dying out

Dying Earth subgenre

The Dying Earth subgenre is a sub-category of science fantasy which takes place at the end of Time, when the Sun slowly fades and the laws of the universe themselves fail, with science becoming indistinguishable from magic. More generally, the Dying Earth sub-genre encompasses science fiction works set in the far distant future in a milieu of stasis or decline. Themes of world-weariness, innocence (wounded or otherwise), idealism, entropy, (permanent) exhaustion/depletion of many or all resources (such as soil nutrients), and the hope of renewal tend to pre-dominate.


The apocalyptic genre is nearly as old as literature itself, but the Dying Earth genre differs in that it deals not with catastrophic destruction, but with entropic exhaustion of the Earth. The genre was prefigured by the works of the Romantic movement. Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville's Le Dernier Homme (1805) narrates the tale of Omegare, the Last Man on Earth. It is bleak vision of the future when the Earth has become totally sterile. Lord Byron's poem Darkness (1816) shows Earth after the Sun has died. Mary Shelley's novel The Last Man shows mankind dying out because of a plague.

The first science fiction work belonging to the genre is H. G. Wells' novella The Time Machine (1895), at the end of which the time traveller travels into the far future. There he sees the last few living things on a dying Earth, before returning to his own time to relate his tale to a circle of contemporaries.

Two brooding works by William Hope Hodgson would elaborate on Wells' vision. The House on the Borderland (1908) takes place in a house besieged by unearthly forces. The narrator then travels (without explanation and perhaps psychically) into a distant future in which humanity has died and then even further, past the death of Earth. Hodgson's later The Night Land (1912) describes a time, millions of years in the future, when the Sun had gone dark. The last few millions of the Human race are gathered together in a gigantic metal pyramid, the Last Redoubt (probably the first arcology in literature) under siege from unknown forces and Powers outside in the dark.

Beginning in the 1930s. Clark Ashton Smith wrote a series of stories situated in Zothique, the last continent of Earth. As Smith himself described it in a letter to L. Sprague de Camp, dated November 3, 1953:

"Zothique, vaguely suggested by Theosophic theories about past and future continents, is the last inhabited continent of earth. The continents of our present cycle have sunken, perhaps several times. Some have remained submerged; others have re-risen, partially, and re-arranged themselves.

[...]The science and machinery of our present civilization have long been forgotten, together with our present religions. But many gods are worshipped; and sorcery and demonism prevail again as in ancient days. Oars and sails alone are used by mariners. There are no fire-arms—only the bows, arrows, swords, javelins, etc. of antiquity."

Under influence of Clark Ashton Smith, Jack Vance wrote a series of fantasy books, called the Dying Earth series, which give the sub-genre its name.

  • The Dying Earth (collection of linked stories, 1950)
  • The Eyes of the Overworld (collection of linked stories, 1966)
  • Cugel's Saga (novel, 1983)
  • Rhialto the Marvellous (collection of linked stories, 1984)


  • Brian AldissHothouse (also known as The Long Afternoon of Earth). The Earth has stopped rotating, the Sun has increased output, and plants are engaged in a constant frenzy of growth and decay, like a tropical forest enhanced a thousandfold; a few small groups of humans still live, on the edge of extinction, beneath the giant banyan tree that covers the entire day side of the earth.
  • Brian Aldiss — "...And the Stagnation of the Heart". Short story, sequel to "Circulation of the Blood...". In the previous story men gained immortality. Now, in the far future, they live transformed on a transformed Earth. The Sun is being slowly devoured by the mysterious beings.
  • Damien Broderick, ed. — Earth is But a Star: Excursions through Science Fiction to the Far Future, an anthology of canonical dying Earth short stories mostly set on Earth in the far future, interwoven with specially commissioned critical essays on the dying Earth theme.
  • John Brunner, Catch a Falling Star, an extended version of The 100th Millennium, first published as "Earth is But a Star" (1958) which features in the Broderick anthology, above. An early example of a far future tale influenced by Vance.
  • C. J. CherryhSunfall, a collection of dying earth short stories set in various locations on Earth in the far future. The tone, themes and fantasy conventions employed in this collection differ by story. (Later reprinted in The Collected Short Fiction of C. J. Cherryh).
  • Arthur C. ClarkeThe City and the Stars, a revision of the earlier 'Against the Fall of Night'.
  • Philip Jose Farmer - In Dark Is the Sun a tribesman from the distant future quests across the landscape of a dying earth. As with much of "Dying Earth" science fiction, this text ruminates on the nature of ending, and the meaning of time itself.
  • Edmond Hamilton — A novel, The City at World's End (1951) and the comic book story "Superman Under the Red Sun" from Action Comics #300 (1963).
  • M. John Harrison — a series of short stories and novels set in Viriconium. Viriconium is the capital city in which much of the action takes place. Viriconium lies on a dying Earth littered with the detritus of the millennia, seemingly now its own hermetic universe where chronology no longer applies.
  • Michael MoorcockThe Dancers at the End of Time series.
  • Michael SheaA Quest for Simbilis (1974) is a further chronicle of Jack Vance's Dying Earth, written with Vance's permission. Shea would later write Nifft the Lean (1982), the winner of World Fantasy Award.
  • Gene WolfeThe Book of the New Sun chronicles the journey of a disgraced torturer named Severian to the highest position in the land. Severian, who has a perfect memory, tells the story in first person. The Book takes place in the distant future, where the sun has dimmed considerably. Wolfe has stated that Vance's series directly influenced this work. The Book has several associated volumes.

See also


External links

  • The Eldritch Dark — This website contains almost all of Clark Ashton Smith's written work, as well as a comprehensive selection of his art, biographies, a bibliography, a discussion board, readings, fiction tributes and more.
  • The Night Land- A website about "The Night Land" by William Hope Hodgson, includes also original fiction set in his universe, with influences of Cordwainer Smith and others Dying Earth authors.

FOR CITATION Dying Earth subgenre From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Dying Earth subgenre is a sub-category of science fantasy which takes place at the end of Time, when the Sun slowly fades and the laws of the universe themselves fail, with science becoming indistinguishable from magic.[citation needed]

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C. Clarke (1917 - ), "Profiles of The Future", 1961 (Clarke's third law)


Indistinguishable From Magic by Dr. H. Paul Shuch, Executive Director "Any sufficiently advanced technology," wrote science fiction giant Arthur C. Clarke some years ago, "is virtually indistinguishable from magic." This acknowledgment of our own technological immaturity has subsequently become known as Clarke's Law, and is one basis for Shklovskii's and Sagan's Assumption of Mediocrity which underlies so much SETI research. SETI League President Richard Factor has proposed an interesting corollary to Clarke's Law: "Any sufficiently advanced modulation scheme is virtually indistinguishable from noise."

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