SF/F Genre Glossary

What is the Dying Earth Genre?

This is a continuation of the Speculative Fiction Glossary Project posts. For the complete genre index click here.

Red Sunrise
Red Sunrise by Peter Badolas

What is the Dying Earth Genre?

A genre that features stories set in the far future, close to the end of the earth’s planetary lifespan, or at the end of time. The earth/universe has been exhausted, rather than destroyed by an apocalyptic event.

Literary Examples:

  • The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolf
  • The Dying Earth by Jack Vance
  • Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton
  • The Dancers at the End of Time by Michael Moorcock

Further Reading:

I’ve filed this one under cross genre, as these far futures sometimes feature humanity so evolved/advanced that it’s indistinguishable from fantasy. Why do you think dying earth hasn’t been explored as much as its close cousin apocalyptic fiction?

22 Comments

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      The distance could be possible, though I still think there could be something to be learned from facing certain doom. How would humanity react to it? Ignore it? Fear it?

  1. Echo what Kristan said—It’s not got as much learning capability in it. We can’t really learn from the earth spinning into deep space and dying. Except how to prepare for it…and even that’s a pretty gray area. 😀

    I didn’t even know this genre existed! 🙂

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      My initial thought was simply that it lacked immediate impact/drama due to the slow decay, unlike an apocalyptic event which changes things in an instant. On the other hand, hmm! Still chewing on this one…

  2. I think it’s because people think the Earth will have colonized other planets by then (and Earth will be less important). Or that humanity will wipe each other out before the planet naturally dies. And by the time the universe dies, I’d hope time travel or inter-dimensional travel is invented. Otherwise those people are screwed.

  3. Perhaps, because it’s far too sad to acknowledge? “Too” dystopian? Something that humans are nt yet cut out to face, even while reading?

    Another thing could be that all action has been already seen. The book won’t have much drama left once the events have taken place. It’s more like picking up the pieces. . . but who will be left to pick up the pieces? It will be a shocking, heartbreaking thing. 🙁

    On other note, I always thought I would love to see what happens after the ending of the movie KNOWING. Have you seen it Tessa? Once the “chosen ones” are returned back to earth, everything has to be started afresh. . .there’s peace and love. If the Dying Earth genre can move on quickly from the horrors and focus on after-events at least for a while, I’d be glad to read. 🙂

    -BrownEyed

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      I haven’t seen the movie, but it may be interesting to play with the idea that the end may not necessarily be ‘the end’. Maybe the universe moves into a different state? Hmm.Maybe absolute destruction/end of the world is a hard thing for people to process. I know I have a hard time wrapping my head around it.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. 😉 Do you think it has potential? Are the tropes involved irrelevant to today’s society or is there still something of value in framing a story this way?

      1. T.S. Bazelli Author

        I don’t think it’s a trend at the moment. Though, personally I prefer not to write to trend. There’s no way to know what it will market will be like by the time the book is out. I also think that a skillful writer can make any topic interesting.

  4. Oh, I’m encouraged! I have had a story idea since I was a teenager and though it doesn’t actually happen during Earth’s final decay/slow destruction, it deals with it and with time traveling people who experienced it. Maybe there is budding interest in this topic! And maybe there always has been and I have been too blind to see it. I don’t know. Still, this post inspired me, so that’s good! 😀

  5. Apocalyptic fiction ends us with the bang, as opposed to the whimper of a dying earth. Fewer people are attracted to writing about endings of the whimper-variety, at least in the more plot- and premise-heavy worlds of Genre-Genre writing. So I can understand why apocalyptic fiction has done better sales-wise, though I think post-apocalyptic is what’s really taken over. It gets away from the disaster motif of apocalypses and instead gives us whatever made-up world someone wants to set, usually in our own ashes. The world can be whittled down to hopelessness like The Road, or building back up like The Stand, or have a balance of cultural states, like Mad Max. Dying earth stories feel like they have to go in one direction. If someone were to take it in the opposite direction, with cheer and optimism in the face of our certain dwindling doom? Well I’d like to read that.

  6. Honestly… I don’t think there’s anything inherrent in the genre, per se, that is unpopular. I think it’s just easier to write something with a whiz-bang setting than something with a fatalistic setting. In the latter case, you really need to be sharp with your characters. In the former, you can let the plot and setting be the juice that drives the story if the characters aren’t always pitch-perfect.

    I’ve mostly only read short stories in this genre, myself; no long-form fiction really. But I don’t think that’s a function of the genre so much as a function of what others are writing in the genre.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      I can see how it might be easier. Apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic scenarios have an immediacy that demands conflict/tension. It starts with a bang or ends with a bang, vs. a slow decay.

      Robert Frost comes to mind all of a sudden.

      PS Thanks for the link tip! It should be working now.

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