ThReads Must Roll: the new, improved rolling fantasy, science fiction, speculative fiction &c. thread

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Because the old one got too long and Shakey couldn't load it. A sequel to rolling fantasy, science fiction, speculative fiction &c. thread

fgtbaoutit (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 13 November 2014 00:51 (six years ago) link

Hoping to report on Report On Probability A in the near future.

fgtbaoutit (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 13 November 2014 00:54 (six years ago) link

Gregory Benford: Artifact --- archaeologists uncover lethal alien thingy in Mycenean burial ground. Not brilliantly written, but interesting enough to continue with. Entertainingly, for a book written in 1985, it contains early 21st-century Greece falling apart because of a worldwide economic depression/recession

ornamental cabbage (James Morrison), Thursday, 13 November 2014 01:11 (six years ago) link

lol @ thread title

Report on Probability A - was idly thinking of re-reading that recently, I remember being p underwhelmed by its central formal conceit. I expected it to be much loopier and disorienting. In general, Aldiss is v hit or miss for me (something I've read Moorcock attribute to his needing a good editor/manager, someone to set goals/targets for him). Cryptozoic is undreadable, for example, but I consider Barefoot in the Head from just a year or two later a masterpiece.

Οὖτις, Thursday, 13 November 2014 17:20 (six years ago) link

Brian W. "Crazy Baldhead" Aldiss

Junior Dadaismus (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 13 November 2014 17:27 (six years ago) link

Read rep on prob a at least twice a long time ago, didn't know anything about last year at marienbad but enjoyed the formal conceit and the last few pages made me want to high five him.

thread title capitalisation and constant reminder of that dunderheaded heinlein story is gonna make me rmde to eternity.

ledge, Friday, 14 November 2014 10:03 (six years ago) link

agonising as it may be for ledge, this restart is v handy for me, as I meant to start following the previous thread after the initial poll that prompted it, and then i didn't and then it got so long that my approach of 'I must read all of it before participating' turned into hiding from the thread and not ever talking about some of my favourite strands of writing :/

Fizzles, Friday, 14 November 2014 10:41 (six years ago) link

Sorry for thread title, ledge, I did it to annoy Shakey, not you.

Junior Dadaismus (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 14 November 2014 11:17 (six years ago) link

You are not the only one who couldn't read prior thread, Fizzles. Was constantly using the search feature or wondering where something was only to learn it was further upthread.

Junior Dadaismus (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 14 November 2014 11:26 (six years ago) link

Still slogging through the last of Atwood's Maddadam trilogy. The third book is piss-weak, slow going and uninteresting, and her stylistic flaws seem to show through more and more. Because it's sci-fi there's an attempt to be, I dunno, edgy or hardboiled or something and it's about as convincing as one of your parents trying on an ill-fitting leather jacket. Bit of a shame really, becaus eI enjoyed the first two books (Oryx & Crake / Year of the Flood) immensely.

joni mitchell jarre (dog latin), Friday, 14 November 2014 11:34 (six years ago) link

I think I forgotten to say on the previous thread that another one of the best features on fantasticfiction site is it shows you the blurbs writers have done for other people's books.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Friday, 14 November 2014 14:35 (six years ago) link

Cool I'll just keep pasting in stuff from prev thread everytime somebody mentions something already discussed thoroughly, as I kept etc on prev thread its own self. Speaking of blurbs, here's a good 'un from a recent library shop score, Wandering Stars, An Anthology of Jewish Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Jack Dann, Introduction by Isaac Asimov:
I loved Wandering Stars, and why not? Two of the thirteen stories are from Orbit, and I would have bought seven of the rest if I had got my hands on them first. If the book had nothing else going for it, it would still be a triumph to get William Tenn to write the great story he was talking about in the fifties.--Damon Knight
(Also a blurb from Leo Rosten, who wrote The Education of Hyman Kaplan, about an immigrant who tends to take over English classes with his own versions and visions of language and lit.)

dow, Friday, 14 November 2014 15:47 (six years ago) link

Contents (some of these titles are corny, but the few stories I kinda remember from mags etc were good):

"Why Me?" by Isaac Asimov

William Tenn: "On Venus, Have We Got A Rabbi"

Avram Davidson: "The Golem"

Isaac Asimov: "Unto the Fourth Generation"

Carol Carr: "Look, You Think You've Got Troubles"

Avram Davidson: "Goslin Day"

Robert Silverberg: "The Dybbuk of Mazel Tov IV"

Horace L. Gold: "Trouble With Water"

Pamela Sargent: "Gather Blue Roses"

Bernard Malamud: "The Jewbird"

Geo. Alec Effinger: "Paradise Lost"

Robert Sheckley: "Street of Dreams, Feet of Clay"

Isaac Bashevis Singer: Jachid and Jechidah"

Harlan Ellison: "I'm Looking For Kadah"

dow, Friday, 14 November 2014 16:00 (six years ago) link

I just looked at a full schedule of all the books on SF Gateway (presumably this is the ebook titles). It's 2599 books!
Cant remember where I found the document.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Friday, 14 November 2014 21:16 (six years ago) link

UK or US or other?

Junior Dadaismus (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 14 November 2014 21:39 (six years ago) link

Probably UK

Robert Adam Gilmour, Friday, 14 November 2014 22:02 (six years ago) link

Considerably fewer in US

Junior Dadaismus (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 14 November 2014 22:12 (six years ago) link

Mark Sinker makes some connections (for inst., between Gothic and Futurist lit) new to me, after viewing the National Gallery's William Morris exhibition:

dow, Sunday, 16 November 2014 14:51 (six years ago) link

Thanks. Surely the friend mentioned there is an ILB poster.

