“The Hill and the Hole”

Don’t worry. There will be more on Arthur Machen. I have read and will be reviewing more of his work.

However, a few months ago, two to be exact, I watched a rather mediocre movie on Amazon based on this story.

Being a Fritz Leiber fan – at least of his non-sword-and-sorcery, I looked it up.

Review. “The Hill and the Hole”, Fritz Leiber, 1941.

Unsurprisingly, this 1942 story was first published in Unknown since it partakes of that magazine’s mixture of science and rationality with horror and fantasy. 

Our protagonist, Tom Digby, is somewhere in the Midwest surveying for the US Geological Service. 

He encounters an anomaly. He can’t get an accurate reading on a hill’s height using a transit and altimeter. 

A girl who lives on the land the “hill” is on, warns him that it is, in fact, a hole as his instruments say. Furthermore, “They” live there, and They don’t like to be disturbed.  She even tells him another man went up the hill a couple of years ago and “They made him dead.” 

Digby meets his boss, Ben Shelley, for lunch, and Ben shows him the last topographic map for the area. It does, indeed, show a hole instead of a hill. 

Digby asks Shelley to help him take another reading. Ben mentions some oddities about the death of the last man who tried to survey it. He was suffocated. 

Continue reading ““The Hill and the Hole””

“The Autophone”

Review: “The Autophone”, Arthur Machen, 1890.

Cover by Matthew Jaffe.

As with my last posting, this is another of Machen’s society stories. It’s also a bit of a science fiction story since it involves a fantastic invention. 

The main character is the Reverend Arthur Hammond who has been reading his way through Butler’s Analogy. That’s a real book, and one of its main arguments, from what I found briefly online, is that breaking God’s commandments leads, frequently by the workings of the natural world, to punishment. That may bear on this story. 

After finishing the book, Hammond looks through things in his study. His mind has been drifting from the page when his eye falls on the phrase “Personality is but a transient thing.”  

All of a sudden, as he ponders the question and thinks back on the actions of his past life, he wonders if he is the same personality that did those things. There is some hint, coupled with the end, that he had sex with some girl when young. 

Continue reading ““The Autophone””

Fantastic Fiction and the Great War

This column seems to have disappeared from the Innsmouth Free Press website where it appeared in 2016.

Essay: Fantastic Fiction and the Great War

Arnyvelde, Andre. Translated by Brian Stableford. The Ark. Black Coat Press (August 15, 2015). Paperback USD $22.95. 313 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1612274324.

Atherton, Gertrude Franklin Horn. The White Morning: A Novel of the Power of the German Women in Wartime. Amazon Digital Services (March 6, 2012). Kindle USD $0. 124 pages. ASIN: B007HT2OGA.

Benson, Stella. Living Alone. Amazon Digital Services (May 17, 2012). Kindle USD $0. 280 pages. ASIN: B0084BB9YI.

Burroughs, Edgar Rice. The Lost Continent. Running Press (June 25, 2014). Kindle USD $0.99. 149 pages. ASIN: B00LAMPLG0.

Froisland, Frois. Translated by Nils Flaten. The Man with the X-Ray Eyes & Other Stories From the Front. Harper & Brothers, 1930. Hardcover USD $275. 276 pages.

Meyrink, Gustav. Translated by Mike Mitchell. The Green Face. Dedalus (October 2004). Kindle USD $13.99. Paperback USD $10.75. 224 pages. ASIN: B0038U2V8S. ISBN-13: 978-0946626922.

Phillips, Forbes and Hopkins, R. Thurston. War and the Weird. Amazon Digital Services (March 24, 2011). Kindle USD $0. 116 pages. ASIN: B004TQ205O.

Robida, Albert. Translated by Brian Stableford. The Engineer Von Satanas. Black Coat Press (July 31, 2015). Paperback USD $24.95. 337 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1612274256.

Stableford, Brian. “An Accidental Prophet: Albert Robida’s Future Wars.” New York Review of Science Fiction no. 322 (June 2015). Kindle USD $2.99.

Stevens, Francis. The Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy. University of Nebraska Press (October 1, 2004). Paperback USD $21.95. 404 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0803292987.

The roar of the wind was so constant, so deafening, that Hauberrisser began to think that all around was shrouded in a deathly hush. It was only when he went to nail back the trembling shutters, so that they would not be blown against the glass, and found he could not hear the hammering, that he realised how great the din outside must be.

… when he did risk a tentative glance, he saw it still towering up undamaged, but it was an island in a sea of rubble: the rest of the frieze of spires, roofs and gables had been almost completely flattened.

How many cities are there left standing in Europe? he wondered with a shudder. The whole of Amsterdam has been ground to dust like crumbling rock; nothing left of a rotten civilization but a scatter of rubbish. He was gripped with awe as he suddenly comprehended the magnitude of the cataclysm.

