“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””

Letters to James F. Morton

(This first appeared May 4, 2012 in

 

Review: Letters to James F. Morton, H. P. Lovecraft, eds. David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi, 2011.

To read a Lovecraft letter is to hear Lovecraft’s voice. That is what those who knew him well enough to make the comparison said. He wrote as he spoke. Modern audiences might think of these letters as a Lovecraft blog full of the details of his life, intermittently playful, sometimes earnest and serious, often returning to the legacy of the 18th century he so loved.

These particular letters are all at least 70 years old, yet they sometimes touch on things we still discuss: economic chaos and dislocation, political reform and radicalism, race, culture, and immigration. Contentious issues then and now, but, at least with these two men, the debate was genial and reasonable. In that, they seem less modern.

James F. Morton maintained a correspondence with Lovecraft from sometime around 1920 until Lovecraft’s death in 1937. Morton was many things Lovecraft wasn’t. He was 20 years older. He was a college graduate – specifically, from Harvard, where he graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s and master’s degree at age 22. He was a political radical who had associated with anarchists, including Emma Goldman, and written books on tax policy and religious “freethinking”. He had once made a living as a lecturer and belonged to many national organisations, including ones devoted to natural history, Esperanto and genealogy. For much of the time of their correspondence, Morton was gainfully employed at the Patterson Museum in New Jersey, where, after learning mineralogy in three weeks, he convinced them to hire him as curator and eventually built one of the premier mineralogical museum displays in America.

And yet, the reclusive Lovecraft was, remarked mutual acquaintance Edward H. Cole, the only one in their circle who could talk “on the same plane” as Morton.

Amateur journalism, said Lovecraft, gave him “life itself”, and part of that gift was Morton. Their first contact with each other was not the auspicious start of a lifelong friendship. Lovecraft attacked, in 1915, an essay by Charles D. Isaacson. The latter responded, as did his friend Morton. As Schultz and Joshi put it in the book’s introduction, Lovecraft got “his ears boxed by one of the organization’s grand old men, a liberal, free-thinking anarchist.” In an essay, “’Conservatism’ Gone Mad” – The Conservative was the magazine Lovecraft published – Morton firmly rebutted Lovecraft’s contentions. But, in the final paragraph, after saying,

Lovecraft needs to serve a long and humble apprenticeship before he will become qualified to sit in the master’s seat and to thunder forth ex cathedra judgements,

Morton complimented his “evident sincerity” and “vigor of style” and said that Lovecraft could become “a writer of power”.

But, sometime in the next five years, Morton went from a man who participated in, according to Lovecraft, the  “wanton destruction of the public faith and the publick morals” to one of his dearest friends, a man he would write, and personally meet often, until Lovecraft’s death.

None of Morton’s letters are reproduced here. Lovecraft didn’t usually save all the letters from his many correspondents and, despite their long and deep friendship, Morton’s were no exception. For whatever reason, he only saved about 45 of Morton’s letters, and many of those were recycled when Lovecraft wrote his manuscripts on their back. Most of the 162 letters here are from transcripts done for Arkham House’s Selected Letters series, though most of the time, they were abridged there and this volume reproduces each letter in its entirety. Only three of the letters are based on actual physical copies and not those transcripts. Therefore, this is not the entire record of Lovecraft’s letters to Morton and it also omits the many postcards Lovecraft sent Morton.

The subjects covered in the letters are not what you would always expect.

Both living on tight budgets, and in an age of usually regional-only distribution of particular food items, the two spend some letters discussing the merits of particular brands of canned baked beans and coffee. Lovecraft would even sometimes mail Morton particular food items Morton couldn’t find in New York or New Jersey.

Architecture and, especially, Georgian architecture is probably the subject that comes up most often. Morton’s interest in this, perhaps, was not equal to Lovecraft’s, but he seems to have had knowledge and experience with some of the historical restoration projects then under way along the Atlantic seaboard.

Genealogy was an enthusiasm for both. At one memorable point, in a 1933 letter, this spun off into a facetious genealogy, beginning with Lovecraft’s created god Azathoth and terminating in branches that list the reputed ancestors of Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith.

Lovecraft was not enamoured of geology and especially not with mineralogy, which he regarded as mostly an exercise in classification with no intrinsically interesting drama behind it, but he did aid in Morton’s efforts to gather specimens for the Patterson Museum collection. Besides ghost writing, Lovecraft’s other main source of income was small lease payments from the owner of a quarry around Providence, and he worked as a go-between in getting mineral specimens from there, including, according to their mutual friend W. Paul Cook, one that was only known, as far as the eastern United States was concerned, from that quarry. This same friend claimed that there was a ton or more of rocks in “Lovecraft’s room” (presumably a study) for over a year before they were sent to Morton.

