Joseph S Pulver Sr: The King in Yellow Tales, Volume One

This review should have been published yesterday on the day that this awesome collection of King in Yellow inspired stories was published. Unfortunately a poorly Little Ms. X was more important than the timely publishing of reviews. So sorry I didn’t get this out yesterday which, fittingly ,was also the 150th anniversary of the birth of Robert W. Chambers.

tl;dr: This is amazing, buy this book.

Joseph S. Pulver is the King in Yellow –sorry True Detective fans; the Yellow King does not reside in Louisiana where he drives a power mower. No; this particular bEast resides in Berlin where he writes a form of Weird Fiction that seamlessly blends Noir, Beat, and Decadence with a cosmic kind of horror which can in turns wash over you with deliciously off kilter poetics before filling you with a dread that works its way into the darker, most hidden, reaches of your psyche.

The King in Yellow is a collection of short stories in the French Decadent tradition written by an American, Robert W. Chambers, in the 1890s. Pulver has been producing work which riffs off of the King in Yellow the_king_in_yellow_t_cover_for_kindlestories for decades and he is the person most responsible for keeping the yellow flame alive as a field of literary exploration in its own right for all that time. During the 20th Century Chambers’ work was brought into the mythology created by H.P. Lovecraft and the strange denizens that wreak havoc in Chambers’ work were turned into ancient and terrible alien gods by the acolytes of Lovecraft, even though he only made passing reference to them in his own work. Pulver has all but severed these ties to Lovecraft and instead seeks to explore the maddening influence of the more mysterious aspects of Chambers’ work: the titular play which drives mad any who witness or read the second act, and the Yellow Sign which casts a baleful influence over all who are unfortunate enough to encounter it.

That’s not to say that Pulver has abandoned all Lovecraftian elements; the first story proper in this collection, ‘Choosing’, is a post apocalyptic nightmare merging both mythologies into a bewildering scream of frustration and pain. Frustration at one’s powerlessness to resist horrors heaped down upon us by those protected by power and tradition; pain at the suffering inflicted upon those about whom we care by those stronger than us. To me this story seemed to speak of the way in which women, as a body of people, are abused and maltreated by society and the powerlessness of individuals to confront and challenge this maltreatment. Of course the story is also a brilliant horror tale and it’s testament to Pulver’s skill as a writer that his works can be read in different ways and to varying depths.

“To no particular where, just went. Stepped right into August like it was a voyage or a baptism. Stopped in his cheap room, grabbed his stuff and left. Somewhere down the road he’d find her. The wind would take him to her”

-‘Carl Lee & Cassilda’

Pulver’s hard-boiled, noir infected, prose in the ‘Carl Lee & Cassilda’ triptych of stories takes Chambers’ creations and places them firmly into America’s bourbon soaked underbelly of hustlers, hookers, lunacy and bloody murder. This dark sensibility and affinity for the broken refugees and cast-offs of society permeates much of Pulver’s work and his characters reflect this darkness. You will not like some, or many, of the characters in this book but then: you’re not supposed to. These are the stories, after all, that lurk in rain drenched alleyways waiting to seize an unsuspecting passerby and to turn their world upside down.

Joe Pulver is no a fearful writer and his prose in this collection illustrates this eagerly as he experiments with the form and function of the English language. Happily jumping from beat infused noir to decadent stage plays and poetic verse. His playing with form suggests to me that the printed page is going to give the reader the greatest appreciation for his work –though a regular e-reader may render the prose as it was initially meant to be read, I read this on my smartphone and the reflowing of some of his more poetic tales has guaranteed that I am also going to seek this collection out in paperback.

In ‘Saint Nicholas Hall’, dedicated to America’s Kafka –Michael Cisco, Pulver takes his creative muse and uses is as a scalpel to hone a beautifully realised modernist(?) prose poem that again plays with the form of the written word to fashion a phantasmagoric Carcosan cityscape through which the protagonist travels towards his confrontation with loss.

These are just a handful of the stories that make up this first volume of Jospeh Pulver Sr.’s collected King in Yellow tales. I highlighted these few as I feel they illustrate quite how deep a literary well Pulver is drawing from. This collection is an absolute must for anyone with an interest in the renaissance of weird fiction which has been underway these last few years. Pulver is a master of his art and you deserve to read him.

Info on where to buy the book in print or as an ebook can be found here(LINK).

