Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Farewell, Anne McCaffrey

Sad news for all fans of Pern and of all her other series. After a long and very productive writing career, Anne McCaffrey is no more. A massive heart attack has taken her from this world.

She will be missed.

But her writing will stand for the ages.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Women, Men and Reviews

Kate Elliot has a very interesting post on her LiveJournal about disparaties in visibility and reception of books by men and women authors. She's brought up some very interesting issues related to the role of reviewing, of positive and negative publicity about the authors' personal lives (women authors are far more prone to getting treated as though their personal shortcomings reflect the value of their work, while men often get far more severe missteps forgiven), and of male vs. female gazes (what men observe is viewed as universally important, while what women look at is of importance only to women).

Bad News for Horror Readers and Writers

Due to the bad economy, The Twisted Library is putting all anthologies on hold for at least six months and some, the exact number to be determined, will be canceled altogether. Like Norilana Books, which has also had to postpone anthology publications and has had some editors take their anthologies elsewhere, The Twisted Library is a small press that is almost entirely the work of one person. Things had hung on for a little longer there because the publisher of The Twisted Library is a dentist and had been using money from his dental practice to float the anthologies, but as the economic crisis worsens, people are deferring routine dental care, which means less income for him, and a lot of it has to be put back into maintaining the overhead of his dental practice.

This is unfortunate because short stories in anthologies are one of the important ways for readers to be introduced to new writers. If you know that there will be at least two or three authors in it whose stories you are likely to enjoy, you can buy feeling confident that you'll get your money's worth, and thus take the risk of trying out stories by new writers that are also in there. After all, you've already paid your money, so everything else you gain is a bonus.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Guest Posting on "Red Star, Yellow Sign"

Today I'm guest posting on my own story in Historical Lovecraft: Tales of Horror Through Time
, "Red Star, Yellow Sign" at Molly Tanzer's blog. I'm delving into the writing process, and how changing views of history intersect with it.

So please come over and take a look.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Woefully Incomplete Record of the Beloved Ancestors of the Ivybridge Twins

Today we have a guest blog by Molly Tanzer, author of "The Infernal History of The Ivybridge Twins."

When Silvia requested we Historical Lovecraft authors do a “The Author Speaks” segment to go at the end of our stories, and mentioned she wanted us specifically to discuss our inspiration, I decided to go the direct route and confess the original spark came from wanting to do a picaresque about twin incestuous necromancers. Ah, the muse, and her mysterious demands! Can we ever know the why?

While what I wrote was true, going a bit deeper I must confess that the desire to write something set in 18th England, using tropes so often found within the novels of the time, has long been a desire of mine. My Master’s degree in Humanities largely focused on the novels and women’s novel culture of 18th century England, and when I turned my hand to creative writing, I wanted to pay a bit of homage to those writers and their work. I doubt they’d be entirely pleased with my effort. Or pleased at all, in any way, quite frankly. Regardless, their writing inspired me while composing “The Infernal History of the Ivybridge Twins,” for better or for worse, and here I’ll discuss that in more depth.

Scholars such as Ian Watt consider 18th century England to be the place and time where the true “modern novel” was born. It’s an interesting theory, and one that has caused quite a number of critical debates—but even if we disregard that particular academic ruckus, one of the reasons those interested in the origin of the modern novel turn to the era of Defoe and Richardson Fielding is that. . . well, about a bajillion novels that look very much like what we, today in 2011 think of when we think of novels, got published around then. Except for poor Edmund Blackadder's, of course—but there were extenuating circumstances.

Seriously though, there really were about a bajillion novels published in the 18th century, many of which have fallen into obscurity due to various reasons (like their not fitting well into survey curricula, or their being written by the ladies and thus long dismissed by the Academy as unimportant, or their being too didactic for our modern taste, or being. . . well, let’s just say, “not the best written”—though I, for one, still love even the crappiest 18th century novel). And, as with any time period, there were conventions used within those bajillion or so novels that we can now, from where we sit, identify and talk about in essays and articles and stuff.
When writing my Infernal History, I chose some of my favorite novels, novelists, and tropes—the ones I loved and have found myself inspired by for many years—and “artistically borrowed” from them to create the “feel” I wanted for the piece. What I’m going to do today is identify a few little tidbits from my story that were directly informed by the novels and novelists of the 18th century, and cite some works where, if you like what I’ve done in my piece, you can go to enjoy the original (but you don’t have to take my word for it).

I should say, however, that this is an imperfect list, simply because I crammed a hell of a lot of what I learned during my Master’s (and afterwards, in private study) into the piece. Thusly, I’m not even going to start on topics like, oh, say, “sensibility,” or “chattel slavery in the West Indies,” or, Christ, “the relationship between desire and disease in women represented in fiction of the 18th century.” Thankfully, others have given those topics the treatment they deserve, and so I’ve included a bibliography at the end so anyone interested can read around a bit.

