“The Pond”

Review: “The Pond”, Nigel Kneale, 1949.Pond

This week’s weird fiction discussed by the Deep Ones over at LibraryThing is a piece by Nigel Kneale.

I was certainly aware of Kneale as a renowned scriptwriter and have seen most of the tv shows and movies made from them. However, I was not aware of his early days of writing fictions for magazines. This story seems to have first appeared in his sole collection of fiction, Tomato Cain and Other Stories.

“The Pond” is a short “biter-bitten” story or, to be exact, a stuffer-stuffed story.

A never named “old man” goes out to a pond at night, makes come hither sounds to the frogs. When they hop up to him, he throws a net over them, kills them with a darning needle through the mouth.

Then he takes them home.

To eat?

No.

He carefully skins them and the boils the carcass until he can get the flesh off their bones.

Then he takes the bones and some wool and handmade clothes and poses them in little dioramas.

Now, that may seem kind of weird (and kind of neat, to me), but people really did this kind of thing.

In fact, while the poses and clothes are different from the ones in the story, here’s a picture of a real one:

Frog diorama

Well, something in the universe seems upset that on the night of the story the old man took the last frog out of the pond.

He hears a racket of frogs croaking at the pond and goes out to investigate.

Reeds lash him and

Then he was in the midst of an immense, pulsating softness that yielded and received and held him. He knew he was shrieking. He knew there was no one to hear him.

The next morning the local constable, seeing the old man’s lights still on and the door open, goes to the pond to investigate and finds the old man, standing motionless. He grabs the old man’s arm, which comes off, to reveal “reeds and green water-plants and slime” tumbling from the broken joint.

A story short enough to not wear out its welcome and worth a mild smile.

It also put me in mind of the following The Far Side cartoon:

Gary Larson

 

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The Cornelius Chronicles, Vol. III

What happened to volume II?

It wasn’t in the stores I looked in, and I didn’t care enough to order it.

So, the Michael Moorcock series continues with this one.

Raw Feed (1999): The Cornelius Chronicles, Vol. III, Michael Moorcock, 1987.Cornelius Chronicles III

The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the Twentieth Century — Published just before the conclusion to Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius books, this narrative is more comprehensible than at least the last three (or, perhaps, I’m used to this series’ idiosyncrasies) books there. We even learn a little bit about the process of going from timestream to timestream and hear about the problems of amnesia (alluded to in the Jerry Cornelius ‘ books but not very clearly) suffered by Jerry and Catherine Cornelius and Una Persson and Major Nye. Like the Jerry Cornelius books, I didn’t mind reading this, especially since it featured Persson, one of my favorite Moorcock characters. It also featured lots of sex scenes (much more explicit than any of the Jerry Cornelius books) with Catherine Cornelius. The book starts out with the lovers Persson and Catherine deciding to take a break from each other and go their separate ways in the timestreams. Burdened by their amnesia, functionally explaining why the short chapters have little obvious plot continuity, they careen about the first 80 or so years of the 20th Century. Persson hops from revolutionary cause to revolutionary cause eventually tiring of the various roles she can assume and going back to the music hall. Catherine careens from lover to lover (of both sexes), getting more into masochism as time goes by. Eventually they reunite and are happier. I’m not sure what the point of all this was other than providing some sex scenes – but writing pornography was never a Moorcock trait even before he championed Andrea Dworkin. If he was trying to make some statement about women struggling for meaningful roles in the modern world, he failed.

