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📘 Tales of the Dying Earth

📖 By Jack Vance

I've recently been reading the excellent World Without Number RPG by Kevin Crawford; I'm a massive fan of Mr Crawford's work because I think that the quality of stuff he puts out as a one-man band is an inspiration to all those of us who secretly--or not so secretly--harbour dreams of one day publishing our own RPG products. Once of the things I love about Worlds Without Number is that it has a very particular view of fantasy, and paints a picture of a far future earth, countless thousands of years removed from modern day, where great human empires have risen and fallen, aliens have ruled and been ousted and now the world is on it's last ebb, fading to nothing as the few last heroes try to win whatever victories they can as the stars slowly perish in the blackness.

It's a setting that reminds me very much of Numenara, another game that I'm very fond of; they both have this dying world mentally where it's not necessarily post-apocalyptic but it feels like the battle has pretty much already been lost and the end is now an inevitability. As a fan of cosmic horror where the insignificance of the protagonist is a big part of the narrative, this naturally appeals to me, the game becomes less about saving the world and more about trying to achieve small victories, these little-wins shining evening more brightly against the inevitably darkness encroaching on the setting.

The Dying Earth vibe will probably be familiar to most people who play RPGs, mainly through the works of Jack Vance who also lent his name to the Vancian magic system predominantly used in D&D, this system is itself a product of the Dying Earth fantasy works that Vance created.

Essentially--as with Numenera and Worlds Without Number--the storied of the Dying Earth are set in a distant future where the sun is dwindling, science has collapsed and magic is once again the dominant force in the world. Great civilisations have fallen and been forgotten beneath the sands of time, whilst fanatic, sorcerors and barbarians arise in the final days. Essentially all the tropes and great stuff about the Swords & Sorcery genre but thrown far into a mythic future rather than harkening back to an ancient/fictitious past.

I must confess to not being a big fantasy reader, which I've always found a bit weird given that I vastly prefer running fantasy based RPGs, however I grew up reading sci-fi works by Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and the like handed down from my father and then later I developed a taste for horror--both cosmic and otherwise--but I never really got bitten by the fantasy novel bug, unlike my dad and younger brothers who love a masssive fantasy book series. Whilst most of my games incorporate horror and arguably sci-fi elements into their fantasy to some degree I decided to give Vance a try.

This lead to me ordering a copy of the Fantasy Masterworks, Tales of the Dying Earth on Amazon:

To say I wasn't impressed with the quality of the book was an understatement, the cover was thin and flimsy, several of the pages weren't aligned very well and they appeared to have used something akin to a blunt butter-knife to cut out the pages. Several of the pages were in-fact not glued to the spine and nearly fell out when I opened the book. I have to admit this put a bit of a downer on the whole thing for me and--after reading one story (Turjan of Miir) I shelved the book and went on to reading something else.

However, with me taking up the mantle of blogger once again and having a fresh attempt at blogging it occurs to me that perhaps I should give this book another chance, after all, it's hardly the authors fault that the copy I got was a little bit shoddy. So I'm planning to crack it open and read it again, I like the idea of multiple short stories rather than a humungus series of tomes, and may blog about the stories as I work my way through them.

Lets see if I can get some sparks of enjoyment out of the Dying Earth, before the angry red sun closes its eyes for good.

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