Stamp collecting and puzzles are also frequently discussed. Lovecraft had collected stamps as a boy and sent specimens on to Morton. As for puzzles, Lovecraft could not understand Morton’s inveterate love of them. He not only solved them, but created them and two of the many organisations he belonged to were the National Puzzlers’ League and the American Cryptogram Association. To Lovecraft, puzzles were a pointless expenditure of time and mental energy that he would rather spend actually learning facts about history and the natural world, rather than solving an arbitrary and artificial problem. But he granted that Morton probably had the mental energy to spare. And, indeed, Morton was a whirlwind of activity. Lovecraft asked him if he wouldn’t be happier not trying to cram something into each minute of the day, and spending some time in idle contemplation and emotional reflection.

Why, rather than reading at meals, asked Lovecraft, couldn’t Morton just let his mind wander? Then Lovecraft goes off on an example, a remarkable, multi-page chain of free association inspired by the utensils and foods of a common breakfast. At another time, he does this with architecture, and ends with images and plots reminiscent of his stories. For Lovecraft, association was everything, a source of comfort and identification, an aesthetic basis for happiness in a cosmos with no real human values. I sense that these chains of association account for what some critics deem his adjective-heavy style. (Though I would be curious to see Lovecraft’s fiction put to a mathematical stylistic analysis to see how it actually compares, in adjective frequency and density, to the writers these same critics favour.) Perhaps they were the most concise way he could evoke the associations he intended, an allusive imagery of the sort a poet would use, since that was his first field of literary endeavour.

Another interesting feature of these letters is how many times Lovecraft, the lover and emulator of 18th-century English prose, imitates contemporary slang and dialects of various types. Contemporaries said the slang usage was spot on and, of course, he best put this dialectic skill to use in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”.

There is, as with many biographies, a sense of drama that comes as you near the subject’s rendezvous with eternity. A letter from July 25, 1936 mentions the recent suicide of his friend Robert Howard. His last letter, started in December 1936 and found unfinished on his desk after his death, is full of the kind of portents a fiction writer would use: references to muted fall colours, increasing bouts of “grippe”, and the Christmas gift of a skull.

Oddly, this is one of the few letters that actually talk about weird fiction. Morton was interested in a variety of literature, old and new. He was, in fact, the one who introduced Lovecraft to Algernon Blackwood and there is a hilarious letter in which Lovecraft, taking up the suggestion of one of Morton’s museum co-workers, spins out the possible plot details of a detective series featuring two mineralogists, where all the crimes have to do with rocks and all the solutions hinge on points of mineralogy. But Lovecraft seldom mentions any fiction projects he is working on, just sends the completed versions to Morton. His ghostwriting assignments are talked about much more and the two streams of his writing come together when he good-naturedly, but with a hint of exasperation, notes how many tales in Weird Tales under other names were worked on by him. But, in that last letter, he comments on the promise and talent of those who would, in part, take up and expand his legacy: Robert Bloch; Fritz Leiber, Jr; and Henry Kuttner, Jr.

But there is another subject in these letters which must be confronted, that modern sensibilities demand be mentioned: Lovecraft’s views on race.

The Lovecraft essay that Isaacson and Morton responded to said, “Race prejudice was a gift of nature.” For his part, Morton, a member of the National Association for Advancement of Colored People and author of The Curse of Race Prejudice, was having none of it:

Race prejudice is not defensible by reason…Like other vices it can be readily overcome by individuals capable of rising to a rational view of existence,

he said in “’Conservatism’ Gone Mad”.

Judging by Lovecraft’s side of the conversation, the two individuals never altered their starting points much. Morton, said to always be a firm-but-polite debater, seemed to have continued to try to convince Lovecraft, given the references to articles Morton sent him for which comment was sought. There are four long letters in this collection, 64 out of 383 pages of letters, where Lovecraft expounds his views on ethics, tradition, race, and immigration. Essentially, Lovecraft believed that there were no moral, no human values in the universe. There was no end that the human race was working towards, no moral purpose or order it was charged with working towards. Random chance was the starting point of everything and all was determined after that from preceding events. Individuals could usually find moments of happiness in the products and traditions of the culture chance had put them in, and those culture streams were the product of particular races. Thus, race created culture and, except for a few individuals, happiness could not be found in cultures created by other racial groups. His frequent expressions of distaste for other races (and his categories of race are not identical to the ones we would use today) was in the context of their presence in America, and the changes they brought to the land and culture he grew up in.

