The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, Volume 2: The Door to Saturn

My Clark Ashton Smith series continues.

This one has an introduction by Tim Powers, the author that got me interested in re-trying Smith.

Raw Feed (2007): The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, Vol. 2: The Door to Saturn, eds. Scott Connors and Ron Hilger, 2007.the-door-to-saturn

“Introduction”, Tim Powers — Powers observes two things about Clark Ashton Smith’s work: the pagan sense of fate and the dooming of true love. The glamours of Smith’s work, he says, are inextricable from the “merciless field-equations of Fate”.

The Door to Saturn” — Smith said this was one of his favorite works. He operates in a satiric vein, here, but the satire is more obvious than, say his “The Monster of Prophecy”. And it’s better too. Smith constantly denies expectations and dramatic payoffs and formulic plotting all the while relating his story in a deliberate, detached, yet wry, prose of wonder. Morghi the inquisitor pursues, from Smith’s Hyperboria to Saturn, fellow sorceror Eibon. The former is a devotee of the mainstream god Yhoundeh. The latter worships the primitive god — something of an alien exile on Earth — Zhothaqquah. Eibon is granted a magical escape hatch to Venus by Zhothaqquah in gratitude for his worship. The god’s relatives on Saturn can barely understand Eibon’s language, but bare him no will and speak an enigmatic phrase to him. Eibon thinks it’s important, develops a missionary zeal for delivering the message to others. After Morghi catches up to him, the two put aside their differences. They encounter a frightful animal which turns out to be a beast of burden owned by the headless Bhlemphroims — the latter are in a state of “eugenic sorrow” having devolved from their former headed condition. Rather than get caught up in tribal politics a la H. Rider Haggard and other lost race novelists or attempting to convert the tribe to the worship of their individual gods, the wizards are well treated and bored. They are expected to mate with the sole fecund female of the tribe, a “mountainous female” (a comic image reminiscent of Smith’s “The Root of Ampoi”) — and then eaten by them. The two decide to leave. But Smith doesn’t deliver a daring escape or chase. The tribe simply lets them go. Eventually coming to the Ydheem people, Eibon delivers the message of the relatives of his god. Their translation turns out to be banal, unexpected, yet still significant: “Be on your way.” The Ydheems, hearing it after their city is buried in an avalanche, build a whole new city on the divine revelation. And the two wizards settle their dispute for the rest of their life, a life of disappointments — Morghi can get an inquisition going, Eibon becomes a “minor prophet”. There are the compensations of the “potent though evil-tasting” fungus-wine and females “if one were not too squemish”. After several non-adventures it is said their life is not “so radically different from that of Mhu Thulan …”, their home, “… or any other place”. Such is Smith’s anti-adventure, the relatively mundane and mixed bag of life even if lived on an exotic planet. A final irony is that their absence on Earth, triggers the revival of Zothaqquah worship in Hyperborea.

The Red World of Polaris” — This was a story never published in Smith’s lifetime, a sequel to his “Marooned on Andromeda” and the result of an unexpected commission to do a series of Captain Volmar tales. In a letter to H. P. Lovecraft, Smith said he had little interest in the “mythology of science”. However, this story sort of anticipates some later transhuman themes of sf. The crew of the Alcyone is pulled into a metal shelled world inhabited by an alien race who has transferred their brains to customizable metal bodies they discard at well. It is not an upload of a consciousness into a computer or cyborg a la the transhumans, but it has many similarities. Furthermore, the inhabitants of the world have a control over constituent atoms that is like nanotechnology. They also have a problem with runaway experiments in life conducted by various scientists. However, I think these were all incidental plot matters to Smith who was most interested seemingly, given his comments to Lovecraft, about the poetically described apocalypse that destroys the alien world at story’s end. It is an apocalypse brought on by a characteristically Smith menace — a blob of living matter that has animal and plant characteristics. It can be seen as a metaphor for the cancer gnawing away, literally, at the heart of this technological civilization which has more than a tint of racial senescence and individual decadence in the experiments of some of its scientists. Given that it’s a red world, it’s something of a worm in an apple. Continue reading