This week’s piece of weird fiction being discussed by the Deep Ones over at LibraryThing.
Review: “The Aleph”, Jorge Luis Borges, trans. Andrew Hurley, 1945.
As you would expect from Borges, this story is chockfull of literary allusions.
The narrator, in fact, is called Borges, and the story starts out by noting the death of one Beatriz Viterbo on April 30, 1929.
She was a romantic obsession of Borges. To get closer to her memory and the places imbued with that memory, Borges develops the ritual of visiting her first cousin Carlos Argentino every year on the anniversary of her death.
The visits get longer until, during one, Carlos confides that he’s been working on a massive work of poetry. It’s pretty awful – we get quotes, but it’s certainly ambitious in attempting to accurately describe, in correct poetic form, the geography of Earth.
Argentino expounds on why each line is so clever in its literary allusions, poetic form, and violations of reader expectation. He seems to be the sort of writer who imagines the literary praise critics will heap on each line of his work. Borges considers it about the dullest thing he’s read, and it’s not improved by Argentino elaborating his style with ever more varied adjectives (like different words for “blue”).
Scott Connors and Ron Hilger, in their notes for this story in A Vintage from Atlantis, state that several of Smith’s stories for Weird Tales were specifically written as “fillers”, usually less than 3,000 words in length, between longer stories.
This is one though Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright rejected it twice before finally printing it.
It has a simple plot.
Recounted by a Stephen Magbane – oddly enough, a Puritan, it’s a tale of pirates and not set in one of Smith’s fictional worlds of the past or future.
On an island ideally suited to keep their vast loot, the crew of Captain Barnaby Dwale notice a peculiar large jar – seemingly something like an ancient amphora – that has washed up on shore. Dwale is a man of some learning and notes its similarity between old earthen wine jars and pronounces it a “rare vintage” from Atlantis.
This is part of Quinn’s long running series centering on Jules de Grandin, an occult detective.
There’s nothing really unexpected in the story or truly weird, but it’s pleasant enough. The most interesting moment is the scene of erotic horror featured on the cover of the Weird Tales it first appeaed in.
The narrator, Dr. Trowbridge, happens to run into his friend de Grandin when he’s vacationing in France. De Grandin invites Trowbridge along to investigate the dreadful circumstances surrounding the chateau de Broussac. Maimed bodies of two of its recent tenants have been found, and one woman was found mad in the estate’s chapels.
The most recent renter is Mr. Bixby, an Oklahoman who became rich after oil was found on his land, his rather noveau riche and annoying wife, and Adrienne their daughter. The place is rented for a year – partly to keep Adrienne away from a local Oklahoma man whom she was engaged to marry but now deemed unworthy by Mrs. Bixby.
I’ll be returning to Brian Stableford’s Sexual Chemistry shortly, but the usual method of operation at this blog is that the “literary reconnaissances” are posted in the order of observation, and I finished this book before Stableford’s.
As a reminder, posts marked “essay” contain extensive spoilers.
Essay: The Prozess Manifestations, Mark Samuels, 2019.
Samuels is not generally a weird fiction writer associated with a “mythos”. However, if you read enough Samuels, you realize some of his work is a constellation of stories around his fictional Victorian writer Lilith Blake and the area around London’s Highgate Cemetery.
And then there’s the series of stories in this book, most referencing a Doctor Prozess. But it’s not a mythos linked by plot or place or a chronology. Rather Prozess, as we’ll see, is more a symbol, and avatar of deeper forces and drives in our lives.
I’ll be looking at the stories in order, and some I’ve looked at before.
“Decay“ has a setup reminiscent of an early William Gibson cyberpunk story since its protagonist, Carlos Diaz, is hired by the grotesquely fat Hermes X (a name suggestive of a seeker of magical secrets) to spy on one Cornelius Parry. Parry is a former researcher in artificial intelligence (I suspect the name “Parry” is an allusion to an early artificial intelligence program that simulated the personality of a paranoid schizophrenic) whose researches seem to have continued and yielded fruit.
Processes are those legal, political, technological, bureaucratic, and scientific things that define our modern world, a world Mark Samuels is not fond of. So it’s no accident that the very word process shows up in this collection’s title. I’ll eventually be looking at another work of Samuels’ called The Prozess Manifestations.
As befitting the “Low Res Scan” designation, I won’t be reviewing “Sentinels”, “Cesare Thodol: Some Lines Written on a Wall”, “Ghorla”, “Regina vs. Zoskia”, and “A Gentleman from Mexico” since I’ve looked at them already in my post on The Age of Decayed Futurity. This is a variant edition of Samuels’ 2008 Glypotech collection sans “The Cannibal Kings of Horror”, a satire story he deemed “wholly undertaken by even more outlandish developments”.
