Re-Birth

Raw Feed (2005): Re-Birth, John Wyndham, 1955. 

This isn’t one of Wyndham’s disaster novels. You could see it as sort of an amalgam of the species supplanting children of The Midwich Cuckoos (though here the supplanting is by nuclear war engendered mutations as opposed to alien-human hybridization) and Wyndham’s famous disaster novels. 

Here the nuclear war was centuries in the past, and the plot involves a group of telepathic children dealing with their oppressive society which is dedicated to maintaining genetic purity (or, at least, paying lip service to it — beneficial mutations like giant workhorses are allowed if they only deviate in size) at all costs.

Whereas The Midwich Cuckoos was a horror story of man’s replacement, this novel celebrates the telepathic mutants and the constant change and evolution that is life. It is well narrated by its telepathic hero who briefly glosses over the numerous brutalities inflicted on him and his fellow mutants. At story’s end, a high tech civilization of telepaths is found in New Zealand. 

The narration isn’t as slick or of the same tone as Wyndham’s Out of the Deeps since the narrator engages in a lot of description.

Shoggoth

My look at Byron Craft’s Mythos Project series continues.

Cover by Eric Lofgren

Review: Shoggoth, Byron Craft, 2018. 

This is much more conventional novel in structure and feel than the preceding novel in the series, The Cry of Cthulhu. Specifically, it is structured like a modern thriller with multiple viewpoint characters, budding romance between some, and a climax that flits between several scenes.

The title, of course, tells us what Lovecraftian menace we’re dealing with, and the opening two chapters cover the invention of the shoggoth and the research project of one Isaac Morley in the late 19th century around the town of Darwin in the Mojave Desert. Then we move to our time.

Thomas Ironwood, compiler of the events of The Cry of Cthulhu, is the main character here. His work on a missile defense system, using solar powered lasers, is brought to a sudden end when Admiral Hawkins, Senator Neville Stream, and Stream’s rather too chummy associate, US Navy Captain Eastwater, announce a new project using money taken from Ironwood’s work.

Excavating land on the Naval Weapons Complex in the Mojave Desert will be required. The only hold up to the work, and it’s not much of one, is a figure from Ironwood’s past, the much-diminished ex-literature professor turned archaeologist, Alan Ward. He claims the project must be stopped to avoid sites of archaeological interest.

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Safari and “The Hospital”

It’s another retro review of Blackmore’s zombie series.

Review: “Safari (Mountain Man Book 2)” and “The Hospital”

January 22, 2013 IFP

By Randy Stafford

Blackmore, Keith C. Safari (Mountain Man Book 2). Amazon Digital Services, Inc, 2012. USD $3.99. ASIN: B007YQG33Q.
Blackmore, Keith C. The Hospital. Amazon Digital Services, Inc, 2012. USD $0.99. ASIN: B009L2X8KM.

There are worse things than waking up to a house with busted-in doors, a dead girlfriend, and a bunch of dead bikers.

There is, for instance, do-it-yourself dentistry.

Cover by M. Wayne Miller

That’s the problem Augustus Berry AKA Gus AKA the Mountain Man faces at the beginning of Safari, which picks up right where Mountain Man leaves off. The busted-in doors – and the dead bikers, for that matter – are the result of an assault on Gus’ hilltop home at the end of the preceding novel. The broken teeth are from the girlfriend who led them there – before Gus killed her.

But, when you’re a lone human in a zombie-infested world, there’s no rest. After pulling some teeth with the help of trusty friends Uncle Jack and Captain Morgan, and fending off a zombie horde squirming outside his walls, Gus heads off to town – Annapolis, Nova Scotia – to scrounge some painkillers and lumber and plastic to repair his house. But he also keeps his eye out for clues to an enduring mystery: What happens to the bodies of all those zombies he’s killed in town?

Now, as I said in my review of Mountain Man, I’m no taxonomer of zombies, of their origins, of their behaviors, of their types, of their predation strategies, of their weaknesses, so I have no idea if the answer Gus finds to that puzzle is a unique invention from Blackmore. I can tell you I enjoyed the set piece where the answer is revealed and Gus’ response, which takes up a lot of the final third of the novel. Blackmore is very good at minutely describing action while not slowing down a story.

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“A Double Return”

Review: “A Double Return”, Arthur Machen, 1890.

Cover by Matthew Jaffe.

This is another one of Machen’s society stories, written and published in 1890. It actually does have one of those covert sexual themes that S. T. Joshi says often showed up in these kinds of stories. It also has less dialogue than usual for a Machen “smart tale”.

Our protagonist is Frank Halswell, and he’s taking the train back home to London. He is a popular artist who has been on a “sketching tour in Devon and Cornwall”. 

As his train nears Paddington station, he sees a train going the other way and in it a man who looks remarkably like him. However, he writes it off as his reflection in the window. 

He thinks back to an acquaintance, Kerr, he met at a hotel in Plymouth. Kerr, oddly, would look like Halswell if Kerr was clean-shaven. 

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Cthulhu’s Reign

Retro Review (2012): Cthulhu’s Reign, ed. Darrell Schweitzer, 2010.

This anthology’s theme is grim and simple. As predicted — and prevented in many of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos stories, Cthulhu and the Old Ones once again dominate Earth.

Rape, transformation, and religion are themes that show up in several stories.

On a metaphorical level, a sort of intellectual rape – the forcible introduction of unwelcome, devastating knowledge into the mind – occurs in many a Mythos story. But, in two stories, Cthulhu commits a literal rape. A group of survivors find themselves trapped and experimentally winnowed down in an Italian necropolis after Cthulhu’s return in Ian Watson’s chilling, first person narrated “The Walker in the Cemetery“. In John R. Fultz’s “This Is How the World Ends“, an Iraqi War veteran finds himself holed up in a mine as a horrible transformation is wrecked on the world outside.

