The Book of Yig

David Hambling sent me a review copy of this one. It is, incidentally, “respectfully dedicated to Brian Stableford”.

Review: The Book of Yig: Revelations of the Serpent, eds. David Hambling and Peter Rawlik, 2021.

First off, there’s not a bad or even so-so story in this book, and I definitely recommend it.

It follows the successful formula of earlier Cthulhu Mythos releases from Crossroad Press: Tales of Al-Azif and Tales of Yog-Sothoth. They take an element of the Mythos, get stories from a bunch of contributors (often working in their own Mythos series), and present the stories chronologically with thematic, character, and plot links between the stories. Appropriately, some mysteries, but not all, are revealed at the end. (You can also throw in the earlier Crossroad Press release Time Loopers in this category, but I didn’t know that when I read this book. I’ll be reviewing Time Loopers later.)

I suspect there are two reasons this anthology works so well.

First is that it is built around a more obscure element of Lovecraft’s work, “The Curse of Yig”, which he worked on as a ghostwriter with Zealia Bishop. While I’m sure there are others, the only other Yig story I’ve read before the ones in this book was Walter C. DeBill, Jr’s “When Yidhra Walks”. That gives the authors plenty of leeway.

Second, the authors, after taking Bishop’s and Lovecraft’s story as their starting point, combined it with some of the rich symbology around serpents and other elements of Lovecraft to give us a new benchmark in Crossroad Press’ unique approach to Mythos publications.

Bishop gets a mention in David Hambling’s “The Serpent in the Garden” as does Kipling, Poe, and of course, the Bible given the title. We’re introduced to the snake-men Yig, their hidden presence among us, and their mysterious motives and nature.

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Tales of Yog-Sothoth

I’m moving out of reading sequence here because David Hambling was kind enough to send me a copy of this and another book, The Book of Yig, which I’ll be reviewing next post. It promised to be just thing with not only another Harry Stubbs tale from Hambling but a weird western story in the book from David J. West.

Review: Tales of Yog-Sothoth, ed. C. T. Phipps, 2021.

Cover by Steve Smith

As Phipps notes in his “Foreword”, H. P. Lovecraft didn’t call his related set of stories the “Cthulhu Mythos”. He called them “Yog-Sothery”. Phipps likes Yog-Sothoth and regards that god, with his ability to open dimensional doorways and mate with humans, the key entity of the Lovecraft universe which has spawned who knows how many stories since.

The organizing structure is the same as Phipps’ successful anthology Tales of the Al-Azif: a set of stories from diverse authors, often working in their own Lovecraftian series, presented in chronological order with some links between the stories. I suppose, if you’re the sort of person obsessed by continuity and consistency, you may balk at that. I’m not and I don’t. I think of the Mythos as a bit like the Arthurian cycle of stories: a set of characters and their relationships which are reworked and elaborated by a variety of authors for their own ends. [Update: Matthew Davenport co-edited Tales of the Al-Azif.]

Or think of it as a literary equivalent of an AK-47: a bit loose in the way the parts fit together but reliable enough for rapid fire which usually hits the target.

However, I didn’t think this book worked as well that earlier book of Phipps.

It starts out well though.

Phipps’ own “The True Name of God” was excellent. I’ll admit my interest in the Crusades may have played a part in my enthusiasm. Set in Akka (aka Acre) occupied by the Crusaders, it follows Ali ad Fariq, an accomplished member of the Order of Assassins as he takes a strange job for an unexpected client. Rabbi Yosef ben Yosef wants him to hunt down something that’s killing Jewish women in the city. The victims include his own daughter.

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“The Warder of Knowledge”

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

Review: “The Warder of Knowledge”, Richard F. Searight, 1992.

Cover by Gahan Wilson

This story has a plus and a minus.

The minus is that it falls in the trap of telling us the experience of its protagonist, Gordon Whitney with no real way, just from his writings, for the narrator, a friend of Whiteny’s, to know these details. Even H. P. Lovecraft’s “Dagon”, with its narrator hurriedly writing his experiences down as the monsters close in, doesn’t go this far.

