“Kecksies”

Normally, before I write up posts labelled as reviews, I don’t look up any critical material or biographical material on the author. I just present my observations and opinions — however banal and lacking in insight. This time around, though, I read some material on Marjorie Bown before writing this review.

She was amazingly prolific and popular in her day with even film adaptations done of some of her novels. While many of her works are now regarded as slight, she still commands respect among connisseurs of weird fiction. Based on this story, my first exposure to her, I can see why.

This week’s subject of Deep Ones’ discussion over at LibraryThing.

Review: “Kecksies”, Marjorie Bowen, 1923.

Our main characters are two young esquires. 

The older is Sir Nick Bateup and his younger friend is Ned Crediton. 

As the story progresses, we have less and less sympathy though Nick is shown to have some decency in the climax. 

The story starts out innocently enough. 

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“The Happy Children”

No, I haven’t yet returned to my coverage of Arthur Machen. But I did nominate this story for discussion as a pairing with Alfred Noyes’ “The Lusitania Waits”.

Cover by Mathew Jaffe

Review: “The Happy Children”, Arthur Machen, 1920.

This story starts out similarly to Machen’s The Terror

The narrator is a journalist, as Machen was during World War One, who has been sent up to the northeastern part of England to investigate rumors of a German dugout there — which, of course, he doesn’t find. 

The first page of the story is taken up with noting how vague the rumors are in regard to its location. Machen discusses assorted rumors and myths of the war: Russian soldiers in England and, of course, the legend he inadvertently created, the Angel of Mons

Returning from his investigations, he decides to visit the scenic port of Banwick which Machen evocatively describes. 

Walking around at night, he is delighted to hear the sounds of children playing, perhaps hundreds, outside. Remarking on this to an innkeeper, he is told that the children run wild and their mothers can’t make them obey and their fathers are at the front. 

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“The Feather Pillow”

This week’s weird fiction discussed over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Feather Pillow”, Horacio Quiroga, trans. Margaret Sayers Peden, 1907.

Quiroga is sometimes called the Uruguayan Poe and certainly the only author of weird fiction with a snake named after him.

This is, as we’ll see, an unusual piece of weird fiction. There are, of course, many definitions of “weird fiction”. Most include some horror stories, particularly supernatural horror. Weird fiction can have menace and not always of the supernatural. This story lies in that zone.

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The Martian Epic

It’s backward in time to cover my reading of the past five months.

And it’s back to Brian Stableford though, this time, only to one of the works he translated and annotated for Black Coat Press. After reading his co-authored Timeslip Troopers, I wanted to read more Théo Varlet.

Review: The Martian Epic, Octave Joncquel and Théo Varlet, trans. Brian Stableford, 2008.

Cover by Arnaud Demaegd

The two novels in this omnibus, Les Titans du ciel [The Titans of the Heavens] and L’agonie de la Terre [The Agony of Earth], were originally published in 1921 and 1922. Stableford notes they were some of the most important works of roman scientifique published in France between the wars.

They certainly are remarkable, especially for an Anglo reader. That isn’t just because they are, as Timeslip Troopers was, a sort of sequel to an H. G. Wells’ work, but because they feature a significant strain of French cultural and scientific thought in the 19th and early 20th century: spiritualism, the idea of discarnate souls not only on our planet but others, souls capable of travel by thought.

There certainly are plenty of thrills in the wake of a Martian invasion in the year 1978, an invasion which the genius Wells’ had a sort of cloudy precognitive vision of: massive destruction social collapse with strange new cults and political movements springing up.

The Titans of Heaven is a compelling novel told as sort of a memoir as it happens by the narrator, Léon Rudeaux, Besides the intended echo of The War of the Worlds, the work is almost precognitive itself in anticipating H. G. Wells’ later The Shape of Things to Come. Like that work, Joncquel and Varlet give us a world state created out of war.

