The House on the Borderland

It started out reading some William Meikle stories set in Scotland. That expanded into reading his Sigils and Totems series which took me to his Carnacki pastiches. That took me to William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki tales which led me to reading this one and The Night Land since Meikle seemed to be using some elements of them.

Review: The House on the Borderland, William Hope Hodgson, Complete Works of William Hope Hodgson, 2015.House on the Borderland

Several horror and weird fiction motifs exist in this novel. There’s the house with secrets. There’s the isolated house under attack by monsters. There’s possession by inhuman forces.

This is a novel of portals and mysterious connections centered around a huge and lonely house in the wilds of Ireland, a novel of opposites hardly understood by the man who encounters them.

It’s also a novel of time travel, of an astral sort, showing deep time and the far future in a remarkable manner, a time-lapsed vision that takes up seven of the books twenty-three chapters.

Framing the story is the account of two vacationing fishermen in 1877 who come across the ruins of an old house perched above a ravine and a nearby cataract. In those ruins is discovered a manuscript, the basis of our story. Continue reading “The House on the Borderland”

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“The Feaster from Afar”

This week’s piece of weird fiction was first published The Disciples of Cthulhu from 1976, a time long before “Cthulhu” and “Lovecraft” got slapped on so many book covers.

Review: “The Feaster From Afar”, Joseph Payne Brennan, 1976.

Disciples of Cthulhu
Cover by Karel Thole

Our protagonist is Sydney Mellor Madison, a writer of historical novels. He works in two year cycles: six months of research, a year of writing, and then six months of copy editing and promotion.

He’s become successful and decides he’d like to write his next book in someplace isolated away from the duties that distract him when he tries to work in his apartment.

He’s offered a lease on an unused hunting lodge in “northern New England”. So, he goes to check it out before signing.

He gets to the village of Granbury and meets the local storekeeper the lodge is twelve miles up a very bad road. It’s a road through a “bleak, uninhabited, and altogether inhospitable” land.

The first night there, Madison doesn’t sleep well. But he gets up, eats breakfasts, and sits down to write. The hunting lodge decorations and furniture may not be to his taste. But he’s a pro. He doesn’t wait until he’s in the mood to write. Do that, and you’ll end up a book reviewer.

But, after three hours, he stops, decides to check the mail, finds there is no mailbox, so drives back to Granbury. There he talks to Saines, the storekeeper, who tells him he has to pick up his mail at the store. Saines asks Madison if he’s a hunter. When the reply is in the negative, Saines is a bit taken aback as to why he would stay at the lodge then. A local character, sitting in the corner, ominously says, “Mebbe yew don’t hunt, mister, but just be sure yew ain’t the hunted.”

Annoyed at this “cracker-barrel” philosophy, Maidson leaves and decides he’s only going to pick up his mail once a week. Royalty checks can wait.

Back at the lodge, he has a few drinks to wash away his annoyance.

The next morning he’s still not in the best of moods – more bad dreams — so grabs one of the many shotguns in the lodge and takes a walk. The area around the lodge is remarkably silent and free of any sign of animals. It’s “barren and bleak” and feels wrong.

It’s more bad dreams that night. The place is getting on his nerves, so he goes back to Granbury and talks to Saines.

“Did anything – ever happen – up there? I mean, anything real bad?” he asks Saines.

Well, there was that hunter found dead up there awhile back. He had a bunch of holes in his head and no brain.

Madison is incredulous about this. Why wasn’t it in the papers?

Not everythin’ gits in the papers, Mr. Madison. And sometimes investigations that turns — complercated – gits hushed up!

Madison should just leave the lodge. Something bad is up there.

“Anyway, the Whateleys drew suthin’ down out of the sky there – and it ain’t niver left…”, says Saines.

Besides, Madison being a writin’ fellow he’s surprised he’s never heard of the “Cthulhu Mythos”

That does not impress Madison. He’s heard of some “pulp-magazine scribbler” – “Lovelock or Lovecrop – or something like that.”

Back to the lodge, Madison is still on edge and distracts himself by looking through the lodge’s library.

Out of one book falls a note that Hastur, the Feaster from Afar, has put his mark on the area. The reader of the note should just leave.

Madison thinks he’s the victim of a practical joke. The note could be forged – though how would a prankster know which book he would pick up? None of the other books have such notes.

And then the story reaches it’s expected conclusion.

We then hear about that dream Madison has had every night, a dream of pursuit in the country under moonlight pursued by a flying figure with talons. It’s no dream this time, though.

And Hastur, the Feaster from Afar sucks Madison’s brains out.