On the plus side, Whitney emotionally acts like an amateur undertaking a dangerous occult experiment. 

Robert M. Price’s introduction to Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos notes that, though this story was first published in that book, Lovecraft saw the story when Searight sent it to him. Lovecraft liked it and noted Searight’s use of the Eltdown Shards as different than Lovecraft’s own in the round-robin story Lovecraft had participated in, “The Challenge from Beyond”. Lovecraft optimistically noted that Searight’s use would end up being better known than that story. Of course, things worked out completely the opposite. 

The story opens in a standard Lovecraftian vein. 

We hear about how the “neatly typed manuscript” found in Whitney’s desk drawer caused his academic comrades to regard it as the delusions of a mentally unbalanced organic chemist who dabbled in the occult. The writer says that impression would have been heightened if they had his personal journal. Searight throws a bit of novelty in by briefly mentioning the psychic impressions perceived by Professor Turkoff, a psychologist, in Whitney’s bedroom. 

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“The White People”

Review: “The White People”, Arthur Machen, 1904.

Cover by Daniel V. Sauer

Written in 1899, this story is regarded as one of Machen’s best. After Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows”, it was H. P. Lovecraft’s favorite weird story. He liked it for its indefinite and dreamy plot, qualities it certainly has in its section titled “The Green Book”.

In 1899, Machen was a man in “dreadful misery and desolation and dereliction of the soul”. His first wife had died that year from breast cancer. They had been married 11 years. Then one morning, while walking with his friend, Machen was transformed.  He realized the “great sorrows of life” were passing trifles.

A new productive period started that included the writing of this story.

The Green Book is the journal of a dead girl, written when she was at least thirteen or fourteen, maybe older. It talks of how she talked to white people she saw when she was in the crib.

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“The Great God Pan”

Essay: “The Great God Pan”, Arthur Machen, 1890.

Cover by Matthew Jaffe.

At this point in our Machen series, we move from obscure works to one of his most famous works, indeed this story is probably Machen’s best known with the possible exception of some of the excerpted stories in his later novel The Three Impostors; or, The Transmutation or “The Bowmen” (and that one, as I’ve went on at length, only in its transmuted form.)

The figure at the story’s center, Helen Vaughn, the product of a woman mating with something from outside our world and beyond the veil of the senses. This tale may have inspired H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror”. It is regarded as a classic of weird fiction among scholars of the field.

However, while the story was popular when it was published, it was not well thought of by critics.

Machen, when the story was reprinted in 1916, quoted several bad reviews of it. It was a laughable “psychological bogey”. “Our flesh obstinately refused to creep”, said one review. The tale was tepid occultism. It was “elaborately absurd”. Not only ridiculous, said another review, but intentionally disagreeable. The story was “gruesome and dull”. And, perhaps more to the point, a reviewer for Westminster said:

an incoherent nightmare of sex and the supposed horrible mysteries behind it, such as might conceivably possess a man who was given to a morbid brooding over these matters, but which would soon lead to insanity if unrestrained . . . innocuous from its absurdity.

In that same introduction, Machen himself called the story “a silly business at the best”.

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Fantastic Fiction and the Great War

This column seems to have disappeared from the Innsmouth Free Press website where it appeared in 2016.

Essay: Fantastic Fiction and the Great War

Arnyvelde, Andre. Translated by Brian Stableford. The Ark. Black Coat Press (August 15, 2015). Paperback USD $22.95. 313 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1612274324.

Atherton, Gertrude Franklin Horn. The White Morning: A Novel of the Power of the German Women in Wartime. Amazon Digital Services (March 6, 2012). Kindle USD $0. 124 pages. ASIN: B007HT2OGA.

Benson, Stella. Living Alone. Amazon Digital Services (May 17, 2012). Kindle USD $0. 280 pages. ASIN: B0084BB9YI.

Burroughs, Edgar Rice. The Lost Continent. Running Press (June 25, 2014). Kindle USD $0.99. 149 pages. ASIN: B00LAMPLG0.

