Self Damned and be Published!

A couple of days ago, as anyone unlucky enough to be on my Facebook friends list will have noticed, I released a new chapbook: We are the Makers of Maps. (Buy it here, give me your monies!) Over the course of my spamming the hairy hell out of Facebook, Twitter, and even Google+ I got into a couple of conversations with some writer friends. People who have been about this whole wordy thing a lot longer than I have and they all offered me great support and bits and bobs of advice. So, thank you all for that, you’re freakin’ ace so you are. 🙂

One of the pieces of advice and encouragement that came up a few times was “Next time send your stuff to a publisher!” Which, to be perfectly honest, is really nice because it’s, basically, these experienced folk saying that my work may be good enough for someone else to invest time, energy, and money into turning my words into a book. That feels, well, all the feels. Good feels. 🙂

However, it did bring to mind another conversation I had recently with someone who implied that, as I don’t send my stories out to publishers with an eye to getting a collection printed, that I don’t take my art seriously. Because if I’m not looking to a proper press putting out my work then I don’t value it. I can completely see where people are coming from with this and I really would like a press to put out some of my work, if only for the extra promotion it could get my work and, especially this, the feedback I could get from a proper editor. Something that any writer could do with, especially one as wet behind the ears as myself.

However, and there’s always a however to a blog post isn’t there, that leaves out quite how much I enjoy about the whole process of self publishing. For starters there’s the DiY aspect of it. I’m an old punk and the DiY ethos is somewhat etched into my bones. It’s true that the small press, especially the weird fiction small press, is also infused with this punk ethos and many of the presses are the literary equivalent of the punk labels that used to be run out of people’s bedrooms and squats the world over. This is something that I absolutely adore about the weird milieu and is something that keeps me passionate about it. I’ll always support the small press.

However, again, I really, really enjoy the process of putting a book together. I’m getting better and better at using professional publishing software and actively enjoy tweaking the document to make sure that the words look *exactly* as I want on the page. I love putting the covers together, chasing down orphans, experimenting with different fonts (Bembo ftw btw), and generally being able to play with my words all the way from brain to page.

For me reading has never been just about the words on the page and the ideas that they convey. It has always been an aesthetic experience. The smell of the paper, the feel of the cover and the pages in my hands, the rustle as I turn them. Which is probably why I don’t really get on with ebooks, they neither look nor feel right for me to have the full experience of reading.

So self publishing, to me, is taking my art seriously. I may not be great at it, I may have a lot to learn. ‘May’, hah, I really do have a lot to learn. But I want to do that whilst practicing my art which involves the whole shebang from idea through to ink splattered across the corpse of a dead tree.

So, I think I’m going to carry on self publishing my work, for the time being at least, and in doing so know that each thing that I publish is mine. Entirely. Every quirky piece of language, every unforgivable grammatical crime, every falter in the story, the way that the layout looks nice. It’s all me, warts and all.

This doesn’t mean that I’ll stop sending my individual stories out to magazines and the like. I get a massive buzz from someone liking a story enough to want to both buy me a beer for it and put their name to it. But when it comes to collections, and eventually to my first longer piece, I want to have as much control as possible, I know that I’m going to not reach as many readers because of this, and I know that I’ll likely not make as much money this way, but those are secondary concerns to me. I mostly just want to produce my work in the way that I want.

There’s also the point that I would imagine I’m extremely difficult to work with on account of being, at times, a pig-headed, bullish, dick who thinks that deadlines look best in the rear-view mirror. 😀

Just to be clear, I have *absolutely* nothing against either publishers nor people who have their work published traditionally. Anything that gets us more amazing literature is good by me. I also tend to think that self publishing evangelists are extremely irksome. There’s no ‘us vs. them’ in the weird.

Oh yeah, go buy my book. 😉

Maps-Advert

Are We a Wave?

Recently the Canadian author Simon Strantzas issued his Weird Manifesto, see below, I would like to string a few words together to contribute to the discussion. Some, or all, of these words may be utter baloney and I look forward to hearing why.

