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

The Litany of Earth

Every Wednesday over at LibraryThing, the Deep Ones group discusses a work of weird fiction.

This story was discussed a little over two years ago, and most people liked it better than me.

Normally, I don’t blog about the readings (though I will be doing a future review on an annotated edition of  J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla”), but this novella is available for sale separately.

It’s also relevant to Emrys’ follow up story, Winter Tide, which I’m writing a review of.

It will not be a good review.

Raw Feed (2015): The Litany of Earth, Ruthanna Emrys, 2014.Litany of Earth

An interesting update of the Cthulhu Mythos treating them as a “modern day” (the story is actually set after World War Two) religion, the Aeonist faith.

This story plays off the end of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” with the inhabitants of that town hauled off to concentration camps.

The narrator of this story was taken to such a camp where she met interned Japanese-Americans.

When she gets out, she gets a job at a bookstore. She is approached by a Federal agent who (in a very obvious allegory to those who think that Islam is not bad except in the hands of some extremists) wants her help to infiltrate such dangerous groups of Aeonists.

The narrator has no love of the government. Her mother died, held in the desert away from the nurturing sea, while being experimented on to find the Deep Ones weaknesses. Continue reading

Dear Sweet Filthy World; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

There are many things I like about Caitlín R. Kiernan’s work ever since encountering it with “From Cabinet 34, Drawer 6” in Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth in 2005.

Her Lovecraft related fiction is always interesting. Her prose, as I said in my review of Threshold, is read-aloud beautiful. As with my Ambrose Bierce and Kathe Koja series, I started to read her novels when she was scheduled to appear at the local Arcana convention. She had to cancel, and I haven’t read a novel of hers since. (Yet another  reading project to return to.)

She likes Charles Fort, naming one of her collections To Charles Fort With Love.

And she is a former paleontologist who drops a lot of references to geology into her fiction.

I’ll come back to geology at the end of the review.

Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, & Creased has a review of the book mentioning specific titles.

Review: Dear Sweet Filthy World, coll. Caitlín R. Kiernan, 2017.Dear Sweet Filthy World

What can I tell you about the Dear Sweet Filthy World I have returned from?

I could tell you it is a land bordered by dangerous women prowling the interstates of America; one has a head stuffed with visions of conflagrations at Dresden and Hiroshima and Peshtigo and Chicago; two are incestuous twins in a roving church of murder and sex, orgasmic rites with knives and pliers.

Should I tell you of the caged woman unsure if she was once a dragon?

Should I tell you of lovers found in the liminal lands between earth and sea, one a demon from the sky and one a creature of the Earth?

Should I tell you of the women who give themselves in orgasmic embrace to giant trilobites and Cthulhoid monsters and giant orchids and dragons, willing lambs to ecstatic slaughter?

Should I tell you that I saw Mr. Lovecraft’s shoggoths and heard howling werewolves? That I saw the savage art of the Black Dahlia murder? 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

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

The Early Novels of Kathe Koja, Part Five: Strange Angels

strange-angels

The Cipher, Kathe Koja, 1991, 2012.

Bad Brains, Kathe Koja, 1992.

Skin, Kathe Koja, 1993.

Strange Angels, Kathe Koja,

Kink, Kathe Koja, 1996.

The Early Novels of Kathe Koja: Strange Angels.

Strange Angels, Koja’s fourth novel, is something of a transitional novel, and the last of her early novels where characters go on a journey of transformation and do not emerge from the fire unscathed. Madness or death is the price paid for their obsessive quests. Continue reading

Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Vol.2

This one got read as something of a fool’s errand to see if I could learn anything about Kathe Koja’s ideas about what constituted “weird fiction”.

Well, “the weird” means different things to different people. That’s the whole idea behind getting a guest editor for each volume of this series, now in its third installment.

Is it the best weird fiction of the year? How would I know? And if I did, there really wouldn’t be much point in me reading this.

Series editor Michael Kelly read about 2,800 stories and passed the best to Koja for the final decision on whether or not to include them.

Koja’s ideas of weird fiction and mine don’t match much. On the other hand, I have no idea what she had to work with for 2014.

Still, the book had enough good stories in it for me to recommend, and I will read other volumes in the series.

However, I read it almost four months ago, and I’m only covering the stories that stuck in my mind, weird or not. That’s why this is a . . .

Low Res Scan: Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Volume 2, eds. Kathe Koja and Michael Kelly, 2015.years-best-weird-2

For me, the only weird story in the book was its oldest: Jean Muno’s “The Ghoul”. First published in 1979, it got its first English translation, from Edward Gauvin, in 2014. Beautiful in imagery, it has a man walking a foggy beach. He encounters a woman in a submerged wheelchair. The mixing of time, a jump back to 20 years earlier in the man’s life, and language that may be realistic, may be metaphorical, was beautiful and memorable.

Nathan Ballingrud’s “The Atlas of Hell” is an occult take on a hard-bitten crime story. Narrator Jack runs a bookstore in New Orleans (with the really good and profitable stuff in back). Jack’s old employer, crime boss Eugene, coerces him into another job. Jack’s to take a thug with him and find Tobias who has not only ripped off some gambling proceeds but somehow gotten, from Hell no less, the thighbone of Eugene’s dead son. It’s off to the bayou and some weird stuff, and that atlas turns out to be something unexpected.

