“The Shadow Out Of Innsmouth”, H.P. Lovecraft

I shall plan my cousin’s escape from that Canton mad-house, and together we shall go to marvel-shadowed Innsmouth. We shall swim out to that brooding reef in the sea and dive down through black abysses to Cyclopean and many-columned Y’ha-nthlei, and in that lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory for ever.

Oh, I have so much to say about Lovecraft.

The first work of his I read was either “The Dunwich Horror” or “Pickman’s Model”. I didn’t start noticing how stridently he kept bringing up race and miscegenation for a long time, to which the only defense that I can offer is that I started way young (and I actually have something else to say about my tendency to not question authorial voice, which is a different issue for another time).

But this quote; this one chimes with me. Because while I believe Lovecraft thought he was writing a terrible horror story about the triumph of degeneration, the more I read it the more it’s about a triumphant escape, and coming home, and realizing who you are to dwell in a place of loveliness and acceptance.

(Also, you know, Deep Ones. Who are neat, although I prefer ghouls.)

Cabal, Clive Barker

For now, they had simpler concerns. Keeping the children from the roofs at night, the bereaved from crying out too loud, the young in summer from falling in love with the human. It was a life.

I think this one appeals because it actually focuses on the quiet or peaceful life of a society, rather than a handful of individuals. It kind of pulls back and gives you space to relax.

(Also, you know, hidden society of monsters.)

Mind, I generally find Barker’s style to be dreamy and faintly detached; I’m not sure it would work as well if he wasn’t building on an entire novel in the same vein. Either way, though, it’s very relaxing.

“The Screwfly Solution”, James Tiptree, Jr.

AP/Nassau: The excursion liner Carib Swallow reached port under tow today after striking an obstruction in the Gulf Stream off Cape Hatteras. The obstruction was identified as part of a commercial trawler’s seine floated by female corpses. This confirms reports from Florida and the Gulf of the use of such seines, some of them over a mile in length. Similar reports coming from the Pacific coast and as far away as Japan indicate a growing hazard to coastwise shipping.

That cheery fragment is actually one of the less upsetting pieces of text in Tiptree’s “The Screwfly Solution”. It’s a fairly hard-hitting story, especially when you (for example) go in thinking that while it’ll probably be a good story, it’ll be a little dated and there’s no reason to think it’d make more of an impression than others you’ve read.

(I was corrected. To borrow a phrase from another work, I was corrected harshly.)

That short story’s remarkable to me at least in part because I honestly feel like the last few lines weaken the horror of it. Partly that’s surprising because I find most of Tiptree’s work is remarkably consistent and builds well on itself; partly that’s interesting because I’ve got a class on beginnings and endings tomorrow, and I’ve been thinking a lot about them lately.

Tiptree wrote a great many stories, and it’s hard to choose what to recommend first, but after “The Screwfly Solution” you could do worse than go with “Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!”, “The Man Who Walked Home”, and “The Girl Who Was Plugged In”.


The yellow sign.
Probably familiar. Probably.

I have (probably not very surprising) a kind of abiding fascination with the King in Yellow. An imaginary play created by Robert W. Chambers in 1895, it’s one of the go-to examples of the motif of harmful sensation; the sound or sight or text so horrible that it damages the one who experiences it.

(Incidentally, yellow appears as a colour associated with horror rather more often than I’d expect. Red and black are easy and obvious associations, and you can get a lot of mileage out of an eerie green light[1], but yellow… there’s the King in Yellow, Gilman’s famous yellow wallpaper, the sickening yellow haze in King’s room 1408, and another one just at the tip of my memory. It is a very unwell colour, I suppose.)

I am not the only one. (I own two anthologies devoted specifically to King in Yellow stories, and another one is coming out late this year.) There are stories which frame the King in Yellow as a play (Brian Keene’s “The King, in Yellow” is the only one I can think of off the top of my head, and several which frame it as a text, but several (including two of my favourites[3]) frame it as a movie. I can’t think of any other mediums of expression; I’ve never read a story about a King in Yellow video game, or dance performance. I can’t call to mind treatments of it as a story, either (that is, a work of prose fiction, rather than a script or a performance produced from a script).

That said, I do know that John Horner Jacobs’ Southern Gods features a detective looking for the recording artist Ramblin’ John Hastur. I have my suspicions about that, but I haven’t actually been able to lay hands on a physical copy of the book. (It’s on my to-do list.) It’d be interesting if there are King in Yellow references in there, particularly as Ramblin’ John is a blues musician; it’s an art form much more strongly associated with improvisation than scripted plays, and I’d be curious to see how the interpretation differs as a result.

