“SF: The Nature of the Medium”

Rather than write a really long review of Brian Stableford’s Opening Minds: Essays on Fantastic Literature, I’m going to do a post on each essay.

The Lovecraft series will continue in the days I don’t have something new to put up.

Review: “SF: The Nature of the Medium“, Brian Stableford, 1974.Opening Minds

Using the media theories of Marshal McLuhan, Stableford argues that science fiction cannot function like mainstream, realistic fiction and shouldn’t try to.

There is a progression of media for human thought: speech, writing, print, literature, science fiction.

Each member of that progression incorporates its successor. However, it does not retain all the advantages of that successor. The tradeoff is each medium adds something.

In the case of literature, patterns and not “unitary blocks” are transmitted. Cultural information is communicated and not mere “simple classification” (presumably by that he means non-fiction work). The increasing specialization of cultural data brought about literary techniques to best convey the desired patterns.

Non-fantastic literature has developed sophisticated means of presenting that information and making it more dense. It can assume a context known by the reader. Continue reading

“The Shadow Out of Time”

The Lovecraft series continues.

Raw Feed (2005, 2013): “The Shadow Out of Time“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1935.Dunwich Horror and Others

This story has an even purer science fiction feeling than Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness“. Indeed, Weird Tales, the place Lovecraft usually sent his fiction, wouldn’t take this story, but it was the cover story for the June 1936 issue of Astounding Stories.

Like “The Thing on the Doorstep” from 1933, this 1934-1935 story features bodyswitching. That bodyswitching is effected by the Great Race which predates man on Earth by a billion years.

Lovecraft not only does his usual connecting his aliens to occult tomes, but he describes the Great Ones in detail — not only their anatomy, but their history and their society and art as well.

The Great Ones have figured out how to transport consciousness through time. They project their consciousness to other eras and other races, switching consciousnesses with other sentient races, including man, while they go about their scholarly duties. Continue reading

“The Thing on the Doorstep”

The Lovecraft series continues. I actually looked at this story already for my World War One in Fantastic Fiction series.

Raw Feed (2005, 2015): “The Thing on the Doorstep“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1933.Dunwich Horror and Others

I had read this 1933 story before but forgot it’s something a bit odd for Lovecraft: almost a direct sequel to his “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” since it involves an unwholesome, pithican native of Innsmouth marrying the hapless Edward Derby.

She undertakes a sorcerous displacement, bodyswitching with her husband (I wonder if Tim Powers, a Lovecraft fan, picked up this characteristic motif of bodyswitching from an earlier exposure to this story.) Bodyswitching also goes on in Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.

Derby can’t resist and knows his ultimate faith is for the switch to be permanent. He also can’t fight it at first. Eventually, though, he finds a way and kills his wife Asenath — who is really possessed by the spirit of her “dead” father who switched bodies with Asenath because women can’t be sorcerers.

Derby’s consciousness survives the death of Asenath’s body, and the disintegrating corpse shows up on the narrator’s doorstep. Continue reading

“The Terrible Old Man”

The Lovecraft series continues.

Raw Feed (2005, 2017): “The Terrible Old Man“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1920.Dunwich Horror and Others

This 1920 story is a further demolition of my theory that between 1923 and 1925 Lovecraft abandoned vaguely European, Gothic settings and started to set stories in New England.

This story is set in Lovecraft’s fictional Massachusetts town of Kingsport.

The story itself is pretty undistinguished.

In a plot told with a cutely sardonic, ironic tone, we get a biter-bitten story about three criminals who find out that the Terrible Old Man is not an easy mark for a home invasion but a sorcerer who wracks terrible vengeance on them.

On re-reading this a few months ago, the thing that struck me time was the Dunsanian pacing with lots of conjunctions as well as the ethnic names of the criminals with the (Czech? Polish?) Czanek being “more than ordinarily tender-hearted” than his Italian cohorts Ricci and Silva. The ethnic tensions of the “new and heterogeneous alien stock” moving into Old New England are highlighted.

The unstated implication is also that the old pirate crew, somehow stored in bottles, is what killed them (the marks of many boot heels).

 

More reviews of Lovecraft are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

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

 

“The Whisperer in Darkness”

The Lovecraft series continues.

Raw Feed (2005, 2013): “The Whisperer in Darkness“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1930.Dunwich Horror and Others

I recall that Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi at one point said this was one of Lovecraft’s greatest stories. Upon the second reading, I’m inclined to agree.

It’s not only a horror story, but it also has the feeling of a creepy sf story.  Lovecraft’s Cthulhu stories frequently boosted their verisimilitude with bits of science and history and literature, but Lovecraft is particularly skilled at that here.