So, a predictable if enjoyable story with the main points of interest being the disparagement of H. P. Lovecraft and his story “The Dunwich Horror“.

 

More fantastic fiction is indexed by title and author/editor.

“The Arcade”

It’s time for this week’s bit of weird fiction.

(Why, you ask, isn’t there one every week. Mostly because I’ve either already blogged about the current story under discussion at LibraryThing’s Deep Ones group or I didn’t get my hands on the story under discussion).

Review: “The Arcade”, Will Murray, 2012.

Worlds of Cthulhu
Cover by Gahan WIlson

You may not recognize the name of Will Murray. He writes a lot, but most of his work is in pulp fiction both as a practioner and historian. For instance, he does a lot of historical background for Sanctum Books reprints of Doc Savage novels (which I read but don’t regularly review here) and has new adventures with that hero.

Among his other interests is H. P. Lovecraft. In addition to critical work on Lovecraft, he’s written some Lovecraftian stories including “The Sothis Radiant”.

As Robert M. Price, the editor of Worlds of Cthulhu where this story first appeared, this is a Lovecraftian story that does not “depend upon a check list of unpronounceable names and magical grimoires”.

It uses Lovecraft’s Arkham locales, specifically the town of Foxfield. That was a location Lovecraft invented but never used.

This is one of those weird tales whose charm would be broken by a plot synopsis, not that it’s particularly complex. Continue reading ““The Arcade””

“Witches’ Hollow”

This week’s weird fiction selection.

Review: “Witches’ Hollow”, H. P. Lovecraft and August Derleth, 1962.DRKMKHRT3A1962

This, like other “collaborations” between Lovecraft and Derleth I’ve read, was rather lifeless. Derleth’s usual technique was simply to expand on a story note or fragment of Lovecraft’s. On its first publication in the Derleth edited Dark Mind, Dark Heart, he even puts Lovecraft’s name prominently on the story with his own name asterisked in footnote “Completed by August Derleth”.

These collaborations don’t do a thing for me emotionally, and I find them an exercise in just mentally ticking off boxes to see which of the “gods” invented by Derleth he’s going to add to his version of the “Cthulhu Mythos” — a term he coined. There’s also the usual bland domestication of Lovecraft’s vision with what are, essentially, magical relics.

Here Derleth works in some references to Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” and sets the story around Arkham.  Continue reading ““Witches’ Hollow””

“The Shunned House”

I’m a bit late with this week’s weird tale, and I’m not really offering a review because I’ve already done that.

Review: “The Shunned House”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1924.277a820dd7a0f4d98d1dd010.L

On re-reading this story after a number of years, I noticed that this story has one of the earliest references to the Exeter vampire story which only got wider coverage in the 2000s. (At least the Wikipedia entry only has sources that recent.)

It also strikes me as a transition story for Lovecraft. It’s a gothic tale centered around the rumors about a house and the evil affecting it is traced through history. It strikes me that this 1924 story prefigures 1926’s “The Call of Cthulhu” which is sort of an international gothic tracing evil through history in several locations. The idea of a malevolent presence sapping people’s lives figures prefigures 1927’s “The Colour Out of Space”. The introduction of a new scientific ideas and apparatus (the acid and Crookes tube and flamethrower) point the way to greater use of science in later Lovecraft stories though only the acid works here in destroying the monster.

And here’s a picture of the shunned house still standing at 135 Benefit St in Providence, Rhode Island — just where Lovecraft put it.

135_Benefit_Street,_Providence_RI

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

 

Modern SF: Plots of Circumstance, Part 5

 

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The detailed examination of James Gunn’s Modern Science Fiction: A Critical Analysis continues.

We’re still looking at that category of plots of circumstances where the setting is the modern world or the near future and the plot is built around a problem.

Facing Problems Introduced from the Past

Gunn notes this is similar to the “ancient being or primitive being in a modern human environment” plot. This plot, though, is centered around a modern man, and it is that man that provides reader identification.

This is primarily a plot of menace. Some kind of man, animal, plant, seed, or strange alien being comes into our world from the past. (Gunn doesn’t mention disease, but that’s obviously another potential menace.) The menace arrives from suspended animation, some temporal suspension, or time travel.

In threatening human supremacy in the world, this menace allows an examination and reassessment of some human trait, the assets and debits of human nature.