Simon Strantzas Manifesto

I posit that if ‘The Weird’ is indeed a thing which is a part of, but distinguishable within, the wider horror literature it has grown from Nicolay’s ‘Weird Renaissance’ which we have seen unfolding over the last decade or so and that it has emerged as a reaction to the malaise which currently infects the world. The anglophone world at least.

If there is a New Wave of Horror called The Weird then it has emerged from the long in the tooth tradition of Weird Fiction; which dates back over a century to the works of Arthur Machen and Robert W. Chambers and continues on to the modern works of people like W.H. Pugmire, Laird Barron, and Joseph Pulver Sr. What would this New Wave be, where has it come from, and what is it that differentiates it from both Weird Fiction and the wider Horror milieu?

Before I begin this, what is sure to be, rambling and malt fuelled exegesis I should point out that to imply that a work is a part of this New Wave is no judgement of quality of the work nor is a condemnation of work which may not fall within the definition I am about to try and eke out. Texts may fulfill many and varied functions, some of which may place them within The Weird/New Wave and some of which may not.

Sometimes the function of a text may be seemingly contradictory such as the role Homer’s Odyssey plays in both reinforcing the Greek masculine heroic tradition whilst also lampooning it. Or like Spenser’s Fairy Queen which is both an fantastical poem of adventure and an expression of courtly love from Spenser towards Queen Elizabeth I and therefore both an exercise in myth making and a piece of political maneuvering. A story that is New Wave can be both a horror story and something aside from a horror story. It can be this consciously, as in the case of Spenser’s political maneuvering, or perhaps unconsciously, as in Homer’s ridiculing of Athenian machismo.

The Weird/New Wave of Horror(WNW) is a current within the Horror field that flows from the Weird Renaissance and is notable for being socially conscious. By that I don’t necessarily mean that it a social conscience but that it is aware of, and consciously influenced by, social issues. It is concerned not only with telling terrifying tales but with imbuing them with something more. In the same way that New Wave Science Fiction was about more than dazzling space adventures and fantastic technological marvels so WNW is weird fiction plus…

I would like to forward a few points that I think may be able to help identify WNW.

  • WNW tends towards literary experimentation and draws influence from across the literary spectrum as well as the other, not literary, arts.
  • WNW revels in genre convention as much as it  rejects them.
    There may be a vampire in this story but it lives in the upper atmosphere and is a comment on PTSD in veterans.
    This woman may be fleeing from a terrible sea creature but her struggle also reflects the experiences of survivors, and victims, of domestic violence and abuse.
  • WNW is both Modernist and Postmodernist.
  • WNW waxes philosophical. It can be metaphysical or phenomenological, nihilistic or antinatal, epistemological and maybe even esthetic.

Of course many texts that were written before this WNW will feature many of these elements but it is the amount of them that are now being released by authors who talk to one another than I feel may make Stantzas claim true.

 

Why is the Weird Waving Now?

Here I can only speak of the anglophone world as that is the extent of my, albeit limited, knowledge on this subject. I would however be extremely interested in finding out whether anything that I say here rings true elsewhere.

The New Wave of Science Fiction emerged in the 1960s at the height of the long drawn out existential threat that was the Cold War. It was an age of generalised fear but it was also a time of wonder and potential. The space race was in full swing with its attendant technological and engineering wonders, revolutions were erupting across the globe, the civil rights movement was at its peak, new feminisms were emerging. The world was changing amid the threat from the insanity of nuclear war. There was hope as well as fear.

The last fifteen years have been filled with anything but hope. The abject failure of the movement to prevent the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan marks a shift in consciousness for many of the millions involved. If that failed then what can we do? The years since the economic crash of 2008 have been even bleaker as the ongoing assault against our quality of life has been relentless, even when faced with all the resistance people can muster. Suicide rates in the UK are increasing at a terrifying rate amongst those hundreds of thousands forced deeper and deeper into despair as they are forced down in greater and greater poverty. Unemployment is rising as unemployment support is cut to ribbons. Children go to school hungry despite their parents skipping meals in order to feed them. The media is relentless in its demonisation of the poorest in society whilst also equating those poor souls fleeing terror with the very horror from which they run. The far right grows in confidence as the left finds itself unable to become a force of opposition. What left that there is.