[1] Or a regular light and a green skirt.[2]
[2] Kind of curious to see if I have tied this post into obscure knots, or if that reference actually makes sense.
[3] Those would by Orrin Grey’s “The Seventh Picture” and Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Flash Frame”. “The Seventh Picture” is in Candle in the Attic Window and Never Bet the Devil and Other Warnings, and “Flash Frame” is in Cthulhurotica, The Book of Cthulhu, and This Strange Way of Dying, and is in audio at Tales To Terrify No 9 David Thomas Lord. For the record.

“I have something to give you. I don’t want it anymore.”

Poster for the 1994 movie The Crow.Last week (I meant to ramble about this earlier, but it’s been a somewhat hectic Thursday-evening-through-weekend), I was talking to a friend about movies, and she mentioned that she’d not only see The Wrath of Khan, she’d snuck out of school to see it when it opened in the theatres. Twice.

I never did that[1], but I was thinking about a movie that I went to see six times in the first month or so after it opened in the theatres[2], and that is The Crow. Murder, revenance[3], rain, fire, revenge, poetry quoted and lines spoken; I loved that movie so very much, and even writing about it now has some of the dialogue chiming around my head and I am smiling.

But I could never remember the ending. I mean, I remembered Sarah being kidnapped, I remembered the fight in the church, I remembered the scene with Shelley at the end. But I never remembered what Eric did to beat Top Dollar. It just went right out of my mind, which I suppose is nice in that it made the fight much tenser, since I wasn’t sure how he was possibly going to survive that.

And it’s odd, to forget that. Because it’s a deeply satisfying moment, in its way.

Same with The Shining–not the movie, this time, but the book. I remember the ending; you will remember what your father forgot, the boiler, the capering figure before the flames. But for the first few years I read it–during which I’m guessing I read it at least three times–I never remembered the scene where Jack smashed his own face with the roque mallet, and what looked out was the Overlook Motel.

In its own way, that’s as pivotal a scene to The Shining as Eric inflicting Shelley’s pain is to The Crow; the one is an extremely visceral representation of the effects of the haunted house, the other’s an encapsulation of revenge that is inarguably earned and was explicitly justified by the target not seven seconds earlier. They could have been written out, but it’s hard to imagine them being replaced by anything that would be better suited to the story.

So I’m honestly puzzled as to why I couldn’t remember them. I first read The Shining when I was eleven or twelve, and I guess it’s possible that I just had trouble grasping the concretization of such an abstract concept, but that makes no sense in the context of The Crow. I was older, and the concept there is a lot less abstract.

And of course, now I’m wondering if there are other things that I’ve forgotten the same way, blanked out after multiple readings or viewings. I suppose I couldn’t tell, which is rather annoying. (I’m guessing I’m not the only person who has these blank spots, but I’m also guessing that other people with these blank spots don’t necessarily share mine. Which makes em even more curious about what causes them, I think.)

[1] Off the top of my head, I am an extremely boring person, and the only school-related movie incident I can recall is when I got so many demerits for staying up reading after lights-out at boarding school that I was grounded and could not go see Bram Stoker’s Dracula the one day it was playing.
[2] The sixth time, my dad went with me and said I wasn’t old enough to see it again. It seems like it would be kind of a moot point by then, but moving on.
[3] This is now a word.

Hectic times

Today’s actually been a really good day. It was a low-pressure morning, I got the tracking information for my incoming shinies, I installed and noodled around on Pillars of Eternity, and I went to go see It Follows with the light of my life. (Who discussed doing science to the monster in the car on the way back.)

Pillars of Eternity is fun; it feels a lot like playing Baldur’s Gate back in the day[1], although I haven’t yet resorted to the tactic of summoning kobolds to fight for me and then looting the short bows for resale when they got killed and disappeared in a puff of smoke. It’s a bit crunchy, it feels fairly linear so far, and it has some gleefully creepy moments that I’ve been enjoying greatly. It’ll be good to play through, I think.

It Follows was… I don’t want to say it was surprisingly good, because I wasn’t expecting it to be bad. (Following under cut due to spoilers–mild ones, but it’s a really solid movie and people should get to watch it without spoilers if they so choose.)  Continue reading “Hectic times”

Walking Dead: No Going Back

(Yes, well, it’s the holidays. I can’t use the mouse too much, but games which are heavily or primarily keyboard-accessible? I am all over those.)

