The Prozess Manifestations

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.

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Glyphotech and Other Macabre Processes

Low Res Scan: Glyphotech and Other Macabre Processes, Mark Samuels, 2008, 2016.

Cover by Mark Samuels

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.

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The White Hands and Other Weird Tales

Low Res Scan: The White Hands and Other Weird Tales, Mark Samuels, 2003.

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.

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The Face of Twilight

Review: The Face of Twilight, Mark Samuels, 2006, 2016.

Cover by Mark Samuels

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.

And Gilman begins to think Stymm is involved.

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The Age of Decayed Futurity

Cover by Kevin Slaughter

Low Res Scan: The Age of Decayed Futurity: The Best of Mark Samuels, ed. Mark Samuels, 2020.

I could tell you what decayed futurity means: an attack on linear time, the tyranny of repetition, the entropic static of the future rolling into our world. Or, as Michael Dirda’s “Introduction” tells you:

Samuels’s favorite tropes include dreams, derelict or labyrinthine buildings, run-down European cities, subtle infection and contamination, mandalas, the dead alive, a pervasive sense of alienation, and the quiet desperation of the corporate world.

We’re both right, but grocery lists of dressed up nouns tell you nothing of what the stories are like. Most buildings have doors, but the experience of entering them is very different. The places Samuels takes us to, the stories he tells may have certain similarities, certain repetition of imagery and plot, but the impression they leave is often different – though, it must be admitted, doom usually awaits.

I wondered if it were the case that some dim intimation had come to him during his architect days as to the final destiny of his project: to house his own personal nightmare, to create a zone where human beings could not live.

So ponders our narrator, an amnesiac architect, in “Mannequins in Aspects of Terror” after he’s invited to an art installation by Golmi.

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The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales

It was July 4th, and I wasn’t going to go through boxes of packed books on my day off to find something to read. So, I went through books on the Kindle and decided two Mark Samuels titles, Christmas gifts, seemed like just the thing.

Review: The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales, Mark Samuels, 2011.

The stories of Mark Samuels are filled with perilous literary scholarship, sinister cartels, and encroaching decay of body and intellect – a mold of modernity. Yet, sometimes, hope is to be found in the alleys and wrecks of cities.

Some of the stories are homages or pastiches to dead writers of horror and the weird fiction: Poe, Stefan Grabinski, Karl Edward Wagner, Ambrose Bierce, and, of course, Arthur Machen. Bibliophilia, book collecting, and literary scholarship lead to strange places in Samuels’ fictions. Sometimes mere casual epigraphs from dead writers are surprisingly revelatory.

The first story, “Losenof Express”, is a fine example. Alcoholic horror writer Eddie Charles Knox hoists a shot of Jack Daniels to Poe as he drinks by himself in the obscure Eastern European capital of Strasgol. A well-paying career writing “the pulp adventures of Mungo the Barbarian and the sexual shenanigans of Mother Superior Lucia Vulva” seems like a waste of his talent, a betrayal of his one-time reputation as the “Berserker of Horror”. And when another man in the café seems to mirror Knox’s self-loathing, he becomes enraged and follows the man, eventually killing him. But things become strange when he hops the train out of town to flee arrest.  

There are probably some allusions I missed and elements I don’t appreciate in “The Man Who Collected Machen” since I don’t collect Machen and have only read half of his fiction. But I have read enough Machen, know enough of his life, to appreciate this story as a well-done pastiche and tribute. Machen enthusiasts will see elements of “N”, The Three Impostors, The Secret Glory, and “The Lost Club”.

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The Secret Glory

The Machen series continues with a book I unexpectedly liked perhaps because, in our tumultuous times, I found it comforting though I am in no way a mystic or religious. One can definitely sympathize with its protagonist’s indifference to the world.

It also, I suspect, served as a partial model for Mark Samuels’ A Pilgrim Stranger.

Review: The Secret Glory, Arthur Machen, 1922, 1998.

Partially written during his years of grief following the death of his first wife and before he remarried, Machen finally finished this novel in 1907. Parts were serialized, but the novel didn’t see publication until 1922 and even then its last two chapters were excised, summed up by, as editor S. T. Joshi notes, a not very good epilogue by Machen. The full novel, which I read, was finally published in 1998.

In a preface, Machen lays out what this novel is, a combination of two things: a satire on English public schools and the Holy Grail.

Machen was not impressed by the fatuous accounts of English headmasters, particularly their enthusiasm for sport over academics. Football, he thought, was not a preparation for life. However, in an essay “About My Books (reprinted in The Secret Ceremonies), Machen said he found parodying these kinds of memoirs useless: “These Eton masters on their late Head read like an extravagant parody of my parodies.”