Published in the middle of the Great War for Civilization, Austrian Gustav Meyrink’s 1916 novel The Green Face imagined a post-war Amsterdam crammed with refugees from many nations. Hauberrisser, a man tired of “the old game of civilization: first peace to prepare for war and then war to win back peace,” wants to see “a fresh, unknown world.” Idle curiosity propels him on a mystical quest that starts with a chance entry into Chider Green’s Hall of Riddles. He moves through a city of unemployed intelligentsia and the “dregs of Paris and London, of the cities of Belgium and Russia, fleeing in panic the revolutions that had broken out in their own countries … aristocrats who would rather die than crawl.” He will meet a Zulu witch doctor, a fake Polish count, a mystical entomologist, and a group of occultists who seek eternal life by slow transformation of their bodies. One predicts his ward, Eva, who longs for death, may be Hauberrisser’s prophesied wife in a marriage of destiny out of which will come a new world.

That wind that roars through Europe at the end of the novel blows in a new spiritual order.

Continue reading “Fantastic Fiction and the Great War”

“Unseen — Unfeared”

This week’s piece of weird fiction being examined over at LibraryThing is from Francis Stevens. She’s not a writer unknown to me, and I want to acknowledge Terence E. Hanley’s influence on this review. He did a whole series on Francis Stevens over at Tellers of Weird Tales.

Review: “Unseen — Unfeared”, Francis Stevens, 1919.

The story is interesting in that, like many of Sam Gafford’s Cthulhu Mythos stories, it links social issues to the “supernatural”. 

Like H. P. Lovecraft’s “From Beyond”, published a year later, it’s about the discovery that we are surrounded by invisible monsters. (Hanley rightly questions whether Stevens, whatever her merits, had any influence on A. Merritt or Lovecraft as is sometimes claimed.) As Hanley notes, this story mixes several things together: a detective story, a ghost story, and a story of a “mad scientist”. 

The story opens with the narrator meeting his friend Mark Jenkins, a police detective, at a restaurant. 

Continue reading ““Unseen — Unfeared””

Victoria

The idea of a Second American Civil War interests me in terms of fiction. (It really doesn’t matter if it interests me in person. As Leon Trotsky said, “You might not be interested in war, but it’s very interested in you.”)

What was once an idea only discussed on the fringes of American politics and society gets increasingly mentioned by both sides of the political spectrum. State secession is openly discussed. Amazon gives me 75 pages of books with the search words “second American civil war”. No doubt many are Amazon’s often irrelevant listings. Others are history books or books on contemporary politics or alternate histories. But others aren’t. The phrase “cold civil war” is sometimes used for American politics today. If such creatures as historians are willing and able to exist in the future, they may say the opening shots of an American Civil War have already been fired at Kenosha, Wisconsin.

I am not starting another series on the fiction depicting such a war. I already have too many unfinished series in progress on this blog. However, this is not the first book on the theme I’ve reviewed. Adam Connell’s Total Secession doesn’t have a Second American Civil War as its backdrop and only a limited discussion of why the nation broke up, but it is set against the backdrop of S-Day, the Day of Total Secession from the Union. The Operation Enduring Unity trilogy by R. A. Peters has the war breaking out and escalating more as a result of political farce and bad luck than anything else. It’s a satire on the bad uses politicians put the military to, but it is not concerned with partisan politics. However, it does seem realistic in its depictions of how such a war might be fought militarily and economically. It is not, however, a work of Fourth Generation Warfare.

Essay: Victoria: A Novel of 4th Generation War, Thomas Hobbes, 2014. 

Cover by Ørjan Svendsen

That’s military theorist William S. Lind, co-author of our last book, lurking behind that pseudonym. The genesis of this novel was an April 30, 1995 op-ed piece he wrote for The Washington Post.

It’s a long, mostly well-written novel that seriously looks at how implementing 4th Generation Warfare concepts enables the state of Maine to ultimately secede from the United States of America and become an independent nation. Regardless of your political persuasion, it’s worth reading for a depiction of how Fourth Generation Warfare could be fought in a breakup of the USA. I suspect, in fact, that the leaders of the Year Zero mobs are already familiar with many of the concepts of Fourth Generation Warfare. However, I will warn anyone who regards themselves as feminists that they will probably want to sedate themselves before reading it or get some dental appliances lest their molars shatter under the pressure of clenched jaws.

Notice I said “political persuasion” not ideology. This book is decidedly anti-ideological. Lind regards ideologies as thought killers because ideologies distort reality for those who hold them. That makes effective action harder to say nothing of setting questionable goals. Lind follows political philosopher (and weird fiction author) Russell Kirk in this. (Kirk was also a mentor to Jerry Pournelle.)

Continue reading “Victoria”

The Napoleon of Notting Hill

Review: The Napoleon of Notting Hill, G. K. Chesterton, 1904.

This was Chesterton’s first novel, published when he was 25. 

It’s a strange book. I’m not sorry I read it, but I wouldn’t enthusiastically recommend it either. It faded from my memory rather quickly after reading it only a few months ago though it is full of the wit and pithiness that makes Chesterton such a quoted author.

Technically, it’s science fiction (or, in the British context, a scientific romance), but only by virtue of its futuristic setting and not any scientific or technological extrapolations.

Set in a London around 1984, it takes place in a world where there aren’t really any nations anymore.