Table of Contents

  • Introduction by Rick Lai
  • A Line of Questions
  • Choosing
  • Carl Lee & Cassilda
  • An American Tango Ending in Madness
  • Hello is a Yellow Kiss
  • The Last Few Nights in a Life of Frost
  • Chasing Shadows
  • Last Year in Carcosa
  • An Engagement of Hearts
  • Cordelia’s Song
  • Saint Nicholas Hall
  • A Spider in the Distance
  • Under the Mask Another Mask
  • Epilogue for Two Voices
  • Yvrain’s “Black Dancers”
  • The Songs Cassilda Shall Sing, Where Flap the Tatters of the King
  • The Sky Will Not Fall
  • Tark Left Santiago
  • Marks and Scars and Flags
  • Long-Stemmed Ghost Words
  • In This Desert Even the Air Burns
  • Perfect Grace
  • My Mirage
  • Mother Stands for Comfort
  • A Cold Yellow Moon (with Edward R. Morris Jr.)
  • Afterword by Pete Rawlik

Happy Birthday to the Lovecraft Ezine

In February 2011 Mike Davis released issue one of the Lovecraft Ezine which makes this month the Ezine’s fourth birthday. So happy birthday Ezine and thank you  Mike Davis for working so hard on finding fantastic fiction and nurturing the community which has grown up around the ‘zine.

The man himself 🙂

To my mind the Ezine has grown to take the place once held by Weird Tales as a hub for weird fiction. By taking advantage of new web technologies, most notably the use of Google Hangouts for panel shows and game playing, Mike has helped foster the growth and popularity of weird fiction and is, I feel, a key person in the persistence of the weird renaissance that we have seen emerging over recent years.

Happy Birthday Ezine, and a big thanks to Mike Davis.

Pulver in Yellow

Joe Pulver, if you haven’t already heard of him (and why the hell haven’t you??), fuses beat, noir, pulp and high weird with startling skill. He’s also the go to person when it comes to Robert W. Chambers’ King in Yellow stories. Joe has written god knows how many King in Yellow stories over the years –well I suppose he knows how many too, as does Mike Davis of the Lovecraft Ezine as Mike is currently preparing to put out volume one in a the collected Yellow stories of Joe Pulver! Excited? You could say so!

I find it most fitting that Joe’s work is being collected this year as 2015 is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Robert W. Chambers as well as the 120th anniversary of the first publication of his collection The King in Yellow. I get the feeling this year is definitely going to have a maddening yellow hue to it. 😀

Keep an eye on the Lovecraft Ezine for news on when the book is going to be released. I’m sure I’ll probably be posting somewhat excitedly about it here too. 🙂

Pulver in Yellow
Cover design by Steve Santiago


Now, Mike Davis, a quick message for you.

Permuted Ponderings

For the last few days I’ve been reblogging author, blogger, time traveller(see image below), and all round good egg Sean Hoade‘s posts about the recent shenanigans of Permuted Press. Sean is one of a group of authors who have a major grievance with the small press company over promises made and broken with regard the publication of their work. I was going to let Sean do all the talking as he seems to have covered all the bases and, unlike him, I have no dog in this fight. So to speak. Well, I’m never one to keep my trap shut for long and so here’s my thruppence worth on the subject.

Left: Hoade in the late 1800s Right Hoade as he appears today.
Left: Hoade in the late 1800s Right: Hoade as he appears today.

There are two things I would like to discuss briefly here. The brevity being because I’m actually sat in work at the moment and want to get this finished before my boss comes in to interfere with my internetting. Firstly the conflict between legality and ethics and, secondly, the effect that actions like those taken by Permuted Press can have on a small community such as the horror literature community.

One of the things that has been brought up a few times recently, and in other similar situations that I’ve come across over the years, is the repeated assertion that Permuted Press are well within their legal rights to do what they did. That the contract which the authors entered into with PP did not state that they would definitely see their books printed into actual tangible objects that would be available in book stores and adorning the shelves of horror aficionados the world over. The wording of the contract was such that PP were buying the option to publish the books in print form. So yes, legally, have no obligation to publish their work in such a way.

However PP had led many of these authors to believe that they would indeed be publishing their books in such a manner. I’m sure that, given the tiny advance on royalties they were offering ($350 on publication) that the thought of having their books in glorious wood pulpy splendour is what convinced many of these authors to sign on the dotted line. What Ponzi Permuted Press have done is mislead authors, attempting to bolster their roster of talent giving themselves the appearance of being a larger, more professional, outfit than they actually are. This is highly unethical. Legal yet unethical.