Many pin their hopes on the likes of Corbyn or Sanders whilst many more remember the betrayals of supposedly left wing parties. Even those hopeful few must feel the nagging doubt that they are setting themselves up for disappointment. The trade unions are toothless and more concerned with maintaining amicable relationships with the bosses than building a brighter tomorrow for workers.

There is no hope.

Into this malaise, this generalised anxiety, comes The Weird.

Science Fiction, as already mentioned, experienced its New Wave in the 1960s. Horror has never experienced such an event. There was the Horror Boom of the 1980s that saw horror authors such as Clive Barker and Ramsey Campbell become household names and there was a surge of interest in the field. There was however no gestalt shift in relation to the social turmoil of the period. From SF we saw Cyberpunk emerge and from horror there was… Splatterpunk. There was, so far as I’m aware, no current, no scene, within horror casting a wry eye over the excesses and catastrophes of the day.

Now though there is most definitely a trend emerging within the Horror, and Weird Fiction, scene that is most certainly conscious of the social context in which it is operating. In his essay, ‘Why Weird, Why Now?: On the Rationale for Weird Fiction’s Resurgence’, Kurt Fawver says that:

[…]the weird has, at least in part, experienced a renaissance in the early 21st Century due to its reflection of globalization’s impact upon cultural interchange and connectedness as well as its ability to play an oppositional role to the Information Age’s deluge of explanations and connectedness.

I would add to this that The Weird is also uniquely able to unpick and interrogate the bleakness that surrounds us on a daily basis. Unlike the SF New Wave however The Weird isn’t born in an age of hope and so it offers no promises of escape. Something that, for all the fantastical and often magical events of the stories, offers something of a weird verisimilitude to the reader.

We know that, as things stand, there is little hope in the world. Perhaps The Weird, by throwing its strange light onto the tribulations of the early 21st Century can help us understand the horrors with which we are presently faced.
Of course, it is also highly likely that Strantzas was taking the piss a bit and I’ve just made myself look like a complete twonk. 😀

As much as I enjoy people commenting on my blog I think that, should people wish to discuss this, it would be great if they did so on the Thinking Horror Facebook group. (LINK) Please feel free to pop on by and find this posted there to tell me how wrong I am. 🙂

Kurt Fawver’s essay appeared in Volume One of Thinking Horror: A Journal of Horror Philosophy available in print and as an ebook from Amazon.

‘after’ by Scott Nicolay

Scott Nicolay‘s novella ‘after’ was released by Dim Shores a couple of months ago at the same time as they published ‘Rangel’ by Matthew M. Bartlett which I discussed briefly here. I have only just, shame on me, managed to find the time to read Scott’s story and, as ever with both Scott’s work and the stories put out by Dim Shores, I was impressed. This review contains some spoilers so feel free to skip to the tl;dr by clicking here or scroll past the image below to read on.

Still here?
Good.

‘after’ is set in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy which was a hurricane, don’t know why American’s would want to call it a ‘superstorm’ when it already has a perfectly good name. It also shows something of a lack of imagination. Seriously, if you’re going to rename something at last be a bit witty about it: see here. A lack of imagination however is not something one could accuse Scott Nicolay of and, my bad taste quips aside, Hurrican Sandy devastated parts of the north-east American coast and caused immense suffering and hardship to those caught in its path. In fact Nicolay dedicates his story thus

With compassion toward all those who suffered in the path of Superstorm Sandy and contempt toward all those who sought to profit from their suffering.

Cards on the table eh Scott?

‘after’ follows the experiences of Colleen, a middle aged woman whose holiday home on the Jersey Shore was in an area that suffered the attentions of Sandy and who is being allowed, along with some of her neighbours, to return to the area in order to ascertain the damage done to her property and to recover anything that she can. The area is under curfew and so she will have to return on the bus provided by the authorities at the end of the day.
One thing that I have noticed with the writing of Scott Nicolay is that he is never in a hurry for his story to get where it is going. He prefers instead to take his time, building both character, setting and, in the case of ‘after’, a sense of grim claustrophobia.

