Tennessee Williams Play

withered, once-beautiful matriarch: my, it sure is hot tonight in… the south.
smoulderingly handsome, reckless heir to the family estate: *leans on a doorframe* hot- yes, just like the heat of my repressed homosexuality and barely concealed rage.

Review – Resonator: New Lovecraftian Tales from Beyond

Please be aware that you may encounter spoilers in these reviews.
Also note that the film and book reviews posted between 11/13 and 11/30 appeared previously (in shorter, often unedited forms) on Goodreads and Whippoorwill Hollow.  I have updated links within reviews whenever necessary. New reviews begin on 12/10/15. Thanks for reading!



Resonator
, from Martian Migraine Press, is an anthology of Mythos fiction that draws its title from the machine built by Lovecraft’s character, Crawford Tillinghast in From Beyond. Its function was to “break down the barriers” between our world and those that exist “at our very elbows.”

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from Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond (1986)

Scott R. Jones does a nice job of summarizing the general focus of the collection in an introduction entitled, “Magic Circles, Noxious Machines.” Here’s a quote from that:
“Everything is either corruptible or corrupted, and those with the eyes to see that corruption will see it. And once it is seen, it cannot be unseen.”
All of the stories in the anthology employ a version of the Tillinghast Resonator in some way (From Beyond is included in the book, as well), and it was interesting to see the variations on it from story to story. While the focus on such a specific object, the Resonator itself, or even the larger trope of a “thinly veiled reality” might seem to ask for a load of pastiche or, at least, only slight variations on the same ol’ story, that doesn’t happen with this collection.

A few of my favorites:

“Infernal Attractors” by Cody Goodfellow
At first blush, this story appears guilty of that mimicry/pastiche mentioned above. I know that when I began describing it to a friend, that was the reaction that I got. It does have some of the standard From Beyond dressing: flipping the switch, amoeba-like things floating and biting, the reckless pursuit of knowledge; however, it takes those familiar images and turns the spectatorship inward a bit, towards addiction and, ultimately, identity. I liked it and appreciated the way sexuality was employed in this tale for a change (Since Stuart Gordon’s movie, the pineal gland can be the source of all sorts of sexy silliness). And, to be completely honest here, I got a real kick out of seeing the term “teledildonics” in print for the first time since….hell, grad school. My antennae perked-up at that and I enjoyed the cybersexual/VR implications that term carries with it.  My old Harraway/po-mo tendencies may have made my reading of the story a little rosy; regardless, it’s a sound piece of Weird fiction, and I think most Lovecraftians who appreciate the original story, Gordon’s movie, and new Mythos works will, too.

“Turbulence” by Scott R. Jones –
This story is intensely creepy in its “practicality.” And if you’ve ever worked in/with the military in any capacity or are connected in some way with folks who “do their duty,” you might understand what I mean by that. If you don’t, it’s probably for the best, and I don’t know how to say a lot about this piece without giving too much away or dampening its truly unsettling effect. I will say that the visuals are chilling, and the author has a real knack for description. I actually heard this story a while ago on one of my favorite podcasts (Pseudopod) and was pleased to see it included in the group of tales. I hadn’t realized at the time of hearing it that it was Scott R. Jones; I just knew I liked it a lot. Here’s a link if you’d like to listen to the story (free access).

“The Wizard of OK” by Scott Nicolay –
Nicolay’s tale incorporates the concept of the “invisible magic circle” present, arguably, in the original tale and mentioned by Jones in his introduction. It has a much more insidious function, it seems, than in some other stories since it is at the heart of a sacrificial Chaos ritual by Mortuus. And rather than an over-reaching scientist, its main character is a deeply, deeply flawed victim of circumstance. For me, that quality heightens the horrific effect of the final few paragraphs. I’m not sure everyone will find these characters sympathetic, but the sense of desolation rang true for me and was consistent throughout. Additionally, this story isn’t alone in the collection in its poignancy; “Professor Hilliard’s Electric Lantern” also dwells on the more emotional consequences of tinkering with the “forbidden.”

As an aside, if you’re not familiar with the branch of the Mythos dedicated to various magical disciplines and occult practices (both the “real” and fictional), it’s worth some exploration. Despite HPL’s own atheism and Materialism, it’s a lively and fertile realm—one that I really enjoy despite my own frustrated agnosticism. Eugene Thacker does a brief reading of From Beyond in his In the Dust of this Planet that is worth checking out if you have the time and opportunity.

