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.