In fact, we meet, at the beginning, the last leader of Nicaragua. There is still a king in London though chosen by lot. In fact, the hero of the book is Auberon Quin, and he becomes king early in the story.

As others have noted, Chesterton loved paradox. 

That is certainly true here. 

Quin starts out as a romantic figure. His whole scheme of creating kingdoms – complete with walls, banners, and coats-of-arms, out of London neighborhoods is sort of an attempt to bring back the Middle Ages, but it’s also an absurd gesture by a man who takes nothing seriously except maybe art. Chesterton defends the medieval outlook in one passage. It talks of how men lived in the Middle Ages expecting signs and miracles. It wasn’t because they were ignorant. It was because they were too wise to live their humdrum lives expecting no wondrous relief.  (The bogus etymologies supplied for some names of London neighborhoods are amusing too.)

Continue reading “The Napoleon of Notting Hill”

The World Jones Made

After re-reading The Man in the High Castle a few months back, I realized there was an early Dick science fiction novel I hadn’t read. (I have not girded my loins enough to read the VALIS books yet.)

The only excuse I can give you for giving you a spoiler filled Raw Feed post on this novel instead of a proper review is that I’m tired and busy.

Raw Feed: The World Jones Made, Philip K. Dick, 1956. 

This is Dick’s third fantastic novel following The Cosmic Puppets, a fantasy, and the science fiction novel Solar Lottery.

It’s about many things, and I liked it more than expected. 

It also turns out to be one of Dick’s police stories with protagonist Cussick and his political instructor, Kaminski, in the SeePol being the policemen as well as the head of the organization, Pearson. (Besides SeePol –secret police, another of Dick’s odd portmanteau neologisms, we also have the “weapons-police”, presumably uniformed.) Their allegiance to the world government established after a nuclear war and its governing philosophy, Relativism, varies after the disruptions of Jones, a precognitive.

Until the end, Cussick is dedicated to Relativism. Kaminski wishes it were more authoritarian though. It shouldn’t allow things like the sex and drugs club he, Tyler Fleming — his short-term girlfriend and a research worker at SeePol, Cussick, and Cussick’s wife Nina visit. (This, incidentally, is the first Dick novel to have drugs.)

Eventually Kaminski defects to the rebels lead by Jones. Pearson is a true believer until the very end. 

Continue reading “The World Jones Made”

“Some Words with a Mummy”

It’s a welcome return to Poe this week over at LibraryThing’s Deep Ones.

Review: “Some Words with a Mummy”, Edgar Allan Poe, 1845.

The plot on this one is pretty straightforward, and it’s less weird fiction than sort of American proto-science fiction as well as being a satire. A mummy is revived and discusses Ancient Egypt and nineteenth century America with the narrator and three other men.

So, with some help from Stephen Peithman’s annotations, let’s look at this one.

Poe’s humor doesn’t always work here. Jokes tend not to age well in literature. After all, many modern Shakespeare productions omit some of his humor which, if you’re reading it, often has to be footnoted to get the joke. A joke explained is no longer a joke. Still, the story does have its funny moments.

Continue reading ““Some Words with a Mummy””

Memory

Review: Memory, Linda Nagata, 2003. 

Cover by Emily Irwin

There is the feel of a fantasy quest and a western in this novel, Nagata’s introduction to the world at the center of Silver.

There are gods, reincarnation of a sort, and destined lovers. It is a world of vast spaces with humans living only around temples. Most of it seems to be desert-like. There is no aviation. Electronic communication is spotty. Rather than horses, the characters travel by motorcycles and trucks, always careful to arrive at a temple by nightfall. Night is when the silver comes up, a nanotechnology that sometimes consumes or transforms what it touches. Only the “kobolds” in the temples keep it at bay – sometimes.

Frankly, I’ve known about this novel for years, but a young protagonist and a synopsis with words I normally associate with fantasy novels didn’t make me want to read it.

However, our narrator Jubilee, a teenager, has a compelling voice and doesn’t have the sort of “pluck” that grates on me.

Continue reading “Memory”

Silver

Review: Silver: Inverted Frontier, Book 2, Linda Nagata, 2019.

Cover by Sarah Anne Langton

A crippled god tries to return to his broken creation. A man pursues, trying to stop him from gaining more power. A young woman looks for her lost love.

This book is quite different than its predecessor, Edges. Much of the action takes place on Verilotus, the artificial world that Lezuri, that god-like castaway picked up by Dragon in the proceeding book, created.

At the climax to Edges, a chase ensued following the Pyrrhic War which wrested control of the Dragon from Lezuri. But not a chase of bodies but of minds encoded as information, “ghosts”, as Lezuri beamed himself from the information systems of outriding vessel to outriding vessel.

Eventually, he took control of one and headed to Verilotus where a fight with a “goddess” left him crippled and that settlement wrecked. It seems the two entities, possessing extremely sophisticated nanotechnology, created a world but disagreed as to its ultimate use.

But Urban, the leader of the Dragon expedition, is in pursuit. As far as he knows, Dragon is still in Lezuri’s hands, and he won’t communicate with it for fear that his incarnation in one of those outriders will be detected.

Continue reading “Silver”