As Colleen travels back to Jersey Shore and walks through the unfamiliar familiar landscape of her neighbourhood we go on a much longer journey through her life and the events that led her to where we meet her. To the point where she is travelling, without her husband, into an situation of uncertainty and, potential, danger. The husband, and the reason for his absence, is the dark centre around which this story revolves. He is a drunk who has, in the past, assaulted her and from whom there is always the threat of violence making Colleen’s home life one of tension and fear. This is why she has chosen to travel to the holiday home alone and why, on the spur of the moment when waiting to return on the bus, she decides that she is going to remain in her house which has no power and no gas.

At its most basic level ‘after’ is a monster story. Colleen, whilst exploring the town turned upside down in search of supplies, encounters an immense creature which, upon noticing her, gives chase. Colleen manages to outrun it only to discover that it has set up home in the basement of her house. So begins the ‘meat’ of the story as Colleen attempts to fit her time in what should have been a sanctuary around this monster’s presence.

Of course, this being Scott Nicolay, ‘after’ isn’t just a monster story. There are two monsters present in the work; both of whom instil conflicting dreads in Colleen as she weighs up the threat from the monster that she knows against that from the monster she doesn’t. It is here that we get the real meat of the story. Not in the threat from the creeper, as Colleen refers to the creature, but in the sense of hemmed in isolation that she experiences. The fear of the beast in the basement and the regularity, at first, of its movements are bleakly similar the fear of her husband; though the apparent randomness of his alcohol fuelled abuse is why the monster wins out as a choice of housemate.

This is the strength of Scott’s work with ‘after’; his unflinching look at domestic abuse and the survival mechanisms which a person living in such a situation develops in order to survive and his graphic illustration of the feeling that the person doing the abuse is actually protecting the victim from something much worse: when the creature consumes a would be rapist. ‘after’ is definitely the strongest work that I’ve read by Nicolay and continues on the trajectory of exploring the effects of masculinity through the medium of the weird as hinted at in his debut collection ‘Ana Kai Tangata’. I am now thoroughly looking forward to reading Scott’s next collection.
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tl;dr
This is a great monster story but it’s also about domestic abuse and survival.
Unfortunately the Dim Shores edition of ‘after’ sold out extremely quickly however I believe that ‘after’ will be in Nicolay’s next collection which should be out in 2017.

Scott Nicolay hosts The Outer Dark podcast (now with added Justin Steele) and is currently highlighting on his blog classic weird fiction stories that do not receive the attention they deserve. He is doing this in conjunction with Michael Bukowski who provided the illustration for ‘after’.

Doug Talks Weird about Ligotti

Last week Doug Bolden posted the third of his video blogs discussing Weird Fiction and in this instalment he talked about the Thomas Ligotti short story ‘The Frolic’ and the meaning of the term ‘Lovecraftian’.

‘The Frolic’ is one of Ligotti’s earliest published stories and, as good as it is, it is one of my least favourite Ligotti tales. The story centres around a psychiatrist who is dealing with a patient who is a notorious child murderer -he refers to his abuse and murder of children as ‘frolicking’- and who has become increasingly cynical and bitter about his career. To me the story seemed rather simplistic and, dare I say it, trite though that could well be to do with the stories age –Songs of a Dead Dreamer which features the story was Ligotti’s first collection released in 1986- or perhaps due to Ligotti trying to curtail his literary ambitions in order to appeal to the horror publications of the time.

Where I didn’t enjoy the story Doug manages to tease the Ligottian elements from within what is otherwise a by the numbers psycho-killer story.

There was a short, 24 minute, film made of ‘The Frolic’ a few years ago which is now available on Vimeo. I’ve not seen it and so can’t comment as to the quality but you can watch it below.

Cartographic Destabilisation in the Weird

Men can see nothing around them that is not their own image; everything speaks to them of themselves. Their very landscape is alive.

-Guy Debord masquerading as Karl Marx: ‘Theory of the Dérive’ in Les Lèvres Nues #9 (November 1956)

 

Cartographic destabilization creates the sense of weirdness by projecting symbols and metaphors that signify dislocation and disorientation within the literature. Language is the map in which we follow literature by and if we cannot form our own stable cognitive map in our reading of said language, our sense of place becomes disturbed and uncanny.

