Emera first shared Emily Carroll’s horror webcomic “His Face All Red” with me several years ago. It’s an unsettling, inconclusive tale of two brothers who set out to kill a wolf that has been terrorizing their village, but nothing is what it seems. The story is a swirl of fearful trips to the forest, sloshing cheers in taverns, village gossip, paranoid insomnia, feral intentions, and inexplicably spilt blood. I wanted to create a confection that would evoke the comic’s vivid color palette and capture the flavors of bravado, fear, and death.
I’ve been mulling the flavor profile of one of my most beloved fantasy heroines– Cimorene, the princess from Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles— for quite some time. I wanted to capture the essence of Cimorene traipsing through forests, starting and stumbling upon gritty and fantastical adventures, and all with plenty of spunk and temper to spare!
Cover art is whatever (actually I quite like the front cover, so perfectly of its era as it is); this BBCF is all about the copy-writing.
Thanks to Pandemonium Books’ sale on used books for R. W. Mackelworth’s The Diabols (1969), and for one-sentence paragraphs:
Their bodies were colored lights; their voices were music. But whatever they touched was incinerated!
For a moment in time their destructive powers were limited to a small portion of Earth. Yet they were determined to burn the whole planet to a crisp.
Was there no hope for man’s survival?
As a last resort Boraston is projected into a future where the Diabols have almost won. Only a few humans remain, struggling to stay alive by holding the Diabols off with skirmishes and holding actions.
Can Boraston devise a method to destroy them?
If he succeeds, Earth can plan to save itself from the Diabols.
If he fails, Earth was doomed to become nothing more than a charred and blackened cinder in the galaxy!
It makes me unironically happy that someone was paid to write this, and that someone was paid to publish this. What a creature is man.
Date read: 11.18.2012
Book from: Library. Lovecraft’s works are also available online in various archives, such as hplovecraft.com.
Last Halloween I realized I hadn’t really read any Lovecraft since high school, and set out to rectify that by picking up a couple collections from the library.
This one had a cover that I would class as “moderately metal” –
– and contained the following stories: Cool Air, The Hound, The Lurking Fear, The Terrible Old Man, The Unnamable, Beyond the Wall of Sleep, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The White Ship, The Outsider, Herbert West – Reanimator, Arthur Jermyn, The Moon-Bog, The Temple, Dagon, From Beyond, and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
Assorted thoughts on some of those:
- “The Hound” – Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi suggests that Lovecraft deliberately, (self-)parodically overheated the language in this Gothickest of Gothic tales, wherein two Decadents struck by “devastating ennui” stray from Baudelaire and Huysmans, and into the accursed pages of the Necronomicon. Unsurprisingly, it’s long been one of my favorites. It’s so ripely morbid and hysteria-stricken. I also have a fondness for doggish ghouls, and the one summoned in this story is pretty kingly.
(Poppy Z. Brite/Billy Martin, who provided a brief foreword for this collection, turned up the decadence of “The Hound” another couple of notches in his amply homoerotic Louisana Gothic retelling “His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood,” which I remember reading with fierce delight in high school.)
- “The Lurking Fear” boasted by far the best and most B-movie-worthy back-of-cover blurb for this collection – “An upstate New York clan degenerates into thunder-crazed mole like creatures with a taste for human flesh[!!!!!!!!!!!!]” – as well as, I think, the highest concentration of of delightfully absurd Lovecraftiness. Behold:
“With what manner of far-reaching tentacles did it prey?”
“Then, as I playfully shook him and turned him around, I felt the strangling tendrils of a cancerous horror whose roots reached into illimitable pasts and fathomless abysms of the night that broods beyond time.”
“But that fright was so mixed with wonder and alluring grotesqueness, that it was almost a pleasant sensation. Sometimes, in the throes of a nightmare when unseen powers whirl one over the roofs of strange dead cities toward the grinning chasm of Nis, it is a relief and even a delight to shriek wildly and throw oneself voluntarily along with the hideous vortex of dream-doom into whatever bottomless gulf may yawn.”
Abysms!!! Dream-doom!!!!!! That Thing about the Gryphons, too, hails from these parts.