Now, there’s a lot to argue about with this – and there are plenty of other places beside this site to do that. The key point to take away is that Lovecraft didn’t regard most other races as inherently inferior on all points compared to his self-identified Nordic-Teutonic roots. He cheerfully conceded that, in some areas, they were the equals or superiors to his race. His was a position of racial segregation. (A fuller explanation of these views can be found in S.T. Joshi’s discussion of Lovecraft’s personal philosophy in H.P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West.)

There were, however, two races excluded from this view, for which he had nothing good to say – at least in these letters:

…the Australian blackfellow & (now extinct) Tasmanian is even more emphatic; this race being nearly as far below the negro as the negro is below the full human.

It is, of course, true that writers, by nature, are at hazard for leaving a record of unpleasant sentiments that are shared by hundreds of mute others of their time. It’s also true that words and thoughts are not the same as actions, and Morton himself noted that Lovecraft always acted gentlemanly. And Lovecraft wouldn’t be the only 20th-century writer who expressed some murderous private sentiments. (George Bernard Shaw’s justification of Stalin’s purges comes to mind, for instance.) But even I, a fan of Lovecraft, squirmed when he wrote this, without a trace of hyperbole or irony:

I’d like to see Hitler wipe Greater New York clean with poison gas – giving masks to the few remaining people of Aryan culture (even if of Semitic ancestry). The place needs fumigation & a fresh start. (If Harlem didn’t get any masks, I’d shed no tears…. )

Showing a more nuanced – and, certainly, more gentle – side, Lovecraft, hardly known for a close examination of human relations in his fiction, offers his analysis of the benefits of newly widowed Cook’s troubled marriage and expresses horror on news of the death of Ida C. Haughton, an amateur journalist he had memorably attacked in his poem, “Medusa: A Portrait”.

The shadow of the Great Depression falls across the later letters when Lovecraft mentions his many acquaintances who have lost their jobs. These letters show him moving from an explicit admirer of German and Italian fascism to socialism of the American variety in the New Deal. His complaints about “machine-barbarism” and an American plutocracy may find sympathy with some modern readers. To me, his claims that Mediterranean influences corrupted the Anglo-Saxon world into an undue emphasis on commerce is bad economic history and a place where his intellect failed him.

The book, as usual with Hippocampus Press products, is well organised and thorough in its presentation. The letters are annotated with footnotes – my only complaint is that they are at the end of each letter and not at the bottom of the page. A glossary lists several of the people mentioned in the book and the index is extensive. Not only is there a bibliography for Lovecraft and Morton, but autobiographical writings by Morton, his memorial to Lovecraft, and others’ memorial writings on Morton, including a touching account of the scattering of his ashes by Rheinhart Kleiner, another of Lovecraft’s friends.

Anyone interested in Lovecraft’s letters will want this book. For those curious about the fascination of Lovecraft the correspondent, but who haven’t read any of his letters, I think this could serve as a good introduction to the subject.

“Ill Met in Lankhmar”

This week’s weird fiction I approached with a sigh and a bit of trepidation.

I’ve been bouncing off the appeal of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser since first encountering them in grade school in “The Sadness of the Executioner” in Lin Carter’s Flashing Swords #1 anthology. I’m a fan of much of Leiber’s science fiction, and his horror and weird fiction was very innovative. But, to date, I’ve been unimpressed with his sword and sorcery.

Review: “Ill Met in Lankhmar”, Fritz Leiber, 1970.Ill Met in Lankhmar

Leiber started his Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series in 1939, but it wasn’t until 1970, with this story, that he told how the two met.

The story starts with Fafhrd and Gray Mouser independently ambushing a party of thieves in the smoggy city of Lankhmar. The city is ruled, de facto, by the Thieves Guild. I’m not aware of any historical society that had anything like a Thieves Guild, but sword and sorcery writers love the idea. (I suspect it started with Robert E. Howard, but I don’t actually know.) Later in the story, Leiber lavishes a lot of detail on what training the Thieves Guild offers to its apprentices and those in the associated Beggars Guild.

