" It is new, indeed for I made it last night in a dream of strange cities: and dreams are older than brooding Tyre, or the
contemplative Sphinx, or garden-girdled Babylon" The Call of Cthulhu

Sunday, October 21, 2018

New Eldritch Tomes

The nightgaunt(s) have appeared at our strange high house bearing even more eldritch tomes for this humble branch of the Miskatonic University library system. I can only assume Nodens"Lord of the Great Abyss" has subcontracted them to Amazon. 

Cover by Jason Van Hollander

I was happy to see Volume Six of the Black Wings series, although I preferred the covers of the previous volumes with their monstrous menacing creatures, vast against the background of star charts. Some good authors here, I am looking forward as always to Caitlin R. Kiernan, as well as the stories by Darrell Schweitzer, Don Webb. I am sorry to see there is nothing new by John Langan or Brian Hodge. Still I expect great things.

Cover by Ken W. Kelly

I have read some excellent mythos stories by Michael Shea, "Coping Squid", "NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSIT" and "The Presentation"  in DEMIURGE: The Complete Cthulhu Mythos Tales of Michael Shea. So I decided to give this a try

Cover Art by Randy Broecker, Design Michael Smith

I have the Arkham House edition of Inhabitants but this edition from PS Publishing has lots of great extras, including first drafts and August Derleth's editorial responses to the stories.

Cover Art by Randy Broecker, Design Michael Smith

I now have all four volumes of the PS Publishing series of Caitlin R. Kiernen's collected stores.

Cover Art by Richard A. Kirk, Design by Michael Smith

Cover photo Paul Moore

I encountered this novel in a review by Michael Dirda, wow a sequel to  The Night Land, I had to buy this. 


"While one of Iain Sinclair’s own urban fantasies involves the search for a reputed lost sequel to “The House on the Borderland,” Avalon Brantley, who died in 2017, actually produced her own in The House of Silence (Zagava Books). In it she drew additional inspiration from Hodgson’s brooding science fictional quest-romance “The Night Land,” the last published of his four novels. Alas, I haven’t yet had a chance to do more than look at Brantley’s book, but it has already been widely acclaimed a sui generis masterpiece. Earn bragging rights by being the first on your block to read it."

It came with a copy of The Little One about which I know nothing, except the house seems eerily familiar.

Cover photo Dare Wright

Sunday, March 18, 2018

New Eldritch Tomes

Well a busy couple of weeks, the additions to my library are multiplying faster that the prodigy of Shub-Niggurath, The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young.

First, I purchased this Penguin addition mainly for the introduction by series editor Guillermo Del Toro, and the notes by S. T. Joshi that include works not covered in either Joshi's Annotated Lovecraft volumes or Klinger's The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft. The main story I was interested in was of course "Beyond the Wall of Sleep". Cover by Paul Buckley. 

PS Publishing discounted these three volumes of stories by Caitlin R. Kiernan, which originally came out as fairly pricey Subterranean Press editions. I really wanted Caitlin's science fiction stories collected in A is for Alien but could not resist the special offer. I also preordered the PS Publishing edition of her to To Charles Fort With Love. to round out the set. Cover Art by Richard Kirk Cover Design by Michael Smith.  

Then a trip to one of the Fair's Fair used bookstores in Calgary also produced some gems. I began collecting Groff Conklin anthologies after reading Bud Webster's essay on Conklin, see below. In the Grip of Terror was one I have long coveted and I was really happy to see it contained the original (very dark) version of "The Illustrated Man" by Ray Bradbury that appeared in Esquire in July, 1950. Perma Books edition (1951) cover uncredited.

You cannot go wrong with any of the Benson brothers, and I love these Panther editions. Great Cover by Bruce Pennington.

I am always on the lookout for Badger Books after following the Unsubscriber website below. Cover uncredited.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Donald Wandrei's Memories of H.P.L.


 While I have continued to sample not just Lovecraft's stories but related works by other authors that comprise the vast industry of pastiche that has come to surround him, I have been remiss in not updating my blog. I had planned a look at some of the excellent stories I have read by authors like Darrell Schweitzer, Don Webb, John Langan, Brian Hodge and of course Caitlin R. Kiernan but got sidetracked while I was walking by my shelves. I was once again memorized by the lovely Virgil Findley cover for the Arkham House edition of Marginalia By H.P. Lovecraft. A quick look at the table of contents and I turned to the essay "The Dweller in Darkness" by Donald Wandrei, and was hooked, because no matter how far we journey beneath the sea, not matter how vast time, space, the contents of the human mind are, for me it always comes back to Howard. 

