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 Sect of the Idiot”

I’m a little late with this week’s subject of discussion by the Deep Ones over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Sect of the Idiot”, Thomas Ligotti, 1988.

Cover by John Coulthart

To be honest, I was not impressed by this Ligotti story, and I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it.

It’s long on atmosphere, short on plot, and doesn’t really have much effect in suggesting what it seems to want to suggest. 

Its unnamed narrator is in an unknown, gloomy town that sounds like something out of Lovecraft (or, maybe The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari).

He has a strange encounter with a man knocking on his door who comments on the view out the window. 

The narrator has longed dream of living in the town, so there seems to suggest that the town is more than just a metaphorical dream of his. 

The night after he meets the man he has a strange dream, a “triumph of the grotesque” which is the story’s most effective scene with its cloaked figures on strange chairs, all of the figures askew at weird angles. 

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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


This week’s Deep Ones reading over at LibraryThing is an early Ligotti work.

Review: “Vastarien”, Thomas Ligotti, 1987.New Lovecraft Circle

Ligotti’s story plays not only with some motifs of H. P. Lovecraft but a particular type of weird or horror tale.

It’s also a play on the bookworm clichés on “every book has an ideal reader”.

And it might be commentary on literary cultists and how some jealously guard their “exclusive” relationships with their literary gods.

The plot is, as you would expect from Ligotti, fairly uncomplicated. Continue reading

Written in Darkness

Review: Written in Darkness, Mark Samuels, 2017.Written in Darkness

Good weird fiction doesn’t lend itself to long reviews. The powers of the story are weakened when surprises are prematurely revealed. The effects of carefully paced narration are distorted or not conveyed. Latinate words like “alienation”, “identity”, “penance”, and “transformation” are cold and insufficient words of thematic taxonomy.

And Samuels’ collection is good weird fiction of a bleak yet, as Reggie Oliver notes in his introduction, exultant sort. The tone and effect may remind one of Thomas Ligotti, an author Samuels has called the greatest living writer of weird fiction. Yet Samuels rejects that writer’s materialistic nihilism.

So, I’m going to lightly touch on the stories first and then wrap up with some thoughts and analysis laden with spoilers. Continue reading

My Work Is Not Yet Done

In response to a recent comment from Sean Easton (of the R’lyeh Tribune — which you should be reading if you are interested in weird fiction), I’m reposting this retro review from August 8, 2009.

Review: My Work Is Not Yet Done, Thomas Ligotti, 2002.My Work Is Not Yet Done

Two of these “three tales of corporate horror” will fascinate many of those who have spent time as symbol manipulators in the offices of large corporations.

The collection’s titular short novel and “I Have a Special Plan for This World” expand on the themes of “Our Temporary Supervisor” and “The Town Manager”, two of the best stories in Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco. The narrators here work for companies whose ultimate goal is to produce nothing or baleful somethings and undertake a literally inhuman replacement of their workforce, the logical end to all this being a structure that is more shaped by an invisible tentacle than capitalism’s invisible hand.

The narrator of “My Work Is Not Yet Done” is a supervisor, Dominio by name though his boss Richard keeps calling him Domino. Said boss and six fellow supervisors become the target of Dominio’s revenge after getting him fired from the company. But on the way back from the gun store in preparation for his upcoming rampage – and Ligotti has the narrator wryly and concisely sum up all the reasons usually given for such rampages, something mysterious happens. Dominio’s vengeance takes an increasingly bizarre and supernatural turn, the world literally darkening with each killing. The novel ends with a surprising confrontation with Richard and attendant revelations. Continue reading

Teatro Grottesco

I’ve mentioned this one before. It’s one of my more popular reviews, so I might as well reproduce it in whole.

A retro review from November 21, 2008.

Review: Teatro Grottesco, Thomas Ligotti, 2007.Teatro Grottesco

Impressed enough by the Ligotti work I’ve seen in anthologies devoted to following up on H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, I bought this anthology.

Is Ligotti a Lovecraftian writer? Well, based on this collection – and I have no idea how representative it is – yes and no. There are no explicit Lovecraftian allusions in this collection – no references to the forbidden books, nightmare locations, and mysterious entities created by Lovecraft and those adding to the Mythos. Yet, the pre-eminent, most important aspect of Lovecraft’s work, “cosmic horror”, the “infinite terror and dreariness” of existence, as one story here puts it, is shared by Ligotti.

Yet, that horror is expressed in vaguer and more general terms than in Lovecraft. In one of his stories, the horrific revelation is one of man’s hidden evolutionary past, miscegenation in a family’s past, the existence of alien races. The revelation at the end of a Ligotti story is rarely so specific.

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Would You Like a Little Weird Fiction In Your Cultural Cavier?

Taki’s Magazine is an unexpected place to find the occasional review of science fiction and weird fiction, but editor Ann Sterzinger has made it part of the magazine’s fight “against the junk culture foisted upon us and mirages of a new world order.”

She has pounded out some genre related pieces:

More Second Thoughts on Ligotti

The Reconsidering Thomas Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco post seems to be one of my more viewed ones, no doubt because of the recent linkage between Ligotti and True Detective.

I just discovered, courtesy of Tentaclii, the R’lyeh Tribune blog.

There Sean Eaton takes a look at Ligotti’s My Work Is Not Yet Done which I reviewed here.

Reconsidering Thomas Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco

Not only am I rather compulsive about writing reviews, I also like to read all the reviews I can find of a work of fiction after I finish it.

Most of the time, the reviews are just plot recapitulations, vague statements of the work’s worth, restatements of opinions I had.

Every once in awhile, I get want I want: something that makes me reconsider what I read or ponder that I missed something.

Tychy’s review of Thomas Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco collection is just such a review. I’m not sure I agree with all his points, but, the next time I read Ligotti, I’ll keep them in mind.

My review, one of my most popular and controversial Amazon ones, reached different conclusions.

Compare and contrast as they say.