The Mind Parasites

The Lovecraft series continues with a novel and more ruminations on Lovecraft. I should add that, while the Amazon link takes you to the edition I read, Wilson scholar Gary Lachman, whose blog you’ll find on the lists of blogs I follow, wrote an introduction to a new edition.

Raw Feed (2005): The Mind Parasite, Colin Wilson, 1967.Mind Parasites

In his preface, Wilson recounts his history with H. P. Lovecraft.

His first encounter was entirely provoked by the similar title of a Lovecraft collection, The Outsider and Others with his own first work, the non-fiction The Outsider. Wilson initially found Lovecraft a sick, pessimistic recluse who weakly turned away from the world he was alienated from, taking vengeance on it in “gloomy fantasy”.

While he doesn’t come right out and say it, this seems to back up S. T. Joshi’s contention that Wilson found Lovecraft a pessimistic (Lovecraft would have said indifferent) materialist to be the polar opposite in temperament to Wilson and reacted accordingly. Wilson proceeded to put forth this view in his The Strength to Dream “in which Lovecraft figures largely.”

Later, Wilson came to see Lovecraft as one of those rare, obsessed outsiders doomed by circumstances of economics, not able to give free reign to his powers unlike more famous outsiders like Shelley, Keats, and Byron. He speculates that a financially independent Lovecraft would have given free rein to his curiosity and produced less horror and more fantasy like “The Shadow Out of Time” or “The Call of Cthulhu”. A richer Lovecraft would have had more time and energy, probably would have produced more fiction, and, if it was well received by those he respected, he would have continued to write it. Continue reading

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Miskatonic University

The Lovecraft series continues with some modern takeoffs on his fiction.

Raw Feed (2005): Miskatonic University, eds. Martin H. Greenberg and Robert Weinberg, 1996.Miskatonic University

A Letter from the President to Incoming Students“, Stefan Dziemianowicz — An attempt, in keeping with the theme of the anthology, to introduce newbies to the Arkham/Miskatonic references in H. P. Lovecraft’s works.

Kali Yuga Comes”, Tina L. Jens — For me, this story was not only marred by the gratuitous swipes at James Watt and the Reagan administration by the narrator but also her usually unfunny wisecracks. The mixing of Kali (complete with rather incongruous interludes of third-person narrative in the Kali-killing sections) with Lovecraft didn’t work very well. The use of conventional mythologies in his work was something Lovecraft usually tried to avoid. It weakened his “The Horror at Red Hook” and only the inclusion of alternate dimensions and higher mathematics caused it to work in his “The Dreams in the Witch-House”).

Teachers”, Mort Castle — This story is not a tribute to Lovecraft but a bittersweet tribute to Castle’s friend, Robert Bloch — not only a one time protégé and correspondent of H. P. Lovecraft’s but a comic writer on occasion. Upon his death, Bloch, here Robert Blake (the name he is known by in Lovecraft’s “The Haunter of the Dark”) has earned immortality and gets to join the faculty, including Edgar Allan Poe and Lovecraft (the other authors I didn’t recognize), in teaching man at Miskatonic University. Oddly, enough this is the second story (out of two) in the anthology which makes a contemporary political reference — here a reference to Bill Clinton lying about sex. Continue reading

The Disciples of Cthulhu

The Lovecraft series and now we’re getting into Lovecraftian authors rather than the Gentleman from Providence.

Raw Feed (2005): The Disciples of Cthulhu, ed. Edward P. Berglund, 1976.Disciples of Cthulhu

“Editor’s Foreword”, Edward P. Berglund — Brief summation of the various waves of H. P. Lovecraft imitators.

“Introduction”, Robert Bloch — Bloch talks about how the reputation of his old mentor, H. P. Lovecraft, has been on the ascendant unlike the celebrated mainstream authors of 1929 the year Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” was actually published. He talks briefly about the religion/cult of Lovecraft of which he is one of the oldest members.

The Fairground Horror”, Brain Lumley — In his biography of Lovecraft, S. T. Joshi singled out Brian Lumley as symbolizing the worst of the Lovecraft imitators. I have a fond spot for Lumley though.  After being introduced by a friend to Lumley’s first two Titus Crow books (the best ones of the series), I read all the Lovecraft fiction I could find thereby filling in the gaps from reading a lot of his short stories earlier but none of Lovecraft’s novels. However, this biter-bitten story simply seemed, with its Cthulhu idol in a carnival funhouse, a takeoff on the Hazel Heald — H. P. Lovecraft story “The Horror in the Museum“. Lumley also seems determined, as Joshi noted, to work in as many references as possible to names in Lovecraft’s work.

The Silence of Erika Zann”, James Wade — Certainly not written in H. P. Lovecraft’s style and not using any elements of the Cthulhu Mythos, this story doesn’t really work. Basically, it’s about the daughter of Erich Zann, as in Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann“, encountering an extra-dimensional entity called to Earth by the strange properties of her psychedelic rock music (the story is set in a psychedelic club in San Francisco). The combination of too-explicit prose with, paradoxically, too vague of an explanation, doesn’t work. Continue reading

Explorers of the Infinite

The Lovecraft series, sort of, with a book I read because it contained some material on Lovecraft.