The Alchemist’s Question — In some ways, this is the most comprehensible of the Cornelius books. Clearly it’s a satirical work, its targets being Margaret Thatcher and her Britain, pornography, and, surprisingly, Cornelius himself. (Shortly before I read this novel, I came across an interview by Moorcock, from the late 1980s, in which he said he stopped giving people permission to write Jerry Cornelius [several authors did including Norman Spinrad] stories since the character had become a bit on an “egg”, meaning, I suppose, Moorcock grew to dislike him and the values he symbolized.) Una Persson criticizes Cornelius for only valuing his own appetites, says it’s time for him to grow up since he’s past 40 (actually Miss Brunner says this), that he’s only a faux revolutionary and never considers morality. In short, Jerry now seems to be the bad, self-indulgent, spirit of the sixties. Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius are the real heroes here, and there’s a strong feminist streak with talk of women being better fit to rule (that’s real women and not “false” women like Thatcher and her followers – the typical inconsistent, ideological stand of gender feminism), talk of the Goddess, and what seems to be the start of Moorcock’s attack on pornography (he’s a fan of rabid feminist and anti-porn Andrea Dworkin) in the character of Alvarez whose moral decay into a saboteur of the Time Centre and follower of Miss Brunner is mirrored and/or caused by his fondness for bondage magazines. Many of the opening epigrams for the chapters (they seem to be genuine) reference, unflatteringly, the Thatcher administration or develop the theme of 20th century genocide (and, to a lesser extent, colonialism) starting with the Turks killing Armenians. The Thatcher administration is labeled (and is the main target here) as being the worst of both worlds: capitalism and authoritarianism.  The book fails as satire or propaganda since Moorcock simply, most of the time, labels his targets pejoratively without giving enough details to convince us of his point of view; he asserts; he does not convince. We get no specific details why Thatcherism is bad, how pornography corrupts, or why “real” women are so well suited for ruling. As for Jerry, his shortcomings have long been obvious as a hero. Though Frank Cornelius and the vulgar Mrs. Cornelius are dead, the plot is similar to The Final Programme. Miss Brunner and Bishop Beesly are concocting a scheme to start a nuclear war where the unrighteous will be frozen, the virtuous thawed out. The Final Programme‘s first episode in Lapland and its end are alluded to. Here, again, Brunner and Bishop Beesly conspire to bring about an authoritarian regime. Jerry and Catherine are fused into a egg that seems to represent (though it’s unhatched) the cosmic balance central to Moorcock’s stories of the Eternal Champion.

 

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The Cornelius Chronicles

I suppose the time has come in the Michael Moorcock series to look at some of the Jerry Cornelius books.

I didn’t really enjoy these books that much. However, if you realize going into them (and I didn’t), that Moorcock is doing his version of Commedia dell’Arte, they will be a lot more understandable.

However, I really can’t recommend them.

Raw Feed (1999): The Cornelius Chronicles, Michael Moorcock, 1977.Cornelius Chronicles

The Repossession of Jerry Cornelius”, John Clute — While I find Clute’s entries very useful in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (the shorter format curbs his excesses), I find his book reviews less than useful with his self-confessed fondness for obscure words and extended metaphors. I don’t know if Moorcock commissioned this introduction to the omnibus or if Clute’s opinions on these four novels bear any resemblance to the books. From what I gather, Clute (a resident of London where this piece was written and where Moorcock was born and lived a number of years and has written about) views these novels as a metaphor for city life in London from 1965 to 1977, the span of years in which these novels were written.  (And, to a lesser extent, a comment on the contemporary scene in Europe and worldwide.) I don’t agree with Clute’s sociological observation that life in the city is theatrical and involves putting on personas to perform on the metro stage (at least no more than personas are adapted in any social setting). It also seems that Clute is hinting that The Condition of Muzak, the fourth novel in the series, may imply that the previous three books are the daydreams of loser Jerry Cornelius.

The Final Programme — I enjoyed this novel (and certainly found it more enjoyable than Moorcock’s The Black Corridor and The Distant Suns) but found it oddly structured.  It’s light and airy, the dialogue archly ironic and droll, and easy to read, but I never got the feeling of building up to a climax. In fact, since I had seen a film adaptation of this novel, I expected the final ending of Jerry Cornelius (a sometimes callous and ruthless figure given to incest with his sister and, like Moorcock’s Elric, vampirically feeding off others – albeit with no instrumentality like Stormbringer) and merging with Miss Brunner to become a hermaphrodite. However, despite all the talk of a new world emerging, the cycle of time perhaps being broken, and millions following “Cornelius Brunner” into the sea to their deaths (and plague breaking out all over Europe), I never got the sense of a new order (or, at the very least, a significant new order) emerging.  The idea of a dream being used to create a new social order is something in many of the Eternal Champion stories, but I couldn’t tell if Cornelius was an agent of Law or Chaos, or just the new. I’ve seen it claimed that Cornelius was a proto-cyberpunk hero. I doubt that he had much influence and, if he did, it probably was the importance of contemporary popular culture, an international setting, trade and brand names (Moorcock probably was inspired by Ian Fleming in this since the James Bond series, partially parodied here, was big on brand names), and fashion (meticulously described here). Cornelius probably has his place amongst sf characters (this omnibus if frequently cited in lists of classic sf.) because it so stridently (and was probably the first to do so) tries to capture its time and the portents that seemed to be in the air of the very influential sixties’ London. Continue reading “The Cornelius Chronicles”

The Dancers at the End of Time

The Michael Moorcock series continues.

