“The Fungal Strain”

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

Review: “The Fungal Strain”, W. H. Pugmire, 2006.

Cover by Rafael Tavares

This is an oblique takeoff on H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep” using the “Baudelairean poet Justin Geoffrey” mentioned in passing in that story. 

Pugmire’s prose is lush and filled with vivid incident.

Our narrator is a sometime poet though he claims he’s just interested in the craft of poetry.

The story opens with him seeing, in the fog outside a bookstore, a woman of somewhat bestial face. She comes inside while he looks through a volume of Geoffrey’s works. 

It turns out the woman – whose name we never get — can quote his favorite poet. But the narrator is a loner and somewhat antisocial and isn’t interested in making friends with her. After her opening conversational gambit, she hums an odd song. 

When he leaves the bookstore, the woman follows him, humming a beguiling tune. He begins to “creep” towards her, but she walks into the Kingsport fog.

Continue reading ““The Fungal Strain””

Flower of Scotland Volume 1

The book I actually read last September on the plane to Glasgow was Flower of Scotland; Forty Flash Fictions, but Miekle seems to have withdrawn that from the market and chopped the contents up into four of his 99 cent chapbooks, so it’s the latter I’ll be reviewing. They collect work of his from the 1990s to 2014.

Flower of Scotland Volume 1

Review: Flower of Scotland Volume 1, William Meikle, 2020.

As Meikle’s followers on Twitter know, he likes his Twitter and knows how to use it. In “Twitterspace”, we follow Dave as he learns the truth behind the Twitter handles @weegreenmen and @saucerzus. We see, via Twitter, the world descending into chaos meteorological and economic. Given the green snow, it’s possible this story is linked to Meikle’s The Invasion which I haven’t read yet. On the other hand, Meikle does like to do variations on an image or idea.

In “Supply and Demand”, a psychiatrist talks to a patient who has the notion that, starting about thirty years, staring, blank-eyed children starting being born. And now their in charge of things. This is a nice, disturbing story about generational change and moral decay.

The vacation reading of a schoolteacher “At the Beach” is disturbed by an old man who wants to talk about his life and deliver some unsolicited advice: “save up your memories … because ye never ken when ye might need them”. You might see the ending coming, but you probably won’t see all of the ending coming. This is a moving story with a new twist on an old idea.

Continue reading “Flower of Scotland Volume 1”

The Midnight Eye Omnibus Volume 2

Low Res Scan: The Midnight Eye Omnibus Volume 2, William Meikle, 2019.midnighteyeomnibus

Derek Adams, the Glasgow private eye who is a magnet for the weird, is a character Meikle returns to again and again. He’s added to the series since I read this book though I have not read the newest installment.

This collection actually has an “Introduction” by J. Kent Holloway, an appreciation of the deep use of mythology in Meikle’s fantasy and horror stories. Holloway also talks about how Meikle was his entrance point to the works of H. P. Lovecraft.

And the influence of Lovecraft is certainly seen in “Eeny Meeny Miney Mi-Go” which, as you would expect from the title, is Meikle’s takeoff on H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness”. Adams is hired by an astronomer, Penderton, to find his son within 48 hours. Of course, it doesn’t turn out to be that simple, and Penderton has a lot of secrets. The story seems to be from early in Adams’ career. He’s already a private eye, but we hear about his friend Dave who shows up in the earliest Adams novels. Derek’s girlfriend Liz is probably the woman whose suicide, while Adams was in the next room, left him guilt ridden.

Call and Response” is not only a call-out to the Cthulhu Mythos as Adams is hired by an ex-New York City policeman to find an unknown professor but also to a bit of Scottish pride in the references to John Logie Baird. He was the inventor of the first tv technology and conducted the first transmission of color on tv. Throw in cosmic cycles, a certain being slumbering in the depths of the Pacific, and a nod to Charles Darwin, and you have a light-hearted story, one of the best in the Adams series. it’s also another case of Meikle attracted to the idea of dance and music – rhythm, in other words – as a way of communicating with the supernatural and extraordinary.

The book contains several other Adams’ tales, and you’ll find my reviews of each linked to their title: Rhythm and Booze, “The Weathered Stone“, “The Inuit Bone“, “A Slim Chance“, “Farside“, Deal or No Deal?, and “Home Is the Sailor“.