The Narrator as Character: A few times in “The Infernal History of the Ivybridge Twins,” the narrator interjects herself into the story, giving the reader her specific opinion on the events. This is a convention used frequently in the 18th century novel, and famously in Tom Jones (1749). In fact, the narrator’s voice is so strong in Tom Jones that, in the delightful 1997 miniseries, the writers decided to incorporate that voice by having Henry Fielding himself be a character. He frequently comes on screen to comment on the action, and it’s very amusing. (I also recommend that miniseries for Brian Blessed’s performance.) Tom Jones, as I’ve related elsewhere, was where I discovered what “calipash” was, and thus it yielded the family name of my characters, but it was also one of my main inspirations for the “voice” of the piece.

Names that Tell You About the Character’s Personality and/or Rôle in the Book: So, yeah, there’s a character named Mr. Villein in my novelette. Guess what? He’s not the good guy. Spoiler alert, I know, but for serious, everyone probably could figure that one out. I love this kind of thing. Eliza Haywood uses the effect in her 1751 novel The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless (hmm, wonder what Betsy’s like?) as does Sarah Fielding in The Adventures of David Simple (1744) (hmm, what’s—never mind). Henry Fielding, I suppose I must mention, uses this too, in Tom Jones, though perhaps more ironically, given his characters have names like Squire Allworthy and Reverend Thwackum. Come to think of it, after the publication of Richardson’s famous novel Pamela (1740), where the virtuous Pamela is justly rewarded, Fielding also wrote a book called Shamela (1741), about a girl who spends her time trying to trick a man named Squire Booby into marrying her. . . good times, good times indeed.

The West-Indian, Return’d, at Last, to England: At one point in the “Infernal History of the Ivybridge Twins,” a man, after a long time spent in the West Indies, comes home to Devonshire. My goodness, but you can find a lot of that sort of thing in 18th century novels! One of my favorite essays on the subject is an old one, Wylie Sypher’s 1939 “The West-Indian as a ‘Character’ in the Eighteenth Century,” which is regrettably not available online except through JSTOR. If you have a subscription, or know someone who does, and are interested in such things, definitely check it out. It’s fascinating. If you’d rather read the fiction from which this essay is drawn, however, one of the most iconic instances of this can be found in The Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph (1761) by Frances Sheridan. I shan’t tell you how, though, so it can be a surprise—it’s a great book, and if you can find it, well worth reading for pleasure. Though less dramatically utilized, such a theme is also found in Sarah Scott’s sentimental novel The History of Sir George Ellison (also a favorite of mine), and in the more socially-conservative Belinda (1801), by Maria Edgeworth. Much later, Charlotte Brontë hearkens back to this trope in Jane Eyre (1847)—the appearance of Richard Mason recalls the events of many of the 18th century novels discussed above.

The Long-Lasting Effects of Education, Good and Bad: Here are a few books that discuss in detail the topic of education, whether it be the need for, the uses of, or the dire consequences of a poor one: Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda, Sarah Scott’s Millenium Hall (1762) and The History of Sir George Ellison, Haywood’s Miss Betsy Thoughtless, Sarah Fielding’s The Governess (1749), Charlotte Lennox’s The Female Quixote (1752). I could go on to list even more! Often discussed in popular literature, the education debate was found in magazines, newspapers, tracts, and sermons during the 18th century, as well. Many men and even more women wanted for formal learning, and there were countless discussions of how schools were to be funded, who should be educated, and what should be taught. The quality of schooling, too, was a concern, for both sexes, and the repercussions of poor education were lamented and feared. In my Infernal History, education plays a large part in the life-story of the Twins—as it has done for many other characters before them.

Further Reading:

Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel, by Nancy Armstrong

The Politics of Sensibility: Race, Gender, and Commerce in the Sentimental Novel, by Markman Ellis

Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and his Slaves in the Anglo-Jamaican World, by Trevor Burnard

Desire and Disorder: Fever, Fictions, and Feeling in English Georgian Culture, by Candace Ward

Entertaining Viewing:

Barry Lyndon (1975), Dir. Stanley Kubrick

Burn! (1969), Dir. Gillo Pontecorvo

Blackadder the Third (1987), Dir. Mandie Fletcher

The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling (1997), Dir. Metin Hüseyin

Many thanks to Leigh Kimmel for hosting this essay on her blog, and to Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles for including my story in their fine anthology.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Terror in the South Seas

When we think of H. P. Lovecraft, we typically think of brooding New England villages whose inbred inhabitants rarely leave the township and who may well have ancestors who aren't entirely human. But the power of ancient eldritch entities can hardly be confined to one small corner of the insignificant little blue-green marble that is our terrestrial sphere.

