stories titled The Dying Earth, was published in paperback in 1950, with other titles to follow:
The Dying Earth (New York: Hillman, 1950; Hillman #41) Paperback. Minimum $75 to $125
The Eyes of the Overworld (New York: Ace Books, 1966) Paperback. <$5
Cugel's Saga (New York: Timescape, 1983) Hardback <$10
Rhialto the Marvellous (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984) Hardback $10
Tales of the Dying Earth (New York: St Martins/Orb, 2000) Trade paperback, omnibus collecting the four books of the Dying Earth. $8
Compleat Dying Earth (SFBC, 1998) Hardback, omnibus collecting the four books of the Dying Earth. $2
Underwood-Miller has published numerous limited editions of Vance's books, as well as limited sets of chap (think stapled pamphlet style) books reprinting one or sometimes two individual stories (Morreion, The Seventeen Virgins, The Bagful of Dreams). These are sometimes signed by the author and/or the illustrator. Starting prices appear to be in the $50 to $75 range, and go up from there.
Another element that is found in some examples of Dying Earth stories is the possibility of renewal or rebirth. This is clearly seen in Gene Wolfe's multi-volume Book of the New Sun, an amazing work that defies simple categorization. The Book of the New Sun is an extended Dickensian biographical novel, framed as a traveler's tale, in which elements of future historical romance, heroic quest, and picaresque adventure are mixed in. The setting is the far future, and the dying Urth needs a savior to rekindle the cooling Sun. Enter Severian, an apprentice torturer who is expelled from the Tower for the sin of mercy.
Wolfe has openly credited Jack Vance's The Dying Earth as a major influence on The Book of the New Sun. See also Wolfe's multi-volume novels The Book of the Long Sun and The Book of the Short Sun - a total of seven books mostly distinct from, but set in the same universe and roughly contemporaneous with, The Book of the New Sun.
The series is comprised of the following:
The Shadow of the Torturer (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980) Hardback, $50 - $75
The Claw of the Conciliator (New York: Timescape, 1981) Hardback, $25
The Sword of the Lictor (New York: Timescape, 1982) Hardback, $25
The Citadel of the Autarch (New York: Timescape, 1983) Hardback, $5
A fifth book, The Urth of the New Sun (New York: Tor, 1987, <$5), picks up the story a few years after The Book of the New Sun ends. A few questions are (seemingly) answered, more questions are raised, and some readers would have been content to stop with the fourth book.
Don't be fooled, as this is one of the more commonly found sets of SFBC editions. A Fine condition set of the four SFBC hardbacks might fetch $10 to $20, on the right day. There is also an omnibus SFBC edition titled The Book of the New Sun, with all four novels collected in one volume; resale value about $10.
Additionally, there is a two-volume trade paperback set, with books one and two collected as Shadow & Claw (New York: Orb, 1994), and books three and four collected as Sword & Citadel (New York: Orb, 1994); resale value for the set between $10 and $20.
Additional Authors and Titles
The following title list is based suggestions from two websites discussing the Dying Earth theme:
Titles I have read and can personally recommend are marked with an *
Iain Banks - Feersum Endjinn*.
Damien Broderick - The Black Grail.
C. J. Cherryh - Sunfall*.
Arthur C Clarke - The City and the Stars.
Paul McAuley - the Confluence Trilogy: Child of the River; Ancients of Days; and Shrine of Stars.
Larry Niven - A World Out of Time.
Robert Silverberg - Nightwings.
Doris Piserchia, A Billion Days of Earth.
William Hope Hodgson - The House on the Borderland*; The Night Land*.
Brian Aldiss - Hothouse*.
Clifford Simak - City*.
Mark S. Geston - Lords of the Starship; Out of the Mouth of the Dragon; The Day Star; The Siege of Wonder.
M. John Harrison - The Viriconium series.
Michael Moorcock - The Dancers at the End of Time series.
Matthew Hughes - Fools Errant; Fool Me Twice; Black Brillion.
Want to read more articles by
< to previous article to next article >
Questions or comments?