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

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

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

Pirate Utopia; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Purely by accident, I seem to be caught in the 1920s for the next few reviews.

I’m still working on my review of Brian Stableford’s Scientific Romance (with 1914 being the most recent story in the anthology), but that’s going to take a while to make notes and write up.

By I already know what I’m going to say for some books I’ve finished since then.

So, today, we go to the island of Fiume in 1920 and the short-lived Regency of Carnaro, the so-called Pirate Utopia.

I’d heard of that short-lived “country” before on the Roads to the Great War blog. It was the brainchild of Gabriele D’Annunzio, poet, playwright, fighter pilot, war hero, and inventor, in the Regency, of a lot of the symbols later used by the Italian Fascists.

When I again pick up work on my World War One in Fantastic Fiction series, I’ll look more closely at the novella’s elements related to the war, but most of the story takes place post-war. The Regency of Carnaro is one of those European convulsions in the period between the world wars most Americans, including me, are ignorant of since we tend to think only of the Spanish Civil War in that regard.

I’ll probably also read Michael A. Ledeen’s D’Annunzio: The First Duce to see how closely D’Annunzio’s ideas matched Fascism. My sense is not all that closely apart from the political stagecraft Mussolini picked up from D’Annunzio. D’Annunzio seems, at least in this story, way too obsessed with a vision of a new world to be a true fascist. Paul Gottfried’s Fascism: The Career of a Concept only mentions D’Annunzio once.

Speculiction ways in with a more detailed review.

[Update: Fiume, now called Rijecka, wants to be a country again.]

Review: Pirate Utopia, Bruce Sterling, 2016.pirate-utopia

On September 12, 1919, acclaimed Italian war hero and poet Gabriele D’Annunzio stormed the city of Fiume, in what is now with Croatia, with 2,600 veterans of the Italian Army. He was angry that the Treaty of Versailles did not acknowledge Italian claims to the city. Thus the pirate utopia of scavenging weapons depots, more traditional piracy, extortion, free love, syndicalism, women’s suffrage, and casual drug use was born. To say nothing of the daily poetry readings D’Annunzio gave from a balcony, nightly fireworks, and uniforms that inspired many a European political extremist to come. It was a country where music was declared the fundamental principle of the state.

In our world, the fun ended on December 24, 1920 when the Italian navy bombarded D’Annunzio’s palace and declared the existence of the Republic of Fiume, an event known in fascist circles as the “Christmas of Blood”.

Sterling’s book is an alternate history of a sort and a work of “dieselpunk”. The departure from our timeline is the poisoning of Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference. And, while it doesn’t really play into the onstage drama, Hitler fatally catches a bullet during a “beer-hall brawl”. Continue reading

The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, Volume 5: The Last Hieroglyph

The last of my series on Clark Ashton Smith.

I wrote up a much shorter review, but readers of these CAS postings seem to like the details.

Raw Feed (2010): The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, Volume 5: The Last Hieroglyph, eds. Scott Connor and Ron Hilger, 2010.last-hieroglyph

I heartily endorse this fifth and last volume of the series that collects Smith’s fiction and present it in the order of composition. Fans of Smith and those who have the rest of the series will definitely want it.

Those who are not Smith fans, though, will want to pass this one up. A Rendezvous in Averoigne: The Best Fantastic Tales of Clark Ashton Smith is a better introduction to Smith. This volume covers a much longer period of time than the others in the series. Its first story was finished in May 1933 and its last in July 1961. That period saw some of his best work but also a marked drop in the quantity and quality of his work after February 1935. Perhaps the demands of caring for his aging parents explain this decline or perhaps their death mitigated the need to sell fiction or the escape writing may have offered Smith.

Smith of beautiful, poetic prose is here as are entries in his Hyperborean and Zothique series.

“Introduction”, Richard A. Lupoff — Lupoff notes that the three famous writers associated with Weird Tales – Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith – all led unconventional lives for men of their time. They were all alienated from normal family life and marriage and making a secure living. All turned, out of economic necessity, (I wasn’t aware that Howard was also a poet) to writing for Weird Tales. Lupoff notes that, even for the standards of the time, the magazine paid poorly. For Smith, though, however much he chafed at it, it was the most friendly place for his unique stories. Lupoff argues, quoting a letter from Smith to R. H. Barlow, that Smith may have been the most alienated of all. He said of himself that, unlike Lovecraft, he was alienated not only from his time but his space. (This plays in with a notion of Brian Stableford that Smith’s highest output in terms of quality and quantity came when he may have most urgently felt the need to escape the demands of supporting and caring for his parents.) Lupoff is certainly right in that one does not read Smith quickly or with distraction but slowly and with attention to the language.

The Dark Age” — In the story notes, the editors talk of Smith’s opinion of the story and quote an essay he did to accompany its publication in Thrilling Wonder Stories. Smith didn’t care for it much other than the last paragraph with its swipe at the alleged benefits of science and technology and how man finds happiness without it. In the essay, he talks about how emotion and chance play a large role in history and the difficulty of maintaining science and technology after civilization collapses. The story, which, for Smith, is unusually set in a post-apocalypse setting, violates our expectations. It perhaps would violate fewer expectations at the time of its 1938 publication, but readers have seen many more post-apocalypse stories published since then, and, in its embrace of the notion that a primitive life can be happy and technology is unlikely to be easily restored after civilization’s fall, it foreshadows George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides about ten years later. The super citadel of Custodians set up, before the fall of civilization via war, doesn’t achieve its purpose. Its original eight members can’t keep their numbers up due to inbreeding and consequent sterility and their inability, and, later, unwillingness to have anything to do with the barbarian hordes around them. Atullo, for mysterious reasons leaves the Custodians. (At story’s end, it’s revealed that it was because he had adulterous attentions toward another Custodian’s wife.) But he doesn’t jump start technology again. As Smith points out, he lacks even the basic tools. Indeed, he spends a lot of his time just trying to mine the necessary metals. He dies without passing much on to his four year old son except an interest in his mysterious books and devices. The son, Torquane, doesn’t end up with the young girl Varia after leading his tribe into defending the citadel – its force field no longer maintained because the equipment has finally broken down. Instead, through another case of misunderstanding and prejudice (as Smith has it in his essay), Varia and her father commit suicide when Torquane enters the citadel after defending it with his tribe. Science and technology don’t come back. The dark age continues. Smith doesn’t detail the problems of re-creating technology as much as he think he does (and the gunpowder bomb Torquane uses seems improbably powerful) but the story, despite what Smith said, is satisfying in its general technological, social, and psychological realism and pessimism.

