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The Eyes Of The Overworld (1977)

The Eyes of the Overworld (1977)
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4.16 of 5 Votes: 3
ISBN
0671832921 (ISBN13: 9780671832926)
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English
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pocket
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The Eyes Of The Overworld (1977)
The Eyes Of The Overworld (1977)

About book: I have already gushed enthusiastic about the opening volume in the Dying Earth epic. It seems I should have kept some of the hyperbole in reserve for later books, as the appeal of the setting and of the characters show no sign of slacking with this second book. It's also interesting to note that the saga of Cugel the Clever is not simply an iteration of a success formula. In many ways it is an improvement over the experiments in style from the first book.For one thing, the book is better structured, with a framing story of the hero being sent on a quest and a sequence of related picaresque adventures as Cugel traverses exotic lands and meets monsters, maidens, ghosts, flying men, pygmies, giants, grotesque mutants and magic adepts. Concentrating on a single main character also helps, as there's no need to introduce and establish a new face in every episode. “What lands lie between us and Almery?”“They are wide and dangerous and peopled by gids, erbs, and deodands, as well as leucomorphs, ghouls and grues. Otherwise I am ignorant. If we survive the journey, it will be a miracle indeed.” For a second thing, the presentation is less melancholic and resigned to a doomed future. Cugel is a lot more pro-active about saving his skin and getting ahead in the rat race. The book is a lot funnier that I expected, often in a subtle, sarcastic way, as the self-annointed 'Clever' scoundrel gets tricked time and time again. I would make a last observation on general approach: it seems that once the worldbuilding was established with the first collection, the author felt less need to include the science-fiction elements (flying cars, underground data centers, nanotechnology, cloning tanks. etc) and the new saga is almost pure sword & sorcery fun. Cugel was a man of many capabilities, with a disposition at once flexible and pertinacious. He was long of leg, deft of hand, light of finger, soft of tongue. His hair was the blackest of black fur, growing low down his forehead, coving sharply back above his eyebrows. His darting eye, long inquisitive nose and droll mouth gave his somewhat lean and bony face an expression of vivacity, candor, and affability. He had known many vicissitudes, gaining therefrom a suppleness, a fine discretion, a mastery of both bravado and stealth. Word of the day, kids: Pertinacious :t1 a: adhering resolutely to an opinion, purpose, or design t b: perversely persistent t2 : stubbornly tenacious Sound like a swell hero in this first presentation, does he not? I'm not well enough versed in Jack Vance lore to say whether Cugel is a typical hero or not for the author, but he sure makes for a memorable scoundrel. Usually, when we say anti-heroes, we refer to grumpy, cankerous, reluctant fighters who hide a heart of gold and who are ultimately ready to sacrifice themselves for some cause or some friend. Not so with Cugel, who manages to be thoroughly self-absorbed and without any moral scruples. From the opening sequence where he casually tries to rob a powerful wizard only to get caught and sent on the main quest to recover a magical lens, Cugel will thoroughly demolish the myth of the noble Knight Errant by lying through his teeth, cheating at dice and cards, cowardly pushing other people in front when it comes to fighting, bashing innocent people on the head, selling the ladies he meets in bondage, leading a bunch of gullible pilgrims to their death, and on an on. Yet, I have come to enjoy following the rascal around, mostly because his schemes usually go awry and he gets tricked in his turn. Here's just one example of the sneaky sense of humor to be found in these pages (Cugel tries to get a free meal and 'nympharium privileges' from a wizard; the wizard tries to discourage him): - "I will gladly perform a more comprehensive divination, though the process requires six to eight hours.” - “So long?” asked Cugel in astonishment, - “This is the barest minimum. First you are swathed head to foot in the intestines of fresh-killed owls, then immersed in a warm bath containing a number of secret organic substances. I must, of course, char the small toe of your left foot, and dilate your nose sufficiently to admit an explorer beetle, that he may study the conduits leading to and from your sensorium. But let us return to my divinatory, that we may commence the process in good time.” ... Uhmm, Thanks, but no thanks!The use of language is superb throughout the volume, a little toned down in terms of polychrome / psychedelic landscapes but with a more jocular bent in the dialogue and in the pseudo-scientifical theories: Since like subsumes like, the variates and intercongeles create a suprapullulation of all areas, qualities and intervals into a crystorrhoid whorl, eventually exciting the ponentiation of a pro-ubietal chute. (I guess that's a wizard explaining how a summoning spell works, or the operating principle of a washing machine, I can't remember precisely) Beyond the picaresque adventures, there are deeper meanings for the reader that wants to discover them in the text. The central quest sends Cugel to a village where all the inhabitants live in squalor, but also wear all wear rose-tinted glasses that permit them to look upon the Overworld: I dimly recall that I inhabit a sty and devour the coarsest of food — but the subjective reality is that I inhabit a glorious palace and dine on splendid viands among the princes and princesses who are my peers. It is explained thus: the