Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Appendix N Madness Day 28: Moorcock vs Vance

Poul Anderson triumphed over Leigh Brackett in the Sci-Fi final and advances to the semifinal round, where he will take on the winner of today's match-up.

SAGA/Amra Region Final: Michael Moorcock vs Jack Vance

The second Appendix N book I ever read was Elric of Melniboné. (The first was The Hobbit.) A classmate, the same one who introduced me to Dragonlance and AD&D, loaned me the slim Ace paperback. It was weird, and dangerous, and had chaos gods and demon swords and sex and albinism and all kinds of things that set my sixth-grade imagination afire. It even had horseriding which was normally boring but worked here.

I don't remember exactly when I read The Dying Earth; it was probably about six or seven years later, and I'm certain that I had read it by my sophomore year of college. I remember the cover, a yellow Lancer edition that I had bought second-hand, a shocking yellow with a weird swordsman and a strange creature. It stuck with me, as book covers often do. That picture became entangled in my mind with the word-drunk stories of Vance, infinitely stranger than I had expected, tales of antiheroes in a strangely aged world with a bloated red sun. My father, a Tolkien fan from before I was born, wound up reading Eyes of the Overworld when I had left it lying around at home (during a summer break, as I recall) and found Cugel a rather unheroic figure.

I'm not sure anyone ever got word-drunk reading Moorcock. For that a good series is probably the Corum books, not listed in Appendix N but eminently worth reading, inspired by Moorcock's own discovery of a Cornish-English dictionary, and words like vadhagh and mabden. The multiversal adventures of this strange, haunted hero have some of Moorcock's better prose - although at times one is reminded that Moorcock writes at blinding speed and some of the results are more inspired by others.

Not every Vance book is equally witty and decadent in its prose as The Dying Earth, either; Planet of Adventure, while it's a ton of fun, is written closer to the register of science fiction. But Vance was, of our two writers, the one whose work you can read simply for the joy of the words on paper.

Moorcock builds worlds by speeding between interesting places, often invoking a huge shared multiverse. He will throw his protagonists across gulfs of land and sea, or space and time, to take them to a location that makes a memorable backdrop for adventure. They will be as varied as Melniboné with its cit of Immryr, or the eternal city of Tanelorn, and many in between, but all serve the purposes of his story.

Vance's worlds are built impressionistically; a map of the Dying Earth seems like an absurdity, but it offers up a variety of locales and as often as not itself challenges the protagonists. The planet Tschai is likewise practically a character itself, and the four books are each named after the four weird species living on the planet.

Both Moorcock and Vance are notable for using antiheroes in their fantasy work. The best examples, and the most illustrative, are Elric and Cugel. They are good symbols for the choice between the two authors: Elric is ultraviolent, tragic, gloomy, and has tremendous power but crippling weaknesses. Cugel is thrust into going on quests against his will but principally uses his wits and lack of morals as his weapons. It's not the starkest choice we've faced in this tournament, but it is a real contrast between two of the giants of fantastic literature.

You can vote in the poll here.

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