I just read The Dying Earth by Jack Vance, in advance of writing the rough draft of my story “The Three Quests of the Wizard Sarnod,” destined (I hope) for the Vance DE antho being edited by Dozois and Martin. I have to admit that I didn’t know what to expect, because I’d only ever read Vance’s Dying Earth stories piecemeal back when I was a teenager. I remembered enjoying them very much back then, but would my reading tastes have changed so drastically that the stories didn’t hold up?
Thankfully, as with my return to writers like Cordwainer Smith and Fritz Leiber, this wasn’t the case. If anything, I think I appreciate the Dying Earth stories more now, and am somewhat gobsmacked to find more resonance between Ambergris and the Dying Earth than I thought. (For example, the Greens, Greys, and Reds in the insanely masterful “Ulan Dhor.”)
What do I mean when I say I appreciate the stories more now? I don’t think I saw the real complexity and cleverness of the stories back then, or the skill Vance has with dialogue. A story like “Guyal of Sfere,” for example, is a wonderful SF-Fantasy quest but it also has an underlying seriousness, and a level of invention throughout, that is matched by the seamless execution stylistically. Vance is a great stylist, who is able to find just the right details to make his stories seem real rather than merely decorative. The dry humor, the counterpoint of an underlying sadness or wistfulness in some of the stories–both moods work to create layers and a great deal of satisfaction for readers.
Re-reading Vance has re-energized me in unexpected ways, and writing “The Three Quests of the Wizard Sarnod” has been an absolute blast. I’m most definitely not writing pastiche, but instead my own riff on the material, taking as my foundation the dual seriousness and humor I find so compelling in his work. The style is my own, but this is not at all jarring, I think, given that he was someone I read while in my formative years as a writer.
As I told Dozois and Martin in an email, I’m happy to be part of the anthology not just because I get to write a Dying Earth story, but because it’s made me rediscover this great writer.