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Mar. 13th, 2010

Works in Progress

Here's a quick inventory of things I need to finish before month's end.

A review of Mister Slaughter by Robert R. McCammon.

A review of Leviathan Wept and Other Stories by Daniel Abraham.

A review of Indigo Springs by A.M. Dellamonica.

A review of Galileo's Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson.

A review of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.

A review of the remake of The Crazies.

An interview with one of my favorite writers for Revolution SF.

And that's not counting an upcoming press screening for Repo Men, which I'll also need to review, to say nothing of the fiction in desperate need of revision, or even completion.

And how is your Saturday?

Nov. 3rd, 2009

Styx Freeway (A Dream)

In the dream dead cars lined a deserted highway. A blue VW Beetle rested halfway on the shoulder, tires shredded, rims bent, doors open and askew on their hinges. Inside, strips had been ripped from the cloth upholstery, exposing pitted, begrimed padding, and the dashboard sagged as if some behemoth had used it as a chair unable to support its weight completely, yet the windshield, though filthy, remained intact. Farther down the road, a pair of black tire tracks veered off into red sand, where a brown suburban sat buried up to the tops of its tires, its windows shattered and one rear door hanging open like a broken wing on the carapace of a dead insect.

Rinek was driving through the desert of littered cars. It had been a long trip. Ahead, clouds as black as night formed on the horizon like ink that had spilled onto a blotter. Though the windows were rolled up and the air conditioner hissed through a losing battle with the heat, he could smell the moisture tinged with the sun-baked sand. Next to him the dead man hunched in the passenger seat, his head jutting forward on a neck sitting perpendicular to the rest of his body, so he can see through the windshield better, he told Rinek. Rinek told him he shouldn't sit like that, that it was squeezing his insides, and the man told him he was dead so it didn't matter. The dead man was chain smoking. Ashes dropped from his cigarette onto the darkening blood soaking through his white shirt and black jacket, and when he inhaled the tip of the cigarette glowed red but the smoke trailed from the jagged gaping wound that had been cut into his neck, and when the glowing red tip closed in on the brown filter wet with the dead man's spit and blood he pulled another from his jacket pocket and took the lit stub out of his mouth to light it and put the fresh cigarette in his mouth, then crushed out the stub and dropped it onto the floor with the greasy McDonald's wrappers and the stained Styrofoam cups reeking of old coffee. Rinek told the dead man that he shouldn't do that, that he was filling his body with carcinogens, and the dead man blew smoke from the jagged gaping wound that had been cut into his neck and told Rinek that he was dead so it didn't matter. They kept driving, heard the tires hum on the baking black road, and over the hum the radio played America's "Horse with No Name" through crackles of static. They still passed cars sitting by the side of the road or off the road completely, cars with shredded tires and rusted bodies and broken windshields, and as they drove they passed cars with dented doors and crumpled bumpers and shattered headlights and crushed and broken bodies, then the cars were gone and they approached once living bodies in various states of decay: a dead calf, its eyes buzzing with flies; a longhorn with flesh falling from bleached bones; the skeletons of two coyotes, their yellow teeth locked into one another's porous vertebrae. The black clouds grew closer and thunder rumbled. The clouds seeped across the sky like spilled water on a tablecloth but instead of things growing darker color drained from their surroundings, turning everything into a stark black-and-white photograph with only limited shades of gray. The red sand turned white and burned brightly in Rinek's eyes. He looked in the rearview mirror as the black clouds passed overhead and rolled towards the other horizon, bleaching the red sand white, making indistinct the road and the dead things in the road and the sand ahead was white and so bright that even if Rinek closed his eyes he couldn't shield himself from the white. He no longer felt the car moving, no longer heard the hum of the tires or the hiss of the air conditioner or the song on the radio, and as the feel of the steering wheel dissolved beneath his hands he looked at the dead man in the passenger seat and told him that they'd made it, they were there, but all he could see of the dead man was a trace of his jaw and the burning cigarette between his long teeth and eyes as black as charcoal that turned into the shadowed empty eye sockets of a skeleton and he told Rinek that it didn't matter because he was dead, Rinek was dead, everybody was dead.

Oct. 17th, 2006

When Will Weirdness Strike?

Sometimes they do something right. The New York Review of Books has reprinted Joyce Carol Oates's H.P. Lovecraft essay "The King of Weird".

Though Poe is far more renowned than Lovecraft, indeed, and ironically, now a canonical figure in American literature—he who died penniless and scorned!—both writers have had an incalculable influence on succeeding generations of writers of horror fiction, and Lovecraft is arguably the more beloved by contemporary gothic aficionados. Poe is credited with the invention of the "mystery-detective" story and with the perfection of a certain species of ahistoric, claustrophobic, and boldly surreal monologue (of which "The Tell-Tale Heart" is the masterwork); Lovecraft with the fusion of the gothic tale and what would come to be defined as "science fiction," and with the development of a species of horror fantasy set in meticulously described, historically grounded places (predominantly, in Lovecraft, Providence, Rhode Island, Salem, Massachusetts, and a region in northern central Massachusetts to which he has given the name "the Miskatonic Valley"), in which a seemingly normal, intelligent scholar or professor, usually a celibate bachelor, pursues a mystery it would wiser for him to flee.


Unlike Poe's fevered tales which appear unrelated to one another, isolated in essential ways, Lovecraft's mature work, the cycle of horror/fiction tales to which his disciples have given the title the "Cthulhu Mythos," springs from a common source of invented legend. Lovecraft was one of those accursed, or blessed, writers who ceaselessly work and rework a small nuclei of scenarios, as if to force a mastery over the unconscious compulsions that guide them; such "mastery" for the writer may exist during the composition of the work, but fades immediately afterward, so that a new work, a new effort of organization and control, must be undertaken.


Most of Lovecraft's tales are not so luridly sensational as "The Dunwich Horror," but rather develop by way of incremental detail, beginning with quite plausible situations—an expedition to Antarctica, a trip to an ancient seaside town, an investigation of an abandoned eighteenth-century house in Providence, Rhode Island, that still stood in Lovecraft's time ("The Shunned House"—a novelty in Lovecraft's oeuvre in that it ends happily, with "one of the earth's nethermost terrors perished forever" and ordinary springtime commencing). One is drawn into Lovecraft by the very air of plausibility and characteristic understatement of the prose, the question being When will weirdness strike?

It's a long piece, but well worth your time. Go read.

June 2012




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