Hodgson: A Collection of Essays

I will be reviewing more of William Hope Hodgson’s short fiction, but I’m now back to the usual posting procedure of taking things in the order I read them.

Ther’s a bit of morbid air about my posts on Hodgson.

Hodgson, of course, was dead more than a 100 years when I read most of him. But Andy W. Robertson, editor of The Night Land tribute anthologies, had been dead only a few years when I discovered him. Gafford was dead only a few weeks before I read this book.

Review: Hodgson: A Collection of Essays, Sam Gafford, 2013.Hodgson

There are two significant essays here that justify the Hodgson fan – or even those just curious about the man and his work – buying this 71 page book: “Writing Backwards: The Novels of William Hope Hodgson” and “Houdini v Hodgson: The Blackburn Challenge” Both were first printed elsewhere in, respectively, Studies in Weird Fiction No. 11 and Weird Fiction Review No. 3.

“Writing Backwards” concludes, by looking at some letters of Hodgson’s, with the following composition dates of Hodgson’s novels: The Night Land (1903?), The House on the Borderland (1904), The Ghost Pirates, (1905), and The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” (1905). This contradicts Gafford’s statement in “Hodgson’s First Story”, another essay in the book, that, by 1904, Hodgson had already written all his novels. Gafford speculates that Hodgson’s novels became less strange and imaginative as Hodgson worked towards a style he thought more commercial.

“Houdini v Hodgson: The Blackburn Challenge” deals with the legendary meeting on October 24, 1902 between Harry Houdini and William Hope Hodgson and documented by several newspapers. Houdini, as was his usual practice, publicized a challenge to the locals that he would pay a £25 reward if he couldn’t escape from “regulation restraints used by the police of Europe and America”. Hodgson offered a counter challenge. He would bring his own restraints to Houdini’s performance and bind the escape artist himself. If no escape was performed, the reward would be paid to a local Blackburn charity. Hodgson hoped his challenge would publicize his flagging gym, and Houdini complacently responded to another local challenge to his ability as an escapologist. Continue reading “Hodgson: A Collection of Essays”

WHH Short Fiction: “Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani”

Essay: “Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani”, William Hope Hodgson, 1919.

This is a strange story. Hodgson himself, when he finished it on January 26, 1912, said, “I wonder whether it will prove clear and interesting. Anyway, it is a striking notion.”

This is the closest to an anti-Christian story Hodgson the clergyman’s son ever wrote. Continue reading “WHH Short Fiction: “Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani””

“A Descent Into the Maelström”

Last week’s piece of weird fiction discussed over at LibraryThing was . . .

Review: “A Descent Into the Maelström“, Edgar Allan Poe, 1841.Annotated Edgar Allan Poe

Because this is Poe and you might know the story already, I’m going to spend less time discussing the plot and more time summarizing the criticism around the tale and its relevance as a scientific metaphor.

The tale is pretty simple in outline. The narrator has climbed to the top of a 1500 foot peak overlooking the sea. With him is an old, white-haired man who still seems spry despite his aged look. And he’s definitely not as nervous as the narrator as he overlooks the crashing waves and is buffeted by blasting wind.

Moskstraumen
Moskstraumen — Site of the Tale

On Mount Helseggen, they look at a gigantic whirlpool that’s been known to take down entire ships. The old man tells how he once was trapped in that whirlpool, but, unlike his two brothers who were also aboard, he escaped to tell the tale, an event which aged him and turned his hair white in a day. (The Oxford English Dictionary notes that Poe is the only known example in English of putting an umlaut in Maleström.)

200px-Maelstrom-Clarke
Harry Clarke Illustration for the Tale

The Sources

Stephen Peithman’s notes in his The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe, Poe’s reworking of various sources. The immediate inspiration was Edward Wilson Landor’s “The Maelstrom: a Fragment” from 1834. (Sam Moskowitz, in the “Prophetic Edgar Allan Poe” chapter of his Explorers of the Infinite says a manuscript of Poe’s story exists from 1833. The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore says no original manuscript is extant. I know which version I’ll believe.) Both stories have a ship trapped in the whirlpool with a hero escaping alive. But, whereas Landor’s hero faints after he escapes and can’t remember how he did it, Poe’s story is very much concerned with the how of the escape, the epitome of Poe’s applied ratiocination — though it’s not quite that simple as we’ll see.

Poe then seems to have gone to the Encyclopedia Britannica – anywhere from the third to sixth editions – and the 1834 Mariner’s Chronicle (which seems to have copied a lot from the Encyclopedia Britannica entry). The Mariner’s Chronicle added the supposedly true account of an American sea captain who went into the Maelstrom and lived. The Encyclopedia Britannica article also used material from the 1755 The Natural History of Norway by Erik Potoppidan, Bishop of Bergen, and Poe references his name.

17fda241-6522-4fd2-8ca8-50ad4a7b6059-741x1020
Ian Miller Illustration for the Tale

The Style

Peithman notes that Poe is frequently criticized for obscure, vague, and convoluted language. That, however, is usually used by him when describing a character whose mental state is unbalanced by terror or insanity. The old sailor’s account is quite lucid in its details and straightforward. Continue reading ““A Descent Into the Maelström””

Explorers of the Infinite

The Lovecraft series, sort of, with a book I read because it contained some material on Lovecraft.

Raw Feed (2005): Explorers of the Infinite: Shapers of Science Fiction, Sam Moskowitz, 1957, 1963.Explorers of the Infinite

I read this book now for its chapter on H. P. Lovecraft. (I had read the chapter on Edgar Allan Poe years ago as research for an English paper.) There wasn’t a whole lot there that I didn’t know except for the letters from other writers about Lovecraft and the stories of others inspired by Lovecraft.

