Searchers after Horror

It’s not often that I personally get sold a book, but that’s what happened with this one. I was in Dreamhaven Books contemplating whether I should buy this shrink wrapped title or not because it had a Brian Stableford story in it. Dwayne H. Olson, shareholder in its publisher Fedogan & Bremer (and supplier of the Hannes Bok story in the anthology) talked me into it.

Low Res Scan: Searchers after Horror: New Tales of the Weird and Fantastic, ed. S. T. Joshi, 2014.

Cover by Richard Corben

After finishing this book, I contemplated writing an essay on just the bad stories in it. But, after actually making notes on the stories, I realized there actually weren’t that many bad ones. But I’ll be getting to them later and the matter of unsatisfying endings in weird fiction.

I’ve already reviewed “Et in Arcadia Ego” by Brian Stableford and “Exit Through the Gift Shop” from Nick Mamatas. I don’t think my original interpretation of the latter is correct, but it’s not a story I’m spending more time on.

First story in the book is Melanie Tem’s “Iced In”. I’ve known, professionally and personally, women like the one in this story. Poor, a hoarder, chronically and dangerously indecisive, she finds herself trapped in her house after an ice storm. Told with empathy and memorable, it’s well done.

In the town I’ve recently moved to, a frequent question is “Do you ice fish?”, so I have a fondness for Donald Tyson’s “Ice Fishing”. In it, two Camp Breton Island ice fishermen, Gump and Mickey D, going out fishing one night. There is idle talk about the disappearance of an acquaintance a couple of weeks back and puzzlement why the local Indians aren’t fishing as usual. Tyson continues to impress me with his versatility, and this one has some humor too.

While it’s not a Cassie Barrett story, I was pleased to Ann K. Schwader’s “Dark Equinox”. It’s another tale of archaeological horror, here once removed because we’re dealing with strange photomontages of archaeological artifacts. Why did the photographer lock herself up in her studio one night and torch everything? And, more importantly, why do the photos seem to change over time?

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Black Wings of Cthulhu 6

Low Res Scan: Black Wings of Cthulhu 6: Twenty-One New Tales of Loveraftian Horror, ed. S. T. Joshi, 2017, 2018

Cover by Gregory Nemec

It was perhaps for the best that this is the last of this series.

My initial negative opinions were mitigated after going back through the stories and making notes. Its weakness isn’t from one thing but a combination of “woke”, predictable, or non-weird stories.

No sorting by theme or literary aesthetic this time. I’m just going to sift the literary wheat from the chaff.

Darrell Schweitzer’s “The Girl in the Attic” was an unexpected disappointment. It’s a sequel to his earlier “The Red Witch of Chorazin” and part of a larger series centering around the very weird town of Chorazin, Pennsylvania. I wasn’t all that enthused by most of the earlier series’ installments. This one seems to involve a time loop involving the Red Witch.

The egregious designation goes to Lynne Jamneck’s “Oude Goden”, It’s a first person tale of a young lesbian in the Washington of the 1920s, and we hit all the expected cliches: violence against homosexuals, references to the Ku Klux Klan, a nonhuman entity being “intersex”, and, worst of all, the ending in which the narrator proclaims she can understand how the homosexuals of the area may have thought the world would be better under the Old Ones.

I know Joshi was very fond of the recently deceased William F. Nolan (whom I met once), but I’ve had mixed experiences to what little of his I’ve read. “Carnivorous” is well done but doesn’t go anywhere you don’t expect. A married couple takes a job tending the plants of an absent woman.  It comes with various bizarre instructions like singing to them on a schedule. There is an admonition to never go into a greenhouse. But the woman doesn’t return, supplies run low, and the husband goes in. I like sinister plant stories, but there’s nothing special here.

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“The Mystery of the Cursed Cottage”

With this, I think I’ve reviewed all of David Hambling’s fiction.

Review: “The Mystery of the Cursed Cottage”, David Hambling, 2017.