-William J. Hugel ‘Developing Weirdness Through Cartographic Destabilization in Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation

William J. Hugel has an extremely interesting essay on Student PulseLINK, in which he looks at the use of landscape as a tool to disorient the reader of weird fiction. This sense of disorientation, the destabilisation of the reader’s sense of place, is something that I have elsewhere referred to as discombobulation -an unsettling of the reader’s relationship with reality as mediated by the text, whereby the author is able to site a story within a world that is seemingly mundane yet with the map that is the text being an unreliable narrator in and of itself. As though Borge’s map had been laid out perfectly and rotated a mere one or two degrees so that as soon as one has taken a step or two the map, that with which we are most familiar, begins to deviate wildly from the territory in which we find ourselves. Which is an unsettling experience for creatures such as ourselves who use, and are so reliant upon, representation for our interpretation and communication of reality.

This defamiliarisation which occurs in some works of weird fiction seems to me to serve as an literary manifestation of the Lettrist/Situationist concept of ‘Psychogeography’ and especially the psychogeographical technique of the dérive. Psychogeography is the study of the psychological effects of the environment, built or otherwise, on the humans that exist within a given geography. The dérive is a method of geographical exploration that, through the participation in the random or semi-random dérive -or ‘drift’- through the landscape, seeks to allow the psychogeographer to experience their environment in a radically different and newly authentic manner and in doing so come to understand it and to interact with it in ways outside those proscribed by those who control and structure our environment.

In a similar manner certain works of weird fiction serve to act as a dérive through the familiar world of literature and allow the reader to engage in a radically new way with the medium.

Votu is reached by crossing a high steppe plateau of long green grass. Like a glacier, the city flows from an inaccessible source high in the mountains, and extends down onto the plain. A boundary separates the piedmont zone from the upper city, and, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, nobody lives above the boundary. Looking up, the people of Votu watch as the future city arrives, having already existed from time immemorial and thus being older than the city they’ve come to know, sliding inexorably down the slope and piling up on top of them. People move into new buildings and adapt to the new streets as they cross the boundary into the habitable zone, while the older structures opposite are driven down and crushed together, collapsing to form a sort of rubbery scrim at the city’s lowest extremity. The compacted past city forms a dense integument, not unlike a callous, that makes the erection of an outer wall unnecessary along that side.

-Michael Cisco, Celebrant

In the passage above Michael Cisco introduces us to the imaginary, in the story, city of Votu which the protagonist, deKlend, learns of upon reading a geographical encyclopedia of invented countries and for which he endeavors to search. In Votu, where time runs backwards, we see an inversion in the development process of the city as the older parts of the city push aside and destroy the newer parts in which the inhabitants live. The slow, glacial, destruction of the older parts of the city is familiar to us but the inversion of the process forces the reader to consider the ways in which people have to adapt to the changes forced upon their environment by the seemingly unstoppable forces of capitalist development. In this the city of Votu is recognisable to the reader but it is also dislocated from mundane reality -a defining feature of The Weird as defined by Laird Barron in his introduction to 2014’s The Year’s Best Weird Fiction- and so the reader must engage with it from an unfamiliar -a discomfited- position.

This use of a radicalised and offset spatiality is one of the more powerful affects utilised by writers of weird fiction in their attempt to elicit unease in the reader and to open up the reader to a new literary experience in the mode of the weird. It allows the writer to present a new yet familiar world and, in doing so, gifts the reader a whole new territory to explore which perhaps allows access to a more authentically human experience than other literary forms.

Debord's map of Paris
Debord’s map of Paris

New Story: And the Filth Flows …Always

The flooding was immense. I looked through the bedroom window at the street below. The black slime that last night had begun to seep up from the drains and to flow languidly down the gutters had risen so that neither the tarmac of the road nor the grey stone of the pavement could be seen. In their place was this slow moving river of it winding its way towards the center of town.

Cars and pedestrians alike made their way through the early morning haze seemingly not noticing the dramatic change to the street through which they passed. I wondered how they could be unaware of the viscous filth that pulled and sucked at their feet, that fouled the tires of their vehicles spraying their chassis’ with the grim substance.

