“The Horror at Red Hook”

Yes, it’s time, with no apologies, for that story.

Raw Feed (2005): “The Horror at Red Hook”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1925.Dagon and Other Macabre Tales

This is the first of what I term the “I really hate New York” stories of Lovecraft. Part of their charm is the sheer hatred and disgust of the city that comes through Lovecraft’s vituperative prose.  The city and its mongrel, money-grubbing inhabitants are base, degraded, devolved, unimaginative, and unregeneratively evil.

The evil (Yezidis — devil worshipping Kurds from Kurdistan) is still festering, growing again at Red Hook at story’s end. [Yes, I am well aware that Yezidis are not exactly Satan worshipers — at least not of a Christian version of Satan and have been aware of that since reading Arkon Daraul’s A History of Secret Societies in 2002.]

Unconquered evil, is of course, hardly exceptional in Lovecraft, though.

This story sort of stands at a cross road for Lovecraft. Like the story Lovecraft wrote immediately before it, “The Shunned House“, that features a rather traditional horror creature: the vampire with its reference to Lilith, this story has a traditional evil. Continue reading

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“Hypnos”

The Lovecraft series continues.

Raw Feed (2005, 2014): “Hypnos”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1922.Dagon and Other Macabre Tales

This is an odd Poe-like story.

Specifically, it reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe’s deranged narrator from “The Tell-Tale Heart”. At story’s end, the deranged sculptor hero claims his great statute is of his mysterious friend, a man whose name or age he does not know, a man he befriended after finding him faint at a railway station, a man who initiates him into various mystical knowledge but then, after a horrible experience while dreaming, warns the narrator they must never sleep, a man who disappeared in “horrible red-gold light”.

His friends tell the narrator the sculpture is a self-portrait.

On my second reading, in 2014, what most leaped out at me was that this is the Lovecraft I love with something missing. Continue reading

“The Shunned House”

Since I’m still writing up a new post, I’ll continue with the Lovecraft series.

Raw Feed (2005): “The Shunned House“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1924.277a820dd7a0f4d98d1dd010.L

This 1924 story is, in mood, sort of a rehearsal for Lovecraft’s more successful The Case of Charles Dexter Ward from 1927.

Set in Lovecraft’s beloved hometown of Providence, it effectively uses Lovecraft’s knowledge and love of the city.

It also evokes, as the later novel does, the name of the historical privateer Captain Abraham Whipple (the narrator is a member of the Whipple family).

It’s a bizarre mix of werewolf and vampire mythologies mixed with the sort of scientific paraphernalia (the evil is dispatched by Crookes tubes and carbolic acid) that not only harks back to gothics like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein but the scientific trappings of Lovecraft’s more famous tales like “At the Mountains of Madness” and “The Whisperer in the Darkness”. The evil here is described as an immaterial being from another dimension which sucks life out of the inhabitants of the house like a vampire, but the Roulets are said to have lycanthropy in their past. Lovecraft mentions Exeter and vampires. I believe the town was the actual site of some bizarre stakings of corpses to put an end to a putative plague of vampires.

Lovecraft links, at the story’s beginning, the tale to his idol Edgar Allan Poe when he mentions that Poe passed by the site of real horrors when he spent time in Providence.

 

More Lovecraft related reviews on the Lovecraft page.

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

“At the Mountains of Madness”

While I work on new stuff, I’m going to resume the Lovecraft series.

Some people consider this a novel. I don’t. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not quite long enough.

I haven’t read this one since 2005.

The first time I read it I was dressed in a parka in a college dorm room in January 1982. No, I wasn’t trying to get into the spirit of the thing. The heat wasn’t working and there was ice on the wall.

Raw Feed (2005): “At the Mountains of Madness“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1931.277a820dd7a0f4d98d1dd010.L

This is at least the second time I’ve read this Lovecraft effort from 1931.

On the first reading, I found it too long and, probably because of the impatience of youth, filled with too much description. I liked it far better this time.

In fact, while “The Colour Out of Space” may be Lovecraft’s best story (it was his favorite) in terms of building and sustaining, even upon successive readings, a feeling of horror, this may be, in terms of blending details from the real world with the details of his own imagination and sheer inventiveness, his greatest story, even better than the similar, science fiction-flavored discovery of ancient aliens on Earth — “The Shadow Out of Time”.

It is the closest thing to a bible for the Cthulhu Mythos that Lovecraft wrote. Continue reading

“Cool Air”

Raw Feed (2005): “Cool Air“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1926.Dunwich Horror and Others

Written in 1926, the same year as his touchstone story “The Call of Cthulhu”, this is Lovecraft in the old vein he seemed to have abandoned after finding his voice in the latter story.