   Of all the members of the Lovecraft circle my favourites are Clark Ashton Smith and Donald Wandrei, who with August Derleth was a co-founder of Arkham House Publishing. Wandrei's essay concerned a visit to Providence in the summer of 1927. Wandrei was about 19 at the time and had hitchhiked from Minnesota after an invitation to visit. 

Of his first meeting he says. "The elderly lady who admitted me led me through the hall of a well-kept old frame house. I was ushered into a room, a room of many surprises.
   Though it was afternoon, the windows were all closed and the curtains lowered. One shaded electric bulb threw a weak cone of light upon a desk and chair. In the surrounding gloom, masses of books lined wall bookcases, were piled on tables, stood on stacks on the floor. Scores of magazines, mainly Weird Tales, and a great heap of Providence newspapers were at hand, all in orderly array. A large number of opened letters were arranged on one side of the desk; and on the other lay a thick file of sealed envelopes ready to mail. There was a wash basin in one corner, a two burner gas stove in another. Beside the burner stood a little cabinet with an assortment of small groceries-sugar, coffee, chocolate, jars and packages of cheese, cans of condensed milk and baked beans, bread and crackers and cookies." (362)

    A number of Lovecraft's other friends appear during Wandrei's visit including Frank Belknap Long and his parents (The Hounds of Tindalos) H. Warner Munn (Tales of the Werewolf Clan) and M.C. Eddy (with HPL, The Loved Dead). Highlights for Wanderi include a conversation among the tombs of the St. John's church yard (loved by Poe) until 2:30 a.m, a walk on which Lovecraft points out a house that will become the setting for his story "The Dreams in a Witch House", meeting a huge number of cats and accompanied by Lovecraft's friend James F. Morton a trip to Warren Rhode Island where they eat some 28 flavours of ice cream. It is on this visit that Wander is introduced to several of the defining characteristics of Lovecraft's nature, he writes and is more animated at night, he has an almost pathological aversion to sea food and he cannot tolerate the cold. 

   This is a great remembrance by a man who (along with Derleth) would play a very important role in the posthumous appreciation of Lovecraft's work. Lovecraft pens a long description of the visit to Maurice W. Moe on July 30, 1927.
   " Young Wandering Wandrei was the first to come and the last to leave. He blew in on July 12; and at one established himself in a delightful poet's garret in this very house, which the landlady let hime have for $3.50 per week.*  The next day I took him to archaick Newport where he wander'd through the living past and revelled in his first sight of the wine-dark sea from titan cliffs." H.P.Lovecraft, Selected Lellers 1925-1929, edited by Agust Derleth and Donald Wandrei, (155). 

Certainly reading this letter it is hard to reconcile this visit with the image of Lovecraft as a misanthropic recluse, he talked a good game but obviously his heart was not in it. 

* (Wandrei complains of bedbugs.The landlady is also able to accommodate the Longs for a dollar a head each by vacating her study and reception area, Lovecraft was quite a cash cow for her in July 1927)

And just as I type these last few lines the portal has opened and the Black Wings of Cthulhu 5 has appeared in my mail box.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan


Tor, 2017 cover photo Getty Images, Design Christine Foltzer

“The Signalman lights another cigarette. At fifty-five, he remembers when it wasn’t necessary to disable the smoke alarms of hotels rooms. Too often, it occurs to him that he’s lived just long enough to have completely outlived the world that made sense to him, the world where he fit.” (38)

Agents of Dreamland a new novel by Caitlin R. Kiernan was released at the end of February 2017, a few days after receiving my preorder I sat down to read it. A few hours later after completing all 123 pages I got up. No breaks, asides, snacks etc. I may read a short story in one sitting but never a novel not even a short one. So yes, I think it is good, yes I think it is riveting, yes I think your should buy it (no borrowing), and read it. Not convinced, the long version.

It is July 9, 2015, the Signalman, whose nickname comes from the antique silver watch he carries is waiting in Winslow Arizona for a meeting with Immacolata Sexton. The Signalman is an agent for a secretive agency based in Albany, New York, Sexton an agent for a European group referred to as Barbican Estate (think Brutalist architecture). They are meeting to share information on a cult leader named Drew Standish.  He has been on both groups radar for some time but now disturbing things have been found at the Moonlight Ranch, the current quarters of his cult located on the shores of the Salton Sea. Sexton’s group wants access to the site and Albany wants everything they have on Standish. There are a number of reasons for urgency in investigating this case not the least of which is as the Signalman reminds Sexton 

New Horizons makes its closest approach to Pluto five days from now. So you’II excuse my sense of urgency,” (19)