Junior Dadaismus (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 16 November 2014 14:59 (six years ago) link

RMDE at that this thread title too, as well as the terrible screenname I had at the time. Don't know why I did it. I guess the door dilated and I just had to go through it.

Junior Dadaismus (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 16 November 2014 14:59 (six years ago) link

before I forget: this Brazilian writer recently died and Clute tweeted link to very appealing SFE overview of his work:

dow, Sunday, 16 November 2014 15:51 (six years ago) link

Ooh! I mean RIP but yknow

Οὖτις, Sunday, 16 November 2014 16:02 (six years ago) link

Thanks. Often hard to find something like that in translation or even not in translation. Wonder if he had anything in that Cosmos Latinos anthology? Don't seem to recognize the name.

Junior Dadaismus (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 16 November 2014 16:03 (six years ago) link

(xp, obv)

Junior Dadaismus (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 16 November 2014 16:03 (six years ago) link

okay, "Brain Transplant."

Junior Dadaismus (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 16 November 2014 16:05 (six years ago) link

I've only read Brain Transplant but would def read more provided stuff gets translated

Οὖτις, Sunday, 16 November 2014 16:06 (six years ago) link

Hey James, tried to reply to yr kind email, but it won't let us reply directly, and the webmail form has the worst captcha evah, I refreshed it a half-dozen times, got rejected over and over and over and over and over and over. So I'll reply here: thanks, you keep up the good posts too!

dow, Monday, 17 November 2014 02:06 (six years ago) link

has this been posted already?

Οὖτις, Monday, 17 November 2014 16:18 (six years ago) link

Laird Barron wrote a parody of the horror/weird scene, it included jabs at Mark Samuels in particular (however serious they were intended, nobody knows), there was some discussion of this at the Ligotti forum and eventually that resulted in Justin Isis writing hilarious rap battle lyrics.
Several spread across this page

Robert Adam Gilmour, Monday, 17 November 2014 23:35 (six years ago) link

The xpost link to Mark Sinker's William Morris exhibit etc is back online this afternoon. Read that before reading further, for max headroom:
When his fellow visitor/ILXor xyzzz (sic?) said it was down this morning, I told Mark, and we had this email exchange:

Mark:oh cheers, yes, the guy who hosts it (on a laptop in his spare room) sometimes has to reboot :)

me: OK, will keep in mind. I fairly recently got into Morris and those Kipling stories (if you meant "As Easy As A-B-C" and "With The Night Mail," for inst), but hadn't made the connection. Now I'm also thinking of Blade Runner's Earth, a mostly abandoned First World-as-Third World backstreet, where it rains all night in perpetual eco-ruins; also PKD's original setting, more like a slightly-future-to-us Beijing, with workers scuttling between buildings, hoping not to be singed/cancer-seeded by the invisible sun. Some later Tiptree stories too, and Mary Shelley's The Last Man, for me amazing as Frankenstein.
Probably some of Kim Stanley Robinson's later novels too, though they've gotten so long I may never know (early The Wild Shore was fine, best I recall). But I recently saw a mention of "cli-fi" as emerging trend, so we may get sick of the whole thing even before it all comes true.

Mark: Yes, Kipling’s mum was related to a famous Pre-Raphaelite in the Morris circle — his dad of course ran the Lucknow museum — and when he was boarded in England as kid (not the notorious time that became Baa Baa Black Sheep) he stayed with the De Morgans, who were also minor slebs in Arts&Crafts terms: William DM a high-end potter and tile designer (he did the fireplaces for the Titanic iirc!)

Yrs partly (Kipling's)sic-fi stories, but also the stories about ships and trains and cars — esp.the ones from the perspective of the train or ship. The ones abt cars are really intriguing: he was totally an early adopter.

me: Didn't know any of that, thanks! Will def have to read more Kipling----recently found one of his I mentioned in an anth w HG's "The Land Ironclads"---getting back into Wells, and suspect the Eloi and Morlocks might have gotten Morris (and Tolkien) going. Finally read The Lord Of The Rings, and feel like I totally/mostly get it! Specific associations re the "not allegorical, dammit!" Ring/magic can shift, but lately I think of fossil fuels as thee ancient source of modern marvels, source which must now be sacrificed to/for any chance of future lives, bearable legacy But once that ship sails off into the autumn sea, it sails, buddy. So the book is a tragedy, but fairly often experienced as a comedy, in a commedia sense: fascination of the vivid details, robustly acted out, with some mortal meat joy, and other meat conditions.

dow, Tuesday, 18 November 2014 19:08 (six years ago) link

William DM a high-end potter and tile designer (he did the fireplaces for the Titanic iirc!

De Morgan Centre looking for a foothold. (Those are Tolkien's ships, right there)

alimosina, Thursday, 20 November 2014 01:24 (six years ago) link

Just heard "Dream Weaver" on the radio. Wasn't there an sf writer named Gary Wright who had a much anthologized story about some futuristic luge called something like "Ice Slide"? "Ice Capades"? "Ice Rink" ? "Ice Mutants"? and then was never heard from again? I'll guess I'll see what Clute & Co have to say.

Junior Dadaismus (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 23 November 2014 20:44 (six years ago) link
"Mirror of Ice"

Junior Dadaismus (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 23 November 2014 20:48 (six years ago) link

Looks like some Canadian teacher assigned it to his students to adapt as a short film. Don't think it was clemenza, though.

Junior Dadaismus (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 23 November 2014 20:55 (six years ago) link

Can anyone tell me what on earth Science Fiction Poetry is? Poems of fantasy and horror just uses tropes of those genres but how do you achieve the conceptual framework of SF in poetry? Because without that, the tropes by themselves would just be fantasy poems or poems about radical change.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Sunday, 23 November 2014 20:56 (six years ago) link

If you have to ask you'll never know.

