Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

"The Case of Charles Dexter Ward", first published in Weird Tales, May-July 1941.

This is the the thirty-second entry in my read-through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

This story is told by one of those distant and all-knowing but unknown narrators that you find a lot in classic stories. It's the the kind of narrator that can say of “none of these colloquies were ocularly witnessed, because the windows were always heavily draped” with a seemingly straight face. It can pose rhetorical questions in rapid succession, like an interrogation:

“was it not of this that Mr. Ward was reminded when his son barked forth those pitiable tones to which he now claimed to be reduced? Who had ever seen Charles and Allen together? Yes, the officials had once, but who later on? Was it not when Allen left that Charles suddenly lost his growing fright and began to live wholly at the bungalow?"

It's a often a gossipy, larky tone, such as when it observes that the local stalwart President Manning attended a violent raid on his neighbour “without the great periwig (the biggest in the county) for which he was noted.” It teases us at times, especially at the beginning with implications of horrors to come:

“And now swiftly followed that hideous experience which has left its indelible mark of fear on the soul of Marinus Bicknell Willett, and has added a decade to the visible age of one whose youth was even then far behind.”

It's almost a character in itself, it reminds me most of all of the narrator in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Can't you just imagine Charles Gray making a meal of this?
“The true madness, he is certain, came with a later change; after the Curwen portrait and the ancient papers had been unearthed; after a trip to strange foreign places had been made, and some terrible invocations chanted under strange and secret circumstances; after certain answers to these invocations had been plainly indicated, and a frantic letter penned under agonising and inexplicable conditions; after the wave of vampirism and the ominous Pawtuxet gossip; and after the patient’s memory commenced to exclude contemporary images whilst his voice failed and his physical aspect underwent the subtle modification so many subsequently noticed.”

First review of Panoptica!

Amazingly, I got a review on amazon! This one came from a facebook page friend like swap. There was no obligation to read, but I guess the swapper liked the look of it and gave it whirl. Forunately, she liked it!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Rush At The End by Royston Ellis

To this frank, penetrating analysis of naked human relationships, where a pregnant girl cannot marry the man her father loves, Royston Ellis brings all the qualities which riveted readers of The Flesh Merchants.

Ah, the 60s! It was a golden era when repression and freedom were mixed in just the right amounts to afford a real sense of liberation. It was it was a time when you really could kick against the pricks, and when there really were pricks to kick against. It was the days when being essentially juvenile, selfish and self-absorbed seemed like a radical act. How things change!

This is a novel about dropping out, turning your back on “the Grey Generation” and following your heart, all the things you ever wanted and denied yourself. It tells the story of Arthur Darby, a law clerk in City in his late fifties, who falls for a young man he meets on the train home one evening. Andrew is a young graduate in his first job, but finding the conventional life stultifying. They bond over their dissatisfaction. It's not just Arthur's story – though it's mostly his – it's Andrew's story, too. They're both of them coming out and understanding their sexuality, facing the big decision of whether to knuckle under to the Grey Generation's rules and expectations or to follow their real feelings.

However, it's something of a disappointment given the lurid exploitation novel promised by the back-cover blurb and the naked lady on the front.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Panoptica by Patrick Hudson

Well, chums, I've been and gone and done it. My novel-length satire Panoptica is now available at and presumably in other territories, too. It's got a Facebook page, even.
Click the link for some back cover blurb!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Off the Grid by Dan Kolbet

Well, I decided I'd like to read some more self-published ficiton on the Kindle, and feeling a little bit loath to pay for it (I am mean) I thought it might be better if I can get it to pay me. I got in touch with the Self Publishing Review after they made an open call for reviewers and signed up, and this is my first review for them. Just to get the link in the first para, it's here, FWIW.

The SPR (as it shall be called from hereon, whatever the danger for confusion with The Society for Psychichal Research) charges authors for a review. That's a bit of a strange arrangement, but it seems to be common in the self-publishing arena. SPR charges US$40, but there are some places charging much much more. Kirkus Reviews - a name I'd heard but I don't know much about - charges between US$475 and US$525 for a review.  

$575!! Or all in caps a more expressive $%&%!!!

Paying for a review seems like an odd choice to me (who still thinks being paid to write them is a hilarious novelty) but it seems that in the vanity game there is no end to the queue of people waiting to take your money. At $40 it loooks more like a filtering system than a real money-making enterprise. A lot of the sites that will review what's now euphemistically called "indie ficition" have notices up saying they aren't accepting review submissions right now because they're so full up. I dunno if the bus has left on this one, but I have to say it's looking pretty crowded.

Desperate self-pity after the break!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Thing on the Doorstep

"The Thing on the Doorstep", first published in Weird Tales, January 1937.

This is the the thirty-first entry in my read-through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

This is how I'd like the main run of HPL's stories to be. It's a chewy story of a man brought down by his passions, it's well structured and takes its more obvious schtick (in this case the whole Ephraim Waite mind-swap deal) and trumps it with a terrific shock ending. It's not HPL at full tilt; he doesn't pull off that delirious amazing writing that characterises his best work, and passages in some of his not-best work, but it's an effective story that makes good use of his by-now familar elements – Arkham, Innsmouth and various bits of Yog Sothothery.