Froisland, Frois. Translated by Nils Flaten. The Man with the X-Ray Eyes & Other Stories From the Front. Harper & Brothers, 1930. Hardcover USD $275. 276 pages.

Meyrink, Gustav. Translated by Mike Mitchell. The Green Face. Dedalus (October 2004). Kindle USD $13.99. Paperback USD $10.75. 224 pages. ASIN: B0038U2V8S. ISBN-13: 978-0946626922.

Phillips, Forbes and Hopkins, R. Thurston. War and the Weird. Amazon Digital Services (March 24, 2011). Kindle USD $0. 116 pages. ASIN: B004TQ205O.

Robida, Albert. Translated by Brian Stableford. The Engineer Von Satanas. Black Coat Press (July 31, 2015). Paperback USD $24.95. 337 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1612274256.

Stableford, Brian. “An Accidental Prophet: Albert Robida’s Future Wars.” New York Review of Science Fiction no. 322 (June 2015). Kindle USD $2.99.

Stevens, Francis. The Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy. University of Nebraska Press (October 1, 2004). Paperback USD $21.95. 404 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0803292987.

The roar of the wind was so constant, so deafening, that Hauberrisser began to think that all around was shrouded in a deathly hush. It was only when he went to nail back the trembling shutters, so that they would not be blown against the glass, and found he could not hear the hammering, that he realised how great the din outside must be.

… when he did risk a tentative glance, he saw it still towering up undamaged, but it was an island in a sea of rubble: the rest of the frieze of spires, roofs and gables had been almost completely flattened.

How many cities are there left standing in Europe? he wondered with a shudder. The whole of Amsterdam has been ground to dust like crumbling rock; nothing left of a rotten civilization but a scatter of rubbish. He was gripped with awe as he suddenly comprehended the magnitude of the cataclysm.

Published in the middle of the Great War for Civilization, Austrian Gustav Meyrink’s 1916 novel The Green Face imagined a post-war Amsterdam crammed with refugees from many nations. Hauberrisser, a man tired of “the old game of civilization: first peace to prepare for war and then war to win back peace,” wants to see “a fresh, unknown world.” Idle curiosity propels him on a mystical quest that starts with a chance entry into Chider Green’s Hall of Riddles. He moves through a city of unemployed intelligentsia and the “dregs of Paris and London, of the cities of Belgium and Russia, fleeing in panic the revolutions that had broken out in their own countries … aristocrats who would rather die than crawl.” He will meet a Zulu witch doctor, a fake Polish count, a mystical entomologist, and a group of occultists who seek eternal life by slow transformation of their bodies. One predicts his ward, Eva, who longs for death, may be Hauberrisser’s prophesied wife in a marriage of destiny out of which will come a new world.

That wind that roars through Europe at the end of the novel blows in a new spiritual order.

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“Unseen — Unfeared”

This week’s piece of weird fiction being examined over at LibraryThing is from Francis Stevens. She’s not a writer unknown to me, and I want to acknowledge Terence E. Hanley’s influence on this review. He did a whole series on Francis Stevens over at Tellers of Weird Tales.

Review: “Unseen — Unfeared”, Francis Stevens, 1919.

The story is interesting in that, like many of Sam Gafford’s Cthulhu Mythos stories, it links social issues to the “supernatural”. 

Like H. P. Lovecraft’s “From Beyond”, published a year later, it’s about the discovery that we are surrounded by invisible monsters. (Hanley rightly questions whether Stevens, whatever her merits, had any influence on A. Merritt or Lovecraft as is sometimes claimed.) As Hanley notes, this story mixes several things together: a detective story, a ghost story, and a story of a “mad scientist”. 

The story opens with the narrator meeting his friend Mark Jenkins, a police detective, at a restaurant. 

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The Dreamer in Fire and Other Stories

And we’re back to matters weird and Lovecraftian with the late Sam Gafford’s one and, unfortunately, only collection.

Low Res Scan: The Dreamer in Fire and Other Stories, Sam Gafford, 2017.