Moskowitz’s great strength is the uncovering of a lot of obscure stories and others. His particular interest is tracing the treatment of certain technological and scientific ideas which is a valid school of sf criticism though I think it’s a mistake to think, and I don’t think Moskowitz does, to think sf exists to prophesize.

Most of the chapters are titled with the name of a science fiction author and were originally published in sf magazines. However, most chapters end by connecting a particular author — as well as more obscure authors — to the subject of the next chapter.

As with most sf criticsm, it makes me want to read a lot of this stuff.

Moskowitz sums up a lot of work including non-English language stuff. However, describing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as combining the travel tale, utopia, and “science story” makes me wonder about the accurateness of those descriptions. I’ve read Frankenstein twice and recall no element of the utopian in it.

I found the chapters on Hugo Gernsback; M. P. Shiel; Lu Senarens aka Frank Reade, Jr; Edgar Rice Burroughs; Philip Wylie, and Olaf Stapledon of particular interest.

Moskowitz details Gernsback’s importance as an inventor as well as publisher.

M. P. Shiel’s work, especially The Purple Cloud, seems interesting.  The plot descriptions seem to bear out Brian Aldiss’ remark, in his Billion Year Spree, that, “if ever there was a racist, it was M. P. Shiel.” Jewish Moskowitz simply lets Shiel’s work speak for itself in its anti-Semitism.

Frank Reade, Jr had an amazing career in its early start, prolificness, and financial success. Verne was an admirer. I never paid attention to the dates before, but Reade’s adventures started in 1876 with The Steam Man of the Prairies by Edward F. Ellis, a dime novelist (Senarens continued the series to great success); therefore, its steam man and horse (imitated by Jules Verne in his The Steam House, which I have read) is sort of contemporary steampunk.

I was surprised to see how many of Burroughs novels were written to compete with his many imitators in setting and story.

Moskowitz’s covers the popularity of Wylie as both a fiction writer and, in his attack on “Momism”, a social critic.

Olaf Stapledon’s career as fiction writer and philosopher is nicely covered.

 

Reviews of more works touching on Lovecraft and his legacy are on the Lovecraft page.

City of Endless Night

Review: City of Endless Night, Milo Hastings, 1920.City of Endless Night

Yes, I was walking in Utopia, a nightmare at the end of man’s long dream – Utopia – Black Utopia – City of Endless Night – diabolically compounded of the three elements of civilization in which the Germans had always been supreme – imperialism, science and socialism.

It’s the year 2151. The German state, after sweeping through Eurasia and the Middle East in the Second World War which began in 1988, has been pushed back to the Armoured City of Berlin. The Ray, a weapon that calcifies bones, keeps the armies of the World State at bay. Aerial bombing cannot harm the vast underground fortress, the Black Utopia, which holds 300 million Germans.

But one man, Lyman de Forrest, a student of German culture and language from Chicago, penetrates its upper depths, impersonates one of its chemists, and learns its secrets. But should he destroy it with his knowledge? Or attempt to bring it into the larger family of the World State?

Hastings’ novel is an astonishing novel on several levels. Continue reading “City of Endless Night”

Science Fiction in Old San Francisco: History of the Movement from 1854 to 1890

Sam Moskowitz showed up in some of my reading lately, so I thought I’d post reviews of a couple of his books I mentioned in passing in my Bitter Bierce series.
Milne
While I’m a bit leary of a book that mentions the Black Hills of North Dakota and Rod Steiger’s The Twilight Zone, this was still an interesting book. I took away a few things from it.

 

First, further information on the role that newspaper hoaxes played in early American sf or proto-sf.

Second, that there really was a community of San Francisco writers who published in numerous San Francisco publications and mostly set their stories, not surprisingly, in Frisco. The constant referrals to each others’ works shows a clear beginning of the genre awareness necessary to say that sf existed as an “invitation to form” then. There was also a generous helping of foreign sf and fantasy, including Jules Verne, published in these same magazines and newspapers. I found it interesting that many writers, foreign and American, referenced Edgar Allan Poe as the father of the new genre that was to become sf. He certainly inspired Verne if not Wells. Poe, as a writer (and I never noticed this point) created stories of the fantastic without the supernatural. Poe, under the “invitation to form” definition of sf, may have a pretty strong claim to founding sf.

The Frisco writers may have influenced Wells since their work was sometimes reprinted over seas. William C. Morrow may have been the inspiration for the idea and eponymous character of Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. Moskowitz’s main emphasis is on the career of Robert Duncan Milne, a Scottish-American (a very well-educated remittance man and drunk) who, from 1881 to about 1899, has a very good claim to being the world’s first full time sf writer.

Continue reading “Science Fiction in Old San Francisco: History of the Movement from 1854 to 1890”

The Man Who Called Himself Poe

Another Poe related retro review, this time from April 13, 2009.

Review: The Man Who Called Himself Poe, ed. Sam Moskowitz, 1969.Man Who Called Himself Poe

This is a theme anthology that doesn’t even stick to its stated theme: stories and poems that feature Edgar Poe.

Moskowitz’s introduction contrasts Poe with Sherlock Holmes. The latter, as a fictional character, has an immense accretion of fictional biography about him. His fans want to bring him into the real world and settings never imagined by Arthur Conan Doyle. Poe, a real man with a real, fairly well-documented past, has a legion of fans who want to make him a character, introduce him to realms never seen in his life.

A reprinted 1962 from Poe scholar Thomas Ollive Mabbott concisely sums up Poe’s life, his influence, and scholarly work on him.

The book then starts into presenting various fictional Poes, each usefully introduced by Moskowitz. Continue reading “The Man Who Called Himself Poe”