demon Underherd looked from the sub-world to this one; we look from this to the Overworld, which is the quintessence of human hope, visionary longing, and beatific dream. We who inhabit this world — how can we think of ourselves as other than splendid lords? This is how we are.” This ecosystem is not self-supporting, so a second village must exist, where peasants toil for years in the hope oneday they will inherit one of the magical lenses. If you want, you might look upon it as a metaphor of the American Dream : you might live in the gutter, but one day you too could live in the house on the top of the hill, eating posh food and hobnobbing with the jet-set, looking at the world through distoring glasses and seeing only beauty and happiness all around.Another recurring theme for Vance is religious intolerance and faith as a con game. In the first book, there was an island with two warring sects. Here there's a group of pilgrims discussing their varied points of view around campfires and during a river journey. A hilarious anti-young-earth argument develops: The so-called Funambulous Evangels, who, refusing to place their feet upon the ground, went about their tasks by tightrope. In a curt voice Lodermulch exposed the fallacies of this particular doctrine. “They reckon the age of the earth at twenty-nine eons, rather than the customary twenty-three. They stipulate that for every square ell of soil two and one quarter million men have died and laid down their dust, thus creating a dank and ubiquitous mantle of lich-mold, upon which it is sacrilege to walk. True to his character, Cugel is using his silvered tongue to make it look like he is one of the pilgrims, only to offer another opportunity to Vance to showcase his sarcastic sense of humor: - “And you, Cugel the Clever, for once you are reticent. What is your belief?” - “It is somewhat inchoate,” Cugel admitted. “I have assimilated a variety of viewpoints, each authoritative in its own right: from the priests at the Temple of Teleologues; from a bewitched bird who plucked messages from a box; from a fasting anchorite who drank a bottle of pink elixir which I offered him in jest. The resulting visions were contradictory but of great profundity. My world-scheme, hence, is syncretic.” The ending is superb, I can't tell you much about it without spoiling the fun, but it is a typical Cugel messy project, one I believe would make a great Pink Panther or Monty Python skit. On to the third book.

'Cugel the Clever' (also known as 'The Eyes of the Overworld') is the second novel in Jack Vance's 'The Dying Earth' series. It follows the (mis)adventures of the rogue Cugel, on his journey across the world back to his home in Almery after banishment by the Laughing Mage, Iucounu, brought upon by Cugel's attempted burglary of Iucounu's manse. Charged with retrieving the Eyes of the Overworld, Cugel is flown to distant, unfamiliar lands with only his wits and a magical sustenence-providing amulet to aid him.As in 'The Dying Earth', grimness is again the order of the day. Effectively broken into the same stand-alone story structure as its predecessor, the novel covers Cugel's trials in his quest to return home. One chapter sees Cugel attempting to cross a vast desert, while another sees him navigate a mountain range haunted by a dark past. Each chapter has Cugel triumph via the use of his intelligence and total disregard for human life. Treasures are stolen, towns ruined, people killed. It is not a happy story for the people of Earth, unless your name happens to be Cugel.One thing I've noticed about the story-per-chapter approach: Either the novel was originally serialised a chapter at a time in a magazine, or Vance thinks his readers have a very short attention span: Some facts on Cugel's quest are constantly repeated, such as his unfortunate liver-mate Firx's presence, implanted by Iucounu to keep Cugel on task. Granted, this is an important plot point, but given how Firx is often referred to anyway, it seems excessive. I'll have to believe that the novel was originally serialised, otherwise this sort of repetition could only reflect badly on Vance.Cugel himself seems to be a more developed version of Vance's earlier rogue from 'The Dying Earth', Liane the Wayfarer. Cugel and Liane share a number of traits, including psychopathy and a taste for clever trickery. While Liane is the more explicit murderer, Cugel avoids having to end lives without there being something in it for him. Or if he's annoyed. Despite this streak of kindness, Cugel obviously does not make a sympathatic protagonist, as he leaves only confusion and death in his wake, sometimes unintentionally but usually for personal gain.Vance's writing style has virtually unchanged since 'The Dying Earth', except the nature of Cugel's character and troubles mean that there is a great deal more humour and pathos than in the previous novel. Cugel blunders his way from town to town, attributing to cleverness what might be more accurately termed luck. The ironic consequences of his actions - once bringing a curse upon himself that he was purposefully trying to avoid - always bring a smile, and the reader will find equal measures of schadenfreude and catharsis in Cugel's plight.As a character, Cugel is fairly static, perhaps comically so. Being the now stereotypical lone wolf rogue psychopath, there isn't much room for character growth, although Vance does provide the occasional surprise and insight into Cugel's less vile side. Similarly to 'The Dying Earth', no other characters persist across chapters, or if they do they do not stick around for very long. They have no time for development because of this, but given that Cugel's personality doesn't go anywhere either, maybe this is something for Vance to work on.Vance keeps up the magic from the last novel, showing off a vast imagination in self-contained doses. For instance, the secret of the Mountain of Magnatz, while