The Death of Malygris” — I liked this story even better the second time around. However, I found the ending with the coral viper familiar more ambiguous this time. Is Malygris final act of magic one last trick he plays or is his familiar the one doing the magic?  I think the former interpretation is the right one. An excellent story.

The Tomb-Spawn” — An effective, stylish Zothique tale about how two brothers fulfill the prophecy about how two brothers revive – and destroy (along with themselves) King Ossaru and demon (actually a being from outer space) Nioth Karghai. The plot was nothing special though the style was good.

The Witchcraft of Ulua” — A story which Smith had some trouble getting placed due to its erotic content. Said content shown in the appendix with the erotic content being a more blatant declaration that Ulua wants to sleep with protagonist Amalzain. Ulua is the daughter of Queen Lunalia and King Famorgh who are also mentioned in another Zothique tale, “The Weaver in the Vaults”.)  It’s amusing and well told, essentially a tale of Amalzain, a youth from the provinces, being warned about the traps of a decadent court.

The Coming of the White Worm” — Nothing much more to say from the first time I read this fine story.

The Seven Geases” — My remarks upon first reading this story still stand and are fairly insightful in linking the theme of cosmic indifference exhibited here to H. P. Lovecraft’s

The Chain of Aforgomon” — Upon reading this story the second time around, I was struck by its poetry in describing the longing of wizard Calaspa aka John Milwarp in our time for his dead love and the idea of a natural order violated by his reliving a lost hour from his past.

The Primal City” — This story – three men tracking clues found in occult texts to a legendary “alien city” built by Earth’s “primal inhabitants” and encountering strange, cloud-like beings who kill all but the narrator – strikes me as one of Smith’s most Lovecraftian stories, and Lovecraft himself admired it. Smith said the story was based on a dream he had when younger. While the setting – a high mountain desert in South America – is completely different from Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness”, it is that Lovecraft story it most reminds me of. However, Lovecraft’s tale is longer and filled with the sort of technological and scientific details that Lovecraft threw in not only, I suspect, for verisimilitude but because science and technologically generally interested him more than Smith. Lovecraft, writing this plot, would not only have described the location and geography of the city but also detailed the alien inhabitants and occult volumes that hint at the city’s existence. Still, I thought this was an effective, atmospheric effort by Smith.

Xeethra” — The editors see an autobiographical element in this story of Xeethra, a shepherd boy who, after entering the underground land of the god Thasaidon, develops the belief that he is actually King Ameros of the far off land Calyz. Specifically, they compare him and his feelings of strange exile to Smith, hailed as a young man as the “Boy Keats of the Sierras” (and when he went to San Francisco was one of the few times in his life he left his home of Auburn, California) with the exiled Ameros. The young man journeys far to arrive at Calyz – which turns out to be a dead kingdom whose former capital city is inhabited by lepers. There he makes another sort of bargain with an emissary of Thasaidon: he will relive all his life as a king. He then, back in time, becomes dissatisfied with his lot as king and wishes to be a shepherd again. Realizing he will be happy nowhere, he consents to permanently enter Thasaidon’s realm. It is true, as the editors note, that there is a Faustian bargain of sorts in the plot, and it is perhaps possessing an autobiographical element of Smith maybe ruing the life he could have had, but there is also an element of the theme found in Smith stories like “A Star-Change”. Here, though, the protagonist is not physically rendered incompatible with his environment, just psychologically and spiritually.

The Last Hieroglyph” — A fine story about not so competent astrologer Nushain who sees, in some of his old books, evidence of his future fate. There is some wonderful imagery (with moving hieroglyphs) as Nushain, his black servant and dog, are guided through the realms of earth, water, and fire before meeting the god Vergama. The life of men, including Nushain, is compared to figures on a page. When the page is turned, their life is over. So Vergama tells them.  The book with the hieroglyphs for the servant, dog, and Nushain is compared to destiny:

 “Vainly do men seek to resist or evade that destiny which turns them to ciphers in the end. In my book, O Nushain, there is room even for a bad astrologer.”

The three shrink out of existence. (The grotesquery of the large – whether always outsized or becoming outsized during the course of the story – is a common Smith theme – especially in his early stories.) At the end of the story, Nushain is just a hieroglyph on the page Vergama turns. A witty ending which, as usual with Smith being witty, is a puncturing of pretension, a mordant observation on life.

Necromancy in Naat” — A masterful story, a Zothique tale, from Smith with a sardonic and beautifully worded ending. Yadar, a nomad prince, goes on a quest to find his true love, Dalili, who has been taken by slavers. Eventually, following her trail, he sails on a ship that follows a current, the Black River, to the Isle of Naat also known as the Isle of the Necromancers. After his ship is wrecked, he is saved in the surf by a beautiful woman who turns out to be Dalili. But she doesn’t recognize him. Like most of the inhabitants of the island, she is a lich, one of the revived dead, revived by the sorcerer Vacharn and his sons Uldalla and Vokal. Every month a particularly worthy individual is sacrificed to a familiar of Vacharn’s after they spend a month in a magically induced state of lassitude. After seeing such a sacrifice, Yadar realizes he’s going to be next month’s victim so, when Uldalla and Vokal ask him to help them murder their father, he is ready to do so. The act goes horribly awry and is told in a horrifying and slightly farcical way. Yadar is cut down immediately by Vacharn and sees the whole murder while dying. There is much description of Vacharn dancing about with blood gushing from his neck, his head still attached to his body by a narrow strip of flesh. He eventually dies, but his familiar kills Vokal. Yadar becomes another of the island’s lichs. Now by himself, Uldalla goes mad and kills himself. After his death, the reanimated dead go about their somnolent return (rather like the lassitude, mechanistic state of Yadar as he waits to be sacrificed. This is another Smith story where the idea, used in his Martian tale “The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis” and other stories where people are under magical compulsion, of mechanistically awaiting your fate is present). Yadar gets a shadow of his desire (evidently, this was not the originally published ending but Smith’s preferred one) as the story ends (in perhaps the best story ending of Smith’s since “The Uncharted Isle”):

The quick despair that had racked him aforetime, and the long torments of desire and separation, were as things faded and forgot; and he shared with Dalili a shadowy love and a dim contentment.

