“Home Is the Hunter”

This week’s story being discussed over at the Deep Ones group, devoted to weird fiction, isn’t weird at all. But we cast our net wide in nominations and sometimes that happens.

It is a story from one of science fiction’s great power teams: Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore. Both writers were acclaimed for their solo efforts. After their June 7, 1940 marriage, Moore said that all their works thereafter were collaborations.

Review: “Home Is the Hunter”, Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, 1953. 

Cover by Richard Powers

This story is mostly told by Honest Roger Bellamy in sort of an interior monologue with the part of him that has regrets or questions his path in life. It’s not a dialogue of conscience even though Bellamy is a noted killer, an acclaimed killer.

He’s a Head-Hunter, a practioner of consensual and legal homocide in this 21st Century New York City. They are this society’s  most revered and respected men. They kill each other in Central Park then take the loser’s head back to their trophy halls in their lavish homes with many wives and children in what’s called a Triumph. The best will have a plastic statue in Central Park. 

In his interior monologue, we learn something of Bellamy’s life. He knew a mother’s love until age six when he was taken away to be a Hunter, shown not much love by his father or mother afterwards. He was trained in machete, gun, and judo. His older brother was killed in a judo training “accident” actually secretly engineered by Bellamy. Then he became heir to his father’s role as Hunter.

Having recently read Tom Holland’s Rubicon and Dynasty, I suspect this story was Kuttner’s and Moore’s taken on the status obsession of Ancient Rome. The victorious Hunters have Triumphs. When a Hunter is killed, he gets all his victim’s trophy heads and the victim’s wives and children are turned out to become “populari” which was the Roman term of those not from patrician families.

Continue reading ““Home Is the Hunter””

“The Book”

This week’s weird fiction discussed over at LibraryThing is something fairly unique.

Review: “The Book”, Margie Irwin, 1930.

This story mixes a lot of things together. Part ghost story, part tale of demonic possession, and definitely a contaminated text story though of a different sort than Mark Samuels’ “A Contaminated Text” or Caitlin R. Kiernan’s “Ex Libris”.

The story opens one November night with protagonist Corbett looking for something to read after stopping his reading of an unsatisfactory detective novel. In the dining-room bookcase are some books, mostly “dull and obscure old theological books” inherited from his late uncle’s library. They are mixed in with cheap novels bought at railway stalls by Corbett’s wife and “respectable nineteenth century works of culture” that Corbett bought in his Oxford days, and children’s books. The uncle’s books have an “air of scorn that belongs to a private and concealed knowledge”. 

A fancy takes Corbett (in his “vaporous and fog-ridden” Kensington living room?) that a “dank and poisonous breath” is exhaled by some of the volumes. He grabs a Dickens’ work then goes back for a Walter Pater book. He notices a gap left by the Dickens The Old Curiosity Shop which seems too large. That seems strange. Corbett hurriedly leaves to return to his bedroom. He almost feels like his house is haunted. 

But the old pleasures of Dickens aren’t there this time. It seems sentimental, to take pleasure in cruelty and suffering. The humorous is now diabolic. The peculiar thought comes to him that there is “something evil in the austere worship of beauty for its own sake”. 

Continue reading ““The Book””

“A Touch of Pan”

This week’s work of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing has another appearance by Pan.

It’s not surprising, with his mystical interests and reverence for nature, that Blackwood’s Pan story is the closest of any I’ve looked at so far in returning to Pan’s pagan origins. It uses Pan as a metaphor for the joyless, hypocritical nature of the English upper class and contrasts it with pure love and sex and nature. One suspects it expresses something of Blackwood’s views on such matters. 

Review: “A Touch of Pan”, Algernon Blackwood, 1917.

The story starts with our protagonist, Herber, remembering the difference between an idiot and a lunatic. The idiot acts on instinct not reason. The lunatic is “out of relation with his environment”. He contemplates that he has fallen in love with an idiot, one possessed of “a kind of sheer natural joy”. Herber was born into “an artificial social clique”, but he loves nature and not fancy houses. 

His family probably wouldn’t say his love was an idiot, but they probably think “she is not all there”. Heber has only seen the woman in question twice and never spoken to her, but the air of joy she radiates evokes a “sense of awe” in him. The values of civilization are not hers. Her awareness of other people is like that a dog or bird – some people are kind, some aren’t. Heber’s values match hers. Her family, given her oddity, are ashamed of her, make excuses for her, and neglect her. She dresses like she’s 16, but she’s probably 19. Her sister has married well, but her family considers the girl’s marriage prospects doubtful. Mere chorus-girls have a better chance to get married than her given her demeanor and dress.

Continue reading ““A Touch of Pan””

The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales

It was July 4th, and I wasn’t going to go through boxes of packed books on my day off to find something to read. So, I went through books on the Kindle and decided two Mark Samuels titles, Christmas gifts, seemed like just the thing.

Review: The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales, Mark Samuels, 2011.

The stories of Mark Samuels are filled with perilous literary scholarship, sinister cartels, and encroaching decay of body and intellect – a mold of modernity. Yet, sometimes, hope is to be found in the alleys and wrecks of cities.

