Book Review 2009 #36: Songs of the Dying Earth

Long awaited by many people besides me is this tribute anthology to the Dying Earth stories of Jack Vance.


Edited by George R.R. Martin (who contributes a story as well) and Gardner Dozois, this anthology is another journey to the Dying Earth world created by Jack Vance.
Vance himself provides an introduction, and Dean Koontz provides an appreciation. But the heart and meat of the anthology are the stories.
Many of the authors do a remarkable job in capturing the essence of the Dying Earth. The language, the picaresque characters, the strange rambling adventures. Some of the stories feature characters from Vance’s stories as main protagonists, others rely on those characters as plot devices, or even just as background color.
So how did they do?
Given the truism that anthologies can vary in the quality and interest stories and authors bring, I thought the quality of the stories was uniformly high. I was gratified that my high expectations were met by the authors and their stories. And the range of subjects and stories is high. Therein you will find more doings of Cugel (contradictory stories, if you wanted to try and take all of these stories as canonical), an architect who uses his skills to defend a castle, magicians large and small scrambling for power as the sun dies, and more, much more.
Dan Simmons has the only novella, the centerpiece of this anthology, The Guiding Nose of Ulfant Banderoz. It’s one of the stronger stories in the volume. Like his digestion of Keats in the Hyperion novels, and the Iliad in Ilium, Simmons shows that he truly digests and does a good Dying Earth.
Besides his story, I particularly liked Wright’s Guyal the Creator (continuing the character’s story from the Vance story), Matthew Hughes’ Grolion of Almery. (Hughes’ own novels show his prior affection for homage to Vance), Paula Volsky’s The Traditions of Karzh (showing how a would be wizard really gets his power) and Walter Jon William’s Abrizonde (the aforementioned story about a hero architect).
But, really, few of the stories are poor, although I do wonder why Neil Gaiman felt the need to tie in the real world with the Dying Earth in his tale. I found that a bit atonal, even if its a decent story.
In any event, fans of the Dying Earth should not miss this anthology, especially given the list of authors and the love and care they have given the world of Messr. Vance.
The full list of stories:
The True Vintage of Erzuine Thale –Robert Silverberg
Grolion of Almery –Matthew Hughes
The Copsy Door –Terry Dowling
Caulk the Witch Doctor –Liz Williams
Inescapable –Mike Resnick
Abrizonde –Walter Jon Williams
The Traditions of Karzh –Paula Volsky
The Final Quest of the Wizard Sarnod –Jeff Vandermeer
The Green Bird –Kage Baker
The Last Golden Thread –Phyllis Eisenstein
An Incident in Uskvesk –Elizabeth Moon
Sylgarmo’s Proclamation –Lucius Shepard
The Lamentably Comical Tragedy (or The Laughably Tragic Comedy) of Lixal Laqavee –Tad Williams
Guyal the Curator –John C Wright
The Good Magician –Glen Cook
The Return of the Fire Witch –Elizabeth Hand
The Collegeum of Mauge –Byron Tetrick
Evillo the Uncunning –Tanith Lee
The Guiding Nose of Ulfant Banderoz –Dan Simmons
Frogskin Cap –Howard Waldrop
A Night at the Tarn House –George R R Martin
An Invocation of Curiosity –Neil Gaiman