The Case of the Blue Man

Review: “The Case of the Blue Man” by G. W. Thomas

Another enjoyable installment in Thomas’ Athenodorian series.

The year is 1953.

Baron von Klarnstein visits England and the estate of the late scholar Roland Carruthers. Dead dogs, drained of blood, have shown up after Carruthers’ death. Strange claws have been found. Local tongues say the Blue Man, a local vampire, is back. Carruthers’ great-nephew, inheritor of the estate, is understandably nervous.Case of the Blue Man

The Baron’s powers of deduction are as keen as always. This time he has the help of his granddaughter, Boadicea, every bit as interested in weapons as her mother. (Readers of the earlier The Case of the Phantom Legion will be understandably curious as to how Boadicea came to be.)

Not quite as enjoyable, because of its short length, as the earlier story, this was still an entertaining installment in a series I hope Thomas will continue.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

The Case of the Phantom Legion

In all my recent bout of G. W. Thomas reading — The Book the Black Sun and The Book of the Black Sun II (soon to be reviewed at Innsmouth Free Press) — this short novel was my favorite.

Review: The Case of the Phantom Legion by G. W. Thomas

A malign, invisible, chanting entity attacks a doctor in the woods outside Arkham. He is seeking the help of Baron von Klarnstein. DWAdisplayThe doctor’s home, the logging town of Lone Pine, Michigan, is under assault by a legion of ghosts. The Baron and the centuries old order he heads, the Athenodorians, decide to investigate.

The Baron, his beautiful and chaste warrior daughter Orestia, and other members of the Athenodorians will encounter an old menace from history, one whose past is recorded in the weird fiction Thomas is a student of. The origins of that menace and the tantalizing glimpses of the pasts of various Athenodorians are all quite enjoyable as is Thomas’ take on ghosts.

This is Thomas’ contribution to the occult detective sub-genre. The Baron posseses Holmesian powers of deduction as well as occult knowledge. The human resources of the Athenodorians and those who owe them favors reminded me a bit of Doc Savage’s crime fighting network. I even liked Orestia and found her a winning variation on a character type I’m tired of, the warrior babe.

And I loved the historical origins of the mystery.

There is another Athenodorian story too, “The Case of the Blue Man”, which I will be reviewing shortly. The group also shows up in the “The Apache Gate” of Thomas’ The Book of the Black Sun II: The Book Collector. All three works are self-contained.


More fantastic fiction reviews are indexed by title and author/editor.

Edgar Poe as a Literary Character

I came across, while prowling around on G. W. Thomas’ webpage, a list of fiction featuring Edgar Allan Poe as a character.

There are a whole lot I had not heard much less read.

Oddly enough, he missed two I have read: Charles L. Harness’ Lurid Dreams and the Sam Moskowitz anthology The Man Who Called Himself Poe. The latter has three of the stories Thomas talks about: Manly Wade Wellman’s “When It Was Moonlight”, Robert Bloch’s “The Man Who Collected Poe”, and the Lovecraft-Derleth collaboration of “The Dark Brotherhood”.

The Book of the Black Sun

After reading G. W. Thomas’ The Book of the Black Sun II: The Book Collector for a forthcoming TBOTBS%202nd%20Edition_Ebookdisplayreview at Innsmouth Free Press, I thought I’d better go back and actually read the first Black Sun book. There are some shared references, but no shared plots or characters between the books. I can recommend this one, especially given it’s cheap price in e-book form.

Review: The Book of the Black Sun by G. W. Thomas

This collection is organized a little peculiarly. There are eight sections, each titled with some enigmatic word from the titular volume — which doesn’t show up in all that many stories. Thomas has taken the unusual step of selling each individual section by itself on his webpage. 

Each of the eight sections has four stories with one or two of them being “flash fiction” which seems to be usually what was called “short short stories” years ago. (Frederic Brown was the master of them.) Less complete stories than plants of images in the reader’s mind and prods to get the reader to extrapolate plots, they often work here though leave no long standing residues in the brain.

In fact, that was my reaction to most of the material here. It all mostly worked for me but little was memorable. In short, an enjoyable way to spend the time, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Thomas labels the stuff as being Cthulhu Mythos tales, and that’s technically true. We get references to various Cthulhoid deities of Clark Ashton Smith and Lovecraft. More than one character name echoes authors in the Lovecraft constellation. For instance, there’s a Machen and a Chambers. And, of course, the titular book is Thomas’ addition to the Mythos blasphemous tomes. But there’s a lot of stories that, while enjoyable, don’t gain much from their Mythos’ allusions..

I’m not really going to mention any of the shortest pieces. They aren’t really there to operate as traditional stories, and some are so short that I might ruin the affect Thomas’ is going for by mentioning them.

My two favorites shared one of my favorite devices: horrific revelations through diaries and letters. Both are also historical pieces. “Spitting in Niagra Falls” has a lawyer going through a dead man’s effects and discovering a serial killer operating over decades around the famous wonder. “The Songs of Madness” is recounted through a series of letters from a rebel officer during the American Revolution War. He develops an odd friendship with a freed black man also serving in the army. Continue reading “The Book of the Black Sun”

Demolishing “Show Not Tell” and “What Is Science Fiction For?”