Unfortunately, that's not how the main run of his stories are, and this volume is clogged with hard to pass matter like Cool Air, The Unameable, From Beyond and The Shadow Out of Time, and that's even ignoring border-line juvenalia like The Nameless City and The Lurking Fear and forgiving him the utter turds like Through the Gate of the Silver Key or The Cats of Ulthar. As I come to the end of this read-through I can't help thinking that HPL's reputation rests on a relatively small number of stories, that he got it wrong more often than he got it right.

I guess I'll return to this in the coming months when I come to sum all this up. For the meantime, though, this story lifts the lid on on a matter rarely addressed by HPL, the fairer sex.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler

Once again, circumstances have conspired to keep me from blogging in a timely way. My commitment to blog about all the books I read has been sorely tested in the last month or so by a new job, house hunting, a bad cold, some other writing missions and – perhaps worst of all – a desire to do the books I read justice. Well, something's got to give, and I can't quit my job just yet, so on this occasion I'm going to have to admit up front that I'm not going to do this one justice.

Which is a huge shame, because this is a terrific book. This and The Big Knockover are two of the best I've read this year. I read both as part of my education in classic private eye stories for the sake of a project I'm working on, and by “project” I of course mean novel, and by “working on” I of course mean largely ignoring. What I'd really like to do here, in particular, is take the plot to bits, because that seems to be what I have the most trouble with. It's been so long that I'm not going to be able to do this in details, but let's see what I can do from memory.

Warning: this is not just boring crap about me, but boring crap about my boring struggles with my boring muse.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Haunter in the Dark

"The Haunter in the Dark", first published in Weird Tales, December 1936.

This is the thirtieth entry in my read-through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

This is HPL's last story. Just over a year after finishing this, he was dead from cancer of the smaller intestine and that was that. He seems to have spent those last months in a doldrum, unable to work and convinced his fiction days were over, even before it became clear he was dying. Joshi quotes him in A Life: “I may be experimenting in the wrong medium altogether. It may be that poetry instead of fiction is the only effective vehicle to put such expression across.”

Maybe he was right: I've often commented here that his stories have magnificent passages of brilliant writing, but they are often don't quite work due to structural issues. He seemed to be getting there for a while at least, but by this time he was a couple of years out from the incredible streak between 1926 and 1933, and I know only too well what it can feel like when everything else you touch seems to turn to shit (I haven't written anything worth a damn since 2009). Maybe he just needed to work it out, find a new creative direction; we'll never know.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Fain the Sorceror by Steve Aylett

A weird monster not featured in this book
This is another one that came to me on the Kindle, the only other version being a long out-of-print version from PS Books. This another good thing about ebooks: as well as the long list of out-of-copyright classics these types of hard-to-find gems are coming back in to circulation.

This is a more glittery gem than most. Steve Aylett is ruthlessly parsimonious with words: he's not keen to spend them unless he really thinks he's getting his money's worth, and so while this book is short it contains all the glister of a dozen longer works from more profligate writers. Some times you have to read a sentence twice not because the meaning is unclear, but because it has so many shades of meaning, in so few words, that it takes time to process them all.

Alan Moore sums up the problem with this style in his introduction: “If we loved Steve Aylett, really loved him in the way he deserves, a selfless love that genuinely wanted nothing save his happiness and comfort, we'd lobotomise him.”

Monday, 31 October 2011

Carnacki the Ghost Finder

Yes, that's the one...
This is one of those titles I've heard bandied around a lot for many years, but never been able to track down a copy in print. It seems to have been an influence all over the place, and Hodgson tends to get mentioned alongside M R James and Algernon Blackwood as one of the early masters of the ghost tale. There is, apparently, an edition in the estimable Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult – if I was going to choose a hard copy edition to own, that would be the one!

However, the world has moved on and it is now available free as a .mobi file for Kindle from Project Gutenberg. It's fair to say that people of Hodgson's generation wouldn't have been able to imagine the mighty corporate effort that makes these possible. The heroes of the early pulp era, before the First World War, were individualists: they were embodiments of the belief that one rational man could effect change in the world by simple of virtue of wits, pluck and persistence.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Shadow Out of Time

"The Shadow Out of Time" first published in Astounding Stories, June 1936.
This is the the twenty-ninth entry in my read-through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

In an An H P Lovecraft Encyclopedia, S T Joshi notes that the period of Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee's mental possession in The Shadow Out of Time – 1908 to 1913 – matches up pretty closely to the time that HPL's neurotic state led him to withdraw from high school, and from the world with increasingly hermit-like behaviour. He also mentions how the creatures inability to control the face of their human host could be linked to the facial tics that HPL suffered from in this period. I hadn't made this connection when I was reading the story, but I very quickly sensed that this was one of HPL's mental health issue stories.

