" 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

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Rowena Morrill (1944-2021)

 


 Another illustrator that was once a significant force in the science fiction books I used to select from the spinning racks of drug stores and the Wee Book Inn has passed away. Locus provided an excellent overview of her career here.

https://locusmag.com/2021/02/rowena-morrill-1944-2021/

I cannot say that Rowena Morril was one of my favourite illustrators, but at one point, books with her cover illustrations seemed omnipresent. When I decided to pull together a few of my favourites, I was surprised with how few I found. Either I had culled the authors long ago, Piers Anthony or the books are currently misplaced Manly Wade Wellman as the ongoing basement renovations continue. However, I have a few, some of which I love. 

How can you not like Clark Ashton Smith?


This rather tatty Sturgeon is Helen's but as someone who compulsively collects translations of the Divine Comedy there is a lot to like here.


George R.R. Martin writes the best horror/science fiction short stores in the field. "Sandkings" is probably his greatest short story and quite possibly belongs on any list of the top science fiction stories of all time. This is a nice representation.


When I first owned these editions of Lovecraft I did not like them. As was sadly the case with many of my early paperback editions I did not keep them when I bought hardcovers. When I came to realize I wanted to collect the art of HPL as well as the words I had the joy of buying expensive copies in not very good condition so I could add them to my collection. While we are told we become more conservative as we age I find myself moving in the opposite direction in most areas of my life. These are certainly a case in point. Now I really enjoy the flamboyance of Morrill's interpretation of Wilbur Whatetely or the Great Race of Yith. Occasionally I do wonder how Wilbur keep all those bits sufficiently concealed beneath the 1920's equivalent of Dockers that he could ride the bus in search of the Necronomicon. But that is part of the fun of it. Do you have any favourite Morrill covers?

Saturday, January 23, 2021

New Eldritch Tomes (not really) and Clark Ashton Smith: The Emperor of Dreams and Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country


 I wanted to put a post together and was waiting to gather some things I wanted to share. First off I have not been buying as many old paperbacks lately. I basically have accumulated lots and decided to hold off for a while. However will searching the basement for Blaylock's The Elfin Ship for another project, I found two books that really belonged upstairs with my main collection. Initially I assumed that The Phoenix Tree was part of Lin Carter's Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, it must have been the unicorns and dragons that fooled me. However the authors on the cover had a distinctly weird tales or horror vibe. I have been collected a number of slim horror collections from the 1970's and this Stoker collection for 1974 by Quartet Books fit right in. 



I also wanted to mention a couple items that I thought would be of interest to readers of this blog. The first is a documentary I just watched on Vimeo, Clark Ashton Smith: The Emperor of Dreams directed by Darin Coelho Spring. Smith is a favourite author and I thought this was a great overview of his life and career. It featured a number of tours by Smith scholar, Donald Sidney-Fryer. There were interviews with S.T. Joshi, W.H. Pugmire, and an extensive interview with Harlan Ellison on Smith's influence on his work. Ellison also mentions how he first encountered Smith's "City of the Singing Flame" in Derleth anthology  The Other Side of the Moon. I found the interview with Smith's stepson Prof. William Dorman particularly interesting. The documentary also featured some of Smith's painting and sculptures and I have to admit I has really impressed. The b&w reproductions in my copy of The Fantastic Art of Clark Ashton Smith did not do them justice and led me to undervalue them.

Author John Langan reviewed the documentary for Locus here,

https://locusmag.com/2019/01/john-langan-reviews-clark-ashton-smith-the-emperor-of-dreams/

And you can see the trailer here, (I really recommend it)

 https://vimeo.com/281911751

Lastly I want to recommend Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country by Edward Parnell and I am only on chapter eight. (Finished, a powerful but poignant (okay sad) memoir)

Parnell has written a beautiful and engaging memoir combining his personal history with an overview of the supernatural fiction and film that informed his childhood. Parnel's discussions of the works of authors like Machen, Blackwood. M.R. James, Alan Garner and William Hope Hodgson and films like The Wicker Man or The Blood on Satan's Claw are enhanced by visits to significant locations in their creators' lives and works. 


Readers of W.G. Sebald (who I love) may recognize some similarities. There are b&w photographs of the author and his family or the locations he visits. The work consists of descriptions of trips interspersed with personal anecdotes, capsule histories, observation of the local birds and the landscape.


