“The Gorgon”

This week’s piece of weird fiction being discussed at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Gorgon”, Tanith Lee, 1982.

The narrator – at least at the beginning of the story – is vacationing and writing on the Greek island of Daphaeu. He becomes intrigued by another, unusually verdant, island just a quarter of a mile offshore. He would like to visit it and learn more about it, but none of the islanders will answer his questions or take him over, not even for a great sum of money. 

Finally, one, miming the mythical face, tells him a gorgon lives on the island. 

The narrator swims over. 

He comes across a European style house, a faun statue (though only from the 1920s), and beautiful carvings in a green marble that shines at dusk. There is also a satyr like figure (actually, just an old man), and a woman. 

The narrator is intrigued by her, her surroundings, her clothes (an inheritance from her mother since she says she has no money), and, of course, the plastic mask she wears. He asks to stay and talk with her. She is blonde, somewhat imperious, and notes his Greek is good, but she knows English and ten other languages. 

He is served a lunch with wine, falls asleep, and then wakes up and dines with the woman.

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Black Wings of Cthulhu 6

Low Res Scan: Black Wings of Cthulhu 6: Twenty-One New Tales of Loveraftian Horror, ed. S. T. Joshi, 2017, 2018

Cover by Gregory Nemec

It was perhaps for the best that this is the last of this series.

My initial negative opinions were mitigated after going back through the stories and making notes. Its weakness isn’t from one thing but a combination of “woke”, predictable, or non-weird stories.

No sorting by theme or literary aesthetic this time. I’m just going to sift the literary wheat from the chaff.

Darrell Schweitzer’s “The Girl in the Attic” was an unexpected disappointment. It’s a sequel to his earlier “The Red Witch of Chorazin” and part of a larger series centering around the very weird town of Chorazin, Pennsylvania. I wasn’t all that enthused by most of the earlier series’ installments. This one seems to involve a time loop involving the Red Witch.

The egregious designation goes to Lynne Jamneck’s “Oude Goden”, It’s a first person tale of a young lesbian in the Washington of the 1920s, and we hit all the expected cliches: violence against homosexuals, references to the Ku Klux Klan, a nonhuman entity being “intersex”, and, worst of all, the ending in which the narrator proclaims she can understand how the homosexuals of the area may have thought the world would be better under the Old Ones.

I know Joshi was very fond of the recently deceased William F. Nolan (whom I met once), but I’ve had mixed experiences to what little of his I’ve read. “Carnivorous” is well done but doesn’t go anywhere you don’t expect. A married couple takes a job tending the plants of an absent woman.  It comes with various bizarre instructions like singing to them on a schedule. There is an admonition to never go into a greenhouse. But the woman doesn’t return, supplies run low, and the husband goes in. I like sinister plant stories, but there’s nothing special here.

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“Children of the Kingdom”

This week’s weird fiction novella being discussed over at LibraryThing.

Review: “Children of the Kingdom”, T. E. D. Klein, 1980.

I suspect this story couldn’t be published as is today.

The word “nigger” is used twice without any coddling elisions or tetragrammatonish substitutions.

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“The Mystery of the Cursed Cottage”

With this, I think I’ve reviewed all of David Hambling’s fiction.

Review: “The Mystery of the Cursed Cottage”, David Hambling, 2017.

Cover by Gregory Nemec

In the introduction to Black Wings of Cthulhu 6, editor S. T. Joshi notes this is a rarity: a locked-room mystery in the Cthulhu Mythos. That’s not quite true, this story draws more from traditional folklore and notions of witchcraft than the Mythos. However, it is part of Hambling’s Norwood Cycle, Mythos stories set in that South London suburb.

Our narrator and protagonist is William Blake, the narrator of other tales in the cycle, “The Dulwich Horror of 1927” and “The Monsters in the Park” and a character in “Shadows Of the Witch House” and mentioned in War of the God Queen

It’s 1928, and, after helping officials with the strange case of the Dulwich Horror, Blake is asked to help the police in another strange case. One Mr. Potter, a real estate developer, has disappeared.

Also dragged along for any contributions is Miss Belhaven of the Norwood Theosophist Circle.

The cottage Potter disappeared from in a wooded Norwood area is old and of wattle-and-daub construction. There’s only one door, locked from the inside when it was opened. There is no sign of forced entry.

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Hearing good things about Tom Holland’s popular histories of Rome, I decided to read one.

Review: Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic, Tom Holland, 2003.

There are certainly other popular histories on the Roman Republic, but the subject isn’t as popular as the Roman Empire, and I get the sense that most of them start with, understandably, the compelling subject of Julius Caesar, founder of the Imperial Julio-Claudian dynasty.

This is an extremely compelling and readable account of the Roman Republic starting with the usual place its decline is marked from, the murder of the reforming Gracchi Brothers in 133 and 123 BC.

Holland doesn’t follow the usual academic structure of following the chronology and political themes of the Republic’s collapse. He’s interested in capturing the personalities and the spirit of the Romans, the people that gave us so many cultural gifts and, up close, are so alien. The narrative flow wanders back in time on occasion, at just the right moment, to give us the context of the developing disaster. A timeline is helpfully provided to anchor the reader as well as maps and extensive notes, usually form ancient sources.

Of those ancient sources, Holland admits we have only a few of the accounts the Romans wrote of those times to build a story from.

Holland has two great themes, two causes for Republican collapse.

The first echoes the moralists of the time. The simple Roman people had become too rich, particularly after 146 BC when the wealth of the East and Carthaginian silver mines flowed to the capital. The territories especially became too great of a source of wealth for the Roman elite not to grasp with rapacious publicani, private tax collectors, provincial governorships, and military commands to win even more honor and conquer more rich lands.

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“With and Without Buttons”

This is week’s subject of weird fiction discussion over at LibraryThing. For those wondering why you don’t get one every week, I’ve already blogged about some of the stories we discussed and others I wasn’t able to get a hold of at an acceptable price.

Review: “With and Without Buttons”, Mary Butts, 1938.

This is one of those English ghost stories you could say is subtle or you could say it’s vague and unsuccessful. I’m afraid I’m more in the latter category though this story was my nomination because I wanted to read something by Butts.

The story has a buildup that makes promises it doesn’t really deliver on.

We start with this from our unnamed narrator:

It is not only true, it is comforting, to say that incredulity is often no more than superstition turned inside out. But there can be a faith of disbelief as inaccurate as its excess, and in some ways more trying, for the right answers to it have not yet been thought up. 

The narrator and her sister inhabit a cottage across the fence from Trenchard, a man of the world who has been to Africa.

Trenchard, it seems, is one of those rather boorish and tedious proselytizing atheists and thoroughgoing materialists:

“He had known and done a great many things, but when he came to give his account of them, all he had to say was a set of pseudo-rationalizations, calling the bluff, in inaccurate language, of God, the arts, the imagination, the emotions. That is not even chic science for laymen today. He might have thought that way as much as he liked, but there was no reason, we said, to try and prove it to us all one hot, sweet, blue-drawn summer, in a Kentish orchard; to sweat for our conversion; to shame us into agreement. Until the evening I told him to stop boring us with his wish-fulfilments, for they weren’t ours, and saw his healthy skin start to sweat and a stare come into his eyes.”

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