“He”

Another look at a story I’ve already covered once, but it was this Deep Ones reading over at LibraryThing, so I thought I’d say a few more things about it and defend Lovecraft on some points.

Review: “He”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1925.Dagon and Other Macabre Tales

I was faint, even fainter than the hateful modernity of that accursed city had made me.

“He” is the second of what I call Lovecraft’s “I hate New York” stories.

It is also, after his “The Silver Key”, written in 1926, the most autobiographical of his stories, a hate letter to New York City and modernity.

The story opens with that cry from the heart of the narrator and continues:

I saw him on a sleepless night when I was walking desperately to save my soul and my vision. My coming to New York had been a mistake; for whereas I had looked for poignant wonder and inspiration in the teeming labyrinths of ancient streets that twist endlessly from forgotten courts and squares and waterfronts to courts and squares and waterfronts equally forgotten, and in the Cyclopean modern towers and pinnacles that rise blackly Babylonian under waning moons, I had found instead only a sense of horror and oppression which threatened to master, paralyse, and annihilate me.

The hero goes on long nocturnal jaunts to find the hidden historical curiosities of Old New York:

tottering Ionic columns and fluted pilasters and urn-headed iron fence-posts and flaring-lintelled windows and decorative fanlights.

Continue reading ““He””

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Master of Chaos

I can’t think of another time I’ve bought a book the very day I knew it was out and read it immediately.

That’s what I did with this one.

Review: Master of Chaos, David Hambling, 2018.Master-of-Chaos-001-low-res

It’s madness, modernism, Egyptian secrets, and racial hygiene in the latest Harry Stubbs adventure.

It’s 1925 and ex-boxer and bill collector Harry Stubbs, our narrator, is now an agent for the sinister Estelle de Vere, “Our Lady of the Holocaust” as another of her coerced agents calls her. Stubbs accepts her service in exchange for her not harming his family. De Vere, as he says, has a quite literal scorched-earth policy when dealing with humans suspected of alien contamination. Her TDS supposedly stands for Theral Development Service, but he thinks it has other names like Tribus Dies Syndicate. Continue reading “Master of Chaos”

“Vastarien”

This week’s Deep Ones reading over at LibraryThing is an early Ligotti work.

Review: “Vastarien”, Thomas Ligotti, 1987.New Lovecraft Circle

Ligotti’s story plays not only with some motifs of H. P. Lovecraft but a particular type of weird or horror tale.

It’s also a play on the bookworm clichés on “every book has an ideal reader”.

And it might be commentary on literary cultists and how some jealously guard their “exclusive” relationships with their literary gods.

The plot is, as you would expect from Ligotti, fairly uncomplicated. Continue reading ““Vastarien””

“The Space-Eaters”

Another recent reading for the Deep Ones discussion group at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Space-Eaters”, Frank Belknap Long, 1927.Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos

In his H. P. Lovecraft: A Life, S. T. Joshi says the following:

This story can be said to have two distinctive qualities. It is the first work to involve Lovecraft as a character … and – although this point is somewhat debatable – it is the first “addition” to Lovecraft’s mythos.

And yet, to be perfectly honest, “The Space-Eaters” is a preposterous and ridiculous story.

Well, I’ve certainly read worse stories in and out of the Mythos. But it’s not a good story, and I’ve briefly talked about it before.

I don’t think it is a Cthulhu Mythos story. It references none of the locations, blasphemous tomes, or “deities” of that vast conception carried on for 90 some years now. The brain-eating menace from space isn’t even given a name.

The story is 32 pages long, and, for most of that, Long fails to create any sense of menace or wonder except for a couple brief scenes.

The story has Howard, a writer, and Frank, his narrator and friend. Yes, that’s Howard as in Howard Phillips Lovecraft and Frank as in Frank Belknap Long.

Lovecraft’s only requirement for his fictional portrayal was that he be shown as “LEAN” since he was a bit pudgy during his recent failed marriage and exile in New York City and had lost the weight.

