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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“The Wedding Knell”

This week’s piece of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing’s weird fiction group the Deep Ones.

Review: “The Wedding Knell”, Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1836.

As you would expect from Hawthorne, this is a moralistic tale. 

Ultimately, it’s not really a weird tale, but it does have a striking weird image. 

The plot involves a wedding between the elderly and never married Mr. Ellenwood and a woman, Mrs. Dabney. 

The story begins rather whimsically (and there is humor throughout) with the account provided to the narrator by his grandmother who saw the events in person. However, as he cheerfully admits, he never bothered to research the New York City church in question to see if it could have happened. 

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“A Garden of Blackred Roses”

I’ll get back to Byron Craft’s Mythos Project in the next post.

Right now, though, it’s time to look at the weird fiction being discussed this week on LibraryThing.

Review: “A Garden of Blackred Roses”, Charles L. Grant, 1980.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this one. It annoyed me greatly, an annoyance probably aggravated by recently finishing a couple of other anthologies with stories which also annoyed me.

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“It Only Comes Out at Night”

The week’s weird tale being discussed over at LibraryThing.

.Review: “It Only Comes Out at Night”, Dennis Etchison, 1976.

This story was very evocative for me. 

While I have never driven between Flagstaff, Arizona and San Bernardino, California through the Mojave Desert anytime much less at night in the summertime, it brought back memories of night car trips through largely deserted areas on interstate highways.

A cautious person, in an age of what I remember as less reliable and comfortable cars, a cautious person might do what our protagonist McClay has done: pack a number of emergency supplies and provisions.

Etchison’s story is full of details: the tires heating up on the pavement and their constant flexing sidewalls pushing them closer to failure and the bug covered radiators and windshields. I don’t know if he invented the whole roadside complex of restaurants and hotels that cater to people who take the safer and more comfortable course of traveling this area at night. But it seems plausible.

The trip back home to San Bernardino for McClay and his wife, asleep in the back seat, has the air of desperation. Has something awful happened on the trip? Is his wife sick? Are they running from something? Have they killed someone? Committed a crime? 

But, it seems, it’s just a vacation trip that turned into an ordeal, a car trip extended way beyond plans. Wife Evvie just wants to get to a hotel and sleep. McClay doesn’t want another argument so doesn’t tell her that’s a two hour drive away.

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“The Sea Was Wet as Wet Can Be”

This week’s weird story being discussed over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Sea Was Wet as Wet Can Be”, Gahan Wilson, 1967.

Yes, the famous cartoonist Gahan Wilson wrote fiction, and this was published in one of his usual venues, Playboy magazine.

It’s an interesting story because it is quite explicitly a takeoff on Lewis Carrol’s poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter” right down to several quotes from it. And Gahan finds, underneath a poem usefully held to be just a fun story, some sinister notes.

Our narrator is Phil. He’s been in the entertainment business for a long time as a public relations man and agent. Now he works for an actor, “Good old, mean old Carl”. Carl likes everyone in his circle to be as hard drinking as he is.

The story opens with Phil describing a party of five on the beach as bugs sullying the perfect picture of the blue sky, a contamination, something God should step on.

The five are on the seashore for a picnic. It was the idea of another of Carl’s circle, the shrewish Mandie, perhaps a cure for the hangover of the previous night.

Horace is married to Mandie. She frequently humiliates him as does his children. And then who suggested the ides have been partying the night before. Then there’s the always unhappy Irene who has attempted suicide several times.

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“The Black Statue”

Review: “The Black Statue”, Mary Elizabeth Counselman, 1937.

This week’s bit of weird fiction being talked about at LibraryThing is unusually rational because it’s a piece of weird science fiction. It’s also very concerned with money which is also unusual.

And it’s another weird fiction story delving into the psychology of one of the occupations most featured in weird stories. Two of them are scientists and scholars.

Our narrator is in the third group. She’s an artist, specifically a sculptor.

The story is narrated by her though she never gives us her name. [Update: In a very bad bit of inattention, I thought the narrator was a woman. It is, in fact, a man — hence Kennicott later calling him “old man”.]