Unfortunately, despite the possibility of this one being another febrile gem like The Outsider or The Dreams in the Witch House, HPL instead gets interested in his Great Race. The creatures who possessed Peaslee's body and imprison his mind for years in a hideous alien form turn out not to be invasive demonic figures like the Deep Ones or Brown Jenkin, but another dreary race of cosmic utopians.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

The Pale Queen's Courtyard by Marcin Wrona

As I mentioned in my entry on The Big Knockover (and maybe in Dracula as well) I have a Kindle now, and as a failed writer, I am quite naturally very interested in the new wave of electronic self-publishing that has come in its wake. I have a few acquaintances who have had a go at self-publishing on Kindle, and one in particular asked me to review his book on here and for amazon.

This put me a tricky position! I'm only vaguely acquainted with Mr Wrona through an RPG message board, and I've read a little of his travails in getting The Pale Queen's Courtyard published (it was a finalist in a high-profile unsigned fantasy writers competition a couple of years back) and so I was confident that it met a certain basic level of competence but I was still a little hesitant – if I didn't like it, it would be socially difficult (in a low-key way) to piss all over his cornflakes, as it were.

I am a slave to social niceties like this: sometimes my inner monologue is like an episode of Seinfeld on permanent loop.

Consequently, I declined his offer of a freebie and instead bought a copy myself on the quiet so that if I didn't like it I could just not mention it again and get around the whole tricky business that way. Fortunately, however, the Pale Queen's Courtyard is really good.

Friday, 14 October 2011

The Big Knockover and Other Stories

Things have gotten a bit behind here at Pointless Philosophical Asides due to visiting relatives, other projects and my search for a new job. I finished The Big Knockover about six weeks ago, and so that's quite a gap between reading and blogging, but what can I say, events intervened.

This book is one I took with me on holiday in late August. I have a Kindle now, which I'd loaded up with holiday reading (although I read much less on holidays these days than I used to, a situation exacerbated this time around as we had my mother with me) but I took this hard copy book with me because I was a little nervous about the combination of a beach or pool, an expensive electronic device and my own general cack-handedness.

It was also nice, I suppose, to have an old fashioned book with me that I could turn to while I got used the New Age of Publishing. Perhaps this will be the last print book I ever review? Hm, that seems unlikely, given the growing pile of hard copy books that sits by my desk. In fact, the Kindle has just become a sort of portable pile as it fills up with bright ideas from Project Gutenberg, and sudden “oh yes, I'd love to read that!” moments on amazon.

Anyway, I've been turning to Hammett recently in my ongoing quest to get a good grip on the detective genre for a project I'm working on. Hammett's stories are great, with just the right mix of sardonic wit, real danger and human insight. It's been a while, so I won't address too much in detail, but there are few general observations that I think are helpful to me.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The Shadow Over Innsmouth

"The Shadow Over Innsmouth", first published as a booklet with limited distribution in 1936, and subsequently in Weird Tales, Janaury 1942.

This is the the twenty-eighth entry in my read-through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

If I had to choose a single story that shows the very best of HPL, it would have to be this one. In The Shadow Over Innsmouth, all his various quirks and ticks combine to produce a story of sublime rising horror, and where all the individual elements come together to a genuinely disturbing climax. It features some of his finest evocative writing and focuses on his favourite themes of xenophobia, degeneration, superstition and the spectre of madness that hangs over all HPL's first person narrators.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Dracula by Bram Stoker

A wealthy East European wishes to relocate to London, a city he has read about and long admired from afar. Following a period of political instability in his home country, he finds himself rich, and decides to make his dream come true. The source of his wealth is... well, he doesn't want anyone prying too deeply into that, so he contacts several law firms in regional parts of the UK to move various of his assets from his remote postage stamp sized republic in the Carpathian mountains and acquire assets in Britain immediately.

He hires a private yacht to sail him around the coast of his homeland and out through the Black Sea into the Mediterranean and on to Whitby in England. When he gets to London, he buys property: a big pile out in Essex backing on to a mental hospital and a few choice properties around greater London to live in or rent for an income as he sees fit.

He endeavours to make his way in British society, making the acquaintance of a couple of ladies in a church yard and this is where his troubles begin. He is something of a lady killer, and begins an affair with one of the women, who undergoes some kind of attack shortly after making his acquaintance. Well, these English ladies, eh? So lovely and so fragile!

Shortly after the attack, she is spotted abducting young children from Hampstead Heath, and our gentleman – who has aristocratic roots, might I add – finds himself under suspicion for causing her mania. Soon, the lady's former lover, the chief doctor in the psychiatric hospital that abuts his new home, contacts one of his old school teachers, an eccentric conspiracy nut who has a thing for blaming East Europeans for the world's evils. They recruit the dead girl's friends to form a kind of posse to drive the new immigrant out of town.

What follows is a dark farce as the naïve Count is pursued across London by the outraged locals. Even when he flees back to his homeland, they pursue him and finally murder him in his own home. So much for British hospitality!

We always retell this one for our own era. The story has a metaphorical vacuum, where various interpreters can put in – or take out – what they want. It seems to reach deep into us, to contact fears and worries that are so familiar and recognisable that it's hard to remember sometimes that it was only written a hundred and fifteen years ago.