It is a wonderfully worded, sardonic violation of a reader’s hopeful expectations. The editors (with no actual proof for the contention however likely it sounds) suggest the ending is Smith’s wry refutation of the end of Andrew Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress”:  “The grave’s a fine and private place/But none, I think, do there embrace.”

The Treader of the Dust” — A fine, effective story with its main feature, the “god” Quachil Uttaus aka the Treader of the Dust, being particularly inventive since he brings dusty decay with him. It’s the fate of being turned into dust that befalls protagonist John Sebastian after merely reading about Quachil Uttaus in the book of the Necronomicon-type library introduced here: The Testaments of Carnamagos.

The Black Abbott of Puthuum” — Another good Zothique story that reminded me, with its tale of two warriors being sent on mission by their kind (here to pick up a concubine) and an underground secret. Here the original abbot of Puthuum, Uldor, has been rotting to death for almost a 1,000 years under the monastery – a fate decreed for him by Ujuk, the Black Abbott, who is his offspring by way of a succubus. In a story of sexual predation, it was amusing to see the concubine pick her own mate after the soldiers gambled for her.

The Death of Ilalotha” — Smith himself referred to this tale, approvingly, as “poisonous” and, indeed, it is in a literal sense. Queen Xantlicha poisons her lover and may have poisoned Ilalotha, former lover of protagonist Thulos, before he took up, under compulsion given her reputation as a poisoner, with the Queen. It is also erotic at beginning and end with Smith’s poetic language hinting at erotic debaucheries at Ilalotha’s funeral and the ecstasy the dying body of Thulos exhibits when, under magical compulsion, perhaps from kissing the corpse Ilalotha’s lips or some other charm of hers,. (Thulos, ), visits her burial. (At one point, Thulos is said to have no interest in love potions and charms apart from the charms already given women by nature.) Xantlicha, after Thulos misses a midnight appointment with her, discovers a hideous, half-woman, half-demon like creature being caressed by the dying Thulos. The Queen is driven mad. This fine story, in the physical description of the graveyard and its cypress trees, has what I take to be a Southern flavor (though, like Smith, I’ve never visited the Deep South)  The opening epigraph, allegedly from an letter to Thasaidon, makes this a Zothique tale. This story also marks the diminishment of Smith’s writing. Not in its quality, yet, but in his output. Smith finished it in February 1937, two years after he had finished his last story. The editors quote a letter from Smith to Robert Barlow in which Smith remarks on his dying father and his dolorous and terrible circumstances which make writing hard.

Mother of Toads” — An erotic horror story, part of Smith’s Averoigne series. Basically, an apothecary’s apprentice resists the sexual advances of a witch and discovers that she is, as the story indicates, the “mother of toads” with a grotesque conflation of breasts and toad anatomy.

The Garden of Adompha” — This seems, because of the reference to Thasaidon, another Zothique tale. It features several elements of Smith’s best grotesque, decadent tales no matter where they are set: bored King Adompha (rather like the titular sorcerer of his “The Maze of Maal Dweb”) has lovers and courtiers who annoy or bore him furnish some of their body parts, on their murder, to the very-Smith human-plant hybrids that furnish his garden. (Maal Dweb turned people into statues.) Said plants, that feature the breasts and other parts of old lovers, are described in erotic terms. Eventually, the king murders the sorcerer Dwerulas who has been the one to actually create this fantastical garden and the only one to know about it other than the king. Eventually, he wonders into the garden and is attacked by the human-plant hybrids (led by Dwerulas) made from the parts of those determined to have their revenge on the king.

The Great God Awto” — Smith in his satirical mode, specifically against the automobile.  (This story was written in 1937, so it is after the 1928 publication date of David H. Keller’s “The Revolt of the Pedestrians”.) This is one of that sub-genre of stories where future archaeologists completely misunderstand contemporary society. (It’s a sub-genre that, in some ways, goes back to Edgar Poe’s “Mellonta Tauta” though, strictly speaking, that story does not feature archaeologists since the discipline was still in its infancy.) Here a professor of “Hammuriquanean Arechaeology” postulates that we Americans worshiped the great god Awto (“an abstract principle of death and destruction”) as evidenced by temples (“grahages”), priests (“mekniks” – the best bit of the story is the mention made of several mummified remains in “sacerdotal raiment blackened by the sacred oil”, and sacrificial victims (auto accident victims). The story ends on a note of punctured modern smugness when the professor is killed in a “stratosphere ship” accident.

Strange Shadows” — The editors speculate that Smith wrote this story for Unknown magazine. (It was never published in his lifetime.) It concerns a businessman who suddenly gets the ability to see strange shadows cast by people and animals. Those cast by people are often bestial, never complimentary. Those cast by animals are often like people. The shadows (the protagonist’s shadow is rather like a satyr or gargoyle in appearance) reveal true natures, hidden events (the affair the protagonist’s secretary and business partner are conducting with each other), and prophesy hidden events such as the protagonist’s girlfriend cheating on him or the embezzlement of his business partner and secretary. Ironically, at story’s end, the knowledge doesn’t do him a bit of good. In an alternate version published in the appendix, the embezzlement is thwarted by the protagonist’s shadow killing his partner and becoming a “black and bestial doppleganger”.

The Enchantress of Sylaire” — Smith’s last Averoigne tale. In it, Anselme, a man who has lived as a hermit for thirteen months after being snubbed by Dorothée, encounters Séphora, an enchantress of strange realm. However, Anselme is warned that by one of her ex-lovers, now a werewolf, that Séphora’s true form is hideous. He is given a magic mirror to see that true form. While he hands it to Dorothée so she can see some unpleasant truth about herself, he refuses to view Séphora with it, saying “I am content with what my eyes tell me … “. This theme of deception, especially self-deception, as a basis of romantic coupling and staying together is typical of Smith, especially the end of his “The White Sibyl”.