For many commentators on the internet it seems that there is a confusion between ethics and legality. As if an action’s legality has any bearing on the ethical nature of said action. On whether an action was right or wrong. There are countless examples of things that are illegal despite being ethical. Whether it’s environmentalists stopping roads being built or soldiers refusing to follow orders, sitting at the front of the bus or preventing scabs from gaining entrance to a work site. All of these things are, or were, illegal and yet they were/are -beyond any shadow of a doubt- exactly the ethical thing to do.

Similarly there are countless actions that are, or were, completely legal yet are ethically unjustifiable. Rape in marriage, the brutalisation of prisoners, laying off entire work forces, tax avoidance, environmental devastation, the wholesale slaughter and waste of billions of animals, third world debt, outsourcing, imprisoning children. The list goes on, and on, and on.

So when we are discussing a matter, the actions of individuals or groups/organisations, then the issue of legality shouldn’t come into it at all. Unless it is as a condemnation of the structure of our society which allows unethical and harmful activities to occur and shelters the perpetrators under the cloak of legality. For when the cloak of legality is removed then we can expose the actions to the cold, hard, light of critical thought.  When we do this then it becomes abundantly clear that Permuted Press have acted extremely unethically in their behaviour towards their authors. For this they deserve to be censured in the strongest terms possible.

There are also those who will criticise the authors now raising their voices about their treatment. They will say that they should have read their contracts properly. That it is their fault for entering into a deal that was so patently one sided. Which brings us to my second point.

Authors are human beings. They are individuals with aspirations, hopes, strengths and failings. Like all humans they are prone to trust others of their species. This trust is one of the things that makes us human, that allows our societies to grow and our civilisation to exist. It isn’t laws and proclamations that allow us to walk down the street not cowering in fear that we’re going to get shanked when we turn the corner. It’s the trust that we have in our fellow humans that they aren’t going to shank us. It’s a well founded trust too as the vast, vast majority of humans will not behave in such a manner -regardless of what the media would have us believe. This is why it is always good “shock-horror” news entertainment when someone does breach that trust.

So when someone who is a part of our community, in this case the horror literature/small press community, makes us an offer then we take them at face value. We have to; because a community can only function with this trust that others are going to act in good faith. So when PP pull a trick like this it makes others nervous that they are going to get shafted in a similar manner. It creates bad feelings between people in a small community. Bad feelings do nothing to add to the health and growth of said community.

For example. Should I ever finish a long piece of fiction and were I to submit it to Mike Davis over at Lovecraft Ezine I would trust Mike to not be looking to renege on any deal, verbal or otherwise. I need to trust Mike as the relationships between people in the community absolutely have to be built on trust. I want my books to be coming out, I want other people’s books to be coming out, I want to know that those of us within the community are treating one another with respect and not seeking to make a quick buck at one another’s expense. I want a healthy community. The actions of Permuted Press, and others like them, do harm to the wider community. It isn’t just about these particular authors and these particular contracts. It’s about those of us in the community not having to think and act like fucking lawyers when we want to work on a project together. And yes, signing to a small press is more like entering into a collaborative project than a deal with one of the Big 5. For the simple fact that small presses tend to be run by fans. By people that love the genre they are working in. They are the same as the authors they work with. Sure everyone needs to make a buck, capitalism sucks like that, but there is no need to be an utter dick by screwing over your, figurative, neighbours.

So fuck Permuted Press and may the works of their authors find better, more appreciative, homes elsewhere.

Lovecraft and the WFA

The Lovecraft Ezine hosted a brilliant discussion about HPL, his racism, and the WFA last night. As ever, due to time zones, I was unable to watch the show live but managed to watch it this morning. I was, again, impressed with the level of discourse on such an emotive subject and I said as much on the Ezine message board with a small contribution to the debate.

Just watched the show. Great to see a friendly and level headed talk about HPL and racism. I wish I had been able to join in but I would like to make a wee contribution if I may.

When it comes to HPL I would place him within the Modernist literary tradition, especially his later works, and so his views were in keeping with certain segments of that tradition. I’m thinking here people like Ezra Pound and David Jones who were out and out Antisemites and, in the case of Jones, actual fascists.

Of course they were all writing in a time of great political and social upheaval. We have the background of the First World War, the Russian, Spanish and German revolutions, the rise of fascism in Italy, Spain and of National ‘Socialism’ in Germany. The conflict between US and European workers and bosses was as explosive and violent as ever. It was a time of very firm ideological stances coming into direct conflict with one another.

For this reason it is unsurprising that we see contemporary writers falling into these broad left/right dichotomies. For every Pound/Jones/Lovecraft with objectionable reactionary opinions there was an Orwell or a Steinbeck.