The xenophobia, the sexual tension, the grave-yard taboos all seem to come from somewhere – that keeps it at the front of our minds. It's a portrait of alienation or a reactionary villification of the other; it's a tale of the sexual license out of control or of the dangers of suppressing natural desire. An AIDS metaphor, or something about imperialism or Nazism or racism or whatever -ism you want, it seems. I'm a long time Dracula movie fan – especially when I was a kid – but this is the first time I've ever read the original – I'm not really a big fan of non-20th century fiction,  probably post war fiction, really, and had thus never gotten around to it until now. What I discovered is that perhaps my caution was justified, and that despite the power of its central imagery, most of the movies take big liberties with the story presented in the novel. And with good reason!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

At the Mountains of Madness

 "At the Mountains of Madness", first published in Astounding Stories, February-April 1936.

This is the the twenty-seventh entry in my read-through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

This story is shorn of all pretence of belief in the supernatural. It swaps the impressionistic, poetic description of the cosmic gulfs from The Whisperer in Darkness and eerie immaterial paranoia of The Call of Cthulhu for the straight-edged scientific vocabulary of the geological record. Lovecraft lays his obvious real life scientific knowledge on as thick as he does the fictional histories that support so many of his other tales. The field of deep geological time was relatively new at the time HPL was writing, when plenty of people still believed the world was just a few thousand years old – the Scopes monkey trial was just 10 years before the story came out.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Supergods by Grant Morrison

I have reviewed Grant Morrison's book Supergods over at the Zone. I knew I was going to have a lot to say about this, so when Tony asked me if I wanted to review it, I said yes. Making it a review means I have to focus it a little more than I might if I did it here, so I thought that might be a benefit, as well.

The review was an interesting one to write because the book engages three of my favourite topics: comics, cranky beliefs, and authors writing about their own fiction and process.

Grant Morrison is part of what I consider my generation of artists and writers. He's one of those 80s guys I first encountered in 2000AD and Warrior, who stormed America and beat them at their own game. He's the same sort of age as me, and clearly has had a lot of the same cultural influences on his life. When I was a kid, there was a section of the book shop called “cult”, which covered everything from Aleister Crowley and the Marquis de Sade, to William Burroughs and Hugh Selby Junior, to underground comics and Robert Anton Wilson. I read deeply from that shelf, and so, apparently, did Grant Morrison.

Monday, 22 August 2011

A review of State of Change!

Well, some kind soul has reviewed my free pdf novel, State of Change, over on the Cover to Cover reading blog. It's a very fair review, so go ahead and read if you have been interested in reading but never taken the plunge. You can read it online or download a pdf version right here.

This might be my first fiction review EVER! I swear to God it's not a sock puppet!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Through the Gate of the Silver Key

"Through the Gate of the Silver Key" first published, Weird Tales, July 1934.

This is the the twenty-sixth entry in my read-through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

Image by pavelrybin and used under the terms of the creative commons license.

Well, I haven't had much luck with these Dunsanian tales so far, but this one really takes the cake. This story completely abandons narrative tension in favour of a series more-or-less unconnected encounters with distinguished metaphysical entities, crowned with a feeble “shock” ending.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Dune by Frank Herbert

The definitive Dune cover illustration!
I haven't read Dune since I was a teenager, deep into my personal golden age and reading up everything I could lay my hands on. Dune is still a classic, but back then it stood out even more distinctly in the field that wasn't quite so crowded. By the time I got to it, there were already two or three fat sequels, which was still a remarkable feat. I remember stories in Starlog and Starburst about the abortive Jodorowsky movie, and there was a board game that I never could quite fathom.

When I actually read it, though, I was a bit disappointed. I found it a bit baffling and a bit dull. I couldn't work out what everyone wanted, and there was a lot of talk compared to action. I liked bits of it – the imperial backdrop was really cool, and the weird powers and strange magic mixed with high tech appealed to me, but because I didn't quite “get it” it left me a bit cold. My impressions were further confused by the David Lynch movie, which I also found hard to follow (and I haven't seen since except in snatches on TV, but inevitably, it is available on youtube).

I can't help thinking that I didn't do Dune justice; maybe I was a bit young, and I read it in a concentrated blast in the week before the movie came out (demonstrating even then my particularity about reading a book before seeing the movie). It's been on my vague re-read list for a while, but I never picked it up. However, when I came across this marvellous old New English Edition at a book sale, I knew the time had come! This is the same edition I read back in the 80s: who can forget those thrilling Bruce Pennington covers? They were definitely a big part of the series' appeal, suggesting all sorts of of exotic fantasies within!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

From Beyond

“From Beyond”, first published in The Fantasy Fan, vol 10, No 1, June 1934

This is the the twenty-fifth entry in my read-through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

. . . . I have harnessed the shadows that stride from world to world to sow death and madness. . . .
This is another of the weaker “shocker” style stories, where HPL tries hard to give a shocking weight to something we all figured out pages ago using the mighty power of italics. Once again the climactic line depends on a revelation that's painfully obvious from the start. I'm finding this a surprisingly common weakness in these stories.

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Dreams in the Witch House

"The Dreams in the Witch House", first published in Weird Tales, July 1933.

