Episode 70 – Jack Vance’s “Star King” with special guest Sean McCoy

Sean McCoy joins us to discuss Jack Vance’s “Star King”, police violence, pulp crime, spaghetti westerns, sci-fi RPGs, Intelligence vs. Wisdom, a future controlled by corporations, off-screen sexual violence, the future of Mothership, and much more!

Episode 19 – Jack Vance’s “The Eyes of the Overworld” with special guest David Hoskins

(Please also see the Episode 4 show notes for additional information about the Dying Earth saga)


Special guest David Hoskins (artist/writer of Acceptable Material and SVMMONING SICKNESS) joins us to discuss Jack Vance’s The Eyes of the Overworld! David also went above and beyond to provide an original illustration depicting Cugel the Clever, Firx and many other story elements:

Hoskins Cugel art

The Eyes of the Overworld (Ace Books, 1966) marks Jack Vance’s return to the Dying Earth setting after a break of 15 years. The book is a fix-up of the stories “The Overworld”, “The Mountains of Magnatz”, “The Sorceror Pharesm”, “The Pilgrims” and “The Manse of Iucounu” all of which appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction between December 1965 and August 1966. To these stories Vance added a second chapter “Cil” to expand the book to novel length. The Eyes of the Overworld is contains many elements of the picaresque novel, from its episodic structure, generally satirical nature, and most importantly its roguish or even outright villainous protagonist Cugel, a man of no particular standing who ultimately never learns anything or changes his essential nature, despite his world-spanning journey and many travails.

Jack Gaughan’s marvellously weird and humorously phallic cover for the first paperback edition features Cugel contemplating the edibility of TOTALITY in the chapter “The Sorcerer Pharesm” :

THYSWRLD031966

After The Eyes of the Overworld Vance once more took a long hiatus from the Dying Earth before returning again to the setting in the mid-1980s with Cugel’s Saga (1983) and Rhialto the Marvellous (1984). The Dying Earth books remain Vance’s most recognizable works, even lending their name to an entire subgenre of science fantasy, although the evolution of the subgenre can be traced back at least through Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique cycle and William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland (1908) and The Night Land (1912).

The “Vancian Magic System” is usually cited as the Dying Earth series’ most important influence on Dungeons & Dragons, but in the case of The Eyes of the Overworld the outstanding contribution to gaming is probably the depiction of Cugel himself. As Gary Gygax wrote in issue #2 of The Excellent Prismatic Spray (2001), Vance’s Cugel the Clever was one of the greatest influences on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons thief class as described in the The Players Handbook (1978). Certainly the following section from the thief class description could only have come from Cugel’s misadventures:

At 10th Level (Master Thief), thieves are able to decipher magical writings and utilize scrolls of all sorts, excluding those of clerical, but not druidic, nature. However, the fact that thieves do not fully comprehend magic means that there is a 25% chance that writings will be misunderstood. Furthermore, magic spells from scrolls can be mispronounced when uttered, so that there is an increasing chance per level of the spell that it will be the reverse of its intent.

Talislanta (1987) is another roleplaying game and setting that is inspired by the Dying Earth series to the extent that every edition since the first has been dedicated to Jack Vance. In 2001 Pelgrane Press began publishing the officially licensed The Dying Earth Roleplaying Game and a supporting magazine The Excellent Prismatic Spray. Goodman Games has since licensed the Dying Earth setting for its Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, with development ongoing as of the end of 2017.

Reading Resources:

Tales of the Dying Earth (Orb Books, 2000) collects all four books in the Dying Earth series and is available here:

Tales of the Dying Earth (trade paperback)

Tales of the Dying Earth (Kindle ebook)

Additional Reading:

A Quest for Simbilis (DAW Books, 1974) is Michael Shea’s authorized continuation of Cugel’s story, although it has since been rendered non-canonical by Jack Vance’s official sequel Cugel’s Saga (Timescape Books, 1983).

SVMMONING SICKNESS is David Hoskins’ fully illustrated zine/encyclopedia of black magic and the occult. The horribly beautiful art and the evocative text are sure to provide inspiration for your horror or fantasy RPGs.

Gaming Resources:

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook (1e) (RPGNow affiliate link)

The Dying Earth Roleplaying Game (RPGNow affiliate link)

The Perilous Wilds (RPGNow affiliate link) is a Dungeon World supplement by comic creator Jason Lutes that can easily be used with most fantasy RPGs. It is geared towards collaborative world-building and map-making and is well-suited for creating the weird landscapes a la the Dying Earth.