But I think Parnell is more deeply immersed in his subject than Sebald sometimes was. This process seems vitally important to Parnell. His visits to the locations where these authors lived and worked become meditations on his own life and a trigger for his own memories. I have mentioned before that Helen is a big fan of The Fortean Times. One phenomenon which she made me aware of was the concept of The Haunted Generation, as mentioned in the link below; 


" The phrase ‘Haunted Generation’ comes from an article of that title by British broadcaster and writer Bob Fischer for the June 2017 issue of Fortean Times magazine, the purview of which is ‘the world of strange phenomena’. Fischer, who was born in 1973, discusses his childhood exposure to a popular culture thematically preoccupied with mysticism and the supernatural;"   


From 

‘A LOST, HAZY DISQUIET’: SCARFOLK, HOOKLAND, AND THE ‘HAUNTED GENERATION’ by David Sweeny

 

http://www.revenantjournal.com/contents/a-lost-hazy-disquiet-scarfolk-hookland-and-the-haunted-generation/


A link to the actual Fortean Times article is here.


https://hauntedgeneration.co.uk/2019/04/22/thehauntedgeneration/

I think Parnell's work provides an interesting example of the phenomenon. I have found it riveting not just for his discussions of supernatural fiction in Britain but also as an exercise in memoir.    

There is a excellent discussion of Parnell's book with an interview with the author here. Parnell states,

"I went back to Norfolk and thought hard about whether I would like to write such a book – a book concerned with ghost stories and films and the places around Britain that fed into them. And I decided that I did. Because I’d grown up obsessed from a young age with the supernatural and horror. Like a lot of children born in the 1970s, my early years had been surrounded by morbid public information films and terrifying, offbeat TV programmes aimed at, but quite probably unsuitable for, our age group; without knowing it, I was part of what the Fortean Times has come to term the ‘haunted generation’."

https://folkhorrorrevival.com/2019/12/27/ghostland-review-and-interview-with-edward-parnell/

Cover credits;

The Bram Stoker Companion unattributed

The Phoenix Tree unattributed

Genius Loci Frank Wakefield

A Rendezvous in Averoigne Jeffrey K. Potter

The Other Side of the Moon Virgil Finlay?

Emperor of Dreams Ned Dameron


Thursday, December 24, 2020

May Cthulhu be good to you.

 


"There is snow on the ground
And the valleys are cold
And a midnight profound
Blackly squats o'er the wold:
But a light on the hilltops half-seen hints of feasting unhallow'd and old."

from Yule Tide by H.P. Lovecraft


Saturday, December 12, 2020

On Safari in R'lyeh and Carcosa with Gun and Camera by Elizabeth Bear.



  I have, I believe, remarked about how coincidence plays a large part in my life and my reading. Lately, I have been reading non-fiction from the library. As normal, the topics reflect my choice of fiction; the Sirens of Mars by Johnson discusses the search for life on Mars, Ancient Bones by Bohme, the evolution of apes and hominids in Europe and Kindred by Sykes provided an overview of the current research on Neanderthal's. The last two works that I discussed on my blog Jagged Orbit, Simak's "The Whispering Well," and Bradbury's The Halloween Tree touched on evolution and early man. Obviously, something is going on. Perhaps deros are shooting rays into my brain to direct my reading (see Richard Sharpe Shaver), or maybe stuff just happens.


Early this morning, Bear's story appeared on the Tor.com banner and, well, it had both R'lyeh and Carcosa in the title. I was up with insomnia anyway, so here was a gift. I just discussed three of Bear's mythos stories, and this did not disappoint. It starts in true pulp fashion with the protagonist and her companion reloading their weapons as they shelter behind a flimsy barricade. A tentacle has just smashed her GoPro, so we are in reasonably familiar territory. Then Bear proceeds to tell us how we got here. "My name is not Greer Griswold. I’m approximately fifty-two years old. I don’t know who my birth parents were, and my adoptive parents are dead. I have never married; I have no children; I have very few close friends. I’m a physicist at a notable northeastern US institution you would have heard of if I named it." 


Spoilers ahead, I suggest you read the story first, then see if you agree/disagree with me.


And while your there I recommend Lavie Tidhar's stories "Judge Dee and the Limits of the Law" and "In Xanadu".