no doubt bearing great importance in the world, is never brought up after the end of the chapter. But regardless, the stories inside each chapter are fresh and interesting, featuring trials such as a trip one millon years into the past, a battle of wits against a race of enterprising rat-men, and a visit to a town of people who can see another, far superior version of the world around them.It seems unfair to pick on 'Cugel the Clever' for employing old fantasy tropes and old-school biases, so I won't. But reader be aware that this novel is from an earlier age, about an age where social attitudes have deteriorated even further.There's a lot to like about 'Cugel the Clever', even if there is very little to like about the character himself. After a couple of chapters, the routine becomes clear and the reader is left wondering how Cugel will extract himself from the next problem, and how much damage he'll cause in the process. Playing with reader expectations becomes a key point of enjoyment in the novel. I had a lot of fun trying to guess Cugel's twisted solutions to his dilemmas, and more joy was forthcoming each time Vance revealed Cugel's next feat of skulduggery.If you enjoyed the 'Liane the Wayfarer' and 'Ulan Dhor Ends a Dream' chapters of 'The Dying Earth', 'Cugel the Clever' is more of the same: Roguery and daring adventures in a harsh, uncaring world. Being a stand-alone novel, I can recommend 'Cugel the Clever' to any fans of underhanded tactics and less-than-moral protagonists, even if they haven't read the first novel in the series. It's about the same length as 'The Dying Earth', so if you have a couple of evenings to spare, it's well worth a read through.
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Reviews
Riccardo
General description'The Eyes of the Overworld' is the second book of the 'Dying Earth' saga. It focuses on the person of Cugel and his Odyssey to return home to Almery. If you like fantasy and travel literature, you will enjoy this book! I used the word Odyssey on purpose. Cugel is not an able swordsman or an accomplished wizard. Like Ulysses needs to use his wits to survive in the rough world of the Dying Earth. However, unlike Ulysses, Cugel is an anti-hero: he is petty, selfish and immoral. He believes himself more clever than he actually is and his arrogance leads him into many dangerous situations. Surprisingly in this book there is little left of the setting of the The Dying Earth in terms of characters, places and fantastic creatures, probably because this book has been written 16 years after the first one.What I liked the least about this bookThe author focuses mostly on Cugel, with all the other characters only roughly sketched. We do not know their motivations or their stories or what they will do after leaving Cugel. The story could have been much more interesting if some of the characters played a more active role in the book.What I liked the most about this bookVance did an outstanding job in creating and describing a character like Cugel. The character feels so real that you grow to resent his behaviour and his actions! Vance's prose is great as usual and the plot is much improved compared to the previous book of the saga.
Simon
And so, continuing on with the "Dying Earth" series, this time following in the footsteps of Cugel (the "clever"), a conniving and amoral rogue as he attempts to fulfil a quest he is unwillingly enrolled on by a wizard.Cugel is an interesting character, an anti-hero and unusual protagonist for a fantasy novel. He is not especially well endowed with any particular skills or abilities (he's not even particularly clever). He is opportunistic and cowardly, quite willing to sacrifice his friends and acquaintances in order to protect his own skin, puffed up with his own sense of worth and just generally not a very nice fellow. Then again, he's not excessively cruel, sadistic or malicious. He only does what he needs to do but he won't let any scruples get in his way.Throughout the story, one feels alternately unsympathetic one minute and then quietly hoping for him to succeed the next. Sometimes one feels that he gets dealt an impossibly harsh hand in life but at other times it seems that it is his own stupidity or greed that got him into a sticky situation.Pervading the narrative was Vance's distinctive style and humour but again, as I did with the previous volume, felt that his prose style matured and improved somewhat later on in his career. But all in all a good and enjoyable read marred only by sometimes finding the prose style not as engaging as I would have liked (and I know Vance often capable of).
danielp
Wildly eccentric picaresque fantasy story in the vein of P. G. Wodehouse and certain fairy tales, starring an utterly amoral and decadent hero, repeatedly trying to make his fortune and failing hilariously (albeit not without inflicting mass misery on every innocent and not so innocent bystanders during the process) in an utterly amoral and decadent world. Should have been Cugel the Cruel, really. There are deeper, less cynical, academia- and navel gazer-friendly books out there, also probably some with more literary merit, but oh boy, none of them has half the fun and creativity than this one. Someone sometime should write a paper on Vance's influences - my antennae register pretty much everything from 16th century chapbooks through Grimmelshausen to wartime pulp magazines, also probably a fair amount of jazz and profound first-hand experiences of human nature. No wonder Wolfe and Pratchett became so great: both stand on his back, after all. What could I add? One of my most loved books of all time, and love is blind: if there are any shortcomings to the Eyes of the Overworld, I didn't manage to spot any of them during our ten-year-long relationship.(Also, for some reason, makes me think of Art Nouveau illustrations. Weird.)
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