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.