Raw Feed (1999): The Dancers at the End of Time, Michael Moorcock, 1972, 1998.Dancers at the End of Time 

Introduction” — Moorcock talks about the fin-de-siècle writers that influenced him and how this series is different from others in the Eternal Champion canon. It is a comedy (though Moorcock takes pain to emphasize it is not a satire of the other, tragic and romantic, Eternal Champion stories). The fight here tends to be against Law rather than Chaos, and the plot features Jherek Carnelian who is not in any way, physically, mentally, or emotionally, maimed. He has no grand obsessions. He just wants to be around a woman.

An Alien Heat — I wasn’t looking forward to reading this series, but I was very pleasantly surprised. This, next to the Elric series, is the best Moorcock I’ve read. It was witty and funny and very engrossing. The society at the End of Time is one ruled solely by aesthetics. Conventional morality has appalingly fallen away in a society where the humans have god-like powers of life and resurrection, body sculpting of the most extreme sort, menageries of time travelers (not so much captured as too befuddled to explore this world on their own), casual rearrangement of the sun’s position and the land itself (including producing miniature solar systems just to recreate historical battles in miniature), and casual and sometimes bizarre sexual unions in various permutations. Fashion and politeness are the guiding mores as befits a series influenced by fiń-dé-siecle 19th century novels. Emotions are comically affected — all emotions, even the ones we consider undesirable, and some people have dourness and grimness and despair as their emotional trademark. It’s a decadent world, and time traveler Li Pao wastes no opportunity to tell its inhabitants this, but a pleasant one. As the Prologue notes, the world has “rivalry without jealousy, affection without lust, malice without rage, kindness without pity.” The hero, Jerak Carnelian, has, like some of his cohorts, a fascination for historical recreation. His classic misunderstandings of Victorian society provide much of the humor of the book along with his naivete and ingenousness which Amelia Underwood eventually finds charming. This type of humor is the sort usually found in humorous time travel stories, and it is very well done here, and Moorcock proves surprisingly adept at wit and humor. He eventually develops a fascination for Amelia Underwood, an unwitting time traveler of mysterious means of transport. Carnelian eventually becomes fascinated with the Victorian Underwood (the 19th Century fascinates him) and resolves to develop the affection of love. He shocks her in funny ways like his slow realization that she actually requires a bathroom or when he tries to put her at ease by appearing to her in what he thinks are period clothes but really garish drag. After more humor during a trip back to 19th Century England in pursuit of his love, Underwood hints that she has sincerely grown to care for the charmingly sincere and naïve Carnelian just before he’s hung and transported back to his world. Carnelian also has the distinction of being one of only two End of the Worlders naturally conceived.

The Hollow Lands — This novel continues some of the ideas and comical themes of An Alien Heat. Jherek Carnelian is again reunited with Mrs. Underwood (and it is Mrs. Underwood). No matter her attraction to Carnelian, she will not give into it or give Jherek any encouragement despite the fact that Mr. Underwood will have nothing more to do with her after Carnelian shows up at their house. Carnelian, as in the first book, is totally baffled by many of the concepts of Victorian England – for instance the idea of virtues (as the still lecturing Li Pao notes) and self-denial and hopes that Amelia will educate him. There is a great deal of humor involving garbled notions of history as in the first book and a comedy of manners when Carnelian meets the Underwoods and a bit of slapstick when the phlegmatic Inspector Springer, Captain Mubbers, his annoying fellow alien “brigand musicians”, Mrs. Underwood, and Jherek all meet at the Café Royale. Of course, as it is to be expected in a science fiction novel set partly during late Victorian times, H. G. Wells puts in an appearance and is a bit miffed that Carnelian finds the ideas in The Time Machine pretty ordinary. I liked the bit set in the nursery of perennialy arrested children. They live in a time loop maintained by a somewhat senile nanny robot. Here, in one of his splendid snatches of a future history, Moorcock talks about Peking Pa and the age of the Tryant Producers who marshaled entire societies to film their epics. It’s also in this novel we begin to suspect Lord Jagged is more than he seems. There is something very charming about a science fiction novel set in the distant future (and near past and distant past, at novel’s end) where the main plot conflict centers around Carnelian’s desire to marry (though he certainly has a different understanding of the word than does Amelia) and the very old fashioned question as to whether Carnelian and Amelia will kiss. Continue reading “The Dancers at the End of Time”

Kane of Old Mars

The Michael Moorcock series continues.