Psychotropic drugs had dulled its effects to the extent that he was almost able to ignore the surrender of the human race to this phenomenon of sham. But the medication only produced neutrality; one more means of ensuring his tacit compliance if not his participation. Early on, when he first recognised the all-pervasive nature of the sham-existence, he had talked to others about it. However, they did not seem to realise that all apparent solutions were equally part of the problem. Science, psychology, religion and philosophy were likewise only manifestations. There seemed only one viable way to circumvent the circus that is sham-existence: annihilation.
Samuels’ horrors frequently involve contagions both mental and physical. His characters are often socially isolated and, eventually, mentally isolated. His stories rarely involve solitary monsters but the intrusion or revelation of some group breaking into our world from the future, another dimension, or even underground to bring some horrible corruption upon us. Sometimes his characters’ alienation is a spiritual and physical wound inflicted by modernity, particularly in its manifestation in the modern office. If they seek transcendent revelation, it can be a dangerous and futile quest.
In “The Grandmaster’s Final Game” perfecting the play of chess takes on theological elements. One day Reverend Mooney is contemplating the chess problems he’s going to work on when his slow day taking confessions ends. But then in walks Leonard Hughes, a man with an eidetic memory who has given himself over to perfecting his chess game and developing his own strategy and style rather than just playing gambits from historical games he’s memorized. Hughes has a strange story and a stranger question: what if there are men so wicked that even Hell won’t take them.
While I’m not a big fan of Lord Dunsany, I actually liked this story, and it definitely reminded me of H. P. Lovecraft in his Dunsanian mode.
The story opens with the narrator walking during the early morning hours in London and commenting on the various sights he sees: dancers going home, a man with a cane tapping through the deserted night streets, untidy guards with antique muskets, and street washers.
His thoughts turn to the desert city of Bethmoora which he wishes he could return to. Travelers have told him it is desolate now.
Our story opens with Miyata Akinosuke, a goshi (a farmer-soldier, a freeholder like an English yeoman). One warm summer day he’s beneath an ancient cedar tree in his garden with a couple of his friends. Wine and the heat make him sleepy, and he excuses himself for a nap. He then has a dream.
A “grand procession” shows up at his house with dignitaries from the Kokuo of Tokyo (in effect, the king). He is asked to travel with it to Tokyo. He is too astonished and embarassed to answer and his will seems “to melt away”.
He accompanies the procession, riding in a carriage (actually a palanquin), to Tokyo. He arrives in a surprisingly short time at an immense palace and is treated with great honor. He is told he is to be given the honor of an audience with Kokuo and dressed in regal garb.
The king tells Akinosuke that he wants him to be the “adopted husband of Our only daughter”, and the wedding is to be performed immediately. The marriage goes off. The king’s daughter is as beautiful as “a maiden of heaven”.
Yes, I’m way behind in my fiction reading for The Weird Tradition group over at LibraryThing.
Review: “Man-Size in Marble”, Edith Nesbit, 1887.
This started out well and ended not so well.
The story opens by stating “every word of this story is as true as despair”. The narrator says he is going to tell a story most will dismiss in favor of a “rational explanation”. But, he says, his “life’s tragedy” does not have the element of an “utter delusion”. This, he tells us, will be the tale of three people: a woman named Laura (revealed to be his wife), another man who still lives, and the narrator. We learn the fateful night in the story is October 31st.
The narrator and his wife are poor and look for some place to live. He is a painter. Laura is a writer. They are reconciled that they won’t have much money, but they’ll get by. They find a house near a village called Brenzett near the Romney Marsh. (Miller’s foreword to the story says Nesbit herself was fond of this area and retired there a few years before her death.)
They have a housekeeper called Mrs. Dorman who is friendly, efficient, and tells them the local folklore. However, in October, Mrs. Dorman states she is leaving their service. Laura is upset at them having to now tend to domestic chores as well as working. Mrs. Dorman says she has to leave to tend to her sick niece, but her niece has been sick a long time already.
Ivan Gilman is a writer making little headway on his fourth book and, when his apartment building burns down, his depleting funds force him into a room on London’s Archway Road. It does have a couple of advantages. It’s cheap, and it’s near the Rochester Pub, a conducive environ for filling notebooks with text and helping the regulars out with crossword puzzles.
There is one drawback – the creepy, balding neighbor in the apartment below by the name of Conrad Stymm.
Gilman develops a professional interest in apocalyptic sects, the notion of graffiti covered bridges and buildings as symbols of a magical project to raise the dead. Then there’s the abandoned tv station in North London.
It’s not all failed drafts and a growing obsession with the psychogeography of the city. There are the weekly meetings with other writers – mostly so Gilman can mooch drinks. When Gilman rescues the attractive Kate Collins from the troillist clutches of one writer and takes her home, things become more uncertain. Kate leaves Gilman before he wakes up, and shows up dead and mutilated later on.