This is the first story of Vance’s acclaimed Dying Earth series--a magical far future, fulfilling Arthur C. Clarke’s dictum, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The novel/collection was voted 16th in the Locus All-Time Best Fantasy Novel and for a Retro Hugo.
Word of warning: Do not expect a true short story, nor a novel but a curious combination. These are like short stories without end, one tacked on another. Rather, luxuriate in the imagination as Vance experiments in exploring this far future, and the characters slowly accrete in development.
Turjan creates humans in his vats but fails. He seeks wisdom from Sage who says Turjan needs to go to Pandelume, who has the knowledge needed. There Turjan meets T’sais, a beautiful woman who tries to kill Turjan. She is a creature of Pandelume’s, grown in his vats although she was made with a flaw. To gain knowledge, Turjan must find Prince Kandive the Golden, of Kaiin, remove his amulet and give it to Pandelume. This is done with some ease. Pandelume fights off an unknown creature and is grateful without being grateful, taking Turjan under his wing to build creatures. The first is killed by T’sais. The second is her twin, T’sain, except mentally unflawed, stable. T’sain partially convinces T’sais to find beauty and love on Earth, and Turjan not to kill .
The tale’s semi-circularity brings some satisfaction: Turjan can’t make humans, jumps through hoops, fails, succeeds, but it doesn’t quite flesh out or utilize Turjan as a character. It feels like more of an origin story or mythic underpinning.