Advanced World-Building: Jack Vance’s Tales of Dying Earth

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle enjoys Jack Vance’s inventive quartet of picaresque fantasy novels

I’ll admit that Tales of Dying Earth, the fat bumper edition of Jack Vance’s novels set on an Earth whose sun is about to go out forever, sat on my bookshelf for around fifteen years before I actually got round to reading it. It shouldn’t have taken a self-confessed fantasy fan like me that long: the creators of Dungeons and Dragons cited Vance’s Tales of Dying Earth as an influence on their development of the role-playing fantasy game, and I devoured Weis and Hickman’s early D&D tie-ins, the Dragonlance novels, as a teenager. Pleasingly, there’s even a reference to

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Michael Moorcock’s Planetary Romances: City of the Beast

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle enjoys the first of Michael Moorcock’s pulp science fantasy novels in his ‘Kane of Old Mars’ trilogy

It was Edgar Rice Burroughs who started it all: the vogue for bestselling adventure novels set on other planets, with an intrepid hero and plenty of fantastical monsters and villains to face and, ultimately, vanquish. In the wake of Burroughs’ hugely popular and influential series of books set on Mars, known as the ‘Barsoom’ books and featuring his adventure hero John Carter, many popular writers turned their hands to the ‘planetary romance’ in the Burroughs vein, from Leigh Brackett (whose stories featuring Eric John Stark in adventures set on both Venus and Mars are hard to track down, but worth it) to John Wyndham to Isaac Asimov to Michael Moorcock – whose trilogy of Michael Kane novels are unabashed pastiches of Burroughs’ Barsoom novels.

In fact, even Burroughs was standing on the shoulders of other writers. There had been

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The Dark Side of Fantasy: David Gemmell’s Wolf in Shadow

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle salutes the master of heroic fantasy and one of his most curious novels

Like many people, I came to David Gemmell through Legend, his 1984 debut which would go on to become a classic of modern fantasy literature, and one of the most definitive novels in the subgenre of heroic fantasy. Unlike most, though, as I read my way through David Gemmell’s entire back catalogue, I found myself rating other novels far higher than Gemmell’s debut. Legend has heart, and it signalled the arrival of a distinctive new voice in fantasy, but, as Gemmell himself admitted, the writing wasn’t always perfect. He learned a lot in the years that followed, and, to my mind, the prequel he wrote nearly a decade later, The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend, is his most perfectly crafted piece of storytelling.

In between these two ‘Legend’ books, though, David Gemmell wrote a great deal: among much else, he produced Waylander, which introduced readers to the crossbow-carrying assassin who many readers rate superior to Druss the Legend; the standalone Knights of Dark Renown; and Wolf in Shadow, the first in a trilogy of novels centring on the gun-wielding Bible-reading Jon Shannow. The last of these had a curious origin in an especially dark time in Gemmell’s life, and the result was one of his most unusual and intriguing novels.

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The Best David Gemmell Novels Everyone Should Read

Selected by Dr Oliver Tearle

In the 1980s, with his debut novel Legend (1984), the British author David Gemmell revolutionised heroic fantasy. Drawing on the stories of Robert E. Howard and the novels of Michael Moorcock and J. R. R. Tolkien, Gemmell also took inspiration from his favourite novelist, the prolific writer of Westerns, Louis L’Amour.

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