Not for the first time that morning, Amberlin wondered if the strange lanky creature had found a new way to slip his holding spell.This is a collection of short stories set in the world of Jack Vance's Dying Earth, which I read and enjoyed back in 2004. It bubbled to the top of my to-read list a few months after it became the subject of polemic between one of the contributors, John C. Wright, and one of the editors, George R.R. Martin. Martin was quoted in a Guardian piece about this year's Hugos as saying about last year's:
“When the Hugo ballot came out last year it was not just a rightwing ballot, it was a bad ballot”Wright objected:
Evidence enough that Mr. Martin had not read the works on the ballot. I say no more, lest I be accused of self-aggrandizement, for the works he thus criticizes are mine. He did not have so poor an opinion of my work when he bought it for his SONGS OF THE DYING EARTH anthology, however: a fact he conveniently forgot when he began leveling absurd and absurdly false accusations against me.Martin riposted, devastatingly:
I do not know why Wright seems to believe that by purchasing and publishing one of his stories seven years ago, I am therefore somehow required to like everything that he writes subsequently, to the extent that I would feel it Hugo worthy.As Martin says, the lineup of contributors was indeed amazing: Dan Simmons, Robert Silverberg, Elizabeth Moon, Elizabeth Bear, Neil Gaiman. (One sad reflection is that several of them - Kage Baker, Lucius Shepard, Tanith Lee - are no longer with us.) The quality of the stories, as Ian Whates reflected at the time, is a bit variable. This is pastiche rather than originality, and Vance's style in the Dying Earth stories is easy to pastiche. But they are almost all enjoyable enough (as it happens, I didn't particularly care for the John C. Wright one). Several others grabbed me, though: "The Copsy Door", by Terry Dowling, quoted above; "The Green Bird", by Kage Baker; "The Traditions of Karzh", by Paula Volsky; "Evillo the Uncunning", by Tanith Lee.
It should be pointed out that "Guyal the Curator" was not itself nominated for a Hugo (there being no Puppies around in 2009 to push it). None of the stories from SONGS OF THE DYING EARTH were Hugo finalists, truth be told. Do I think some were worthy of that honor? Sure I do. I cannot pretend to be objective, I'm proud of the anthologies I edit and the stories I publish. Do I think that all the stories in SONGS OF THE DYING EARTH (or ROGUES, or OLD MARS, or OLD VENUS, or LOWBALL, or any of my anthologies) are Hugo-worthy? Of course not. In a normal year, the Hugo finalists are supposed to represent the five best stories of the year in that word length. Was "Guyal the Curator" one of the five best short stories (actually, it might have been a novelette, after so long I do not recall the word length) of 2009? No. It was a good story, not a great story. The Hugo Awards demand greatness. It was an entertaining Vance tribute, but it was not a patch on real Vance, on "The Last Castle" or "The Dragon Masters" or "Guyal of Sfere." And truth be told, it was not even one of the five best stories in SONGS OF THE DYING EARTH. A good story, yes, I'll say that again. But there were better in the book. (And how not? We had an amazing lineup of contributors).
Basically, if you liked the original Vance stories, most of these will appeal. But if you don't know them, I think it would be a bit confusing.
This was the most popular unread book on my shelves acquired in 2011. Next on that list is Warriors, another anthology edited by George R.R. Martin.