Ironically, it comes into existence when at the very moment the idea of a “yellow peril” is maligned. China and Japan set out to establish an empire by conquest. Fortunately, a secret committee of scientists thwarts them by the Great Discovery, an electromagnetic device that renders metal weapons dangerous to use.

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“The Black Dog”

And, with this, I’m current on the weird fiction discussions over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Black Dog”, Stephen Crane, 1892. 

This is almost an anti-weird story. It’s only in the context of it being anthologized in collections of supernatural fiction, like the Library of America’s American Fantastic Tales where I read it, that entices a weird fiction devotee to take a look at it.

I almost got the feeling it was a joke story, a belief strengthened by its subtitle, “A Night of Spectral Terror” in the New York Tribune where it was first published. Even the ISFDB entry on the story calls it a parody.

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“Let Loose”

A look at last week’s subject of weird fiction discussion over at LibraryThing.

Review: “Let Loose”, Mary Cholmondeley, 1890.

The framing narrative of this story is told by a woman, but it’s actually about a man, the opening narrator’s brother-in-law. (We never do get their names.) She doesn’t like him and neither does her sister but her sister still married him. 

The woman starts out by talking about the period in her life she was fascinated by architecture, but she learned that it’s not enough to like something in order to devote one’s life to it. However, while she was still infatuated with it then (she eventually becomes a landscape gardener), she toured Holland with her future brother-in-law. He was, by then, already a leading architect. 

Though he always is careless in dress and unfashionable, he always wears a high collar.  She takes to teasing him about it and asking why he wears it. He never answers until one day, when at leisure to answer, he does and gives us a story. 

Ten years back he was looking to present a paper on English frescoes to the Institute of British Architects. His father, also an architect, had some material on the subject, including a sketch from 50 years ago of a fresco on the east wall of the crypt of the parish church in Wet Waste-on-the-Wolds. The architect is intrigued so decides to take a look with his dog Brian.

It’s a small, isolated village on the moorlands of Yorkshire. When he asks the local clergyman for the keys to the crypt, he is refused point blank. The crypt has been closed for 30 years. But the architect rather prides himself on getting his way, so he mentions the paper he plans on writing. 

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“Yellow and Red”

More of my catch up on some of the recent weird fiction discussed over at LibraryThing.

Review: “Yellow and Red”, Tanith Lee, 1998.

While I wouldn’t say this is a great story, it’s an enjoyable one.

This is one of those epistolary stories. Mostly it’s told through the journal entries of Gordon Martyce.

He’s recently come into an inheritance, the country home of his uncle. His girlfriend of five years, Lucy, is excited by this. It’s a chance to do all kinds of decorating.

Gordon’s not so sure. He likes living in his London apartment. Still, he goes to take a look, alone.

When Gordon arrives, he sees a gloomy house; the roof in some disrepair, surrounded by oaks.

The first ominous note is when Gordon can’t quite make out the odd cap on his grandfather’s windvane, “some Oriental animal deity” which he also was never able to see in photographs of the house. 

And it doesn’t take long, less than a single night, for Gordon to decide he’s selling the place. 

The day after arriving, he talks to his uncle’s old housekeeper, Mrs. Gold, who has offered to take care of him during his visit.

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“The Snow Pavilion”

The vagaries of finding the moving box with the right book means a couple of delayed reviews of weird fiction discussed in the recent past over at LibraryThing. This is the first one.

Review: “The Snow Pavilion”, Angela Carter, 1995.

This weird story is one of those long on atmosphere and simple in plot though it has its mysteries as we’ll see.

Our narrator is the “minor poet” possibly named Colin Clout. He’s bad with husbands but good at sleeping with their wives. 

While her husband is out of town, he visits the rich Melissa for a tryst. But her perfect house, her perfume, and especially her doll collection makes him claustrophobic, so he borrows her husband’s Jaguar to drive to the pub though he tells Melissa he’s going to buy a book of “snowy verses.

On the way back, he goes off the road in a snowstorm and seeks aid at a house. 

