“From Beyond”

The Lovecraft series.

Raw Feed (2005): “From Beyond”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1920.Dagon and Other Macabre Tales

In his introduction to this collection, T. E. D. Klein notes that Lovecraft’s protagonist are usually solitary figures or, if a friend is shown, the friend is there to show the downfall of the protagonist.

This is such a story, and I liked the change of pace.

Crawford Tillinghast is described by his best friend, the narrator, as a man who should never have studied philosophy or science. He embarks on a plan to make the invisible entities around us visible — and, in turn, we will become visible to them and (as it turns out), prey.

I liked the bitterness of the story as Tillinghast, begged by the narrator not to continue his researches, kicks him away and then, eventually, tries to get one of the newly discovered entities from beyond to kill him, all the while gloating that at last the existence of his “pets” will be proven. Of course, it is Tillinghast they ultimately kill. Continue reading

“Through the Gates of the Silver Key”

The Lovecraft series continues.

Raw Feed (2006, 2016): “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”, H. P. Lovecraft and E. Hoffmann Price, 1932 — 1933.277a820dd7a0f4d98d1dd010.L

I am curious as to how much Price contributed to this story.

There is a coherence here in tying this story and the cosmic voyages of Carter to not only the rationalistic background of the Cthulhu Mythos and also the Dunsanian dream stories of Lovecraft, much more coherence than the earlier “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath“.

To be sure, the links and explanation still are fairly loose though the story links pretty tightly to the other Carter stories making it quite clear that we’re talking about the same character. I suspect that the concept of a universe with stories set in different times with different characters yet featuring consistent geographies, histories, technologies, and concepts, came along after Lovecraft. Heinlein’s Future History may be the first. Continue reading

“The Dreams in the Witch House”

While I’m off writing up a new post, the Lovecraft series continues.

Raw Feed (2005): “The Dreams in the Witch House“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1932.277a820dd7a0f4d98d1dd010.L

This story is too long, but it is perhaps the quintessential combination of the various strains of Lovecraft’s horror fiction.

We have the very traditional trappings of horror with Black Sabbats and witches mixed with the cutting edge science of quantum mechanics (including a physicist I’d never heard of named de Sitter) and “non-Euclidean geometry” and Reimann equations. There is even a rationalized, literal version of the dream journeys Lovecraft’s Randolph Carter goes on.

Protagonist Walter Gilman’s body really does journey to other dimensions and worlds and even seems to bring back a relic of the Old Ones. The story was written in 1932 but seems to take place in 1927 or 1930 — before the Miskatonic University expedition to the Antarctic covered (of course, Gilman is a student at Miskatonic U) in 1931’s “At the Mountains of Madness“).

 

More reviews of Lovecraft related period are at 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

“Future Wars, 1890-1950”

The review series on Brian Stableford’s Opening Minds concludes.

Review: “Future Wars, 1890-1950”, Brian Stableford, 1983.Opening Minds

Interesting look, inspired by I. F. Clarke’s Voices Prophesying War 1763-1984 (I reviewed its second edition), at the history of British future war stories from “The Battle of Dorking” (1871) on with particular emphasis on the influence of World War One on inter-war science fiction. By doing this, he is addressing a weakness he perceives in Clarke’s survey.

The “jingoism” of the British stories was unique, but American future war stories shared “the myth of a war to end war”. It shows up in works like Frank R. Stockton’s The Great War Syndicate (1899) and Stanley Waterloo’s Armageddon (1898).

World War One, of course, turned out to be nothing like anything imagined.

As it did with so much, the war changed British science fiction and imbued it with a pessimism unfelt in the American science fiction pulps that started in the inter-war period. Continue reading

“Marxism, Science Fiction, and the Poverty of Prophecy: Some Comparisons and Contrasts”

The review series on the essays in Brian Stableford’s Opening Minds continues.

Review: “Marxism, Science Fiction, and the Poverty of Prophecy: Some Comparisons and Contrasts”, Brian Stableford, 1984.Opening Minds

Stableford looks at two attempts to prophecy the future.

The first is Karl Marx’s theory of communism and future social and economic developments.

The second is science fiction though, as Stableford notes, only “some of its early apologists – especially Hugo Gernsback” ever claimed to be prophetic. Still, a lot more hands and a lot more perspectives have went into trying to imagine the future in science fiction rather than Marxism.

I have not read enough Marx and none of his critic, Karl Popper, to comment on the accuracy of Stableford’s interpretation of either. He uses Popper’s criticisms to comment on science fiction’s abysmal record of prognostication.

I think Stableford is right in dismissing Popper’s claim that Marx confused law and trends. Marx’s “laws” are what others would simply call trends and predicting the future based on trends is done by a lot more people than just Marx’s disciples. Continue reading

“The Plausibility of the Impossible”

The review series on Brian Stableford’s essays in Opening Minds continues.

Review: “The Plausibility of the Impossible”, Brian Stableford, 1989.Opening Minds

Stableford examines why particularly implausible ideas still hold sway over our minds when we read fantastic fiction.