Talislanta.com – all the Talislanta material from the 1st through 5th editions of the game are available here for free under a Creative Commons license.

 

If you are in Brooklyn and want to join the IRL book club, then come over here.

The list of books we will discuss are outlined within this link.

And finally, the in-print omnibus, anthology, and online resources are living over here.

Episode 4 – Jack Vance’s “The Dying Earth” with special guest Gavin Norman

Special guest Gavin Norman (author of The Complete Vivimancer and Theorems & Thaumaturgy) joins us to discuss Jack Vance‘s The Dying Earth!

Jack Vance originally wrote the loosely connected stories that comprise The Dying Earth while serving in the United States Merchant Marine during World War II. Vance’s fiction had started appearing in pulp magazines as early as 1945, and The Dying Earth marked his first book publication when it was released in digest-sized paperback in 1950 by Hillman Periodicals, best known as a comic book and magazine publisher.

The Dying Earth appears not to have been particularly successful at first, as it was not reprinted even as Vance’s career went on an upswing in the late 1950s & early 1960s. Hillman ceased publishing in 1961 and Lancer Books snapped up The Dying Earth, reprinting it in paperback in 1962 with a cover by the ever-versatile Ed Emshwiller depicting the denouement of the story “Ulan Dhor”:

DYNGE1962.jpg

The Dying Earth did well enough that Lancer kept it in print until they went bankrupt in 1973, by which time its reputation was such that it has remained in print to this day through a series of different publishers. No doubt the continued success of The Dying Earth led Jack Vance to revisit the setting starting in the mid 1960s. These new stories that would eventually be published as The Eyes of the Overworld (1966), followed by the post-Appendix N books Cugel’s Saga (1983) and Rhialto the Marvellous (1984).

Gary Gygax wrote in issue 2 of The Excellent Prismatic Spray (2001) that he first became a fan of Jack Vance after reading The Big Planet (1957) in the pulps in the early 1950s and then was “absolutely enthralled…as no work of fantasy had done for a long time” with the publication of The Eyes of the Overworld in 1966. The Dying Earth further cemented Gygax’s love of the setting.

When it came time to devise a magic system for Dungeons & Dragons, Gygax felt that a “Vancian” system of memorized spells that are expended when cast and that then must be re-learned before casting again was the best way to provide flavor and balance the magic-user against other classes. The Enchanter series by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt would provide the situational pre-conditions for spellcasting in D&D, but these spell components were often glossed-over, as Gygax laments as early as 1976 in issue 6 of The Strategic Review, the predecessor to Dragon magazine.

Oddly, D&D’s publisher TSR appears never to have tried to license the Dying Earth setting even though Gary Gygax remained a huge fan of Jack Vance and actually had significant contact with him after Dungeons & Dragons took the world by storm. The first time gamers would get to officially adventure in the Dying Earth was with the publication of Pelgrane Press’ The Dying Earth Roleplaying Game in 2001. Goodman Games has since licensed the Dying Earth setting for its Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, with a target release date of late 2017.

Reading Resources:

Tales of the Dying Earth collects all four books in the Dying Earth series and is available here:

Tales of the Dying Earth (trade paperback)

Tales of the Dying Earth (Kindle ebook)

Gaming Resources:

Gavin Norman’s The Complete Vivimancer reads as if David Cronenberg had decided to create a D&D magic-user class, please check it out if you’re looking to add some mad scientist/body horror flavor to your games. (RPGNow affiliate link)

Theorems & Thaumaturgy is a broader treatment of alternative magic-user classes, including the Elementalist, the Necromancer, and a pared-down version of the Vivimancer. A free, no-art version is available here(RPGNow affiliate links)

Gavin Norman’s The City of Iron gaming blog is very much worth your time as well.

Greg Gorgonmilk’s excellent Vancian Magic Supplement compiles many of Gary Gygax’s writings on the origins of the Dungeons & Dragons magic system from Dragon magazine and other sources. Definitely check it out as well as the rest of his terrific OSR blog.

Labyrinth Lord from Goblinoid Games is one of the first “retro-clone” D&D emulations published under the Open Game License (OGL). It closely models the 1981 Dungeons & Dragons Basic and Expert  (“B/X”) rules sets by Tom Moldvay and Dave Cook. A free no-art version is available here(RPGNow affiliate links)

 

If you are in Brooklyn and want to join the IRL book club, then come over here.

The list of books we will discuss are outlined within this link.

And finally, the in-print omnibus, anthology, and online resources are living over here.