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Sunday, April 27, 2014

“Liane the Wayfarer” or “The Loom of Darkness” from The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

First appeared in Worlds Beyond. Reprinted in a few major genre retrospectives by Lin Carter, Tom Shippey, Terry Carr, Martin H. Greenberg, and Robert Silverberg.  Online.

Eric Flint on Vance:
"Vance and his unique style of storytelling has been one of the inseparable aspects of the genre's orchestral coloration."
Dave Drake:
"Vance's prose is remarkably colorful and inventive. His plots are complex, he creates neologisms which must be understood from context, and he better than any other writer I'm familiar with makes figments of his imagination concrete on the page." 
"[H]e writes with a flat affect. Neither the narrator nor the internal dialogue of characters in a Jack Vance story explains how the reader should feel about what's being described. Liane, the viewpoint character in this story, is a sociopath, but Vance to a greater or lesser extent uses the same technique in all his fiction. I was drawn to that tendency in the first Vance story I read ("The Moon Moth").... [S]ome people believe that because a writer doesn't tell readers how to feel, the writer himself feels nothing about the horrors he describes. That's not true of me; I very much doubt it's true of Vance."
Liane the Wayfarer finds a ring that allows to him to go to another land.  He encounters an attractive witch, Lith, whom he wants amorously but also as a servant.  First he must serve her, she says.  Chun the Unavoidable has the other half of her golden tapestry and she wants it back.

So Liane sets off, ready to give her what-for once he’s returned with the tapestry.  To stay at an inn, he pays with an object from a far away land while wizards pay with magic.  This sets the stage for when Liane announces his goal to get tapestry, and earns the fear of all wizards there--all, mightier than he, fear Chun the Unavoidable.  The innkeeper points out all the warriors done in.  In regular tale, this just raises the stakes as opposed to a rascal character for whom we are to feel for his foolishness (at least in retrospect).

Undaunted, Liane sets off for the Place of Whispers, abode of Chun.  Through cracks in the hall, he spies the tapestry but no Chun.  Again through another crack, no Chun.  He grabs the tapestry.

*SPOILERS HERE ON* Chun appears.  Everywhere he goes, so Liane ducks into magic place with his ring.  Effective moment that.

Lith, alas, has honestly misled Liane to his place in the world.

Once more, like “Mazirian the Magician”, Vance hands the primary POV position to the antagonist, perhaps undermining the traditional fantasy hero's position although it's generally clear who's good and who's not.

Chun's pursuit and surprise and Lith's ending make this piece effective.  While other parts show promise of Vance's talent--innkeeper moment mentioned above and not-so-subtle badness of Liane--the best of these stories is yet to come.


  1. This is a wonderful story, as are all of Jack Vance's more than 70 works. My favorite passage in all of the Dying Earth series is where Cugel the Clever, upon returning at last to Almery is met on the road by Iuconu the Laughing Magician. Offered a no-strings-attached ride in his carriage, Cugel nevertheless feels the need to negotiate the conditions at very great length.

  2. Hi, Ĝan,

    A pleasure to hear your thoughts. I look forward to finding which story and passage you mean. Thanks for reading.