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Songs of the Dying Earth by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
Cover Artist: Felix Ziem
Review by Drew Bittner
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765320865
Date: 07 December 2010 List Price $27.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Jack Vance is justly recognized as a master of fantasy and a powerful influence on storytellers over the past several decades. Arguably, the Dying Earth stories are his masterwork. Set in a time when Earth's sun is going black and life is on the verge of extinction, when magic and science are both exhausted forces and decadence is all that's left, Vance's work carries a morbid wit and brilliant storytelling.

So much so, in fact, that self-described fans Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin have put together an anthology celebrating Vance and his creation. In Songs of the Dying Earth, these two master editors have brought a host of all-stars out to play.

Neil Gaiman's "An Invocation of Incuriosity" finds a flea market vendor selling some very unusual trinkets--as well as the tale of how he acquired them--while Martin's own "A Night at the Tarn House" brings together some improbable characters, whose agendas are (unwittingly and perhaps lethally) at cross-purposes. Walter Jon Williams, in "Abrizonde", tells the tale of the student Vespanus, who walks into a war and ends up with... well, that would be telling.

"Inescapable" by Mike Resnick offers the origin tale of two of Vance's own characters, while "The Final Quest of the Wizard Sarnod" by Jeff Vandermeer considers the folly of attempting to control utterly one's creations and one's fate.

This treasure-house of stories also includes contributions from Tad Williams, Tanith Lee, Robert Silverberg, Kage Baker, Phyllis Eisenstein, John C. Wright, Glen Cook, and the estimable Howard Waldrop (with many more besides). There is also a foreword by Dean Koontz and a preface by Jack Vance himself.

The simplicity and adaptability of the setting is astounding. These stories range from the light and whimsical to the dark and horrific, with plenty in between. Although the approaching "end of all things" seems ominous, Vance (and these writers) squeeze all sorts of engaging fiction out of it. Many of the protagonists are full of self-interest, hoping to enrich themselves or perhaps just escape the death of the sun, while the villains... pretty much want the same thing. But isn't that the way of all fiction?

Dozois and Martin have chosen brilliantly, and created an anthology that readers should seek out at once. Anyone who fancies him- or herself a lover of great fantasy should not only be familiar with Vance, that reader should own this book as well. There are hours of incredible stories to be devoured, making this a delightful introduction (or return) to Vance's incredible setting.

Highly recommended.

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