Cover by Gregory Nemec

In the introduction to Black Wings of Cthulhu 6, editor S. T. Joshi notes this is a rarity: a locked-room mystery in the Cthulhu Mythos. That’s not quite true, this story draws more from traditional folklore and notions of witchcraft than the Mythos. However, it is part of Hambling’s Norwood Cycle, Mythos stories set in that South London suburb.

Our narrator and protagonist is William Blake, the narrator of other tales in the cycle, “The Dulwich Horror of 1927” and “The Monsters in the Park” and a character in “Shadows Of the Witch House” and mentioned in War of the God Queen

It’s 1928, and, after helping officials with the strange case of the Dulwich Horror, Blake is asked to help the police in another strange case. One Mr. Potter, a real estate developer, has disappeared.

Also dragged along for any contributions is Miss Belhaven of the Norwood Theosophist Circle.

The cottage Potter disappeared from in a wooded Norwood area is old and of wattle-and-daub construction. There’s only one door, locked from the inside when it was opened. There is no sign of forced entry.

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How Often Do the Black Wings Beat?

Essay: How Often Do the Black Wings Beat?

Cover by Gregory Nemec

There is a H. P. Lovecraft quote at the beginning of some volumes in S. T. Joshi’s anthology series Black Wings of Cthulhu:

The one test of the really weird is simply this – whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of the dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers, a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim.

So, rather than doing the usual sort of review I’ve done for this series – clumping the stories by themes and motifs or noting which ones are Lovecraftian in allusion or just tone or idea, I’m going to look at how many of the stories in Black Wings of Cthulhu 5: Twenty New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror pass Lovecraft’s test.

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Black Wings of Cthulhu 4

After about a year, I decided to finally finish reading S. T. Joshi’s Black Wings of Cthulhu anthology series. Partly, that’s to read some David Hambling tales in later volumes, and partly to finally finish at least one of my reading projects.

Review: Black Wings of Cthulhu 4, S. T. Joshi, 2015, 2016.

Cover by Gregory Nemec

In his “Introduction” to the book, Joshi notes how several stories here rely on a sense of place. He also mentions the anthology’s one poem, Charles Lovecraft’s “Fear Lurks Atop Tempest Mount”, a retelling of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Lurking Fear”.

In Lovecraft, of course, terrors often come from the past, an idea he inherited from the gothic. Indeed, merely calling something “ancient” in Lovecraft is often used to evoke horror. For me, some of the most memorable tales here are archaeologically themed, an element in Lovecraft’s own The Shadow Out of Time.

Ann K. Schwader’s “Night of the Piper” is my first exposure to her Cassie Barret series. She’s a former anthropology student who now works on a Wyoming ranch, packs a revolver, and has two Rottweiler dogs for companions. Ranch foreman Frank, perhaps because his grandfather was a Crow “man of power”, appreciates the thinness between dreams and reality. Shortly after a flyer shows up in the mail advertising “THE PIPER WITH A PURPOSE”, a local branch of a non-profit advertising and its “Authentic Ancient Designs for a Stronger Community”, they both begin having strange dreams involving coyotes. And the Kokopelli on the flyer seems reminiscent of a sinister version Cassie has seen before. Soon, reluctantly, she gets out the journal of a vanished archaeologist who thinks that particular Kokopelli derives from a far more ancient culture.

Schwader cleverly splices the Cthulhu Mythos into the prehistory of the American Southwest. But, for me, the descriptions of Wyoming and rural poverty evoked things I’ve seen myself, and that made the story richer. Justly renowned as a poet, Schwader proves she’s also a talented fiction writer.

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Ornaments in Jade

Review: Ornaments in Jade, Arthur Machen, 1924.

Cover by Daniel V. Sauer

I am not going to spend a lot of time talking about this book. It is a collection of ten of what S. T. Joshi calls “prose poems” though they many have enough plot that we might call them flash fiction today.

In either case, I don’t see much point in reviewing them whatever they are called. They are brief enough where summary seems superfluous and criticism would require minute examinations of the sort I’m not interested in.

And, frankly, I didn’t find them interesting as poetry or at all memorable though I read them less than three months ago. I do not agree with Joshi saying, in “Arthur Machen: The Evils of Materialism” (in The Secret Ceremonies) saying they are comparable only to Clark Ashton Smith’s poetry in quality. Many remind me of some of the more forgettable pieces in The Dedalus Book of Decadence (Moral Ruins).