  


Greer decides to take a DNA test; she is nearly one-twentieth Neanderthal (yeah!!), but 10.2% is undetermined. Luckily one of her few friends is Michael Roberts, a geneticist at the same institution. Roberts initially dismisses her results as contamination in the sample. But after additional research, he finds similar results appeared in a thesis that eventually was rejected. This leads them to the author Albert Gilman a recluse living on Cape Ann. I will stop the summary; the story is available on the Tor website. Why did I like it. Bear is a fine writer; I loved this line, "Unless his peculiar transformation had been more than merely cosmetic and he’d returned to the deeps like a hatchling sea turtle." She is also very inventive. Her story Dolly is a lovely discussion of the rise of sentience in a robot.


https://ajaggedorbit.blogspot.com/2017/03/dolly-by-elizabeth-bear.html


I fully intend to discuss her story 'The Deeps of the Sky', a brilliant first contact story that can be read here. 


http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/bear_06_18_reprint/


How inventive since Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu", writers have struggled with describing his concept of non-Euclidean geometry. Bear does not struggle, she nails it 


“Octagons,” I said. “Traditionally, they don’t interlock without small squares to make up the corners.”

“But honeycomb?”

“Hexagons,” I said. “Like the basalt pillar we were on. Your bathroom tiles, those are octagons. With the little black squares between the corners, because that’s how topology works.”

Well, that was how topology worked where we came from. Here, apparently octagons interlocked." 


I love good mythos tales, I love prehistory, and I am interested in DNA and evolutionary science and increasingly, I love Elizabeth Bear's sf short stories and mythos tales. 


Photos

Detail from "Moving to New Hunting Grounds" by Zdenek Burian, I received my first book in the Augusta/Burian series on prehistoric life, Prehistoric Sea Monsters (they aren't) as a child and the die was cast.

Kindred, I borrowed this from the library and realized I would want to reread it and make notes in the text. So I returned it so the next in line could enjoy it and got my own copy from a local bookstore who delivered it and some Jeff Vandermeer books. 

On my next visit to my local library branch I found three more books on Neanderthals on the shelf. I had to request Almost Human on Homo naledi from another branch but I was able to get it before the library closes again until the new year and I thought it made a nice addition to the photo. 

Be careful out there.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Black Helicopters and The Tindalos Asset by Caitlin R. Kiernan (To Frank Belknap Long the father of the Hounds)


  Anyone who has followed my blog knows I love the works of Caitlin R. Kiernan. However, I don't love all of them. Some works are too sexualized, topical (with references to serial killers, snuff films), perhaps too modern or contemporary for me. But she writes enough works that I enjoy that I am always ready to read more. The themes I enjoy and which I think she does quite well at are science fiction, UFO conspiracy theories, Lovecraftian/mythos fiction and stories related to the work/ideas of Charles Fort. I have previously discussed the first volume in The Tinfoil Dossier seriesAgents of Dreamland here 




https://dunwichhorrors.blogspot.com/2017/04/agents-of-dreamland-by-caitlin-r-kiernan.html



I will avoid repeating myself, so if you want to read my take on Kiernan's work, I suggest you start there. In the Author's Note to The Tindalos Asset, Kiernan provides information on the genesis of the three works and I will paraphrase it here. Agents of Dreamland was written in about six weeks in the summer of 2015. and was published by Tor 2017. Tor released volume two, Black Helicopters in May 2018. A shorter version appeared in the Subterranean Press collection Beneath an Oil-Dark Sea in 2015. I originally read this version in a latter Subterranean Press collection. 


The original version of Black Helicopters, which I preferred, predated Agents of Dreamland. While some elements appear in both novels, the expanded Tor edition feels like it has shoehorned into the sequence which has become The Tinfoil Dossier. The Signalman does not appear until page 149 of the 196-page novel and even then seems perfunctory. Immacolata Sexton disappears, and instead, we have another deathless/long-lived Barbican operative called Ptolema, the Eygptian, Ancient of Days. One thing I noticed is that this story has multiple characters, primarily women, who seem to have a number of names. There are the albino twins Bete and Ivoire, their handler Dr. Twisley, and the soldier mathematical savant 66. Childhood and how it moulds identity does seem to be an important theme.