The story is told from the point of view of the Signalman, Sexton and a cult member called Chloe Stringfellow. Immacolata Sexton is the most interesting of the three, as her memory extends not just into the past, how long is unclear but she is adult at the time of the Vermont Floods of 1927, but into the future as well, so her character witnesses most of the events of the story. Kiernan has used this long lived incredibility competent and very dangerous female agent before, the Eygptian - Ancient of Days, El Judio Errante, Kundry, Ptolema (lots of names if you live a long time I guess) is central to Kieran's 2012 novella “Black Helicopters” but Sexton is even more developed. The Signalman, the hard drinking totally disillusioned investigator, is of course a fairly common character see my post on the district attorney Edward D. Satterlee in Chabon’s "The God of Dark Laughter” or for Kiernan’s previous use of this type of character there is the scrubber Dietrich Paine found in her brilliant 2004 short story “Riding the White Bull”. 

That Agents of Dreamland is Lovecraftian is obvious. I wonder if it could not be considered a type of prequel to her “Black Ships Seen South of Heaven”, 2015 in Black Wings of Cthulhu 4, editor S.T. Josh. Not only is the New Horizons probe central to the events of that story but the Los Angeles Sexton will encounter in the future bears striking similarities to the USA depicted in “Black Ships Seen South of Heaven”. 

However you need not read one to enjoy the other. In “Agents of Dreamland” Keirnan has a number of references that certainly led me to think of Lovecraft’s own work. Among the other items the Signalman provides Sexton with is an antique gold coin, part of Wizard Whateley’s horde from “The Dunwich Horror” perhaps. Early references to Vermont and Eli Davenport conjure up “the Whisperer in the Darkness” even before it becomes more overt. But Keirnan also goes further afield with references to Charles Mason, Area 51, the Enochian language of John Dee, Boaz and Jachin the metal pillars in the Bible, there are Beatles LPs playing and Standish refers to the cultists with names taken from the Heaven’s Gate cult. There are brief references to two of my favourite individuals Alfred Russell Wallace and Ray Harryhausen, but my favourite reference of all is to zombie ants. If you have not read about them previously read the book then look them up, I remember reading about them some years ago and it blew my mind. Keirnan has a science background and published articles in vertebrate paleontology before turning to fiction and I really enjoy the fact that she brings this scientific literacy to her stories. These references are not tossed in at random, they make sense in the context of the story, providing a depth and richness that would be lacking without them. I am sure I missed some, but I have read this novel twice and will read it again. 

After watching the movie The Monster That Challenged the World (1957) as a child I also love any reference to the Salton Sea, sorry I am more like the Signalman than I like to admit.

Keirnan is interviewed in the great documentary “Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown”

and she talks of Lovecraft’s use of the motif of “Deep Time”, basically the vast age of the earth as a theme or pivot point for stories like “At the Mountains of Madness”, and one of my favourites “The Shadow Out of Time”. As a paleontologist Kieran would obviously be interested in this concept and she has investigated it in a number of works, indeed my TBR pile contains a copy of Kiernan’s Threshold: A Novel of Deep Time, It was while thinking about Kiernan's use of this motif that I realized that much of SF or cosmic horror is linked to this concept for what is space if not a manifestation of "Deep Time" when even the light reaching us from the nearest stars reflects a period immeasurably distant from our own.

Kiernan has written a number of pastiches, tributes, riffs on, Lovecraft, but what I enjoy is that they do not need to start with a forbidden book or the inheritance of dubious goods or real estate. She realizes that a cosmic threat can be a virus, a signal or even just the focus of the attention of something that was better left undisturbed.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"The God of Dark Laughter" by Michael Chabon

 "One of the most tedious human beings I have ever known was my own mother, who, early in my childhood, fell under the spell of Madame Blavatsky and her followers and proceeded to weary my youth and deplete my patrimony with her devotion to that indigestible caseation of balderdash and lies."

from "The God of Dark Laughter" New Yorker April 9, 2001 by Michael Chabon

The rest of the quotations will be from the same source unless otherwise noted.


I have to say at the outset that I loved this story by Chabon, the short review is please read it. The story is narrated by Edward D. Satterlee the district attorney of Yuggoghey County and is set in the same area of Pennsylvania as the town of Plunkettsburg of "In The Black Mill" fame. As district attorney Satterlee seems to direct the investigation of any complex criminal cases handled by the county detectives. This appears to be a very reasonable arrangement as we learn almost right away.