Tom Disch might have had something to tell you about it, but he is sadly no longer with us.

Junior Dadaismus (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 23 November 2014 21:00 (six years ago) link

Oh gosh, now that you mention it, I've seen poetry in science fiction mags as far back as I can remember, though I don't remember any specific poem, at least in part because I haven't read any sf mags in a long time. I do remember there being quite a range, from short light verse (limericks, even)to much more ambitious testimonials and mini-sagas(never got much space in the page sense).
I'll have to dig up some of those zines; meanwhile this looks like a good place to start:

dow, Sunday, 23 November 2014 22:22 (six years ago) link

Also notable were the infusion of a quantity of poetry into the text of Brian W Aldiss's novel Barefoot in the Head (1969)

Thinking about what Aldiss to read next, since I finished Report on Probability A , which I will give a report grade of 'A' to, and this is on my short list.

There are some poems in the anthology Sense of Wonder.

Junior Dadaismus (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 23 November 2014 22:51 (six years ago) link

Just came across a 1962 American printing of The Long Afternoon of Earth, AKA Hothouse; unabridged edition didn't come out in the US 'til 76.

dow, Sunday, 23 November 2014 23:37 (six years ago) link

Did you buy it? It is currently out of print. I loved the story/extract in the Silverberg SF 101 book, as mentioned on prior thread.

Junior Dadaismus (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 23 November 2014 23:41 (six years ago) link

This is the abridged version I got (for 25 cents),204,203,200_.jpg

dow, Monday, 24 November 2014 00:00 (six years ago) link

in terms of thematic vibe, this cover may be more appropriate, but the UK is awesome o coures

dow, Monday, 24 November 2014 00:01 (six years ago) link

In your favorite online sf reference work I believe that book has the tag ***SEMISPOILER ALERT** "Space Elevator" **END OF SEMISPOILER ALERT

Junior Dadaismus (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 24 November 2014 00:28 (six years ago) link

Vandermeer has come back to one he still thinks is underappreciated. The title and author seem vaguely familiar; anybody read it?

dow, Monday, 24 November 2014 05:22 (six years ago) link

New Yorker won't let me link, but check out Laura Miller's "Fresh Hell" for clear lens view of profuse YA dystopias, and how the lit varies from Classic adult-aimed (later school-assigned). TNY's Amy Davidson later agrees with much but not all of Miller's take.

dow, Tuesday, 25 November 2014 17:40 (six years ago) link

been reading LeGuin's "A Fisherman of the Inland Sea" (they had it at the library). I took Disch to task in "The Dreams Our Stuff is Made of" for his attacks on her, and while I won't recant on that count (he was unnecessarily harsh and dismissive), she really can let her didacticism get in the way. I can think of few fiction writers that have a more keenly developed political agenda that is so readily apparent in their work. Ayn Rand obviously (lol) and Heinlein and Scott Card I suppose. But LeGuin's well to the left of those boorish blowhards, and arguably more audacious conceptually. I wonder if I should go back and re-read the Kestrel books for any political subtext I may have missed in jr high, I always liked those...

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 25 November 2014 22:17 (six years ago) link

I don't think I'll read her for a very long time unless I come across her work in anthologies. Because once Moorcock said her work was self-consciously literary and left him cold. But he was very fond of her as a person.

That really put me off and what you say here adds to that. But Wizard Of Earthsea is an attractive name so I'm not totally discouraged.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Wednesday, 26 November 2014 01:28 (six years ago) link

Moorcock doesn't always make the right choices...

Even people I know who don't usually like her (or science fiction in general) tend to like this

dow, Wednesday, 26 November 2014 01:40 (six years ago) link

this site seems to say good things about it.

An Andalusian Do-rag (James Redd and the Blecchs), Saturday, 14 November 2020 21:08 (two months ago) link

Ha, I never knew that the discussion he had with Iain Banks which led to Light took place at The Groucho Club.

An Andalusian Do-rag (James Redd and the Blecchs), Saturday, 14 November 2020 21:14 (two months ago) link

He apparently also has a recent career overview short story collection out, Settling the World. Loved the title story when it led off Things that Never Happen.

An Andalusian Do-rag (James Redd and the Blecchs), Saturday, 14 November 2020 22:51 (two months ago) link

The Greater Trumps (1932) by Charles Williams is a powerful metaphysical thriller inspired by the symbolism of the Tarot cards. According to his latest biographer, Grevel Lindop, Williams possessed a copy of the Marseilles pack, and probably also the Rider-Waite pack. He may have learned aspects of the Tarot from A E Waite, since he was an initiate in the latter’s Fellowship of the Rosy Cross.

However, his book was not the first novel to use the Tarot as a guiding motif. As a widely-read editor at the Oxford University Press, in touch with contemporary fiction, Williams may also at least have heard of an earlier novel involving the cards.

Helen Simpson’s Cups Wands and Swords (Heinemann, 1927) begins with a Tarot reading, and each chapter is named after a Tarot card. The novel follows a group of young bohemians in Chelsea and Oxford in the 1920s. Tony and Celia Riddle are orphaned twins, by turns tender and quarrelsome with each other. From an old and fairly well-off Australian family, they were separated when Tony was sent to public school in England at an early age, while Celia remained behind. He now has the Oxford accent while she still retains Australian intonations: but the differences seem to go deeper than that.

In the opening chapter, Dominick, an Irish friend of Tony, reads the cards for Celia and finds them difficult, puzzling. The book will, in oblique ways, follow the fall of the cards and illuminate what they may have meant. The ambience of the book is not unlike Mary Butts’ modernist Grail novel Armed With Madness (1930), also about tempestuous bohemians getting involved with the esoteric.

