This is a kind of collection of short stories kind of novel in stories from the mid-1950s by the science fiction writer Jack Vance. This is both a deeply influential book and one that feels kind of out of date already. Or maybe it’s a kind of they don’t make them like this anymore. But also they kind of do, because this is very similar to the early Hainish novels of Ursula Le Guin and the New Sun novels of Gene Wolfe.
So anyway, we have Earth, presumably, thousands or more years in the future. There’s still technology basically lying around, but the mental connection between the people who created the technology and therefore understand its design and purpose and function and the people now using it has been long severed. The effect of this then goes back to that idea by Isaac Asimov: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” And so is true in this novel. These are characters driven by myths and legends and technology as magic. The writing is deeply syrupy and feels very much two distinct things at once: hopelessly old but clearly a new direction in speculative fiction. This is not the same as like Edgar Rice Burroughs or HG Wells, and clearly is opening up the genre to new ways to think about life. And what is very very interesting is that it removes a future life from the consciousness of readers. It’s not even post-apocalyptic because no one will be around to see this one, and it’s not hopeful either. It’s just a different life. And for these reasons, it’s a lot more fantasy than science fiction.