I think that what acknowledging and understanding HPL’s bigotry gives us, when we read his work, is an insight into the intimate and emotional core of this bigotry that was manifest in many people -not just HPL. His feelings of fear with regards the ‘other’ and anything that was outwith his understanding of the world via his WASP upbringing come through in more ways that the simple crude racism we see in Redhook or Call of Cthulhu. We see the alien other as something that is beyond the ken of civilised people. We see it as something that is overwhelming and unstoppable. A fear that is manifest in the more forthright writings of many racists and fascists. A fine example of this is the Rivers of Blood speech by notorious British racist Enoch Powell. His talk of an inevitable race war which will see black people slaughtering white could quite easily be fictionalised into a story of impending doom from anywhere outwith civilisation.

Of course, one doesn’t have to read HPL, or any other author, in this manner. It is perfectly possible, and entirely legitimate, to enjoy his work as masterful pieces of horrific and fantastic literature. Being ignorant of his bigotry in no ways detracts from the tales. Being aware of it and understanding it however allows for one to choose *how* they wish to read them. I personally will sometimes read the stories with a critical eye and attempt to gain an insight into early 20th Century culture through the eyes of HPL. Much in the same way that when I was reading Classical Civilisation at university I would read Hessiod and Homer to gain insight into the culture in which the writers lived. Other times (most if I’m to be honest) I will read them as great stories for entertainment.

I do think that this discussion is important and, as others have said, it is one that we will continue to have as more people become aware of HPL and his work. That the discussion is cropping up more and more frequently is a good sign, especially for those of us who wish to have more people to write weird fiction and more people to read it. It means that the bastard child of genre literature is beginning to forge its own way in the 21st Century in the way that SF and Fantasy have been doing in recent decades.

I would also like to bring this fantastic collection to people’s attention. Never Again: Weird Fiction Against Fascism and Racism edited by Allyson Bird and Joel Lane. It has some brilliant stories and all the profits go to groups working to do away with bigotry.


And finally. A quote from New Weird Maestro China Mieville. “The good thing about New Weird is that we certainly have less fascists.”

Well, ‘small’ for me. Maybe not for Facebook. 😀

Here’s the show and below are a few more comments on things brought up by the panel during the discussion.

Pete mentioned that many of the current awards have rather embarrassing origins: the Hugo of the Hugo awards regularly ‘forgot’ to pay his writers, the Booker was started by a company that built its profits on slave plantations, the Poe is named after a man who married his 13 year old cousin and so on. He said that if we are to go after the WFA for its connection to HPL and his bigotry then we should go after them all. I can see his point here but the difference, especially with the Booker, is that we are a part of the community that issues the World Fantasy Award. We are not readers/writers of mystery or mainstream fiction. We are of the fantastic. Because of this is is to be expected that we should have a vested interest in the WFA and the community within which it exists. Joe and Matt were both of the opinion that it was entirely up to the WFA committee whether or not it should change. At the end of the day that is strictly true but as the award is part of wider fandom it is only right that fandom has an input into the award.

I do feel that if this debate, the wider one, had begun by someone pointing out that HPL is no longer as relevant to the field of fantasy as he used to be when the various genres of Horror/Fantasy/Science Fiction were more closely linked than I don’t think we would be seeing this brouhaha. However because it concerns the man’s bigotry it has gotten people’s back up. This has been, from what I can tell, exacerbated by the attraction of the supposed internet ‘social justice warriors‘ who seem to thrive off one upping one another with how outraged they can be in the various online fora. These folk really get my goat as I have only ever come across them in the online world. Despite years, and years of political activity including anti-racist work I have never seen or heard of any of these people. Like the racist trolls they see everywhere they seem to only exist online. This cartoon sums them up quite nicely.

It is a crying shame that these individuals are so loud. In an age where the vast majority of human debate is carried out online these people get far more attention than they deserve. The fantasy author Will Shetterly has written about them quite extensively and whilst I don’t agree with him on a lot of things he is right about the internet Social Justice Warrior.

Another thing that came up briefly in the discussion was that Centipede Press are releasing a version of The Drowning Girl by Caitlin Kiernan. I’ve been excited by this since I first heard that they were working on it and so imagine my disappointment when I go to have a look at the Centipede website. $250!!!!!! $250! 😥 There is no way on Earth that I could possibly justify spending that much money on a book at the moment. Poverty, and therefore capitalism, suck monkey balls. It really does.