The mystical and supernatural in Helen Simpson’s novel, apart from the influence of the cards, is subtly drawn. The first hint is when Celia, looking at the sunlight glinting on a teaspoon, seems to hover close to another dimension and is briefly able to read her brother’s thoughts. Shared understandings are not uncommon in twins but here it is implied that this is more than that: she ‘receives’ a picture of what he was thinking. The possibility of telepathy between twins is strongly present throughout the novel.

Supernatural incidents and impressions continue to pervade the book, not forcefully but allusively, interweaving with the lives of Celia, Tony and their friends. There is a glimpse of the majestic figures from a 17th century grimoire, and there is a seance in which a mysterious form links three of those present.

Aspects of the book are evidently autobiographical. Helen Simpson was born in Sydney but came to England as a young woman in her late teens and made her home there. Celia’s responses to the country and its contrasts with her homeland are fresh and observant and no doubt reflect her own experiences. She also evidently had an interest in the esoteric, and shared this with two close writer friends, Clemence Dane (with whom she collaborated on detective novels) and Gladys Mitchell.
She was thirty years old when Cups Wands and Swords, her second novel, was published. It shows a keen, sophisticated understanding of the Tarot symbolism. There are today hundreds of Tarot designs and Tarot-like oracle cards, but in her time it would have been a much more arcane matter. No doubt, however, it became better-known as part of the upsurge of interest in the esoteric that followed the Great War (see, for example, my catalogue for 1920 in an earlier post). Packs could be obtained from Rider, the noted occult publisher, and no doubt from certain avant-garde emporia.

T S Eliot’s allusion to the ‘wicked pack of cards’ consulted by Madame Sosostris in ‘The Waste Land’, first published in periodicals in late 1922, no doubt gives a sense of the Tarot’s reputation just a few years before Helen Simpson was writing her novel.

As well as the Tarot and the subtle supernatural elements in the book, another attraction is the cast of picturesque characters, particularly the minor characters. These include a female conjurer, who occupies the top floor of the lodging house where Tony and Celia live, and imbibes ‘port and splash’ (of soda) for her health; and a foppish Oxford aesthete who is a connoisseur of incense and rare liqueurs. Another brief supernatural moment occurs when she burns one of the incense cones he gives her and the smoke begins to form a shape. Again, incense, now widely available in new age shops and elsewhere, was evidently still regarded then as exotic and faintly suspicious.

The emotional tension of the book derives from Tony’s dislike when his twin becomes attracted to one of his friends, Philip. He at first finds devious ways of preventing them meeting, but then acquiesces, thinking he will be able to retain his influence over her. Partly this could be due to his feeling of being ‘in loco parentis’ and responsible for his sister, who has not his experience of cosmopolitan life, but he is also presented as petulant and possessive. The plot follows Celia’s halting liberation from this. There is a powerful, eerie, well-devised ending involving an apparition that may be in part psychological in origin but yet also strongly implies a supernatural presence.

Helen Simpson went on to write ten more novels (including the collaborations), several of them historical. Boomerang (1932) won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, then perhaps the leading prize for fiction, and Under Capricorn (1937) was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock. She also wrote two historical studies, some miscellaneous non-fiction and a handful of plays.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography notice by Alan Roberts evokes her thus: ‘Handsome, dark, with 'bright brown eyes' and a determined chin, Helen was a fine horsewoman and fencer, who collected antiques, Elizabethan cookery books and works on witchcraft. She had great charm and vitality and developed a forceful style, with a touch of showmanship in some mannerisms such as taking snuff.’

While the Williams novel is told with his customary gusto and clamour, Helen Simpson's Cups Wands and Swords offers a nuanced treatment of the Tarot and its possibilities, but is equally compelling. It is an excellent example of an intelligent metaphysical thriller with contemporary edge, and ought to be better-known among savants of the esoteric and the fantastic.

(Mark Valentine) Lots of links to prev posts and other blogs ov esoterika (literary)

dow, Wednesday, 18 November 2020 00:05 (one month ago) link
People have a lot of concerns about this, but my biggest one is cutting out some stories because they're too outdated. Sounds like a terrible idea but I suspect it's actually because they're really offensive (or dangerous).

Robert Adam Gilmour, Saturday, 21 November 2020 18:09 (one month ago) link

I like that Tartarus tells you in their newsletter what's low on stock.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Monday, 23 November 2020 21:12 (one month ago) link

xpost yeah datedness doesn't nec. go too much vs. readability, and can add to historical interest, esp. if you think something considered daring/wtf? when orig. published was a nec. precedent for something that still seems stronger---your posts incl. link reminding me of my comment from late last year:

I enjoyed just about every story in xpost The Future is Female ---a few of the Messages didn't quite make it over the finish line w undiminished momentum, but all takes remained v readable, with editor's mostly astute and always expert delving into wide span of eras and approaches. My fave discoveries are Sonya Dorman (described by ed. as New Wave vanguard, got into the first Dangerous Visions ). Here we get the affecting poetic compression of "When I Was Miss Dow," as oops upside the head to me as the relatively slo-mo, yet perfectly timed "Birth of a Gardener," by Doris Pitkin Buck (...her short story "Cacophony in Pink and Ochre" is...slated to appear in...The Last Dangerous Visions .") Dorman has several stories posted here and there, haven't had (even) as much luck with Buck yet, no collections of either, which makes me sad. Could always buy up quite a few back issues of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science, make my own bootleg anths, but I'm not that sad.