  

 I will not discuss the plot in great detail. There are two main threads one deals with an invasion of shoggoths from the seas around Deer Island, Maine. The second revolves around the history of the twins and the efforts of various groups to control or destroy them. There is a lot of interplay between various agencies with conflicting and sometimes inexplicable agendas. The action does not proceed chronologically. The narrative moves between the past, the present and even the far future. Keirnan dates the chapters, and this does help. My wife and I watched the X-Files for many years, and I tended to prefer the standalone episodes, often with supernatural plotlines. The long, complex unfolding of conspiracies turned me off. Here I think the plot might have grown too convoluted for me. It seemed to grow more and more intricate like the origami swans Bete is obsessively making until I could not follow the pattern anymore. Not a bad read but it was my least favourite in the series



The third volume, The Tindalos Asset, was begun in 2017 and completed in 2019. Some sections appeared in Ellen Datlow's Children of Lovecraft (2015) as "Excerpts from An Eschatology Quadrille." I loved The Tindalos Asset. It is a wonderful homage to Charles Fort as well as a great continuation of the story of the Signalman and his fight against the end of the world. The story begins with a visit by the Signalman to Ellison Nicodemo. (The book is dedicated to, among others, In Memory of Harlan Ellison (1934-2018) Visionary. Hero. Mentor. Friend.) Nicodemo was once one of Albany's most effective assassins. However, something went horribly wrong, and I mean horribly, during an assignment in Atlanta. Now she is an alcoholic drug addict, slowly killing herself in a filthy apartment in LA's Koreatown. The Signalman, who was once Nicodemo's handler, has been sent by Albany to recruit her for one last assignment. It seems Jehosheba Talog, Mother Hydra's current best bud and Nicodemo's Atlanta target, has come back and in a big way. We have strange deaths, even stranger births, bizarre ritual murders, weird weather, extinct animals, cryptozoology, mass hysteria in asylums incuding the Butler hospital in Providence, R.I of course, outbreaks of nightmares and stuff falling from the sky. Lots of stuff, big stuff, "Why, that's nothing. Pshaw, even. We got a goddamn sixty-five-foot sperm whale-Moby-Dick's own great-great-grandkid-stretched across the Pennsylvania Turnpike. " (85). The pace at which the incidents detailed in the dossier is terrific, one breathtaking revelation layered on atop the other, each worth of Fort himself. Why does Albany think Nicodemo can help. Well, not only was she an effective assassin in her own right but when she is in danger, a "hound" appears from a handy angle to defend her. It is all here Kiernan at her best she has summoned Fort's legions, 


“A procession of the damned: By the damned I mean the excluded. We shall have a procession of data that science has excluded. Battalions of the accursed, captained by pallid data that I have exhumed will march. You'll read them, or they'll march. Some of them livid and some of them fiery and some of them rotten. Some of them are corpses, skeletons, mummies, twitching, tottering, animated by companions that have been damned alive. There are giants that will walk by, though sound asleep. There are things that are theorems and things that are rags. (Charle Ford, The Book of the Damned


She brings us quotes from Lewis Carroll and Tennyson. Keirnan's own background in palaeontology means her pallid data in often geological and marine-based. Her extensive knowledge of Lovecraft has us revisit the house on Benefit Street in Providence R.I., otherwise known as "The Shunned House." I have followed Kiernan's blog for years, and I know she does a great deal of research to add a level of reality to her otherwise fantastic tales. So we begin to know things about the recurring characters that bring them to life. What beer they drink, songs they listen to, movies they watch. On the plane, Nicodemo is drinking National Bohemian and smoking Chesterfields. The Signalman's mixtape includes Connie Francis and Kitty Wells, he references John Ford westerns, and his watch was "made in 1888 by the Elgin Watch Company of Elgin, Illinois. We get the scientific names of many of the critters that fall from the sky or the cutting edge materials used in the interrogation room. This level of detail is supplied to make the story live, but it is not laboured; the pace of the story is not slowed; it is just there. Without the details, the scientific names, the historical references, the quotes, the names of the songs or bands playing on the jukebox, a Kiernan story would seem incomplete or colourless. And how do all these elements fit together to make a mythos tale? Is a marriage of Charles Fort and HPL. made in heaven or hell?



“It is our expression that the flux between that which isn't and that which won't be, or the state that is commonly and absurdly called "existence," is a rhythm of heavens and hells: that the damned won't stay damned; that salvation only precedes perdition. The inference is that some day our accursed tatterdemalions will be sleek angels. Then the sub-inference is that some later day, back they'll go whence they came.” 

- Charles Fort,The Book of the Damned


"Man rules now where They ruled once; They shall soon rule where man rules now. After summer is winter, after winter summer. They wait patient and potent, for here shall They reign again." 

- H.P. Lovecraft, Necronomicon


I think they go very well together.


