Reading List – Stephenson, Dunsany and Cabell

I am currently 80% through Neal Stephenson “The Diamond Age” and I am enjoying it very much. This is the Book-on-Tape version. The reader does a good job and the story is not what you’d expect for Cyberpunk. If achieving a person’s potential is related much more to Nourish, rather than Nature, the question of how to maximize the nourish in order to maximize the individual is an important question. Stephenson follows the plot lines generated by a unique educational delivery system, and although he spends much time in the specifics of the education that is delivered, the technology of providing a nourishing influence is fascinating. It is interesting to note that the most successful case in his book is the case where a real human takes an emotional stake in the process. The child with an involved human mother surrogate is the child that develops best.

Stephenson uses tried and true cyberpunk themes, including elements of Steam Punk, and a heavy reliance on nanotechnology. I will be shipping this off to my brother, Ward, as soon as I am done with it. Good stuff!

In the print side of things, I purchased a 1923 edition of “The King of Elfland’s Daughter” by Lord Dunsany at a garage sale back in November and I have been dipping into it at night when the TV turns awful (more so recently.) You can visualize Lord Dunsany writing this book with a quill pen in purple ink as he was supposed to have done.

The book is told from a viewpoint remote in time and place, about cardboard characters in an uninteresting land. The book is only occasionally interesting. The character of a troll is much more compelling than that of the hero. The descriptions occasionally break out into otherworldly beauty. I read a few pages, insert the bookmark, and go raid the refrigerator.

“The King of Elfland’s Daughter” should be read like poetry. Slice off a hunk, set the book down, and come back when that bit is digested.

The book is a good source of fantasy ideas and images, but not a very good novel, by today’s standards, and does not stand up to time. I am reading it mainly because it was a major influence on the likes of Tolkien and Lewis. A paperback edition that was released in the late 1960s was probably an influence on modern fantasy writers.

I found As I Remember It by James Branch Cabell the same day as the Dunsany book, but at another garage sale. This is Cabell’s last book and it is not very long. It is autobiographical and concerns the death of his wives. Cabell was dying when he wrote this, and the book is his last few comments on a long literary life. Cabell, you will remember, wrote Jurgen, which was branded pornographic and made Cabell in instant sensation in 1919. Cabell was a close friend of Menken and relates many interesting and humorous literary anecdotes.

As I Remember It was written in the 1950s near the end of his life. He rambles a lot, but Cabell was a great stylist and I love his words. His sentences flow smoothly and I finished the book in two or three sittings.

Read Cabell!

Interesting note: I just now learned that Dunsany and Cabell both were born in 1878 and both died within a year of each other (1957 and 1958). Both were great stylists in the world of fantasy literature.