Two worthwhile additions to the Coode Street Podcast recently. They even manage to almost not mention any awards.

Episode 198 features science fiction critic and encyclopedist John Clute.

I could do without him evoking Herbert Marcuse’s notion of “repressive tolerance”. (What a convenient rhetorical device, completely unfalsifiable. You only think you’re free when really, you know, the Man has you all tied up.)

And science fiction itself has the start of an attack on idea of the world’s elite being engaged in a monolithic conspiracy in Michael Flynn’s In the Country of the Blind.

But Clute is interesting on how he thinks science fiction and other fantastic literature of dreams aid us, unlike mimetic literature, as we navigate the bewildering modern world.

I also realized that Clute isn’t being pretentious in the sometimes opaque vocabulary that he uses in reviews. (I confess I find Clute more useful in encyclopedia entries than reviews. They force him to be concise and trim the metaphors.) He really does, off the cuff, speak precisely. Sometimes the terms he coins are clunky. Other times they are useful. In this talk, I like his casual throwaway term “starter dystopia”. (I have no idea if it was unique to him.)

Episode 200 was recorded at the latest World Science Fiction Convention and has guest appearances by Kim Stanley Robinson, Jo Walton, and Robert Silverberg.

It’s always good to hear one of Silverberg’s appearances. I’m an admirer of him and, to a lesser extent, Kim Stanley Robinson despite being, I suspect, in opposition to almost every one of Robinson’s political notions. (And, no, I have not consumed the entire works of either one.)

Walton I’ve never read though I have heard her on the podcast before. She’s an interesting critic and reviewer even if I don’t always agree with her assessments of books I know. And I’m pretty suspicious of her claims that award nominations are a fairly reliable guide to quality and significance. Still, I’d like to see her Tor columns on the subject collected for a book.

Walton does confirm, from her own experience, my own snobbery for science fiction over fantasy. She says that, for her, fantasy is way easier to invent than science fiction set in the future.

Best of all, the three demolish that hoary critical notion, that admonition to writers to “show not tell”.

Finally, I feel ashamed, again, that I haven’t quite read all of Olaf Stapledon’s science fiction. I still have not read Star Maker and Nebula Maker. I do consider him one of the five greatest science fiction writers of all time.

More Second Thoughts on Ligotti

The Reconsidering Thomas Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco post seems to be one of my more viewed ones, no doubt because of the recent linkage between Ligotti and True Detective.

I just discovered, courtesy of Tentaclii, the R’lyeh Tribune blog.

There Sean Eaton takes a look at Ligotti’s My Work Is Not Yet Done which I reviewed here.

The 124 States of America

Since I’m lazy and not writing reviews up of my latest reading and those reviews will be embargoed for a while pending publication anyway, I thought I’d leave you with a map of the 124 United States of America.

The link will take you to an account of what America would look like if all the state partition plans had worked out.

It seemed appropriate given my recent mention of several books that feature secession.

Besides, any map that has Absaroka on it has to be taken seriously.



The Black Hills After Custer

Because it was acknowledged as a source in Dan Simmons’ Black Hills and I had it on the shelf already and because I’d just been to the area, I picked this book up.

Review: The Black Hills After Custer by Bob Lee

Bob Lee is reliable historian of South Dakota history, particularly the Black Hills area. In 1948, he was even dubbed Owa-tonla-wawa (“Writes Straight”) by the Oglala Lakota Tribal Council. for his writing on Indians.

62ec1121f045ce25971337a6a41434d414f4141I suspect this book may have started as a booster project for the area. Norwest Bank seems to have sponsored it. That company gets a whole paragraph in a section on recent business history in the Hills. The final paragraph seems aimed at a non-local audience: “Readers may be surprised to find themselves as captivated by this truly special section of South Dakota as the Black Hillers themselves!”

Nonetheless, it’s a decent introduction to the area, particularly on the years immediately before and after the 1874 expedition of Custer and how the Black Hills went from Indian to white hands. Continue reading “The Black Hills After Custer”

Black Hills

It was time for one of my visits to family in the Black Hills of South Dakota, so I decided to pull Dan Simmons’ Black Hills off the shelf.

I bought it a couple of years in a Hill City gallery. (You may know Hill City as the site of the Black Hills Institute of Geology which was at the center of a custody battle over a T. Rex skeleton.) I’ve been impressed enough by the few Dan Simmons works I’ve read — Song of Kali, Lovedeath, Carrion Comfort, and The Terror — to decide, eventually, to read the rest.

Review: Black Hills by Dan Simmons, 2011.

Like Frederik Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal, this is a thriller whose plot is bounded by the historical record. In the Forsyth novel, we know the Jackal’s plot is not going to succeed. Charles de Gaulle is not going to be assassinated. And here we know that our hero, Paha Sapa (“Black Hills” in Lakota) is not going to destroy Mount Rushmore.

0316006998.01._SX140_SY224_SCLZZZZZZZ_This is not an alternate history. It is not a secret history in the style of Tim Powers with secret groups and motives of historical characters not those on record.

It is the sort of historical novel in which our hero careens through some iconic and important historic events or hears about them secondhand: the Battles of the Little Bighorn and Wounded Knee, the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. Continue reading “Black Hills”