Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Books that deserve to be rediscovered: Part Three

I would like to think that every generation of fantasy readers will have the good luck to discover Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth. My first encounter was as a preteen in the early fifties , rumnmaging through the bookshelves of a small town secondhand shop. In a jumbled pile of used paperbacks I came across what must have been been the original 1950 Hillman edition. On the cover was a redhaired woman in a diaphanous gown surrounded by thuggish, blackhooded figures. Inside : “Deep in thought, Mazirian the Magician walked his garden. Trees fruited with many intoxications overhung his path, and flowers bowed obsequiously as he passed. An inch above the ground, dull as agates, the eyes of mandrakes followed the tread of his black-slippered feet.”

I was entranced. That copy cost me a dime – the cover price was twenty-five cents -- though I believe that first printing of Vance’s first book is worth about a thousand times that on today’s collectors’ market. In the years since, I’ve made many return visits to Vance’s gorgeously decadent world at the end of time.

That first much-read copy was lost in the course of many moves. I’ve since replaced it with the 1977 Pocket Books edition, though no later edition will ever have, for me, quite the charm of the original.

And a footnote: a major anthology of stories set in the Dying Earth universe, edited by Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin, will be published by Tor in the US and HarperCollins Voyager in the UK, as well as in limited editions from Subterranean Press. Fellow west coast author Matthew Hughes , who honours the master in his Henghis Hapthorn novels (Black Brillion, Majestrum, The Gist Hunter) will be one of the contributors.