The house was empty. It had been for years. Years since my daughter Kate had left home for her own life and, before that, since Alice had been taken from us. It had been so for years; yet now, faced with this strange and horrid phenomenon outside, I felt the loneliness more than ever. Since those first days after Kate left, those first days without either of the girls –without my family I felt the need to talk to someone –to anyone. To ask why they were not more perturbed, more caring, of the effluence which was now flooding the street. How could they bear to walk through it, to even drive through it?

The houses of Elderslie Road are old red brick Georgian terraces. Front doors opening directly onto the street but elevated by a couple of small steps. The blackness was flowing below the top of the first step, surely they must notice? It is only because of this tiny elevation that the horrid looking stuff was not flowing beneath doors and flooding the houses. At the rear of each house are more steps than in the front which lead down into the back yards so if the flooding was the same in the back then, at least, it would not have come into the kitchen. For now.

The full story is available in my mini collection Hinterland on the Amazon Kindle store. (LINK)

And the Filth Flows Always by Lee Culloty

The Degenerate Little Town|Thomas Ligotti & Current 93

Thomas Ligotti has in the past collaborated with the English industrial band Current 93. In this track Ligotti himself reads the poem This Degenerate Little Town over music from Current 93.

This Degenerate Little Town

Thomas Ligotti

The greatest secret,
which appears in no religious doctrine
and is found nowhere
in the world’s overburdened library
of myths and fables
nor receives the slightest mention
in any philosopher’s system
or scientist’s speculation…
The greatest secret,
perhaps the only secret,
is that the universe,
all of creation,
owes its existence
to a degenerate little town.
And if it were possible
to strip away the scenery that surrounds us,
to pull up the landscape
of every planet,
to rip away the skies
and shove aside the stars and suns,
to tear from ourselves our own flesh
and delve deep into our bones,
we would find it standing there eternal,
the origin of all things visible
or invisible,
the source of everything that is
or can be,
this degenerate little town.
And then we would discover
its twisted streets
and tilting houses,
its decaying ground
and rotting sky.
And with our own eyes
we would see the diseased faces
peeking from grimy windows.
Then we would realize
why it is such a secret.
The greatest and most vile secret.
This degenerate little town
where everything began
and from whose core of corruption
everything seeps out…

From the beginning,
if there was a beginning,
this degenerate little town
has become ever more degenerate;
its streets more twisted
its houses more tilting
its ground more decayed
its sky more rotten,
those faces behind ever more grimy windows
have become ever more diseased
And in the end…
But there can never be an end
for this degenerate little town.
No more than an end will ever come
for the worlds that have seeped out of it
for everything we can know
is degenerate from the beginning,
everything becomes more twisted and tilting,
more diseased and decayed
rotting from the very sky.
This is the law of things,
if there can be any law
in a universe that has its source and origin
in a degenerate little town,
which has been degenerate from the beginning,
if there was a beginning,
and will go on with its degeneration,
its ceaseless twisting and tilting,
its disease and decay,
its infinite shades of rottenness
forever and without end.

We cannot help but wonder,
in our most perverse moments,
what it would be like
to inhabit this degenerate little town
where the sky is forever dripping its rottenness like rain
to be among those faces
that are diseased faces
eternally diseased faces
eternally peeking through the glass of grimy windows
and out into twisted streets
lined with tilting houses
in a town that is forever degenerating
and will be degenerating forever.
We cannot help but wonder
in our most perverse moments
as we look through bleary eyes
and see the stars that seem to form
so many twisting roads through the blackness,
or feel our flesh rotting upon our bones,
and yet we can only wonder
we can only whisper
or cry out in our dreams
“O Where is the way to this degenerate little town?”

There are those among us
who claim to have seen
this degenerate little town,
although they may be unaware
of its true nature.
There are those who have emerged
from some painful ordeal of the body
or of the mind,
and then begun speaking
of how they saw in the distance
an outline of crooked houses
tilting this way and that,
or walked along some twisted street,
and felt the ground soft with decay
beneath their steps,
or even glimpsed those diseased faces,
their skin rough and pale as plaster,
peeking from behind grimy windows.
But those who claim to have seen such things
always seem to tell a somewhat different story –
failing to compose a consistent picture
of what they may have seen,
or imagine they have seen.
And so we stare at them suspiciously
for a moment,
and then start to walk away,
leaving them to their lies or their illusions,
which of course are the very essence
of this degenerate little town.