- “The Terrible Old Man” is a fable about the triumph of xenophobia. Hooray! It’s funny that Lovecraft attributes the same kind of thuggish, bestial degeneracy to non-WASP immigrants as he does to the ancient-monster-interbred New Englanders in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” and to miscegenators in general (see also “Arthur Jermyn”). One imagines his ideal man as a skinny white fellow valiantly sandwiched between the forces of ancient evil and the rising, filthy tide of new immigrants. The taste of his neuroses – the smell of sheer fearfulness – is frequently almost overwhelming.
- “The Unnamable” is striking in that Lovecraft seems to be having a conversation with some of his literary detractors in it, yet turns it into an earnest philosophical assertion rather than simply a cheeky comeback, as I’d initially assumed it might be. (Though there is an element of wishfully vengeful thinking to it, too, in the tradition of Poe.)
The narrator is an obvious stand-in for Lovecraft himself, and debates with a friend who “object[ed] to my preoccupation with the mystical and the unexplained; for although believing in the supernatural much more fully than I, he would not admit that it is sufficiently commonplace for literary treatment. … With him all things and feelings had fixed dimensions, properties, causes, and effects; and although he vaguely knew that the mind sometimes holds visions and sensations of far less geometrical, classifiable, and workable nature, he believed himself justified in drawing an arbitrary line and ruling out of court all that cannot be experienced and understood by the average citizen. Besides, he was almost sure that nothing can be really ‘unnamable’. It didn’t sound sensible to him.”
Of course, matters pan out such that the skeptical friend, too, is forced into a sense of cosmic and epistemological abjection. A lot of my thinking about life, the universe, and everything Unnamable has, in fact, been flavored by Lovecraftian cosmicism in the past few years – mostly instigated by Caitlín Kiernan‘s science fiction – so I was inclined to offer plauditory fingersnaps at the end of it.
Only a bajillion days overdue (approximately), but here’s a quick event report of Caitlín Kiernan’s reading at Pandemonium Books (Cambridge, MA) in the spring of this year. The event took place on March 15th, on no less than the 75th anniversary of H. P. Lovecraft’s death.
Kiernan read from chapter 1 of her newest novel of dark fantasy, The Drowning Girl, from which I’d previously seen her read at Readercon 2011. Kiernan is my favorite reader of prose; she’s a sibylline presence, with exceptionally graceful gestures and voice. I didn’t understand at least a third of what was read at Readercon (which is only appropriate, as it was the chapter in which the book’s main character and narrator, who has schizophrenia, goes off her meds; Kiernan further noted that she was ill herself while writing the chapter), but was hypnotized; the first chapter of the novel was comparatively straightforward, a wry, edged introduction to protagonist India Morgan Phelps (“Imp”), her family’s history of madness, and her take on the unstable boundaries of truth and reality.
A couple of tidbits from the Q&A following the reading:
- Kiernan reflected on the fact that Imp represents, in some sense, “the person I wish I had become,” while Sarah Crowe, protagonist of preceding novel The Red Tree, was in part a representation of the person she had for some time become. [I’m afraid I didn’t write down as much context for this remark as I would have liked to, so if anyone has a correction or modification, I would welcome it.]
- Deluxe dark-fantasy publisher Centipede Press has approached Kiernan about the possibility on working on a special edition of her 2001 novel Threshold.
- There are some Very Exciting Projects in the works, which Kiernan was not at liberty to discuss. The furthest she could go was to hint that one had to do with comics (i.e. the now-ongoing Alabaster comic series with Dark Horse, which I love love love), and that the other had to do, just maybe, with a movie. She offered the summer of 2013 as a possible timeframe for more revelations about the latter.
“Stay back, horse! She’s mine.”
Readercon 22 took place Thursday – Sunday, July 14 – July 17, 2011; Kakaner and I made it to the associated reading at Porter Square Books in Cambridge on Thursday night, and Friday and Saturday of the con proper. This was her first literary con, and my first con of any sort, so needless to say we spent a lot of time being really, really, really excited. I’ll try to keep the frothing to a dignified minimum in our reports, though.
Thursday night! A reading from the Ellen-Datlow-edited anthology of urban fantasy, Naked City, featuring a line-up of six authors that had K and I, as above, really etc. goddamn excited: Kit Reed, John Crowley, Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Kressel, Ellen Kushner, and Caitlín R. Kiernan. All images link to high-res versions.