This is the the twenty-fourth entry in my read-through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

HPL based his fictional Arkham on Salem, the New England town that is most famous for its seventeenth century witch trials. The history and testimony of the Salem witches follow a pattern that was common at about the same time in Europe among the same religiously non-conformist communities that had fled to the New World in search of a new Jerusalem. The religious atmosphere of the seventeenth century in America that led to the witch trials still marks something about the American character: puritanical, literal-minded and keenly aware of sin and evil.

Monday, 11 July 2011

The Invention of Murder & The Thin Man

Annoyingly, I have misplaced my copy of The Invention of Murder. I finished it a couple of weeks ago, then put it down but I cannot recall where it is. It's a mystery, although one hardly worth the attention of any of the real and fictional sleuths detailed within. I feel like a should know where it is, I should be able to recall where I put it, but the information remains just out of reach. It's an incredibly frustrating feeling and yet it's a state of mind that I actively seek in puzzles and mystery stories.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

The Strange High House In The Mist

"The Strange High House In The Mist", first published Weird Tales October 1931.

This is the the twenty-third entry in my read-through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

We're back in a Dunsanian mood, this time in the made-up coastal town of Kingsport. The story is told in that archaic, declamatory tone that annoyed me so much about his previous ventures into the style. It clearly spoke to HPL, but it makes me cringe.

Great beach for wind surfing, Plimmerton, NZ

Monday, 27 June 2011

The Whisperer In Darkness

"The Whisperer In Darkness", first published in Weird Tales, August 1931.

This is the the twenty-second entry in my read-through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

While reading this story again, I have in the back of my mind, the gaming supplement Delta Green , which re-imagines the Fungi of Yuggoth through the lens of contemporary UFO mythology. The supplement takes in Majestic 12, Roswell, greys, Project Blue book and secret government UFO files and places them in the context of decades of contact with the Fungi to great effect. Even allowing for the cleverness of Delta Green, it's surprising how close the fit is.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Posts of Note!

I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the stats generated by hits here. I don't know why I thought that, and even as I type those words I wonder at the wasted time that has gone into this!

Still if there were blog regulators they would make you file an annual report like this one, and so I am getting in ahead of the New World Order crypto-fascists before they shut me down. Take a look if you are a connoisseur of boring crap about me.

You can read it right here on the Posts of Note page.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Dunwich Horror

"The Dunwich Horror", first published in Weird Tales, April 1929.

This is the the twenty-first entry in my read-through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.
This is definitely the first HPL story I ever read, regardless of whatever else I might have previously said on the subject. I remember very distinctly the weird cover in an anthology called 11 Great Horror Stories that was in the book box in room six, Greenacres School in 1979. It made a big impression on me at the time. I can't remember the other stories in that collection – the internet confirms my recollection that they're stories by Poe, J P Hartley and the like – but this vivid and bizarre tale stuck with me long after I first read it. I found the image of the hideous Wilbur Whately and the last desperate attempt to banish his twin truly terrifying.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Dervish House

I remember my Dad was partial to what you might call respectable thrillers. He liked Frederick Forsyth, Len Deighton, John le Carre, that sort of thing. He'd happily tear through one of them in an afternoon over a day of test cricket and two packets of Benson & Hedges, happy as you'd ever see him. Part of what he liked about those thrillers, I think, was the way they dealt in almost real-world events, the way they seemed ripped from the headlines.

It's a kind of a sci fi, thing, almost, with a speculative edge to it as it tries to imagine possible scenarios for the shift in geopolitics. Le Carre's novels seem to take place in what would seem like a nightmarish SF dystopia if we didn't know how scarily close to the truth is is. It's not far at all into a cyberpunk thriller if you push these stories a decade or two into the future. Authors like Bruce Sterling, Jon Courtney Grimwood, Neal Stephenson and Greg Egan kind of fit that niche, and Charles Stross has acknowledged the inspiration of Len Deighton.

Like my Dad and his thrillers, I love these near-future crime and espionage capers and The Dervish House is a particularly satisfying example. 

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Silver Key

"The Silver Key", first published in Weird Tales, January 1929.

This is the the twentieth entry in my read-through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

This story sees the return of Randolph Carter, the narrator of The Statement of Randolph Carter (obviously) and The Unnameable. These two earlier stories form incidents in this longer-term narrative which examines the circumstances of Carter's life and describes his efforts to discover a purpose in life after he loses “the key of the gate of dreams” exiling him forever from a nocturnal revelling in Orientalist fantasies.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

The Shunned House

"The Shunned House", first published in an amatuer booklet that was printed but not distributed in 1924, then in Weird Tales, October 1937.

This is the the nineteenth entry in my read-through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

It's possible that to really know HPL, you must know Providence, at least in passing. Visiting gives you the scope of his territory, the physical constraints of his days, the shape of the streets and quality of the landscape that shaped his mind. The geography of a place defines it, after all, the places that are easy or hard to get to, the natural borders between districts or neighbourhoods marked by hills or valleys or streams and the agency of human civic planning.

