Arents Cigarette Cards W.Somerset Maugham, From New York Public Library Digital Gallery
Daily Thoughts 8/30/2009
I finished reading Songs of the Dying Earth Stories In Honor of Jack Vance, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. Jack Vance is considered a masterful writer of science fiction. He is 93 years old and still writing. His style is very interesting. This collection is an excellent collection of writers. It includes many of the best writers in fantasy living today; George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Tanith Lee, Dan Simmons, Robert Silverberg, and many others.
In addition to lots of short stories, there is also a novella, The Guiding Nose of Ulfant Banderoz by Dan Simmons. Each stories starts with an introduction about the writers and ends with a short summary of their experiences reading Jack Vance. Some of them are quite interesting. I learned that Jack Vance was very influential with roleplaying games, having set the background for many magic systems. This is an article by Gary Gygax about Jack Vances's influence
The setting of The Dying Earth which these stories are written in is fantastic. The sun has grown dim, the earth has grown old and is now strewn with ancient ruins and the roads are filled with strange and terrible creatures dangerous to man; the deodanth, the pelgrayne, giants, ghouls, twk-men (little people who ride dragonflies), and other beasts. Magic (a kind of super science) has replaced the science of old and the world has become decadent and filled with superstition.
This is a world of trickery, debauchery, and magic. Wizards wander this world with names like Cugel the Clever, Rialto the Marvelous, and Lixal Laqavee. These are stories of cunning, trickery, magic, and debauchery. There are terrible spells like the prismatic spray and elemental and magic servants which serve the wizards. The characters survive by their cunning. They also seek the pleasure of wine, song, food, and dance. Jack Vance played the banjo and the kazoo.
There are magical towers, libraries full of spells, ancient ruined cities, dangerous inns, and woods full of monsters. The language is florid full of complex adjectives, odd sounding nouns, and strange names of far away places. The writers who wrote these stories do a good job filling the flavor of the settings.
The book is 670 pages long. It is published by Subterranean Press http://www.subterraneanpress.com/ which produces high quality fantasy works. Many of the chapters start with a fantasy illustration and the pages are bordered with simple lines. The cover and interior illustrations are done by Tom Kidd http://www.spellcaster.com/tomkidd/ . It is a well designed, entertaining book to read.