The Watcher by the Threshold, Part 1: Scotland

Low Res Scan: The Watcher by the Threshold, ed. Christpher Roden and Barbara Roden, 2005, 2012.

John Buchan wrote a lot of books including The Law Relating to the Taxation of Foreign Income, histories of the First World War, an acclaimed biography of the Marquis Montrose, and numerous novels, and, of course, the Richard Hannay series. The latter’s first two installments, The Thirty-Nine Steps and Greenmantle, have seen numerous radio, tv, and film adaptations and, along with Erskine Childers The Riddle of the Sands, are the progenitors of the modern espionage novel. A lot of Buchan remains in print today.

But he also wrote a lot of weird and fantastic fiction, even a couple of pieces of science fiction, and was a fan of Edgar Allan Poe. In 1911, when he worked for a publisher putting out an edition of Poe stories, he said Poe showed

all around us the shadowy domain of the back-world, and behind our smug complacency the shrieking horror of the unknown.

That could stand in as a description for some Buchan works of the fantastic. And, writing to a friend early in his literary career, he said the short story was his “real form”.

Continue reading “The Watcher by the Threshold, Part 1: Scotland”

“The Children of the Night”

This week’s piece of weird fiction being discussed at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Children of the Night”, Robert E. Howard, 1931.

Children of the Night
Cover by Stephen Fabian

The story starts with our narrator, John O’Donnel, hanging out with six other men. They discuss various historical, anthropological, and literary matters. They are all

of the same breed — that is to say, a Briton or an American of British descent. By British, I include all natural inhabitants of the British Isles.

Well, maybe not all of them. There’s that Ketrick fellow. He says he comes from the “Welsh branch of the Cetrics of Sussex”. But his eyes are “sort of amber, almost yellow, and slightly oblique”. Why, if you look at him just right, he almost looks Chinese.

Talk turns to an artifact one of them has reconstructed, a strange stone axe. Ketrick picks it up, experimentally swings it about.

And smacks O’Donnel in the head. Continue reading ““The Children of the Night””

The Wanting Seed

This novel first came to my attention on the MPorcius Fiction Log and, recently, it was the subject of a discussion by Kevin Michael Grace on the Luke Ford YouTube channel.

Could two such sources be wrong in telling me it was worth a look? No.

So, before I dropped in on the Luke Ford discussion, I thought I’d read it.

I’ve been going back and forth about not reviewing everything I read, but there were some things I wanted to say on this one.

But I’d have to do at least a plot synopsis and explicate some of the major themes.

And then I realized I could just leech off MPorcius work.

Thus was born a new category of post: the parasite review.

Which means, in this case, you need to read MPorcuis’ post first.

Wanting SeedParasite Review: The Wanting Seed, Anthony Burgess, 1962.

In 1959, Anthony Burgess was wrongly diagnosed with brain cancer and given a year to live. Not wishing to leave an impoverished widow, he wrote five novels in the next year. One of them was this novel.

That may explain some of its faults and, for me, a somewhat inconclusive ending. Burgess himself said, “it needed to be longer in the oven … but I needed money”.

Like MPorcius, I think this a satire and not a serious effort at extrapolative prediction.

According to the Science Fiction Encyclopedia, it stands near the beginning of science fiction novels about overpopulation. My favorite overpopulation novel is Harry Harrison’s extrapolatively dishonest Make Room! Make Room!. Oddly, Burgess accused Harrison of lifting the cannibalism theme of The Wanting Seed for the film adaptation of Soylent Green. In fact, according to Harry Harrison’s essay “A Cannibalized Novel becomes Soylent Green” in Omni’s Screen Flights, Screen Fantasies, says cannibalism was put in the script by the film’s producers and his contract forbid him having any input with it.

So what is Burgess satirizing? Continue reading “The Wanting Seed”

Prophecies and Dooms

I discovered Mark Samuels about a year-and-a half ago on his blog in his role as social and genre critic. I went on to read and review a couple of his works.

This one came to me courtesy of subscribing to Samuels’ Pateron account.

Review: Prophecies and Dooms, Mark Samuels, 2018.Prophecies and Dooms

This is Samuels in critic mode, cogent in presentation and never failing to say something interesting about his subjects no matter how familiar I was with them. Between the lines, something of Samuels’ own criteria for good weird fiction peeps through.

There were plenty of material new to me about writers I have a very peripheral knowledge of.

Samuels’ “The Root of Evil: Hanns Heinz Ewers and Alraune” certainly did not have to work hard to educate me. I only knew Ewers through his much reprinted “The Spider” and about his espionage work on behalf of Germany in World War 1-era America. Samuels looks at Ewers’ persona as a drug addict and a bisexual predator (allegedly aided by hypnotism) on men and women and his greatest work, Alraune. Ewers, in that novel, becomes the “Master-Artist Braun” who alone can control the destructive force he has created, the “mandrake-woman” Alraune.

It’s the opening essay, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it ends with a metaphor of an artist in control of his material. Continue reading “Prophecies and Dooms”

“N”

This week’s Deep Ones discussion was a story late in the career of Arthur Machen.

Review: “N”, Arthur Machen, 1936.N

This story wanders about the pubs and taverns, churches and apartments of London past and present to an indefinite conclusion. Like “The Great God Pan”, the reader is mostly expected to deduce the relevance of those events though the character Arthur does some of that work.

Despite that inconclusiveness, I liked this tale.

The story starts with three men – “the youngest of the three, a lad of fifty-five or so” – who spend their leisure hours “recalling many London vicissitudes”, a combination of nostalgia and amateur history. Their conversations cover the wax fruit they’d seen in the storefronts of the past, paintings, old stores and buildings, remembered waiters serving long ago in restaurants, and the depiction of the Iron Duke on tobacco tins.

One night, they all realize they really haven’t ventured very far into certain parts of the city, particularly North London. One, Harliss, that “lad”, mentions he grew up in Stoke Newington in North London. Continue reading ““N””