Dying Earth (novel)
A classic series of Low Fantasy novels by Jack Vance. Several other authors have written novels in the setting, which has become something of a Shared Universe. It is considered one of the seminal works of fantasy and has had a huge influence on the genre.
Welcome to Earth, a few million years in the future. Magic is back, mostly displacing science, and it is both After the End and Just Before the End: Civilization has pretty much collapsed, and the Sun is close to going out. Earth's remaining inhabitants are generally aware of this but have no means to escape their increasingly hot and barren Crapsack World. Those that haven't become religious zealots are largely nihilistic fatalists, engaging in what debauchery they can in the time left.
The original four books consist of short stories about different characters (most notably Turjan of Miir and Rhialto the Marvellous), interspersed with the longer saga of Cugel the Clever. Thief, charlatan, con man, and whatever else he needs to be to get the most benefit with the least work, Cugel teeters on the border between Anti-Hero and Villain Protagonist. When he botches robbing the mansion of Iucounu the Laughing Magician, the wizard teleports him across the world with a command to bring back an artifact he wants... and includes a small demon attached to his liver and equipped with various sharp implements to encourage his compliance. The series relates his various adventures attempting to return and revenge himself on Iucounu, while conning as many people as possible out of their valuables and/or virginity along the way.
- An Aesop: One of the stories with T'sais is definitely one, some of the other Dying Earth stories could be said to be one also. Arguably, Cugel the Clever learns that backstabbing is bad and trust is good by the end of his second book.
- Anti-Hero: Liane the Wayfarer. Also Cugel. Also Magnus Ridolph. In fact many of Vance's characters are antiheroes.
- Artificial Human: T'sais and T'sain
- Badass Bookworm: The Curator, Guyal of Sfere
- Brain In a Jar: Rogol Domedonfors, ruler of Ampridatvir
- Casanova: Rhialto the Marvellous
- Clarke's Third Law: Ampridatvir
- Character Development: Cugel the Clever behaves quite differently towards the end of the second book, capable of making friends who he does not plan to backstab later.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Cugel the Clever goes through one and a half books before he is finally cured of this disease
- Eldritch Abomination: Pandelume looks like one, to the point that anyone who looks upon him will instantly go insane, but he behaves like a pretty nice guy. Magnatz is a more straightforward example, since he is unambiguously evil.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Chun the Unavoidable
- Expanded Universe: Songs of the Dying Earth, edited by no less than George R. R. Martin
- Happy Place: The Overworld
- Jerkass: Cugel the Clever, who was downright evil for the first book he was in.
- Jerkass Genie: The sandestins in the Dying Earth stories, especially the ones that serve Rhialto the Marvellous.
- Just Before the End: The Dying Earth, of course.
- Laughably Evil: Iucounu. Whether he counts as "evil" in this setting is debatable, but if you cross him your punishment will involve some sort of humorous irony... and pain.
- Lost Technology: Plenty of it, some of which is indistinguishable from magic.
- Lotus Eater Machine: The Eyes of the Overworld.
- Only Sane Man: Rhialto the Marvellous seems like this compared to the rest of the magicians he deals with.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Guess which side it's on. Go ahead, guess.
- Ted Baxter: Cugel thinks of himself as a Man of Wealth and Taste and Lovable Rogue. In reality he's basically a Jerkass Dirty Coward who regularly gets Out-Gambitted and Hoist by His Own Petard.
- They Killed Kenny: Liane the Wayfarer dies twice.
- Time Travel: Rhialto the Marvellous does this often.
- Vancian Magic: The original example, from which Dungeons and Dragons' magic system was lifted pretty much whole-cloth.
- Villain Protagonist: Liane the Wayfarer and Cugel the Clever.
- Wicked Cultured: Many things and people in the Dying Earth could be described this way, especially the Deodands and Pelgranes, man-eating monsters who enjoy conversing in the eloquent Jack Vance style.
- World Half Empty: Civilization's gone, monsters infest the wilderness, and the sun's gonna kill us all any day now. Let's have another bacchanal while we wait...