Stealing Other People’s Homework: “Literature’s Arctic Obsession”

In my part of the world, the temperature has gone below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

And that means it’s time to do some polar reading.

This year, I’ll probably read Jules Verne’s The Adventures of Captain Hatteras, and, maybe, Ernest Shackleton’s South.

However, given how far behind I am in reviews, it will be awhile before I talk about them.

In the meantime, you get this from Kathryn Schulz. There’s a lot of famous writers who mentioned the poles in their work: the Brontes, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Mary Shelley, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, and Charles Dickens.

Stealing Other People’s Homework: “Literature’s Arctic Obsession“, Kathryn Schulz.Arctic Obsession

“In the Vault”

H. P. Lovecraft gets mentioned a lot here — but in relation to other people’s works. I haven’t talked about Lovecraft’s own fiction.

Part of that is that I’ve read a lot of his work multiple times and often — but not always — made notes on each reading. I’ve talked a bit about my reading history with Lovecraft in “Yog-Sothothery“.

Putting those notes together in a coherent form is time-consuming. And I have to do multiple index entries each time.

However, some regular followers of this blog are interested in weird fiction and Lovecraft, so I’m going to start covering individual Lovecraft stories between reviews of new and mostly unrelated books.

All these entries on Lovecraft’s fiction will use S. T. Joshi’s corrected texts.

Raw Feed (2005)eview: “In the Vault“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1925.Dunwich Horror and Others

This 1925 story is a biter-bitten tale.

A cheap, but not malicious, undertaker is maimed by the man whose ankles he cuts off to put him in a cheap coffin.

The story is set in New England, and I find it interesting that Lovecraft not only adopts a characteristic framing device — the story is told by a narrator in contemporary times and related second-hand by the doctor who treated the protagonist’s injuries after he was accidentally locked in a burial vault — but that Lovecraft’s antiquarian interests cause him to set the story in 1881 — nine years before he was born.

The beginning two sentences

There is nothing more absurd, as I view it, than that conventional association of the homely and the wholesome which seems to pervade the psychology of the multitude.  Mention a bucolic Yankee setting, a bungling and thick-fibred village undertaker, and a careless mishap in a tomb, and no average reader can be brought to expect more than a hearty albeit grotesque phase of comedy.

reminded me of Sherlock Holmes admonitions about the crimes committed in lonely rural areas in Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches”.

It is also a self-conscious opening by a horror theorist who is deliberately going against what he regards as common prejudice.


More Lovecraft related entries are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Scientific Romance

Being a fan of Stableford’s work, I immediately requested a review copy when I saw it on Netgallery.

Review: Scientific Romance: An International Anthology of Pioneering Science Fiction, ed. Brian Stableford, 1917.Scientific Romance

Before America colonized science fiction with its conquistador John Carter in 1912 and made it into a genre concerned with space and adventure, it was something different. It was, argues Stableford, a stream of literature interested in “the adoption of the scientific outlook and the attempt to employ the scientific imagination as a springboard for speculative fiction”.

Just as the Vikings colonized the New World before Columbus’s voyage, Francis Bacon and Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac discovered new frontiers for literature when they wrote scientific romances. And, just as the Viking colonization inspired no immediate imitators, no writers imitated Bacon and de Bergerac for a while. Bacon’s New Atlantis was unfinished and published posthumously in 1627. De Bergerac’s L’Autre Monde ou les Etats et Empires de la lune [The Other World] wasn’t published until the 1920s.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that authors in France, America, and England began producing work that was noticeably something different and that stuck in the public mind. These were stories about the drama to be made out of new scientific discoveries, new technologies, and the peculiar psychologies of inventors and scientists. Continue reading

Down from the Attic

And it’s another review with a tie-in to the 1920s.

I don’t normally read books about movies, and I’ve only reviewed one other movie book, Joe Bob Briggs’ Profoundly Erotic, though I do have some reference books about science fiction movies about the house.

Review: Down from the Attic: Rare Thrillers of the Silent Era through the 1950s, John T. Soister and Henry Nicolella, 2016.down-from-the-attic

This one came free from LibraryThing, and the only reason I picked it up was the section on the various movie adaptations of Bernhard Kellermann’s 1913 novel Der Tunnel. I first came across reference to it in John J. Pierce’s Foundations of Science Fiction: A Study in Imagination and Evolution which described it as giving “epic scope to industrial sf” in its tale of constructing a transatlantic tunnel for rail travel.

I did like the opening chapter which covered the four movie adaptations of that novel. (And I watched the 1935 British adaptation Transatlantic Tunnel aka The Tunnel on YouTube afterwards. It’s mostly of historical interest though it has one memorable moment of unintentional humor and some interesting set design.)

Soister and Nicolella cover a movie or group of movies in each chapter. They do it with wit and engaging asides as well as covering a lot of film history. Films are always placed in a larger context be it biographical, the development of a genre, a nation’s film history, or accounts of certain film series and remakes. Continue reading

Remaking History and Other Stories

Kim Stanley Robinson is another author I like and haven’t read enough of.

So, I’ll continue the alternate history series with this collection.

I do have to say I put Robinson, definitely a political author, in the aesthetically pleasing, politically suspect category.

In the very unlikely (but not totally impossible) event that aliens nominate Robinson and me to come up with a constitution for global governance or the human race will be rendered extinct …. well, best to put your affairs in order if that happens.

Raw Feed (1998): Remaking History and Other Stories, Kim Stanley Robinson, 1991.remaking-history

Venice Drowned” — I’ve gotten the impression reading Robinson’s short stories, that if he could dispense with a plot, he would. This story confirms that opinion. It’s little more than a landscape story; here the landscape is a Venice even more submerged (after a great storm in 2040) than in our time. It’s a landscape being looted by rich tourists. This idea is an old one. It goes back to the first sf appearance of the Statue of Liberty and was better done (without the looting) in Norman Spinrad’s “The Lost Continent”. The plot doesn’t really go very far. At one point, Robinson seems to want to do a ghost story but steps back from that idea.