Raw Feed (1999): Kane of Old Mars, Michael Moorcock, 1965, 1998.Kane of Old Mars 

“Introduction” — Moorcock reveals more of his prodigious talent and history. He learned to read at age three and was a professional writer at age 15. The three novels of this volume were written in “just over a week”. [And, 19 years later, do I remember if that’s a week for each or a week for all. And I’m not going to check.] Moorcock mainly talks about his love of Edgar Rice Burroughs and how this series is a John Carter of Mars pastiche written, under a pen name, at the same time he edited the avante garde New Worlds. He cheerfully acknowledges, but does not try to reconcile, the inconsistencies of editing a magazine rebelling and denouncing genre conventions while writing a pastiche of one of the pulpiest (Moorcock loves pulp) series of all times. I found it interesting that Sexton Blake (a detective that shows up in Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse comic and Tales from the Texas Woods) and Zenith (also a character in the Multiverse comic) were not original to Moorcock. Rather the Blake series of novels goes back into the 1800s and has had many manifestations.

City of the Beast — This is a pretty faithful John Carter of Mars imitation. Both heroes are expert swordsmen who spend a lot of time trying to find and rescue scantily clad princesses and, by accident, befriending nonhumans. Moorcock’s plot coincidences are better hidden than Edgar Rice Burroughs but still there. (Michael Kane just happening to live in a town populated by an ex-fencing instructor of the Romanovs and just happening to meet Shizala, his beloved princess, first thing of Mars and just happening to be rescued by a Argzoon he showed mercy to.) I didn’t find this story very interesting, but then I’m not a fan of its model. I found the most interesting aspect was learning the Martians of millions of years in the past will eventually emmigrate to Earth and give rise to Hindu mythology. Moorcock used the same idea, the reality behind Hindu mythology, in his “Flux”, the installment before this in his Eternal Champion saga as published by White Wolf. This novel has very little seeming relevance to the notion of the Eternal Champion and adds nothing to the notion. Continue reading “Kane of Old Mars”

Sailing to Utopia

The Michael Moorcock series continues with some more science fiction.

Raw Feed (1999): Sailing to Utopia, Michael Moorcock, 1963, 1997.Sailing to Utopia

Introduction” — Moorcock explains how the novels of this omnibus are collaborations in one way or another. The omnibus is dedicated to Robert Sheckley who, along with Philip K. Dick (I agree with Moorcock that the novels of Dick predict the flavor of our time more than the contemporaneous novels of Robert A. Heinlein) and Alfred Bester. Given Moorcock’s reputation of being an experimental writer in the style of the mainstream and his leadership in the “New Wave” movement of sf via his editorship of New Worlds, I was surprised to hear him chastise the “Angry Young Men” (I’m not sure what writers that refers to) as being concerned with little more than sex and power and corrupting “the tone and aspirations” of the modern novel. It was in Sheckley, Dick, and Bester that Moorock found the “substance” Victorian novels taught him to demand, and their work had more relevance, craft, energy, relevance, and imagination in Moorcock’s mind than many celebrated novelists.

The Ice Schooner — Unlike his fantasies which usually seem to fit clearly in the themes of the Eternal Champion, this early sf novel of Moorcock’s doesn’t seem to be part of the same series. However, in thinking about it, it has some of the same ideas. Arflane, the hero here, worships (as does the epitome of the Eternal Champion, Elric of Melniboné) a form of chaos, specifically the entropy symbolized by the religion of the Ice Mother. Like most Eternal Champions, he is doomed to not have domestic or romantic happiness. At novel’s end, he leaves New York to go north to find evidence of the Ice Mother. However, he leads love Ulrica Ulseen to New York where her suspicions about the fading Ice Age are confirmed. Her trip back to the Eight Cities to get them ready for the changing climate fits in with the notion of the Cosmic Balance constantly shifting due to changing circumstance. The adherants of the Ice Mother, especially the fanatically murderous harpooner Urquart, are devotees of an unchanging descent into entropy, sort of a combination of Law and Chaos in a static culture. Urquart hates what he perceives as decadence in the Eight Cities’ subconscious reaction to a warming climate. Arflare initially shares these feelings. Arflare helps, indirectly, to bring about a new Cosmic Balance. I’m a fan of stories set in polar regions and during Ice Ages, and I liked this baroque tale of iceships though I thought the land whales a bit silly. However, they were rationalized as engineered creatures. I liked the northern polar settlements went underground (or, at least, under ice) and used science to survive. The Antarctic-derived culture chose a more primitive static method. I liked the love affair between Ulrica and Arflare and the guilty conscience and miserableness from its adulterous origins. However, like many fictional romances, its origins seemed implausibly sudden. Continue reading “Sailing to Utopia”

Corum: The Coming of Chaos

The usual story: I’m working on new reviews, so you get old stuff. In this case, that’s more Michael Moorcock.

