“The Last Test”

The Lovecraft series with another one of his heavy, i.e. “primary” revisions.

This one has a tie to another frequent subject of this blog: Ambrose Bierce.  De Castro and Bierce collaborated on one work (which I have not read): “The Monk and the Hangman’s Daughter”.

Raw Feed (2005): “The Last Test”, Adolphe de Castro [and H. P. Lovecraft], 1928.hm

This story has a curious pedigree.

It originally showed up in an 1893 collection of Castro, and then, says S. T. Joshi, Lovecraft rewrote it completely.

The original plot skeleton explains the presence of a woman character and a frustrated romance between the Governor of California and the sister of a mad scientist — both elements very untypical of Lovecraft.

But some of the Cthulhu gods are mentioned, and I suspect the presence of Surama and the Thibetans is a Lovecraft addition.

I liked the idea that the black fever may have extraterresterial orgins.  The vernacular and language of the tale is more mainstream than a lot of Lovecraft.

I’m curious if Lovecraft did his revisions quicker and with less care than stuff appearing under his own name or if he tried to match the style of his client.


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“The Crawling Chaos”

No, I have not given up blogging.

Some new legal obligations will be taking up my time for a while so not a lot of reading much less blogging has been getting done, and both will probably be sparse in the near future.

(And, no, for the curious, it’s not a criminal matter.)

But the Lovecraft series continues with, coincidentally, a very short entry.

This is another of what S. T. Joshi calls Lovecraft’s “primary revisions” meaning he heavily reworked his client’s work.

Raw Feed (2005): “The Crawling Chaos”, Elizabeth Berkley and Lewis Theobald, Jr., 1920 — 1921.hm

This was another collaboration between Winifred Virgina Jackson and H. P. Lovecraft. It’s also not very good though more coherent than “The Green Meadow“. It’s a moody, Dunsanian opium dream by the narrator and really, as a story, doesn’t resolve itself at all.


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“The Green Meadow”

And so we move into the next phase of the Lovecraft series where he lurks inside brackets as a ghostwriter or, like this one, behind pseudonyms.

This is a secondary revision meaning Lovecraft worked over an idea of Winifred Virginia Jackson.

Raw Feed (2005): “The Green Meadow”, Elizabeth Neville Berkeley and Lewis Theobald, Jun., 1918 — 1919.hm

A boring, pointless story about floating towards a mysterious island and the import of the mysterious chanting there — an import the narrator refuses to reveal lest it drive us mad which is a pretty traditional Lovecraft device.

The story does start out promisingly (and foreshadows of Lovecraft’s later “The Colour Out of Space“) with a meteor though this one has a mysterious manuscript inside which relates our tale.

This revision stems from 1918-1919, and I was surprised that Lovecraft was already thought highly enough of to be paid for revision work at that early point in his career. Of course, he would have been 28 or 29, but I don’t really think his fiction (and I have no idea what he non-fiction he was publishing in the amateur press then) took off till 1917 with “The Tomb” and “Dagon“.

The names of the credited authors are pseudonyms for Winifred Virginia Jackson and H. P. Lovecraft.


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Supernatural Horror in Literature

The Lovecraft series continues with a famous critical essay he wrote.

Raw Feed (2005): Supernatural Horror in Literature, H. P. Lovecraft, 1927.Dagon and Other Macabre Tales

I’d heard for decades that this is a classic essay of criticism in the horror field, and I can see why.

Lovecraft cast a far net and in many languages for stories containing an element, a sensation (even if only a passing one in the rationalistic Gothics of Ann Radcliffe), of supernatural horror.

He read a lot of authors like Oliver Wendall Holmes, Henry James, and E. M. Forester not normally associated with the supernatural but who produced a few such works.

Most important, though, is what all this reading reveals about Lovecraft.

I don’t know when he read these various works — the essay’s publication goes back to 1927 — so it’s hard to state what works inspired his works, but a lot of images and motifs from Lovecraft’s work are mentioned, particularly in regards to Gothics: lurkers in the cellar (“The Alchemist“), evil portraits (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward), and family curses. Continue reading “Supernatural Horror in Literature”

“Poetry and the Gods”

The Lovecraft series continues with with a collaboration.

