“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””

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“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””

Transformation

Essay: Transformation, James Gunn, 2017.

Transformation
Covery by Thom Tenery

Well, that was anticlimactic.

That was my first reaction to finishing up Gunn’s Transcendental trilogy.

The second volume, Transgalactic, had a plot, according to Gunn, structured on The Odyssey, this one is structured along the lines of Jason and the Argonauts’ tale. Our questers are the two main characters of the trilogy,  Asha and Riley, and Tordor who didn’t, in fact, die at the end of Transcendental. Joining them is Adithya, son of Latha, leader of the covert rebellion against Earth’s pedia in Transgalactic.

They want to know what menace, revealed in the preceding book, is making the sentient races of the Galactic Federation go silent on the fringes of the galaxy.

A subplot also has Jer, cloned descendant of mad scientist Jak whom we met in Transgalactic, attempting to convince the staid Federation Council that the modified Transcendental Machine (named, what else?, the Jak Machine) poses no danger and works. These sections are sometimes humorous.  She also suggests that, to fight the destroyer of the “silent worlds” (whose nature she doesn’t know), the Galactics will need to be Transcended.

The trilogy concludes with the line “’It’s a long story,’ Asha said.” Continue reading “Transformation”

“N”

This week’s Deep Ones discussion was a story late in the career of Arthur Machen.

Review: “N”, Arthur Machen, 1936.N

This story wanders about the pubs and taverns, churches and apartments of London past and present to an indefinite conclusion. Like “The Great God Pan”, the reader is mostly expected to deduce the relevance of those events though the character Arthur does some of that work.

Despite that inconclusiveness, I liked this tale.

The story starts with three men – “the youngest of the three, a lad of fifty-five or so” – who spend their leisure hours “recalling many London vicissitudes”, a combination of nostalgia and amateur history. Their conversations cover the wax fruit they’d seen in the storefronts of the past, paintings, old stores and buildings, remembered waiters serving long ago in restaurants, and the depiction of the Iron Duke on tobacco tins.

One night, they all realize they really haven’t ventured very far into certain parts of the city, particularly North London. One, Harliss, that “lad”, mentions he grew up in Stoke Newington in North London. Continue reading ““N””