“The Warder of Knowledge”

This week’s weird fiction tale being discussed over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Warder of Knowledge”, Richard F. Searight, 1992.

Cover by Gahan Wilson

This story has a plus and a minus.

The minus is that it falls in the trap of telling us the experience of its protagonist, Gordon Whitney with no real way, just from his writings, for the narrator, a friend of Whiteny’s, to know these details. Even H. P. Lovecraft’s “Dagon”, with its narrator hurriedly writing his experiences down as the monsters close in, doesn’t go this far.

On the plus side, Whitney emotionally acts like an amateur undertaking a dangerous occult experiment. 

Robert M. Price’s introduction to Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos notes that, though this story was first published in that book, Lovecraft saw the story when Searight sent it to him. Lovecraft liked it and noted Searight’s use of the Eltdown Shards as different than Lovecraft’s own in the round-robin story Lovecraft had participated in, “The Challenge from Beyond”. Lovecraft optimistically noted that Searight’s use would end up being better known than that story. Of course, things worked out completely the opposite. 

The story opens in a standard Lovecraftian vein. 

We hear about how the “neatly typed manuscript” found in Whitney’s desk drawer caused his academic comrades to regard it as the delusions of a mentally unbalanced organic chemist who dabbled in the occult. The writer says that impression would have been heightened if they had his personal journal. Searight throws a bit of novelty in by briefly mentioning the psychic impressions perceived by Professor Turkoff, a psychologist, in Whitney’s bedroom. 

Continue reading

“The Harbor-Master”

This week’s bit of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Harbor-Master”, Robert W. Chambers, 1904.untitled

The narrator of this is engaging story is a 24 year old general supervisor of the waterfowl section of the Zoological Gardens in Brooklyn, New York. We never do get his name.

Among his many jobs is answering the various letters from people offering to sell or donate exhibits of alive and stuffed animals. (The zoo does not hire people to collect samples.) The letters and answers are reviewed by the narrator’s supervisor Professor Farrago.

One day he’s surprised that Farrago actually wants him to respond to a letter from Burton Halyard, a man who claims he has some living great auks to sell for the princely sum of $10,000. Great auks are thought to have gone extinct around 1870 when the last ones were seen in Labrador. Halyard’s letter cryptically says that he may have an even more remarkable specimen for them – an amphibious biped – which seems even more ludicrous. However, he says that, when the narrator arrives, he’ll meet people who have seen it and are believable.

So the narrator is off to Black Harbor. We’re never told where on the Atlantic coast or even the state or Canadian province that Black Harbor is in. I’d guess, given that we hear of mica mining, that it’s New Hampshire. Continue reading

“The Arcade”

It’s time for this week’s bit of weird fiction.

(Why, you ask, isn’t there one every week. Mostly because I’ve either already blogged about the current story under discussion at LibraryThing’s Deep Ones group or I didn’t get my hands on the story under discussion).

Review: “The Arcade”, Will Murray, 2012.

Worlds of Cthulhu
Cover by Gahan WIlson

You may not recognize the name of Will Murray. He writes a lot, but most of his work is in pulp fiction both as a practioner and historian. For instance, he does a lot of historical background for Sanctum Books reprints of Doc Savage novels (which I read but don’t regularly review here) and has new adventures with that hero.

Among his other interests is H. P. Lovecraft. In addition to critical work on Lovecraft, he’s written some Lovecraftian stories including “The Sothis Radiant”.

As Robert M. Price, the editor of Worlds of Cthulhu where this story first appeared, this is a Lovecraftian story that does not “depend upon a check list of unpronounceable names and magical grimoires”.

It uses Lovecraft’s Arkham locales, specifically the town of Foxfield. That was a location Lovecraft invented but never used.

This is one of those weird tales whose charm would be broken by a plot synopsis, not that it’s particularly complex. Continue reading

Night Voices, Night Journeys

More Japanese weird fiction while I work on new stuff.