Raw Feed (2005): Explorers of the Infinite: Shapers of Science Fiction, Sam Moskowitz, 1957, 1963.Explorers of the Infinite

I read this book now for its chapter on H. P. Lovecraft. (I had read the chapter on Edgar Allan Poe years ago as research for an English paper.) There wasn’t a whole lot there that I didn’t know except for the letters from other writers about Lovecraft and the stories of others inspired by Lovecraft.

Moskowitz’s great strength is the uncovering of a lot of obscure stories and others. His particular interest is tracing the treatment of certain technological and scientific ideas which is a valid school of sf criticism though I think it’s a mistake to think, and I don’t think Moskowitz does, to think sf exists to prophesize.

Most of the chapters are titled with the name of a science fiction author and were originally published in sf magazines. However, most chapters end by connecting a particular author — as well as more obscure authors — to the subject of the next chapter.

As with most sf criticsm, it makes me want to read a lot of this stuff.

Moskowitz sums up a lot of work including non-English language stuff. However, describing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as combining the travel tale, utopia, and “science story” makes me wonder about the accurateness of those descriptions. I’ve read Frankenstein twice and recall no element of the utopian in it.

I found the chapters on Hugo Gernsback; M. P. Shiel; Lu Senarens aka Frank Reade, Jr; Edgar Rice Burroughs; Philip Wylie, and Olaf Stapledon of particular interest.

Moskowitz details Gernsback’s importance as an inventor as well as publisher.

M. P. Shiel’s work, especially The Purple Cloud, seems interesting.  The plot descriptions seem to bear out Brian Aldiss’ remark, in his Billion Year Spree, that, “if ever there was a racist, it was M. P. Shiel.” Jewish Moskowitz simply lets Shiel’s work speak for itself in its anti-Semitism.

Frank Reade, Jr had an amazing career in its early start, prolificness, and financial success. Verne was an admirer. I never paid attention to the dates before, but Reade’s adventures started in 1876 with The Steam Man of the Prairies by Edward F. Ellis, a dime novelist (Senarens continued the series to great success); therefore, its steam man and horse (imitated by Jules Verne in his The Steam House, which I have read) is sort of contemporary steampunk.

I was surprised to see how many of Burroughs novels were written to compete with his many imitators in setting and story.

Moskowitz’s covers the popularity of Wylie as both a fiction writer and, in his attack on “Momism”, a social critic.

Olaf Stapledon’s career as fiction writer and philosopher is nicely covered.

 

Reviews of more works touching on Lovecraft and his legacy are on the Lovecraft page.

H. P. Lovecraft: A Life

The Lovecraft series continues with a look at S. T. Joshi’s biography of that writer.

Joshi has expanded this 708 page book into 1,200 pages with the updated edition called I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m going to do my wrists a favor, when I do, and get the kindle edition.

Raw Feed (2005): H. P. Lovecraft: A Life, S. T. Joshi, 1996, 2004.H P Lovecraft A Life

Joshi is such a concise writer that it would do little good to sum up all the points of interest in this book’s 655 pages of text, and some it, expectedly, repeats Joshi’s H. P. Lovecraft and H. P. Lovecraft:  The Decline of the West. Since Joshi sums up all of Lovecraft’s fiction including some of his most important revisions, I think this book comes about as close as you can get to a one volume introduction to Lovecraft without reading his work.

He gives brief summaries of Lovecraft’s most important correspondents and professional contacts, the magazines he published in, and other matters related to Lovecraft’s interests, life, and times.

Granted, some of this gets a bit far afield.

Is it really necessary to give a summary of Antarctic exploration when mentioning Lovecraft’s interest in it even though it is, of course, relevant to his “At the Mountains of Madness“?

Still, I learned a lot about Lovecraft. Continue reading

H. P. Lovecraft

Another day and another day without a new review.

However, I’ll continue the Lovecraft series.

We’re done with Lovecraft’s fiction and moving into books about Lovecraft.

Raw Feed (2005): H. P. Lovecraft, S. T. Joshi, 1982.H P Lovecraft

I paged through this book for 21 years without actually reading it, before this, cover to cover (as well as looking through other Joshi writings on Lovecraft), so there wasn’t a lot here that I found new.

Still, I found some stuff new and interesting.

Concerning particular stories, Joshi makes the intriguing claim that Rome-loving Lovecraft was inspired by Constantine taking the treasures of the Western Empire to Constantinople when he had the Old Ones of “At the Mountains of Madness” stock, in their declining phase, their capital city in the Antarctic with treasures from their other cities. Furthermore, Joshi makes the claim (and I shall have to pay attention next time I read it) that “The Haunter of the Dark” is, like “The Thing on the Doorstep“, a tale of psychic possession. Continue reading

“The Night Ocean”

The portion of the Lovecraft series involving his ghostwriting efforts concludes with another story by R. H. Barlow.