Congratulating themselves with lots of wine and ale, the two new friends go home to Gray Mouser’s den in a decrepit, slummy attic where he keeps love Ivrian – rescued from her father’s torture chambers – in a sort of solitaire confinement which Fafhrd privately thinks leads to Ivrian being rather anxious and flighty. Continue reading ““Ill Met in Lankhmar””

“The Whip”

The James Gunn series continues, and I’m starting my look at The Unpublished Gunn, Part Two.

Review: “The Whip”, James Gunn, 1996.c87e19c4f9c12b7596945497167434f414f4141

Seemingly, from the introduction in The Unpublished Gunn, Part One, this story was written in late 1952 or early 1953.

Gunn said, in that volume, that he thought this story might have been rejected by editors because it was too depressing. It’s a near miss, but I think the story suffers from the same problem many other unpublished Gunn stories do: too obscure. This one also has some loose ends I would have liked wrapped up.

It’s a fairly long story, the 23rd that Gunn wrote. It takes up 20 pages of a 68 chapbook. Continue reading ““The Whip””

“Sane Asylum”

The unintended James Gunn summer project continues, this time with a look at more of his fiction.

Starting in 1992, two chapbooks of Gunn’s work were issued: The Unpublished Gunn, parts one and two.

They included nine of the 92 pieces of short fiction he had written to that date. In his introduction to part one, Gunn says he’s publishing these stories because he has a sense of unfinished business at not seeing a completed story in print. In particular, he is puzzled as to why these stories were rejected when he discerns no difference in quality between them and stories he did get published at the same time. He wants to them put before the world.

I’ll be looking at each of those nine stories individually.

Review: “Sane Asylum”, James Gunn, 1992.Uncollected Gunn 1

This was the fourth story Gunn wrote, and he says his initial ambition was to publish it in Bluebook. (Presumably this refers to Blue Book Magazine, a general fiction pulp magazine that had a long run from 1905 to 1956.)

Using the chronology of Gunn’s compositions in Michael R. Page’s Saving the World Through Science Fiction, that would mean this story was written in 1948 or 1949, so the influence of Fritz Leiber’s “Coming Attraction”, a story much admired by Gunn, is not present. Yet, despite the different subjects and themes of the two stories, both are science fiction tales that postulate social changes and little or no technological changes. Here, the only bit of advanced technology is radio earpieces worn by the attendants at Willows Mental Hospital and that look like hearing aids. In fact, Gunn’s agent, Frederik Pohl, tried to sell the piece to the non-science fiction magazine Suspense.

Gunn’s story actually is more reminiscent of Philip K. Dick though there is, of course, no direct connection given that Dick hadn’t published anything yet. But we are in a sort of similar territory with the questioning of reality. Continue reading ““Sane Asylum””

Modern SF: Plots of Circumstance, Part 4

 

51QhTYVGKDL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

The look at James Gunn’s Modern Science Fiction: A Critical Analysis continues.

Modern Man in the Modern World

This time we’re looking at another subcategory of the plots of circumstance category.

In Gunn’s sample, it’s the most popular subcategory in the most popular category.

The reasons for this are obvious: the situation is immediate, the characters are easy to identify with, the world is familiar, “the problems presented are often as real to the reader as they are to the characters”. Even if the problems are novel to the reader, they can be made to seem real. If you want to do significant “political, social, and psychological observations and analyses”, this is the plot for you.

However, as of 1951, Gunn saw this plot in decline. Post-Hiroshima it was the vehicle for so many post-nuclear war stories that editors grew sick of them.

Gunn warns there is a “minor writing problem” in using this plot: “the lack of common knowledge of the event described” needs an explanation. Stories can be set in secluded areas or news of them suppressed.

Or, since Gunn says his use of “modern” is elastic, you can just take the obvious tact of putting the story in the near future. To him, if your world has “no inventions or industries impossible to our science or engineering ability today”, your story is modern.

Given that the temporal setting of these stories is all the same, Gunn doesn’t use a time-based classification system for this categories varieties. He does it on the basis of the problem introduced into the “modern” world.

Facing a Continuing Problem

This, Gunn says, is a plot that amalgamates study of a human trait and the problem to various degrees.

Gunn uses, as case studies, a couple of stories. One is Clifford D. Simak’s “Lobby”. The other is Philip Wylie’s “Blunder”. Both deal with problems about nuclear technology. But, Gunn says, these are not pure examples of this plot. He postulates that such a story would have

no wars or threats of war or any other unusual circumstantial occurrence. The story would deal completely with human impulses and the human mind.

But he doesn’t think such a story, at least such a science fiction story, can be written.

