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Dying Earth Fantasy

What is Dying Earth Fantasy?

The Earth, it is dying—that pretty much sums up this sub-genre.

Dying Earth stories are dismal stories. The world is fading away and a strong feeling of ennui permeates everything. Common themes include: world-weariness, innocence, idealism, entropy, the hope of renewal. A defining feature of Dying Earth is a gradual end of processes as systems move towards a disordered state.

Dying Earth is a sub-genre that belongs to both Science Fiction and Fantasy. As the world fades the laws of nature also begin to fade and science and magic become indistinguishable. You can read about the Dying Earth Science Fiction Genre here.

The setting of a Dying Earth story is Earth, but it is not an Earth that we know. It is often unfamiliar in atmosphere, in the structure of society, and even in the physics of the world. Often, these versions of Earth are other worlds entirely. This setting is at the core of the sub-genre, stories that show us a world we cannot recognize and we cannot recognize what we have done to it.


Characteristics of Dying Earth Fantasy

  • Level of Magic

    Low-moderate. Science and magic in Dying Earth are often indistinguishable. Indeed, in this sub-genre magic will often have justification, even in a weak science.

  • Level of Grand Ideas and Social Implications

    High. The end of times brings about reflection and creates potential for meaning. So while these stories are melancholy, they offer a greater depth of meaning to life.

  • Level of Characterization

    High. Dying Earth stories have a tendency to focus on a lone survivor. With so much focus on single, or limited numbers of characters, they tend to be well developed with a strongly developed motivation.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    High. A search for something, maybe resources or maybe hope, is often the driving force for a Dying Earth story. The searching is the plot. This is not to say that what is being sought will be found, but the search is important and integral to the plot.

  • Level of Violence

    Moderate-High. At the end of the world many humans resort to violence in order to survive. But sometimes, there is also love and compassion and hope (or at least a longing for hope)--so violence is not everything in the end.

Related Fantasy Subgenres




    Futuristic Fantasy. Dying Earth is set in the far far future, so these two sub-genres are natural partners.


  • Science Fantasy. Dying Earth is very much a part of the Science Fantasy tradition because it has a fantasy feel, takes place in the future, and often includes invented technologies.

Dying Earth Fantasy Isn’t For You If...

If you like happy stories. Seriously, if you want a happy story, don't read this one.

Popular Dying Earth Fantasy Books
  • 1 The Dying Earth

    By Jack Vance. A now classic novel about a distant future where the sun has become a red giant. Civilization lies in ruins and wizards fight. This series is the namesake of the sub-genre.

  • 2 Songs of the Dying Earth

    By Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin ed. Stories in Honor of Jack Vance. Some 22 authors contributed to this collection of stories and novellas, this collection takes place on Vance's Dying Earth.

  • 3 Dying of the Light

    By George R.R. Martin. On a world that is not Earth, but a world that is dying nonetheless, the protagonist must protect the woman he once loved. Secrets, bleakness, escape, revenge clash on this planet trapped in twilight.

  • 4 Swan Song

    By Robert R. McCammon. Earth is a wasteland of nuclear war. A malevolent force gathers followers to end a special child. This is the final battle between good and evil.

  • 5 Spin Sequence

    By Robert Charles Wilson. The stars go out—replaced by an alien-made barrier that slows the passage of time on Earth and the danger the sun poses comes ever closer.

  • 6 Shadow and Claw series

    By Gene Wolfe. An epic series set a million years in the future when the Sun has dimmed, the Earth has grown cooler and been transformed.

  • 7 The Night Land

    By William Hope Hodgson. A story of terror in which the cosmos themselves are perishing and the Earth is cast in eternal darkness.

  • 8 Zothique

    By Ashton Smith. One of the sub-genre's first collections this sequences takes place on Earth's last continent in the far distant future.

  • 9 Dark is the Sun

    By Philip José Farme. A story set so far into the future that the universe itself is collapsing on itself. An unlikely band of survivors (a man, his wife, a sentient rock, witches, slaves, thieves, plant-men) search for a way to another universe in order to escape

  • 10 Hothouse

    By Brian Aldiss. Earth has stopped turning and the moon is held in place by giant spiderwebs. A decidedly unique setting filled with imaginative and dangerous creatures and plants.