It’s set in a generic, unnamed metropolis, and I get the impression that it’s Lovecraft’s attempt to update Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Case of M. Valdemar”.

Both stories feature doctors trying to defeat death by an act of will.

If I recall correctly, the Poe story had a doctor hypnotizing a man so that his will preserved his consciousness and body after death. Here a doctor preserves himself and his life after death by means of refrigerating his room. Of course, it doesn’t work — indeed, the man is already decaying before the motor of his refrigerator breaks down.

 

More reviews of Lovecraft are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

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

“The Outsider”

Raw Feed (2005, 2016): “The Outsider“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1921.Dunwich Horror and Others 

This is one of Lovecraft’s most celebrated story — if for no other reasons than its short length makes it one of Lovecraft’s most easily anthologized works and because of the strong temptation to see, in the solitude and naïvete and hideous and scholarly pursuits (the narrator improbably teaches himself how to read and speak — a literary tradition going back to at least Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan) of its narrator, a mirror of the odd-looking young Lovecraft bereft of a father who died mad in an asylum and a mother who thought him ugly and left him to his books and his homemade altars.

This 1921 story finds Lovecraft working in a European mode because, in terms of architecture (castles) and setting.

Specifically, there are elements of Edgar Allan Poe here. The end of Poe’s “William Wilson” also features a shock ending of self-revelation via a mirror. The isolated childhood brings to mind Poe’s “Berenice” with the narrator who grow up in the “mansion of my fathers”. Poe scholar Stephen Peithman has suggested the tone of Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” influenced the tone of this story. All quite probable since Lovecraft later dismissed this story as his imitation of Poe.    Continue reading

“The Rats in the Walls”

Raw Feed (2005, 2013): “The Rats in the Walls”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1923.Dunwich Horror and Others

I noted, when reading the anthology Shadows Over Innsmouth (sequels to Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”) how many British writers fruitfully used their Roman past for horror stories, so I was surprised that Lovecraft, in this 1923 story, used that very setting — in fact, he refers to horrors that are pre-Roman.  (If I read this story before, I had completely forgotten it.)

The story also features subterranean horrors which also featured prominently in several of the stories in Shadows Over Innsmouth (as well as several Lovecraft stories — the underground horrors are ghouls in 1926’s “Pickman’s Model” and rats here).

This story shows, already at this point in Lovecraft’s career, the framing device of starting the story in near contemporary times (the given date at the beginning is in 1923) and then relating a scholarly historical account of discovered horrors. Continue reading

Scientific Romance

Being a fan of Stableford’s work, I immediately requested a review copy when I saw it on Netgallery.

Review: Scientific Romance: An International Anthology of Pioneering Science Fiction, ed. Brian Stableford, 1917.Scientific Romance

Before America colonized science fiction with its conquistador John Carter in 1912 and made it into a genre concerned with space and adventure, it was something different. It was, argues Stableford, a stream of literature interested in “the adoption of the scientific outlook and the attempt to employ the scientific imagination as a springboard for speculative fiction”.

Just as the Vikings colonized the New World before Columbus’s voyage, Francis Bacon and Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac discovered new frontiers for literature when they wrote scientific romances. And, just as the Viking colonization inspired no immediate imitators, no writers imitated Bacon and de Bergerac for a while. Bacon’s New Atlantis was unfinished and published posthumously in 1627. De Bergerac’s L’Autre Monde ou les Etats et Empires de la lune [The Other World] wasn’t published until the 1920s.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that authors in France, America, and England began producing work that was noticeably something different and that stuck in the public mind. These were stories about the drama to be made out of new scientific discoveries, new technologies, and the peculiar psychologies of inventors and scientists. Continue reading

The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, Volume. 2: The Door to Saturn

My Clark Ashton Smith series continues.

This one has an introduction by Tim Powers, the author that got me interested in re-trying Smith.

Raw Feed (2007): The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, Vol. 2: The Door to Saturn, eds. Scott Connors and Ron Hilger, 2007.the-door-to-saturn

“Introduction”, Tim Powers — Powers observes two things about Clark Ashton Smith’s work: the pagan sense of fate and the dooming of true love. The glamours of Smith’s work, he says, are inextricable from the “merciless field-equations of Fate”.