Raw Feed (1999): Corum: The Coming of Chaos, Michael Moorcock, 1971, 1997.  Corum The Coming of Chaos

Introduction” — Moorock notes this is only fantasy whose language and mythology derives from a specific source, specifically Cornish.

The Knight of the Swords — I liked this fantasy more than I thought I would, especially since I found out it was based on Cornish mythology. I found several things surprising, variations on the other fantasies of the Eternal Champion saga. The book wastes no time giving us Corum as a mournful, melancholy figure. In short order, he finds himself virtually the last Vadagh, a complacent, rational, anti-social race that he finds upon venturing out of his castle, almost dead at the hands of the upstart race of man, here called Mabden. He gets maimed, losing an eye and hand, and then falls in love with a Mabden woman. Unlike Elric, he is a rational, dispassionate sort who dismisses sorcery, in this world practiced by the upstart Mabden. His lover Rhalina is much more learned in sorcery. (The ship of corpses, including that of her husband, is one of the most startling images of the book along with the vast, naked form of Arioch, Lord of Chaos, Knight of Swords — the Sword Rulers are Chaos Lords in this series — with men, lice-like, crawling over his body, feeding on crumbs, sweats, and scabs). Unlike Elric, Corum is never allied with the Chaos Lords. He finds out they want the destruction of all the older races on his plane and want to supplant them with Mabden whom they have been aiding. His quest for vengeance against the Mabden man who killed his family broadens to take on the Chaos Lords. Like Elric, Corum possesses an unreliable, murderous weapon in his prosthetic Hand of Kwill (the only remnant of a dead god). Unlike Stormbringer, the Hand doesn’t feed on souls nor does it seem to kill indiscriminately (it seems to kill those suborned by Arioch), but its sudden, uncontrollable violence against those Corum does not wish to kill distresses him, makes him guilt-ridden like Elric. I liked the character of sorcerer Shool-an-Jyvan who wants to overthrow Arioch. Vain, what he wants, in his own words, is to be the first truly omniscient and omnipotent god, to “make the universe concerned” to “change all the conditions” of the universe. He sends Corum on a quest to recover the hidden heart of Arioch to gain power over the god. He doesn’t realize he’s a pawn of Arioch’s, that Arioch has given him his power, can’t get at his heart and wants it taken by Corum so he can roam the Planes at will. Arioch is a Chaos Lord. Chaos leads to injustice, death, but also creation – the older races, under the sway of the Lords of Law were degenerating into stagnation. Chaos is the enemy of truth, and Arioch says that mortals never accept the natural state of the universe is anarchy. At novel’s end, Corum meets Lord Arkyn (who he unknowingly met earlier as the Giant of Laahr), a Lord of Law weakening on the mortal plane, a lover of the dead Vadhagh. At novel’s end, after the death of Shoal, he knows, like most Eternal Champions, his happiness must be put aside for the struggle to restore the Cosmic Balance, here tipped too far towards Chaos. (It usually is tipped toward Chaos in the Eternal Champion perhaps because a world overly dominated by Law is less dramatic.)

The Queen of the Swords — I liked this quest story of Corum entering the Chaotic Fire Planes of Xiombarg, the Queen of Swords. The baroque details of the chaotic landscape and degenerate armies of Chaos were quite stunning and inventive. I also liked Jhary-a-Couel, sort of an Eternal Sidekick to Eternal Champions, and his knowledge (with bouts of amnesia and vagueness) of the multiverse and the struggles between Law and Chaos. I also liked his cat. The fact that neither the gods of Law or Chaos can act directly but only through mortal agents is driven home when Law God Arkyn reveals the manipulations he has put Corum through just to destroy Xiombarg (and, almost incidentally, help Corum). Corum notes he could grow to hate the gods to which Arkyn replies he would understand that attitude. Continue reading “Corum: The Coming of Chaos”