H. P. Lovecraft understandably gets cited as a prime example though Gunn regards his work as “more fantasy than science fiction”; however, he does concede Lovecraft did offer explanations of varying degrees of credibility. That’s a fair assessment of Lovecraft, and Lovecraft didn’t really consider himself a science fiction writer though I’d argue that, whatever the plausibility of the offered explanations, a story that offers a scientific explanation is sf on that ground alone whatever the intended emotional effect the author was going for. Gunn says Lovecraft was one of the few writers to successfully create a new mythology to be in the background of his stories. Richard Shaver’s stories are an example of failing to do that.

Understandably, Gunn cites John W. Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” as a fine example of this plot. However, he makes no reference of its probable influence of Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” on it.

All in all, Gunn is in favor of this plot as well-suited to many purposes, including a philosophical examination of humanity, and providing suspense, the all important “reader identification”, and drama.

Facing Problems Introduced from Another Dimension

Lovecraft and his followers in the Cthulhu Mythos aren’t mentioned here. Gunn sees this as a plot type in decline. (He also says Charles Fort frequently gets cited in this type of story.)

The limitation of this plot type is that it isn’t as flexible as the problems-from-the-past-encroaching- into-the-modern-world plot. It doesn’t seem to be well-suited to comment on “the nature of mankind”. (I’m not sure why Gunn thinks that. It isn’t obviously true.) What these stories mainly suggest is that “man is not the apex of creation”.

As a tool for a horror story, it works well even “though that purpose borders closely on fantasy”.

Facing Problems Introduced from Another World or Space

Obviously Gunn is right in stating this is a popular plot. The problems you can export from another place other than Earth are unlimited. The modern world can be contrasted to the strangeness outside it. Reader identification, as in all the plots set in the modern world, is high.

It also has a higher credibility, an easier suspension of disbelief, than using a plot that brings problems into the world from the past, another dimension, or the future.

It can easily provide that old sf standby, “sense of wonder”.

And Gunn makes the interesting point that it expresses science fiction’s

natural hatred of skepticism—that type of skepticism, at least, which refuses to admit the possibility of any happening out of the ordinary.

Gunn cites the popular “aliens judging Earth” variety of this plot.

He concludes with his high opinion of this plot’s literary value and ease of use for writers:

The form itself is one of the best developed in science fiction; interesting, effective, and occasionally significant stories have been written in this form, and it has promise of even greater merit if it develops its thematic possibilities along new and perhaps more productive lines.

Facing Problems Introduced from the Future

Gunn cites two stories here as excellent examples of sf craft: William Tenn’s “Child Play” and Henry Kuttner’s and C. L. Moore’s “Mimsy Were the Borogroves”.

Both stories are about children’s toys from the future showing up in our world. In the Tenn story, it’s a “Bild-A-Man” kit. In the Kuttner and Moore story, it’s a toy teaching kids how to enter a fourth dimension.

But, in Gunn’s mind, those stories have no “particularly serious or significant nature”. C. M. Kornbluth’s “The Little Black Bag” does. Specifically, it’s a commentary on overpopulation and dysgenics, and Gunn thinks, while it shows this plot, usually written and read just for pleasure, could do more.

The next post on Gunn’s thesis will look at a literary judgement Gunn got very wrong.

“Lord of the Land”

Review: “Lord of the Land”, Gene Wolfe, 1990.

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Cover by Bob Eggleton

This week’s weird fiction is from Gene Wolfe and, unlike the few other works I’ve read by him, relatively straight forward. (I’m not much of a Wolfe fan.)

Evidently, after its first appearance in Lovecraft’s Legacy, edited by Robert E. Weinberg and Martin H. Greenberg, it had an afterword that I’m told, by the LibraryThing group, was rather apologetic for writing a Lovecraft pastiche. Here the main Lovecraft inspiration is his collaboration with Harry Houdini “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs”. And we’ve got tentacles and a concluding science fiction rationale.

Wolfe doesn’t have any nested tales here. He almost has an unreliable narrator, but there’s a reason for his false detail.

That narrator – and narrator only for a story that he tells the protagonist Dr. Samuel Cooper, a folklorist, and often called “the Nebraskan” in the story – is the elder Thacker. (Incidentally, I suspect Wolfe is having some fun in alluding to the film The Virginian with Gary Cooper, but, no, nothing else of that story is used unless there’s a Colonel Lightfoot in the novel or movie since there’s one here.)

Thacker tells Cooper of an odd story from his youth when three boys shot an old mule and then engaged in a shooting competition using all the crows that showed up for targets. In the gathering darkness and to better his score, one of the boys, Creech, shoots a strange figure “like to a man, only crooked-legged an’ wry neck … an’ a mouth full of worms”. Continue reading ““Lord of the Land””