― dow, Tuesday, December 24, 2019 10:00 AM (eleven months ago)

dow, Friday, 27 November 2020 19:36 (one month ago) link

Any of yall read any of these? Brief descriptions seem promising, though mention of one lil underdog finding his "special destiny' is an uh-oh, as describer acknowledges.

dow, Sunday, 29 November 2020 19:58 (one month ago) link

Haven’t read any, but Adam Roberts usually seems to be a reasonable critic.

Robert Gotopieces (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 29 November 2020 20:07 (one month ago) link

I have wanted the McAuley, Callender and Pheby books, I've heard they're all great. That's a surprisingly short list, I'm sure Roberts was a judge this year on something.

Looking foward to the Strange Horizons year end list, always a fun read.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Sunday, 29 November 2020 20:15 (one month ago) link

latest dispatch from Wormwoodia:

Robert Herring (1903-75) was the 23 year old author of The President’s Hat (1926), a novel presented in the form of a travel book, with drawings by Hubert Williams, about a walking tour in Andorra and the Pyrenees. They did not in fact undertake any such journey and the whole thing is imagined, an armchair spoof. It is a flippant, high-spirited jaunt that reads, however, persuasively in its light parody of the typical oblivious young Englishman abroad. It’s a highly engaging, whimsical odyssey.

Since its form is unreliable and the content a fantasia there is an experimental dimension to the novel that is not immediately obvious. It might be put perhaps somewhere in the same category as the work of Ronald Firbank, who visited places only after he had finished writing about them, or (later) Jocelyn Brooke in such titles as The Dog at Clambercrown (1955) and The Crisis in Bulgaria (1956).

Hering was later the editor of the journal Life and Letters To-Day, which also took over The London Mercury, and he was known as an early film critic, writing several books on the subject. Otherwise his bibliography is mostly of limited editions of a few plays, poems and fantasias.

However, the wartime Gollancz paperback anthology Transformation (1943) edited by Stefan Schimanski and Henry Treece includes a one act verse play, in six scenes and an epilogue, by Robert Herring, entitled ‘Harlequin Mercutio, Or, A Plague on Both Your Houses (A Ride Through Raids to Resurrection)’. It is a sort of Blitz fantasia on Shakespeare, in which characters from the plays appear in the ruins of London. It concludes with the rediscovery of Merlin, here representing ‘the good in Man, and hence his power of self-help and resurrection.’

The poetic diction and neo-Romantic style are similar to the better-known plays of his contemporary Christopher Fry (A Phoenix Too Frequent, 1946, The Lady’s Not for Burning, 1948, etc); and some of the imagery suggest the work of artists such as Paul Nash and John Piper, for example the striking idea of ruined London as a new Stonehenge. We are in the realm of what the art critic Alexandra Harris has called ‘the Romantic Moderns’.

‘Pieces of Apocalypse’, a recent critical commentary by Richard Warren on this otherwise forgotten play, remarks that ‘the overall effect – Shakespearian verse drama enacted by Jungian archetypes and set in the London Blitz – is, frankly, bizarre’ and adds that ‘ as a piece of theatre, not that it was intended as such, Harlequin Mercutio would be unperformable. As an extended poem or (hypothetically) a radio play, it is incoherent, wilfully difficult and virtually unreadable. But there is something oddly brave about it . . .’

I think that it is in fact best read as a narrative poem in the mode of ‘The Waste Land’ and indeed some of the imagery seems to have echoes of Eliot’s epochal poem. The ‘highly condensed and fractured syntax’ that Warren also notices is not dissimilar to the modernist prose of Mary Butts, allusive and elliptical. It also has its fragmented Blitz imagery in common with similar haunted fantasies such as Elizabeth Bowen’s ‘Mysterious Kôr’ (from The Demon Lover and Other Stories, 1945) and G W Stonier’s The Memoirs of a Ghost (1947), both discussed in my A Wild Tumultory Library (2019). Herring's play is dream-like, eerie, strangely compelling, with many slivers of weird imagery.

It was only two years later that C S Lewis, in his metaphysical thriller That Hideous Strength (1945), also wrote about the rediscovery and revivification of Merlin, and what I remember of this scene is that he is not presented as a haughty mage but rather as a crafty, wily peasant cunning-man. Also that he speaks a tongue no-one can understand until they bring in a priest with a knowledge of Basque (since this is believed to be one of the oldest European languages). Though he is using a figure from Arthurian romance, Lewis does not depict him in the least romantically, and this is a sound artistic choice, because his atavistic Merlin has a deeper, more disorienting power.

It seem unlikely that Lewis, not perhaps particularly attuned to avant-garde literature, had heard of Herring’s play, but it is possible. He certainly took an interest in his close friend Charles Williams’ sacred dramas and his Arthurian poems, so a transcendent play with an Arthurian figure might have come to their attention. In any case it is curious that two literary figures should both decide to revive Merlin within a few years of each other. Perhaps the archetypal magician was making his presence felt.

(Mark Valentine)

Image: bibliosophy. Links, pixs:

dow, Wednesday, 2 December 2020 00:24 (one month ago) link

It also has its fragmented Blitz imagery in common with similar haunted fantasies such as Elizabeth Bowen’s ‘Mysterious Kôr’ Really striking, incl also in Bowen's invaluable doorstop The Collected Stories.

dow, Wednesday, 2 December 2020 00:28 (one month ago) link

Say what?

Robert Gotopieces (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 2 December 2020 00:40 (one month ago) link

Hey this thread. I recently started Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis / Lillith's Brood on Audible. Good so far. Pretty creepy and gross in places

Specific Ocean Blue (dog latin), Wednesday, 2 December 2020 01:22 (one month ago) link
I agree with much of this but I just can't go along with this about the standard romance genre books

it’s indeed very important to portray romantic relationships with healthy dynamics, because the relationships in romance are intended to be fantasies that readers can picture themselves in

Are there really people who think Hiddleston is too positively portrayed in Crimson Peak?