In Historical Lovecraft: Tales of Horror Through Time, Y, W. Purnomosidhi gives us "Pralaya: The Disaster," a story of the eruption of Mount Merapi and of a conquering emperor. With a little forewarning a saving remnant is able to flee, but it's darkly hinted that the gods they left behind were in fact beings from beyond the stars, entities that feed upon human fear and pain.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Second Rome

According to a tradition found among many Eastern Orthodox Christian communities, Constantinople (modern Istanbul, Turkey) was the Second Rome, to which the seat of Christianity shifted after the fall of Rome to the barbarians in the Fifth Century.

When readers of speculative fiction think of Constantinople and the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire, we tend to think of Harry Turtledove, the Byzantinist who launched his career with stories of alternate and fantastical Constantinoples. However, he is certainly not the only one to write of what the Byzantine Empire might have been. David Drake and Eric Flint wrote a six-book time travel series about Belisarius, in a world in which a living computer from the far future has traveled backward in time to prevent a horrific racist enemy from manipulating India's caste-based culture into a monstrous tyranny dedicated to the preservation of a "pure" humanity.

And in Historical Lovecraft: Tales of Horror Through Time
we see the marks of the meddling of the Great Old Ones in that part of human history, in "Silently, Without Cease" by Daniel Mills. His jumping-off point is the Plague of Justinian, one of the earliest known outbreaks of bubonic plague in Western Civilization. In the manner typical of virgin-field epidemics, it cut a wide swathe through a population with little genetic resistance to the Yersina pestis bacterium. Coming at a critical juncture in history, it wrecked the Emperor Justinian's plans to reunite the Eastern and Western Empires and restore the glory of the Roman Empire at its height. From that point forward, the history of the Eastern Roman Empire would be a slow but steady erosion, first to the Zoroastrian Persians and then to various Muslim forces, first Arabic-speaking and then Turkish.

In the Cthulhu Mythos, Nyarlathotep is associated both with the Egyptian pharaohs and with plagues and other apocalyptic events. Thus it seems natural to suggest that the mysterious ragged figure who arrives with the plague and subsequently heads West, with him or one of his minions.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Holy and the Abominable

Among the terrible cults we encounter in the works of H. P. Lovecraft is the Esoteric Order of Dagon. Masquerading as an ordinary Masonic Temple of the sort that can be found in many cities and towns all across the United States, it is in fact dedicated to the appeasement of monstrous aquatic entities from before the dawn of civilization. Appeasement that even goes to the point of wedding such beings and creating hybrid children, resulting in the population of the town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts having an ever-increasing proportion of its population showing strange deformities.

Interestingly enough, the name of Dagon is not unique to Lovecraft and his various colleagues. It goes all the way back to the Bible, to the Old Testament, where various Prophets of the Lord strove against priests of Dagon. For an avid reader of Lovecraft, those accounts can bring a delightful frission of fear -- are we seeing yet again the tentacle-prints of the Great Old Ones upon human history?

In Historical Lovecraft: Tales of Horror Through Time
we have "The Chronicle of Aliyat Son of Aliyat" by Alter S. Reiss, which takes us to Judah in the time of King Uzziah. The author is a professional archaeologist who has done work on Philistine sites in Israel, and draws upon modern archaeological and geological evidence as well as the Biblical account of the fall of Ashdod and the abominable Temple of Dagon there, giving us a delightfully creepy suggestion of an intersection between one of the West's most holy books and eldritch abominations.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Pollution of Deep Time

One of the distinctive characteristics of cosmic horror is its fascination with deep time. The traditional monsters of folklore -- the vampire, the werewolf, the zombie -- all are monsters on a human scale. They are the result of human misdeeds, however terrible, and generally originate in recent history relative to the protagonist of the story. Even Dracula dates back only centuries.

But H. P. Lovecraft and his various colleagues and imitators take a longer view, fitting with the rapidly expanding timescale of human and geological history that was developing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From the Biblically-derived date of 4004 BC for the creation of the world, history and pre-history suddenly stretched backward not mere thousands but millions of years -- numbers beyond even a literate and numerate person's capacity to grasp emotionally. Suddenly the entirety of written history and civilization shrank to an insignificant coda to unimaginable dark ages knowable only by such traces as fossils left in ancient stone.

And what is unknown is by its very nature frightening. We're afraid of the dark because it limits our ability to see, and thus know, our surroundings. Thus we imagine various monstrosities and horrors lurking in those shadows, waiting to gobble us up.

How much more frightening those shadows lying across deep time, the thousands and millions of years about which we could know so little. Might they too hold their horrors and monstrosities, not mere bogeymen on human scale, but vast and horrible intellects utterly incommesurate with humanity, even indifferent to our existence, taking no more note of our civilization than we do an anthill built in the way of a road or wall?

Thus it is fitting that the very first story in the new Innsmouth Free Press anthology Historical Lovecraft: Tales of Horror Through Time should deal with the very dawn of human history. In "The God Lurking in Stone" Andrew Dombalagian takes us to Neolithic Mesopotamia, before the first of the Mesopotamian civilization, to tell the story of a boy whose encounter with entities ancient, unknown and terrible may have been the root of the myths about the Sumerian god Marduk.