Archive for speculative fiction

Short Stories 3: Lovecraft and looking death in the eye

Posted in book, fantasy, review, richard kunzmann, short stories, speculative fiction, Uncategorized, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2009 by richardkunzmann

Lovecraft Bloodcurdling Tales “I’m writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more.” Dagon, H.P. Lovecraft

LovecraftAside from the fact that H.P. Lovecraft has a name that perfectly suits the horror genre, and a peculiar look about him which suggests he’d jumped straight out of the story A Shadow over Innsmouth, the man’s short fiction is, if not profound or incredibly skilled, then certainly imaginative and unusual.

Continuing with my list of favourite short story writers, Lovecraft is one of the few authors I go back to over and again. He has been hugely influential in horror and science fiction, even though many of his stories read like Sherlock Holmes tales. What makes his work so enduring is the nature of the horror to which his protagonists are ultimately exposed. Invariably, his characters epitomise the enlightened man – rational, intellectual, calmly inquisitive – who comes into contact with some mystery which unleashes an awesome truth that reveals to our hero the fragility of his own existence and ultimately leads to insanity or death.

Lovecraft Dreams of TerrorLovecraft’s single obsession is a universe that is fundamentally unknowable and destructive, no matter how far our sciences and religions purportedly develop us as a species. It’s a paranoid and pessimistic vision, much in tune with Nietzsche and Schopenhauer’s philosophies, but it’s one we must admit is as accessible as it is frightening. The fear and horror Lovecraft writes about goes well beyond the pain of death or torture, so heavily portrayed these days in crime fiction and dreary splatterporn films like Saw,Hostel and Frontier(s). His work challenges us to think more deeply about the moment of death when we have to face up to the fact that there is no afterlife, that we’ve been lying to ourselves all our lives, and when we die we cease to exist and return to entropy.

If Freud is right, and we as a species derive as much creative force from death as we do from life, Lovecraft must surely be a high priest of the death drive, or Thanatos – the ancient Greek personification of death, but also a word just as easily plucked from the Cthulhu mythos for which this strange author is most famous.

Lovecraft Tales of the Cthulhu MythosSo many people to whom I’ve lent his books quickly return them with a look of wretched disgust on their faces. It’s a universal law that you either love or hate Lovecraft. His dialogue can be sickly, his style often clunky and littered with such overused and abused terms as “cyclopean”, “antediluvian” and “eldritch”, to name but a few. His misogynist views and racism are also well documented (and glorified by other misogynists like Michele Houellebeque), while the plot lines remained fairly standard throughout his writing career.

But all of these criticisms miss the point.

Lovecraft Road to MadnessI personally feel his outdated prose lends itself to the stories he writes, and like J.G. Ballard and Mitch Cullin (Tidelands), or photographers Diane Arbus and Roger Ballen, Lovecraft is an artist who as turned away from what is traditionally accepted as aesthetic pure, and beaten his own strange path to create something hauntingly enduring.

Mythbusters:

Contrary to popular belief the Necronomicon did NOT first appear in Evil Dead films, starring Bruce Campbell, and it isn’t a real ‘lost’ tomb. It was invented by H.P. Lovecraft who credited the fictional “Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred” with its writing. It’s a theme he kept coming back to, just like the Miskatonic University in Providence.

My essential reads (roughly in order of favourites):

At the Mountains of Madness
The Dunwich horror
The Rats in the Walls
The Music of Erich Zann
The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath
The Colour out of Space

A number of authors have paid tribute to Lovecraft, of which my favourite story must be Stephen King’s Jerusalem’s Lot, August Derleth’s Dweller in the Darkness, and Robert Bloch’s various stories appearing in Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos.

Reputed famous fans:

Guillermo Del Toro
Neil Gaiman
Clive Barker
Joe R. Landsdale
H. R. Geiger
Alan Moore

Gaiman also who wrote a pretty good Lovecraftian story called Shogoth’s Old Peculiar – probably a cheap shot at an unusual but tasty beer called Theakston’s Old Peculiar, which is now associated with the Harrogate Crime Festival.

