To Sail the Century Sea (Time Stream, #2)To Sail the Century Sea by G.C. Edmondson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book serves as a sequel to The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream, but is, alas, nowhere near as good. Both books move about in history — in the “time stream” — but the first one seems less scattershot. This second novel needed another draft. The action got confusing in Byzantium. The goings-on there — with the Council of Nicea, of all things —were not described well. There is cleverness towards the very end, but it seemed rushed, ill thought-out. Some elements were not properly prepared.

I cannot recommend the book. The first one, however, made a satisfying back-to-the-past pairing with Poul Anderson’s The Dancer from Atlantis, which I read just a few weeks before.

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The Night FaceThe Night Face by Poul Anderson

This is the third Poul Anderson novella that I have read. The author is learned and clever, and the story is not bad. A good ending, if a bit too abrupt. My caveats are two:

1. It would have worked better had it been fleshed out as a full novel, with more attention to character and the passage of moments, of scenes. As it is, it seemed a bit rushed at the end. The longer story, Dancer from Atlantis that I read a month or so ago, was better in this regard, though it seemed a bit rushed, too, towards the end.

2. I have in hand (as I finished the work under discussion) a paperback of The Worlds of Jack Vance, and, dipping in to a slightly shorter story than this Poul Anderson effort, the novelette “The Brains of Earth” — which can only be judged third-tier Vance — I immediately note the contrast: Vance is the far better writer. His style is so much more individual, and so much more sure, more masterly. Unfair comparison, really, but the plot of The Night Face is something that Vance could have thought of. But would have made better.

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On page 78 Poul Anderson uses the word “geas” but in the plural: “geases.” When I come across the word I immediately assume the author has read and is a fan of James Branch Cabell and The Figures of Earth, which in a few days will go into the public domain. Can there be another explanation?


Ranson's FollyRanson’s Folly by Richard Harding Davis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Of the stories in this volume, the last one is the best. It is called “In the Fog,” and it was first published in 1901 in a handsome single volume illustrated by two artists, both quite good, though rather dissimilar. I just finished reading this story. It is a mystery told in three tales in a gentlemen’s club, and in that frame story itself. It looks like it served as the inspiration for a 1911 silent film (under a different title) by the Edison Company. How it could possibly be told without spoken dialogue I do not know. I need to see it. But, be that as it may, I highly recommend this story as a prose work, suggesting, in addition, that you may wish to buy a copy of the first edition, which is a fine specimen of the book printer’s art.

“In the Fog” is a novella, really, a little under 100 pages. The first story in this collection, “Ranson’s Folly,” is also a mystery, but set in the Old West. It was filmed twice as a silent film. It is a few pages longer than “In the Fog.”

The somewhat shorter story “The Bar Sinister,” is a tale narrated by a dog. It is fun, if not great. It was filmed in 1955 as “It’s a Dog’s Life.” Again, I have not seen it.

There are two other stories in the book, both shorter. I skipped over “A Derelict,” but may some day go back to it. And the final story, about a love letter, is excellent. Really quite good.

Richard Harding Davis was not a great writer, but he was an able storyteller. This old book is worth checking out, if for no other reason than wholesome entertainment along with a dose of the culture of a century ago. It was a very different time.

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Review of Townsend of Lichfield on LibraryThing:

The final volume of the Storisende edition of James Branch Cabell’s The Biography of the Life of Manuel is as peculiar and as brilliant a conclusion as one could hope for, or fear. This “Dizain des Adieux,” as the subtitle puts it, is sort of a glorious catch-all for the author’s literary obsessions up till the late 1920s. It contains

* ruminations upon his career (the 30-odd pages of “Townsend of Lichfield”) and his books and stories (the last several sections);
* poetry (“Sonnets from Antan”);
* two book-length fantasy novellas, ([The Way of Ecben] and [The White Robe]); and
* an excellent short story (“Concerning David Jogram”).

For my part, as I thumb on my iPad to contribute this short bookchat review, I confess to having read the stories and rumination in this book out of order, tackling the second item, the werewolf story, The White Robe, last.

This final reading was a long time coming. I own the first printing of the story, and have owned it, also, in its last incarnation to hit printing press during the author’s life, in The Witch-Woman: A Trilogy About Her. It is a droll story, and perhaps provides deep insight into Cabell’s own gallantry. And yes, it is about gallantry, just as [The Way of Ecben] and [The Music From Behind the Moon: An Epitome], were about the chivalric and poetic attitudes towards life, respectively.

Which is not to say that Cabell did not himself sport chivalry as well as poetry — of course he would, for this trinity attitudes is what binds his 18-volume Biography together, and he undoubtedly gave his creature Manuel (see Figures of Earth) all three traits, just as he found them in himself.

So, can I recommend this book over The Witch-Woman?

No.

Sure, my judgment of Townsend of Lichfield is positive; I greatly enjoyed the book. Indeed, I go further: it is excellent; but I cannot recommend it.

Why the seeming contradiction?

The book reeks of Cabell’s trademark self-indulgence. So, only those immune to this alleged defect, or enchanted by it against counsel of both criticism and common sense, need bother reading it. While for those of us who catch the whiff of the charm here, the enchantment, and might even hazard that it does not get much better, not one of us admirers of Cabell’s art is so besotted that we cannot see the narrow confines of its appeal and of our ranks.

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