So, I finished Walking Dead: Season 2–the story game, not the TV show, definitely not the Walking Dead™: Survival Instinct game which from what I’ve heard is absolutely terrible–and it was good. (I generally find the Telltale Games stuff to be really good; the only work of theirs I haven’t picked up is the Game of Thrones one, and if they ever do a 100 Bullets game I will probably go missing for several hours at regularly spaced intervals. I find they don’t branch as much as the Choice of Games narrative fiction, but they are very good at inspiring an emotional connection with the characters.)

Anyway, the game’s been out for a year or for four months (depending on whether you count from the first or last episode), but I realize some people may not have played it yet, so I’m putting the rest behind a cut. Continue reading “Walking Dead: No Going Back”

Over the head of the narrator

Okay, here’s a question: I am looking for examples of fictional narrative in which the author and the reader both know and learn more about the world than the narrator/protagonist/viewpoint character(s).

Examples of what I am speaking of, off the top of my head:

  • “Petey” – TED Klein
  • “The Events at Poroth Farm” – TED Klein (I sense a theme)
  • “Fat Face” – Michael Shea
  • that story whose title I can’t remember from the New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird anthology in which the narrator assumes he’s observing the behaviour of crayfish

(The latter three are probably easier to pull off, in that the protagonists discover the facts they are ignorant of before the end of the story. “Petey”, on the other hand, remains a story that in this regard is so beautifully executed I am in awe every time I read it. I will probably be picking it up to look at it, but )

The important thing to note in these stories is that the truth of the fictional narrative is not the reader’s default reality (or, if one of these was set in Regency England or Ancient Egypt, their assumption of what a default reality should be). “Fat Face”, for example, involves shoggoths; assuredly cuddly, but generally not assumed to exist in real life. Contrast this with any one of three dozen narratives in which someone is running around the street seeing ordinary people as “demons”; I am really not hugely interested in examples of the latter, since they are generally a way to tell the reader about the narrator and not about the world.

Finally, I’m looking for text only. This means that things like the I Am Legend movie do not count. It is a wonderful example of how what the viewer can see is really going on (as displayed on film) does not match what the protagonist asserts is going on, but I really want to see how this is made to work in text.


I didn’t read Heinlein.

Not the edition I would have picked up in the bookshop.
Not the edition I would have picked up in that bookshop.

Okay, that’s a lie. I read a Heinlein novel during a university course on science fiction. It was Starship Troopers, and it was contrasted with Haldeman’s Forever War. And I may have read part of The Puppet Masters, but since I only remember a bit about how some clothing (hats? coats? tops?) was being outlawed, it is more probable that I just picked it up at the neighbourhood secondhand bookstore and read a few pages. I liked to hang around the SF section and do that sometimes, and it’s left me with an eclectic collection of snippets–that bit, something about a Doctor Who novelization in which a villain had attached a canister of horrible mutagen to Peri[1], and a rich tourist who went to the Savage Theme Park of New York and was stuck there after it was closed for the season.

(Those bits are rather vague, since I would have been between seven and eleven at the time–more than two decades ago.)

But when I was growing up, I didn’t read Heinlein.

I have been thinking, lately, about a line from Toni Weisskopf’s blog post, “The Problem of Engagement,” which runs:

Well, Heinlein is one of the few points of reference those fans who read have. Of course we all read Heinlein and have an opinion about his work. How can you be a fan and not?

I am a fan who reads; horror by first choice, yes, but I always read SF and fantasy when there wasn’t enough horror around. I have loved Worlds-That-Are-Not (or Worlds-That-Are-Not-Quite) for many many years, and I found them through books. I have been, I would have said, one of those “fans who read” for a very long time.

But I didn’t read Heinlein.

See, the first time I picked up Heinlein with a recognition of who the author was supposed to be (this name I’d heard about, seen on book spines, was told was incomparable), in the hope that I would enjoy it? I would have been about twelve; my family was in Algeria at the time, and the English fiction library we had access to was in a repurposed basement. The entirety of the genre section was a single bookshelf, and I made a heartfelt effort to go through all of it.

This, on the other hand, is the exact edition of Phantoms I read in that library.

I’m going to digress for a moment, and talk about Dean Koontz.

I discovered Dean Koontz and Stephen King on that same bookshelf (while I’d seen a secondhand hardcover of Cujo a few years earlier, I hadn’t been allowed to read it). Dean Koontz was easier to get a hold of, and often more snappily paced, and I would guess I read a good twenty or so of his books in the next few years. I probably overdid it, and I’d occasionally joke about how I could summarize the commonalities of plot of his novels in a single sentence. I got bored with him, and quit reading. (I’m drifting back, now, but that’s another story.)


