The Dying Earth is a series of fantasy fixups (novels created from older short stories) by American author Jack Vance.
The series consists of the following works:
Tales of the Dying Earth collects the entire series.
Author Michael Shea has also written a book set in the same fictional world: A Quest of Simbilis (novel, 1974), and is actually an authorised sequel to Eyes of the Overworld. Interestingly, this book was published nine years before Vance's own sequel.
Nifft the Lean by Shea, also owes much debt to Vance's creation, since the protagonist of the story is a petty thief (not unlike Cugel the Clever), who travels and struggles in an exotic world.
Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun is set in a somewhat similar world and has been written under Vance's influence. (Wolfe suggested in The Castle of the Otter, a collection of essays, that he inserted "The Dying Earth" into his fictional world under the title The Book of Gold.)
Three of the Dying Earth books had their titles changed by editors or publishers. In the Vance Integral Edition of Vance's complete oeuvre, these books have had Vance's original titles restored. They are as follows:
- The Dying Earth is retitled as Mazirian the Magician.
- The Eyes of the Overworld is retitled as Cugel the Clever.
- Cugel's Saga is retitled as Cugel: the Skybreak Spatterlight.
The stories of the Dying Earth series are set in the distant future, at a point when the sun is almost exhausted and magic has reasserted itself as a dominant force. The various civilizations of the Earth have collapsed for the large part into decadence. The Earth itself is mostly barren and cold, and has become infested with various predatory monsters (possibly created by a magician in a former age).
The Moon has disappeared and the Sun is in danger of burning out at any time. A certain fatalism characterizes many of the inhabitants as a consequence.
Almery is the center of the region where most of the series characters originate. Although the city is just the pale shadow of its once great self, suffering from marginal desolation, it plays a determinative role in the life of the southern areas.
The series shows the influence of the picaresque tale, applied to a science fiction/fantasy setting.
| Dying Earth Book Covers
| First edition covers
|| Later reprint covers
|| Omnibus covers
Influence on role playing games
- The magic system used in Dungeons & Dragons (in which a wizard is limited in the number of spells that can be simultaneously remembered and forgets them once they are cast) was based on the magic of Dying Earth. Some of the spells from D&D are based on spells mentioned in the Dying Earth series, notably the prismatic spray. One of the deities of magic in Dungeons & Dragons is named Vecna (an anagram of Vance).
- There is also an official Dying Earth role-playing game, published by Pelgrane Press which places players into Vance's ancient world populated by desperately extravagant people.
- The role-playing game Talislanta, created by Stephen Michael Sechi, was also primarily influenced by Jack Vance's Dying Earth series.
- The text adventure game series Zork takes some elements from the Dying Earth series, most notably the magic system in later Zork titles, as well as the (in)famous darkness-dwelling Grues.