Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance

Sixteen years later, [1] Jack Vance returned to the world of the Dying Earth - site of his first published book - for a series of stories in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, that, in the manner of the time, eventually saw themselves fixed-up into a book of their own.

This second Dying Earth book, The Eyes of the Overworld, is more of a novel than the first book is, but less so than the two actual novels that Vance wrote in that setting another sixteen or so years later. It tells the adventures of Cugel the Clever, who is nearly as good at getting out of trouble as he is at getting into it. (And who, as the self-named often are, is perhaps not quite as clever as he thinks, or as he needs to be in a particular situation.)

Cugel's episodic adventures begin when he is enticed to attempt to steal valuables from the manse of Iucounu the Laughing Magician but is caught in the act and forced to retrieve a magical item for Iucounu. From there, he has seven, mostly novelette-length episodes, which see him dropped into another form of trouble and eventually find his way out of it. Broadly, the magics of Iucounu drop him far away, where he needs to take away that magical item and then get all the way back to Iucounu.

Vance was always a sprightly and fun writer, and these stories are from one of his peaks, in the mid-60s. (A lot of his best novellas came from that era, and these stories are only a bit shorter than those peaks.) I'm happy to have had a chance to re-read them, and recommend a random Vance book to anyone who likes precise, distinctive writing in their adventure stories - this one, another Dying Earth book, the Lyonesse novels, a Demon Princes book, or any standalone after the mid-60s (and maybe before then).

[1] See my post on The Dying Earth for the before that preceded the later.

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