The Quintessence of August; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Review: The Quintessence of August: A Romance of Possession, Brian Stableford, 2011.

While Stableford’s Auguste Dupin stories are mostly independent of each other, it actually helps to have read the first one, “The Legacy of Erich Zann”, before this one to understand it fully.

Well, maybe not. I’m not sure I understood everything about it after one complete reading and another skimming.

But, then, even our unnamed narrator has to consult his journal from three years earlier to link things.

Unlike a lot of Stableford’s forays into weird fiction (at least the ones I’ve read by this prolific author), there isn’t a purely scientific element here.

The story concerns itself with music and the concept of the egregore.

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News of the Black Feast and Other Random Reviews

Low Res Scan: News of the Black Feast and Other Random Reviews, Brian Stableford, 1992, 2009.

No, I am not going to review a collection of Stableford’s book reviews.

However, I will briefly note a few I found especially interesting.

His introduction notes that book reviews are mostly fillers that few people read. But authors do, and he apologizes for being hurtfully frank in some.

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The Legacy of Erich Zann and Other Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos

Low Res Scan: The Legacy of Erich Zann and Other Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, Brian Stableford, 2010, 2012.

In this “Introduction”, Stableford says a couple of things about his recent burst of writing in the Cthulhu Mythos. “The Legacy of Erich Zann” was written to fill out a collection that had it and Stableford’s short novel The Womb of Time. He liked the result so much he undertook to write a series of stories with Auguste Dupin which include elements of the Cthulhu Mythos and “an even vaster metaphysical system” of which the Mythos is a small part. 

Stableford disputes the idea that the Cthulhu Mythos, in its true philosophical form and with its cosmic horror, has really been popularized. He makes the interesting observation that cosmic horror is defiantly esoteric, that it isn’t as easy to evoke horror in that sort of story unlike one with serial killers or ghosts. Cosmic horror requires more imaginative effort on the part of the reader. It is more abstract. It appreciates the vast space and time surrounding life in the universe.  He says cosmic horror plays,

sometimes delicately and cleverly, but always with a reserve of sheer brutality, with our inability to deal with the fact mentally, and our perverse insistence that, even if it is so, it is irrelevant. 

The strength of the Mythos for a writer of cosmic horror is that it has a ready-made vocabulary of symbols. Like writers of mainstream fiction who don’t have to invent a world for their stories, Lovecraft’s Mythos provides a sort of pre-fab set of places and ideas that can be used and are quickly recognized by readers. It can be more useful for a writer than trying to invent a more elegant mythology from scratch for cosmic horror. Interestingly, he sees Nyarlathotep as the most basic figure in the Mythos which may be why he used him for “The Legacy of Erich Zann”. 

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Cthulhu’s Reign

Retro Review (2012): Cthulhu’s Reign, ed. Darrell Schweitzer, 2010.

This anthology’s theme is grim and simple. As predicted — and prevented in many of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos stories, Cthulhu and the Old Ones once again dominate Earth.

Rape, transformation, and religion are themes that show up in several stories.

On a metaphorical level, a sort of intellectual rape – the forcible introduction of unwelcome, devastating knowledge into the mind – occurs in many a Mythos story. But, in two stories, Cthulhu commits a literal rape. A group of survivors find themselves trapped and experimentally winnowed down in an Italian necropolis after Cthulhu’s return in Ian Watson’s chilling, first person narrated “The Walker in the Cemetery“. In John R. Fultz’s “This Is How the World Ends“, an Iraqi War veteran finds himself holed up in a mine as a horrible transformation is wrecked on the world outside.

Not exactly rape, but a gathering of horrible knowledge anyway, is the theme in Brian Stableford’s “The Holocaust of Ecstasy“. In this story, full of imagery that owes more to Clark Ashton Smith than Lovecraft, a biology professor from Miskatonic University, finds himself reincarnated into an alien ecosystem. Of course, Cthulhu’s return is a time of transformation, and many stories take up that theme. In Jay Lake’s “Such Bright and Risen Madness“, a resistance movement secretly meets on a blighted, chilling Earth to hear of a new weapon which may free them from their masters, the Old Ones. Slowly transforming from “Innsmouth Syndrome”, the narrator feels the almost forgotten stirrings of sexual desire when he meets the plan’s architect. But he also encounters a figure from his past in a brilliant tale of despair and resolve. The hero of Mike Allen’s “Her Acres of Pastoral Playground” inhabits a zone relatively safe from the Cthulhian horrors outside, but cosmic chaos still intrudes in unwelcome changes to his wife’s body.

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“The Button Molder”

This week’s piece of weird fiction being discussed by LibraryThing’s Deep Ones is a return to an old favorite, Fritz Leiber.

Review: “The Button Molder”, Fritz Leiber, 1979.

This is a tale more interesting for its autobiographical elements than any weird element.

Our narrator is an author of fiction living in San Francisco. He has done some non-fiction writing and editing for science magazines and encyclopedias. He is an astronomy buff, and he likes chess. So far, so Leiber.

The story opens with him living in a crappy apartment with riotous and violent neighbors, so he finally overcomes his inertia and moves to a better apartment building in the city.

He spends a lot of time on the building’s rooftop in astronomical pursuits.

He says right at the beginning his odd experience only lasted about 10 seconds. He’s going to tell us about it, but first he needs to set things up.

