Cugel the Clever is one of the great archetypal figures in SF literature, the vain trickster in Jack Vance's post-apocalyptic Dying Earth stories. Kage Baker wrote a new Cugel story for a Dying Earth anthology, and it's up at Tor.com.
Songs of the Dying Earth, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, is out now, and it includes new stories of post-apocalyptic magic, set in Vance's Dying Earth world by the likes of Dan Simmons, Neil Gaiman, Tad Williams and Martin himself.
Baker's "The Green Bird" features Cugel the Clever in a spot of bother — he's been tossed into a chasm with a bunch of criminals and unfortunate out-of-favor courtiers — and then he learns of a big score: a green bird with a tremendous secret, who's living with two vain old ladies. Cugel schemes to get out of the chasm and work his way close to the precious bird — but in the fine tradition of such stories, things aren't entirely what they seem.
It's a rollicking great read, in the best tradition of "charming rogue who overestimates his own guile" stories, and it'll make you that much sadder that Kage Baker is no longer with us. Here's how it begins:
It amused Justice Rhabdion of Kaiin to dispose of malefactors by dropping them down a certain chasm located at the edge of his palace gardens.
Deep and steep-sided the chasm was, bottomed with soft sand, so that more often than not the objects of Justice Rhabdion's displeasure survived the fall. This was all to the good, as far as Rhabdion was concerned, since it provided him with further subject for mirth. On claret-colored summer afternoons, he used to have his Chair of Office moved out on the balcony that overlooked his garden pleasaunce, and which, incidentally, gave him an excellent view into the chasm as well. There he would smile to watch the antics of the enchasmates, as they fruitlessly sought to escape or quarreled with one another.
To further tease those unfortunates who had been so consigned, Justice Rhabdion had had vines of Saskervoy planted all along the chasm's rim, prodigious black creepers, with scarlet leaves in shape and function like razors, save for their motility and the small voracious mouths set just above each stem. Each enchasmed newcomer attempted to depart by means of seizing and scrambling up the vines, generally at the cost of a finger or nose and never farther than the first third of the way before having to let go and fall.
Rhabdion's gardeners stinted the vines' feeding, to keep them keen; and this in time diminished their effect, for the enchasmates quickly learned better than to grasp at the vines. Therefore in their impatience to feed, the vines took to hunting for themselves, snapping out to catch any bird or bat so unwise as to fly within their reach.
The enchasmates, having made slings out of sandal-laces, would then fire small stones, striking the vines and causing them to drop their prey, upon which the slingers themselves would then gladly fasten, bearing the small tattered flesh back to the shelters built under the more concave angles of the chasm's walls. So were they provided with sustenance.
Read the rest at the link. [Tor.com]