“Date 1965: Modern Warfare”

Review: “Date 1965: Modern Warfare”, William Hope Hodgson, 1908.

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Cover by Jason Van Hollander

This is a speculative essay, a form that Brian Stableford says in Scientific Romance in Britain 1890-1950 thrived between the world wars in Britain. However, it existed before World War One going back to at least H. G. Wells’ “The Extinction of Man” from 1894. (Hodgson was an acquaintance of Wells.)

This is a strange piece from 1908. I’ve seen it called Swiftian, presumably because it involves cannibalism like Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”.

It’s interesting for its commentary on modern war given Hodgson’s obvious patriotism in volunteering for the British Army in 1914, rejoining it after he was discharged for medical reasons, and his death in the war.

The story is framed as a Member of Parliament, John Russell, delivering a speech on the “new war machine”. The story is prescient about “gigantic butcheries which follow in the wake of certain ‘talkee-talkees’”. War, the fictitious Russell says, is no longer a glorious and patriotic pursuit but a “profession of human butcher”.

This is seen as a good development because it is “the best means of developing all that is highest and most heroic in man”. This seems to be evidence that the notion war was needed to prevent social degeneration was prevalent before the war. Modern man is becoming “soft of fibre and heart”. It will get used to horrible war just as it got used to the speed of modern transportation. War, Russell says, should be a matter of intellectual sanity and not “unreasoning, foolish slaughter”. Continue reading ““Date 1965: Modern Warfare””

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”

Sargasso #1

Sargasso: The Journal of William Hope Hodgson Studies was an unfortunately short lived, project by Hodgson scholar Sam Gafford. Only three issues were produced.

Sam Gafford’s “Introduction” lays out his intention that this journal address the lack of a specific outlet for exploration, in nonfiction and fiction, of the themes and concepts in Hodgson’s work.

Review: Sargasso: The Journal of William Hope Hodgson Studies #1, ed. Sam Gafford, 2013.

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Cover by Robert H. Knox

Shadow Out of Hodgson” by John D. Haefele lays out a case, even though S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz do not mention in Hodgson in their annotated version of H. P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Out of Time, for the influence of Hodgson’s The Night Land on that work. First, Lovecraft mentioned Hodgson’s novel in several letters when the story was being written between November 10, 1934 and February 22, 1935. Second, there are several similarities in the narratives. First, like humanity in the Last Redoubt, the Great Race is under siege. Second, the consciousness of both narrators is projected into the future. Both stories feature libraries of metal bound books that the narrators access. Less convincing is Haefele seeing similarities between X descending the gorge on his way to the Lesser Redoubt and the narrator of The Shadow Out of Time, in contemporary times, descending into the uncovered structures of the Great Race.

Phillip A. Ellis’ “A Reassessment of William Hope Hodgson’s Poetry”, Phillip A. Ellis looks at almost all of Hodgson’s poetry and finds Hodgson’s poetry full of vivid physical tales as well as a preoccupation with, as Hodgson scholar Jane Frank noted, “strange visions, supernatural phenomena, hallucinatory events”. Poetry seems to have been a lifelong literary outlet for Hodgson. He took it up earlier than fiction writing and wrote most of his poems between 1899 and 1906. He even wrote poetry when he was in the army and Ellis thinks that, if would have had the chance to develop his facility more, he might have been a noted war poet. Ellis thinks most of the weaknesses in Hodgson’s poetry came from him being a self-educated poet lacking the necessary technical training. I’ve read a lot, but by no means all, of Hodgson’s poetry. Frankly, little stuck in my brain (but, then, most poetry doesn’t) apart from the prose poem “Grey Seas Are Dreaming of My Death”. I do agree with Ellis that Hodgson is best when he takes inspiration and metaphors from the sea. Continue reading “Sargasso #1”

Walking the Night Land: The Trip Begins

Though the new posts have been sparse lately, I have not been idle. This is the beginning of a series on William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land and some of the works it inspired.

All the posts are written, so this isn’t one of those series I started and stopped.

Essay: The Night Land, William Hope Hodgson, 1912.514fE9sRptL

This is a novel perhaps more widely known and admired than read. As Samuel Johnson said about Paradise Lost, “No man ever wished it longer.” There are some other problems modern readers have with it too.

Still, it stands at the beginning of science fiction tradition that includes Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique stories, Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series, and Gene Wolfe’s New Sun series.

Despite its problems, it is a stunning work of weird and far future science fiction. Where Wells, in his The Time Machine, set just a part of his novella in the far future, all but the first chapter of this approximately 200,000 word novel is set there.

Millions of years from now, under a dark sun and on an Earth cracked by its contracting crust (both notions from the then current theories of physicist William Thomsen aka Lord Rutherford), the last survivors of humanity huddle in a seven-mile high pyramid, the Last Redoubt.

Around them, the land is full of various monsters, strange places, degenerate humans, and entities from other dimensions. Some are strange, slow moving, almost mountains. Most of these as well as the places are given enigmatic names that serve as their sole description. Continue reading “Walking the Night Land: The Trip Begins”

“The Saliva Tree”, Or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax.

Since James Harris over at Classics of Science Fiction reviewed this story recently and since I’m not close to putting up any new posts, I thought I’d throw in my two cents about Aldiss’ work.