Cover by Jared Boggess

It’s a Low Res Scan because I’ve already reviewed three of this book’s stories, “Passing Spirits”, “Weltschmerz” and “The Land of Lonesomeness”.

There’s a lot of Lovecraftian fiction here, mostly using the Cthulhu Mythos paraphernalia of gods, places, and blasphemous books. Not all of it falls in that category though.

Sweetening the deal for your purchase of this book, even if you’ve encountered Gafford’s fiction before, several stories are original to this collection.

One is “The Adventure of the Prometheus Calculation”. As you would expect from the title, it involves Sherlock Holmes. Well, a Sherlock Holmes with a Babbage Engine for a brain and the world’s only “living, functional robot”. It proceeds roughly along the lines of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes tale “The Final Problem”, but Mycroft Holmes and Professor Moriarty have different roles. There are also elements of Frankenstein in the story. Ultimately, though, it’s nothing special as either a Holmes story or steampunk.

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The Legacy of Erich Zann and Other Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos

Low Res Scan: The Legacy of Erich Zann and Other Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, Brian Stableford, 2010, 2012.

In this “Introduction”, Stableford says a couple of things about his recent burst of writing in the Cthulhu Mythos. “The Legacy of Erich Zann” was written to fill out a collection that had it and Stableford’s short novel The Womb of Time. He liked the result so much he undertook to write a series of stories with Auguste Dupin which include elements of the Cthulhu Mythos and “an even vaster metaphysical system” of which the Mythos is a small part. 

Stableford disputes the idea that the Cthulhu Mythos, in its true philosophical form and with its cosmic horror, has really been popularized. He makes the interesting observation that cosmic horror is defiantly esoteric, that it isn’t as easy to evoke horror in that sort of story unlike one with serial killers or ghosts. Cosmic horror requires more imaginative effort on the part of the reader. It is more abstract. It appreciates the vast space and time surrounding life in the universe.  He says cosmic horror plays,

sometimes delicately and cleverly, but always with a reserve of sheer brutality, with our inability to deal with the fact mentally, and our perverse insistence that, even if it is so, it is irrelevant. 

The strength of the Mythos for a writer of cosmic horror is that it has a ready-made vocabulary of symbols. Like writers of mainstream fiction who don’t have to invent a world for their stories, Lovecraft’s Mythos provides a sort of pre-fab set of places and ideas that can be used and are quickly recognized by readers. It can be more useful for a writer than trying to invent a more elegant mythology from scratch for cosmic horror. Interestingly, he sees Nyarlathotep as the most basic figure in the Mythos which may be why he used him for “The Legacy of Erich Zann”. 

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Black Wings of Cthulhu

It’s entirely coincidental that it’s H. P. Lovecraft’s birthday today.

Yes, I know I’m jumping all over in series lately. I was on vacation. That’s when I do my impulsive reading.

Low Res Scan: Black Wings of Cthulhu, ed. S. T. Joshi, 2010, 2012. 

Cover by Jason Van Hollander

The inaugural volume for what would become a six-part series is strong but not flawless.

Have I ever read a Nicholas Royle story I liked? No, and I didn’t much care for his “Rotterdam”, either. He’s obviously paying homage to H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Hound” in plot and story setting, but it’s really just a crime story with the Lovecraft connection being Joe, the screenwriter protagonist, in Amsterdam to scout out locations for a possible adaption of Lovecraft’s story. He’s hoping to ingratiate himself with the producer so his own script will be used on the project. What he really wants to do, though, is to get the job to write the screenplay of his own published crime novel, Amsterdam. The world of film production is interesting as are Joe’s less than successful interactions with its more successful members. We get some echoes between Joe and Lovecraft with Amsterdam being sort of autobiographical in the way Lovecraft’s essays are. And, after a bout of drinking, Joe wakes up to a body in his room. No supernatural horror here.

Nor was I impressed by Michael Cisco’s “Violence, Child of Trust”. There’s no cosmic horror here in a story that has a rural cult that captures and sacrifices (after the occasional rape) women to some god. I will grant the ending did surprise me.

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