Jane at The Shunned House, just about visible on the left

Sunday, 22 May 2011

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

The appearance of the detective in real life and in fiction seem to me to be entwined. The autobiography of the great French thief taker Eugene Francois Vidocq seems to have been an influence on both the establishment of the first detective unit in Britain and in Edgar Allen Poe's creation of what many argue is the first literary detective, Auguste Dupin in Murders in the Rue Morgue, published in 1841. The first detective department in Britain was created in 1843.

Detectives quickly started popping up everywhere – Dickens was a big fan of the real life and fictional detectives, and packed his monthly magazine All the Year Round with fictions and features on the new agents of order.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Cool Air

Cool Air”, first published in Tales of Magic and Mystery, March 1928.

This is the the eighteenth entry in my read-through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

...for you see I died that time eighteen years ago.
Well, after that run, I suppose it was going to happen that we'd end up with something a little less compelling. It's another one of those “sting in the tail” type stories, like In The Vault or The Hound. It's a favourite HPL trick, and even a few of the better stories aim at this sort of macabre climax – The Rats in the Walls, for example or The Outsider - but I find this kind of shock ending cheapens a horror story. The italicisation of the last line also puts me off these – I have this vision of the narrator turning to me and shouting the punch line in my face while pointing at the scary thing with a big arrow. It could be Vic Reeves actually.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Call of Cthulhu

"The Call of Cthulhu", first published in Weird Tales, February 1928.

This is the the seventeenth entry in my read-through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

This is one of – if not THE - archetypal “Lovecraftian” story. It has all the elements you expect from HPL: dreams; ancient myths; degenerate cults; and impenetrable and incomprehensible ancient horrors. The structure of the story is also typical of what we've come to expect from him: a distant, anonymous narrator; the aggregation of information from diverse sources, the slow build up of suggestion and dread.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Immortalisation Commission

The Society for Psychical Research was founded in 1882 by a circle of serious minded Victorian intellectuals who wanted to explore the curious range of phenomena that had manifested across the West (in particular) since about the 1850s. It was an attempt (which still goes on!) to find some order in all those tantalising phenomena that seemed to suggest an invisible world of ghosts, seances, ESP, predictions, reincarnation and all manner of weirdness that hovers the border between science, superstition and mental illness.

Among the founders were the philosopher and fellow at Trinity College Cambridge, Henry Sidgwick, the Classical scholar F W H Myers, who both asserted that when they passed over they'd try and get back in touch. The first part of The Imortalisation Commission tells the story of this pursuit of reliable evidence of an afterlife.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Pickman's Model

Pickman's Model”, first published in Weird Tales, October 1927.

This is the the seventeenth entry in my read through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Colour Out of Space

"The Colour Our of Space", first published in Amazing Stories, September 1927.

This is the the sixteenth entry in my read through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Horror At Red Hook

"The Horror At Red Hook",  first published in Weird Tales, April 1926.

This is the the fifteenth entry in my read through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Easter break

Sorry, I've been away, school holidays and all that. Normal service will resume shortly...

In the meantime, might I recommend 3eanuts? This blog takes four panel Peanuts cartoons and removes final panel, revealing the pain and absurd cruelty of the world of Chalie Brown that is often hidden by the joke in the last frame. I remember the craze for Garfield remixes a few years back, and I think these are even better than strips where they blanked out the cat's thinks ballons.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Outsider

"The Outsider", first published in Weird Tales, April 1926.

This is the the fourteenth entry in my read through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Moxy Land was one of my favourite books last year, and this new one from Lauren Beukes shares a lot of the characteristics that I liked about that book. I suppose it's Beukes's journalistic instincts at work: she homes in on the characters, the people with a story to tell. It's all in the detail: Moxy Land was a fairly standard cyberpunk dystopia, but due to the way she embedded the characters in the richly evoked South African background they had the feeling of real lives lived in a real world.

Zinzi December in Zoo City is similarly entwined deeply in her world. A former journalist who's reached rock-bottom after kicking a career destroying drug habit, she lives in a Johannesburg squat. She's slowly getting her life back together, partly thanks to her lover Benoit, a gentle former child soldier who has arrived in South Africa after following the trail of refugees south, after his life was destroyed in the Rwanda civil war.

However, her growing peace of mind is shattered when Benoit discovers that the wife and family he thought were dead, killed in the civil war in Rwanda, are alive and well. Both Zinzi and Benoit are living in states of suspended animation. They're kind of paralysed while they deal with different types of guilt and violent pasts. When he hears from his family, it kind of kicks them both back into life and suddenly all sorts of questions about their lives and futures that they had been ignoring are thrown into sharp relief.

This is the heart of the this novel, I think. It's where Zinzi's story really seems to begin, and it's the note on which the novel ends, but it's wrapped up in a whole lot of genre elements that do not, I think, bring much to the party.

Monday, 28 March 2011

In the Vault

"In the Vault", first published in Tryout, November 1925.

This is  the  This is the the thirteenth entry in my read through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

The Unnameable

"The Unnameable", first published in Weird Tales, July 1925.

This is  the  This is the the twelfth entry in my read through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Under the Pyraminds

Under the Pyramids”, first published in Weird Tales, May-July 1924.