I've went back and forth on a lot stuff but I think worrying too much about how your dumbest audience members are going to take stuff will damage your art. People who take Scarface as a hero probably cannot be reached by art trying to convince them otherwise.

A lot of online erotica has disclaimers at the start saying "THIS IS NOT OKAY IN REAL LIFE, just imaginative fun" and I've been wondering how necessary it is. Does anyone really need that for Suehiro Maruo or is the horror just too obvious? I've been reading reviews of bodice rippers recently and some of them sound enjoyably nuts but some of the audience seems to treat the male characters as Real Men, should we write them off with the dumb gangster movie fans?

Robert Adam Gilmour, Thursday, 3 December 2020 20:29 (one month ago) link

It's difficult to explain why off the top of my head but I also think lowering your expectations of audiences seems kind of dangerous.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Thursday, 3 December 2020 20:32 (one month ago) link

I was thinking of noting in a future review what an unpleasant person a character was in a book (Tanith Lee) but I started feeling like a was making a concession to people who object to reading horrible man characters.

It shouldn't be a shock that Dracula is not nice but I have to admit it taken me slightly aback just how much of a relentless bastard he is.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Thursday, 3 December 2020 20:47 (one month ago) link

Meant to say "horrible main characters" but it is funny that I wrote "horrible man characters"

Robert Adam Gilmour, Thursday, 3 December 2020 21:54 (one month ago) link

You're making me remember the shit-eating apologies they used to print at the start of Palladium's role-playing rulebooks in the 1990s, along the liens of "We don't support using the Occult! This is just a game! Please don't Satanic-panic sue us!"

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Friday, 4 December 2020 01:56 (one month ago) link

It shouldn't be a shock that Dracula is not nice but I have to admit it taken me slightly aback just how much of a relentless bastard he is. As well you might be. Good work, Bram Stoker.

dow, Friday, 4 December 2020 04:47 (one month ago) link

bounced hard off this year's hugo best novel winner, a memory of empire by one arkady martine. SO MANY NONSENSE WORDS IN ITALICS. why is a doctor an ixtaplan. it's just so fucking dorky.

adam, Friday, 4 December 2020 17:32 (one month ago) link

Haha yes exactly, I'm trying with that one too but having the same issue.

change display name (Jordan), Friday, 4 December 2020 17:36 (one month ago) link

gave up on that 50 pages in or so, couldn't bear the nonsense words or silly names or incredibly irritating narrative voice.

ledge, Friday, 4 December 2020 17:56 (one month ago) link

Oops, confused it from the description with 'Too like the lightning', I did finish it! Seems like she read 'Ancillary Justice' and thought 'I can do that', it was decent YA at best and the protagonist was annoyingly 'gee whillikers!' but it wasn't half as irritating as TLTL.

ledge, Friday, 4 December 2020 18:12 (one month ago) link

I also finished Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, which I might have read for the title alone if I hadn't already enjoyed her Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. But it wasn't the dark, heavy fantasy I was expecting, instead a rather thin mystery set in a vast house inspired by but not as varied or ominous as Piranesi's Prisons, with at first only two characters, and only four main ones in total, the mystery being who they are and where and what is the house. It's all narrated by one of the characters and once it become clear what was going on I didn't find it a very pleasant headspace to be in.

ledge, Friday, 4 December 2020 20:28 (one month ago) link

I heard she wrote it all with lyme disease.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Saturday, 5 December 2020 00:14 (one month ago) link
First cover reminds me of "mind blown" gif

Robert Adam Gilmour, Saturday, 5 December 2020 20:27 (one month ago) link

Thanks! Some great comments in there too, incl. from writers, supposedly. Several mention Dhalgren. but really anything of his 60s-70s books that I've read (back when I still smoked weed and did shrooms) pertain, esp. Heavenly Breakfast, which I thought at thee tyme was fiction but have since seen it commonly referred to as memoir; also, the band Heavenly Breakfast, with whom he lives and plays in this account, may have released an albu---think I saw it listed somewhere once; anyway, gotta go but wiki sez:
Heavenly Breakfast: An Essay on the Winter of Love is a 1979 memoir by author, professor, and critic Samuel R. Delany.[1] It details the time he spent living in a commune in New York City during the winter of 1967-1968,[2] although altering some details.[3]

Heavenly Breakfast was also the name of the rock band that lived in the commune, which consisted of Steve Wiseman, Susan Schweers, Bert Lee (later of the Central Park Sheiks),[4] and Delany.[5]

The book is one of several autobiographical works by Delany.[6][7]


dow, Saturday, 5 December 2020 22:08 (one month ago) link

I've been reading a few stories from A Treasury of Great Science Fiction, ed. Anthony Boucher, a 1959 anthology of stories and novellas in 2 volumes, which was a hand-me-down from my dad, in what appears to be the Science Fiction Book Club edition. I enjoyed THE CHILDREN’S HOUR by Henry Kuttner & C. L. Moore and THE (WIDGET), THE (WADGET), AND BOFF by Theodore Sturgeon, both take place in a normal present-day world though increasingly odd events eventually reveal that not all those who walk among us are as they appear to be.

o. nate, Sunday, 6 December 2020 03:49 (one month ago) link

I remember those, from my childhood in the SFBC---wonder if I still have the set? Probably.

dow, Sunday, 6 December 2020 04:19 (one month ago) link

Any of yall read any of these? Brief descriptions seem promising, though mention of one lil underdog finding his "special destiny' is an uh-oh, as describer acknowledges.

