The Dying Earth

26 Mar 2012 11:34

A sub-genre of science fiction and fantasy, set in the far future: decadent, inward-looking, dreaming cities, largely forgotten technology-indistinguishable-from-magic (or maybe it is magic), the sun growing dim, red, splotchy, etc. Jack Vance gave it its best expression in a set of his books beginning with The Dying Earth. Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun is another outstanding instance. Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique stories have this setting, and I think Klarkash-ton is the oldest writer where we find all the elements combined. One root is of course The Time Machine, with its terminal vision of a run-down world, and, I think, even the earlier passages on the Eloi and the Morlocks. (Ch. 3 of Sebastiano Timpanaro's On Materialism gives a number of late nineteenth century instancees of the "dying earth" theme, but oddly does not mention Wells.) The other root, probably Smith's real contribution, is the 19th century decadents and symbolists: hence (in part) the pseudo-medieval or pseudo-classical settings, with no real thought to poltics or society.