“Programmed to Receive” by Orrin Grey is also notable. I enjoy Grey’s work a lot, as well, though (again, one of my personal quirks) the use of the present tense threw me off a bit. If it has that same effect on you, just stick with it. It’s certainly worth it.

“IPO” by Darrin Brightman isn’t really a narrative as much as a collection of ephemera that works towards constructing a story. I’ve seen this “series of documents” approach in a few places recently: Laird Barron has a piece of short fiction structured like this, if memory serves, in a recent anthology; I’ve seen an “email” story and even an “IM” tale, as well, in the past few weeks. It’s not necessarily something “new” (hey, the epistolary novel has been around a while), but it’s not always enjoyed by everyone. If you don’t care for non-standard structure, just be aware that it’s first in the collection.

I feel fairly comfortable with saying that are no “bad” stories in the anthology—simply ones that weren’t of interest to me for one reason or another. I definitely recommend this anthology to Mythos Fiction fans and lovers of the Weird Fiction Horror subgenre.

Review: Jazz Age Cthulhu

Please be aware that you may encounter spoilers in these reviews.
Also note that the film and book reviews posted between 11/13 and 11/30 appeared previously (in shorter, often unedited forms) on Goodreads and Whippoorwill Hollow.  I have updated links within reviews whenever necessary. New reviews begin on 12/10/15. Thanks for reading!

Jazz Age Cthulhu is a collection of short fiction—three novelettes, actually—published by Innsmouth Free Press in 2014.  It offers some excellent examples of new Mythos fiction and avoids the dreaded sin of “pastiche.” I’ve found myself suggesting it when I get those “Hey, where do I start with this newer stuff?” asks on the other blog. The options for readers can be a little overwhelming (in a good way), so I like being able to comfortably point folks to specific publishers, authors, and works that seem to foster a love for this type of Weird while sustaining and expanding the Mythos into all sorts of new (and hopefully more dynamic/inclusive) directions.

I. Dreams of a Thousand Young

The first story in the collection, “Dreams of a Thousand Young,” is by Jennifer Brozek. Reading it brought to mind watching old movies with my mother when I was a kid—The Maltese Falcon, Touch of Evil, those sorts of films. I wouldn’t label it Noir, obviously, but it benefits quite a bit from flirting with its aesthetics. And while “action” is not really what comes to mind when one thinks about traditional Lovecraftian Horror (it’s more about the atmosphere, you know, and those reticent, bookish protagonists…and…fainting), the story mingles “identity intrigue” with cult conspiracy to meet the contemporary expectation that a story move along at a certain clip.

It also features a few moments of tension rooted in post-colonialism that demonstrate the sort of self-awareness that I hope to see in most new Mythos works of this sort (generally speaking). I was a little concerned when it took what I thought—at first—to be a ‘typical’ (i.e., “old guard”) turn when the villains were revealed, but I was more than happy with all of the twists by the end. Helen is a fun protagonist and, for me at least, demonstrates something a bit closer to what I mean when I say I’d like to see “strong women” characters in my Horror. She’s not quite as developed as she could be, but she could easily shoulder an entire collection of stories or a novel.

Finally, I’m a sucker for anything that features Shubby and/or the Dark Young. I love that hungry mother-god and her offspring and hope to see much more fiction dedicated to them in the coming years.

II. The Lesser Keys

Orrin Grey’s “The Lesser Keys” was my favorite of the three works, and I’ll try not to give too much of it away here since I find it difficult to summarize without doing so. Grey’s an excellent storyteller and definitely has a cinematic eye for detail that many authors don’t. His stories tend to be deceptively simple yet layered and infinitely “un-packable,” analytically speaking. I left this story wanting more of its characters, as well; Jasper and Caroline are interesting and full of potential. And the plantonic nature of the start of their relationship is a breath of fresh air. I’m a big fan of dethroning romance as the go-to plot crutch across the board.

Finally, I enjoyed the use of the Seals of Solomon and the “magic circle” (see Eugene Thacker’s In the Dust of This Planet for an excellent theoretical exploration of that trope) as part of the Occult background in this world of zombie musicians and demon aided racketeers Grey’s created. Sometimes Hoodoo seems to be tossed into the mix in Horror films and fiction, often as a last minute bit of twangy ornament or, more insidiously, to hook into  cheap-n-easy prejudices/fears of  poor, rural communities and cultures among readers and viewers. Grey did a nice job of avoiding that while respectfully interweaving the use of the Seals and resisting too much explanation of the machinations behind the magick. That’s usually my biggest pet peeve with works that attempt to incorporate folk practices. The story’s a nice example the good things that can happen when the “veil” is left (for the most part) in place.

