The Spectral Link – Thomas Ligotti

To be at odds with the status quo of one’s world can be frustrating to the point of madness. Fear, hate, and desperation are just a few of the mental states that fall to those who would have things other than they are. To become unhinged from the majority is to lose that vital link that keeps one complacently within the fold. Set adrift within the forbidden, the outsider remains on a steady course towards utter doom.

So opens the preface to The Spectral Link – the first release of new Ligottian fiction since 2006’s collection Teatro Grottesco. I received my copy in the post last week and the wait for its delivery brought about an impatience that I’ve not experienced since I was a child waiting for Christmas.

The book itself is a very slim volume, only 94 pages, and only contains two stories – Metaphysica Morum and The Small People. Only 94 pages but it is a truly beautiful wee volume. Everything from the quality of the paper through to the silk smooth dust jacket screams quality and we really should expect no less for a work that has been so anticipated since its surprise announcement last year(if I remember right). This is the first book that I’ve ordered from Subterranean Press, due mostly to the price, but if their releases are all to this standard I can see myself buying many more in the future. Bibliophilia is an expensive habit…

In the, very brief, preface Ligotti outlines the core theme of much of his work. That of the outsider who does not merely find himself at odds with society but with reality itself and of the only salvation being insanity.

Of course, the situation is hopeless for those who wish an alteration in affairs that by their very nature are fixed and define the world in which we are all chained. Their dispute is with reality itself, or what passes for reality.

Metaphysica Morum

The first of the two stories in this collection is told from the perspective of a person who seeks nothing more than to be “euthanized by anesthesia“, a phrase repeated often throughout the tale. This repetition reinforcing the fragile mindset of the protagonist as he experiences strange phantasmagoric dreams involving a ‘dealer’ who offers him a “all-new-context” and tries to relate these dreams to his therapist come meditation guru; a Doctor O.

There is an unrelenting bleakness to this story that readers of Ligotti will find most familiar but which others may find rather disturbing. Even someone familiar with Ligotti’s previous work may find that this tale really ramps up the horrifying ennui, pessimism and depression that permeates works like My Work is Not Yet Done and Nethescurial. The narrator describes his fragile mental state as being the result of a demoralization he feels when confronted with the world as it is and the strange connection between his dreams and what he perceives as reality.

You could attribute my psychological instability to this fact as well as to the dream occasions that so suspiciously bled into my quotidian life that sometimes I could not tell one from the other, which hypothetically might be attributed to there being no actual distinction between them.

Something that is, no doubt, reinforced by the revelation of his somewhat insalubrious origins as revealed in a partial letter from an estranged family member.

As with Ligotti’s other work; the text drips with a very concisely manifested bleakness and philosophical rejection of all that that others take for granted as being of value.

The Small People

Then I saw the sign just off the right side of the road. It had one of those simple faces on it, and written below were the words: SMALL COUNTRY. My whole body tightened, as it always did when I saw one of those road signs.

The second offering in the volume concerns a young person’s hatred of,  and obsession with, the eponymous ‘Small People’. As with Metaphysica Morum the tale involves a doctor which is of note, I feel, as these stories were penned following a brush with death that lead to the author’s hospitalisation. In this story the narrator is directly addressing a doctor as the tale of their childhood unfolds.

The narrator is obsessed with a group of people who live apart from normal, ‘real’ being the distinction the narrator makes, human society. This story is very open to multiple readings and interpretations. The Small People with which the protagonist is obsessed could be read as a representation of a society from which the narrator is alienated or as a section of our society, especially of groups marginalised by race/ethnicity or lifestyle.

Until then, I scarcely had a glimpse of any small people. My strange fear of them originated mostly from the simple face on the road signs that alerted people, real people, of their impending entry into small country. The mere idea of the smalls was enough to make me anxious about something I couldn’t name. And looking into that red plastic toy, I was sorry I hadn’t thrown myself onto the floor of our car, even knowing that my parents would have called me a shameful little bigot for the rest of the vacation.

