To celebrate the sun’s gallant efforts to survive
December 10, 2008 1 Comment
Jack Vance’s Dying Earth novels are set in the last years of the Sun’s life, when technology has given way to (or become) magic.
The series begins on a dark romantic note with The Dying Earth (1950). Earth’s remaining people live a capricious fairy tale existence, subject to wizards, monsters, and random cruelty. One moment you’re happily torturing some unlucky traveller. The next you’ve had your eyes gouged out for use in an art project.
With The Eyes of the Overworld (1966) and Cugel’s Saga (1983), Vance turns the end into light farce, which suits it better. The protagonist is Cugel the Clever, a trickster who travels the world in search of revenge. The joke is on everyone, both Cugel and the people he cheats, robs, or accidentally causes the brutal death of. Everyone is a fool or a crook, and deserve whatever they get. At least Cugel thinks so.
The satire in Rhialto the Marvellous (1984) is more subtle, and less funny. At one point, thousands of youths are preserved in capsules, to awaken in an expected Golden Age a hundred centuries later. As the time of awakening approaches they’re discovered by cannibals, who treat them as a convenient source of freshly preserved meat. Yum!
Vance’s characters find little to admire in the end-times. Nations, fads and True Religions (And We Mean It This Time) have come and gone for aeons, but people remain the same. What then is there left to believe in? Vance’s attitude is that when everything is past, everything is farce.