Autumn Cthulhu

Mike Davis, the editor at the Lovecraft Ezine, has issued a call for submissions for an upcoming anthology entitled Autumn Cthulhu.

he sums up what he’s looking for thus:

Well, the words Autumn Cthulhu sum it up somewhat.  But, though pastiche can be done well, I don’t want it here.  In other words, less “Mythos” and more “Lovecraftian”.  I’m talking about the themes of Lovecraft: cosmic horror, deep time, man’s irrelevant place in the universe, horrific truths about reality, etc…

So the story should be Lovecraftian, set in the fall.  You could include Halloween, and in fact I very much hope some of you do, but it’s not a necessity.  There’s a mood and a magic and a mystery to autumn; think colorful falling leaves, crisp days, rainy afternoons and evenings.  A cold drizzle.

Which sounds particularly enticing. Especially as I recently began work on a Yellow story set on a housing scheme on the outskirts of Glasgow in, of all times, the autumn! So if I can get it finished and edited before Halloween(nice deadline there Mr Davis!) I’m definitely going to submit it. The story is more of a Yellow tale than anything related to the Cthulhu mythos so I’m glad Mike wants Lovecraftian over mythos stories.

All the details on how to submit stories are in the post over at the Ezine so head over there if you fancy sending Mike a tall tale. Anyway, back to work on my story.


Lovecraft Ezine on WFA Brouhaha

Inevitably the recent discussion over the WFA bust came up on the Saturday chat with the Lovecraft Ezine panel. The discussion starts about 50 minutes in but you should watch the whole thing anyway. I am constantly impressed with the way that many people within the community of The Weird are able to discuss things in a calm and rational manner. Compared to a lot of the internet that is. Got to love this lot. 🙂

True Douche… I Mean Detective

I loved True Detective when it aired earlier this year. As I squee’d at the time it was heavily influenced by some of my favourite weird fiction -the works of RW Chambers and Thomas Ligotti– which elevated it from being a mere buddy cop drama into something rather unique in the world of television. Whilst I was aware of the Ligottian and Chambersian influences going into the show, what I only recently discovered was the extent to which the show’s writer and creator, Nic Pizzolatto, had directly lifted dialogue from Thomas Ligotti. Nor had I realised how assiduously he has avoided mentioning Ligotti in his interviews or elsewhere – to the point that there isn’t a single mention of Ligotti or Conspiracy Against the Human Race(USUK)(the work from which Pizzolatto drew his most notable dialogue) in the commentaries on the DVD release of the series.

Thankfully Jon Padgett, of Thomas Ligotti Online, did the leg work and has pulled together some pretty damning evidence which shows how True Detective was less homage to Ligotti than it was blatant plagiarism. Over at the esteemed Lovecraft eZine Mike Davis interviews Padgett and presents the evidence for all to see.

I, personally, have a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards plagiarism. I don’t see an inherent problem with plagiarising work so long as one acknowledges where one has taken it from. All culture is, after all, built upon remixing and rewriting themes and tropes that date back to when we first became a species that creates. What I take especial umbrage with here is that Pizzolatto has wholesale lifted the work of an obscure author and made himself rich with it. If he had at least promoted the work of Ligotti in his interviews and in the show, it would not have been difficult to have CAtHR sat atop a pile of books in Rust Cohl’s apartment, so that some light may be shone upon Ligotti’s obscurity allowing him too to benefit from the show’s success.

To add insult to injury Pizzolatto has been nominated for an Emmy for writing True Detective.

Oh well, that’s me not enthusiastically promoting season two. Unless Pizzolatto comes clean and gives Ligotti, the true genius behind the show, some credit I shall remain completely silent about his next show. I hope that others will do the same and so deny Pizzolatto the free publicity we so generously give to creations and creators we admire. I also hope that many people will not watch the show on HBO/Sky Atlantic but will download it from pirate sites and so also deny him our patronage.

Help Fund These Lovecraftian Shorts

I really should have posted about this ages ago but it completely slipped my mind what with the whole finishing university thing. Anyway; the ever eldritch Mike Davis over at the Lovecraft Ezine is trying to bring some of the fantastic stories he has published to the small screen. He’s trying to raise $18,000 to film three stories, with more to be filmed as stretch goals, and has some cracking talent lined up including Doug Jones(who played Abe Sapien in Del Toro‘s Hellboy films) and Katie Parker who was in the creepy as all hell indie flick Absentia.

There are 10 days left, until June 2nd, of the campaign and they still need a smidge over $10k so if you can afford to I would really encourage you to head over to the project Kickstarter and pledge what you can afford.

Here’s the video for the project.