Raw Feed (1989, 2001): “The Saliva Tree”, Brian W. Aldiss, 1965.

TORDOB03A This is a fun pastiche of H. G. Wells and H. P. Lovecraft. Aldiss isn’t as terrifying as Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space“, his obvious model — though he does produce some scary moments in making his malevolent aliens tourists and giving us an image of space travel being the product of vicious, ruthless races, but he gives us gentle humor in his references to Wells (including all sorts of references to H. G. Wells titles and his inspiration for The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, The Food of the Gods, and The Shape of Things to Come. Aldiss clearly reveres Wells. Aldiss gives a pleasantly Victorian love story with a rivalry between men. (He also gives us rather muted emotion, but I suspect that is part of the air he wishes to achieve.). Aldiss shows his skill in using literary symbols. The misshapen stuffed animals of Mr. Grendon are a reflection of the aliens altering Earth’s flaura and fauna. The Grendon farm uses lower animals the way the Aurigans use us. The destruction of the electrical systems — and the Grendon farm itself (symbol of socialism’s hope in the value and betterment of the common man) — symbolizes the destruction of the naïve belief in inevitable progress and the linkage of higher morality with higher technology.

Upon reading this story the second time around, I noticed a lot more allusions to the work of H.G. Wells than just (as I did the first time) some references to the titles The Time Machine or The War of the Worlds or the presence of H.G. Wells at story’s end. The first time I read it, I characterized it as a cross between H.G. Wells and H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space”.MNNHSTMBST1989

To be sure the basic plot follows the Lovecraft story: an alien lands on a farm, produces changes in humans and plants and animals that causes them to grow large, feeds on the altered organisms, literally maddens some people, kills even more, and returns to space. Aldiss compresses his story timeline relative to Lovecraft’s, has his protagonist intimately involved with the events rather than hearing about them second-hand as the narrator does in the Lovecraft story, has the aliens’ presence explained as a holiday outing, and has his protagonist drive the aliens off. (Of course, in the Lovecraft tale, as typical with a Lovecraft story, humanity is powerless in front of the cosmic menace and not all of it leaves at story’s end.)

This time I noticed the phrases that alluded to (at least, I don’t remember noticing them the first time around) H.G. Wells’ titles: “men like gods”, “food of the gods” (particularly apt for the enlarging effects suffered by the people, animals, and plants on the farm), and “the shape of things to come”. Of course, we’re to assume that Wells’ (this story seems to take place shortly after the publication of The War of the Worlds) gets some future titles from protagonist Gregory Rolles. The socialism — and lack of good socialist comradery on the part of the invisible aliens — of Rolles I caught the first time around. Continue reading ““The Saliva Tree”, Or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax.”

The Ghost Club

This one got downloaded to my Kindle because it contains several stories using the Meikle Mythos of Sigils and Totems.

Review: The Ghost Club: Newly Found Tales of Victorian Terror, William Meikle, 2017.

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Cover by Ben Baldwin

Recently the Criterion Club in London found itself placed in receivership and selling its assets off. In a hidden bookcase, this journal, a collection of lost literary works by club members and visitors transcribed (and perhaps touched up a bit) by Arthur Conan Doyle was found.

The quality of Meikle’s imitations of those writers I can’t, for the most part, speak to. I haven’t read all these authors, and some I have only read a few works by. (I’ll put the putative authors of each story in parentheses next to the relevant title.)

I do think I’ve read enough of H. G. Wells to say that “Farside” is a convincing imitation in style and theme. Its narrator tells us about a demonstration of a Chromoscope, a machine of spinning colored plates that light is passed through and projected onto a wall. It’s a creation of his inventor friend, Hoskins. Hoskins and friends find out, by putting their hands between the projector and the wall, that they have rainbow auras about their hands. Well, all except Dennings who has a “sickly glow, all green” around his. Perhaps its no coincidence that he dies three days later. But why is that green glow now around Hoskins’ hand? Being a Wells’ fan, I was inclined to like this.

I enthusiastically liked so many stories (nine out of 14) that I can’t really call them favorites. Continue reading “The Ghost Club”

The Martian in the Wood

Review: The Martian in the Wood, Stephen Baxter, 2017.Martian in the Wood

This novella is a pendant on Baxter’s The Massacre of Mankind.

Like that novel, it’s told by Julie Elphinstone, ex-sister-in-law of Walter Jenkins, the man we know as the narrator of The War of the Worlds.

Besides references to that novel, Baxter works in another work by Wells and uses the concept of an old forest as a repository of memory similar to Mythago Wood (a novel I know only by reputation) by Robert Holdstock to whom the story is dedicated.

On July 7, 1907, as Jenkins is wandering about the ruins of London with its Martians dead in their tripods, another Martian cylinder lands in Homburgh Wood, an ancient forest untouched by the last glaciation of England.

The story depicts the effects of having a Martian in Holmburgh, particularly on Nathan Gardner, an orphan of the war who was nearby when the Martian landed. The increasingly long time he spends in the wood, often returning after weeks looking haggard and bedraggled, concerns his sister Zene. Nearby farmers are concerned with the dearth of wildlife and strange weather. When a local man disappears, things come to a head with Zena and Jenkins heading into the wood to see what’s going on. Continue reading “The Martian in the Wood”