This is  the  This is the the eleventh entry in my read through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Inside The Wicker Man

When I was a kid I loved horror movies. One of my most prized possessions was the book “Monsters and Vampires” by Alan Frank. I'd bought this with money from my birthday (along side a companion volume “Science Fiction Movies” by Philip Strick) from the London Bookshop in Porirua shopping mall when I was ten or eleven, so 1977 or 1978.

I loved this book, and subsequently bought many similar volumes. The great thing about these types of book was the overview of a genre they gave my young mind. By the time I was twelve, I had a pretty good sense of the evolution of the horror movie from the primeval form, in the German expressionists, and the foundational works of the Universal studio, Val Lewton, monster movies of the fifties, then Hammer and related out-croppings, and a smattering on European directors like Mario Bava and Paul Naschy, among others.

Yes, I was one of THOSE kids.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Rats In The Walls

“The Rats In the Walls”, first published in Weird Tales, March 1924.

 This is the the tenth entry in my read through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

Monday, 14 March 2011

The Hound

"The Hound", first publised in Weird Tales, 1924.

This is the the ninth entry in my read through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

A London Child of the 1870s by Molly Hughes

When I was a kid, we went to stay at my grandparent's place in Napier every other school holiday or so. It being New Zealand, the country being small, it wasn't much of an effort to get up there from Wellington from time to time, and to be honest I used to enjoy the day-long road trips in the car, which were always punctuated by interesting diversions and treats of various sorts. I was less keen on staying at Nana and Granddad's. The house was something of a relic of the fifties, richly appointed in terms of 1950s small town New Zealand, but a little cold and eccentric by the terms of 80s teenagerdom, and they were a bit frightening for a wee kid, a little mad and alcoholics, too.

They had a pretty good selection of books, however. It's from granddad's selection of thrillers and popular adventure stories that I first read M R James, Sapper, Sherlock Holmes, John Buchan and Walter Scott. They also had an excellent selection of juvenile books from the teens and twenties, colouring and puzzle books with complex Victorian puzzles in densely printed engravings, occasionally adorned with either of my grandparent's childish copperplate.

They also owned a selection of at least half a dozen Boys Own and Greyfriars annuals, full of stories of japes and good chaps, of good being rewarded and wickedness suitably punished. There’s a courageous naiveté about Bob Cherry and his chums as they confront the world. It's an attitude of effortless confidence, heedless of the dangers of the world and ready to meet any challenge life throws you as an adventure to be enjoyed.

A similar sense of child-like pleasure in life's many curious twists and turns is one of the things that makes this book such a pleasure.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

The Lurking Fear

"The Lurking Fear", first published in Home Brew vol 2, no. 6, vol 3 no 3, January to April 1923

This is the the eighth entry in my read through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Puckoon by Spike Milligan

Spike Milligan was a staple of my childhood. Dad was a big fan of The Goons, and used to play cassette's of their old shows on his stereo, and the script books hung around the house forever as part of the children's library of infinitely rereadable classics, alongside Asterix and Tin Tin. In the seventies and eighties he seemed to be forever popping up in old films and TV shows.

Mostly in New Zealand these were crusty old episodes of Parkinson and the like, but I remember watching the Q show in New Zealand on Sunday nights at about nine o'clock on the spare TV, a little fifteen inch black & white number with a telescoping aerial sticking out of the top, while my family watched some big-budget ITV drama on the colour set.

Badjelly the Witch, Silly Verses for Kids, Milliganimals and – a little later – Goblins, from which I can still recall the following little verse (which is after the jump...).

Sunday, 6 March 2011

The Music of Erich Zann

The Music of Erich Zann” first published in The National Amateur, March 1922.

This is the the seventh entry in my read through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

Herbert West - Reanimator

“Herbert West – Reanimator” first published in Home Brew nos 1-6, Feb-July 1922.

This is the the sixth entry in my read through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

The Nameless City

"The Nameless City", first published in The Woverine No 11, November 1921.

This is the the fifth entry in my read through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The Cats of Ulthar

"The Cats of Ulthar", first published in The Tryout, vol 6 No 11, November 1921.

This is the the fourth entry in my read through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Doom That Came to Sarnath

“The Doom That Came to Sarnath”, first published in The Scot, No 44, June 1920.

This is the the third entry in my read through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

I'm pretty sure that gossip and literature have a deep and intense relationship. The attraction of salacious tittle tattle was surely behind our curiosity regarding just what, exactly, Oedipus said to Jocasta when the penny dropped, even if we dress it up as “pity and fear”.

The great innovation of the novel was to put naturalistic portraits of ordinary people at its centre, which satisfied our curtain-twitching instincts further still. Rather than an insight into the lives of the kings and popes, fiction suddenly offered insight into the world of our friends and neighbours, showing us what went on behind closed doors with the explicitness of first hand testimony.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

The Statement of Randolph Carter

“The Statement of Randolph Carter”, first published in The Vagrant No 13, May 1920.

This is the second entry in my read-through of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


“Dagon”, first published in The Vagrant, No 11, November 1919.

This is the first entry in my read-through of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft

Well, I finally relented and bought myself a copy of Necronomicon: the Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft. I've got various different editions of my favourite Lovecraft tales, and have had numerous others over the years some of which I've really treasured. However, I am now a fan of substance, a middle aged, middle class nerd, and I am allowed - perhaps even obliged - to treat myself to little indulgences like this.