When I was twelve, when I was bored and had basically no-one to talk to, when I was starving for something to read and I went through that bookcase, here is what I found in the first handful of pages:

  • The first Heinlein novel I picked up, I read about a guy watching his daughter strip her top off and being proud that she was checking with her husband instead of with him to be sure it was okay.
  • The first Koontz novel I picked up, I read about a doctor who was taking care of her little sister and who’d bluffed an evil biker gang leader[2] into believing that she was too damn scary to mess with.

Goddamn right I wasn’t interested in more Heinlein. And my take on his work is and remains “I don’t know it,” and I don’t think that’s informed or detailed enough to count as an opinion.

And when I was back in Canada… well, I met other people I could talk to about this genre thing, and we swapped recommendations, and I know some of them liked Heinlein but none of them ever made anything he’d written sound cool enough for me to bump him onto my must-read list. And then there were things like university and work and now, sad as it makes me, I don’t have the time to read that I used to. For a little while in eighth grade I was getting through five books a week. These days I’m lucky to clear eighty books a year.

It doesn’t make me happy, but I can live with that.

So when it comes to the question of

Of course we all read Heinlein and have an opinion about his work. How can you be a fan and not?

It’s not that hard. You just find other things that suit you better, and listen for things that people describe in such a way that they sound actually enjoyable, and you don’t have unlimited time.

And to that, Weisskopf wrote:

So the question arises—why bother to engage these people at all? They are not of us. They do not share our values, they do not share our culture.

I can live with that, too. And my reaction to that is much the same as my reaction when I put down Number of the Beast. I don’t have time for this, I have not seen enough to suggest I will enjoy this, and so I will leave this behind and go find something that will brighten or deepen or enrich my day.

And if that decision means I am not of your culture, that I do not share your values, I am sure we will both be much happier for it.

[1] Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work. If I recall correctly, the mutagen canister was removed from where it was attached to Peri’s belt, and was ?thrown? at the villain, where it interacted with a wooden stake he was standing near. The mutagen then worked on the wooden stake, causing it to explode outwards into a spiky lattice of stake-y wood and skewer the villain to death.
[2] I am not saying Phantoms was particularly nuanced. (Jeter, the man in question, is further developed later in the novel. I would say the development was done to add horror, not subtlety or multi-faceted characterization.)

Just because it’s a love story, doesn’t mean you can’t have a decapitation or two.

Apparently “watch all the Freddy Krueger” is this week’s recipe for decompression. The first few were watched after work, and today has been a marathon of terrible puns, body humour, body horror, and an origin story which cheerfully has more and more gingerbread added to it every other movie or so. (Child murderer! Who was the “bastard son of a hundred maniacs”[1]! Buried in ground that was deconsecrated by a dreaming dog peeing on it! And who was chosen by dream demons as the most evil person ever and given his powers! And who’s actually something greater and older than all these things–)

(Oh, Freddy.)

(Also, I’d apparently somehow completely missed seeing the sixth movie until earlier tonight. No idea how.)

And yet, I get why he appeals. I think, if I looked at the movies now, if I saw them in a vaccuum, I might not see enough to prompt the level of weird creeped-out fondness for the character that I currently have. But I’m not in a vaccuum, and that’s Freddy Krueger. When I was a kid waiting for the schoolbus, I picked up what must have been (I have determined through looking it up since) Freddy Krueger’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. It was a black-and-white comic, and I mostly just remember someone choosing the path that led away from flowers and fluffy bunnies and towards gross icky stuff, and that it ended with this page.

I would had to have been, I think, no older than eleven. That comic was not something I could afford, and it was not something I would have thought of actually owning anyway, I think.

But it was unspeakably neat. I mean, monsters and bad dreams! And the bad guy was telling jokes! And the art was much cooler than Archie comics and a lot more polished than the horribly cheesy B&W science-horror comics I had seen to that date. So I read it in dribs and spurts, sneaking it off the shelf at the corner store and going through a few pages and then putting it back on the rack when the school bus got there.

And that was how I met Freddy Krueger. I didn’t see any of the movies until years later, and the first one I saw was actually Dream Warriors, which I think was not the best of the bunch. But I knew who he was, because everyone knows who he was. Oh, not in a super-important way; I don’t think I ever even heard him mentioned as a topic of discussion for years. But he’s part of the background radiation of cultural consciousness.

It’s been interesting, deliberately concentrating on the source material instead of simply settling for what I already know.

[1] Oh don’t get me started. But anyway.