Songs Of The Dying Earth edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois (book review).

‘Songs Of The Dying Earth’ by George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois is subtitled ‘Stories In Honor Of Jack Vance’ which tells all you need to know. Or does it? This book is an anthology of short stories and one novella about the Dying Earth and its inhabitants by twenty-two well-known authors who pay tribute to SF Grandmaster Jack Vance. Not by imitating him but by playing in his sandbox.


The Dying Earth is our world in the far future, in a time when the sun no longer shines yellow but is a giant red ball in the sky. Magic is not uncommon and demons and mutants roam the lands. This is the place where almost all of the stories take place, with one notable exception. One trademark of Vance’s ‘Dying Earth’ stories is the anti-hero who cares mostly for himself. Most of the protagonists of these stories are cut from the same cloth.

I do not want to bore you with a description or an evaluation of each individual story. If you want a more in-depth review of at least one of the tales feel welcome to read my review of the novella ‘The Guiding Nose Of Ulfänt Banderôz’ by Dan Simmons, which has been published by Subterranean Press as a standalone volume. The tales are entertaining and I really enjoyed reading all of them. My favourite five are:-

‘The True Vintage Of Erzuine Thale’ by Robert Silverberg: Herein we meet a poet and philosopher whose life’s only content is to find the right drink for each and every occasion. What ensues when some thieves try to steal his rarest wine is not only a good introduction to the things that may happen on the Dying Earth and its ambience but also fun to read.

‘Abrizonde’ by Walter Jon Williams introduces us to the architect of the same name who unwittingly becomes trapped by a war between two nations he doesn’t know. The leaders are indifferent to his tries to leave the battlefield so he decides to get involved and his solution to the problem, given his resources, is quite ingenious. Another tale that fits perfectly into Vance’s universe, for once with an anti-hero who does not want to be selfish.

In ‘The Green Bird’ by Kage Baker, we accompany Cugel the Clever whilst trying to steal a fabulous pet. Nothing is as it at first seems to be. This con is witty, interesting and surprising and very true to the spirit of Vance’s tales about Cugel. Once again, Cugel is clever but not as clever as he thinks he is.

The already mentioned ‘The Guiding Nose Of Ulfänt Banderôz’ novella by Dan Simmons is about Shrue the diabolist who, upon learning that his most ancient colleague has died, goes on a journey to claim the legacy left behind, namely the legendary Ultimate Library and Final Compendium of Thaumaturgical Lore from the Grand Motholam and Earlier. Naturally, he is not the only after the prize. The hi-jinks that ensue make this a very fun read and a really great homage to the work of Jack Vance.

‘An Invocation Of Incuriosity’ by Neil Gaiman, which concludes this anthology, with the end of the sun and also cleverly links the era of the Dying Earth to our era. A short but very powerful piece and a fitting end for this anthology.

Each of the tales is introduced by a short presentation of the author and his work and some words concerning the following story and has an afterword by the author explaining his connection to Jack Vance and how the Grandmaster influenced his work. The book is exquisitely illustrated by Tom Kidd in a very fitting style and starts off with an appreciation by Dean Koontz and a preface by Jack Vance himself.

‘Songs Of The Dying Earth’ is an amazing anthology showcasing the talents of many authors while also paying a well-deserved tribute to Jack Vance’s best known work. We meet many characters from Vance’s tales and lots of new characters who fit well into the world of the Dying Earth. Although the stories differ slightly in tone and quality the overall impression is very appealing.

No Dying Earth enthusiast will want to miss out on this anthology and it can also be read without any prior knowledge of the ‘Dying Earth’ series. Be warned though: You will probably want to read the ‘Tales Of The Dying Earth’ by Jack Vance next. If you are a fan of the Dying Earth or high fantasy with a touch of humour, treat yourself to some delightful hours of reading.

Sven Scheurer

June 2016

(pub: TOR/Forge, 2010. 669 page hardback. Price: $27.99 (US), $31.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-2086-5)

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