It's a classy package. Needless to say it's got nice clear print, on smooth, creamy paper. It comes as a black, leather-look hard cover binding with gold leaf lettering and a rather nice depiction of Cthulhu, similarly in gold leaf. It's very dramatic. I feel like should read it by candle light with a velvet dinner jacket and glass of sherry.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Black Sun by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke

We all want to be heroes. We all want to think we fight the good fight, that we stand by our moral principles, that we do what's right regardless of the odds. That's one of the main attractions of genre fiction in whatever medium – while life is full of compromise, defeat and cowardice, in our dreams we are always right and noble and our opponents are always wrong and insidious.

For a little while we can live vicariously as a hard boiled private eye or a brave soldier or a wise-cracking rogue with a heart of gold. That's one of it's chief attraction, and that's where the escape in escapism takes us.

In the pursuit of these fantasies, our own righteousness is guaranteed by the author, of course, who's always on our side, and we are freed to exercise our angry and violent impulses without concerning ourselves with their consequences. Heroic righteousness allows us to kill, main and brutalise our enemies without restraint. There's nothing we can't excuse ourselves if we know our cause is right.

Science fiction and fantasy give us a further out: in these genres our enemies can be literally non-human (rather than the literary inhumanity that more Earth-centred foes in other forms of adventure fiction, the Soviet spies, yellow peril and Middle Eastern extremists). Perhaps most famously, the Orcs in The Lord of the Rings set out a kind of enemy one can kill guiltlessly, as they have no admirable qualities whatsoever, and this has certainly set a pattern in heroic fantasy that's been formalised in the D&D generation of writer with their weird numerical categorisation of racial characteristics and the literal moral compass of alignment.

Norman Spinrad spotted the worrying aspects of all this in the 70s and highlighted it with brilliantly cold clarity in his wonderful novel, The Iron Dream. Spinrad saw beneath the harmless fantasies at the murky longing for power and violence that lay beneath.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Penguin Book of Ghosts

I saw a ghost once, or at least what I thought was a ghost. I was six years old or so, and we lived in a big Edwardian semi in Surrey. It was a winter evening and I was on the landing. I was alone, and I'd turned the lights out to get a better look at the flashing red lasery things on the front of my battery operated robot. Out of the corner of my eye, in the very periphary of my vision, I saw a flicker of light that I interpreted then as a woman in a crinoline drifting up the stairs and out of my view.

The sighting must have lasted just a second or two. If I shut my eyes, I can still see it now, both the image of the old fashioned lady passing across the landing, and the striated lights of a car passing by refracted through the windows and curtains, which is what I now think I actually saw. 

More than the image, though, what lingers for me is the sensation – the liquid cold of apprehension, the prickle of hair raising on my arm and neck like the unexpected – uninvited, unwelcome - stroke of a cold hand. It was a moment of vertigo during which the material world seemed to shake and shudder away from me.

I think this sensation of transportation – as unpleasant as it can be – lies behind our obsession with ghosts and spirits. It's a somewhat mystical thing, and I have to say that I have found the experience of reading The Penguin Book of Ghosts a somewhat religious one.

Monday, 24 January 2011

An Interview With Jerry Cornelius

This interview was published in the June 2003 issue of Magic Bullet - The Monthly Magazine for Assassins, Hitmen and the Murder trade. (I believe the magazine stopped publishing in 2007; a web search turns up nothing after this date). It didn't get a huge distribution, so I'm sure Cornelius fans everywhere will be interested to see this rarity back in circulation. It was written by the then-up-and-coming murder critic Bevan St Michael, who disappeared in 2008. If he's out there, please get in touch, Bev, as I still have the "package" in my loft.)

Read more after the jump!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Red Plenty by Francis Spufford

I don't talk much about my job here. It's not very interesting, and irrelevant to the subject matter here, so there's usually not much to say. I just spend the day pushing mouse in my humble capacity as a fluke on a leech on a rat in the sewer of global finance and then go home at night and try to forget all about it.

Recently, however, life and reading have collided.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Happy Birthday David Bowie

Sixty-four today!

Monday, 3 January 2011

My Reading Year 2010

Well, another year gone, another twelve months' worth of dreams sailed down and away to be lost forever in the ineffable oceans of the past. Before establishing a new set of friendly hopes to set about dashing, I'll take a few moments here to consider my year.

Let's get the highlights out of the way for the impatient. My book recommendations of the year are:

Beyond Black
and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
The City & The City and Looking for Jake by China Miélville
The Still Point
by Amy Sackville
Elizabeth's Misfits by Arthur Freeman
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
Moxy Land by Lauren Beukes

Short stories:
The Red Bride by Samantha Henderson
Bridesicle by Wil Mcintosh
Clod, Pebble by Kathe Koja and Carter Scholz

Comics (no links as I haven't written specific posts on these, though maybe I should... perhaps a review...):
Dark Avengers
Batman & Robin

Okay, that's the highlights. For a more detailed look at my year, and a real wallowing in boring crap about me, hit the link!