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 Dedalus Book of Decadence (Moral Ruins)

This one ended up being a Low Res Scan for a few different reasons.

First, I was feeling a bit lazy last January when I read it and didn’t make notes on every story.

Second, there are a lot of stories and a few poems in this book, 18 French pieces and 18 English pieces. It’s a sampler of British and French literary Decadence.

Third, a lot of the stories are quite short and a review risks spoiling their often surprise endings.

Fourth, not all of the pieces were fantastic. Since the blogging madness has to have some kind of limit, I don’t normally review fiction that isn’t fantastical in some way.

Review: The Dedalus Book of Decadence (Moral Ruins), ed. Brian Stableford, 1990, 1993.

If this book just had Stableford’s long introduction, it would still be worth reading. Stableford has been writing about weird and decadent fiction almost as long as he’s been producing critical work on science fiction. Here, he produces a useful history and definition of Decadent fiction

Decadence is a concept going back to Montesquieu’s writings on the fall of the Roman Empire, and the first true Decadent work was Charles Baudelaire’s poetry collection Fleurs de Mal in 1857. Decadent fiction was a short-lived phenomenon in France in the 1880s and works in it are sometimes cataloged in the Symbolist movement (which, in my vague understanding, involves non-realistic narratives with allegorical symbols). 

The English Decadent movement was in the 1890s, and, after Oscar Wilde’s conviction for sodomy, few people wanted to be associated with the label. 

Stableford usefully lists Decadent fiction’s primary themes: a celebration of artifice and skepticism of the Romantic ideal of nature (that virtue reposes in nature), impuissance (the feeling of powerlessness), and spleen (an angry melancholy). There was also a drug element. Sometimes, as in Théophile Gautier’s case, drugs were taken under supervision of medical men; however, in other cases, like Arthur Rimbaud seeking his “rational derangement of the senses”, they were not. 

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Walking the Night Land: Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of Eternity

I’ve been reading Brian Stableford recently – the “fruits” of which you won’t see in for a while. However, when prowling around on The Brian Stableford Website, I actually looked at the description for this luridly titled book with a cover not up to Black Coat Press’ usual standards. (I often prefer to buy paper editions of Black Coat Press works because of the covers.)

Since William Hope Hodgson plays a part in the story, I immediately ordered it and read it.

And, when I found out that Stableford also puts The Night Land to use in the book, I put it at the head of the review queue as another installment in the series.

Sallystartup, over at her Reviews of Brian Stableford, which, as you would expect reviews only Stableford, provides reviewer parallax on this one. I didn’t indicate that in the title because of space and because nobody should have two colons in the title of a blog post.

Essay: Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of Eternity, Brian Stableford, 2009.

Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of Eternity
Cover by Danielle Serra

‘I had not expected to travel 12 million years,’ I said, before the android could ask another question, ‘but I suppose that I have come as far before, and even further. I have seen the final act of the story of mankind played out against the backcloth of the Night Land, and the death of the Earth itself as it spiraled into the dying Sun.’

‘Yes’, said the metal man, after another brief hesitation. ‘We know something of your previous visions.’

It is Hodgson’s story that begins (after a brief prologue) the novel and ends it. His “Soldier’s Story” is interspersed with accounts of four other men: Count Lugard (reputed to be a vampire) who gives us, of course, the “Count’s Story; the “Explorer’s Story”; the “Writer’s Story”; and the “Detective’s Story”. Hodgson is summoned to a secret mission, leaving his identification disks behind, just before his Forward Observation Post is blown up and, so our history says, he is killed on April 17, 1918.

This is not only a masterful science fiction novel but a conte philosophique that combines many of Stableford’s interests and characteristic themes: an interest in literary decadence; a future history (seen in his emortal series and Tales from the Biotech Revolution series) that includes severe environmental degradation and nuclear and biological warfare in the early 21st century followed by a massive die off and then a heavy use of genetic engineering to create an near utopia on Earth; vampires; sympathy with the Devil’s Party and literary Satanism; art for art’s sake, the value of artifice, and the related ideas of personal myth and the power of the imagination; the stance to take when facing an uncertain future (also seen in his “Taken for a Ride” which also deals with questions of destiny, predestination, and free will), and an interest in early British and French science fiction. Continue reading

The Ghost Club

This one got downloaded to my Kindle because it contains several stories using the Meikle Mythos of Sigils and Totems.

Review: The Ghost Club: Newly Found Tales of Victorian Terror, William Meikle, 2017.

theghostclub
Cover by Ben Baldwin

Recently the Criterion Club in London found itself placed in receivership and selling its assets off. In a hidden bookcase, this journal, a collection of lost literary works by club members and visitors transcribed (and perhaps touched up a bit) by Arthur Conan Doyle was found.

The quality of Meikle’s imitations of those writers I can’t, for the most part, speak to. I haven’t read all these authors, and some I have only read a few works by. (I’ll put the putative authors of each story in parentheses next to the relevant title.)

I do think I’ve read enough of H. G. Wells to say that “Farside” is a convincing imitation in style and theme. Its narrator tells us about a demonstration of a Chromoscope, a machine of spinning colored plates that light is passed through and projected onto a wall. It’s a creation of his inventor friend, Hoskins. Hoskins and friends find out, by putting their hands between the projector and the wall, that they have rainbow auras about their hands. Well, all except Dennings who has a “sickly glow, all green” around his. Perhaps its no coincidence that he dies three days later. But why is that green glow now around Hoskins’ hand? Being a Wells’ fan, I was inclined to like this.

