The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Jack Vance’s stories of the dying Earth consist of three novels and one collection of stories that reads as a novel. The series is loosely linked by a shared setting and repeated characters. Each individual volume stands on its own, and within volumes, the particular chapters form largely self-contained episodes.

The first volume, The Dying Earth, sets the stage and establishes the basic premises. The novel, more accurately a collection of stories, is set in the distant future. As Earth itself and human history near their end, rogues and charlatans abound, and science has been replaced by magic. The setting is more medieval than futuristic. Humankind is few and scattered, with small, isolated pockets of people spread across the wilderness. Travel is dangerous, because creatures such as deodands, flesh-eating ghouls, and pelgranes, winged ravagers of the air, wait for the unwary or the luckless.

The Dying Earth introduces these themes through the stories of such characters as Turjan of Miir, who wishes to create life in his castle laboratory. Lacking the proper knowledge of incantations, he turns to the powerful, mysterious Pandelume, who aids Turjan in return for a favor, the theft of a magical amulet. Aided by Pandelume’s spells, Turjan succeeds, creating a beautiful woman, T’sain, who becomes his companion. In a following story, Turjan is captured by a rival, Mazirian the Magician, who tortures Turjan to gain his secret powers. T’sain saves her creator and lover.

Such is the pattern of stories in The Dying Earth. Characters appear only to be replaced by others, such as Ulan Dhor, who travels to the ancient city of Ampridatvir, where he wakes the sleeping god-king Rogol Domedonfors, unleashing devastation. Ulan Dhor’s story is the only one in the series that departs from...

(The entire section is 756 words.)