“The Nameless Offspring”

It’s this week’s weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing

Review: “The Nameless Offspring”, Clark Ashton Smith, 1932.

Cover by Jason Van Hollander

Coincidentally, Arthur Machen, subject of several recent posts, has a connection to this story. Smith had read his “The Great God Pan” and decided he would like write a story with a woman impregnated by something inhuman.

It’s an effective story though it does rely on the great coincidence of the narrator, Henry Chaldane, accidentally ending up, while on a motorcycle trip through England, at the isolated house of Sir John Tremoth. He just happens to be a friend of Henry’s deceased father.

Henry vaguely remember the story of what happened to Lady Agatha Tremoth, Sir John’s wife. She went cataleptic and was mistakenly buried alive. 

The day after she was interred in the family vault, Sir John doubted that Agatha was dead. He went to the crypt and found Agatha sitting upright. Somehow, she got her nailed coffin lid off.  She was shattered in brain and body and remembered only a hideous, unhuman face looming over her. Its limbs were semi-human, and the figure seemed to go about sometimes like an animal. 

Nine months later, she gave birth to a monstrous child and died. The child was locked away from the world. 

Continue reading ““The Nameless Offspring””

News of the Black Feast and Other Random Reviews

Low Res Scan: News of the Black Feast and Other Random Reviews, Brian Stableford, 1992, 2009.

No, I am not going to review a collection of Stableford’s book reviews.

However, I will briefly note a few I found especially interesting.

His introduction notes that book reviews are mostly fillers that few people read. But authors do, and he apologizes for being hurtfully frank in some.

Continue reading “News of the Black Feast and Other Random Reviews”

“Outside the Human Aquarium”

I’ll be doing a post on each essay in Outside the Human Aquarium since readers seem to like that format.

Review: “Outside the Human Aquarium: The Fantastic Imagination of Clark Ashton Smith“, Brian Stableford, 1987, 1995.

This essay is the reason I bought this collection. 

I found Stableford appreciative and insightful on Smith. Stableford points out that Smith had no interest in the “human condition”.  Like the other two of Weird Tales‘s “Three Musketeers”, H. P. Lovecraft and Robert Howard, he is not appreciated by some readers.

Stableford argues that each of the three are sometimes cited as having weaknesses which are really the result of peculiar idiosyncrasies. 

Lovecraft’s allegedly stilted prose is the result, to Stableford, of “anxious consciousness”, Howard’s reputed hackneyed blood-and-thunder is hard-bitten romanticism, and Smith’s exotic vocabulary and elaborate descriptions are an attempt to escape the restrictions and boredom of the world with, to use Arthur Rimbaud’s phrase, the “alchemy of words”.

Smith was influenced by the French Decadents who were, in turn, inspired partly by Edgar Allan Poe and the Jansenist thought of France, the belief that God had created the world and then abandoned it, that nowhere in the bleak universe is any real comfort to be had. This influence of the Decadents shows up in the drug element in many of Smith’s stories and also the Oriental elements – especially in his earliest stories. 

Continue reading ““Outside the Human Aquarium””

Turn Off Your Mind

I’ve longed liked Gary Lachman’s articles in the Fortean Times. I’m also an admirer of his work, under the name Gary Valentine, with the rock band Blondie, particularly his song “X Offender”.

So, it was only a matter of time before I decided to read one of his books.

Review: Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius, Gary Lachman, 2001. 

Lachman’s basic thesis is that several elements of the mystic 1960s led not just to the Summer of Love but the murders of Charles Manson and that the strains of thought that produced both go back to the late 1890s.

It’s an interesting story, but most parts of it were familiar to me already, and I’m not going to talk much about them. I am also not sympathetic to mysticism, the Summer of Love, or the spirit of the 1960s.

What I am going to talk about is the surprising amount of material in the book about writers and works of fantastic fiction and how they were connected to the mystic Sixties.

Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier’s not only wrote the very popular The Morning of the Magicians, but Bergier also wrote a letter praising H. P. Lovecraft that appeared in the March 1936 issue of Weird Tales. The Morning of the Magicians, published in 1960, had Fortean material and centered on mysticism, transcendence, mutation and the evolution of consciousness. It was a heady mix that drew from the zeitgeist.

Continue reading “Turn Off Your Mind”

“Bells of Horror”

This week’s weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing.

Review: “Bells of Horror”, Henry Kuttner, 1939.

Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos
Cover by Gahan Wilson

This is a fairly good bit of Lovecraftian fiction from Kuttner.

He uses a typical Lovecraft structure. Our narrator opens by mentioning a weird event then gives the back story of what led up to it and concludes with a not all surprising event. (Sometimes Lovecraft managed to surprise with his last lines, sometimes not.)

Our weird event is the recovery – and then deliberate destruction soon afterwards – of the “lost bells of Mission San Xavier”. They were rung once, after vanishing for more than a 150 years, and “an unpleasant blackness . . . shrouded San Xavier” then. That’s our hook.

The bells were lost until Arthur Todd, a friend of our narrator Ross, finds them hidden in a cave. Todd is head of the California Historical Society; Ross is its secretary. With the bells was a carving warning “Let no man hang the evil bells of the Mutsunes” . . . lest the terror of the night rise again in Nueva California”. The Mutsunes were Indian shamans who helped cast the bells and may have put a curse on them.

Todd asks Ross to come and help him get the bells out of the cave. So, Ross takes a drive. Continue reading ““Bells of Horror””

“Robert H. Barlow’s ‘A Memory’ in William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land”

Review: “Robert H. Barlow’s ‘A Memory’ in William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land”, Marcos Legaria, 2014.