Some of the stories are homages or pastiches to dead writers of horror and the weird fiction: Poe, Stefan Grabinski, Karl Edward Wagner, Ambrose Bierce, and, of course, Arthur Machen. Bibliophilia, book collecting, and literary scholarship lead to strange places in Samuels’ fictions. Sometimes mere casual epigraphs from dead writers are surprisingly revelatory.

The first story, “Losenof Express”, is a fine example. Alcoholic horror writer Eddie Charles Knox hoists a shot of Jack Daniels to Poe as he drinks by himself in the obscure Eastern European capital of Strasgol. A well-paying career writing “the pulp adventures of Mungo the Barbarian and the sexual shenanigans of Mother Superior Lucia Vulva” seems like a waste of his talent, a betrayal of his one-time reputation as the “Berserker of Horror”. And when another man in the café seems to mirror Knox’s self-loathing, he becomes enraged and follows the man, eventually killing him. But things become strange when he hops the train out of town to flee arrest.  

There are probably some allusions I missed and elements I don’t appreciate in “The Man Who Collected Machen” since I don’t collect Machen and have only read half of his fiction. But I have read enough Machen, know enough of his life, to appreciate this story as a well-done pastiche and tribute. Machen enthusiasts will see elements of “N”, The Three Impostors, The Secret Glory, and “The Lost Club”.

Continue reading “The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales”

“The Man Who Went Too Far”

It’s another Pan story.

Review: “The Man Who Went Too Far”, E. F. Benson, 1904.

Saki’s “The Music on the Hill” uses Pan in a more restricted way than Benson does here. Saki’s Pan is the center of an old religion and keeps his association with hunting, fertility, and music.  Benson’s story is closer to E. M. Forester’s “The Story of a Panic”. Pan is terrifying because he blurs distinctions, goes against the Ancient Greek tendency and talent for categorizing the world.

The story is set near the village of St. Faith in Hampshire, England. Its pleasant, rural nature is somewhat marred, the narrator notes, with a local legend about a monstrous goat skipping with “hellish glee” in the woods. It is a story linked to a very handsome, in fact beautiful, young artist who lived there.

The tale the narrator will tell was related to him by Darcy, a mutual friend of that artist and our narrator. Darcy, who hasn’t seen the artist Frank Halton in six years, is convalescing after a bout of typhoid fever and goes to visit Frank in June. 

Just before Darcy arrivs, Frank is doing what he often does these days, lounging in a hummock in a meadow by a stream. His house is on the outskirts of town. 

Darcy is amazed at how much younger Frank looks than the last time he saw him. Frank says he has a lot to tell Darcy, and Darcy won’t believe it.

Continue reading ““The Man Who Went Too Far””

“The Music on the Hill”

Saki penned this week’s weird story being discussed over at LibraryThing.

And that brings up the following story, courtesy of the Roads to the Great War blog:

Among the 73,000 names engraved on the memorial to the missing of the Somme at Thiepval is that of Lance Sergeant H. H. Munro of the 22nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers. H.H. Munro, aka Saki, had gained popularity before the Great War for his witty and off-beat stories. He could have avoided serving, but Munro was the son of a soldier and a child of the Empire. And so he found himself at the Somme in November 1916 during the battle’s final stages, when the high command decided that they damn well ought to capture the village of Beaumont Hamel, because they were supposed to take it on the first day of the fighting, July 1st. Munro’s company had been put out to guard the left flank in a night attack on the village. It was a foggy night, and the fighting had died down by the early hours. Munro and some other men had taken cover in a shell hole. An English officer called across to a friend. A man struck a match, Munro snapped, “Put that bloody cigarette out!” whereupon he was shot in the head by a single round from a sniper. As Saki, he always appreciated a telling punch line.

Review: “The Music on the Hill”, Saki, 1911. 

As you expect from Saki, this is a short, darkly humorous tale. It concerns one Sylvia (an obviously ironic name) Seltoun. She is “pugnacious by circumstance”, veteran of many small disputes which she has managed to win. Her latest concerns her husband Mortimer, dubbed “Dead Mortimer” by his enemies.

His family wasn’t pleased about their marriage, and Mortimer, before his marriage, was not known for liking women. Her newest struggle is to pry Mortimer “away from Town, and its group of satellite watering-places”. She wants to get him to go to his country home in Yessney.  His mother says he’ll never go, but, if he does, he won’t leave. It has some kind of hold on him. 

When Sylvia gets there, she isn’t real keen on Yessney. She’s town bred and not used to “the almost savage wildness about Yessney”. It seems a place where the joy of life is linked to the “terror of unseen things”. 

Continue reading ““The Music on the Hill””

“The Story of a Panic”

The years 1894 through 1912 saw English writers writing many stories using the god Pan. I’ve already covered The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen and Kenneth Grahme’s The Wind in the Willows.

We’re doing something unusual at the weird fiction discussion group, the Deep Ones, over at LibraryThing. We’re starting a look at a slew of other stories using Pan, and this is the first one.

Review: “The Story of a Panic”, E. M. Forester, 1912.