Raw Feed (2007): Night Voices, Night Journeys: Lairs of the Hidden Gods, Volume One, ed. Asamatsu Ken, 2002, 2005.night-voices-night-journeys

Foreword:  Recollections of Tentacles”, Asamatsu Ken, trans. Edward Lipsett. — Perfunctory, metaphor laden account of how popular H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos are in Japan. This is described as an anthology concentrating on Lovecraftian tales with an historical element. Asamatsu notes that the only American sf authors with a “solid bibliography” (Whatever that means exactly:  consistently worth reading or most of their works translated into Japanese?) are Edgar Rice Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, and H. P. Lovecraft — and only the latter has TV adaptations and publishing houses devoted to it.

Introduction:  Rush Hour of the Old Ones”, Robert M. Price — Price, who has edited several Lovecraft inspired anthologies and who, I understand, has a degree in theology, purports to find some similarity in the broad mythology of the Cthulhu Mythos and Aum Shinrikyo (humanity must be purged from Earth to make way for supernatural beings who will be worshipped by the worthy members of the cult — Price provides some interesting material on how the group’s theology evolved) and also Buddhism (specifically August Derleth’s corrupted interpretations of the Cthulhu Mythos).

The Plague of St. James Infirmary”, Asamatsu Ken, trans. R. Keith Roeller — This story shows what I’m told is a characteristic Japanese love of icon — kami in their extreme from. This is sort of interesting mélange of American icons fixed in the Japanese mind:  Chicago and its gangster. The entirely predictable revelation is that cunning Scarface is Al Capone. The less obvious revelation that Eliot is the future Eliot Ness.  I have no idea if his girlfriend was a real character.) Taro, the Japanese bodyguard, turns out to be Kaitaro Hasegawa (I assume a real Japanese writer) who created a beloved fictional one-armed, one-eyed samurai (which Taro temporarily is, due to injuries, in this story.) Price’s notes reveal Michael Leigh, the occultist character, to be a borrowing from Henry Kuttner’s foray into the Cthulhu Mythos. There is a certain unintended humor here — besides the improbable assertion that Michael Leigh’s implied ancestor, Judge Leigh of the Salem Witch Trials, moved to Chicago (my research says the first whites arrived in the 1770s there) with it being noted that the Japanese “have an exceptionally keen spiritual sensitivity”.

The Import of Terrors”, Yamada Masaki, trans. Kathleen Taji — This story effectively combines the firebombing of Kobe — and less obviously its devastating earthquake fifty years later — with some of the elements of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in the Darkness” (I was reminded how rich this is in Cthulhu Mythos elements when I went back and looked at it) and “At the Mountains of Madness”. Two Japanese boys, fleeing the firebombing and starved, enter the mysterious house of a Russian immigrant. They encounter a strange creature who urges the boys to eat it. But they also see the maimed body of the Russian. Still living, he tells them not to eat the alien, that to do so will let a parasite live in their bodies for fifty years, and, when it emerges, catastrophe will result. He even kills one of the boys to stop him from eating the alien but then dies. The narrator, the surviving boy, tells at story’s end how he feels strange impulses and must return to Kobe. Price brief introduction actually helps appreciate the story. He reminds us that Lovecraft’s tale linked the aliens in the Vermont woods with Indian myths and the Mi-Go of the Himalayas and that they feared other aliens. That enemy they feared is implied, believes Price, to be the parasite infecting the alien (seemingly one of the Old Ones from “At the Mountains of Madness”). Price also points out the timing of the narrator’s return to Kobe and the portent of disaster would have been understood by a Japanese audience to mean the Kobe earthquake. Price also compares the state of the boys to the “hungry ghosts” of Buddhism and Hindu reincarnation, a state two notches below being reincarnated as human. However, I don’t quite buy all of Price’s implications.  Yes, the Mi-Go are linked to the Himalayas but they aren’t in this story though, admittedly, the parasite may be one they feared.  (Russian Nikolai’s maiming seems to reveal a man, and not a Mi-Go, horribly injured by the parasite bursting from his body — though how it got to be the size and shape of an Old One is really explained). Nevertheless, it’s an effective story. There’s no reason why a Lovecraftian tale has to slavishly and precisely link itself to the details of the Cthulhu Mythos to work.

