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Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance
edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
Subterranean Press, 632 pages

George R.R. Martin
George R.R. Martin was born in 1948 in Bayonne, New Jersey. He attended Northwestern University, graduating with degrees in journalism. Martin refused active service: instead he served with VISTA, in Cook County, Illinois. In addition to his writing credits, Martin has served as Story Editor for Twilight Zone, and as Executive Story Consultant, Producer and Co-Supervising Producer for Beauty and the Beast, both on CBS. He also was Executive Producer for Doorways on CBS. At 21, he made his first pro sale to the magazine, Galaxy. Martin now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

George R.R. Martin Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Busted Flush
SF Site Review: Dreamsongs
SF Site Review: The Armageddon Rag
SF Site Review: A Game of Thrones
SF Site Review: The Hedge Knight
SF Site Review: Windhaven
SF Site Review: A Storm of Swords
SF Site Interview: George R.R. Martin
SF Site Review: A Clash of Kings
SF Site Review: A Game of Thrones

Gardner Dozois
Gardner Dozois was the editor of Asimov's Science Fiction magazine for many years and is the editor of the annual anthology series The Year's Best Science Fiction, as well as many other anthologies. He has won more than 10 Hugo Awards as the year's best editor, and 2 Nebula Awards for his own short fiction. His short fiction appears in Geodesic Dreams: The Best Short Fiction of Gardner Dozois. He is the author or editor of better than 70 books, including the anthologies The Good Old Stuff and The Good New Stuff. He's also edited such theme anthologies as Dinosaurs! and Dog Tales!. He lives in Philadelphia.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The New Space Opera
SF Site Review: One Million A.D.
SF Site Review: Galileo's Children
SF Site Review: Strangers
SF Site Review: Future Sports
SF Site Review: The Year's Best Science Fiction, Eighteenth Annual Collection
SF Site Review: Space Soldiers
SF Site Review: The Year's Best Science Fiction: 17th Annual Collection
SF Site Review: Isaac Asimov's Solar System
SF Site Review: Isaac Asimov's Werewolves
SF Site Review: Future War
SF Site Review: The Good Old Stuff
SF Site Review: Nanotech
SF Site Review: Isaac Asimov's Detectives
SF Site Review: Roads Not Taken: Tales of Alternate History
SF Site Review: The Year's Best Science Fiction: Fifteenth Annual Collection

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance Jack Vance is now 93 years old, and has retired from writing. He has been celebrated in the SF and Fantasy (and to a lesser extent, Mystery) fields for years. But it seems that his star is again ascending, signaled by such things as an ongoing series of story collections edited by Jonathan Strahan and Terry Dowling, by the publication of his memoirs (simultaneously with this book, and from the same publisher), and even by an admiring profile in the New York Times Magazine this past July. And of course also by this book, a collection of stories set in Vance's most famous milieu, the Dying Earth, by a wide variety of writers, nearly all of whom tell a story of their magical encounter with Vance's fiction at an early age.

Vance is a writer whose influence on the field has been quite noticeable. The Dying Earth itself is an obvious inspiration for such a major work as Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun. One might add less significant but still worthwhile work also set in what is either explicitly the Dying Earth (Michael Shea's authorized sequel A Quest for Simbilis) or what seems closely derived from same (Damien Broderick's Sorceror's World). Countless other writers have used similar milieus, some quite openly, as with Matthew Hughes, who explicitly sets his fantasy novels in the age just prior to that of The Dying Earth. (Hughes also has developed a prose style that is clearly Vance-derived -- and, though he does not equal Vance's skill, his work is quite enjoyable.) Indeed, besides Hughes, others of the contributors to this book are Vance's heirs to some degree or another: Robert Silverberg's Majipoor novels are set on a large planet that obviously harkens back to Vance's Big Planet, while Kage Baker's fantasy novels (beginning with The Anvil of the World) have a distinctly Vancean flavor as well.

Songs of the Dying Earth is, first story to last, very enjoyable. However it is never quite brilliant, and I believe that is precisely because the writers are all working in another writer's world. (Not that that is a bar to brilliance -- Orson Scott Card's "The Originist," to name just one example, is a magnificent story set in Isaac Asimov's Foundation future.) Still, this is 600 plus pages of entertaining work... well worth the money.

There's no point going over all the stories... I'll mention some highlights. Several of the writers seem to be trying to mimic Vance's style to a degree, with varying degrees of success. Perhaps the most interesting of the stories in this vein is one that seems more a blend of the writer's style with Vance's -- Lucius Shepard's "Sylgarmo's Proclamation," perhaps my favorite piece here. I tend to find Shepard's prose a bit overwrought. By contrast, one of the sometimes unappreciated aspects of Vance's writing is that despite its reputation for ornateness, his sentences are clear and crisp, even as the words may be unfamiliar and the tone ironic. To my mind, Shepard, while still writing in his own voice, modulated his style in a Vancean direction in "Sylgarmo's Proclamation," to very good effect. The story itself is fine -- as the Sun appears ready to finally "quit the sky" a certain Thiago is approached by certain individuals desiring revenge on Cugel the Clever, and he is induced to guide them to a remote tower to confront the him.

I also greatly enjoyed the longest of these stories, Dan Simmons's "The Guiding Nose of Ulfänt Banderõz." Shrue the Diabolist and a group of travelers (including Derwe Coreme, who appears as well in Shepard's story) try to reunite the title magician's library, which seems to be in two universes -- and in so doing forestall the final expiration of the Sun. A couple of the shorter stories have a different tone -- reflecting their authors more than Vance, while still properly hommages to the master: thus, Howard Waldrop's "Frogskin Cap," which shows us how Tybalt became the last Curator of the Museum of Man, and Neil Gaiman's "A Question of Incuriosity," which intriguingly links our own time with that of the Dying Earth.

Other highlights: Elizabeth Moon's "An Incident in Uskvesk," an entertaining story, sort of a caper piece, about a dwarf and roach racing, of all things. Kage Baker's "The Green Bird" is another Cugel story, and very true to the spirit of the originals, as Cugel is shown again to be quite clever, but not as clever as he thinks he is. And finally I'll mention Elizabeth Hand's "The Return of the Fire Witch," in which the title character impugns a fellow witch to help her get even with the royal family that had exiled her.

It's a big book, and there are many further stories. We meet many of Jack Vance's familiar characters, and many new ones; we revisit many familiar locales, and some new ones, and we encounter again some of Vance's amusing fauna, such as Deodands and Twk people. The stories, as I have said, entertain almost to a one. It might be that leisurely reading is best, as there is some repetition of theme, style, and setting -- but it will be entertaining reading.

Copyright © 2009 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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