The story is told as a letter sent to the directors of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

And, right from the third paragraph, we get a sense of where this story is going:

In these days I have thought often of suicide as a way out – a coward’s way, leaving me the fame I do not deserve. But since receiving your cablegram, lauding me for what I am not and never could be, I am determined to write this letter for the world to read. It will explain everything. And having written it, I shall then atone for my sin in (to you, perhaps) a horribly ironic manner but (to me) one that is most fitting.

Her account begins in the hallway of the “filthy hovel” where she lives, a rented room in the house of Mrs. Bates’ rooming house. It’s a place for those like her who are “too proud to go on relief” even though it’s the middle of the Great Depression.

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“The Gods of Bal-Sagoth”

This week’s piece of weird fiction is a vigorous story from Robert E. Howard and illustrate’s Howard’s belief that barbaric virtues are better than civilized ones.

Review: “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth”, Robert E. Howard, 1931.

Cover by Stephen Fabian

Our protagonist is Turlogh Dubh, “once a chief of Clan na O’Brien”.

This being Howard, the action starts right away.

Turlogh was on a French ship blown off course and taken by Vikings. The last thing he remembers seeing was a familiar face and then loses consciousness after an axe blow. He wakes up to find himself lashed to the mast of a Viking ship, the sole survivor of the battle with the Vikings.

The Viking ship isn’t doing too well either. It’s riding heavy in the water.

And then we meet our other hero, Athelstane, a Saxon outlaw who has thrown his lot in with the Vikings.

The two have a complicated history. The two have battled each other before, but Turlogh saved the wounded Athelstane from the Picts.

Athelstane returned the favor and asked the Vikings to spare Turlogh. He even unties Turlogh’s hands so he can eat.

In the night, the ship founders on the reefs of an unknown island. Athelstane cuts Turlogh loose, and Turlogh pulls the Saxon out of the water before his armor can pull him down.

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Normally, before I write up posts labelled as reviews, I don’t look up any critical material or biographical material on the author. I just present my observations and opinions — however banal and lacking in insight. This time around, though, I read some material on Marjorie Bown before writing this review.

She was amazingly prolific and popular in her day with even film adaptations done of some of her novels. While many of her works are now regarded as slight, she still commands respect among connisseurs of weird fiction. Based on this story, my first exposure to her, I can see why.

This week’s subject of Deep Ones’ discussion over at LibraryThing.

Review: “Kecksies”, Marjorie Bowen, 1923.

Our main characters are two young esquires. 

The older is Sir Nick Bateup and his younger friend is Ned Crediton. 

As the story progresses, we have less and less sympathy though Nick is shown to have some decency in the climax. 

The story starts out innocently enough. 

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“The Happy Children”

No, I haven’t yet returned to my coverage of Arthur Machen. But I did nominate this story for discussion as a pairing with Alfred Noyes’ “The Lusitania Waits”.

Cover by Mathew Jaffe

Review: “The Happy Children”, Arthur Machen, 1920.

This story starts out similarly to Machen’s The Terror

The narrator is a journalist, as Machen was during World War One, who has been sent up to the northeastern part of England to investigate rumors of a German dugout there — which, of course, he doesn’t find. 

The first page of the story is taken up with noting how vague the rumors are in regard to its location. Machen discusses assorted rumors and myths of the war: Russian soldiers in England and, of course, the legend he inadvertently created, the Angel of Mons

Returning from his investigations, he decides to visit the scenic port of Banwick which Machen evocatively describes. 

Walking around at night, he is delighted to hear the sounds of children playing, perhaps hundreds, outside. Remarking on this to an innkeeper, he is told that the children run wild and their mothers can’t make them obey and their fathers are at the front. 

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“The Feather Pillow”

This week’s weird fiction discussed over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Feather Pillow”, Horacio Quiroga, trans. Margaret Sayers Peden, 1907.

Quiroga is sometimes called the Uruguayan Poe and certainly the only author of weird fiction with a snake named after him.

This is, as we’ll see, an unusual piece of weird fiction. There are, of course, many definitions of “weird fiction”. Most include some horror stories, particularly supernatural horror. Weird fiction can have menace and not always of the supernatural. This story lies in that zone.

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