Double Cosmos” — Another one of his not entirely successful sf tales which involves a wonderous drug. Here a man gets involved with his double in a twin dimension. Eventually, he communicates mentally with his double who tells the narrator that his is the superior mind because he inhabits one more dimension. He will commit a series of acts which compel the narrator’s death. However, this other being says that he can go in and out of a vacuum dimension where the laws linking the events in the two beings’ lives are inoperable. One being, in our world, the narrator, will die. The other, now forever free from the twin life which will compel his death, plans on immortality. However, this scheme is in doubt (and the story ends without a resolution – Smith never published it in his lifetime) since this extra power, supposedly derived from existence with a higher dimension than our world, may be leaking into the narrator who might be able to turn the tables.

Nemesis of the Unfinished” — Though it only says it in the editors’ notes, this is the only case of Smith collaborating with someone on a story – his neighbor Don Carter. It seems that the idea and setting for this story – a pulp writer’s cabin filled with unfinished manuscripts – was inspired by Smith’s cabin. Rather like the fairy tale “The Tinker and the Elves”, the pulp writer awakes one night and hears strange voices. The next morning he comes across well written, finished manuscripts. However, the style doesn’t match his and the stories are poetic jewels of triumphant evil. At story’s end, the writer feels strange powers and is attacked by the manuscripts and found dead under them. It was a bit of a jokey story.

The Master of the Crabs” — Zothique story about two competing sorcerers going on a hunt for a pirate’s treasure. The story ends on a grim joke as the crippled sorcerer Sarcand thinks to use his magical mastery of the crabs to survive while his leg mends. They will kill the narrator and his master, another magician. In a straightforward response, he is not defeated by magic but by a well thrown knife. Shorn of his hand and its magical ring, he no longer controls the crabs who kill and eat him. The story ends on a morbid joke when the victorious sorcerer tells his servant to prepare some crabs – but make sure they are fresh from the sea and haven’t fed on his competitor. The editors’ notes remark that this story has the distinction of making a slight contribution to Wiccanism. Its founder, Gerald Gardner, took the name of the sacred daggers in Wiccan ceremonies – athame – from the knives the narrator and his master use – described as arthame (for some reason Gardner dropped the “r”) – in this story.

Morthylla” — Another lamia story from Smith, this time part of the Zothique series. It’s also another repetition of Smith’s theme that “in all love there is more or less deception”. Valzain, a famous poet suffering from ennui from his many debaucheries, is interested in the legend of the lamia Morthylla. He goes to a graveyard she is said to frequent, and he meets Morthylla there. The two rapidly fall in love though their love can not be consummated says the lammia. However, Morthylla turns out to be a woman of many lovers. Another woman, Beldith, seeking solitude from “carnal pleasures” in the cemetery – recognizes the poet and decides to impersonate Morthylla. When Valzain finds out, he is crushed, eventually kills himself, and returns as a spectre (who has forgotten he has died) to the cemetery where he meets the real Morthylla.

Schizoid Creator” — Smith’s satire on Freudianism. A crazy psychoanalyst stumbles on the truth – Satan and God are simply personalities of the same entity.

Monsters in the Night” — Short, about 1,100 words according to the notes, story with a central gimmick what at first seems a werewolf attacking a human turns out to be a futuristic tale of a werewolf attacking a robot. This one does not have Smith’s poetic language. Written for the Anthony Boucher edited Fantasy & Science Fiction, (Boucher was an admirer of Smith’s best, poetic stuff but told him the market had changed and readers no longer liked it), this is evidently one of Smith’s most anthologized stories. It was written in 1953.

Phoenix” — No new reactions upon reading this story the second time.

The Theft of the Thirty-Nine Girdles” — This is Smith’s last Hyperborean story. It features Satampra Zeiros of Smith’s earlier story “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros” – where he loses a hand to the Smithian addition to the Cthulhu Mythos – Tsathoggua. (I didn’t detect any reference to him only being one-handed here, but Smith was never all that concerned with internal chronology – especially in two stories written so far apart. Essentially, this is a slightly humorous heist story where Zeiros is double-crossed by one of his confederates. Because it didn’t have any fantastical elements, it was not published in Smith’s lifetime.

Symposium of the Gorgon” — Anthony Boucher rejected this story for Fantasy & Science Fiction. He considered it too divorced from reality for his readers – evidently they liked their stories to have some tie to their world. It’s sort of a joke story – the narrator is unaccountably transported to a world of Greek mythological figures. He meets Medusa and is transformed partly by her gaze. He then ends up on a modern island of cannibals where, due to the immunity Medusa’s changes have wrought on him, he is a god.

The Dart of Rasasfa” — This is the last story Smith wrote, finished in July 1961. And, as the editors note, it’s not very good though Smith may have conceived it as a satire on a type of story. Essentially, it trivializes the notion of space travel and makes it seem as routine as an auto trip with repairs easily done as well. A couple have a broken down spaceship that forces them on to a planet where they encounter hostile natives who they escape from and continue on their way. It was rejected by an editor on August 15, 1961 – the day after Smith died.

 

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

The Write Off Post

I’ve reached the blogger equivalent of bankruptcy

The blogging obligations have piled up the last five months. As other bloggers have noted, sometimes the books and stories slip out of your mind, and it’s not worth going back to them.

No sunk cost fallacy here.

Not even a real effort to firmly grasp an author’s arms to stop their slide into the pit of obscurity. At best, a half-hearted, weak snatch at their sleeve going by.

Sorry. Some of them deserved better.

This isn’t a rundown of everything I’ve read lately. Some of the books are going to get the usual treatment.

(After reading this whole post, you may think I should have went with a constipation metaphor.)

Low Res Scans: Awaiting Strange Gods: Weird and Lovecraftian Fiction, Darrell Schweitzer, 2015.