Ian Smith’s “Sanctity Plus Sorcery: The Curious Christianity of Arthur Machen” (also in The Secret Ceremonies) does have some interesting things to say about how they show Machen’s “religious influences”. “Midsummer” is blatantly pagan in theme. “The Rose Garden” and “The Moth and the Flame” have Sufi influences.

All ten pieces were written in 1897. Some were first published in magazines first before appearing in the 1924 collection.

The Hill of Dreams

Essay: The Hill of Dreams, Arthur Machen, 1907.

Cover by Matthew Jaffe

In 1896, the year The Three Impostors; or, The Transmutations was published, Machen said, in the introduction to a 1923 edition of this novel, he decided to stop being, in the words of critics, a “second-rate imitator” of Robert Louis Stevenson.

This was not quite all the truth, but there was a good deal of truth in it, and I am glad to say I took my correction in a proper spirit. I resolved to try to amend my ways.

There would be

No more white powders, no more of the calix principis inferorum, no more hanky-panky with the Great God Pan, or the Little People or any people of that dubious sort.

He planned this novel in in 1895, and it was not done until the spring of 1897. His plan was frequently revised, concluding chapters abandoned and restarted. He despaired, at times, of ever finding a way to completion.

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“The Shining Pyramid”

Review: “The Shining Pyramid”, Arthur Machen, 1895, 1926.

Cover by Matthew Jaffe.

It’s not only the last of Machen’s stories about writer and pseudo-detective Dyson, but it also decisively ends an era of Machen’s literary career.

Like all the Dyson stories, it’s told in a series of episodes. The story was first published in 1895 and slightly revised for a 1925 publication. As usual in this series, editor S. T. Joshi went with Machen’s preferred version.

In “The Arrow-Head Character”, Dyson and his friend Vaughn are discussing the latter’s recent trip to the country. 

They haven’t seen each other in three years, and Vaughn came to see Dyson right after getting off his train in London. He speaks of a haunting and invites Dyson out to the country. Dyson likes London in September. It’s exciting, and he doesn’t want to leave.

Vaughn says the country isn’t always peaceful. It has its mysteries. For instance, Annie Trevor, a beautiful girl, disappeared walking to her aunt’s house about five or six miles away. There were no pits to fall into or cliffs to fall off along the way. The villagers, “bad as the Irish” in their superstitions, have an explanation involving fairies. 

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“A Double Return”

Review: “A Double Return”, Arthur Machen, 1890.

Cover by Matthew Jaffe.

This is another one of Machen’s society stories, written and published in 1890. It actually does have one of those covert sexual themes that S. T. Joshi says often showed up in these kinds of stories. It also has less dialogue than usual for a Machen “smart tale”.

Our protagonist is Frank Halswell, and he’s taking the train back home to London. He is a popular artist who has been on a “sketching tour in Devon and Cornwall”. 

As his train nears Paddington station, he sees a train going the other way and in it a man who looks remarkably like him. However, he writes it off as his reflection in the window. 

He thinks back to an acquaintance, Kerr, he met at a hotel in Plymouth. Kerr, oddly, would look like Halswell if Kerr was clean-shaven. 

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“A Remarkable Coincidence”

Review: “A Remarkable Coincidence”, Arthur Machen, 1890.

Cover by Matthew Jaffe.

In 1890, the British short story market was booming. The Education Act of 1870 had increased general literacy. The three-tier novel and the monopolies of lending libraries affiliated with publishers were giving way to magazines.

In 1887, after he had been in London for four years, Machen inherited some money from his father, and he had the time to devote himself full-time to writing.

The explosion of magazines meant many an author was experimenting with different styles and subjects to see which ones would make their reputation and make money.

In the year that it took Machen to complete all of the installments of the serialized “The Great God Pan”, he also turned his hand to society stories, or, as Machen dubbed them, “smart tales”. (And he said he knew absolutely nothing about “society”.)

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