He gives us the Outer Ones, an alien race conducting secret mining operations in the Vermont hills (sort of a predecessor to John Keel’s Mothman), and he describes their biology as well as motives. They could conquor the Earth if they wanted but aren’t about to bother unless we give them trouble. (Narrator Wilmarth and Akeley echo what must have been Lovecraft’s disdain for real estate developers when they talk about how the rural hills of Vermont must not be inhabited.) A particularly brilliant move is equating the Outer Ones’ home of Yuggoth (a favorite piece of fabulous geography in Lovecraft’s oeuvre) with Pluto which was discovered in 1930, the very year this story was written.

Lovecraft talks about how Einstein’s contention that faster than light travel is impossible is wrong. Oddly enough, he mentions the Outer Ones as flying through the ether with their wings when, of course, Lovecraft must have been aware that ether was disproved in the famous Michaelson-Morley experiment which laid the groundwork for Einstein’s work. Continue reading

Written in Darkness

Review: Written in Darkness, Mark Samuels, 2017.Written in Darkness

Good weird fiction doesn’t lend itself to long reviews. The powers of the story are weakened when surprises are prematurely revealed. The effects of carefully paced narration are distorted or not conveyed. Latinate words like “alienation”, “identity”, “penance”, and “transformation” are cold and insufficient words of thematic taxonomy.

And Samuels’ collection is good weird fiction of a bleak yet, as Reggie Oliver notes in his introduction, exultant sort. The tone and effect may remind one of Thomas Ligotti, an author Samuels has called the greatest living writer of weird fiction. Yet Samuels rejects that writer’s materialistic nihilism.

So, I’m going to lightly touch on the stories first and then wrap up with some thoughts and analysis laden with spoilers. Continue reading

“Cool Air”

Raw Feed (2005): “Cool Air“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1926.Dunwich Horror and Others

Written in 1926, the same year as his touchstone story “The Call of Cthulhu”, this is Lovecraft in the old vein he seemed to have abandoned after finding his voice in the latter story.

It’s set in a generic, unnamed metropolis, and I get the impression that it’s Lovecraft’s attempt to update Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Case of M. Valdemar”.

Both stories feature doctors trying to defeat death by an act of will.

If I recall correctly, the Poe story had a doctor hypnotizing a man so that his will preserved his consciousness and body after death. Here a doctor preserves himself and his life after death by means of refrigerating his room. Of course, it doesn’t work — indeed, the man is already decaying before the motor of his refrigerator breaks down.

 

More reviews of Lovecraft are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

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

“The Dunwich Horror”

The Lovecraft series continues while I write up some new reviews.

Raw Feed (2005): “The Dunwich Horror“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1928.Dunwich Horror and Others

This is at least the second time I’ve read this, one of Lovecraft’s more famous stories.  I suspect that’s mostly because a not very good movie was made from it.

For the Lovecraft fan, it does contain mention of Miskatonic University professors, occult books including the Necronomicon, and Arkham, but I don’t think it’s one of Lovecraft’s better efforts.

I think it’s too long, and I think the part that’s too long is the lengthy descriptions of the havoc and evidence left by the invisible Dunwich horror when it finally bursts out of the Whateley house.

As with his “The Colour Out of Space“, written a year earlier in 1927, this is not a tale told in the first person by a highly distraught or doomed narrator. (It does share similar images of blasted heaths in rural New England.)

Lovecraft could get away with minute descriptions of events in the other tales because we are interested in watching intelligent, rationale men try to fit new horrors of the cosmos in their old paradigms. We cry in frustration at their refusal to see obvious — if novel — truths. Continue reading

Stealing Other People’s Homework: “The Godfather of American Liberalism”

H G Wells

That would be H. G. Wells — at one point in his career a lot more than a science fiction writer. He was a man of influence.

I happen to come across this article in City Journal about Wells’ influence on American politics.

Author Fred Siegel does talk about some of the Wells’ works I’ve mentioned in previous posts.

(Yes, there will be many more Lovecraft posts to come.)

“The Call of Cthulhu”

The Lovecraft series continues.

Raw Feed (2005, 2012): “The Call of Cthulhu“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1926.Dunwich Horror and Others 

This is it, perhaps Lovecraft’s keystone story, certainly the one that not only leant its name to the Cthulhu Mythos, but also the first that seemed to have combined his cosmic horror and New England setting.

Reading it again in 2005, for the second time, I was struck how this is Lovecraft’s most frenetic tale in the sense that its plot covers not only a lot of time — not that unusual for Lovecraft who liked to frame historical horrors in a modern narrative — but spatially as well.

The action hops from Boston to New Orleans to the Pacific to England and Norway.

The cosmic horrors are portrayed through three subplots separated in space and (in the case of New Orleans and the rest) time.

The narrator’s grand-uncle investigates the odd dreams of a certain artist in Providence. A police inspector in New Orleans uncovers a sinister cult. And both those stories are linked to the appearance of Cthulhu in the Pacific when R’lyeh rises. Surprisingly, Cthulhu is stoppd by the turning wheel of a steamer, but the cosmic horror of what his presence reveals haunts the narrator. Continue reading