L-to-r (seated): Ellen Kushner, John Crowley, Ellen Datlow, Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Kressel (blue shirt)
(Also, that’s Theodora Goss in the center of the audience there.)
Editorial powerhouse Ellen Datlow introduces the collection. She explained that she hopes to reintroduce readers to urban fantasy as it used to be understood – e.g. the works of Charles de Lint, the Bordertown series – and do some work towards reclaiming the term from paranormal romances and magical detectives. Re: The Jim-Butcheriffic cover and prominent billing of other writers of said PR and magical detectives – “If it sells more copies, do you think I care?” Cover still gives me decidedly mixed emotions (guilty, compartmentalizing Dresden fan right here), but if Ellen Datlow can deal with it, so can I. Also, the totally flipping awesome cover for Supernatural Noir, another recently released Datlow collection, almost makes up for it.
On to the author readings, and numerous more photos:
What’s that, you say? It’s Friday? Indeed it is, and for once I have something to show for it. Although it’s only sorta a Bad Book Cover Friday, as this June 1983 Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction cover isn’t astoundingly bad.
I mean, it’s bad, but it’s bad simply in that there’s nothing good about it. The mediocrity/absurdity/ignorance of color theory and anything else that would contribute to an aesthetic and/or compelling cover are so generally apparent that I have nothing specific to say about them.
The contents of the magazine’s advertisements, on the other hand…
In case you can’t tell from the title, giant slice of honeydew, or honeycomb in the picture, this Booklish is for a humble little children’s book, Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988). Specifically, Miss Honey and Matilda are at the center of this feature today and this Booklish is an imagined meal for the two.
The heart of Matilda lies in the scene in which Miss Honey invites Matilda to her cottage for some tea and bread. For the first time, Matilda experiences the security, comfort, and love that comes from having an adult care for her and treat her as a unique and intelligent human being. It is here in the cottage that Miss Honey and Matilda’s trust and relationship begins, and it begins simply and inquisitively.
The room was as small and square and bare as a prison cell. The pale daylight that entered came from a single tiny window in the front wall, but there were no curtains. The only objects in the entire room were two upturned wooden boxes to serve as chairs and a third box between them for a table.That was all. There were no pictures on the walls, no carpet on the floor, only rough unpolished wooden planks, and there were gaps between the planks were dust and bits of grime had gathered…
…Matilda was appalled. Was this really where her neat and trimly-dressed school teacher lived?
(Juibilatory pre-script, appended 5.11: Valente’s celebrated The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making has finally been released in bookity form! We covet, and so should you – just check out the reviews if you don’t feel convinced by the title alone. [That might be ‘coveted,’ past tense, in Kakaner’s case – she’s probably getting her fix as I type this.])
A few weeks ago, I got to see Catherynne Valente read from her newest novel, Deathless, at Pandemonium Books (conveniently located about twenty steps from the Central Square T stop in Cambridge, MA). Deathless, a Stalinist-era retelling of the fairy tale of Marya Morevna and Koschei the Deathless, was released in late March to glowing reviews, and its first printing already seems to be well on its way to selling out. (I know this because Pandemonium actually couldn’t get copies in on time for the signing due to short supply at multiple warehouses. Bummer for the eager fans at the signing, but fantastic news for Valente.)
Valente read from a segment in which Marya encounters Baba Yaga – chauffered in a chicken-footed limousine – at a swanky club for devils. The prose was vintage Valente – vibrant, blackly witty, equal parts wonder and menace. Part of her motivation in writing Deathless, Valente emphasized, was a desire to bring greater awareness of both less-familiar folklore, and terrible events outside of the usual American perception of World War II. Her Marya emerges from the fairy-tale world into the Siege of Leningrad, a horrific three-year siege that consumed more than 1.5 million lives.
Deathless also includes, of course, generous doses of Communist satire. How do the inhabitants of the fairy-tale world react to Communism? one fan asked. “They love Communism. They’re devils! Communism is great.” (Baba Yaga also demands that Marya address her as “Chairman.”)
Amy Houser‘s lush comic teaser, “The House Committee,” features one such episode from the novel. (Houser, Valente mentioned, designs Barbies and My Little Ponies for a living, and was excited to work on something just a little bit darker.) Images below the cut —