As long as Meikle keeps writing Adams, I’ll keep reading about Derek’s adventures in the mean, weird streets of Glasgow.

“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””

The Weird Western Adventures of Haakon Jones

(This first appeared in Innsmouth Free Press  on July 4, 2013.)

Review; The Weird Western Adventures of Haakon Jones, Aaron B. Larson, 1999.

]n 1874, 17-year-old Haakon Jones leaves Minnesota, his mother dead, his older brother set to inherit the farm. Trading in his prized violin for a Colt Army revolver, which is going to see a whole lot of use in the next 32 years, he wanders the American West and beyond, ending up in San Francisco just in time to be involved with its 1906 earthquake. You could think of him as sort of a Western version of haakonjones-w622-h350Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane. Indeed, the book is dedicated to Howard, except the ideals his Unitarian pastor back home admonishes him to remain true to are less fervently Christian than Kane’s Puritanism.

That’s all very nice, I hear you say, but why are you covering a 14-year-old book – and a Weird Western, at that? Innsmouth Free Press’s own J. Keith Haney, in his Retronomicon column, already does that quite ably. Why? Because this book deserves to be more widely known.

There are new additions to the Weird Western subgenre all the time in games, fiction, comics, and movies. I’ve been interested in it for decades, starting with old Twilight Zone comic books and the Clint Eastwood movies High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider. The trouble is that, while I haven’t looked at every single example of the subgenre, I have sampled quite a few and most have been disappointing. For me, that disappointment comes in three areas: annoying and unrealistic depictions of the West, conceptually lazy plots that simply throw werewolves or vampires or aliens into a western setting, and a failure to evoke a sense of place. The latter is important because, after all, place, a particular geographical setting and historical time, defines the “western” half of the “Weird Western.”

Now, there are werewolves and space aliens and vampires in this book, but there’s also a whole lot of other weirdness, a true smorgasbord of it. There is a golem, giant critters, weaponized vampire bats, lake monsters, Sasquatch, witches, trolls, a Mayan mummy, zombies, flying saucers, ghosts, Wendigo, Nazis, a mad scientist, and, yes, some Lovecraftian monsters, too. (Besides Howard, Lovecraft is another of the pulp authors the book is dedicated too.) There are more conventional menaces, as well: a pedophile, a gang of gunmen, and, in what I suspect is an homage to Howard’s boxing stories, a heavyweight champion of Mexico.

Larson can cram all this into less than three hundred pages because this fix-up novel is told through 35 chronologically arranged stories, most having first been published in Classic Pulp Fiction Stories in the 1990s. If you’re bored with one sort of monster, it’s not long until the next one will show up. Jones’ narration is often wry, sometimes poetic. It’s the speech of a drifter with a yen to learn life’s secrets. He frequently stops at libraries when he comes across them. It’s not the tall-tale, laconic, over-the-top drawl of Joe Lansdale’s Jonah Hex, which I never liked.

Larson also conveys a sense of the real American West and its people, though not every story is set there. Lakota mythology shows up with Hin-Han, the owl spirit that becomes a regular warning of the eerie about to show up in Jones’ life. His friend, and occasional partner in adventure, is Small Jumper, a Lakota he meets while both serve as scouts in Colonel Custer’s Seventh Cavalry.

One story involves a Dakota Territory community of what my parents would have called “Black Russians,” German immigrants from the Black Sea area. Cameo appearances of historical and fictional characters of the time abound: Buffalo Bill Cody; characters from the TV westerns, The Wild, Wild West and Have Gun, Will Travel; and the man associated with the most significant work of fantasy to come out of South Dakota, Frank L. Baum of Oz fame. In the zone between history and fiction, Larson also works in the legend of El Dorado, the disappearance of the Anasazi, and Vikings in America.

Larson also does a fine job of evoking place. Now, I have to admit my perceptions may be colored by my own unique perspective. I’ve either lived or been to the places mentioned in his Minnesota and Dakota Territory stories. (Indeed, the first place I ever saw this book mentioned was South Dakota Magazine.) On the other, hand S. P. Somtow wrote a long novel, Moon Dance, set at the same time and in many of the same areas, and didn’t bring the place to life. And, while I’ve never been to Seattle, I thought the story “In Seattle the Rain Comes for You!” did a nice job describing the city. That story, incidentally, seems both a nod to and argument with Lovecraft’s somewhat notorious “The Horror at Red Hook.” Both involve dastardly cults conducting underground rites in sleazy port cities, but Jones is helped in his fight against evil by a black preacher.