Our narrator, never given a name that I recall, starts out saying he is going to tell his story “with no pretensions to literary style”. He is going to give “an unbiased account” of something that happened eight years ago. The very first line mentions “Eustace’s career” and how it goes back to an incident one afternoon in Italy eight years ago.

At an Italian hotel are a party of Englanders. Besides the narrator and his wife and two daughters, there are the two Miss Robinson – two sisters, their nephew Eustace, the “would-be artist” Leyland, and the former curate Sandbach whose is there to prepare Eustace for public school. The narrator doesn’t like Leyland, and he especially does like the fourteen-year old Eustace. He thinks Eustace is “indescribably repellent”, a whiner, indolent, and incurious about anything. 

I suspect we are not to find the narrator very sympathetic, that he’s a satire of a certain type of Englishman Forester knew. The first indication of that are his constant remarks about how Eustace needs to be more sporting. 

One day, they all go on a picnic to a wooded and beautiful valley – the Vallone Fontana Caroso. It’s rather like an upside-down hand with finger-like ravines, wooded, radiating out from it. When they arrive, the narrator’s daughter Rose, an amateur photographer, notes the beauty of the valley and how it, its hills, and the sea in the background would make a beautiful picture. Sandbach agrees, but Leyland says it would make a very poor picture indeed. Rose asks why (with more charity than deserved notes the narrator). Because the top of the background hill is “intolerably straight”, the perspective is all wrong from their current position, and the colors dull and monotonous says Leyland. The narrator retorts he doesn’t know anything about art but the scene makes him content. One of the Miss Robinsons and Sandbach agree. Leyland replies that they “confuse the artistic view of nature with a photograph”. 

Continue reading ““The Story of a Panic””

“The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains”

A look at the weird fiction work discussed last week over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains”, Frederick Marryat, 1839.

This is something a bit different than the usual weird fiction I review. It’s an excerpt from Marryat’s novel The Phantom Ship which is about a man, seemingly Philip here, who is trying to remove a curse from his father – who is no less than the Flying Dutchman of legend. It’s a tale nested within a larger narrative.

Thus, the story opens with two men, Philip and Krantz, leaving a group of other men arguing over some gold just discovered on an island. They get into a boat and head west for Goa.

As they sail, their discussion turns to destiny. Some men, like the ones they left arguing over gold, are destined to misery and misfortune. 

Philip urges Krantz to talk about his past, which he has alluded to, when Philip told him some “mysterious tale”. 

Krantz asks Philip if he’s ever heard of the Hartz Mountains. Philip says he’s heard it’s a strange place. It is a strange place, Krantz replies, but he believes the tales told of it.

Krantz wonders why “malevolent beings” are permitted to trouble “unoffending mortals”. But so they are. Philip says humans have free will and “Divine justice” to help in their struggle with their own passions and unseen enemies. Those are more than enough. Krantz agrees and then tells his story. 

His father was the serf of a Hungarian nobleman and married to a beautiful woman, so beautiful, the nobleman had an adulterous affair with her, and Krantz’s father killed them both and fled, taking Krantz’s elder brother, Caesar, him, and his sister Marcella. 

Continue reading ““The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains””

“Origin Story”

We cast our nets wide in the Deep Ones discussion group over at LibraryThing. And, every once in a while, we dredge up something that, for me, is neither weird or interesting.

Review: “Origin Story”, T. Kingfisher, 2011.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this one. I’m not fond of fairy tales, and this is a modern one.

Our fairy in question works at a slaughterhouse. Through stitches and magic, she fashions various bizarre creatures of the offal and refuse of the place. This culminates in a horse-woman with material partly provided by a slaughterhouse worker who objects to her odd activities and whom she kills. 

I suppose some may like the detail and the divergences about how the story is not going to tell us the tale of Thomas, that man, or the supervisor of the slaughterhouse.

Immortal Life

This blog started out to review science fiction, but it’s been many months since I’ve reviewed a pure science fiction novel. No tinge of the weird, no Lovecraftian elements, no mixed genres in this one.

Review: Immortal Life (A Soon to Be True Story), Stanley Bing, 2017. 

The late Gil Schwartz aka Stanley Bing was a CBS executive who wrote many best-selling books with titles like 100 Bullshit Jobs . . . and How to Get Them, Sun Tzu Was a Sissy, and Executricks, or How to Retire While You’re Still Working. Prior to this he wrote a couple of non-science fiction novels. He was also was a reader of science fiction.

That corporate experience and knowledge of science fiction give this novel a breezy, knowing air without stylistically stumbling the way many non-genre novelists do when wandering into science fiction.

And this book is pure science fiction, a black satire on one of humanity’s oldest obsessions: the quest for immortality.

And Bing is right up front in his dedication about who his targets are:

To Craig Venter, Larry Ellison, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, Marc Andreessen, Elon Musk, and all the visionary titans exploring the possibility of eternal life for those who can afford it. 

Arthur Vogel is definitely one of those who can afford it. At 127, he’s the world’s richest man. His day is a tedious regimen of drugs and supplements and no normal food, walking about on his cyborg legs. His only fun time comes after printing out a penis, popping some pills, and having sex with his hot wife Sallie.

Continue reading “Immortal Life”