I Am Crying All Inside and Other Stories: The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak, Volume One, ed. David W. Wixon, 2015.

Future Crime: An Anthology of the Shape of Crime to Come, eds. Cynthia Mason and Charles Ardai, 1992.

Dinosaur Fantastic, eds. Mike Resnick and Martin H. Greenberg, 1993.

Alternate Warriors, ed. Mike Resnick, 1993.

Alternate Outlaws, Ed. Mike Resnick, 1994.

I never actually intended to do a full review of Darrell Schweitzer’s Awaiting Strange Gods: Weird and Lovecraftian Fiction. A lot of plot synopses would give a bad impression of the varied tones and emotions of Schweitzer’s work.awaiting-strange-gods

As Pete Rawlik noted in his review in issue 329 of the New York Review of Science Fiction “a trope that Schweitzer often repeats, that of an unwilling companion who is constantly drawn back into the company of a more dominant personality whose story must be told.” In the context of a story not included here, “A Servant of Satan”, Schweitzer refers to this as “what I call the Old School Chum story, which I’ve written several times. The narrator tells of some remarkable person he met in his youth, who led him on an improbable, frightening adventure …”. That structure is used in several of the stories.

It should be noted that, unlike many writers, Schweitzer, though he has been writing critical works on Lovecraft since 1976, took up Lovecraftian Mythos tales only recently in his career.

And “Mythos” as in mythology is the appropriate term. Schweitzer uses the pantheon of Lovecraft’s aliens as we use the gods of classical myths – handy symbols, shorthand and fodder for stories that can venture very far in tone and subject from Lovecraft. It reminds me of what I recall Alan Moore saying about using DC Comic characters as ready-made symbols when he took over writing for Swamp Thing. (Though it could have been Neil Gaiman and The Sandman. Do you really think I’m going to take the time to fact check in this posting?)

Schweitzer uses Lovecraft for purposes of horror, but awe and terror are not the only emotions in his stories using the Gentleman from Providence’s fiction.

Thus the teenage lovers of “Innsmouth Idyll” are in a Ray Bradbury-flavored coming of age and mutation story. The adults of “Class Reunion” return to the Orne Academy (as in Simon Orne of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward) in a story that sets off middle-aged regrets about lost opportunities against the secret occult purposes their parents have committed them to.

Original to the anthology is “The Head Shop in Arkham”. Sure things end horribly, but things are amusing on the way with references to Poe and underground comics. Human-like resentment seethes behind the words of the ghoul-narrator in “The Warm”, a parallax on Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model”.

Schweitzer isn’t content to riff on Lovecraft exclusively. He has created his own weird town of Chorazin, Pennsylvania – home to a long lived cult. It shows up in “Why We Do It” and “Hanged Man and Ghost”.

Several stories feature young, threatened protagonists or absent fathers. A young girl can break dimensional barriers with a scream to escape in a story with a horror plot and non-horror joy, “Sometimes You Have to Shout about It”. A young orphan boy is brought to the house of an English relative in “The Runners Beyond the Wall”, another story related to The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. The survivor of an abusive family meets “the stone man” who guides him into alternate dimensions but not away from his despair in “Howling in the Dark”.

Schweitzer shows his historical interest – though, unlike S. T. Joshi’s introduction, I don’t find his historical erudition all that remarkable even for a pre-Internet age – in “On the Eastbound Train”, which fuses elements of Robert W. Chambers The King in Yellow, Lovecraft, and Byzantine history, and “Stragglers from Carrhae” which is narrated by a Roman legionnaire wandering the desert with a fellow survivor of that crushing Roman defeat. Medieval Europe in the era of the Crusades is the setting of “The Eater of Hours” which seems to be part of a series featuring the extraterrestrial Chronophagous.

Schweitzer is a skilled borrower of other authors’ voices and themes. “Ghost Dancing” is a Cthulhu Mythos story run through Donald Westlake.

One of the best stories belongs to no series: “The Corpse Detective”.  A bit of Kafka (the narrator, a private detective, says “the investigation is not going well”) in a story set in the Dark Place, a land of the dead. But the dead are vanishing, becoming undead, and the Minister of Dreams hires the narrator to investigate.  It’s a conservative world of tropism and habit where politeness prohibits mention of the sensual world of the living the inhabitants remember to varying degrees.

Definitely worth a look if you are interested in modern weird fiction.

i-am-crying-all-insideI feel bad about the next short-shrifted author: Clifford D. Simak. Open Road Media has finally released all his short works. (Don’t make the mistake I did and buy a paper copy. I’m not at all sure their multi-volume publication of Simak’s short fiction will get paper editions.)

Chris over at Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, & Creased has been taking a close look at them, and I urge you to check his site out. I really hope someday to thoroughly cover Simak’s work, but it’s not going to be now.

Installment Plan” from 1959 is one of those anthropological stories (why are those aliens acting so weird?) common in 1950s and 1960s science fiction. Simak is best remembered for his dogs-and-robots novel City. This story cuts out the dogs but the human-robot relationship is described in terms of man and dog. A team from Central Trading is sent to a planet to make a trade deal with the local aliens who have a herb, podar, which is the perfect tranquilizer. (Don’t get smug about 1950 Americans and their tranquilizers. We consume a lot more prescription psychotropics today.) An interesting ecological detail is that humans have tried to cultivate the herb, but only some protozoan on the aliens’ planet allows it to grow there. The robots of the story have skill modules they swap out of their bodies according to the task at hand.

But it’s what happens at the end to the story that makes it memorable and another version of Simak’s wariness about capitalism.

I have to admit that the main point of interest for me in Simak’s “I Had No Head and My Eyes Were Floating Way Up in the Air” was finding out what was considered cutting edge, taboo breaking science fiction by Simak when he wrote this for Harlan Ellison’s never published anthology The Last Dangerous Visions. Like Simak’s “Desertion”, it has a man transformed into an alien form. A new body requires new goals, new drives, new urges right? Not to mention new thoughts and emotions. Our hero is very definitely not grateful for his transcendence.