Here’s a link to Carolina Conjure‘s article on the Seals.

III. Pomptinia Sum

The third novellette, “Pomptinia Sum” by A.D. Cahill, draws heavily upon atmosphere and voice for its nicely Weird effect. I found reading it less enjoyable than the other two pieces, though I acknowledge that response is highly subjective; I have a pet peeve about shifting points of view in short works. It’s not as much of an issue in novels, but when point of view shifts a few times in relatively quick succession, I catch myself skimming the surface of a world rather than seeing or feeling it. I re-started the story a couple of times just in case it was my mood at work but had the same reaction.

I will say, however, that the piece features a couple of truly creepy and unsettling scenes. Had I been more invested in the characters, they would have left an even stronger, even more chilling impression since it succeeds in evoking feelings of both familiarity and strangeness simultaneously—the definition of the Uncanny. It’s a strong piece of short fiction, overall, and I have no doubt that most readers (i.e., folks without my oddball, readerly quirks) will really enjoy it.

I think that I should mention, at least in passing, that this is not the Cosmic Horror of Ligotti; it’s not the brutal Nature Mythos you’ll find in some of Laird Barron’s work. Even so, it’s solid Weird Fiction, and I believe there’s room enough in the genre for those soul-crushing treatises on the futility of human existence and lighter, playfully mysterious tales like those featured in this collection. The movement towards a greater diversity of style, tone, and voice will only add greater depth to this fictional realm in the long run.

Obviously, I recommend Jazz Age Cthulhu to fans of the Cthulhu Mythos and genre fiction—particularly those looking for a spot to begin their exploration of newer Mythos works.

Algernon Blackwood

Algernon Blackwood  (1869 – 1951)

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by Dave Felton. “British writer Algernon Blackwood, at one time a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn, created the adventures of his psychic detective John Silence, stories that were widely popular in his day, but he remains most-known for his short stories of the supernatural such as “The Willows” and “The Wendigo.” In his seventies, Blackwood read ghost stories on the BBC radio throughout World War II despite a near-death experience when his London home was bombed during The Battle of Britain. He was knighted two years before his death at the age of 82. His amazing face is almost as weird as his stories… 5” x 5” scratchboard portrait”
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An illustration by Sidney Stanley for Algernon Blackwood’s tale, ”Ancient Sorceries”
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Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows by M. Grant Kellermeyer (mgkellermeyer)

“And something born of the snowy desolation, born of the midnight and the silent grandeur, born of the great listening hollows of the night, something that lay ‘twixt terror and wonder, dropped from the vast wintry spaces down into his heart—and called him.”
– 
Algernon Blackwood, from The Glamour of the Snow

 

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“The Empty House Algernon Blackwood. London, Eveliegh Nash Publ., 1906. First Edition. In Starlight Man Ashley maintained that the first printing was 750 copies that sold out quickly and the book was actually released for the 1906-07 holiday gifting season. All noted later impressions/printings are clearly dated and/or marked as such and none have reprised the original decorative binding of the first printing.” (via Book Aesthete)
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Brian K. Ward

Sidney Stanley’s artwork for Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows and Other Queer Tales, 1932 (via Lesser-Known Writers)

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God of the Forest by Yvanduque (x)
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Matt Fox‘s Illustration from Famous Fantastic Mysteries, June 1944
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Matt Fox‘s illustration from The Wendigo, depicting DeFago’s return
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Virgil Finlay’s illustration for The Magic Mirror by Algernon Blackwood, Weird Tales, September, 1938
  • “The Man Whom the Trees Loved” by Algernon Blackwood; available in various download formats here
  • Cover for the 1912 edition of Pan’s Garden, with illustrations by W. Graham Robertson

“The Night transfigures all things in a way […] but nothing so searchingly as trees. From behind a veil that sunlight hangs before them in the day, they emerge and show themselves. Even buildings do that in a measure, but trees particularly. In the daytime they sleep; at night they wake, they manifest, turn active, live.”
                  – Algernon Blackwood, from The Man Whom the Trees Loved (Pan’s Garden, 1912)

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Masters of Weird Literature by Stegosaurus (Oli Rogers)

 

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The Wendigo: Défago’s Return by Will Martinez
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John Dunn’s Wendigo