“The Growth of the House of Usher”

My look at the fiction in Stableford’s Sexual Chemistry collection concludes.

Review: “The Growth of the House of Usher”, Brian Stableford, 1988.

Cover by Bruce Hogarth

This story stands at the head of Stableford’s Tales of the Biotech Revolution, a series of as many as 60 works (my bibliographic research has not established an exact number) of various lengths. As the title would suggest, it is an extended takeoff and inversion of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”. After all, Stableford substitutes “growth” for “fall” in Poe’s title.

The opening echoes Poe’s syntax and tone:

It was a dull and soundless day on which I approached by motor boat the house which my friend Rowland Usher had built in the loneliest spot he could find, in the southern region of the Orinoco delta. 

The home of Poe’s Usher was ancestral, but Stableford’s Usher is building his.

The edifice which Rowland was raising from the silt of that great stagnant swamp was like nothing I had seen before, and I am morally certain that it was the strangest building ever envisaged by the imagination of men. 

The house is like a “black mountain” without windows (standard for new buildings in this future), no crenellations, no towers, no balconies.

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Finding Poe

I’m not sure why I have this novel apart from the Poe reference. It’s not on my list of titles I got review copies of nor do I remember buying it.

Still, last October, in honor of the month of Edgar Poe’s death, I read it.

Review: Finding Poe: A Tale of Inspiration and Horror, Leigh M. Lane, 2012.

The blurbs call this a gothic. And, indeed, it is. We have a woman in danger, our protagonist Karina Brantley, and we have a sinister structure, a lighthouse.

But that’s just the start. Karina Brantley isn’t some innocent governess nor unmarried. Her increasingly mad husband, always called by just his surname, was a nobleman back in England and she was a Lady – that is until Brantley murdered a servant trying to blackmail him and walled him up alive. Karina is complicit in that crime.

Brantley takes them to a miserable lighthouse off the coast of New England and seems obsessed by it, taking its measurements and counting the number of its bricks. He becomes increasingly abusive.

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“A Question of Blood”

And, with this entry, David Hambling gets his own separate post even when appearing in an anthology.

Review: “A Question of Blood”, David Hambling, 2016.

Cover by Gregory Nemec

This is another of Hambling’s Norwood tales set in that area of South London in the 1920s though it doesn’t, as far as I could tell, have any links to his Harry Stubbs’ stories or the stories in The Dulwich Horror and Other Stories.

Hambling often takes off on other stories, and here there is, right off the bat, a quote from H. P. Lovecraft’s “Herbert West – Reanimator”. There are also nods to Edgar Poe’s “The Purloined Letter” and Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”. And the setup is a kind of darker version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy.

Our narrator is Paul Pennywell, age 21. Upon reaching the age of majority, he got a letter from his solicitor revealing who his grandfather is: a wealthy man named Beaumont living in Norwood.

Upon entering the house, Paul sees a portrait of someone looking very much like his father, Mark Beaumont. But its subject is Matthew Beaumont, Paul’s uncle.

Led into his grandfather’s study, Paul does not find a warm reunion. His grandfather, possessing the air of an Old Testament prophet, is not happy to see Paul and did not ask to see him.

We then get some family history. Matthew was Mark’s twin, born half an hour earlier and, therefore, heir to the estate. But Matthew died without issue at the Battle of Cambrai. Beaumont questions Paul on his drinking, gambling, and sex habits and concludes he did good by sending Paul away to Canada and that, if he continues farming in a good Christian community, he will be all right. 

We then learn the letter the solicitor passed on to Paul was from his mother, long dead, and written for him. She died in a hospital for the “morally defective”. Paull is well aware that his parents were married very soon before he was born. 

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“Some Words with a Mummy”

It’s a welcome return to Poe this week over at LibraryThing’s Deep Ones.

Review: “Some Words with a Mummy”, Edgar Allan Poe, 1845.

The plot on this one is pretty straightforward, and it’s less weird fiction than sort of American proto-science fiction as well as being a satire. A mummy is revived and discusses Ancient Egypt and nineteenth century America with the narrator and three other men.

So, with some help from Stephen Peithman’s annotations, let’s look at this one.

Poe’s humor doesn’t always work here. Jokes tend not to age well in literature. After all, many modern Shakespeare productions omit some of his humor which, if you’re reading it, often has to be footnoted to get the joke. A joke explained is no longer a joke. Still, the story does have its funny moments.

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Journey to the Core of Creation; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Review: Journey to the Core of Creation: A Romance of Evolution, Brian Stableford, 2011.

For one of Stableford’s August Dupin stories, the plot here is fairly simple. As the title suggests, there is also a lot more scientific speculation in this story than others in the series. But, as usual in these books, Stableford hangs multiple meanings on his title. Here it is not only the evolution of life as a whole but that of a single human.

Fittingly, we get some back stories on our main characters.

Our narrator, unnamed thus far in the series, is Samuel Reynolds. Hardcore Edgar Allan Poe buffs will recognize the name as part of Poe’s delirious utterings as he lay dying. At novel’s end, Reynolds makes an interesting statement: he wishes he wouldn’t have made notes on the whole experience. He really doesn’t like being reminded of it. As with “The Legacy of Erich Zann” and, to a lesser extent, The Quintessence of August, Reynolds seems to have a protective amnesia about his experiences.

