“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

“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

“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

“The Haunter of the Dark”

Raw Feed (2005, 2012): “The Haunter of the Dark“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1935.Dunwich Horror and Others

This story is dedicated to Robert Bloch, then one of the youngest members of the Lovecraft circle. I don’t know if he had started writing then, but the titles of tales the protagonist-writer Robert Blake has written sound like some Bloch Cthulhu mythos stuff I’ve read. The Cthulhu Mythos was never a planned, internally consistent series, but by this time Lovecraft and others had written enough of the stories that Lovecraft mentions Azathoth, Yuggoth, Khem, and Nyarlathotep and the Necronomicon and several other of the fake books of the Mythos.

On reading the story for the third time in 2012, I noticed this time that this story – perhaps because I knew he was jocularly responding to Robert Bloch’s “The Shambler from the Stars” – is Lovecraft’s most personal in that he goes on and on about the architectural details of the building housing the Church of the Starry Wisdom and Providence in general.

Also, this story has a similarity to “The Music of Erich Zann” in that, with the area around the church and its strange power and seeming portal to other dimensions, is reminiscent of the apartment building that story takes place in.

Also, I forgot the addition to the Mythos’ blasphemous library and scholarly (including a play on the Bloch invented Black Pharaoh) that Robert Blake finds.

 

More reviews of Lovecraft are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

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

“Pickman’s Model”

Raw Feed (2005, 2014): “Pickman’s Model”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1926.Dunwich Horror and Others

This is the second time I’ve read this 1926 story, and I think it’s a good, mid-level Lovecraft effort.

It’s set in New England, Boston to be specific.

What I found most interesting on rereading this story was the narrator and Pickman’s love of the macabre in art which places the very talented Pickman outside the pale as far as the conventional, conservative Boston art community is concerned. One gets the sense that Lovecraft considered the aesthetic of horror seriously, regarded it as a serious and worthy subject of art and disdained the conventional society that probably didn’t agree. (It’s hard to conclusively. Horror in the pulps was probably not too highly regarded because of its context, but I suspect there were well regarded “mainstream” horror events that society creatures and elite taste setters might have approved of). The taste seems to have extended to the visual arts since he mentions some not only Dore but Goya and also Lovecraft’s friend, the visual artist Clark Ashton Smith (who was also a poet and fiction writer).  He also mentions a couple of painters I’ve never heard: Angarola and Sime.  [I’ve since seen some of their work, and Sime illustrated Lord Dunsany, William Hope Hodgson, and Arthur Machen.] 

The narrator of the story, mirroring Lovecraft, remarks on the wonder and terror to be found in ancient places.  Continue reading

Winter Tide; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Having read Emry’s The Litany of Earth, I was curious and trepidatious about reading this one when Amazon Vine offered a review copy.

The trepidation turned out to be justified.

(An alternate perspective, though agreeing on the slow pacing, is at Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, & Creased.)

Review: Winter Tide, Ruthanna Emrys, 2017.Winter Tide

For a book full of talk about blood, this novel is remarkably bloodless.

There’s blood drawn for magic spells. There’s the blood narrator Aphra Marsh sees in the “interior sea” of the bodies of those she communes with her in the Aeonist rites. There’s the blood of wounds.

What there isn’t is the blood of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. This book doesn’t just eviscerate the Mythos. It bleeds out the paranoia and wonder of Lovecraft’s stories to present a tepid story with a checklist of characters unsurprisingly and resolutely, right down to a concluding insinuation of one character’s lesbianism, drawn from Social Justice Casting.

Set a year-and-a-half after the events of Emrys’ The Litany of Earth, Aphra is approached by Spector, an agent of the United States government, concerned that Soviets will gain access to magical secrets. He recruits Aphra to help him stop possible Soviet use of magical techniques in the fraught Cold War year of 1948. Continue reading

The Litany of Earth

Every Wednesday over at LibraryThing, the Deep Ones group discusses a work of weird fiction.

This story was discussed a little over two years ago, and most people liked it better than me.

Normally, I don’t blog about the readings (though I will be doing a future review on an annotated edition of  J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla”), but this novella is available for sale separately.

It’s also relevant to Emrys’ follow up story, Winter Tide, which I’m writing a review of.

It will not be a good review.

Raw Feed (2015): The Litany of Earth, Ruthanna Emrys, 2014.Litany of Earth

An interesting update of the Cthulhu Mythos treating them as a “modern day” (the story is actually set after World War Two) religion, the Aeonist faith.

This story plays off the end of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” with the inhabitants of that town hauled off to concentration camps.

The narrator of this story was taken to such a camp where she met interned Japanese-Americans.

When she gets out, she gets a job at a bookstore. She is approached by a Federal agent who (in a very obvious allegory to those who think that Islam is not bad except in the hands of some extremists) wants her help to infiltrate such dangerous groups of Aeonists.

The narrator has no love of the government. Her mother died, held in the desert away from the nurturing sea, while being experimented on to find the Deep Ones weaknesses. Continue reading

War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches

Another review connected to the recent H. G. Wells series.