Barlow was about 18 when he wrote this story and would go on to significant things in his short life.

Lovecraft named him his literary executor though August Derleth seized that title.

In 1942, he moved to Mexico where he became a professor at the University of Mexico and did landmark research in the Indian languages of the area.

He died by his own hand in 1951 after an academic scandal threatened his exposure as a homosexual.

If the title “The Night Ocean” sounds familiar, it’s because it’s also the title of Paul La Farge’s 2017 novel which improbably imagines a sexual relationship between Lovecraft and Barlow. (Lovecraft strikes me as being uninterested in sex of any sort.)

Raw Feed (2005): “The Night Ocean”, R. H. Barlow [and H. P. Lovecraft], 1936.hm

This is the last piece of fiction Lovecraft worked on before his death. S. T. Joshi says his hand on the text was light and that seems probable.

Despite the thematic linking of the external landscape and the narrator’s internal emotional landscape being an element in some of Lovecraft’s solo efforts (and, one suspects, influenced by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”), I really only saw a few lines in the last two paragraphs which seemed Lovecraftian.

This is a literary type fantasy, a skillful creation that sustains its tone and atmosphere as the narrator becomes fascinated by the strange moods of the ocean outside of the house he is vacationing in.

He sees something enigmatic come out of the ocean, but it is never explained. The ocean is linked to death of several swimmers, but we see no monsters or aliens.

As story’s end, the night ocean becomes the one constant of the universe, a feature of horrible beauty, a power and beauty and mystery the narrator must “abase myself before”. The ocean is a link to mystery — perhaps extradimensional life (though, again, that is not explicitly said or explained) — and its dismal beauty will outlast life on Earth: “Silent, flabby things will toss and roll along empty shores, their sluggish life extinct.”

That line seems Lovecraftian and reminiscent, as is the Barlow-Lovecraft collaboration of “‘Till A’ the Seas'”, of H. G. Wells.) An exquisite mood story.

Barlow is the only one of Lovecraft’s collaborators whose solo efforts I would be interested in reading.

[Hippocampus Press collected Barlow’s fiction and poetry in Eyes of the God: The Weird Fiction and Poetry of R. H. Barlow.]

 

More reviews of Lovecraft related titles are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

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

“‘Till A’ the Seas'”

The Lovecraft series continues with another one of his secondary revisions.

Raw Feed (2005): “‘Till A’ the Seas'”, R. H. Barlow [and H. P. Lovecraft], 1935.hm

A Wellesian tale in style and plot very unlike Lovecraft. (S. T. Joshi states his revision of the story was very light.)

It is not Wellesian in a time travel sense like Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Out of Time” is, but, rather, like H. G. Wells’ “The Star” a tale of impersonal disaster and the extinguishment of the human race.

The Earth has grown closer to the sun. The increased heat kills whole animal and plant species, deserts spread outward from the equator, the oceans vanish, and man is pushed into the polar regions.

The story begins by introducing us to the last man, Ull, as he stands overlooking a valley looking for a legendary habitation of humanity. But he finds nothing, and suffers the horrifying revelation that he is, in fact, the last man on Earth. Continue reading

“The Disinterment”

The Lovecraft series continues with another one of his secondary revisions. (Yes, I am slowly working on writing up some new material.)

Raw Feed (2005): “The Disinterment”, Duane W. Rimel [and H. P. Lovecraft], 1935.hm

I found this 1935 story interesting because it describes zombification in pharmaceutical terms much like Wade Davis discovered it to be in his The Serpent and the Rainbow.  Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about the fictional uses of zombies to know if this is really innovative. (The Encyclopedia of Fantasy was not a real help.)

The narrator’s surgeon friend was of the same vein as Lovecraft’s Herbert West except he actually does experiment on his friend.

The horrific “revelation” at story’s end — that not only has the narrator’s friend given him a zombie drug and dug him up but also transplanted his head to another body — is hardly a surprise. Still, that’s hardly uncommon for Lovecraft’s solo efforts.  Continue reading

“The Tree on the Hill”

The Lovecraft series continues with another one of his secondary revisions. (Yes, I am slowly working on writing up some new material.)

Raw Feed (2005): “The Tree on the Hill”, Duane W. Rimel [and H. P. Lovecraft], 1934.hm

This is another Lovecraft revision (S. T. Joshi says he probably wrote the second half) that is too vague or inchoate to have much of an effect.

A blasted clearing (rather reminiscent of that in Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space” — though I suspect Rimel contributed that image) and its sole tree and photographs of them are the facilitators of an apocalypse narrowly avoided.  What appears to be a tree with three shadows at story’s end seems to be a hand groping into this world from another dimension.

 

More reviews of Lovecraft related titles are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

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