We get a long and meandering prelude to the climax.

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The Womb of Time

The years 2010 and 2011 were very fruitful for Stableford as far as writing interesting takes on the Cthulhu Mythos. This is another one I read on vacation about six months ago.

Review: The Womb of Time, Brian Stableford, 2011. 

Time and tide wait for no man and that’s true of the historic low tide that comes once every 114 years at Dunwich, England.

A peculiar company of scholars gathers to see it.

There is Halsted, a literature professor from Miskatonic University. Yes, he’s handled the Necronomicon and talked to librarian Henry Armitage about it, but his interest is in Thomas De Quincey, author of the famous Confessions of an Opium Eater.

One is Rylands from Cambridge, another De Quincey scholar.

Another is James Wychelow. Halsted knows his name. He found and had published a letter by his ancestor, Thomas Wychelow. It recounts how he, De Quincey, and the apothecarist and antiquarian Paston walked the exposed beaches of Dunwich in 1821, the time of the last low tide. But Wychelow is more interested in the Holy Grail and a local variant of the Arthurian legend where Mordred and not Arthur is the hero.

And there is another scholar on holiday, Ridpath, a biologist in the civil service who seems to have an interest in the occult too.

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Black Wings of Cthulhu

It’s entirely coincidental that it’s H. P. Lovecraft’s birthday today.

Yes, I know I’m jumping all over in series lately. I was on vacation. That’s when I do my impulsive reading.

Low Res Scan: Black Wings of Cthulhu, ed. S. T. Joshi, 2010, 2012. 

Cover by Jason Van Hollander

The inaugural volume for what would become a six-part series is strong but not flawless.

Have I ever read a Nicholas Royle story I liked? No, and I didn’t much care for his “Rotterdam”, either. He’s obviously paying homage to H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Hound” in plot and story setting, but it’s really just a crime story with the Lovecraft connection being Joe, the screenwriter protagonist, in Amsterdam to scout out locations for a possible adaption of Lovecraft’s story. He’s hoping to ingratiate himself with the producer so his own script will be used on the project. What he really wants to do, though, is to get the job to write the screenplay of his own published crime novel, Amsterdam. The world of film production is interesting as are Joe’s less than successful interactions with its more successful members. We get some echoes between Joe and Lovecraft with Amsterdam being sort of autobiographical in the way Lovecraft’s essays are. And, after a bout of drinking, Joe wakes up to a body in his room. No supernatural horror here.

Nor was I impressed by Michael Cisco’s “Violence, Child of Trust”. There’s no cosmic horror here in a story that has a rural cult that captures and sacrifices (after the occasional rape) women to some god. I will grant the ending did surprise me.

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“The Demoniac Goat”

This week’s bit of weird fiction being discussed over at library thing is from M. P. Dare, a writer I’m so unfamiliar with I didn’t even recognize his name.

Dare wrote one collection of weird fiction: Unholy Relics and Other Uncanny Tales. This story combines his interests and experiences as a journalist, antiquarian, and occultist. It doesn’t make use of his history of stealing books.

Review: “The Demoniac Goat”, M. P. Dare, 1920 1947.

Unholdy Relics and Other Uncanny Tales appears to be the adventures of our narrator and is friend and associate Wayne.

They are scholars and the story opens with them working on a history of the fall of Mercia, a follow up to their successful The Rise and Fall of Wessex. As part of their research, they’ve commissioned a clipping service to provide relevant newspaper stories for them. It actually provides a useful item about a Derbyshire clergyman finding a trove of Saxon coins. (There is some ridiculing of know-nothing journalists). 

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The Mad Trist; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Sally Startup, on her Brian Stableford blog, provides the parallax on this one.

Review: The Mad Trist: A Romance of Bibliomania, Brian Stableford, 2010. 

The third installment in Stableford’s August Dupin series is indeed about bibliomania, the enchantment of print, its ability to put voices in our heads and suggests thing. It’s about a lot of other things too: esoteric and feminist works by Elizabethans and the possible identity of their authors, curses and cursed books, witches, medieval romance, sibling rivalry and sexual awakening, the evolution of literature, and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”.

As Dupin, who doesn’t appear in most of this story, says, “Nothing is ever simple . . . Not, at least, when it is subject to proper rational analysis”.

As with all the installments in this series, Stableford has worked to make each one self-contained. You can start anywhere in it except with the last book. (Yes, I’ve read them all and plan to review all of them.)

Our story opens with our still unnamed narrator off to visit his friend in England, Richard Carstairs.

Before he boards the ferry, Comte St. Germain shows up to give him a book. He wants it given to Dupin when the narrator returns to Paris. It’s a peace offering by St. Germain after the events of the preceding book in the series, Valdemar’s Daughter.

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Valdemar’s Daughter; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

No, I have no clue, six months later, why I started Brian Stableford’s Auguste Dupin series with the second installment.

Review; Valdemar’s Daughter: A Romance of Mesmerism, Brian Stableford, 2010. 

Auguste Dupin, of course, was created by Edgar Allan Poe and used in three stories. And, as you would expect from the title, there is a tie-in to Poe’s “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”.

The conceit of the series, narrated by an American friend of Edgar Allan Poe living in Paris, is that some Poe stories were based on fact but their supernatural aspects added by Poe. Thus, there really was a Valdemar who was hypnotized at the point of death. 

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