Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Review: The Eyes of the Overworld

Book Review: 'The Eyes of the Overworld' by Jack Vance

5 / 5 Stars

The stories in ‘The Eyes of the Overworld’ were first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1965 – 1966, with the compilation first appearing as an Ace paperback in 1966. This Pocket Books edition (190 pp.) was published in March, 1980; the cover artist is uncredited.

This is the second volume in the four-volume series of ‘The Dying Earth’, the other volumes being ‘The Dying Earth’ (1950), ‘Cugel’s Saga’ (1983), and ‘Rhialto the Marvellous’ (1984).

‘Eyes’ introduces the main character for two of the four books in the saga: Cugel the Clever, probably one of the most well-known antiheroes in sf and fantasy literature. Cugel is routinely amoral, grasping, and avaricious, and often as not has only himself to blame for getting into trouble with various wizards, deities, and angry townspeople. 

At the same time, Cugel is often a source of ironic amusement, and often winds up getting the better of individuals who are as unpleasant as he is himself. The reader can’t help but wind up liking Cugel, despite his faults.

The opening chapter of ‘Eyes’ sees our hero running afoul of a powerful mage, who dispatches Cugel to a remote hinterland, there to recover two marvelous jeweled loupes, which allow their user to visualize a world of wealth and magnificence existing on a higher plane, a world quite nicer than that of the Dying Earth. 

In the course of executing this quest Cugel has various adventures, all of which are related by Vance with the semi-stilted diction that characterizes his written works, a stilted prose that relies on sardonic humor laced with sharp bits of violence.

This being a Vance novel, of course, readers also must prepare to encounter a vocabulary of nouns, adverbs, and adjectives that rarely (if ever) appear in most literature of any genre. 

Despite its comparatively short length, ‘Eyes’ remains an exemplary fantasy / sci-fi novel and is a more worthy read than many of the 500+ pp novels that now dominate the retail shelves. 

If you haven’t yet read any of the Dying Earth novels, ‘Eyes’, along with ‘Cugel’s Saga’, remain the two best entries in the series, and are well worth getting, even though copies in good condition are often expensive.

1 comment:

MPorcius said...

The two Cugel books are so fun, so funny, and have such a unique style, tone, and character, that when I first read them it was a rare and wonderful experience.