As to the Holy Grail, that was a subject that fascinated Machen. He wrote several essays on the Holy Grail with his friend, occultist A. E. Waite. They were collected in The Secret of the Sangraal and Other Writings.

This book is also, incidentally, considered the first work of literature to bring the Holy Grail into a contemporary setting.

While some claim this book is overly long and dull, it’s only 222 pages at full length, and I did not find it boring. 

Our hero is Ambrose Meyrick, sent off to Lupton. In Machen’s view, British public schools served as factories to produce a predictable type of men to fill in slots in the Empire’s administration. There is a very funny scene where we learn that the sorts of men Lupton produces are those who will not retract their opinions and judgements no matter what facts they are confronted with.

Ambrose comes to hate the school but conforms to it marvelously, even in sports, after a thrashing by his uncle, a schoolmaster there. Part of the novel follows the uncle’s career disappointments.

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Dr. Stiggins

It’s time for another piece of non-fiction from Arthur Machen.

Review: Dr. Stiggins: His Views and Principles, Arthur Machen, 1906.

While Machen’s Hieroglyphics is still read and appreciated, this book is not.

In fact, Machen fan and scholar Mark Samuels says, in “Where Angels Fear to Tread: Some Reflections on ‘Dr. Stiggins’ and Arthur Machen”:

It is no exaggeration to say that Arthur Machen’s 1906 polemic Dr. Stiggins is the book that is the most likely to make devotees of the author force a pained smile and rapidly change the subject. Not even the infamous The Canning Wonder (1925) – with its interminable musings upon a vanishing act and a court case so dull that the reader gasps at its tedium – comes close to it. Dr. Stiggins receives a reaction more akin to that of distaste; like the expression of a person who recalls having been locked in a room with a hectoring stand-up comedian whose act depends upon sharing his prejudices.

In his “About My Books” (in The Secret Ceremonies), Machen said of it:

There are good things in it for those who like controversy, and also many weary pages. It was written in a hurry – 30,000 words in a fortnight – was badly printed on bad paper, was barely noticed by the Press (two reviews, I think), and fell stone dead on publication.

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“The White Hands”

I’m late posting about last week’s subject of discussion over at the Deep Ones group on LibraryThing. On the other hand, I won’t be posting about this week’s story since I’ve already covered that.

It was a welcome return to Mark Samuels’ work.

Review: “The White Hands”, Mark Samuels, 2003.

This story is narrated by a scholar of weird fiction. His particular interests are Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen. He relates his experiences with one Alfred Musswell, a disgraced and odd and former Oxford professor. 

The story starts out with a quote from a former student of Musswell. Musswell “attempted single-handedly to alter the academic criteria of excellence in literature”, and wanted to eradicate the “tyranny of materialism and realism” from literature. He urged students to read Sheridan Le Fanu, Vernon Lee, M. R. James, and Lilith Blake.

As I said, he’s rather odd. He prowls the Oxford streets at night. He always has gloved hands and often a “somewhat disturbing” look. 

Muswell first popularized his views in the small press American fantasy magazine The Necrophile. Like H. P. Lovecraft, he argued against “anthropocentric concerns of realism”.  Literature should contemplate the infinite. 

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The Wanting Seed

This novel first came to my attention on the MPorcius Fiction Log and, recently, it was the subject of a discussion by Kevin Michael Grace on the Luke Ford YouTube channel.

Could two such sources be wrong in telling me it was worth a look? No.

So, before I dropped in on the Luke Ford discussion, I thought I’d read it.

I’ve been going back and forth about not reviewing everything I read, but there were some things I wanted to say on this one.

But I’d have to do at least a plot synopsis and explicate some of the major themes.

And then I realized I could just leech off MPorcius work.

Thus was born a new category of post: the parasite review.

Which means, in this case, you need to read MPorcuis’ post first.

Wanting SeedParasite Review: The Wanting Seed, Anthony Burgess, 1962.

In 1959, Anthony Burgess was wrongly diagnosed with brain cancer and given a year to live. Not wishing to leave an impoverished widow, he wrote five novels in the next year. One of them was this novel.

That may explain some of its faults and, for me, a somewhat inconclusive ending. Burgess himself said, “it needed to be longer in the oven … but I needed money”.

Like MPorcius, I think this a satire and not a serious effort at extrapolative prediction.

According to the Science Fiction Encyclopedia, it stands near the beginning of science fiction novels about overpopulation. My favorite overpopulation novel is Harry Harrison’s extrapolatively dishonest Make Room! Make Room!. Oddly, Burgess accused Harrison of lifting the cannibalism theme of The Wanting Seed for the film adaptation of Soylent Green. In fact, according to Harry Harrison’s essay “A Cannibalized Novel becomes Soylent Green” in Omni’s Screen Flights, Screen Fantasies, says cannibalism was put in the script by the film’s producers and his contract forbid him having any input with it.

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