Or he did until he read Fritz Leiber’s “Coming Attraction”. Gunn spends a great deal of time on that story showing a remarkable eye for its significance since Gunn finished his thesis in May 1951 and Leiber’s story only came out in November 1950. He praises its “techniques of characterization and symbolism”. At the end of several pages discussing it, he says Leiber’s story and Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles are “two of the most hopeful and pregnant possibilities of the future of science fiction”. If science fiction continues in their vein, it will become a “literary medium for literary critics to reckon with”.

Facing a Problem Raised by New Technology

This is the plot that got (at least in a few instances) science fiction the reputation of being a prophetic genre. It’s the stereotypical Analog story (probably more in the breach than practice).

Gunn draws on an analogy from his naval days:

Science fiction is engaged, in one segment of its personality, in the business of prediction, just as it indulges in flights of fancy and considerations of the fictional possibilities of relatively improbable events. It is the same sort of prediction as that produced by the Navy’s gun directors, with an input of the known factors of the target’s position, course, and speed, these directors compute mathematically the target’s future position at any given time.

Not surprisingly, John W. Campbell gets quoted here in regard to prophetic sf stories.

Gunn sees this as a firmly established plot in science fiction, well-exploited and that probably won’t develop further sophistication. It could be argued that cyberpunk developed this plot further by presenting stories that didn’t content themselves to extrapolating one technology but multiple technologies.

Facing Problems in the Mental and Social Fields

This is a rather hypothetical plot since Gunn says none of the anthologies he used as resources have pure examples of it. Essentially, these would be stories where psychology and sociology have developed to become more scientific and the resulting implications explored. Gunn sees a lot of potential here with many more stories to come.

And he was right. The 1950s saw, in the pages of Galaxy and Astounding Stories, many stories where the soft sciences were rigorous and produced spectacular results for good and bad.

Facing Problems of a New War

Not a lot of comment needed here. It’s the near future war story – as opposed to the E. E. “Doc” Smith far future war story of improbable weapons. It doesn’t have to center around weapons technology. Gunn mentions Theodore Sturgeon’s “Thunder and Roses” which centers around the question whether the U.S. should launch a retaliatory nuclear strike on Russia.

Gunn was quite right that the temporary fatigue with future war stories would pass and that this would be an enduring plot that would even show up outside of science fiction magazines.

Modern Science Fiction

This summer’s project seems to be James Gunn.

I’m only going to do a brief review of this book. Following a pattern similar to what I did with Brian Stableford’s book of critical essays on science fiction, Opening Minds, I’ll have some thoughts on individual chapters and do separate blog posts on them.

I’ll also be looking at some Gunn short stories and will comment on how they relate to Gunn’s theories.

Review: Modern Science Fiction: A Critical Analysis, James Gunn and edited and annotated by Michael R. Page, 2018.51QhTYVGKDL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Anybody interested in science fiction criticism will want to pick this one up. It’s the first real critical study of contemporary science fiction.

Its only predecessors are J. O. Bailey’s Pilgrims Through Space and Time (a doctoral dissertation from 1933 and published in 1947) and Marjorie Hope Nicolson’s Voyages to the Moon from 1948. But Bailey, a Victorian scholar, concentrated on works from that period and barely looked at pulp magazines. Nicolson’s work was only about a certain type of science fiction.

Gunn’s thesis is from 1951 and addresses what he terms science fiction in the realistic mode and definitely looks at contemporary works.

His sample drew from the pulps and also from five reprint anthologies.

What is peculiar to Gunn’s work is his emphasis on plot types, and he gives a schematic classifying them all. In the foreword, science fiction scholar Gary K. Wolfe, who was put on his lifetime vocation by encountering parts of Gunn’s thesis when it was reprinted in Dynamic Science Fiction, remarks that this reflects Gunn’s work as a writer. A science fiction writer could use this thesis to think about story generation, and Gunn gives his advice on which plots are and are not worth pursuing. Continue reading “Modern Science Fiction”

The Roads Between the Worlds

The Michael Moorcock series continues not with sword-and-sorcery but science fiction.