paul j mcauley one looks up my street, haven't read any of his stuff before so thought i'd start with his first, 400 billion stars, as it was a bit cheaper & i'm tight. pretty good, descriptively written, bit planet bound for my liking (nothing wrong with planet bound sf but it didn't inspire that galaxy spanning sense of awe). definitely veered towards hard science fantasy - lots of plausible sounding biology and astrophysics but when it came to the crunch the main plot device was handwaved away. not as bad as peter f hamilton who actually smuggles magic into his 'hard' sf though. anyway i'll give 'war of the maps' a go, can't resist me a far-future cosmic megastructure.

ledge, Tuesday, 8 December 2020 12:07 (one month ago) link

Oh I also recently finished The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull, a first contact story set in the US Virgin Islands. Entirely earthbound, and the aliens mostly in the background and technologically benevolent, except when when they get insulted or attacked, when they might rip your arm off or your dog in half. Aside from that it reads like regular present day slice of life lit fic - the midlife crisis dad, the daughter who wants to escape, the mother who is uncertain how to feel about her female friend and co-worker, who once kissed her - but it ties in the alien visit with stories from the islands' colonial past. I thought its pairing of SF and regular fiction was quite original and successful.

ledge, Tuesday, 8 December 2020 13:45 (one month ago) link

I thought that sounded interesting too, but the aliens were so boringly unalien for the most part that I couldn't be bothered finishing it.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Wednesday, 9 December 2020 02:23 (one month ago) link

Singer from Carpe Noctem's novel
He also edits an SFF magazine in Iceland

There's been good reviews and Aliette De Bodard giving it a thumbs up.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Saturday, 12 December 2020 22:17 (one month ago) link

By Douglas A. Anderson, editor of the excellent Tales Before Tolkien etc.:

RIP: Alison Lurie (1926-2020)
I'm saddened again to report another death, this time of novelist and children's literature expert, Alison Lurie, at the age of 94. A long time ago I was one of her students, and we kept in occasional touch and swapped books in the years afterwards. She gave a nice blurb for the 1996 reissue of
The Marvellous Land of Snergs, by E.A. Wyke-Smith, the 1927 children's novel that inspired The Hobbit. I recall that she also asked me for suggestions for inclusion in her Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales (1993), and presented me with an inscribed copy on publication.
much more here:

dow, Monday, 14 December 2020 04:04 (one month ago) link

From Rolling Obits over on ILE:
Alison Lurie on 12/3

― MrDasher, Friday, December 11, 2020 11:11 AM (three days ago) bookmarkflaglink

I had one of those "people you didn't know were still alive" moments with Lurie a while back; I've been referring to her academic writing on "subversive children's literature" quite a bit in my own dissertation. RIP.

― Langdon Alger Stole the Highlights (cryptosicko), Friday, December 11, 2020

dow, Tuesday, 15 December 2020 03:55 (one month ago) link
Been meaning to get Born To Exile for a while.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Wednesday, 16 December 2020 00:36 (one month ago) link

Wow---didn't know her or know much of her writing and other activities, but after reading that, I miss her too.

dow, Wednesday, 16 December 2020 04:04 (one month ago) link

Was just going to excerpt this, but here's your Christmas feast of paste:

M R James and The Folk-Song Collector

In a bound volume of the London Mercury I have, its binding faded to madder red, there is an essay in the May 1921 issue, by I.A. Williams, entitled ‘Notes on a Small Collection of Folk-Songs’.

Williams was a regular columnist for the journal under the heading ‘Bibliographical Notes & News’, on recent book auctions, catalogues and discoveries, and was evidently himself a keen book-collector.

However, in this contribution he celebrates another interest of his. Williams recalls how last Christmas Eve two ragged and hungry children had come to his door in Surrey and sung a carol, ‘The Moon Shines Bright’, which went well enough until the last three verses, where ‘ . . .something appears to have gone wrong. The beauty is there right enough, but it has got mixed up and broken somehow’.

Indeed, a graveyard song seems to have obtruded itself on the carol with an unseasonal memento mori (‘there’s a green turf at your head, good man’), before the duo ended with more conventional hopes for a Happy New Year, and were rewarded with the food they preferred to coin.

These visitors reminded him of ‘a small collection, of about a hundred folk-songs, which I had made a few years ago during the very ample “vacs” of my undergraduate days.’ He was in fact a student at King’s College, Cambridge, during the period when M R James was Provost. His notes were contained in three notebooks, which he began to browse through, remembering the (mainly) old men and women who had sung the songs to him, in return for a sixpence or, at Christmas, half a crown.

The first thing he looked for, he tells us, was another carol, ‘taken down on Christmas Day, 1912, from a gipsy man and woman who came to our house singing to the accompaniment of a tambourine and a concertina.’ This was called ‘King Pharaoh’ and, though also muddled, proved to contain a rather curious myth.

‘King Pharaoh sat a-musing,/A-musing all alone,/Up came our blessed Saviour,/And it was to him I own.’ Where have you come from? asks Pharaoh: ‘out of the land of Egypt’ is the reply. If it is true, says the Egyptian king, that you are sprung from the Holy Ghost, why that roasted cock there will crow three times.

The bird restores all its feathers to itself and duly obliges: ‘Three times the roasted cock did crow/On the plate where [he] did stand.’ The song then veers off to another legend, about how corn was miraculously sown and reaped the same day.