“Where is this place?
This degenerate little town?
What is its name?
And who were its creators?”

Such questions are inevitable
and a matter of course
whenever a world knowledge
is attained about anything.
Never mind the greatest secret.
The greatest mystery.

“Are there seasons in the land of this town?
Is there a springtime in which great rains poor down day and night from that rotting sky?
Are there sultry summers that lay a heavy stillness upon those twisted streets?
And what of its autumn, which must be so succulent with all the colours of decay?
Do the winters there, in this degenerate little town, pile their weighty snow upon the roofs of those tilting houses? “

So many question about this secret place.
But as long as such questions are asked,
and countless answers are offered,
the greatest secret will always remain protected,
for no questions will ever be asked,
no answers will ever be allowed
concerning those diseased faces
that have gazed forever
behind the glass of grimy windows.

Like every phenomenon
that we cannot fully face,
this degenerate little town
must remain a cult in its essence
and serve as a limit
for such as we care to know
about what is beyond
the blackness of night
or what is deep in our bones,
for like every phenomenon
that we have actually come to face
this degenerate little town
can only pain us,
adding to our lives
a mere surplus of the pains
we have known so well
throughout the agonised ages
of a degenerate creation.

But like no other phenomenon
that we have ever faced,
this degenerate little town,
under its rotting sky,
standing upon decayed ground–
a landscape of a pain
that is like no other–
may be our last hope,
the only hope we have
of killing all the hopes
we have ever had
and murdering every mystery
we have ever cherished,
so that we may step forth, finally,
into that great shining kingdom
of which we have always dreamed.

It may be quite likely
that we are grotesquely mistaken
to think there is anything special,
anything remarkable at all,
about this degenerate little town.
Far from being the greatest secret,
the worst or the finest of all our dreams,
it may be quite likely
the greatest commonplace,
the supreme banality.
Consider the possibility.
Who among us
have not found ourselves
beneath a rotting sky?
A sky broken and rotting
from what has been heaped up to it
during every epic of this earth,
this ground that is miles deep
with the decay of everything
that has ever lived upon it.
Who has not traveled
through twisted streets,
and under the shadow of houses,
even the straightest of which,
if our eyes could only see it,
is veering towards to tilt?
As for diseased faces,
they are ever prevailing
to the point of embarrassment.
And so much for this civic marvel
that is beyond the blackness of night,
or resides deep in our bones.
Yet if this is the case,
as it quite likely may be,
what remains for us in a universe
where there is nothing special,
nothing of any account,
let alone the saving miracle
of this degenerate little town?

It seems entirely natural that,
should anyone gain full knowledge
of this degenerate little town,
they would deny the truth
of this greatest, most terrible of secrets –
and, as a consequence,
as an act of self-protection,
would fabricate some other
set of circumstances,
a more companionable picture
of the way of things.
This would explain so many
of the deranged idols and beliefs
that have arisen in our world.
At least we would be able to account
for the multitudes of Mannequin Saviours,
as one might view them –
their faces smooth and serene
behind display windows,
welcoming the faithful who,
upon their death,
will enter a department-store paradise
of the most vague and intangible delights.
And some mention must be made
of what might be called
the Sect of the Puppetlands,
whose highly deranged adherents
posit a transcendent universe
of infinite and harmless antics
that are imperfectly mirrored
in the chaos and crises of our own world,
which, in any case, will end nicely
when the Great Puppet Play is concluded
in a sweet bedtime of slumber…
until the next show begins.

Yet, who would begrudge anyone
the denials or alternate renderings
of the twisted streets and tilting houses
the diseased faces and grimy windows of
this degenerate little town,
which itself seems so perfectly bleak,
so in tune with the world we know
forever inclined to ever greater degeneracy
that even the few enlightened ones among us
sometimes doubt it to be real.