"The dead man, as I have already mentioned, was attired in a curious suit—the trousers and jacket of threadbare purple velour, the waistcoat bright orange, the whole thing patched with outsized squares of fabric cut from a variety of loudly clashing plaids. It was on account of the patches, along with the victim's cracked and split-soled shoes and a certain undeniable shabbiness in the stuff of the suit, that the primary detective—a man not apt to see deeper than the outermost wrapper of the world (we do not attract, I must confess, the finest police talent in this doleful little corner of western Pennsylvania)—had already figured the victim for a vagrant, albeit one with extraordinarily big feet.

“Those cannot possibly be his real shoes, Ganz, you idiot,” I gently suggested."

Yes the victim is a clown. A dead clown, shot and with the skin of his head removed "Like the cupped husk of a peeled orange"

Wonderful stuff, this immediately reminded me of the many clowns that haunt the works of Thomas Ligotti but here the similarity ends. Ligotti's narrators are most commonly unnamed individuals with no back story and little future. Satterlee is more akin to the hardboiled detectives of pulp fiction, who have seen it all and not liked any of it. Now an alcoholic Satterlee has ceased to bother to hide the bottle of whiskey on his desk behind the photo of his wife and son, he has plenty of backstory all of it tragic. These events and his aversion to the mystical leanings of his mother have left him cynical with a skeptic's view of the universe.

Chabon has created a perfect mythos tale in my opinion. We have dark gods with their requisite cultists, (whose appearance and behaviour are far more, can one say lovingly realized), that the rather perfunctory treatment they normally receive even by Lovecraft himself. We have a lamentably short cameo by a baboon, for a while it seemed we also had a crow but now I think not, haunting dreams, inbreeding, a salt smell, and mysterious books,

"and a couple of odd texts, elderly and tattered: one in German called “Über das Finstere Lachen,” by a man named Friedrich von Junzt, which appeared to be religious or philosophical in nature, and one a small volume bound in black leather and printed in no alphabet known to me, the letters sinuous and furred with wild diacritical marks.

“Pretty heavy reading for a clown,” Ganz said.

“It's not all rubber chickens and hosing each other down with seltzer bottles, Jack.”

“Oh, no?”

“No, sir. Clowns have unsuspected depths.”".

And in this case they will prove to be deep indeed.

The story does not adhere to the cosmicism, of Lovecraft as the possibly of a divine presence is not ruled out but the insignificance of humanity is certainly captured. As well Chabon's language and description beautifully sets the tone of Satterlee lonely rationalist's battle against a universe that appears to be anything but,

"What disheartened me was not that I viewed a crime committed out of the promptings of an evil nature as inherently less liable to solution than the misdeeds of the foolish, the unlucky, or the habitually cruel. On the contrary, evil often expresses itself through refreshingly discernible patterns, through schedules and syllogisms. But the presence of evil, once scented, tends to bring out all that is most irrational and uncontrollable in the public imagination. It is a catalyst for pea-brained theories, gimcrack scholarship, and the credulous cosmologies of hysteria." 

We are even offered hints other adventures that Satterlee and Ganz have been involved in, reference is made to the Primm case which reminded me of Robert Bloch's Ludwig Prinn, the author of De Vermis Mysteriis, or Mysteries of the Worm, but maybe it's just me.

Chabon offers an interesting take on the inspiration, genesis and marketing of his two Lovecraft pastiches and I felt it was worthwhile to quote him at some length.

Michael Chabon Attacks Prejudice Against Science Fiction

from Wired 03.07.12


Wired: "You wrote this great Lovecraftian horror story called "The God of Dark Laughter" How did that story come about, and were you surprised to see it appear in The New Yorker?"

Chabon: Well, that was actually sort of my second foray. I created this fictional character in the novel Wonder Boys of August Van Zorn, who we’re told is a writer of Lovecraftian horror fiction who had an early influence on the main character of that book, and at some point I just got the idea to try to write an August Van Zorn story.

You know, the pseudonym has always existed as a way to protect the “serious literary writer” from the taint of genre fiction, and that’s how August Van Zorn used it. In the book his real name is Albert Vetch, and he writes under the name of August Van Zorn because he’s a professor of literature, and he has to use a pseudonym for that kind of sordid fare that he’s cranking out, and that pseudonym was there for me as a kind of fig leaf too, to just imagine writing a straight piece of horror fiction that wasn’t “meta” or playing with the tropes of horror fiction in a literary way. I just wanted to write a straight-out story about awful goings-on in this small western Pennsylvania town that turned out to be rooted in some ancient cult of the Elder Ones, just straight ahead Lovecraftian Mythos kind of stuff, and I guess I felt when I did that that I had to protect myself under that pseudonym of August Van Zorn that I had created — it was a double fiction at that point.