Simak had a fondness for time travel and “Small Deer”, set in a geologically accurate version of Wisconsin’s past, is a fine example. It’s a tale of a mechanical genius and his idiot savant friend building a time machine to watch the dinosaurs.

Simak’s “Gleaners”, from 1960, seems partially an answer to T. L. Sherred’s famous “E for Effort” from 1947. The latter story imagined the documentation of the historical past made possible with time travel causing international chaos when cherished historical myths are overthrown. Spencer, the protagonist of Simak’s story, specifically rejects the notion that his time travel agency, publically chartered Past, Inc, is going to undertake a similar project with religion. What it does do is retrieve lost artifacts and genealogical research for wealthy patrons. But political pressure is starting to be brought to bear to change that policy. There are also nice asides on the psychological toil on Past, Inc’s temporal agents as they spend years in the future, with no ties beyond vacations, to their home time.

Ogre” with its sentient, musical plants, a possible plot to subvert human civilization, and an annoying, rules spouting robot accountant was also a standout story. I’m usually a sucker for “vegetable civilization” stories.

The collection has an example of one of Simak’s western stories too.

Open Road Media is not collecting Simak’s stories in the order they appeared which is probably a good thing.

And next we have three anthologies from the early 1990s. As to why I was reading so many 1990s anthologies now, I will come to in another posting.

Future Crime turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable anthology. Also surprising was that four of the twelve reprints were either from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. That was ok with me. When I was young and wasn’t reading science fiction yet, I used to read Ellery Queen’s regularly.future-crime

Standouts (or, it must be admitted, stand out in my memory after three months) were several.

Isaac Asimov again churned out, with 1976’s “The Tercentenary Incident”, another paean to rule by technological elite. It turns on whether the president of the World Federation is or should be a robot. It all seems even more divorced from political plausibility 40 years later when centralization and elites do not seem to be doing too well in managing the world.

I was an admirer of John Shirley’s cyberpunk work of the 1980s, particularly his A Song Called Youth trilogy, but I had forgotten how good and serious and grounded in plausible tech (as far as contemporary science went) it was. “The Incorporated”’s hero senses part of his memory has been wiped and learns it was because he developed a “Media Alarm System” which detects “special interest distortion” in the news.

Orson Scott Card’s “Dogwalker”, from 1989, was his celebrated foray into cyberpunk. Now it’s suspenseful and gripping enough, but I suspect a lot of its acclaim came from the damaged nature, a perpetually thwarted puberty, of its narrator, the Password Man.

I’ve long heard of Harry Harrison’s “I Always Do What Teddy Says”, and it was enjoyable with its bunch of discontents in a future near-utopia plotting its overthrow via a child’s toy.

As you would expect, a fair number of these stories turn on speculative technologies and the world they created, so it’s not unexpected that, if you’re one of these people who don’t like dated science fiction, you’ll find their worlds, lacking our internet or the mobile devices that became so prevalent, stale after their near quarter century ago appearance.

One story that surprisingly isn’t as dated as you would expect is C. J. Cherryh’s “Mech”, original to the book. Set in a future Dallas, it involves a police call about an assault at an upscale apartment building. If rewritten today, it would involve drones and robots, but here one of the responding officer’s serves as a human sensor platform with his partner combining his feed with other data. The ending surprisingly opens the story into much broader political concerns.

Also original to the collection is George Alec Effinger “The World as We Know It”. It’s part of his Budayeen series with the same narrator as those novels. Do I remember much of its plot? No, but then I don’t remember much of the Budayeen novels’ plots. I just remember liking the world and narrator’s voice. Same here.

Alan Dean Foster is probably one of science fiction’s most enthusiastic world travelers and often giving to setting his stories in parts of Earth that don’t often show up in Anglophone science fiction. “Lay Your Head on My Pilose”, also original to the anthology, isn’t at all fantastic and involves a womanizing con man embarking on a new scheme in South America.

I’ve read a fair number of Mike Resnick’s anthologies. He tends to have a stable of writers he goes to again and again.

dinosaur-fantasticI’m not sure why I bought Dinosaur Fantastic – perhaps some temporary paleontological enthusiasm (I’m more interested in straight geology).

I was expecting, frankly, a lot of time travel stories and dino resurrection stories a la Jurassic Park, and there are certainly stories in that category. But a surprisingly number aren’t either, and that led to a relatively rich theme anthology.

However, if I would have thought about it for a bit, I should have realized how many metaphorical and symbolic uses our culture puts dinosaurs to.

Capitol punishment via mind transference to the Jurassic is the idea behind Robert J. Sawyer’s “Just Like Old Times”.

Time travelers introducing dinosaurs to Ancient Rome is only the beginning of a sort of wacky alternate history in Robert Sheckley’s “Disquisitions on the Dinosaurs”.

Gregory Feeley’s “Ways of Looking at a Dinosaur” surprised me. Normally, I’m not keen on metafiction and Feeley’s piece is that. It combines rumination on the symbolism of dinosaurs while spinning off several mini stories on the theme. However, it was one of my favorite pieces. However, it gets points taken off for the mealy mouth piece of pc rhetoric of “… the nineteenth century discovered that the Earth was hundreds of millions of years old”. No, it wasn’t “the nineteenth century”. It was European scientists.

Sure you know where Frank M. Robinson’s “The Great Dying” is going with its contemporary research into the possibility of a dinosaur plague, but it’s a sure-footed and enjoyable journey.

Bill Fawcett’s “After the Comet” is exactly what you would expect, but I enjoyed it, and it reminded me of the old writer of animal tales, Frank Ernest Thompson Seaton.

The speculation that St. Columba encountered the Loch Ness monster is the idea behind Laura Resnick’s “Curren’s Song”. Another story with particular historical resonance, for a 1993 anthology, is Jack Nimersheim’s “The Pangaean Principle” with is ex-Soviet scientist hero and ruminations on vanished worlds geological and national.

Nicholas A. DiChario’s “Whilst Slept the Sauropod” is a fable like story of an isolated island with its own dinosaur.

David Gerrold’s “Rex” is a nasty combination of domestic troubles and household dinosaurs – miniaturized T-Rexes to be specific.