Raw Feed (1999): The Roads Between the Worlds, Michael Moorcock, 1964, 1971.Roads Between the World

Introduction” — An interesting introduction in which Moorcock not only talks about the three novels in this omnibus but his relation to sf. Moorcock cites Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man as an influence which made me eager to read the novels in this omnibus. Moorcock has said he doesn’t have a lot of interest in “modern sf” but liked the works of Fritz Leiber, Philip K. Dick, and the Frederick Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth collaborations. This explains his dislike of Larry Niven and Robert Heinlein. He doesn’t like conservative sf with its preeminence of rationalizing with hard science its fantasy elements. For him, sf (he’s hardly alone in this nor is it an illegitimate stance) is a way to understand our world. The fantasy element in his sf is both a symbol as well as a device to move the story. He says these three novels trace the evolution of the “rationalist apparatus” of sf from “stage machinery” to symbolic writings. Moorcock also, as I didn’t know, worked as a writer for the British Liberal Party for awhile. These novels were written in one draft and very slightly revised for this edition. Evidently, they were written in a hurry to provide more traditional far for the experimental magazines Science Fiction Adventures and New Worlds.

The Wrecks of Time — I liked this novel a lot more than I thought I would. Its plot of Earths being built and destroyed and altered (and the inhabitants amnesiac about the alteration of their planet’s geography) reminded me of Philip K. Dick’s themes of what is reality and simulating it. The scheming groups of D-Squads and aliens obsessed with recreating the society that birthed them reminded me of A. E. van Vogt (also an influence on Dick). Continue reading “The Roads Between the Worlds”

Tales from the Texas Woods

The Michael Moorcock series continues.

Moorcock lived in Texas for a while — in Austin, of course, given his political proclivities.

Raw Feed (1998): Tales from the Texas Woods, Michael Moorcock, 1997.Tales from the Texas Woods

Introduction” — An interesting introduction in which Moorcock reveals, surprisingly, (I saw no clue of this before reading his collection Fabulous Harbors), a long standing fascination with the American West and tales of it. Indeed, some of his first sold writing was pulp Westerns.

The Ghost Warriors” — A tale featuring a new Moorcock hero, the Masked Buckaroo (mentioned in Moorcock’s Fabulous Harbors and The War Amongst the Angels), Count Ulrich aka Monsieur Zenith, his nemesis Sexton Begg, and some marauding Apaches. The disguised Ulrich leads a band of Ghost Warriors in an elaborate ruse to get the trumpet note (supplied by a pursuing military party) needed to magically open the pathway to the Grey Fees or Realm Below and the multiverse beyond. Besides the story’s wit, I liked the deliberate echoes of the Ghost Dance in the Ghost Warriors and their quest for a land of “lost dreams” where herds of buffalo still roamed, justice prevailed, and virtue is rewarded. I also like that, though the Masked Buckaroo is willing to let Count von Bek escape unpursued, that indefatigable force of Law, Sexton Begg, is not about to give up the chase just because Ulrich went to the Grey Fees.

About My Multiverse” — Short explanation of how mathematician Mandelbrot’s chaos theory and fractal sets lent coherence to Moorcock’s conception of the multiverse, its use as a political propaganda metaphor for the “Happy Mean” (which seems to resemble the unconvincing “Third Way” between capitalism and communism), and Moorcock’s belief that popular culture is where authority can be attacked. Continue reading “Tales from the Texas Woods”

The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Vol. One: To Be Continued

Looking back in my posts after posting a review of volume six in this series, I see I hadn’t posted anything on volume one. I suspect that’s because, for whatever reason, I didn’t make notes on the last story in the book.

That makes this a …

Low Res Scan: The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume One: To Be Continued, ed. Robert Silverberg, 2006.Robert Silverberg 1

Introduction” — An interesting introduction to this, the first volume in what Silverberg says is the third attempt to collect his stories. Silverberg continues to amaze me with his prolificness while not working weekends and while in college. Here he casually mentions all the stories, as a professional writer (not working weekends but while in college), he sold in the years 1953-58. He says that he will let his mediocre sports and mystery stories languish. Silverberg is unapologetic about being a hack to fund sf projects he did care about. It was only years later that he discovered that the writers he admired, Fritz Leiber, Ray Bradbury, and Theodore Sturgeon weren’t supporting themselves by in the same way. Leiber had an editorial job. Bradbury sold to the high paying slicks. Sturgeon simply lived near starvation — which Silverberg decidedly didn’t. However, he is happy to reprint his early pulp stories which he thinks show compentency and that he has affection for.

Gorgon Planet” — Silverberg justly points out that this, his first professional sale, is nothing special. But it is pretty good for an eighteen year old, and he’s right in showing that he had an early command of effectively linking exposition and dialogue. The plot itself is a lackluster retelling of the Perseus-Medusa myth in a sf context. Continue reading “The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Vol. One: To Be Continued”