Read here what others have said about his books on Goodreads and Amazon.

Music to read by:
Judas Priest’s Blood Red Skies
Diary of Dreams
Check out this blog talking about Lovecraft’s influence on metal.

Watch this rather comical movie trailer for a period short film of Call of Cthulhu

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Review: Veniss Underground, Jeff Vandermeer

Posted in book, fantasy, lord of the rings, review, science fiction, US writers, writing with tags , , , , , , , on April 15, 2009 by richardkunzmann

veniss-underground Any crime writer or reader that thinks nothing can be learnt from writers outside of the field, particularly in other sub-genres, has sorely missed the joy and necessity of reading widely. Jeff Vandermeer shows how a sense of place completely alien to the world we know can be rendered with absolute clarity and wonder at the same time.

Nicholas, a washed-out holo artist, is desperate to secure the patronage of a mysterious man only known as Quin who, through biological engineering, creates fantastic creatures to serve the city-states of Veniss. When Nicholas disappears, his twin sister Nicola launches a frantic search for her brother which brings her and her former lover Shadrach ever closer to the ultimate truth behind Quin and the dank subterranean world of Veniss Underground.

Many years ago I happily walked away from fantasy, thinking the genre had reached its pinnacle with Lord of the Rings and was now deadly repetitive. But Vandemeer’s vision debunks all my preconceptions and exposes my hubris in thinking the genre has nothing new to offer. Mixing fantasy with science fiction and adding a hefty dash of the Kafkaesque, this author produced a haunting and beautiful tale. It helps that he has kept the story short; if it had been any longer one’s willingness to suspend belief would have been sorely pressed. What makes this novel especially intriguing is the author’s style and language: it is playful and poetic, while remaining streetwise and gritty. There isn’t a lot of character development – a problem that’s endemic to a genre that focuses on place – but Vandemeer has more than enough made up for it with a breath-taking and phantasmagoric world.

Review: The Third Person, Steve Mosby

Posted in book, crime fiction, Michael Marshal Smith, review, science fiction, speculative fiction, Steve Mosby, thriller, UK writers, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2009 by richardkunzmann

third-person1Steve Mosby published his first book at about the same time as me, and at about the same age, around 26. When I read The Third Person, it left me gobsmacked and not a little jealous. If he can keep up the raw energy of his debut, he could develop into a dangerous writer. Very dangerous. I haven’t read anything this dark since Michael Marshal Smith’s Spares.

Jason’s fiancé disappeared four months ago. The police say she left of her own accord, but he knows differently. Perhaps it had something to do with the macabre sites she’d been visiting on the internet; or maybe with his spurious infidelity. When a woman he met on the internet delivers his first solid clue as to what might have happened to his girlfriend, Jason decides to take matters into his own hands and begins to hunt for the murderers, rapists and art collectors who came into contact with Amy. The truth that our protagonist unravels isn’t pleasant, not pleasant at all, mostly because Jason’s story is entirely plausible if you’ve looked into the darker corners of your own soul and the internet.

I’m glad to see that Mosby hasn’t allowed himself to be chucked into a box. This book is part crime fiction, thriller, but there’s a distinctive speculative fiction undercurrent, with a dash of horror and science fiction added to the mix.

The maturity with which Mosby explores the demise of Jason and Amy’s relationship is exemplary. Maybe I think that because I was going through a really bad break up at the time I read it, and I saw my relationship mirrored in the pages, but it was more than that. My copy of the book is full of highlights where sentences capture fresh metaphors, complex emotions, and unique insights into our dark halves. Mosby uses interesting conventions to build a tense novel, and at ever corner there’s a sense of impending personal doom for our protagonist. It reminded me a lot of 8mm with Nicholas Cage; you kinda know this is all going to end terribly, but like our detectives you must have the answer before you can rest.

Every now and again there is some confusion in the logical flow of the unravelling mystery, but this in no way should digress from a superb debut novel. Note to self: Buy more books by this twisted bastard. I mean that as a compliment.