Raw Feed (2005): “Poetry and the Gods”, H. P. Lovecraft and Anna Helen Crofts, 1920.Dagon and Other Macabre Tales

There is very little to recommend this turgid 1920 collaboration which is a celebration of poetry and classicism.

The heroine meets classical gods who sing the praises of various poets and, at story’s end, she is enraptured with the new poet, destined to become immortal, she has fallen in love with. That poet may be visible only to her, that would be the twist the Lovecraft of “Hypnos” would have written, but I think we are to take his existence as literal.

This is the only Lovecraft effort — collaboration or otherwise — that I’ve read with a female protagonist. [There is Asenath Waite of “The Thing on the Doorstep“, but that’s not a clear cut case.] Pretty obviously that’s Crofts’ doing.

The only thing, besides the sex of the protagonist, that stood out for me is the disparagingly accurate description of free verse (of which there is some — probably Crofts since most of Lovecraft’s poetry I’ve read was written to form): ” … that pitiful compromise of the poet who overleaps prose yet falls short of the divine melody of numbers.”


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“The Street”

The Lovecraft series continues.

Raw Feed (2005): “The Street”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1920?Dagon and Other Macabre Tales

In some ways, this is an embarrassingly amateurish story from the 30 year old Lovecraft (though it was published in something called The Wolverine), but it has the same ranting charm that Lovecraft’s New York stories do.

Written around the idea that places do have souls, it tells of the titular Street which finally, after its colonial and immediately post-Revolutionary War glory days, has to put up with nefarious immigrants — especially those “terrorists” who hang out in place’s like Petrovitch’s Bakery, the Rifkin School of Modern Economics, the Circle Social Club, and the Liberty Café.

The Street rises up and destroys those places and those people.  Needless to say, this story is from before Lovecraft became a Franklin Delano Roosevelt fan.


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The City Center

This book came to me on January 27, 2015.

I requested it after hearing the author on The Future and You podcast (now in a hiatus of almost a year since Stephen Euin Cobb has taken up ghostwriting).

Simone Pond was an interesting subject. She spoke of her dissatisfaction about working in advertising and the details of self-publishing. When she said The City Center was partially influenced by Logan’s Run and review copies were available, I asked for one despite its pedigree as a young adult title.

Weirdly enough, Pond seems to have gone on to a successful career in self-publishing despite never before being mentioned in the MarzAat blog and never benefitting from its worldwide reach and millions of eyeballs.

I tackled this one after reading the Logan Trilogy.

Review: The City Center, Simone Pond, 2013.TheCityCenter-cover

Ava has always wanted a simple life. But that’s not the way things work inside the Los Angeles City Center. Not when you’re a top Successor Candidate for Queen. The only way to break free is to leave the city center, but that’s impossible. There’s no foreseeable way out, and it’s far too dangerous on the Outside. Or so they’ve been told by the city’s leader, Chief Morray.

When Ava learns from a rebel named Joseph that everything about her city is a lie, she escapes with him to the Outside. Now she’s on the run in an unknown world with a stranger, while Chief Morray obsessively hunts her down. She discovers an even more gruesome truth about the city center and if she doesn’t return to save her people, she might lose them forever..

This thrilling young adult sci-fi series follows Ava Rhodes as she fights against Chief Morray to save her people from his maniacal new agenda to control all human life.

You can tell this book didn’t rile up a lot of feeling in me one way or another. I stole Pond’s plot blurb instead of writing up even a perfunctory summary of my own.

We’ll get the complaints out of the way first.

Ava Rhodes is the usual pretty, conveniently talented, courageous, and smart heroine. Combat trained, of course.

The rebels are cunning, technologically proficient, and, of course, pass on the Knowledge of How Things Are to Ava.

Young man and young woman predictably bond in romantic pairs.

It’s all formulaic and not a formula I like.

And I don’t generally like stories with teenaged characters.

But Pond does do some interesting stuff around the periphery though probably not enough to lure me to the rest of the series.

The motives of the dystopian order of Los Angeles City Center in the year 2130 are more detailed than I expected, her villains more interesting, and Pond’s political targets not what I expected. Morray’s obsession with Ava is because she doesn’t meet the design specs for his utopia.

If I was going to return to this world, it would probably be for the series prequel, The New Agenda, rather than Ava’s story.

Additional Thoughts with Spoilers

Given her website and the book’s opening epigraphs, including one from Jon Rappoport (presumably this guy), there is an interesting conservative, Christian, and conspiratorial tinge to Pond’s dystopia.