Cover Credits:


Beneath an Oil-Dark Sea, Illustration Lee Moyer, Photograph Kathryn A. Pollnac


Black Helicopters, photograph Don Seymour, design Christine Foltzer


Agents of Dreamlanddesign Christine Foltzer


The Tindalos Assetdesign Christine Foltzer


The Hounds of Tindalos


Arkham House, Hannes Bok


Jove/HBJ, Rowena


Belmont, Uncredited


To Charles Fort With Love, Richard Kirk


Monday, November 2, 2020

Nov. 2nd, 2020, Today



“But you can't make people listen. They have to come round in 
their own time, wondering what happened and 
why the world blew up around them.”

from Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury


Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury slight spoilers and it will appear on my HPL blog as well.

  

I was reading Roger Zelazny's A Night in Lonesome October as my Halloween read, but as always, I could not read a chapter a day. Instead, I rushed ahead then read all the short stories based on this theme from the various Lovecraft eZine Megapacks. This meant that once I had decorated and left out Wagon Wheels and hand sanitizer for the little ghouls and goblins (about 12 kids and assorted parents), I needed something to read. 


Ray Bradbury was one of the most formative authors I read as a child/young adult. And there on the shelf was a title I had never read before The Halloween Tree. No one does Halloween, autumn or childhood like Bradbury. And no one illustrates Bradbury like Joseph Mugnaini. 



"Shrieking, wailing, full of banshee mirth they ran, on everything except sidewalks, " (4)


The story itself is simple; eight boys go out trick or treating in a small Midwestern town, pure Bradbury. But the boy Pip (Pipkin), who is the most vital, energetic, of the group, the very image of unbridled boyhood is missing. He has told them to go ahead, and he will catch up. But it is obvious something is not right with Pip. As loyal friends, the group follows Pip's instructions and visit the biggest, scariest, spookiest house in town.


"So, with a pseudopod thrust out here or there, the amoebic form, the large perspiration of boys leaned and made a run and a stop to the front door of the house which was as tall as a coffin and twice as thin." (19)


 Here they meet Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, probably the scariest, creepiest, spookiest person in town. They see the Halloween Tree hung with strange jack-o-lanterns and embark on a tour of Halloween's history on a giant kite formed from old carnival posters. 


"And then down they sailed off away deep into the Undiscovered Country of Old Death and Strange Years in the Frightful Past..."(54)


"And the million tiger-lion-leopard-panther eyes of the autumn Kite looked down, as did the eyes of the boys."(55) 



One and on, I read past cavemen and mummies, both Egyptian and Mexican. The Druids appeared the Roman Legions attacked, witches stirred black cauldrons and burned for it. The great cathedral of Notre-Dame appeared resplendent with gargoyles. 


And finally, '"Quiet as milkweed, then, soft as snow, fall blow away down, each and all."

The boys fell. 

Like a bushel of chestnuts, their feet rained to earth."(81)


This was my childhood, not the reality of it but some of the sense and feel of it. The books I read, the stories I was told, the movies I saw. The paper decorations, the pumpkins, cats and cornstalks decorating the houses I walked past. The autumnal sound of dry leaves underfoot, the smell of apples and the first cold brush of winter buried amid the horse chestnuts and multicoloured Indian corn. And I realize now it had continued to be my life. Reading Bradbury, I understood that the things that interested me as a child are largely the things that interest me today. I still love rocketships, dinosaurs, and books with mummies, witches and werewolves on the covers. I have been fortunate that Helen shares many of these interests; we have visited Hadrian's Wall, York Minster Cathedral., Saint Mark's in Venice. When I finished, I felt grateful that in a trying year, I had the joy of reading this book and this author. I became aware that I can enjoy my life, the people around me and my pursuits in peace and security and how rare that is. 



Having finished The Halloween Tree, I looked for another Bradbury work to at least flip though before bed. Obvious choices would have been his collection The October Country or short stories like "The Illustrated Man" or "The Pillar of Fire." But the images in one of my favourite books called to me instead. 


"The autumn leaves blew over the moonlit pavement in such a way as to make the girl who was moving there seem fixed to a sliding walk, letting the motion of the wind and the leaves carry her forward. Her head was half bent to watch her shoes stir the circling leaves. Her face was slender and milk-white, and in it was a kind of gentle hunger that touched over everything with tireless curiosity. "(3) Fahrenheit 451


I am posting this on both Jagged Orbit and Beyond the Walls of Sleep, cause I can.