Again this story is typically Ligottian with it’s focus on things which mimic humanity – in earlier stories marionettes/puppets/clowns all feature heavily. Yet I think that the fear/anxiety elicited in the narrator by the existence of the smalls is a step beyond similar stories by Ligotti which I have read as it is so easily read as a reflection of real world bigotry. Something which, I feel, gives the story a greater depth than it otherwise may reach. It is similar in this manner to my personal favourite Ligotti story Our Temporary Supervisor in the collection Teatro Grottesco which plays with the horrific alienation of work in a capitalist society.

Thomas Ligotti - Teatro Grottesco by SergiyKrykun
Thomas Ligotti – Teatro Grottesco by SergiyKrykun

The book, in hardback, is still available via Amazon UK though the Subterranean Press website is listing it as sold out. I would highly recommend picking this up before it disappears into the realms of the overpriced Ligotti collectibles market.

Ligotti Online has an interview with the author where he discusses the background to his writing of the stories and the tales themselves. You can read it here.

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.

True Dick – The King in Yellow

True Detective isn’t the first time that Chamber’s tattered king appeared in conjunction with hard boiled detectives like Rust and Marty. In 1938 Raymond Chandler wrote a Philip Marlowe short story entitled The King in Yellow. In 1983 this story was turned into an episode of  Philip Marlowe, Private Eye.

Cassilda’s Song

I just came across this fantastic version of Cassilda’s Song by The Society of the Yellow Sign.

From Act I Scene 2 of The King in Yellow.

Along the shore the cloud waves break,

The twin suns sink behind the lake,

The shadows lengthen

In Carcosa.
Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is

Lost Carcosa.
Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in

Dim Carcosa.

Song of my soul, my voice is dead,

Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed

Shall dry and die in

Lost Carcosa.

True Pessimist – True Detective

I yesterday discovered the new HBO drama True Detective thanks to The Lovecraft Ezine‘s posting about the show’s Ligottian influence. A second person then linked to an article on the Wall Street journal blog that referenced both Lovecraft and Robert W Chambers in relation to the show as well as expanding upon the Ligottian influence.

Whilst I am a bit of a fan of crime dramas I tend to veer towards European, particularly Scandinavian, shows that don’t distract from the horror of the murder/crime being investigated with gaudy effects and cack handed appeals to emotion(I’m looking at you CSI). Shows like Wallander(Sweden) and, especially, Forbrydelsen(Denmark). So normally a show like True Detective would just pass me by had it not been for these mentions of Ligotti, Chambers, and Lovecraft. Needless to say, my interest was more than piqued.

The show, now on its third episode, follows two investigations into two seemingly linked murders. One in 1995 and one in 2012. In 1995 we see detectives Rustin “Rust” Cohl(Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart(Woody Harrelson) as two mismatched homicide detectives investigating the bizarre, and seemingly occult related, murder of a young woman. the 2012 plot line consists of Cohl and hart being interviewed by a pair of detectives investigating a strikingly similar murder.

The dialogue between Cohl and Hart is fantastic throughout the show but what stands out most, to me being a Ligotti fan anyway, are Cohl’s nihilistic diatribes against life, religion, and the bullshit in which we cloak the essential meaninglessness of existence. A prime example of this is seen in the very first episode when Hart, an ostensibly Christian man, asks Cohl what he believes.

That could have been lifted from any number of Ligotti’s stories.

Whilst the murder is most certainly weird and just drips with all manner of occult symbolism it isn’t until the second episode that the influence of weird fiction authors becomes overtly clear. References to the Yellow King in the diary of the murdered woman and direct quotes from Chamber’s work are laid out before us on the screen.

The Yellow King

In Carcosa

I don’t know if the show is going to feature any supernatural elements, that exist outside of the mind of the killer/s, nor do I know if the show needs anything supernatural to convey the bleak cosmic horror of Ligotti’s work that it so closely resembles. The washed out colours, the bleak existential nihilism of Cohl, the occult(but not necessarily supernatural) elements of the murders, the hypocrisy and denial of Hart. All combine to give the show an air of resignation where the true horror lies not in the actions of the, seemingly, deranged killer but in the mundane stripping away of the façade of normality by Cohl’s unshakable nihilism.

The series continues on the ninth of this month.