The Door to Saturn” — Smith said this was one of his favorite works. He operates in a satiric vein, here, but the satire is more obvious than, say his “The Monster of Prophecy”. And it’s better too. Smith constantly denies expectations and dramatic payoffs and formulic plotting all the while relating his story in a deliberate, detached, yet wry, prose of wonder. Morghi the inquisitor pursues, from Smith’s Hyperboria to Saturn, fellow sorceror Eibon. The former is a devotee of the mainstream god Yhoundeh. The latter worships the primitive god — something of an alien exile on Earth — Zhothaqquah. Eibon is granted a magical escape hatch to Venus by Zhothaqquah in gratitude for his worship. The god’s relatives on Saturn can barely understand Eibon’s language, but bare him no will and speak an enigmatic phrase to him. Eibon thinks it’s important, develops a missionary zeal for delivering the message to others. After Morghi catches up to him, the two put aside their differences. They encounter a frightful animal which turns out to be a beast of burden owned by the headless Bhlemphroims — the latter are in a state of “eugenic sorrow” having devolved from their former headed condition. Rather than get caught up in tribal politics a la H. Rider Haggard and other lost race novelists or attempting to convert the tribe to the worship of their individual gods, the wizards are well treated and bored. They are expected to mate with the sole fecund female of the tribe, a “mountainous female” (a comic image reminiscent of Smith’s “The Root of Ampoi”) — and then eaten by them. The two decide to leave. But Smith doesn’t deliver a daring escape or chase. The tribe simply lets them go. Eventually coming to the Ydheem people, Eibon delivers the message of the relatives of his god. Their translation turns out to be banal, unexpected, yet still significant: “Be on your way.” The Ydheems, hearing it after their city is buried in an avalanche, build a whole new city on the divine revelation. And the two wizards settle their dispute for the rest of their life, a life of disappointments — Morghi can get an inquisition going, Eibon becomes a “minor prophet”. There are the compensations of the “potent though evil-tasting” fungus-wine and females “if one were not too squemish”. After several non-adventures it is said their life is not “so radically different from that of Mhu Thulan …”, their home, “… or any other place”. Such is Smith’s anti-adventure, the relatively mundane and mixed bag of life even if lived on an exotic planet. A final irony is that their absence on Earth, triggers the revival of Zothaqquah worship in Hyperborea.

The Red World of Polaris” — This was a story never published in Smith’s lifetime, a sequel to his “Marooned on Andromeda” and the result of an unexpected commission to do a series of Captain Volmar tales. In a letter to H. P. Lovecraft, Smith said he had little interest in the “mythology of science”. However, this story sort of anticipates some later transhuman themes of sf. The crew of the Alcyone is pulled into a metal shelled world inhabited by an alien race who has transferred their brains to customizable metal bodies they discard at well. It is not an upload of a consciousness into a computer or cyborg a la the transhumans, but it has many similarities. Furthermore, the inhabitants of the world have a control over constituent atoms that is like nanotechnology. They also have a problem with runaway experiments in life conducted by various scientists. However, I think these were all incidental plot matters to Smith who was most interested seemingly, given his comments to Lovecraft, about the poetically described apocalypse that destroys the alien world at story’s end. It is an apocalypse brought on by a characteristically Smith menace — a blob of living matter that has animal and plant characteristics. It can be seen as a metaphor for the cancer gnawing away, literally, at the heart of this technological civilization which has more than a tint of racial senescence and individual decadence in the experiments of some of its scientists. Given that it’s a red world, it’s something of a worm in an apple. Continue reading

The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, Volume 1: The End of the Story

Since there seems to be some interest in Clark Ashton Smith (as well there should be), I will continue my series on him.

Actually, I was going to do it anyway.

After reading A Rendezvous in Averoigne, I decided to start buying Night Shade Books The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith.

Unfortunately, I was reading like a normal person in 2007 meaning I didn’t make notes on a lot of things, and that includes only partial notes on this volume.

So, it’s a …

Low Res Scan (2007): The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, Volume 1: The End of the Story, eds. Scott Connors and Ron Hilger, 2006.end-of-the-story

“Introduction”, Ramsey Campbell — Besides a brief account of Campbell’s youthful delight on reading the titles of a Smith collection — to say nothing of the actual stories, Campbell manages a number of concise one sentence summations of many stories in this collection as well as saying how certain stories pre-figured more famous stories by other authors.

To the Daemon” — Not a story but a prose-poem from something called Acolyte (the date is 1943, many years after most of Smith’s stories here but the work could have been written earlier) in which Smith, in his fine poetic ways, tells, in the space of less than a page, how he is tired of stories “that lies between the bourns of time or the limits of space”. He even mentions the Oriental themes of his earliest fiction — “the isles that are westward of Cathay”.

The Abominations of Yondo” — A very simple plot here: a tortured man is released by his captors into the desert of Yondo where he encounters several disturbing sights including a “monstrous mummy of some ancient king” which cause him to flee back to the comfort of his captivity. There is little here except wonderful language, especially the opening paragraph, no moral except perhaps the cynical, weird idea that even captivity and torture are preferable to some things. Continue reading