And, yes, there are quite-specific Lovecraftian elements here. Captain Lawton, Jones’ superior in the Army, is a reoccurring character with an interest in blasphemous books. They include Larson’s addition to that library, Olag Tryggvesson’s Dagbok av en Vanvittig Djevel av-en Utenfor Natt, which seems to translate as “Diary of a Mad Devil of Outside Night.” There’s also the little detour to an uncharted island in the Pacific in “Surf City, Here I Come” and the monster lurking in New Mexico in “The Door in the Desert.”

Now, this is not a perfect book and some of the flaws were more obvious on my second reading. Obviously, you’re not going to get a whole lot of character development in such short stories. Sometimes past subjects of Jones’ romantic attraction are too conveniently mentioned in only one story. Larson maintains his continuity pretty well, but one villain, seemingly killed in one story, pops up later in others. Perhaps, as the foreword says, we need to “forgive an old man’s memory.”

The reaction to a character’s death in the actually rather poignant and powerful “Can You Hear a Ghost Dance …,” based on the conflict between Small Jumper, who rejects the promises of the Ghost Dance, and his son, who joins the movement, weakens the story’s emotional effect. I was somewhat disappointed to see the supernatural menace of two of the stories set in and around the Black Hills of South Dakota, my old stomping grounds, to be somewhat vague in their manifestations and resolutions, though most of the stories set in that locale pleased me. And, of particular sorrow to a Lovecraft fan, I have to state that the problems brought up by some of the characters’ names in “Action on Arkham’s Boot Hill” almost completely ruined the story for me.

Still, though, Jones remains the high point of my travels in Weird Western territory, and I suspect many of you Innsmouth folk will cotton to something in it.

 

 

“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””

Walking the Night Land: Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of Eternity

I’ve been reading Brian Stableford recently – the “fruits” of which you won’t see in for a while. However, when prowling around on The Brian Stableford Website, I actually looked at the description for this luridly titled book with a cover not up to Black Coat Press’ usual standards. (I often prefer to buy paper editions of Black Coat Press works because of the covers.)

Since William Hope Hodgson plays a part in the story, I immediately ordered it and read it.

And, when I found out that Stableford also puts The Night Land to use in the book, I put it at the head of the review queue as another installment in the series.

Sallystartup, over at her Reviews of Brian Stableford, which, as you would expect reviews only Stableford, provides reviewer parallax on this one. I didn’t indicate that in the title because of space and because nobody should have two colons in the title of a blog post.

Essay: Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of Eternity, Brian Stableford, 2009.

Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of Eternity
Cover by Danielle Serra

‘I had not expected to travel 12 million years,’ I said, before the android could ask another question, ‘but I suppose that I have come as far before, and even further. I have seen the final act of the story of mankind played out against the backcloth of the Night Land, and the death of the Earth itself as it spiraled into the dying Sun.’

‘Yes’, said the metal man, after another brief hesitation. ‘We know something of your previous visions.’

It is Hodgson’s story that begins (after a brief prologue) the novel and ends it. His “Soldier’s Story” is interspersed with accounts of four other men: Count Lugard (reputed to be a vampire) who gives us, of course, the “Count’s Story; the “Explorer’s Story”; the “Writer’s Story”; and the “Detective’s Story”. Hodgson is summoned to a secret mission, leaving his identification disks behind, just before his Forward Observation Post is blown up and, so our history says, he is killed on April 17, 1918.

This is not only a masterful science fiction novel but a conte philosophique that combines many of Stableford’s interests and characteristic themes: an interest in literary decadence; a future history (seen in his emortal series and Tales from the Biotech Revolution series) that includes severe environmental degradation and nuclear and biological warfare in the early 21st century followed by a massive die off and then a heavy use of genetic engineering to create an near utopia on Earth; vampires; sympathy with the Devil’s Party and literary Satanism; art for art’s sake, the value of artifice, and the related ideas of personal myth and the power of the imagination; the stance to take when facing an uncertain future (also seen in his “Taken for a Ride” which also deals with questions of destiny, predestination, and free will), and an interest in early British and French science fiction. Continue reading “Walking the Night Land: Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of Eternity”

Tales of the Al-Azif; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Right now I’m reading David Hambling’s new novel, War of the God Queen, which gave me a good reason to read this book which I bought a few months ago when I was in the midst of reading William Hope Hodgson and various Scottish writers.