“The New Agenda” motivating Morray and his fellow body-snatching elites evokes the name of United Nations’ Agenda 21, and it’s not much of a stretch, if you’re concerned about that, to think the Davos crowd might want to wipe out 90% of the population.

While personally don’t know any conservatives (whatever that means these days in the context of American politics) who link the alleged evils of genetic engineering of food and people, psychotropic pharmaceuticals, and global banking, the mixture doesn’t surprise me. American conservatives seems to be increasingly skeptical of concentrations of economic power as well as political power. (At least I hope so.) The religiosity of Pond’s rebels also push them more to the conservative side of the spectrum. (Though the idea of a two-dimensional right-left spectrum is pretty simplistic.) However, Pond’s complaints are probably more often thought of as coming from the left.

The details of Pond’s elites and their world further muddy clear classficiation.

During the closing of the book, one of the elites gives an account of all the methods his fellows used to preserve their idea of civilization in the past, the past before the New Agenda: consumerism, “social conditioning and niche marketing”,  “total information awareness and mass-spectrum surveillance, stricter indoctrination through better programming”.

Eventually, it becomes easier just to crash the system with bank failures, cull the morons with diseases, destroy computer servers and libraries, and build a new society from scratch with its human cogs made interchangeable with genetic engineering.

Thus Pond’s work partakes of some leftist criticisms of the modern world as well as conservatives. The internet, for instance, is depicted as a tool for social repression and a danger to the elite.

I like the relative novelty of that perspective as prepared to often more vague satire and jeremiads this sort of story gets saddled with.

However, while I thought Pond’s elite provide more than a pro forma defense and rationale for their actions, they don’t provide much more than that. They are given no rebuttal.

Sometimes elites do know more about running things than their subjects. The problem isn’t the idea of the elite. Every society is going to have them.

The problem is choosing a good elite, one that can do the job, keep itself uncorrupted, and vital.

Pond’s elite’s fail on the latter two counts whatever their early merits or the validity of their observations.

Pond interestingly does not criticize the notion of genetically engineering castes for a clockwork utopia. She shows it doesn’t work in the case of Ava’s unplanned emotionalism. However, in one scene, one of Morray’s minions, captured by rebels, commits suicide rather than reveal information – just as designed.

If a society exists long enough and its ruling elite are allowed to sexually reproduce, the personality and physical traits that society values are going to show up more often. Artificial selection of an unplanned sort takes place since those traits are genetically determined. One does not have to resort to technologically mediated reproduction and gene editing.

As for the implicit argument that we don’t need to worry about overpopulation, check out those projected population growth figures for Africa. Since the locals have opted not to practice “moral restraint”, as Thomas Malthus called it, I guess the answer is going to be disease, famine, and war – in Europe or Africa.

And, yes, there’s is a bit of the films Logan’s Run and The Island in this book.


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“The Transition of Juan Romero”

The Lovecraft series continues with a piece of his juvenalia.

Raw Feed (2005): “The Transition of Juan Romero”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1919.Dagon and Other Macabre Tales

This 1919 story of Lovecraft’s is somewhat atypical in that it’s set in the American West circa 1894.

It involves what seems to be some Aztec gods and/or their followers (things are not very clearly explained) underground.

As in Lovecraft’s later “Under the Pyramids“, there is the idea of somehow, in dreams, accessing true knowledge about what is going on — though here the “dream” events seem to be actual memories of what the narrator saw.


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“The Alchemist”

The Lovecraft series continues with a piece of his juvenalia.

Raw Feed (2005): “The Alchemist”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1908.Dagon and Other Macabre Tales

This 1908 tale of a family curse and the lurker the doomed and cursed narrator finds in the basement of his ancestral castle is not too bad.  Its biggest flaw is that Lovecraft, a writer of 18 here, expects to surprise us with the identity of that lurker when we already guessed it long ago.  He even capitalizes the final sentence.


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Stealing Other People’s Homework: “The Humbug”


October brings Poe to mind with his death on October 7, 1849 and his poem “Ulalume” with its line “It was night in the lonesome October.”

Jill Lepore’s “The Humbug” is, I think, too hard on Poe and glosses over his Army career, but it’s worth reading for placing Poe in the context of his hard-scrabble times.