Voices from the Borderland
Cover by Daniele Serra

R. H. Barlow critic Massimo Berruti thought Barlow’s “A Memory”, a far future tale, greatly resembled The Night Land. (I have not read it.) This article tracks the passing around of Hodgson’s novels from the 50-year-old Herman C. Koenig, a book collector and a key figure in keeping interest in Hodgson alive, to various members of the Lovecraft Circle: Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, and R. H. Barlow.

Barlow seems to have written his story around September 1934. We just can’t determine from extant letters when, if ever, Barlow got a hold of a copy of The Night Land though we know approximately when he saw Hodgson’s other novels.

“Pioneering Essays”

Review: “Pioneering Essays”.

Voices from the Borderland
Cover by Daniele Serra

This is a collection of the earliest essays on William Hope Hodgson, mostly by writers.

H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Weird Work of William Hope Hodgson” says Hodgson is one of the few writers that can capture “the inmost illusive essence of the weird” and puts Hodgson just below Algernon Blackwood in his skill even if his conception of the universe and man’s place in it is “conventionally sentimental”. I’m not sure exactly what Lovecraft meant. Hodgson’s stories don’t appeal to God or any higher power save man. Perhaps he was noting Hodgson’s characters often have love interests whereas Lovecraft’s (with the exception of “The Thing on the Doorstep”) never do. Lovecraft uses variations on the word “siege” in describing every Hodgson novel except The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”. He finds the prose of that novel inaccurate and “pseudo-romantic”. Of The Night Land, Lovecraft says that, despite all its faults, it is one of the most potent pieces of macabre imagination ever conceived. Generally, Lovecraft is not fond of Hodgson’s Carnacki stories but concedes that some have “undeniable power” and show Hodgson’s peculiar genius.

Clark Ashton Smith said that Hodgson’s work had the quality of the “realism of the unreal”. He thinks Hodgson at least the equal of Algernon Blackwood and perhaps exceeded him in The House on the Borderland. Of The Night Land, Smith said “there are few works so sheerly remarkable”. Smith thought those two novels were Hodgson’s masterpieces though he liked the beginning scenes on the island in The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”. He thought The Ghost Pirates was “one of the few successful long stories dealing with the phantasmal”. Continue reading ““Pioneering Essays””

Sargasso #2

Review: Sargasso: The Journal of William Hope Hodgson Studies #2, ed. Sam Gafford, 2014.

untitled
Cover by Robert H. Knox

The first issue of this journal had lots of material. This one is thinner – whether from a lack of contributors or due to production costs, I don’t know.

Andy Robertson R.I.P. (1955-2014)” remembers the man who sparked a mini-Hodgson revival with his creation of The Night Land website devoted to Hodgson’s eponymous novel, and Robertson also published and wrote stories set in the world of that work.

Under the Skin: A Profile of William Hope Hodgson” by Jane Frank offers a brief look at Hodgson’s personality. By the age of five, three of Hodgson’s brothers had died. Hodgson’s unusual middle name – usually a female name – may have had theological implications for his clerical father and his wife. (They wanted a daughter.) Frank sees Hodgson as, from an early age, energetic, imaginative, and always wanting more. Part of the behavior that some saw as egotistical and self-centered (Frank quotes from editors who met him and letters Hodgson wrote) may have been the result of his desire for attention.

She sees Hodgson’s personality as shaped by the two ages he lived in: the “repressive” Victorian world of his youth where mores were important and the energetic Edwardian age of fortune-seeking and technology. Hence we see Hodgson as an early adopter of the typewriter and photography and his entrepreneurial streak and attempts to support himself after leaving the Mercantile Navy. Hodgson was in boarding school by age eight, and his family had moved five times by the time he was 13. He was a temperamental lad and, around his father, unruly and disobedient. Continue reading “Sargasso #2”

Samurai and Other Stories

Review: Samurai and Other Stories, William Meikle, 2018.

Samurai and Other Stories
Cover by Ben Baldwin

If you’re curious about the William Meikle’s work and don’t mind short fiction, this is a proper introduction to it. You’ll find him operating in his usual modes and some new ones I hadn’t seen before.

Meikle the Cthulhu Mythos writer has a couple of works that are some of the best in the book.

The Havenhome” was probably the first Meikle I read when it appeared in High Seas Cthulhu, and it was good enough for me to remember his name. On re-reading it, I was struck by how there are no explicit references to the Mythos in it. In the year 1605, the Havenhome travels to the New World to find a European settlement wiped out, the bodies mysteriously frozen. Staying for the night, they realize something malevolent is at work and not just freak weather. I suppose you could see this as a takeoff on Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Coming of the White Worm” or August Derleth’s Ithaqua. Meikle often ends his stories with violent action which sometimes breaks up the mood he’s established, but here he definitely gets the balance right.

I’d also read “Inquisitor” before in Historical Lovecraft put out by Innsmouth Free Press. In it, a Dominican inquisitor interrogates a shoggoth brought back by Spanish sailors in 1535. But he isn’t prepared for the answers he gets. I was happy to revisit this one which I also remembered favorably from before. Continue reading “Samurai and Other Stories”

“The Red Lodge”

For this week’s weird fiction, it’s a return to a story I read about eleven years ago.

I remembered the title – just not the details.

Review: “The Red Lodge”, H. R. Wakefield, 1928.Book of the Supernatural

Wakefield’s story is a haunted house tale. But these aren’t the rattling chains sort of ghosts, but, “slimy aqueous evil” as H. P. Lovecraft noted in his Supernatural Horror in Literature.

It’s all told in a somewhat jaunty, 1920s style that doesn’t manage to convey much menace, and one wonders whether certain passages and references are there to pad out the word count or make some philosophical point lost to me.

Our narrator is a forty-year old artist, successful enough to rent himself a country house, The Red Lodge. With him, he brings his thirty-three year old wife and six-year old son. Continue reading ““The Red Lodge””