Searchers after Horror

It’s not often that I personally get sold a book, but that’s what happened with this one. I was in Dreamhaven Books contemplating whether I should buy this shrink wrapped title or not because it had a Brian Stableford story in it. Dwayne H. Olson, shareholder in its publisher Fedogan & Bremer (and supplier of the Hannes Bok story in the anthology) talked me into it.

Low Res Scan: Searchers after Horror: New Tales of the Weird and Fantastic, ed. S. T. Joshi, 2014.

Cover by Richard Corben

After finishing this book, I contemplated writing an essay on just the bad stories in it. But, after actually making notes on the stories, I realized there actually weren’t that many bad ones. But I’ll be getting to them later and the matter of unsatisfying endings in weird fiction.

I’ve already reviewed “Et in Arcadia Ego” by Brian Stableford and “Exit Through the Gift Shop” from Nick Mamatas. I don’t think my original interpretation of the latter is correct, but it’s not a story I’m spending more time on.

First story in the book is Melanie Tem’s “Iced In”. I’ve known, professionally and personally, women like the one in this story. Poor, a hoarder, chronically and dangerously indecisive, she finds herself trapped in her house after an ice storm. Told with empathy and memorable, it’s well done.

In the town I’ve recently moved to, a frequent question is “Do you ice fish?”, so I have a fondness for Donald Tyson’s “Ice Fishing”. In it, two Camp Breton Island ice fishermen, Gump and Mickey D, going out fishing one night. There is idle talk about the disappearance of an acquaintance a couple of weeks back and puzzlement why the local Indians aren’t fishing as usual. Tyson continues to impress me with his versatility, and this one has some humor too.

While it’s not a Cassie Barrett story, I was pleased to Ann K. Schwader’s “Dark Equinox”. It’s another tale of archaeological horror, here once removed because we’re dealing with strange photomontages of archaeological artifacts. Why did the photographer lock herself up in her studio one night and torch everything? And, more importantly, why do the photos seem to change over time?

Continue reading “Searchers after Horror”

Black Wings of Cthulhu 6

Low Res Scan: Black Wings of Cthulhu 6: Twenty-One New Tales of Loveraftian Horror, ed. S. T. Joshi, 2017, 2018

Cover by Gregory Nemec

It was perhaps for the best that this is the last of this series.

My initial negative opinions were mitigated after going back through the stories and making notes. Its weakness isn’t from one thing but a combination of “woke”, predictable, or non-weird stories.

No sorting by theme or literary aesthetic this time. I’m just going to sift the literary wheat from the chaff.

Darrell Schweitzer’s “The Girl in the Attic” was an unexpected disappointment. It’s a sequel to his earlier “The Red Witch of Chorazin” and part of a larger series centering around the very weird town of Chorazin, Pennsylvania. I wasn’t all that enthused by most of the earlier series’ installments. This one seems to involve a time loop involving the Red Witch.

The egregious designation goes to Lynne Jamneck’s “Oude Goden”, It’s a first person tale of a young lesbian in the Washington of the 1920s, and we hit all the expected cliches: violence against homosexuals, references to the Ku Klux Klan, a nonhuman entity being “intersex”, and, worst of all, the ending in which the narrator proclaims she can understand how the homosexuals of the area may have thought the world would be better under the Old Ones.

I know Joshi was very fond of the recently deceased William F. Nolan (whom I met once), but I’ve had mixed experiences to what little of his I’ve read. “Carnivorous” is well done but doesn’t go anywhere you don’t expect. A married couple takes a job tending the plants of an absent woman.  It comes with various bizarre instructions like singing to them on a schedule. There is an admonition to never go into a greenhouse. But the woman doesn’t return, supplies run low, and the husband goes in. I like sinister plant stories, but there’s nothing special here.

Continue reading “Black Wings of Cthulhu 6”

Black Wings of Cthulhu 4

After about a year, I decided to finally finish reading S. T. Joshi’s Black Wings of Cthulhu anthology series. Partly, that’s to read some David Hambling tales in later volumes, and partly to finally finish at least one of my reading projects.

Review: Black Wings of Cthulhu 4, S. T. Joshi, 2015, 2016.

Cover by Gregory Nemec

In his “Introduction” to the book, Joshi notes how several stories here rely on a sense of place. He also mentions the anthology’s one poem, Charles Lovecraft’s “Fear Lurks Atop Tempest Mount”, a retelling of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Lurking Fear”.