Mercurial” — This is a fun sf takeoff of Sherlock Holmes, featuring tall, Nordic Freya Grindavik as a decidedly amoral Holmes (though Holmes also was not above letting murderers go, though out of a sense of higher justice) solving the murder of one Malvolio Musgrave, who, like the eponymous character of Arthur Conan Doyle Holmes’ story “The Musgrave Ritual”, is a scheming, dishonest employee who meets his end on Mercury. The narrator is the unwilling crime solver Nathaniel who doesn’t appreciate Grindavik’s amorality. The case involves Mercury’s art world where original artists are oppressed by the weight of the past, and collecting the treasures of Earth is the rage. A clever art dealer figures out a way of passing off his own brilliant work as long lost Earth work – or, more accurately, he alters records to create the illusion his artworks were created by great Earth artists. Philip K. Dick scholar Robinson has a Dickian moment of his own (and makes a good point that reminds me of the discussion of historicity in Dick’s The Man in the High Castle) when Nathaniel protests that a beautiful painting isn’t a Claude Monet original. “So what” responds Freya. Robinson makes the valid point that beauty is beauty no matter the source. The forger is exiled to Pluto where he can create his own works free from the distractions of Mercury’s snobbish classicism. The marvelous city moving with Mercury’s terminator featured in Robinson’s Blue Mars makes its first appearance here though the stories are not set in the same universe.

Ridge Running” — Little more than an excuse to write landscape descriptions of the Sierra Nevadas. This story’s thin plot seems to rest on three old friends reasserting their old bonds on a hike. One is worried his work as a lawyer has made him physically weak. Another is recovering from a brain injury (the exact method of the recovery is what give this story its thin sf element). Continue reading

The Road to Science Fiction, Volume 5

I strongly recommend James Gunn’s six volume The Road to Science Fiction anthology series as a good look at the history of Anglophone science fiction. In the sixth volume, foreign language science fiction is covered.

However, I only reviewed this volume.

A retro review from September 2, 2003.

Review: The Road to Science Fiction, Volume 5: The British Way, ed. James Gunn, 1998.Road to Science Fiction

Several novels are excerpted here. And one prominent one isn’t: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which Gunn argues is a transition from the gothic but not yet fully in the camp of self-aware science fiction. Lt. Col. Sir George Tomkyns Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking is the first of those future war novels written by politicians and military men determined to influence public policy. Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland, still in print, is a charming tale of life and culture in a two-dimensional world. That incomparable giant of science fiction, Olaf Stapledon, is represented by a selection from Star Maker, narrated by a “cosmical mind” who views the life of the universe. (Though oddly, in this volume, Gunn barely mentions his importance to the genre. For that, you must consult volume two.) The title for the section on Richard Jeffries After London; Or, Wild England is “The Craving for Catastrophe”. It is a pastoral tale of a simpler life after an unexplained disaster has befallen the country.

That craving shows up in several more tales. Killer smog hits the city in Robert Barr’s 1892 story “The Doom of London.” “The Great Fog” of H. F. Heard wipes out worldwide civilization. Life gets extinguished on an alien planet in Arthur C. Clarke’s much anthologized “The Star”. The Nature of the Catastrophe” in Michael Moorcock’s story of that name is never really explained. An amalgam of newspaper excerpts and fiction, this story unfortunately shares the oblique prose and loose setting of his Jerry Cornelius novels. Not readable in its own right, it still gives you some idea of Moorcock’s influence on the New Wave. Tanith Lee’s “Written in Water” is a last woman on Earth tale. The world that may be destroyed by an artist in J. D. Beresford “A Negligible Experiment” is our own. The disaster of John Wyndham’s “The Emptiness of Space” is a personal one. Its hero has survived a spell in cryonic suspension and fears his soul has left his body.

As you would expect, the anthology is full of several famous names. Continue reading

Three from Larry Niven

Tales of Known Space Neutron StarCrashlander

“I have to admit,” I said to Mr. Niven, “while I’ve read most of your collaborations with Jerry Pournelle and liked them, I’ve never actually read a whole book done written just by you.”

“Well, I’m pretty good alone,” he replied

The occasion was Minicon 50, a rare visit to a science convention for me. Mostly I went to see some of the other guests of honor, Michael Whelan and Tom Doherty, but my wife wanted to see Larry Niven. While I had certainly read Niven solo pieces through the years in various anthologies and magazines, I had never actually read any of his collections.

So, I took three off the shelf – Tales of Known Space: The Universe of Larry Niven (1975), Neutron Star (1968), and Crashlander (1994) – and was in the midst of reading the first when I briefly talked to Mr. Niven before a panel appearance of his. All three are part of Niven’s Known Space, one of the many series I’ve grazed in without entirely consuming. In this case, I first encountered Niven with “Neutron Star” in the late 1970s in one of those anthologies of Hugo winners.

No reviews follow, just impressions, criticisms, and spoilers. Continue reading

Did Science Fiction Help Cause World War One?

There is a mountain of literature on what caused World War One and no general consensus.

I. F. Clarke’s Voices Prophesying War looks at one element of pre-World War One European culture, the science fiction sub-genre of the future war story. Nowhere, does Clarke make any bald statement about where all those stories fit in the chain of causation, whether they were cause or effect. He doesn’t even argue that you can consider all these tales of invasion by airship, Channel Tunnel, or by the sea as helping in any way to lay the rails for the train crash of European civilization.

He implies, though, they reflected and shaped popular opinions in France, England, and Germany about the nature and outcome of a coming war. Continue reading