We sometimes imagine
that we have heard voices.
Strange and harsh voices,
faintly calling from beyond
the blackness of night
or from deep in our bones.
And even if there are no actual words,
no actual language we know
in which the voices speak,
still there is a terrible understanding
delivered into our world
that only a few may comprehend,
and none would desire,
for this understanding,
this message of strange harsh voices
from beyond the blackness of night,
or from deep in our bones,
declares that this degenerate little town,
that greatest of secrets,
is only a facade
or a mirage,
a picturesque lie
or illusion
in the guise of twisted streets and tilting houses,
all the rottenness and disease which we sense
as the source of all the things we know
or can ever know
when in fact there is something else altogether,
something which none could comprehend,
or desire to comprehend,
yet which they cannot fail to hear
when it slips through the sounds
of those strange and harsh voices,
when it drifts through
during the briefest moments of silence
and from beyond the blackness of night,
or from deep in our bones
comes forth as the hollow resonance
of a most dismal laughter.

Even though there is no evidence
that a degenerate little town
forms the greatest secret
and is the source
of all the things we know
its truth and its existence remain assured
and there do seem to be certain indications
certain aspects and elements of our lives
that in no uncertain terms
inform us of one fact:
sooner or later we will find ourselves
in this degenerate little town
whether we wish to go there or not.
Because when the sky
begins to darken,
as if rotting before our eyes,
and when our bones
begin to change,
growing soft with decay,
we know that all the ways
of our lives
have been leading us,
and can only lead us,
to this degenerate little town.
And then we may understand
that everything around us,
everything within us,
has a direct point of contact
to that secret place,
that source of all things.
Dreams, for instance,
the dreams of our sleep
wherein every mind is destined
to go twisted and tilting
into lands of swift magic.
These dreams alone would make the case –
if anything were ever needed
in the way of evidence.
These dreams alone
would put us in close view
of those grimy windows
behind which diseased faces
peek out through the glass,
as if they are waiting for
someone to arrive –
as if they are waiting
for everyone, sooner or later,
to enter their little town.

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.

AMAZON USA  AMAZON UK

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.

 

Review – The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan

I posted this review of The Red Tree by by Caitlín R. Kiernan over at Good Reads.

The Red TreeThe Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First off. DO NOT LET THE COVER FOOL YOU!
This is not urban fantasy/paranormal romance. This is a beautifully written piece of literary weird/cosmic horror. Whoever ok’d this cover doesn’t seem to have read the book.
Taking the form of a journal kept by Sarah Crow, an author grieving the suicide of her partner, The Red Tree is a sumptuously written examination of grief, anger, loneliness and the effects these can have on a person’s sanity. Kiernan is masterful at her deployment of the unreliable narrator. The concept of the unreliable narrator being one that runs throughout this story; and, indeed, is carried on in her next novel The Drowning Girl.
The plot of the novel revolves around an ancient tree sitting just within sight of a farm house Sarah has rented in order to both work on her novel and try and deal with her grief. The tree is steeped in monstrous lore and terrible legends linked to barbarous rituals, serial killers and suicides. These myths and legends weave themselves into Sarah’s story, into her grief, her loss and begin to fragment her sense of self and reality.
As with all of Kiernan’s work The Red Tree is gorgeously written and a joy to read. Her prose is exceptional in the field of weird/horror writing and why she hasn’t won more awards I do not know.
Still, I don’t know what the hell is going on with that cover…

View all my reviews

The Vandermeers are Coming to Town!

So this is probably the most exciting local news I’ve heard for a bit. Glaswegian author Neil Williamson has organised with Waterstones on Argyll Street to host an evening with Ann and Jeff Vandermeer. Not only that but they will be joined by Glasgow’s own Hal Duncan and Amal el-Mohtar. Excited? I think I am. 😀

The event is on the 21st of August(the day before my birthday – how perfect is that?) at 7pm. Tickets are free but need to be booked in advance by calling the store.

WATERSTONE’S GLASGOW ARGYLE ST
Thursday, 21 August 2014, 7:00PM – 8:30PM
Tickets are free, call to reserve

We are pleased to announce an evening with the talented Ann and Jeff VanderMeer who will be in conversation with Glasgow’s masters of the fantastic: Amal El-Mohtar, Hal Duncan and Neil Williamson. Join us in a celebration of the weird and wonderful world of science fiction and fantasy with some of the genre’s most talented authors.

Further Details: 0141 248 4814

The Weird comes to Glasgow, at last! 😀