Okay, an admission: Jack Vance shares a birthday with me. I'd like to think he wrote Cugel's Saga as a sort of present for me back in 1983.
Cugel's Saga is really more a mosaic novel than a traditional epic fantasy. The hero may refer to himself as Cugel the Clever but he is really anything but. As he tries to return home and avenge the wrongs he believes committed against him by Iucounu, the Laughing Magician, Cugel finds himself forced to work a variety of menial and demeaning jobs. One of which, wormhandler, is far worse than anything the 21st century fast food industry could force on a guy--well, except if that urban legend about McDonald's using ground-up worms in their shake recipes is true... no, no, Cugel hanging off the side of ship to clean the gills of massive marine worms is pretty awful.
My fondness for Cugel is reminiscent of my love for Daffy Duck. Both are greedy bastards, and both never get to keep their winnings, being constantly outsmarted by luckier thieves and trickster figures. But Cugel, like Daffy, never tires in his pursuit of fortune and fame (and the occasional female). And we can never ever stop cheering for them.
The Dying Earth fantasy world that Vance has created is one bizarre realm. Magic is complicated and messy and usually results in the downfall of anyone who tries to master it. Spells have long, convoluted names. Weird creatures exist. Vance adores language and reading any of the books in this series (The Dying Earth, The Eyes of the Overworld, and Rhialto the Marvellous - but don't worry, there's no real need to read them in order) will do more for your vocabulary than a pesky English teacher could demand. This is Tolkein 36 hrs after dropping acid and nursing a weird hangover.
Cugel's Saga may be hard to find... unless you happen to know about this thing called the Internet. Then you could search and find any number of editions. I happen to own a hardcover book club edition--and if Jack Vance happens to read this blog entry, would you mind signing my present?
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