Dancing with Myself

The Charles Sheffield series continues.

Some of the stories here I had read before, but I’ve put my notes in from my pre-1997 readings of them.

This one also has science articles.

(Just keeping things straight for the future historians who will, of course, want to know all that.)

Review (1997): Dancing with Myself, ed. Charles Sheffield, 1993.

DNCNGWTHMY1993
Cover by Stanislaw Fernandez.

Out of Copyright” — This story revolves around a clever idea: that in a future where cloning is routine a person’s surviving heirs have copyrights to that person’s genome. Eventually those copyrights lapse into the public domain. This story centers around companies competing in a test-of-concept in which asteroids are launched at Io. The companies clone long dead scientific geniuses whose genomes are in the public domain. The clones provide assistance on various projects. The narrator of the story heads one combine’s teams. His talent is not scientific but in sabotage of the minor and persistent sort which accumulates and dooms a combine’s efforts. Most of the sabotage involves a keen understanding of people for it is revealed, at story’s end, that he is a cloned version of Al Capone (though Sheffield doesn’t explicitly name him). [Peter F. Hamilton also used an Al Capone resurrection in his Night’s Dawn trilogy.] The story’s concept lets Sheffield talk about some of the quirks and talents of those historical scientists who were cloned. Sheffield also points out that cloned scientific geniuses do not always turn out to be valuable. Sometimes the original’s accomplishments owed more to environment than genes. [There was something in the air in 1989, the year this story was first published. It was also the year that Robert Silverberg’s Time Gate was published. It’s historical figures were resurrected via computer simulacra.]

Tunicate, Tunicate, Wilt Thou Be Mine” — This is Sheffield doing a sort of H.P. Lovecraft imitation. As in many a Lovecraft tale, the story is narrated in the first person by a narrator who writes desperately of awful things before some cosmic horror previously viewed closes in for the last time. Here, again as in Lovecraft – notably his “The Colour Out of Space” – the horror is an alien who has crashed on Earth. The alien is much like an earth tunicate, a strange creature combining the features of animal and plant, vertebrate, and invertebrate. Under its influence, the narrator kills his wife and friends. Continue reading “Dancing with Myself”

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“In Amundsen’s Tent”

This one I came to after reading The Last Place on Earth about Scott and Amundsen’s race to the South Pole. I thought it interesting enough to nominate for discussion over at the Deep Ones group at LibraryThing where we are talking about it this week.

Review: “In Amundsen’s Tent”, John Martin Leahy, 1928.c0784b1ee007467637647527351434b41716b42

Leahy’s story is interesting for three reasons. First, its main action starts at aprecise place and time: the South Pole, Jan. 4, 1912. Second, it takes place in historical lacunae between Roald Amundsen’s arrival at the South Pole on Dec. 16, 1911 and Robert F. Scott’s arrival there on Jan. 17, 1912. Third, it is the first installment in a sort of trilogy of Antarctica terror written in the early 20th century. The later installments would be H. P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” and John W. Campbell, Jr.’s “Who Goes There?”

On its own merits, it’s a disappointingly vague story at times with some clumsy dialogue, but it has several themes and ideas that Lovecraft and Campbell would use much more effectively.

There is a horror in the Antarctic, a horror that men don’t want to speak of, a horror possibly from space. Continue reading ““In Amundsen’s Tent””

The House on the Borderland; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

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.

Andrew Fox supplies the parallax on this one by looking, among other things, at how this stands at the beginning of the tradition of horror stories with an “Isolated Individual versus Hordes of Homicidal Creatures”

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; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax”

“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.