And anyone with a fondness for conspiracy theories will love Roger MacBride Allen’s “Evolving Conspiracy”. Chock full of conspiracy theories, the one it’s most concerned with is the very grand and very encompassing evolutionist-Communist conspiracy.

As you could probably tell in my reviews of the Mike Resnick edited anthologies Alternate Presidents and Alternate Kennedys, I was frequently annoyed by purported alternate history stories that don’t pick up the heavy speculative burden of what a change in history would mean. Rather they do the far easier moment of change. And that moment of change often isn’t very interesting or plausible. (As part of my generally slipshod approach to this posting, I am not going to critique the finer points of the alternate histories either.)alternate-warriors

However, in reading the introductory notes to one of the stories, I realized that Resnick really never intended for all the stories to be serious alternate histories. These books use historical figures for jokes and odd juxtapositions.

Alternate Warriors is the least interesting of the two. As you might expect, we get a lot of stories that rely on the startle factor of Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Jr, Mother Teresa, Albert Schweitzer, and St. Francis of Assisi as warriors.

Still, there are some high points.

Resnick’s own “Mwalimu in the Squared Circle” centers on a real, if obscure, historical story. General and President-Elect-for-Life Idi Amin Dada of Uganda challenged Julius Nyerere of Tanzania to a boxing match to settle the war between their two countries. The challenge is accepted here.

Yes, Michael P. Kube-McDowell’s “Because Thou Lovest the Burning Ground” is a Ghandi gone bad story – gone Thuggee as it happens, but it’s atmospheric and has details on the Kali worshippers.

Maureen F. McHugh’s “Tut’s Wife” is a serious, moody look at what its heroine must do to preserve the Kingdom of Egypt. Judith Tarr’s “Queen of Asia” is a well-done look at how Persian Queen Sisygambis confronts Alexander the Great. Mercedes Lackey’s “Jihad” is a plausible seeming look at T. E. Lawrence’s conversion to Islam.  However, essentially, these are “how things changed” stories which end with the reader being invited to speculate how history will develop – as if the same questions couldn’t be spurred by regular history books.  Both Tarr’s and McHugh’s stories end with their heroines seeking marriages not seen in our history. Essentially, that’s just stretching out the moment-of-change concept and not a real alternate history

Marilyn Monroe has connections to Castro and Che Guevera in Jack C. Haldeman’s II “The Cold Warrior”. Despite not being much interested in the Kennedys and Marilyn, I liked this depiction of Monroe as spurned Commie agent.

It was Resnick’s introductory notes for Beth Meacham’s “One by One” saying it was “a true alternate history” that tipped me off that these anthologies are, by and large, not real alternate histories.

Meacham’s story is probably the best in the book charting into our time the consequences of a different life for American Indian Tecumseh. It’s tale of irredentism in which the Alliance Warriors Society continues the Two Hundred Year of the Shawnee Alliance with the European invaders. Perhaps inspired by Balkan events at the time of the writing, it still, with its Army Counter Terrorism units operating in several parts of America, seems contemporary and, for me, a fictional (though I doubt Meacham intended this) argument that whites and Indians could never equally and peacefully inhabit North America.

Dishonorable mention for the book goes to David Gerrold’s “The Firebringers”, a cheap, implausible, and bad literary collage depending on odd juxtapositions. We not only get some tired arguments about the immorality of using the A-Bomb and with the following characters:  President Cooper, Bogey the bombardier, General Tracy, Drs. Karloff and Lorre, Colonel Peck and Colonel Regan, and Captain Fonda, etc.

alternate-outlawsAlternate Outlaws is even less a real collection of alternate histories, but it is at least unchained to the cheap ironies and paradoxes of humanitarians and pacifists turned warrior.

Pride of place actually goes to David Gerrold’s “What Goes Around”. Charles Manson’s the subject here, still criminal, but a different sort of criminal. An alternate Harlan Ellison shows up under his pseudonym Cordwainer Bird.

The only real clue to the identity of the heroine of Beth Meacham’s “A Spark in the Darkness” is a back cover blurb about Helen Keller as a safecracker.

Thomas Paine lives a much shorter life, and dies in England, in Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “Common Sense”.

The James Gang goes straight and play a large role in early Hollywood westerns in Allen Steele’s “Riders in the Sky”.

Frank M. Robinson puts his knowledge of pulp and early science fiction history to good use with “One Month in 1907” which features Hugo Gernsback, affectionately known as “Hugo the Rat” by some early pulp writers.

Walter Jon Williams’ plays it straight in “Red Elvis”, the cover story. Nicholas A. DiChario’s “Giving Head” features Sigmund Freud trying to learn what makes the Red Baron so good at what he does.

Most of the rest of the stories are extended jokes, and I gazing at the table of contents again only brings back memories of a few after reading them only a couple of months ago. (And I can’t be bothered to go into the details of others.)

Comrade Bill” from John E. Johnston III is about a certain ex-President. “Good Girl, Bad Dog”, from Martha Soukup, features a certain famous canine gone rogue. As for the rest, well, I remember a lot of jokes but specifics have already faded from my mind in the less than two months since I read the book.

 

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

Shadows Over Innsmouth

One of the many books I’ve read and hope to review shortly is Darrell Schweitzer’s collection Awaiting Strange Gods from Fedogan & Bremer.

I haven’t done any weird fiction postings lately, so I thought I would post what little I have on other books from that publisher.

They’re relatively easy to come by in my part of the world since I have access to two specialty bookstores, Uncle Hugo’s and Dreamhaven Books, and Fedogan & Bremer started out in Minneapolis. These days it’s headquartered in Nampa, Idaho, but one of the shareholders still lives around the Twin Cities and keeps the above stores stocked with them — and genially urges the titles on me when I run into him in those stores.