Not exactly rape, but a gathering of horrible knowledge anyway, is the theme in Brian Stableford’s “The Holocaust of Ecstasy“. In this story, full of imagery that owes more to Clark Ashton Smith than Lovecraft, a biology professor from Miskatonic University, finds himself reincarnated into an alien ecosystem. Of course, Cthulhu’s return is a time of transformation, and many stories take up that theme. In Jay Lake’s “Such Bright and Risen Madness“, a resistance movement secretly meets on a blighted, chilling Earth to hear of a new weapon which may free them from their masters, the Old Ones. Slowly transforming from “Innsmouth Syndrome”, the narrator feels the almost forgotten stirrings of sexual desire when he meets the plan’s architect. But he also encounters a figure from his past in a brilliant tale of despair and resolve. The hero of Mike Allen’s “Her Acres of Pastoral Playground” inhabits a zone relatively safe from the Cthulhian horrors outside, but cosmic chaos still intrudes in unwelcome changes to his wife’s body.

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Black Wings of Cthulhu

It’s entirely coincidental that it’s H. P. Lovecraft’s birthday today.

Yes, I know I’m jumping all over in series lately. I was on vacation. That’s when I do my impulsive reading.

Low Res Scan: Black Wings of Cthulhu, ed. S. T. Joshi, 2010, 2012. 

Cover by Jason Van Hollander

The inaugural volume for what would become a six-part series is strong but not flawless.

Have I ever read a Nicholas Royle story I liked? No, and I didn’t much care for his “Rotterdam”, either. He’s obviously paying homage to H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Hound” in plot and story setting, but it’s really just a crime story with the Lovecraft connection being Joe, the screenwriter protagonist, in Amsterdam to scout out locations for a possible adaption of Lovecraft’s story. He’s hoping to ingratiate himself with the producer so his own script will be used on the project. What he really wants to do, though, is to get the job to write the screenplay of his own published crime novel, Amsterdam. The world of film production is interesting as are Joe’s less than successful interactions with its more successful members. We get some echoes between Joe and Lovecraft with Amsterdam being sort of autobiographical in the way Lovecraft’s essays are. And, after a bout of drinking, Joe wakes up to a body in his room. No supernatural horror here.

Nor was I impressed by Michael Cisco’s “Violence, Child of Trust”. There’s no cosmic horror here in a story that has a rural cult that captures and sacrifices (after the occasional rape) women to some god. I will grant the ending did surprise me.

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“Gernsback’s Pessimist”

Review: “Gernsback’s Pessimist: The Futuristic Fantasies of David H. Keller”, Brian Stableford, 1995. 

An interesting look at an author I only know through the enjoyable satire “The Revolt of the Pedestrians”. 

Stableford recounts Dr. Keller’s life (including refusing to work under Huey Long’s administration in a Louisiana state hospital after 1929) which made him Hugo Gernsback’s most prolific contributor in 1928 and 1929.  Gernsback loved his first submission, “The Revolt of the Pedestrians”.

Stableford, who himself has done distinguished work in this theme, considers him the first sf writer to deal with the implications of biotechnology albeit in a crude, pulpish way complete with clumsy infodumps. Stableford attributes the “eccentric fabular quality” of much of Keller’s work to his early childhood struggle to verbally communicate. 

Keller wrote nonfiction articles on psychoanalysis (a theme in some of his sf) and mainstream sf. His professional production dropped off after Gernsback got out of publishing, and his publications after 1945 were mostly in amateur outlets. For a few periods in his life, like 1928-1929, he was unemployed and relied on his writing for an income. 

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The Other Passenger

Impressed by his story in Scottish Stories of Fantasy and Horror, I picked up this collection by John Keir Cross.

Low Res Scan: The Other Passenger, John Kier Cross, 1944, 2017.

Cover by Henry Petrides

This collection is not entirely horror or weird stories. Many of them deal with people in the arts, particularly music, and they are often written by a narrator claiming to be untutored in the art of writing an account of their experiences. The stories often seemingly digress and move back and forth in time, but Cross always ends his stories by satisfyingly tying everything together.

The collection has a quite deliberate order of stories, and there are links between some of them, so I’ll be looking at them in order. All of these stories first appeared in this volume.

J. F. Norris’ “Introduction” to the Valancourt Books edition is useful. This was not Cross’ first book, but his previous ones were children’s books under the name Stephen MacFarlane – the man “now dead” that Cross dedicated the collection to. Cross was an influential figure. Arthur C. Clarke said Cross was the first professional writer he knew. Ramsey Campbell credits Cross’ Best Horror Stories anthology as shaping his view of the genre. After this book was published, Cross was a scriptwriter for the BBC and adapted many other author’s stories to acclaim.

I’ve already looked at “The Glass Eye”.

Petronella Pan” is a creepy story about a vain woman that, to remain the center of attention, has chemically kept her daughter in the physical (though not mental) state of an infant for 30 years via chemical means. Like many Cross stories, it’s a twice-told story, and the narrator, who doesn’t like babies and goes on a riff about how innocent seeming babies grow up to become grotesque moral or physical monsters, gets the story from his sentimental German-Scottish friend Konrad who has been judging baby contests for thirty years. There is a nice bit with the baby seemingly reading Proust in her baby carriage. The mother’s former husband was a brilliant chemist, and she learned enough of his job to make the necessary formula.  Cross wrings some horror out of Christ’s line “unless you become as children” line by Christ.

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