27 May 1945”, Kamino Okina, trans. Steven P. Venti — An interesting mythos story set during the midst of the Battle for Okinawa. A priestess of the island’s Cthulhu cult undertakes a mission to release, seemingly, some nascent Deep One forms from beneath Shuri Castle. There is a nice bit at the end of the story tying the destruction, that day, of the castle by an American battleship, the secret nuclear testing two years later on a South Pacific island, and the reluctance of American to have a G8 summit in 1992 at the restored castle to the events of the story.

Night Voices, Night Journeys”, Inoue Masahiko, trans. Edward Lipsett — Forgettable story that invokes the old sex-death link to little effect. The story explicitly mentions Yog-Sothoth.

Sacrifice”, Murata Motoi, trans Nora Stevens Heath — An odd story with a happy ending. A lot of stock horror elements are there:  an unfriendly village with a strange ritual/cult, an urbanite retreating to said village to heal an ill (bad skin), and the village has unusually large and prize vegetables due to their special soil. The protagonist fears his sick wife may be being prepared as some sort of human sacrifice to the Soil God who produces a soil so good that it may be eaten. Said soil may be the product of human sacrifice or, editor Price speculates, the excrement of the Soil God. Because of this speculation and because ingesting such large quantities of soil makes the protagonist’s wife youthful and beautiful and cures her dermatitis, I was reminded of the peculiar Japanese sexual fetish (not widespread) of eating human excrement.

Necrophallus”, Makino Asamu, trans Chun Jin — A sadomasochist tale that has a certain emotional believability and consistency. A sadist who likes to beat women and encounters a mysterious alien, figured like a woman, who may have been born on Yuggoth, her mother disfigured by her grandfather wielding the alien dagger Necrophallus, which maims the narrator and gives him ecstasy at the same time.

Love for Who Speaks”, Shibata Yoshiki — A reworking of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. Both stories feature “people” who find that they are really hybrids of humans and Great Old Ones, heredity calling them back to the ocean and an aquatic existence in the deep. But, whereas Lovecraft’s story is a horrifying revelation, genes pulling the hero to a repulsive fate (his cousin, after all, shoots himself rather than go to the ocean with the inhabitants of Innsmouth), the protagonist here finds freedom in not only realizing her biological destiny but escaping from the control of her unloving husband. It is the character of the husband — a gnostic like figure, editor Robert Price notes, who has become enamored with the pleasures of the surface world rather than attending to his calling of finding “women” who are daughters of the Great Old Ones –that has no comparable analog in the Lovecraft story.


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

Hardboiled Cthulhu

A retro review from March 10, 2009.

Review: Hardboiled Cthulhu: Two-Fisted Tales of Tentacled Terror, ed. James Ambuehl, 2006.Hardboiled Cthulhu

Down and out PIs, double-crossing dames, and wiseguys mix surprisingly well with the Cthulhu Mythos.

Some of those wiseguys are “Eldritch-Fellas“. Tim Curran’s tale of that name mixes said fellas trying to avoid an indictment by the Elder Gods with several hat tips to famous scenes from modern gangster movies and tv shows. Cthulhu, here, is, in the words of his bosses, “getting out of hand”. Funny, something of a tour de force, and one of the best stories in the book. The mob hitman narrating William Jones’ “A Change of Life” happens to be temporarily possessed by a member of the Great Race of Yith. The unusual perspective of the story, and the reason he involves himself with a singer fleeing Dutch Schulz, make this another highlight.

The mob enforcer of David Witteveen’s “Ache” has unexpected sympathy for his quarry, a youngster studying the Yellow Book and on the run for stealing mob money. E. P. Berglund’s “A Dangerous High” puts an ex-military policeman on the trail of a gang dealing in Tind’losi Liao, the drug from Frank Belknap Long’s classic mythos story “The Hounds of Tindalos”. Continue reading

The Dark Rites of Cthulhu


My review of the Brian M. Sammons edited collection The Dark Rites of Cthulhu is up at Innsmouth Free Press.

I like the “distressed paperback” look to the cover which follows in the wake of the ones done for Chris F. Holms’ Collector series.

Eldritch Chrome

My review is up at Innsmouth Free Press.Eldritch Chrome