‘To what antiquity does this carol carry us back?’ asks the essayist. Well, ‘Dr. M.R. James has written in the Cambridge Antiquarian Society’s Communications, Vol X’ of ‘the roasted cock crowing, and thus bringing about the conversion of an unbeliever’. The latter, it seems, is more usually King Herod than King Pharaoh. This would make more sense in the context of the song, since it looks odd to go ‘out of Egypt’ to find Pharaoh.

(Though another possibility occurs to me, which is that by King Pharaoh the gypsy couple meant, not the Egyptian ruler, but the King of the Fairies, which would make the song more interesting still . . .)

‘Dr James,’ continues I A Williams, ‘records versions of this legend from Denmark, the Faroe Islands, and Sweden, as well as similar miracles among pilgrims and travellers in France, Italy, and Spain. He also tells of earlier forms of the tale in some copies of the so-called Gospel of Nicodemus.’ In this case the cock is in a pot being cooked by Judas’s wife and pops up alive and feathered to announce the Resurrection.

Williams then quotes M R James’ theory about the story: ‘I am inclined to think’, says James, ‘that the incident has been elaborated out of the story of Peter’s denial, and that the first step taken was to connect the cock with Judas, and then possibly with Herod.’

The essayist then goes on to discuss other folk songs he has collected, some of them somewhat bawdy, others with a smattering of seemingly ancient myth. He was evidently part of the surge of interest in folk song that is now associated in particular with Cecil Sharp and Ralph Vaughan Williams, and in the next number of the London Mercury he has a letter to the editor telling readers about The Folk-Song Society.

Iolo Aneurin Williams (1890-1962) was, despite his Welsh name, born in Middlesbrough to a family of Liberal politicians, and stood unsuccessfully for Parliament as a Liberal candidate himself, though in forlorn hope seats. He published several volumes of poetry, and his other interests are reflected in volumes on Elements of Book-Collecting (1927), English Folk-Song and Dance (1935), Flowers of Marsh and Stream (1946) and Early English Water-Colours (1952).

I could not help wondering what M R James might have made of the first carol discussed by Williams, which so oddly changed its tone towards the end. Just as James thought that a Punch and Judy show, a Christmas cracker and a children’s game, offered opportunities for a ghost story, so might carol singers with a strangely muddled song.

The cheerful householder, perhaps with a secret past, goes out to listen with a glad heart to the youthful carollers, only to find the words of the song suddenly turning macabre and invoking the grave. And when he peers more closely at the pale ragged children glimmering in the winter dark, why they almost look as if . . .

Compliments of the season to one and all!

(Mark Valentine) w image of songbook pages etc.

dow, Thursday, 24 December 2020 20:39 (three weeks ago) link

Mostly posting this for the clip

I am now at liberty to announce that @CLASHBooks will be publishing a new novel of mine in 2022. It's called PEST and it's about architecture and yaks.

— Michael T. Cisco (@MichaelTCisco) December 23, 2020

Robert Adam Gilmour, Friday, 25 December 2020 19:54 (three weeks ago) link

D. P. Watt -Beatific Vermin

Watt is one of the current small press strange authors I've been most eager to read and was surprised to find that most of the stories are a very contemporary urban horror which I've mostly not been much fond of, which seemed totally at odds with the titles and presentation of his books and what I had heard about his writing. Some of the other stories are often disembodied philosophical explorations of surreal concepts.

It is all very well written but more often than not, I just wasn't that interested. Two exceptions:
(1) "Serendipity" (about a highly specialized brothel from a grim future) is miserable like a lot of the other stories but it has a fashion sense, art design and an almost cartoonish brutality that I enjoyed.
(2) "Distillate Of Sin" (about a troubled boy who dreams of an orgy pit floating on human waste which creates perfumes) was quite gripping.

I've another collection by him and I'm stubbornly ready interested in some of the others which I'd heard such good things about, I'm hoping for better.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Friday, 1 January 2021 19:14 (two weeks ago) link
I've read a couple of stories and found them very mixed but still haven't tackled his Kane books. The omnibuses annoyingly never got cheap paperback versions.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Friday, 1 January 2021 20:39 (two weeks ago) link

I like that neglected dark 1970s fantasy author looks EXACTLY how you'd expect

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Saturday, 2 January 2021 01:42 (two weeks ago) link

It is sad seeing that clip of Etchison talking about writing all those scripts that will never be read (do studios own them?). There's probably a treasure trove, mountains of unproduced film scripts and all studios want is franchises, adaptations and biopics of famous people.

Some notes about Wagner for anyone unfamiliar:
It seems like Kane was fairly successful, a lot of sword & sorcery fans put it up there with the big names (I just saw that the philosophy youtuber Gregory B Sadler did a video about Kane, he is an old metalhead so it isn't too surprising).
Wagner edited Year's Best Horror for DAW for over a decade and that might be what he is best known for. Perhaps America's most famous horror anthology editor before Ellen Datlow had done so much of the same?
"Sticks" is widely guessed to be the inspiration for Blair Witch Project. It was based on an experience artist Lee Brown Coye told to Wagner (but Coye made up some stories he told people). It starts off well but I think Wagner seriously drops the ball in the second half and it becomes cthulhu mythos fluff.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Sunday, 3 January 2021 19:11 (one week ago) link

I read 'Sticks' last year and immediately thought of The Blair Witch Project, without knowing that others had made the same connection. It's pretty inescapable. Wikipedia also mentions the first season of True Detective:

Ward Fowler, Sunday, 3 January 2021 19:28 (one week ago) link

Frazetta said the Dark Crusade painting was what Clint Eastwood pointed to when he was getting him to paint a film poster.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Sunday, 3 January 2021 19:46 (one week ago) link

Love the original cover to Dragonflight

Robert Adam Gilmour, Monday, 11 January 2021 19:39 (five days ago) link

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