Writer Howard opens the story complaining of his inability to write a horror that “transcends everything” and then goes on a riff imagining a horror that “could eat their way to us through space!”.

Long seems to be having a bit of fun with his friend Lovecraft and making some sly, personal jokes because the very first page of the story sums up Howard’s opinion, not all that favorable, of many of the authors Lovecraft mentions favorably in his Supernatural Horror in Literature: Bram Stoker, Anne Radcliffe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Algernon Blackwood. Lovecraft’s idol Edgar Allan Poe even gets criticized has having “really accomplished very little with his Lady Ushers, and liquescent Valdemars”.

Howard also trembles and gets angry at several points in the story whereas I think of Lovecraft as probably often stoic or good-humored with only occasional outbursts of exasperation or anger.

Howard also laments that he is not a mathematician and cannot glimpse the “strange curves and angles” of the fourth dimension. This may, as well as bringing to mind Long’s far better tale of menacing geometry, “The Hounds of Tindalos”, may be a reference to Lovecraft’s lack of mathematical aptitude keeping him from his intended career as an astronomer.

Anyway, a local man, Henry Wells shows up Frank’s house, with an odd story and an odd injury.

And here is where Long makes his biggest mistake.

A classical opening gambit for a Mythos story is to make some grand philosophical observation based on the events later in the story. Perhaps the best examples from Lovecraft’s work are the beginning of “The Call of Cthulhu” and “At the Mountains of Madness”.

Long wants us to swallow the coincidence that Howard’s opening speculations are realized in random later events.

Wells has an odd hole in the right side of his. It’s clean and bloodless and may just go into the middle of his brain.

He tells us how he got it. He was driving his horse and cart that foggy night through Mulligan Wood, a rather sinister place whose menacing vegetation may be a reference to Lovecraft’s recently completed “The Colour Out of Space”. He feels something odd drop on his head, something soft and with a jelly-like consistency.

Then he sees what looks like a thin white arm, and just the arm, descend from the tree tops and grope around the ground.

Wells and his horse bolt away, but then he feels a lancing, ice cold pain in his skull, passes out for ten minutes and then goes to Frank’s house.

Howard thinks this is a splendid story, an “accidental tour de force”, and that Wells’ wound is self-inflicted, that Wells is crazy.

Wells is not happy to be thought a liar and is overcome with pain again and runs into the night.

Frank and Howard decide they really should go find him and get a doctor, so they go into Mulligan Wood. After seeing the shapes of “venomous tongues and leering eyes” in the fog, they find the screaming Wells and take him back to the house, tie him up, and call for Dr. Smith.

Smith doesn’t think Wells is going to last long, and one of two effective episodes in the story is his probing of Wells’ head and wound.

Smith is aghast. He believes they are dealing with an alien menace, and Frank’s house is now marked for destruction.

Howard and Frank agree a menace is out in the foggy night and head for Frank’s launch and the sea. Mulligan Wood is alive with ominous dronings and humming.

They make it to the launch and, at sea, they see a “vast, formless shape” above the forest which has, unaccountably, started to burn.

And here Long makes his second mistake. The alien menace is kept at bay with some burning cotton from the boat and the sign of the cross. Banal folk magic defeating cosmic menace is a mistake Lovecraft made in “The Dreams of the Witch House”.

And there concludes the first part of the story.

The second part has Howard trying to turn the whole thing into a story. Frank thinks that’s a blasphemous violation of “the privacies of the mind”, that the story is too convincing, too real. The event should be suppressed. (Which picks up a theme of many of Lovecraft’s stories: the suppression of the truth by individuals and institutions.)

Howard refuses, and, in the concluding third section, Frank gets a strange call from Howard. “They’ve come back! I have become a priest of the Devil.”.

Frank goes to Howard’s house where he sees strange shafts of light penetrating Howard’s head, Howard who is lying on the floor, his hands before his eyes as if blotting out a hellish vision.