Right away, that house seems enchanted (it’s like something out of Debussy, we’re told).  Lights blaze in the house; the door is open, but there are no footprints in the snow leading up to it. 

Inside the house – where everything is white and very opulent like a superb English country home, no one answers his queries. Then he sees a flash of a blonde woman and follows glimpses of her, chasing her through the house and into a nursery room full of dolls. There the woman seems asleep, a young woman in a crib. Her skin is so white she seems like a doll herself. 

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The Book of Yig

David Hambling sent me a review copy of this one. It is, incidentally, “respectfully dedicated to Brian Stableford”.

Review: The Book of Yig: Revelations of the Serpent, eds. David Hambling and Peter Rawlik, 2021.

First off, there’s not a bad or even so-so story in this book, and I definitely recommend it.

It follows the successful formula of earlier Cthulhu Mythos releases from Crossroad Press: Tales of Al-Azif and Tales of Yog-Sothoth. They take an element of the Mythos, get stories from a bunch of contributors (often working in their own Mythos series), and present the stories chronologically with thematic, character, and plot links between the stories. Appropriately, some mysteries, but not all, are revealed at the end. (You can also throw in the earlier Crossroad Press release Time Loopers in this category, but I didn’t know that when I read this book. I’ll be reviewing Time Loopers later.)

I suspect there are two reasons this anthology works so well.

First is that it is built around a more obscure element of Lovecraft’s work, “The Curse of Yig”, which he worked on as a ghostwriter with Zealia Bishop. While I’m sure there are others, the only other Yig story I’ve read before the ones in this book was Walter C. DeBill, Jr’s “When Yidhra Walks”. That gives the authors plenty of leeway.

Second, the authors, after taking Bishop’s and Lovecraft’s story as their starting point, combined it with some of the rich symbology around serpents and other elements of Lovecraft to give us a new benchmark in Crossroad Press’ unique approach to Mythos publications.

Bishop gets a mention in David Hambling’s “The Serpent in the Garden” as does Kipling, Poe, and of course, the Bible given the title. We’re introduced to the snake-men Yig, their hidden presence among us, and their mysterious motives and nature.

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Tales of Yog-Sothoth

I’m moving out of reading sequence here because David Hambling was kind enough to send me a copy of this and another book, The Book of Yig, which I’ll be reviewing next post. It promised to be just thing with not only another Harry Stubbs tale from Hambling but a weird western story in the book from David J. West.

Review: Tales of Yog-Sothoth, ed. C. T. Phipps, 2021.

Cover by Steve Smith

As Phipps notes in his “Foreword”, H. P. Lovecraft didn’t call his related set of stories the “Cthulhu Mythos”. He called them “Yog-Sothery”. Phipps likes Yog-Sothoth and regards that god, with his ability to open dimensional doorways and mate with humans, the key entity of the Lovecraft universe which has spawned who knows how many stories since.

The organizing structure is the same as Phipps’ successful anthology Tales of the Al-Azif: a set of stories from diverse authors, often working in their own Lovecraftian series, presented in chronological order with some links between the stories. I suppose, if you’re the sort of person obsessed by continuity and consistency, you may balk at that. I’m not and I don’t. I think of the Mythos as a bit like the Arthurian cycle of stories: a set of characters and their relationships which are reworked and elaborated by a variety of authors for their own ends. [Update: Matthew Davenport co-edited Tales of the Al-Azif.]

Or think of it as a literary equivalent of an AK-47: a bit loose in the way the parts fit together but reliable enough for rapid fire which usually hits the target.

However, I didn’t think this book worked as well that earlier book of Phipps.

It starts out well though.

Phipps’ own “The True Name of God” was excellent. I’ll admit my interest in the Crusades may have played a part in my enthusiasm. Set in Akka (aka Acre) occupied by the Crusaders, it follows Ali ad Fariq, an accomplished member of the Order of Assassins as he takes a strange job for an unexpected client. Rabbi Yosef ben Yosef wants him to hunt down something that’s killing Jewish women in the city. The victims include his own daughter.

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