Reviewer parallax on this one is provided by The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Reviewer. I would have completely missed this title if he hadn’t mentioned it.

Review: Tales of the Al-Azif, eds. Matthew Davenport & C.T. Phipps, 2019.Tales of the Al Azif

Editors Davenport and Phipps have called up something impressively different here. They ensorcelled their contributors to give over their worlds and characters to serve a larger narrative, the story of something that is feebly and inadequately called a book.

If the language of their spells is a bit obscure at times or crafted to combine that which was separate and hide discontinuities, their vision and direction is to be applauded. They have created worlds from a throwaway title in a monograph from the Great God Lovecraft.

In six stories (one being broken into the opening and closing framing sections), we get the history of the Al-Azif, sometimes known as The Book of the Insect. Maybe the Mad Arab Abdul Al-Hazred used it as the source for the Necronomicon. And, maybe, he was torn apart by invisible demons in a day-lit market square. One thing is certain, though: Al-Azif is not just a static text. It shifts in meaning, is a power unto itself, a power often affiliated with those strange members of the Class Insecta we share Earth with. And the Al-Azif seduces with promises of wishes fulfilled. Continue reading “Tales of the Al-Azif; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax”

Walking the Night Land: “A Question of Meaning”

We return to the Walking the Night Land series already.

I completely forgot about this story when I was reading William Hope Hodgson a few months ago. It’s not surprising, given its appearance in the first issue Sargasso: The Journal of William Hope Hodgson, that it would tie into Hodgson’s The Night Land. (I’ll be reviewing all three issues of the journal as well as more of Hodgson’s short fiction.)

Essay: “A Question of Meaning”, Pierre V. Comtois, 2013.

Sargasso
Cover by Robert H. Knox

This story combines many things. It uses the background of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” and is partly set in Dunwich, the god Nodens, Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, and the far future setting of The Night Land. Taking place in 1999, it also benefits from Comtois’ personal and historical knowledge of New England.

Given its length, it works better than you would expect. Divided into six parts, each titled with a character’s name (though the last two parts really center on the same character), the story has a farmer finding a strange stone in his field near Dunwich. A local historian takes it to the local “crackpot” Corwin who tells him it’s from the cult of Nodens and there will be other stones in the field. Night-gaunts show up farmer Fritch’s field. A local archaeology professor is notified, and a dig is done uncovering the rest of the stones.

Then Montrose is introduced. He’s a priest in the Nodens cult (Nodens sent the night-gaunts.) He is instructed to get the stones back by Nodens. Continue reading “Walking the Night Land: “A Question of Meaning””

Walking the Night Land: Awake in the Night Land

The series on William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land continues.

Essay: Awake in the Night Land, John C. Wright, 2014.

awake_256
Cover by JartStar

After reading William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, I looked up some reviews and criticisms of the work. I was surprised to learn that a devoted group of writers still pay homage to the novel over a hundred years later and have extended Hodgson’s story.

The most extensive and highly regarded such work is this collection.

In his introduction, “On the Lure of the Night Land”, Wright describes himself, post-college, as a somewhat jaded lover of fantastic fiction who was pointed to this novel by a friend. Wright had been working on a piece called “Nigh-Forgotten Sun” which his friend thought was a takeoff on Hodgson’s novel. Wright, however, had not read the novel yet.

In those days, Hodgson’s novel was only available in two volumes from Ballantine Books. He was immediately captivated by the first volume. It was years, though, before he got to read the second volume. Still, Wright’s sense of wonder was rekindled with the heroic tale of Naani’s rescue, the eerie menaces and features of the Night Land that were full of awe and impenetrable mysteries. He loved Hodgson’s archaic “formal and gravid” language which captured the “dark, heavy, grim and gothic majesty” of the Night Land. Continue reading “Walking the Night Land: Awake in the Night Land”