Friday, 14 November 2008

The End Times and The Times Before The End Times

Dying Earth by Jack Vance: like China Mieville's novels, this is a heady mixture of fantasy and sci-fi concepts. Set in the far future, with the sun relatively close to dying, the stories revolve mainly around sorcerors battling amongst themselves or seeking to restore or rediscover magical powers from a previous Golden Age, however in some stories they also come across evidence of the planet's high-tech past. The book lies somewhere between short story collection and novel - the six chapters are stand-alone shorts or novellas (an artefact of the sci-fi magazine culture) but characters and events do connect from story to story and there is a vague sense of an overall structure. The fantasy is orc-free with some originality in depiction of the demons and monsters that inhabit the dying Earth.

I came to Jack Vance through a newer author, Matt Hughes who has written several novels and short stories set in "the times before the End times," generally agreed to be earlier in Jack Vance's Dying Earth timeline. Hughes' stories again combine sci-fi and fantasy concepts, and are set in a decadent age where almost everything is known; humanity has expanded from a kingdom "The Archonate" into a collection of worlds "The Spray." Hughes writes with an extraordinary turn of phrase that I've only seen two other authors carry off - one is Patrick O'Brian, the other Charles Dickens. I can't quite put my finger on what these authors are doing but you can almost taste the sentences. Hughes also takes in some unusual but fascinating topics in addition to his world's decadent politics and con-artistry; many stories feature the adventures of noonauts travelling into and out of Jung's collective unconscious.


Jigsaw said...

Never heard of this author.Must try to track him down.I read stuff like The Forever War by Joe Haldeman and Philip K Dick's books which are very like the last line of your post.Kind of Sci Fi mixed with philosophy and drugs thrown in! Scanner Darkly starring Keanu "Great actor" Reeves was a film based on his book.very good film if you like his books.

Sci-Fi Gene said...

I also read a lot of Phil Dick and have enjoyed most of the film adaptations from Blade Runner onwards, including Scanner Darkly. I think he also inspired ideas in other films even if they're not direct adaptations - the Truman Show for instance could easily have been one of his. I'll put up some reviews of particular books/films I enjoyed when I get round to it.