Appendix N Book Club: Jack Vance's Dying Earth, "Turjan of Miir"

The time has come to talk of many things, of Dying Earths, of Turjan’s works, of Pandalume and Miir…

We are here, at last, to the first discussion stream of the Appendix N book club! However far you got into the story, or not at all, you are welcome to attend and participant in this first of an unknown number of streams dedicated to the first story of our first book, “Turjan of Miir!” Grab your spellbooks, gird your loins, and prepare yourself!

We mentioned in the stream that Turjan never cast, “Slow of Night,” but is it possible that he did cast it after he was dropped through the trap door before he crushed the crystal? We’re never told what the spell does but it’s not impossible that it was a featherfall type effect.

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That’s a good point, I missed that.

I wanted to talk more about T’sais/T’sain. When Pandelume made T’sais something went wrong and and she is unable to perceive beauty in anything around her. Because of this she seeks to kill and destroy anything she can. T’sain was created as the same person as T’sais but without this flaw. T’sain is peaceful and loving. It’s easy to think of T’sais/T’sain as the evil twin/good twin. But I think that is incorrect and the text tells us as much. In fact I think both characters have a strong inner drive to do what is right.

T’sais’ perceptions tell her that all the world is horrible, unbearable. Existence itself is unbearable. We don’t get any information about how Pandelume treated her, but I don’t get the impression he spent a lot of time nurturing her after he found out she was ‘flawed’. She has met a few other sapient people, they don’t seem to have any problem with the irredeemable horrors that fill all of existence. Under such circumstances I think opposing and destroying existence could be the righteous action to take.

But the real proof that T’sais is a righteous person is in her interaction with T’sain. Seemingly for the first time in her life someone explains that there is such a thing as an experience that is not negative. That there are states of being that aren’t misery. An idea that must be impossible for her to understand. But someone explaining it to her her 2 minutes is enough to cause her to renounce killing and destruction (at least temporarily) and prompts her to find out if this is true.

With the information T’sais had, trying to kill and destroy is both logical and moral.

Some other things I find interesting about T’sais is that despite the fact that she wants to destroy everything she sees her psychology seems to be that of a normal human and she clearly has gradations of (negative) experiences. Everything she feels is basically bad, but there is a difference between bad, worse, and worst. I have 3 reasons to think this.

One, she owns a horse. Taking care of a big smelly animal must be a significant source of pain and misery to her (because everything is). But she does it. The amount of misery owning a horse alleviates must be greater than the amount of misery it causes. This is fundamentally the same calculus that caused real-world people to use horses.

When she is trying to kill Turjan and he threatens to rape her, she stops. Clearly although life is nothing but pain for her, somethings are worse then others and threats of punishment can cause her to modify her behavior. Again just like a normal human.

Lastly when T’sain hugs her and tells her that she loves her, T’sais feels revulsion but also some tiny positive emotion deep under her other perceptions. She can feel positive emotions. It seems like, if feelings and perceptions can go from 10 (euphoria) to -10 (uncontrollable despair), T’sais get an -7 to everything she feels. So life is horrible for her but not unequivocally so.

All this taken together tells me that the story of T’sais isn’t the story of a flawed creation, but the story of of flawed creator. Although T’sais inner life will never be as good as an average human, fundamentally she has the ability to have a life worth living. With love, understanding, and patience Pandelume could have improved her existence, and to some degree made her understand the goodness that life can offer.

Instead he seems to have armed her, and thrown her out into the wild to knowingly live a life filled with pain and misery that a normal person literally can’t imagine.

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There is a good deal of casual cruelty in this decadent Dying Earth culture. It feels a lot like most folk go by that Aleister Crowley axiom, “do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” There seemed to be some quality of Tsais/Tsain that riveted these magicians who would otherwise have no compunction killing them. After all, as illustrated at the beginning of the tale, to Turjan and Pandelume, these creatures are merely animated patterns grown in tanks.

That is true, another thing that we didn’t get into is the fact that Turjan is clearly a psychopath (or similar). To accomplish a personal goal person X tells him to kill person Y and we get no indication that he thinks at all about IF he should do it, only that it might be difficult.

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We do get a hint that there was some existing bad blood between Turjan and the prince.

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