Siobhan Caroll’s “Wendigo Nights” has a setup similar to John Carpenter’s The Thing: a canister (from the doomed Franklin Expedition, no less – Caroll has done academic work on polar exploration) is retrieved from the thawing tundra. Mayhem ensues involving the wendigo – monster or really bad cabin fever that turns men into cannibal killers depending on whether you go with folklore or psychology. Continue reading

Some Parallax Views on Kathe Koja

No, I’m not quite done with Kathe Koja. I just ordered a Kindle copy of her Strange Angels, so I’ll be reviewing that at some point. (Another parallel to my Ambrose Bierce series in that I found just one more title I wanted to look at after I thought I wrapped it up.)

So I did some research on other perspectives — meaning things I either didn’t think of or expressed less well — on Koja’s early works.

However, before returning to Koja again, I will first be reviewing — and it won’t be a happy review — of an early novel by a certain famous Irish science fiction writer.

Websites

Will Erickson’s Summer of Sleaze: The Alternative Horrors of Kathe Koja is a stylish look at Koja’s The Cipher and Bad Brains.

A look at the rise and fall of Dell’s Abyss line of horror in the 1990s discusses Koja in that context. It cites the emphasis on body horror and interior life in Koja’s fiction as well as her reliance on characters involved in various triangles.

In an April 2002 interview, Barry Malzberg said this in passing about his collaborations with Koja:

I had what I call a ‘great autumnal run’ between 1990 and 1993, publishing about a hundred short stories (alone and in collaboration with Kathe Koja), which I think are the best work I ever did.

Locus Material

But metaphor can be thin stuff, while Koja’s book is rich with the minutiae of life, precisely down to earth as she depicts the horrible futility of entanglement with the medical system, the sad detritus and odd little triumphs of life on society’s margins, the weird, isolated world of long highway journeys.

Faren Miller’s review of Bad Brains in the January 1992 issue of Locus

Edward Bryant is my all time favorite book reviewer, and the only one I’ve seen that could be funny and accurately summarize a work.

In his review of Bad Brains in the February 1992 issue of Locus, he is explicit about a theme less acknowledged in Koja’s work: the failure to communicate:

Austen’s failure as a portrait artist seems to be linked to his inability to depict his clients in any way they consider realistic. Communication has failed; Austen simply hangs up his brushes.

Miller, in a December 1992 review of Skin, said:

The sexuality may be ‘modern’ (butch, hip, punk, whatever), but the tragedy dates back to Shakespeare, complete with a disguised Iago type driving the plot toward the bitter end.

Yes, I called Malcom in that novel an instigator, manipulator, and agitator. It would have been simpler to call him an “evil counselor”. It’s not like I haven’t read enough Elizabethan and Jacobean drama not to know the type or term.

In his review of Skin in the April 1993 issue, Ed Bryant even mentions David Skal’s Antibodies in passing. Perhaps I subconsciously remembered that coupling when I wrote “Breaking the Skin”.

Extremities

Essay: Extremities, Kathe Koja, 1998.extremities

Extremities reprints 14 Koja stories and includes two original ones. The original publication dates of those reprints range from 1990 to 1996. There are no collaborations.

The stories range from high weirdness to non-fantastic ruminations on famous poets.

Arrangement for Invisible Voices” (Dark Voices, 1993) literalizes that anthology’s concept with Olson, a man who hears “not only the cries of the dying but the screams of the murdered” though here’s it’s not other humans. (An early indicator of Koja’s animal rights activism?) Olson first hears the voices at a pig roast:

… it soared through the talk like a scream through mutters, actually piercing, his ears felt bruised from the pressure, his auditory canal seemed to swell, what in God’s name is going on and on and then, rising an order of magnitude so there was no longer even the possibility of concealing its effect, he fell to his knees, buckling like punched, the singing scream no longer an expression of pain but pain itself and possessed at the same time of a beauty so eerie and fierce that while he pounded at his ears to stop the sound he was obscurely glad he could not …

The erotic and the weird are often linked in Koja’s fiction, especially The Cipher (though the appeal of the Funhole to Nakota isn’t necessarily an erotic one) and “Angels in Love” which is also in this collection. In this story, the link is definitely of a negative sort. Continue reading

Selected Short Fiction of Kathe Koja

Essay: Selected Short Fiction of Kathe Koja

Another summer and fall and winter taken up with charting an author featured at the local Arcana “dark fantastic” convention.

In 2014, it was the dead Ambrose Bierce. In 2016, it was Kathe Koja who is still very much alive and a novelist and a playwright and theatre producer.

I’ve already covered four of her early novels, but Koja has written numerous stories since her 1987 debut. The “selected” of the title means my diligence did not extend to moving boxes of magazines in the home archive to access every Koja story I had, so I looked at her stuff easily at hand in the house and online.

This post will cover stories appearing in various anthologies and magazines.

skin-deepI didn’t revisit “Skin Deep” (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction, July 1989) after reading it in 1994. According to my less than completely helpful notes, it seems to be another tale of sexual obsession and, perhaps like Koja’s Skin, The Cipher, and Kink, a fatal quest for transcendence. A man takes an alien lump of flesh as a lover. This commentary on the power of sexual desire – strange and unexplained, a force of nature – is the story’s main strength, relayed through vivid, creepy imagery. Ultimately, the alien absorbs him and kills him. It’s the death of his body. However, his consciousness is melded with hers. Body dead but desire achieved.

That’s one version of real world love – sexual obsession leading to physical destruction. But it’s also a metaphor for the old “man and woman cleaving together” idea, two minds and two bodies becoming one. So, you might also consider this another example of Christian imagery showing up in Koja’s fiction.

Many of these stories came from theme anthologies so Koja, weird fiction author, isn’t the only thing on display here. Koja, in a 1998 interview, said she wrote for such anthologies if the theme was “interesting and sufficiently broad to allow room to maneuver and play”. Continue reading