Like many reading this, I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons. Like some of you, I’ve mused on just how different D&D is to the average fantasy book I read. It’s something that makes encountering something like D&D, while not being palpably influenced by the game, weird and exciting. And let me tell you, that’s not all that’s weird and exciting in the first book of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth, Mazirian the Magician. Not by a long shot.
Men shrunk and stuck in cages with tiny dragons to gain their secrets. Artificially created women seeking out the secrets to their flawed understanding. Cities where people cannot see others wearing a certain colour. Tiny dragonfly riders. Jack Vance’s Dying Earth is a fantasy world that celebrates the baroque, the bizarre, the bemusing and bewitching. And, of course, there are wizards who can remember only a few spells and must remember them anew every day. There’s even a prismatic spray!
And that’s what Mazirian the Magician is itself. A prismatic spray of ideas, a stunning world described with poetic flair and a sort of off-the-cuff bravura where every gem of weirdness is held up briefly, the author certain he’s got one we’ll like even more just up his sleeve. Well, as far as I’m concerned, he does.
The structure of Mazirian the Magician is five interlinked short stories and a novella at the end. A character might be an antagonist or side character in one story, then the star of the next one. The protagonists and plots are intriguing as far as they go, but the structure works against them being more. That’s fine by me. Vance’s prose, Vance’s imagination, is enough. Ask me to pick a favourite story from this collection and I struggle, although I think I’d go with T’sais and her search for beauty.
Fantastic fiction that’s primarily about ideas has got out of fashion in this day and age. By and large, that’s no skin off my nose. I grew up on character-heavy fantasy and I like it. Reading Mazirian the Magician though took me to a place where for a little, my normal preferences were reversed. A place of weirdness and wonder.
And now I just want to visit again.
(Quick note – this book was originally released as The Dying Earth, and is the first book of the Dying Earth series, but is sometimes now referred to as Mazirian the Magician in line with Vance’s own wishes. Me, I go with the author, so Mazirian the Magician it is, but you will see it in places as The Dying Earth)
4 thoughts on “Mazirian the Magician (The Dying Earth) by Jack Vance”
I read this as a teen many, many moons ago and adored it. Didn’t know he preferred a different title though. If you want more of a Vance fix, “Tales of the Dying Earth” includes in one volume: Dying Earth/Mazirian and the next three books in the ‘Dying Earth’ series – “The Eyes of the Overworld”, “Cugel’s Saga” and “Rhialto the Marvellous”
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Didn’t know they were all in an omnibus. I’m deffo going to crack on with the series, so might have a poke around to see if it’s cheaper than buying individually.