And I wrote a story that was called “In the Black Mill,” and when I finished it I thought it came out well. I believe my agent sent it to The New Yorker, who wouldn’t even — I mean, it spent a very brief period of time on the editorial desk there before re-emerging with its dignity somewhat in tatters, and then she sent it to Playboy, to a great fiction editor who used to be at Playboy named Alice Turner, who was a great champion of all kinds of genre writing in the literary context, and she took it and wanted to publish it, but she insisted that I publish it under my own name. And god bless her, because that was right.

I wrote that story, and if I want to write a piece of Lovecraftian horror fiction, I not only have the freedom to do so, but I also ought to be proud of it, and put my name on it, and let it just go out there along with everything else that I’ve written. So that was published in Playboy, and it got a little bit of attention from the horror fiction crowd, and it got included in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, the Datlow anthology, and that encouraged me.

And so at some point a little idea popped into my head about clowns, and what if clowns really looked that way, and it wasn’t make-up at all. And there’s something really horrifying to me in that thought. I mean, “coulrophobia” has a name because a lot of people think clowns are terrifying and creepy, it’s not just John Wayne Gacy’s fault. There’s something about a clown in the abstract, with the white skin and the red mouth and all that. It’s bizarre anybody could have ever thought it was anything but horrifying, in my opinion.

But in any case, just trying to get at that, and wonder about clowns, and why they look the way they do, and in trying to answer that question, the answer occurred to me in the form of a horror story, and this time I just wrote it without any monkey business about it being by August Van Zorn or any of that, but I set it in the same fictional Van Zornian universe of Plunkettsburg, which is the western Pennsylvania town that he set all his fiction in, as we’re told in Wonder Boys. That was more for my own pleasure, it had nothing to do with wanting to wear a fig leaf of respectability anymore. That time, and maybe it’s proof that something had changed, because my agent sent that one first to The New Yorker, and they took it, and maybe part of the reason for that is because it was a little more thinkable, a little less unacceptable, for them to publish a piece of straight genre fiction, and the fact that they’ve published Stephen King since then suggests that there has been a change."

Chabon is a master of the turn of phase, and I think you can see his experience in screen writing in the dialogue. Possibly (probably) my favourite mythos tale (and obviously I have read many), I have reread it a number of times in the last few weeks and like it more each time.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

New Eldritch Tomes - Cthulhu's Daughters ed S. Moreno-Garcia & P. R. Stiles - Autumn Cthulhu ed. Mike Davis

I will not buy any more books especially HPL pastiche anthologies 
I will not buy any more books especially HPL pastiche anthologies 
I will not buy any more books especially HPL pastiche anthologies 
I will not buy any more books especially HPL pastiche anthologies 

Too late-cannot help self-Black paws materialize-am dragged away toward the cellar….

from The Diary of Alonzo Trapper (HPL Revision)

Saturday, March 4, 2017

New Eldritch Tomes Caitlin R. Kiernan - Agents of Dreamland and John Langan - The Fisherman

I have been waiting for the Kiernan for some time, and the 
Langan sounds great, I enjoyed his short story,
 "Outside the House, Watching for the Crows" in 
The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu 

Tor, 2017 cover photo Getty Images, Design Christine Foltzer

Description taken from a review appearing on GEEKLYINC

What a beautiful description of Caitlin's work.

"It is in this that Kiernan truly is heir to Lovecraft in a way that most other writers are not. She is a scientist who has nonetheless made her uneasy bed with unknowing. For most of us, science connotes a background optimism that the world can be understood, and that there exists a path of upward momentum. In Kiernan’s works, we are reminded that even the experts know comparatively little, and that our striving will always fall short of this dying universe’s ability to confound us."

Or from The New York Journal of Books (full review contains spoilers)


"It’s a bit hard to comprehend the amount of story that is told in a little over 120 pages; this owes largely to the novella’s jigsaw puzzle-like narrative structure. Agents of Dreamland is an exquisitely haunting read, full of mesmerizing prose, unsettling images, and profoundly disturbing implications. And after reading this novella, one may never view that dwarf planet at the edge of our solar system the same way again."

Word Horde, 2016, Cover design Scott R. Jones
Cover: Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast 1870 by Albert Bierstadt
Description taken from a review The New York Times


"In his superb new novel THE FISHERMAN, John Langan also manages to sustain the focused effect of a short story or a poem over the course of a long horror narrative, and it’s an especially remarkable feat because this is a novel that goes back and forth in time, alternates lengthy stretches of calm with extended passages of vigorous and complex action, and features a very, very large monster. Like Robert Aickman, Langan is a short story writer by inclination; “The Fisherman” is only his second novel, and this one took him over a dozen years to finish."