I enthusiastically liked so many stories (nine out of 14) that I can’t really call them favorites. Continue reading

Prophecies and Dooms

I discovered Mark Samuels about a year-and-a half ago on his blog in his role as social and genre critic. I went on to read and review a couple of his works.

This one came to me courtesy of subscribing to Samuels’ Pateron account.

Review: Prophecies and Dooms, Mark Samuels, 2018.Prophecies and Dooms

This is Samuels in critic mode, cogent in presentation and never failing to say something interesting about his subjects no matter how familiar I was with them. Between the lines, something of Samuels’ own criteria for good weird fiction peeps through.

There were plenty of material new to me about writers I have a very peripheral knowledge of.

Samuels’ “The Root of Evil: Hanns Heinz Ewers and Alraune” certainly did not have to work hard to educate me. I only knew Ewers through his much reprinted “The Spider” and about his espionage work on behalf of Germany in World War 1-era America. Samuels looks at Ewers’ persona as a drug addict and a bisexual predator (allegedly aided by hypnotism) on men and women and his greatest work, Alraune. Ewers, in that novel, becomes the “Master-Artist Braun” who alone can control the destructive force he has created, the “mandrake-woman” Alraune.

It’s the opening essay, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it ends with a metaphor of an artist in control of his material. Continue reading

An Ornament to His Profession

The Charles L. Harness series continues.

I have by no means read all of his work but, between this and the novels in Rings, you get a good sense of his work.

This is the only collection of Harness fiction and includes the short novel The Rose.

Raw Feed (2002): An Ornament to His Profession, ed. Priscilla Olson, 1998.Ornament to His Profession

“An Ornament”, Priscilla Olson — A brief but informative introduction to Charles Harness’ characteristic subjects and themes.
“Charles Harness:  New Realities”, David G. Hartwell — A brief and useful overview of Charles Harness’ themes and writing career and the influence and significance of Harness’ novels Flight Into Yesterday aka The Paradox Men and The Rose.  Hartwell makes the interesting observation that, like Alfred Bester and Philip K. Dick, Harness put his own spin on the type of stories written by A.E. van Vogt.  I think that’s a valid observation and explains my like of all three authors.
The Rose — This is the second time I’ve read this short novel.  I didn’t think much of it the first time.  At that time, I was rather puzzled at Ruy Jacques quest for the rose, though he won’t acknowledge the quest to Anna van Tuyl.  This time it was obvious that his quest was for his art to not only maintain immortality but equal power to his wife’s Martha’s Scionmnia Equation.  It was also obvious that love has turned to possessive, bitter competition between the Jacques.  I was even more forcibly reminded of the van Vogtian elements of using artistic concepts in a systemized way as weapons.  I have no idea how true Harness’ examples are, drawn from music, art, and ballet, of art discovering scientific principles first.  Nor do I have any idea if the Oriental five-four rhythms of the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony require special training by Western musicians to play or if Delcrozian eurythmics are real.  (Harness mentions Tchaikovsky in several stories.)  After this reading, I can spot the influence of this novel on Michael Moorcock. (Moorcock wrote a very favorable introduction to the novel in another edition.)  Specifically, you can spot Harness’ influence on Moorcock’s The Winds of Limbo.  Harness’ introductory notes were interesting.  John W. Campbell rejected this story, evidently because of his lack of knowledge about music.  Harness was, as you would expect, deeply influenced by the death of his older brother, age 26.  The brother was an artist and the inspiration for the imperious artist Ruy Jacques.  Harness also said that the story was built around a story beloved by his brother:  Oscar Wilde’s “Nightingale and the Rose”.  The story provided the theme and plot outline of the novel. In Wilde’s story the nightingale, provides the dye, with the blood from its fatal, self-inflicted injury, to turn a white rose red.  The Student needs a red rose for admission to a dance.)  At the end, Harness playing with the reader’s expectations by making us believe that it is Ruy who is really to die like the Nightingale and Anna is to be the Student.  I appreciated the story’s blatantly allegorical qualities this time.  It’s another Harness tale of transcendence.
Time Trap” — This is Harness’ first published story and has many of the themes and elements of his later work.  There are the two individuals, Poole and Jon Troy who turn out to be the same individual, existing contemporaneously due to time travel.  There is the mutation, in Jon Troy, looked for by shadowy groups.  Harness throws in a scientific explanation on how Troy’s power to prevent “devitalization” and general death from violence and poisoning.  It involves manipulation of carbon dioxide and oxygen cycles in hemoglobin and was evidently good enough for the story to be published in John W. Campbell’s Astounding SF.  Harness carefully doesn’t explain how physical injuries, like a rabbit being resurrected after its head is severed, are reversed in Troy’s “viton” field.  Harness also doesn’t come up with a good explanation as to how come Poole/Troy doesn’t remember all the times he’s been through this “standing wave” of time until he goes back in time one last time.  The systemization of even prison escapes bears the hallmark of 30s–50s sf where almost any human activity can by systematized and rationalized.  Harness, in his introduction, explains that the legal chicanery of Poole claiming his younger self, Troy, is innocent of murder because, at various times and locations, the intent did not match the actual act is drawn from a real case he studied in law school.  Specifically, an attempt to murder is unsuccessful.  The wouldbe killer transports the body elsewhere, believing the victim to be dead, and then cuts the head off.  The defense is that the initial act was only assault, unintended by the perpetrator, and the actual decapitation was intended to only be a mutilation of a corpse, not murder.  Of course, legal elements were also to become part of Harness’, a patent attorney, fiction.

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