In Lovecraft, of course, terrors often come from the past, an idea he inherited from the gothic. Indeed, merely calling something “ancient” in Lovecraft is often used to evoke horror. For me, some of the most memorable tales here are archaeologically themed, an element in Lovecraft’s own The Shadow Out of Time.

Ann K. Schwader’s “Night of the Piper” is my first exposure to her Cassie Barret series. She’s a former anthropology student who now works on a Wyoming ranch, packs a revolver, and has two Rottweiler dogs for companions. Ranch foreman Frank, perhaps because his grandfather was a Crow “man of power”, appreciates the thinness between dreams and reality. Shortly after a flyer shows up in the mail advertising “THE PIPER WITH A PURPOSE”, a local branch of a non-profit advertising and its “Authentic Ancient Designs for a Stronger Community”, they both begin having strange dreams involving coyotes. And the Kokopelli on the flyer seems reminiscent of a sinister version Cassie has seen before. Soon, reluctantly, she gets out the journal of a vanished archaeologist who thinks that particular Kokopelli derives from a far more ancient culture.

Schwader cleverly splices the Cthulhu Mythos into the prehistory of the American Southwest. But, for me, the descriptions of Wyoming and rural poverty evoked things I’ve seen myself, and that made the story richer. Justly renowned as a poet, Schwader proves she’s also a talented fiction writer.

Continue reading “Black Wings of Cthulhu 4”

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.

Continue reading “Black Wings of Cthulhu”

Black Wings of Cthulhu 3

I’m not really sure why, back in February, I decided to read the rest of the Black Wings anthology series but started with the third installment. I suspect it was because it was one of the volumes had a Brian Stableford story in it.

Review: Black Wings of Cthulhu 3, ed. S. T. Joshi, 2014, 2015.

Cover by Jason Van Hollander

In his short “Introduction”, S. T. Joshi again reminds us that the point of his anthology series is not to present Lovecraft pastiches that just mention the gods, places, and books of the Cthulhu Mythos. It’s to explore human insignificance in a cosmos unbounded in time and space; wonder and terror in obscure locales “lashed with age”; horrors from outside infesting our mind, body, and spirit; and parallel worlds just out of sight.

He meets his goal pretty well, but, while not pastiches, a lot of these tales are retellings or follow ups to Lovecraft stories. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what a reader wants from a book with this title. There’s not a really bad story in the bunch, but a couple are slight.

As far as horrors outside the body, a minor theme running through this collection is horror inside the body. A lot of characters in these stories are cancer ridden.

Donald R. Burleson’s “Dimply Dolly Doofey” certainly almost entirely eschews Lovecraft references though it’s kind of a version of Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror”. Rather than some backwoods sorcerer, we get a very unsympathetic 17-year old methhead and her baby. It’s not a normal baby either. But you kind of expect that when the child’s paternal grandfather preaches the virtues of chemicals to prepare the blood of his son so his mate can bear a child who will open the way for the Old Ones’ return. Methhead Cindy decides she’s not really into this kind of things so swaps her inhuman child for a doll at a store. And an unfortunate family purchases it there.

Continue reading “Black Wings of Cthulhu 3”

Black Wings II

Since I shortly plan to review other books in this series, I thought I’d post this review which first appeared on the Innsmouth Free Press website on August 29, 2012.

Review: Black Wings II: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror, ed. S. T. Joshi, 2011.

The triumph of Howard Phillips Lovecraft was complete when his name became an adjective, a literary compass heading for travel into zones of weirdness and horror. But it’s something of a deviant compass pointing in several directions.

Right up front, editor Joshi announces one territory we won’t be heading towards in this book: the land of the slavish Lovecraft pastiche, as thoroughly explored by Brian Lumley and August Derleth. Joshi and his authors point the reader to two other literary countries: the dark and fertile lands where Lovecraft’s blasphemous books and deities are not always present, but his “core themes and imagery” are, and the modern world haunted by the shade of the Gentleman from Providence.

The marches between those two areas are covered in the anthology’s first story, “When Death Wakes Me to Myself” by John Shirley. In this “nautilus shell recession of narrative,” a contemporary Providence psychiatrist encounters a young amnesiac whose new memories seem to be those of Lovecraft himself. Partly an affectionate look at Lovecraft and the paths his life never took, and partly cosmic menace – with unspoken love and cats and Poe thrown in, it’s humorous, paranoid, and unique.