And Dupin’s early life is also revealed.

It’s the spring of 1847, and political tensions are high in France.

Dupin and Lucien Groix, the head of Paris’s police and another frequent series character, hung about the salon of Achille Maret when they were young. They were both in love with the beautiful, teasing, manipulative Julie, Maret’s daughter.

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The Cthulhu Encryption; or Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Review: The Cthulhu Encryption: A Romance of Piracy, Brian Stableford, 2011.

Another complicated installment in the August Dupin series. In fact, it is probably the most complicated of them all.

And that’s appropriate given the theme of encryption. Like the concept of the bibliomania in The Mad Trist and the egregore in The Quintessence of August, Stableford explores multiple meanings of a word, sometimes through non-humorous puns.

Encryption isn’t just something your computer does when you’re buying a copy of, say, a Stableford novel online. It also means to bury, to embed and conceal information in another form, and, if you’re a Pythagorean philosopher, everything you perceive is the encryption of an ultimate reality.

Here encryptions take the form of mysterious tattoos and coins, chants of South Sea Islanders, the legends of the sunken city Lys, the Breton version of the King Arthur story, fairy lore, and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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The Quintessence of August; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Review: The Quintessence of August: A Romance of Possession, Brian Stableford, 2011.

While Stableford’s Auguste Dupin stories are mostly independent of each other, it actually helps to have read the first one, “The Legacy of Erich Zann”, before this one to understand it fully.

Well, maybe not. I’m not sure I understood everything about it after one complete reading and another skimming.

But, then, even our unnamed narrator has to consult his journal from three years earlier to link things.

Unlike a lot of Stableford’s forays into weird fiction (at least the ones I’ve read by this prolific author), there isn’t a purely scientific element here.

The story concerns itself with music and the concept of the egregore.

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The Legacy of Erich Zann and Other Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos

Low Res Scan: The Legacy of Erich Zann and Other Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, Brian Stableford, 2010, 2012.

In this “Introduction”, Stableford says a couple of things about his recent burst of writing in the Cthulhu Mythos. “The Legacy of Erich Zann” was written to fill out a collection that had it and Stableford’s short novel The Womb of Time. He liked the result so much he undertook to write a series of stories with Auguste Dupin which include elements of the Cthulhu Mythos and “an even vaster metaphysical system” of which the Mythos is a small part. 

Stableford disputes the idea that the Cthulhu Mythos, in its true philosophical form and with its cosmic horror, has really been popularized. He makes the interesting observation that cosmic horror is defiantly esoteric, that it isn’t as easy to evoke horror in that sort of story unlike one with serial killers or ghosts. Cosmic horror requires more imaginative effort on the part of the reader. It is more abstract. It appreciates the vast space and time surrounding life in the universe.  He says cosmic horror plays,

sometimes delicately and cleverly, but always with a reserve of sheer brutality, with our inability to deal with the fact mentally, and our perverse insistence that, even if it is so, it is irrelevant. 

The strength of the Mythos for a writer of cosmic horror is that it has a ready-made vocabulary of symbols. Like writers of mainstream fiction who don’t have to invent a world for their stories, Lovecraft’s Mythos provides a sort of pre-fab set of places and ideas that can be used and are quickly recognized by readers. It can be more useful for a writer than trying to invent a more elegant mythology from scratch for cosmic horror. Interestingly, he sees Nyarlathotep as the most basic figure in the Mythos which may be why he used him for “The Legacy of Erich Zann”. 

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The Mad Trist; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Sally Startup, on her Brian Stableford blog, provides the parallax on this one.

Review: The Mad Trist: A Romance of Bibliomania, Brian Stableford, 2010. 

The third installment in Stableford’s August Dupin series is indeed about bibliomania, the enchantment of print, its ability to put voices in our heads and suggests thing. It’s about a lot of other things too: esoteric and feminist works by Elizabethans and the possible identity of their authors, curses and cursed books, witches, medieval romance, sibling rivalry and sexual awakening, the evolution of literature, and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”.

As Dupin, who doesn’t appear in most of this story, says, “Nothing is ever simple . . . Not, at least, when it is subject to proper rational analysis”.

As with all the installments in this series, Stableford has worked to make each one self-contained. You can start anywhere in it except with the last book. (Yes, I’ve read them all and plan to review all of them.)

Our story opens with our still unnamed narrator off to visit his friend in England, Richard Carstairs.

Before he boards the ferry, Comte St. Germain shows up to give him a book. He wants it given to Dupin when the narrator returns to Paris. It’s a peace offering by St. Germain after the events of the preceding book in the series, Valdemar’s Daughter.

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Valdemar’s Daughter; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

No, I have no clue, six months later, why I started Brian Stableford’s Auguste Dupin series with the second installment.

Review; Valdemar’s Daughter: A Romance of Mesmerism, Brian Stableford, 2010. 

Auguste Dupin, of course, was created by Edgar Allan Poe and used in three stories. And, as you would expect from the title, there is a tie-in to Poe’s “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”.

The conceit of the series, narrated by an American friend of Edgar Allan Poe living in Paris, is that some Poe stories were based on fact but their supernatural aspects added by Poe. Thus, there really was a Valdemar who was hypnotized at the point of death. 

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