And when strange sounds come from Howard’s mouth, Frank makes the sign of the cross, the house starts burning, and Frank leaves his dead friend on the floor.

 

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

And more reviews of fantastic fiction in general are indexed on the title and author/editor pages.

“Seaton’s Aunt”; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Review: “Seaton’s Aunt”, Walter de la Mare, 1922.Seaton's Aunt

This week’s Deep Ones’ story strikes some of the same notes as E. F. Benson’s “The Room in the Tower“: old English school chums reunited in a country home with strange things going on.

That’s where the similarity ends.

There’s been a lot of discussion and diagramming and classifying of weird fiction and its relation to cosmic horror, “regular” horror, the ghost story, and stories of the supernatural.

Whatever taxonomy or diagrammatic schema you use, this story belongs solidly in the category where the weird is not obvious or surrealistic, yet the tone is of menace, the story unsettling and mysterious. Continue reading ““Seaton’s Aunt”; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax”

“The Lurking Fear”

Review: “The Lurking Fear”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1922.Lurking Fear

Usually, for these posts, I put up the edition’s cover in which I read the work.

Since I’ve already looked at this story, briefly, before, I thought I’d put up the cover under which the world first saw this story.

Home Brew was a humor magazine. Editor George Julian Houtain, for some reason, wanted horror pieces for it, and commissioned Lovecraft to write some.

You could argue that Lovecraft’s earlier work for the magazine, “Herbert West – Reanimator” is sort of humorous in its over the top narration.

Like that story, “The Lurking Fear” was a serial piece which explains it’s four parts.

Like many Lovecraft stories, it’s narrated in the first person and opens with its hero going to the environs around Tempest Mountains in rural New York. In that area, surrounded by

“poor mongrels who sometimes leave their valleys to trade hand-woven baskets for such primitive necessities as they cannot shoot, raise, or make”

several people have died during thunderstorms.

In one incident, 75 of those natives died or disappeared. Continue reading ““The Lurking Fear””

The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Six: Multiples, 1983-87

Low Res Scan: The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Six: Multiples, 1983-87, ed. Robert Silverberg, 2011.41lNIjJewEL

This anthology significantly overlaps with the first and only volume in the aborted The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg from US publisher Bantam Spectra in 1992. All but two of the 14 stories in that earlier book of 24 stories. Silverberg’s introductory notes have slightly been altered in many cases, particularly to note when the story was somehow used for a later, post-1992 novel.

I don’t have a lot to add to what I’ve said earlier about that collection, so I’ll talk mostly about the two new stories.

When Silverberg wrote “Blindsight” in 1985, the news of the infamous Dr. Mengele’s death had just come out. The story also involves a “mad scientist” and illicit human experimentation. There a couple of interesting elements of setting. Silverberg envisioned the breakup of the Soviet Union, and his scientist, Wu Fang-Shui, did his work in Kazakhstan. He also sets the story on a L-5 colony which seems a bit late in science fiction to use such a setting (though William Gibson and John Shirley used it just a couple of years earlier). Silverberg’s L-5 colony has been ruled for 37 years by El Supremo who gets his money by selling protection to criminals fleeing extradition. El Supremo is not keen on his paying clients being found by people looking for them, but that’s exactly what a man called Farkas wants to do. He hires protagonist Juanito, a young fixer, who helps visitors get what they need. Juanito isn’t keen on providing that service. It violates the colony’s one taboo. But Farkas is persistent. He may be missing eyes, but he has “blindsight”, an alternate sense of vision, genetically engineered into him. Silverberg’s plot doesn’t take the obvious turns.

In some sense, Silverberg is a writer of ghost stories. His one great theme is the revival of the dead. You can see it in his many stories of simulacrum of historical personages, time travel, or, as with “Born with the Dead”, the literal resurrection of the dead. Continue reading “The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Six: Multiples, 1983-87”