Raw Feed (1996): War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, ed. Kevin J. Anderson, 1996.Global Dispatches

“Foreword”, Kevin J. Anderson — An ill-conceived and badly executed conceit for this anthology: that all the stories represent a unified, expanded view of the Martian novel depicted in H. G. Wells War of the Worlds. Anderson would have been better off presenting each story as a particular riff on Wells’ story, not part of a unified suite on Wells’ story.

The Roosevelt Dispatches”, Mike Resnick — Not one of Resnick’s better alternate histories involving Teddy Roosevelt. Essentially, this is about Roosevelt discovering a Martian scout and expressing optimism about the innate American ability to resist Martian invasion.

Canals in the Sand”, Kevin J. Anderson — This story features Percival Lowell (the spiritual godfather, in a sense, of Wells’ Martians and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom) and draws most of its strength by using the historical Lowell – a haughty, Boston Brahmin who spent most of his life as a professional diplomat to Japan and Korea amongst other places – rather than the current conception of him as a crazed astronomer drawing maps of a dying Mars canals. Haughty, rich, strong-willed Lowell spends a fortune constructing an excavation in the Sahara so the (he presumes) peaceable Martians will meet him there thus making him man’s ambassador to them. The Martians do come. Anderson doesn’t explicitly tell us what happens to Lowell when the Martians come, but, having read Wells, we can guess.

Foreign Devils”, Walter Jon Williams — An intriguing, well-done story in which the puppet Emperor (he is under the control of the military faction of “Iron Hats”) and Dowager Empress use the Martian invasion to free themselves from the Iron Hats, the Boxers (the story is set during the Boxer rebellion), and China from foreign influence. The Emperor will use his new power to modernize the hide-bound Chinese state. Continue reading

Dear Sweet Filthy World; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

There are many things I like about Caitlín R. Kiernan’s work ever since encountering it with “From Cabinet 34, Drawer 6” in Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth in 2005.

Her Lovecraft related fiction is always interesting. Her prose, as I said in my review of Threshold, is read-aloud beautiful. As with my Ambrose Bierce and Kathe Koja series, I started to read her novels when she was scheduled to appear at the local Arcana convention. She had to cancel, and I haven’t read a novel of hers since. (Yet another  reading project to return to.)

She likes Charles Fort, naming one of her collections To Charles Fort With Love.

And she is a former paleontologist who drops a lot of references to geology into her fiction.

I’ll come back to geology at the end of the review.

Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, & Creased has a review of the book mentioning specific titles.

Review: Dear Sweet Filthy World, coll. Caitlín R. Kiernan, 2017.Dear Sweet Filthy World

What can I tell you about the Dear Sweet Filthy World I have returned from?

I could tell you it is a land bordered by dangerous women prowling the interstates of America; one has a head stuffed with visions of conflagrations at Dresden and Hiroshima and Peshtigo and Chicago; two are incestuous twins in a roving church of murder and sex, orgasmic rites with knives and pliers.

Should I tell you of the caged woman unsure if she was once a dragon?

Should I tell you of lovers found in the liminal lands between earth and sea, one a demon from the sky and one a creature of the Earth?

Should I tell you of the women who give themselves in orgasmic embrace to giant trilobites and Cthulhoid monsters and giant orchids and dragons, willing lambs to ecstatic slaughter?

Should I tell you that I saw Mr. Lovecraft’s shoggoths and heard howling werewolves? That I saw the savage art of the Black Dahlia murder? Continue reading

Alien Stars

And another book, entirely by accident, touching on the 1920s.

Review: Alien Stars: A Harry Stubbs Adventure, David Hambling, 2017.alien-stars

Another adventure, another new boss for Harry Stubbs, our plain spoken narrator who has a quicker mind and deeper thoughts than he gives himself credit for. No false modesty, though, about his boxing skills.

Stubbs plays “bombardier” to “Sergeant” Skinner, another veteran of the Great War. They perform “curious chores”, some legal, some not, for Randolph Stafford (yes, Hambling has Tuckerized me for this book), a man in the grip of some private obsession.

Sent to toss an apartment, Skinner and Stubbs do find something curious: a carbonized corpse in a suitcase and reference to a “beetle” that Stafford and other parties, violent parties, take an interest in.

And we’re off to another quite satisfying and fresh Hambling take on H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. He doesn’t do Lovecraft pastiches. Using his experience as a popular science journalist, Hambling recasts Lovecraft stories in a modern scientific mode while keeping the 1920s setting. He also throws in some real occult lore, appropriate since he’s a regular columnist for the Fortean Times. There’s also plenty of real-life weirdness to use in the richly detailed London suburb of Norwood where the Stubbs adventures take place.

And, while there are now many Mythos tales cross-pollinated with the private eye genre, Stubbs isn’t exactly a private eye. Nor does Hambling write imitation Raymond Chandler prose (though he has done that elsewhere). Stubbs is a break from both the scholarly gentleman of Lovecraft stories and a mere detective – though Stubbs is taking correspondence courses to become one. Continue reading