In a science fiction context, he specifically mentions time travel, faster-than-light travel, and ESP. However, he is really talking about all fantastic literature.

In particular, he talks about how, despite what science has shown, it is very hard for us not to think in terms of Cartesian duality: that is there is a mass of matter, the brain, and we, our thoughts, emotions, and dreams, exist separately from that matter. That’s what our experience in the world and our inner world tell us despite the empirical evidence against it.

In playing off his discussion in “The Concept of Mind in Science Fiction”, he specifically talks about how this makes stories of extrasensory perception and ghosts carry not only an emotional plausibility for us but an empirical one – at least as defined by our experiences if not work in the lab. Continue reading

“The Myth of Man-Made Catastrophe”

The review series on Brian Stableford’s Opening Minds continues.

Review: “The Myth of Man-Made Catastrophe”, Brian Stableford, 1980.Opening Minds

In this long essay, Stableford presents a taxonomy of man-made catastrophes presented by science fiction.

The sense that humans could compete with nature in creating catastrophes started in the latter part of the 19th century.

There were works hostile to the growing effects of technology like Samuel Butler’s Erewhon and William Morris’ News from Nowhere, but they didn’t present notions of true catastrophe at the hands of man’s machinery. Stableford claiming that Richard Jefferies After London (1872) left the reasons for a pastoral, medieval like England being created as “deliberately unspecified” doesn’t quite jibe with my memory of that novel.

While he doesn’t nominate it as the first work of man-made catastrophe, he notes that Ignatius Donnelly’s Caesar’s Column had a world wrecked by the capitalist system. (And, I suppose, I should clarify that catastrophe does not equal a literal doomsday or human extinction.) Continue reading

“The Concept of Mind in Science Fiction”

The review series on Brian Stableford’s Opening Minds continues.

Review: “The Concept of Mind in Science Fiction“, Brian Stableford, ca. 1976.Opening Minds

Science fiction tends to deal with the same wishes and anxieties over and over. Only the enabling technology and scientific theories used by the writer to rationalize their fantasies changes. Invisible men use to drink liquids. Now fiber optics and microprocessors and smart fabrics do the same. No more brain transplants for immortality. You record the information in the brain and move it to a new media. And so forth.

Given the increased activity in the area of consciousness studies, artificial intelligences, and information technology, this essay could stand some serious updating since I think this is one of the few areas where science and technology have actually led to new wishes and anxieties.

Stableford starts out by noting that, however much Descartian dualism, that there’s a “paramechanical ghost” rattling around in our heads, isn’t really plausible or consistent, it’s the default setting for most science fiction that centers around the brain. (And, again, I think this is changing with advances in science and technology.)

Its uses are many and often seem like rationalized versions of folktale and religion.

The “paramechanical ghosts” can become disembodied entities, that pesky flesh scrapped off by millions of years of evolution.

There are the numerous tales of demonic possession cast as possession by body snatching aliens. The two types of these stories are the horror of having your body possessed by an alien, your consciousness displaced or constricted, and that such a psychic dispossession may have occurred to someone around you: friend, lover, family member, or leader.

There are bodyswitching stories, more often seen in horror, weird, and straight fantasy than science fiction, where some ghosts in the machine trade places. There are the numerous tales of a sort of mental symbiosis (and not the parasitism of bodysnatching) between human and alien minds in the same body or two human consciousnesses.

The creation of a telekinetic is just an extreme extrapolation of the paramechanical ghost’s power. After all, if it can, through some non-material way, control the body why should its control of mass stop there?

Extending the argument of “Science Fiction and the Mythology of Progress“ that post-World War Two science fiction became interested in moral and spiritual progress, Stableford sees that interest in the mind as utopian optimism about the future having to go when technology couldn’t sustain the faith in technology bettering humanity.

He sees that “optimism and hope” leading to interest in “a new mythology of human evolution, in ecological mysticism, and in new attitudes to the concept of alien intelligence”.

Forty years on, I think transhumanism and stories of the singularity are definitely part of the “mythology of human evolution”. Ecological mysticism seems to have at least held its own since the 1970s with nature worship and calls to duty for Mother Gaia being annoyingly present even among those who profess no religious belief. I sense, though, that belief in alien intelligence — at least the communicating sort — is waning.

“Science Fiction and the Mythology of Progress”

The review series on Brian Stableford’s Opening Minds: Essays on Fantastic Literature continues.

Review: “Science Fiction and the Mythology of Progress“, Brian Stableford, 1977.Opening Minds

Combining his training as a sociologist and literary criticism of science fiction, Stableford does a concise summary of the myth of human progress and how science fiction has used it.

Starting in the 18th century, the notion of progress in human affairs, “softened” manners, enlightened minds, and nations being connected by commerce, a move toward “still higher perfection” as French philosopher Turgot put it, started to appear.

It was an improvement sought in knowledge and technology.

However, soon the grandiose idea of “human perfectibility” was espoused by the French philosopher Marquis de Condorcet.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels also saw progress in human affairs though not pushed by knowledge but its manifestations in production technologies. Continue reading