Raw Feed (2004): Shadows Over Innsmouth, ed. Stephen Jones, 1994.shadows-over-innsmouth 

“Introduction: Spawn of the Deep Ones”, Stephen Jones — Brief history of the story that is at the center of this accretion of tales: H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. I was surprised that, unlike most of Lovecraft’s famous tales, it was not first published in Weird Tales, but in a small (only 150 were ever actually printed though 400 were planned) hardcover published by Lovecraft’s friend Frank Utpatel. It’s now highly collectible. The story did finally show up in Weird Tales but only in the January 1942 issue, some five years after Lovecraft’s death.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth“, H. P. Lovecraft — This is either the second or third time I’ve read this, one of my favorite Lovecraft stories. This time I noticed a couple of new things. First, it is interesting that this story, perhaps even more than Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, is an example of the passive, scholarly hero. There is action here when the narrator flees Innsmouth and when he reveals to the authorities what he has seen, but the main horrors of the town are revealed by others: a railroad agent in Newburyport, a young man from outside of Innsmouth working at a national chain’s grocery story there, and Zadok Allen, a 90 year old man who remembers the beginnings of the horror in Innsmouth. It is their dialogue, rather than any efforts on the part of the narrator — who is, after all, just passing through the town — that reveal details of the horror’s past and present. Rather than histories and diaries like in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, this story’s revelations are through history but oral history. The narrator’s moonlit glimpse of the shambling horrors that threaten man’s existence is just a confirmation of what he’s been told. The second thing I noticed is the details of Lovecraft’s visions. We usually think — because of his characteristic adjectives and habit of having heroes (this story is no exception) faint or go mad at the moment of ultimate revelation — of Lovecraft as a vague writer. Here his descriptions of Innsmouth are rather detailed. After reading Tim Powers say he carefully generated his plots and outlines using techniques developed by Lovecraft, I wonder if he actually drew up a map of Innsmouth. (I didn’t pay close enough attention to know if the narrator’s journey makes sense and is consistent.) I did see remnants of the Old Ones’ magic that Brian Lumley uses in his Cthulhu tales in the magic the Kanakys’ neighbors use. The story, written in 1931, strikes a modern note with its opening talking about massive government raids, and secret internments in “concentration camps” (not yet a consistently pejorative term — for that matter, a magic symbol of the Old Ones is described as resembling a swastika) as well as the “complaints from many liberal organisations” about those internments. In some ways, this is the archetypal Lovecraft tale: an alien race threatening man’s existence, miscegenation, possible madness, and a hero discovering his tainted blood. I thought the moment of supreme horror was Allen saying: “Haow’d ye like to be livin’ in a taown like this, with everything a-rottin’ an’ a-dyin’, an’ boarded-up monsters crawlin’ an’ bleatin’ an’ barkin’ an’ hoppin’ araoun’ black cellars an’ attics every way ye turn? Hey? Haow’d ye like to hear the haowlin’ night arter night from the churches an’ Order o’ Dagon Hall, an’ know what’s doin’ part o’ the haowlin?” Continue reading

The Dulwich Horror & Others

I picked this one up because I liked Hambling’s Harry Stubbs stories, The Elder Ice and Broken Meats.

Review: The Dulwich Horror & Others, David Hambling, 2015.Dulwich Horror

This collection reworks material from H. P. Lovecraft, adds modern science, and eschews the plots and narrators typical of the Gentleman from Providence. The resulting stories have a level of sophistication I have not seen in modern Cthulhu Mythos stories. The best fuse gripping style with interesting content. This book works like a glacier scraping up and shattering old literary stratum and cementing them together into new, interesting, and jagged forms.

While you can theoretically read these stories in any order, to fully appreciate them you should read them in the presented sequence. All stories have some connection to the Norwood neighborhood of South London though sometimes it’s a tenuous connection.

These may be Mythos stories, but they are never Lovecraft pastiches. Some stories channel other writers besides Lovecraft.

Raymond Chandler is the model for “In the Vault”. Its tough private eye narrator, originally from Norwood but now in Chicago, takes up a strange case involving some chemical research in the wilds of Vermont – research that interests bootleggers circa 1927. I am mostly confident I understood the events behind a plot of double and triple crosses. Continue reading

The King in Yellow

Since I’m off preparing new stuff, you get this retro review, from November 10, 2012, of an obscure tome.

Review: The King in Yellow, Robert W. Chambers, 1895.The King in Yellow

The sole title he’s is now recognized for is The King in Yellow. Like most literary works, it was drifting into the dark and cold zone of cultural oblivion. Then he was caught in the gravity well of that coalescing star of weird fiction, H. P. Lovecraft. And, once illuminated by Lovecraft’s in his Supernatural Horror in Literature, this work became sort of a bright satellite beckoning Lovecraft fans to explore it.

But Chambers’ book is one of those moons with only one face of any interest.

To be sure, there is the appearance, in several connected stories, of the sinister effects and reputation of the titular volume and its enigmatic references to the Pallid Mask and Carcosa and Hastur and the lake of Hali. And the notion of such a book definitely inspired Lovecraft to create his more famous book of blasphemy, the Necronomicon. Continue reading

Lovecraft Unbound

I’m off polishing up work for other outlets, so you get this retro review from April 26, 2010.

Out of curiosity I added up how many anthologies Ellen Datlow has done since her career started in 1981. It’s eighty-nine by my rough count. A fair number are famous titles — at least as far as anthology titles go.

Review: Lovecraft Unbound, ed. Ellen Datlow, 2009.Lovecraft Unbound

Unlike Datlow’s earlier tribute anthology, Poe: 19 New Tales Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, where many of the stories, removed from authors’ notes and the context of the book, didn’t seem to have much to do with Edgar Poe, almost all these stories have an obvious Lovecraft connection. It usually isn’t a listing of the blasphemous tomes and extraterrestrial entities created by the master. Datlow wisely avoided that, for the most part, along with Lovecraft pastiches.

It isn’t an entirely new anthology. Four of the stories are reprints. But virtually all the stories are enjoyable and work as either modern examples of cosmic horror, horrific nihilism, or interesting takeoffs on Lovecraftian themes and premises.

The one exception is one of those reprints and, surprisingly, from the biggest name here. Possessing no discernable Lovecraftian theme, image, or plot element, Joyce Carol Oates “Commencement” also fails even in its internal logic. The plot concerns the allegorical cast of the Poet, the Educator, the Scientist, and the Dean and a fate they really should have seen coming at a future graduation ceremony. Continue reading