Continue reading “Black Wings II”

“The Prayer of Ninety Cats”

This is the piece of weird fiction being discussed this week over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Prayer of Ninety Cats”, Caitlín R. Kiernan, 2013.

Cover by Elizabeth Story

Like a lot of Kiernan I’ve read, the plot on this one is rather obscure but the prose lyrical.

It’s more a meditation on movies and the experience of seeing them in the theater, of the compelling nature of light reflected from the silver screen, than about the fictional movie contained within the story. We even are invited to identify with an unnamed movie critic addressed as “you” throughout the story.

We don’t seem to ever get the title of this movie about Elizabeth Bathory von Ecsed, the famed Blood Countess of history. The movie recounts her descent into depravity and her predations on the local women sent to the castle including having one ground into sausage and fed to her unwitting parents.

However, the main part of the story is her relationship to a her lover, a “witch of the woods” named Anna Darvulia.

Continue reading ““The Prayer of Ninety Cats””

“A Redress for Andromeda”

This week’s weird fiction.

Review: “A Redress for Andromeda”, Caitlín R. Kiernan, 2000.The Weird

I seem to recall, but am too lazy to verify, that I once heard Kiernan say on the Coode Street Podcast say that she wishes she could dispense with plot all together in her stories.

This story goes a long way in that direction.

It’s long on atmosphere and poetic prose. Kiernan does what I’ve long wished modern poets would do more of: use the beauty that can be wrought from scientific concepts and terminology. Specifically, she uses the language of geology and paleontology, the academic specialties she was trained in.

The story starts with Tara, a marine biologist, driving on Halloween night to an isolated house

where the land ends and the unsleeping, omnivorous Pacific has chewed the edge of the continent ragged.

On the porch are 111 lit jack-o’-lanterns, one for each year of the mansion’s existence. Continue reading ““A Redress for Andromeda””

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 “Dear Sweet Filthy World; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax”

Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural

A retro review from May 28, 2012:

Review: Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural, Jim Steinmeyer, 2008.Charles Fort.jpg

The influence of Charles Fort on popular culture isn’t that of some seeping, hidden stream percolating out of the depths of history to mysteriously water modern ideas. It’s more of a shaded river whose twisting path abuts a surprising number of cultural vegetation. The subtitle is a bit of marketing hyperbole. As Steinmeyer himself notes, Fort said the word “supernatural” had no place in his vocabulary, no meaning. But his peculiar works, four bizarre mixtures of satire and philosophy; compendiums of strange events and sometimes whimsical, sometimes sinister, sometimes absent explanations, known as The Complete Books of Charles Fort: The Book of the Damned / Lo! / Wild Talents / New Lands, are an important source stream for the torrents of writing on the paranormal the 20th century saw, Berlitz and von Daniken, ufology and raining frogs. His works are explicitly referenced in horror fiction as long ago as H. P. Lovecraft and as contemporaneously as Stephen King and Caitlin Kiernan. His ideas show up in the film Magnolia and an actual character in the recent movie The Whisperer in Darkness. He even gave us the word “teleportation”. And, of course, his name lives on in that indispensable journal of oddities, The Fortean Times.

This isn’t the first work from a major publisher on Fort. Damon Knight, the science fiction writer, did the worthy biography Charles Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained in 1970. But this has several advantages, besides availability, over Knight’s work. Not only does this work have photographs, but it also has numerous quotes from Fort’s earlier writings before 1920’s The Book of the Damned as well as the reactions, in private and in reviews, to those works. There are also selections from Fort’s unpublished autobiography Many Parts. This edition helpfully sets these quotes off in italics which further makes this a handsome production. After an unhappy childhood under a domineering and sometimes violent upper-middle class father, Fort left home at 17; worked as newspaper reporter for about three years; bummed about America, South Africa, Canada, and Britain for a couple of years; and returned home where he married, in 1896, Anna, a woman four years his senior. For the next 12 years, Fort and Anna lived poorly, supported by numerous stories, mostly of a realistic nature and noted for the verisimilitude of their dialogue and setting, that were published in several well-known magazines of the time. These brought him to the attention of Theodore Dreiser who was to become a lifelong friend. Dreiser used his growing reputation and fame to get Fort’s first novel published: The Outcast Manufacturers. Steinmeyer presents some interesting selections from this comic yet realistic novel of slum dwellers – usefully drawn from the Fort’s own impoverished circumstances. Continue reading “Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural”