Catalogues

MASTERS OF FANTASY AND HORROR: LAFCADIO HEARN

MASTERS OF FANTASY AND HORROR: LAFCADIO HEARN

“I have pledged myself to the worship of the Odd, the Queer, the Strange, the Exotic, the Monstrous.” - Lafcadio Hearn (letter to W. D. O’Connor, May 1884).

CONCERNING LAFCADIO HEARN

By Boyd and Lloyd

Since his death at age fifty-four, Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) has never received the critical attention or appreciation that his significant body of work deserves.  Beloved by his Japanese students in the country he made his adopted home and arguably the single greatest Western interpreter of Japanese culture, Hearn has been dismissed by most critics and scholars as a second-tier author not worthy of serious consideration.  His adherents have attributed such negligence to the itinerant life Hearn led, comprised of significant periods in Ireland, the United States, the West Indies, and Japan, all of which prevents him from being easily seen as writer belonging to any particular nation or culture.  Primarily remembered for his kwaidan ("ghost stories" or "weird tales"), retellings of Japanese legends and folklore, Hearn's style is sparse and lean, rooted in the oral tradition of the Japanese folktale as filtered through his work as a sensationalistic newspaper reporter, his own translations of Theophile Gautier and Guy de Maupassant, his love of Gothic literature, and the Irish fairy tales and ghost stories told to him by Catherine Ronane, his childhood nurse.   As Jack Sullivan, a clear admirer of Hearn, has noted, "His cross-cultural influences may cause Hearn's final resting place to be in literary limbo."

Hearn's most vocal champion, Paul A. Murray, contends, "Few writers have been so permeated by horror in their lives and work, and few horror writers have been blessed with Hearn's literary ability … In his horror writing, Hearn was not concerned with achieving cheap thrills or titillation; it was rather a means of expanding the boundaries of experience."  Immersing himself in a culture that views elementals, ghosts, and goblins as a natural part of everyday reality, an accepted feature of the world in which we live and work, Hearn produced taught, terse highly polished stories that thrust his readers into a rich traditional of supernatural fiction that is still far too little known to most Western audiences, a mystic landscape populated by creatures both horrifically malignant and, at times, surprisingly benign.

In "The Legend of Yurei-Daki," an angry Shinto god rips off the head of an innocent baby whose mother steals a collection box from a shrine, and in "Jikininki," a priest is punished for his past sins by being reborn as a ghoul condemned to eat the flesh of the dead in a remote village.  By contrast, the beautiful snow demon in "Yuki-Onna," falls in love with a stranded youth in a blizzard, sparing him as long as he never reveals he has seen her, and the shark man in the "The Gratitude of the Samebito" weeps tears that turn into jewels that facilitate a mortal man marrying his true love.  Hearn’s skill with such material is so great that in Japan he remains a cultural icon, an author often regarded as a Japanese writer even though he wrote entirely in English.

As Lloyd Currey's Masters of Fantasy and Horror: Lafcadio Hearn reminds us, Hearn was much more, however, than just an accomplished writer of weird fiction.  Selections such as An American Miscellany (1924) and Editorials (1926) emphasize how, as a 19th-centrury American journalist, Hearn should be as highly regarded as Mark Twain or Ambrose Bierce.  As a young reporter covering the police beat in Cincinnati, Hearn produced notable examples of early American true crime writing, such as "A Violent Cremation," an account of the notorious Tanyard Murder, and "Gibbeted," a somber depiction of an execution, both characterized by a keen eye for gruesome detail seemingly incongruous with Hearn's sensitive nature.  An outsider because of a disfiguring childhood eye injury that left him a painfully shy individual who viewed himself as a physical grotesque, Hearn quickly moved beyond mere newspaper sensationalism, identifying with individuals and cultures on the margins of society.  His articles about the Bucktown and Levee neighborhoods of Cincinnati are among the few depictions of African-American life in a post-Civil War border city.  Later, while living and working in New Orleans, Hearn continued in this vein, writing editorials against political corruption, child labor, lynching, and urban decay.  New Orleans also provided Hearn with the opportunity for studying and writing about local Creole and Negro folklore, including voodoo, in a series of eerie sketches posthumously collected in several volumes, including Fantastics and Other Fancies (1914) and Creole Sketches (1924).  Likewise, while Hearn did not publish any volumes of literary criticism during his lifetime, Lloyd's inclusion of works such as Appreciations of Poetry (1916) and Some Strange English Literary Figures of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (1927), which consist of verbatim transcripts from his students' notebooks of his lectures while he served as chair of English Literature at the Imperial University of Tokyo, reveal that Hearn was, in fact, a fine critic.  His lectures, as well as his correspondence, contain numerous insights into figures as diverse as the pre-Raphaelite and Romantic poets, Charles Baudelaire, Emile Zola, and Gustav Flaubert.  Scholars and readers interested in Hearn's ideas and opinions of fantastic literature need look no further than the author's "'Monk Lewis' and the School of Horror and Mystery" or his seminal essay "Goblin Poetry."

An eccentric genius of seeming contradictions, Hearn drank blood in the abattoirs of Cincinnati slaughterhouses when the craze for the "blood cure" swept the city, yet he deeply loved children, flowers, and animals, particularly birds, cats, and insects.  Lloyd's Masters of Fantasy and Horror: Lafcadio Hearn invites us to reconsider an author, who according to George F. Haas, "was a favorite of [Clark Ashton Smith's] who had a complete set of his first editions."  From his seminal collection of ghost stories Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (1904) to his sketches of modern Japanese life in "Out of the East": Reveries and Studies in New Japan (1895) to posthumously published collections of his voluminous correspondence and journalism, Hearn’s work allows us to inhabit the unique perspective of a writer scholar Mary Gallagher lovingly characterizes as "an absolutely homeless storyteller, who dwelled long enough in the American South, the Caribbean, and Japan to be able to translate these worlds into words."

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THE LUNAR VOYAGE FROM THE 17th CENTURY TO THE PRESENT

THE LUNAR VOYAGE FROM THE 17th CENTURY TO THE PRESENT

 

The Apollo 11 mission landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969. This list, showcasing Lunar travel in fact and fiction from Lucian to the present, has been compiled to honor this event.

The mechanics of space travel were secondary to the object of satire in most of the early interplanetary voyages. In the 19th century, writers like Chrysostom Trueman (i.e. H. Cowen), George Tucker and Jules Verne added more seemingly realistic technical methods of travel to their stories of space exploration, especially the use of anti- gravity metal, a popular method of propulsion into the 20th century. The rocket experiments conducted by Robert H. Goddard in America and scientists in Russia, England and Germany led to the perfection of the liquid fuel rocket engine, most notably used in the German V-2 rocket bomb in World War II. After the war, rockets launched satellites, animals and, ultimately, humans into space. The Lunar fiction by Jules Verne, Kurd Lasswitz, H. G. Wells, Otto Willi Gail, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, and others inspired and influenced the scientists who made mankind’s dream to reach the Moon a reality.

 

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THE ROBERT AND PHYLLIS WEINBERG COLLECTION

THE ROBERT AND PHYLLIS WEINBERG COLLECTION

THE ROBERT AND PHYLLIS WEINBERG COLLECTION

By Boyd White

Recently, Lloyd Currey showed me a copy of the classic science fantasy collection A Gnome There Was (1950) inscribed by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, the wonderful husband-and-wife team who often wrote under the pseudonym “Lewis Padgett.”  Lloyd was discussing the provenance of the book, how he had sold it to Robert Weinberg many years ago only to have it come into his hands again now that Bob is no longer with us.  As I was reading the inscription, Lloyd remarked, “I think this copy might be unique.  I have never seen another inscribed copy.”  We could easily apply this same sentiment to Bob himself.  He was one of a kind, a unique individual whose like we won’t see again.

As a teenager growing up in rural Tennessee in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I loved receiving catalogs from Weinberg Books in the mail.  When I would come home from middle school and one of Bob’s catalogs was waiting for me on the kitchen table, I would race to my room and read it from cover to cover.  I had already developed a love for the pulps from reading Bantam paperback reprints of Doc Savage.  Likewise, the Ballantine two-volume paperback edition of Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1973) with its marvelous cover artwork by John Holmes had introduced me to H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and Frank Belknap Long.  Unsurprisingly, Bob’s catalogs always increased my appetite for such fare tenfold.  Who was the Spider?  The Phantom Detective?  What were “shudder pulps”?  Would I enjoy Leigh Brackett or Cornell Woolrich? 

Being the son of factory workers, I had very little money those days, only what I could earn from running errands and mowing neighbors’ lawns.  The first collectible books I ever purchased were in-print Arkham House titles featured in Bob’s catalogs—Joseph Payne Brennan’s Stories of Darkness and Dread (1973), Gerald W. Page’s Nameless Places (1975),  and Mary Elizabeth Counselman’s Half in Shadow (1978).  These works formed the basis for my love of weird fiction, and I dreamed about books that I knew I could never hope to afford like Lovecraft’s The Outsider and Others (1939) or a first edition of Ray Bradbury’s The October Country (1955).   After I earned my driver’s license and began operating a forklift part time at a local K-Mart, I soon found myself placing a telephone order for Manly Wade Wellman’s Worse Things Waiting (1973) for the outrageous price of $75 from a somewhat intimidating—or so it seemed to me at the time—New York bookseller named L. W. Currey, who had also started sending me catalogs in the mail.

Bob Weinberg’s 40+ year career as a collector, editor, author, bookseller, and publisher is widely known.  A complete list of his accomplishments could easily fill a substantial volume.  Anyone who visits his official website can’t help but be astounded by the breadth and depth of his interests as a collector—Robert E. Howard, H. Rider Haggard, Nero Wolfe, Frank R. Paul, Virgil Finlay, Kelly Freas, EC comics, Uncle Scrooge, and anything related to the pulps.  As a publisher, Bob reprinted numerous pulp classics, often rare or obscure titles like The Octopus, The Scorpion, or Dr. Death, in addition to issuing key reference works such as Mike Ashley’s The Complete Index to Astounding/Analog (1981).  As a bibliographer, Bob made significant scholarly contributions, most notably The Weird Tales Story (1977), The Louis L’Amour Companion (1993), and his masterwork, A Biographical Dictionary of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists (1988), which remains an essential resource for the field and which, like The Weird Tales Story, won the World Fantasy Award.

In Fahrenheit 451 (1953), Granger, the leader of a group of exiles who have literally become living books by memorizing entire works to preserve their contents from the firemen, tells Montag, “’Grandfather’s been dead for all these years, but if you lifted my skull, by God, in the convolutions of my brain you’d find the big ridges of his thumbprint.”  I never met or spoke with Bob Weinberg, but he did start a lifelong conversation with me about books through his catalogs during my formative years.  I am certain he holds a similar place in the lives of many other collectors and readers.  The closest we come to eternity is through what leave behind, our families and our children, the stories and anecdotes that loved ones recite about us.  Bob’s life and work reminds us that books last forever.  I still haven’t bought a copy of The Outsider and Others or a first edition of The October Country, but I have all the books I purchased from Bob’s catalogs.  I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

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IMAGINARY PLACES: OTHER WORLDS 1595-1900

IMAGINARY PLACES: OTHER WORLDS 1595-1900

Introduction by Boyd White

On February 6, 2018, Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corporation became the first private company to launch an object into orbit around the sun—a 2008 Tesla Roadster convertible with a space-suit-clad human mannequin named Starman in the driver’s seat, a copy of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in the glovebox, a digital copy of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series on a 5D optical disk, and David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” playing on a continuous loop via the vehicle’s sound system.  The roadster’s circuit board carries the simple message, “Made on Earth by humans.”  Musk’s stunt succeeded in demonstrating that SpaceX’s new Falcon Heavy rocket could carry a payload as far as the orbit of Mars.  A savvy entrepreneur and ambitious technological visionary, Musk hopes to facilitate the eventual colonization of Mars with the first human landing scheduled for 2025.  SpaceX’s colonization plans include fully reusable launch vehicles, human-rated spacecraft, and a Sabatier propellant plant to synthesize methane and liquid oxygen on the surface of Mars.

Musk is not alone in his desire to extend humankind’s reach deep into the solar system.  This year, NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services begins accepting formal corporate proposals for sending small robotic landers and rovers to the Moon as an initial step towards exploring and using its natural resources.  Likewise, NASA’s own Mars Exploration Program is in the midst of Mars 2020, an astrobiology rover mission to investigate the planet’s geology and assess its past habitability.  Similar research involving the exploration of the solar system is also being undertaken by the European Space Agency and The Planetary Society.  Similarly, New Horizons, an interplanetary space probe, has just completed the most-distant planetary flyby in the history of space exploration, passing over Ultima Thule in the Kuiper Belt, a realm of icy objects at the edge of the solar system, well beyond Pluto.

Our obsession with exploring other worlds is as old as time itself.  Centuries before Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon in 1969, astronomers, philosophers, mathematicians, and physicists were contriving often outrageous methods for visiting not only the Moon but other planets, imagining the unique lifeforms, cultures, and civilizations that they could encounter.  In Lucian of Samasota’s second-centrury Verae Historiae (“The True History”), the earliest surviving fictional narrative to include interstellar voyages, aliens, and interplanetary warfare, Lucian and his shipmates are carried by a whirlwind to an inhabited Moon where Endymion, the king of the Moon, is at war with Phaeton, the king of the Sun, who is opposed to the former’s plans for colonizing Venus.  As E. F. Bleiler notes in Science Fiction: The Early Years, Lucian’s parody of the traveler’s tales of his time is “the prototype for Renaissance and Baroque lunar voyages and also for later terrestrial imaginary voyages.”  The most significant Renaissance piece of proto-science fiction is, of course, Johannes Kepler’s Somnium, Seu Opus Posthumum De Astronmia Lunari (“A Dream,” 1634), a remarkable work that presents advanced ideas in astronomy, lunar geography, and physics in the form of a dream narrative in which a demon from the Moon describes in detail its geography and biology, including how lunar lifeforms, both plants and animals, are able to survive in extreme heat and extreme cold.  Of nearly equal significance is John Wilkins’ The First Book.  The Discovery of New World Or: A Discourse Tending to Prove That ‘Tis Probable There May Be Another Habitable World in the Moone (1638) an early work of popular science aimed at explaining to a general audience the new science of astronomy as expressed by Kepler and Galileo through Wilkins’ speculations about lunar inhabitants and interplanetary travel.  Because of his foundational ideas concerning the plurality of worlds and lunar flight, as scholar Marjorie Hope Nicolson asserts, The First Book, along with Somnium, “established the conventions of the Moon voyage for more than a century.  There is not one of the full-length English voyages that did not draw from it.”

Lloyd Currey’s Imaginary Places: Other Worlds 1595 -1900 is an astonishing gathering of early interplanetary fiction, the finest such offering in the trade.  In addition to the Lucian, Kepler, and Wilkins, Lloyd’s listings include other seminal works that provide the foundation for modern and contemporary science fiction. Each entry is a wealth of information, providing numerous insights into how specific tropes in the genre have developed over the centuries, highlighting the significance of rare books that will be new to many readers and collectors.  The catalog also clearly illustrates how science fiction has always been a keen tool for criticizing social and political structures since the time of the ancient Greeks, not just the post-World War II SF satirists.  Early interplanetary or cosmic voyages are often vehicles for questioning the religious views, philosophical musings, scientific theories, and social institutions of the periods in which they were written, including government, commerce, colonialism, education and child-rearing.   The titles themselves can be worth the price of the ticket, announcing their authors’ grandiose, complex designs.  How can anyone resist Chrysostom Trueman’s The History of a Voyage to the Moon, with an Account of the Adventurer’s Subsequent Discoveries.  An Exhumed Narrative, Supposed to Have Been Ejected from a Lunar Volcano (1864) or Willis Brewer’s The Secret of Mankind With Some Singular Hints Gathered in the Elsewheres or After-Life, from Certain Eminent Personages as also Some Brief Account of the Planet Mercury and Its Institutions (1895)? 

As varied and entertaining as the titles themselves are the ingenious methods of interstellar travel devised by the authors in the centuries before reaction engines, liquid oxygen, and rocket-grade kerosene propellants.  These include spirit voyages, transport by angels or fairies, balloons, spacecrafts constructed from feathers, a steam-driven North Pole, a steel globe insulated from the Earth’s gravity, and a fiery chariot.  The most insane means of lunar transport, however, occurs in the pseudonymous A Voyage to Cacklogallinia: With A Description of the Religion, Policy, Customs, and Manner of That Country (1727) in which Samuel Brunt, a former slave trader, travels to the Moon in hopes of exploiting the gold reserves he believes to be found there via a covered litter carried aloft by sentient, flying, human-sized chickens that talk. 

Equally engaging are the alien lifeforms encountered by early interplanetary explorers.  In Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac’s The Comical History of the States and Empires of the Worlds of the Moon and the Sun (1687), credited by Arthur C. Clark as the first narrative containing rocket-powered space flight, M. Drycona lands in the Garden of Eden, which is located on the Moon, a familiar trope of the time period.  In addition to meeting the biblical prophets Elijah and Enoch, Drycona discovers a race of highly civilized nude giants that move about on all fours with weapons that cook game for meals as its being shot and talking earrings that educate their offspring.  Many interplanetary romances of the 17th and 18th centuries imagine the Moon as being inhabited by the spirits of dead Earth people or their reincarnated souls, and invariably, aliens in such narratives are typically humanoid.  In Arthur Penrice’s Skyward and Earthward (1875), for example, the Moon is inhabited by genderless telepaths who neither eat nor sleep, and Mars is inhabited by beautiful rose-skinned vegetarians with birds trained to pick fruit.  Florence Carpenter Dieudonne’s Rondah; Or, Thirty-Three Years in a Star (1887) is noteworthy for its attempt to create a lifeform with a truly alien biology—a race of flying people who are actually vegetables that hatch from pods.

Imaginary Places: Other Worlds 1595 -1900 is replete with landmark works that provide the earliest examples of some of science fiction’s most defining elements.  As Bleiler notes, the “first. . . scientific account of an interplanetary voyage, and the first hard science fiction story” is J. L. Riddell’s Orrin Lindsay’s Plan of Aerial Navigation, with a Narrative of His Explorations in the Higher Regions of the Atmosphere, and His Wonderful Voyage Round the Moon! (1847), the printed version of a lecture supposedly read at a New Orleans lyceum recounting Lindsay’s construction of spacecraft from magnetized plates that are an amalgamation of mercury and steel, and his two trips into space using compressed tubes of oxygen for an air supply.  The narrative concludes with Lindsay’s plan to travel to Mars, which he believes could be inhabited by intelligent life, in hopes of opening interplanetary commerce.  Camille Flammarion’s “Lumen,” the story of the soul of a dead 19th-century Frenchman that has traveled around the universe and witnessed the birth of entire planets and civilizations (1873), is a ground-breaking work that conceptualizes the universe on a vast scale, considering the finite speed of light and applying evolutionary theory to the development of alien lifeforms, examining how different planetary environments lead to the development of radically different creatures.  Percy Greg’s Across the Zodiac: The Story of A Wrecked Record (1880) engages in the kind of world building that characterizes much contemporary fantastic fiction, devoting considerable detail to a Martian culture rooted in rationalism and scientific achievements that have led to the extinction of disease and old age.  Pre-dating H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds (1898) by six years, Robert Potter’s The Germ Growers.  An Australian Story of Adventure and Mystery (1892), is considered to be the first alien invasion story, an “aliens among us” tale of indestructible shape-shifting beings who have established hidden outposts in remote locations around the Earth and plot to destroy mankind by breeding and releasing new virulent diseases.

For sheer scope and scale, however, Kurd Lasswitz’s Auf Zwei Planeten (“Two Planets,” 1897) and Robert William Cole’s The Struggle for Empire: A Story of the Year 2236 (1900) are unbeatable.  One of the great classics of interplanetary fiction, Auf Zwei Planeten is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, but exerted a tremendous influence not only on German science fiction but also German science, providing inspiration for an entire generation of rocketry pioneers, such as Wernher von Braun, who obsessively read Lasswitz’s novel.  For the time period, the set-up itself is mind-boggling.  With the aid of enormous space stations 6,500 miles above each of the Earth’s poles, Martians have constructed scientific installations in the Arctic and the Antarctic in hopes of conducting trade with humans for the wasted solar radiation that strikes the Earth.  War unfortunately breaks out between Mars and the British Empire, and after the destruction of the latter, Mars turns the Earth into a protectorate under Martian rule, a situation that leads to the cultural and social degeneration of both Martians and humans with resistance movements brewing on each side.  An equally impressive warning of the dangers inherent in colonial exploitation, Cole’s The Struggle for Empire is essentially the first space opera, complete with galactic empires and interstellar military tactics.  In Cole’s novel, the Anglo-Saxon Federal Union (the United States, Great Britain, and the Germanic states of Europe) rule the solar system, conquering entire planetary systems using energy weapons and vast interstellar ships that travel ten million miles per hour.  Armed conflict breaks out between Earth and Kairet, a planet orbiting Sirius, and Cole’s detailed depictions of space battles, complete with metal fragments, chunks of flesh, and spouts of blood are, according to Bleiler, “the most gruesome and most powerful prepared up to modern times.”  Other striking imagery includes “the Earth surrounded by a barrage of space torpedoes and mines.”

Over a five-year period in the 1640s, working from his homemade rooftop observatory in what would become the modern city of Gdańsk, Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius produced Selenographia (1647), the first detailed atlas of the Moon, documenting every crater, slope, and valley that Hevelius could see through his telescope.  Even today, the level of detail in Selenographia is staggering.  Over 300 years would pass until the first manned mission to the Moon, but as Imaginary Places: Other Worlds 1595 -1900 emphasizes, humankind certainly did not allow its imagination to stagnate in the interim with regards to the universe and the stars.  As of this writing, we have not had a manned Moon landing since 1972.  For many of us, the dreams of Elon Musk and his like-minded visionaries for extended interstellar exploration are surely the stuff of science fiction, but when has that not ever been the case?

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IMAGINARY PLACES: THE EARTH'S INTERIOR 1721-1947

IMAGINARY PLACES: THE EARTH'S INTERIOR 1721-1947

Introduction by Boyd White

In 1692’s “An account of the cause of the change of variation of the magnetic needle; with an hypothesis of the structure of the internal parts of the earth,” astronomer Edmond Halley first posited Hollow Earth Theory.  Wishing to explain magnetic phenomena, Halley suggested that the earth was a hollow sphere consisting of two inner concentric shells and a core with a small central sun.  Each inner region contained an atmosphere, was luminous, and, of course, possibly inhabited.  Like climate change denial, dowsing, reptilian overlords, or psychic surgery, the concept of a hollow earth could hardly stand up to serious scientific scrutiny.  Mathematician and surveyor Charles Hutton disproved the theory definitively in 1778.

Even so, Hollow Earth Theory continued to exert a hold on the popular imagination, primarily through the efforts of John Cleve Symmes, Jr., an American military officer and trader who self-published his Circular No. 1 in 1818 in which he “declare[d] the earth is hollow and habitable within; containing a number of solid concentrick [sic] spheres. . . I pledge my life in support of this truth, and am ready to explore the hollow, if the world will support and aid me in the undertaking.”  Symmes believed that the earth’s interior could be accessed through openings in the Arctic and Antarctic regions since he was certain the earth was flattened at the poles due to the centrifugal force of its rotation.  Early converts to Symmes’ theory included pioneer statesman James McBride and newspaper editor Jeremiah Reynolds.

Not surprisingly, Hollow Earth Theory exerted an almost immediate influence on the development of fantastic fiction.  Halley’s ideas find their earliest expression in Danish author Ludvig Holberg’s Nicolai Klimii Iter Subterraneum (1741) in which Niels Klim, a recent graduate of the University of Copenhagen, falls through a hole in a cave and lands on the planet Nazar, which revolves around an inner sun.  Among his misadventures, Klim is accused of attempted rape, exiled from a utopian kingdom because he believes women should not hold higher positions in society, and eventually finds himself living among a race of sentient monkeys.  The first significant inner earth novel written in English is the anonymous A Voyage to the World in the Centre of the Earth (1755).  As in Holberg’s novel, an explorer on Mount Vesuvius plummets through a hole and discovers an underground utopia whose inhabitants live to be at least 200 years old and possess telepathic abilities, as well as trained gigantic birds who provide air travel throughout the kingdom.  In the United States, Symmes’ hollow earth beliefs were heavily satirized in Symzonia; A Voyage of Discovery (1820), written by the pseudonymous Captain Adam Seaborn, the narrator of the tale who sails to the Antarctic in a modified side-wheel steamship, determined to prove Symmes’ theory.  The Symzonians, the utopian race that Seaborn encounters, are vegetarian pacifists who live entirely in unselfish harmony presided over by “the Best Man,” a leader who holds his position for life after being elected by a council.  Seaborn’s Antarctic expedition is echoed in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838), a book admired by H. P. Lovecraft. 

In addition to all of the above works, Lloyd’s Imaginary Places: The Earth’s Interior 1721-1947 also includes notable titles by eccentric American crank authors from the 19th century.  Such writers use the concept of an interior world to engage conflicting ideas about political systems, religion, science, social hierarchies, and technology, resulting in novels that are unclassifiable blends of science fiction, fantasy, lost race, and utopian motifs.  Part of the joy in perusing Lloyd’s listings is discovering the incredible scenarios encountered via interior worlds that are always accessed either by plunging down a crevasse or unwittingly sailing through an aperture at one of the earth’s “flattened” poles.  William Jenkins Shaw’s Under the Auroras: A Marvellous [sic] Tale of the Interior World (1888) describes a journey by airship to a world of perpetual sunshine characterized by “giant sub-men, a Lilliputian civilization, and the remains of titanic cities left by antediluvian people.”  William R. Bradshaw’s The Goddess of Atvatabar.  Being the History and Discovery of the Interior World and Conquest on Atvatabar (1892) presents us with a kingdom in which male and females are allowed to unite only in platonic relationships that allow their pent-up sexual energies to be drained from their souls and then used by sorcerers to create matter.  Charles L. McKesson’s Under Pike’s Peak; Or, Malhalma, Child of the Fire Father (1898) focuses on the lives of the Azonians, a deaf, dumb, and blind dwarfish race with telepathic and clairvoyant powers who live in a subterranean world complete with electric vehicles and sophisticated electrically sustained gardens.

Not to be outdone, the contributions by European authors included in Imaginary Places: The Earth’s Interior 1721-1947 are equally compelling and consist of several seminal works of fantastic fiction.  Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race (1871) details the exploits of a mining engineer who discovers the Vril-ya, a technologically sophisticated people with no emotional or physical needs whose women are larger and more intelligent than their men, a race that ruthlessly preserves its own superiority at any cost.  Jean Gabriel de Tarde’s Fragment D’Histoire Future (1904) depicts a far future in which humankind, faced with a dying sun and ecological disaster, creates an underground paradise maintained by the earth’s internal heat.  S. Fowler Wright’s monumental The World Below (1929) focuses on a time-traveler 500,000 years in the future who finds himself caught in a staggering conflict between the Amphibians, telepathic denizens of the deep, and the Dwellers, giant humanoids who control the only remaining land mass on the earth.

Scholars and researchers should take particular note of two landmark works of feminist speculative fiction highlighted in Lloyd’s catalog.  A legendary rarity considered to be the “first significant all-female utopia written in the United States,” Mary E. Bradley Lane’s Mizora: A Prophecy of the Civilization of the Future (1890) imagines a technologically advanced civilization in which men have been eliminated, eugenics has been embraced, and rain is produced by discharging electricity into the air.  Alcanoan O. Grigsby and Mary P. Lowe’s Nequa or The Problem of the Ages (1900) is another important early feminist utopia.  In order to search for her fiancé, Cassie Van Ness disguises herself as a man named Jack Adams and participates in an expedition to the North Pole aboard the Ice King.  When the ship unknowingly sales inside the earth, the crew encounters the Alturians, a socialistic society characterized by advanced technology and complete equality between the sexes in which women handle all rescue and exploratory work.

No selection of interior world fiction would be complete without some rousing two-fisted tales of adventure, the direct descendants of Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864).  In addition to Edgar Rice Burrough’s David Innes novels, including lovely copies in jacket of At The Earth’s Core (1922) and Pellucidar (1923), collectors will find several key examples of boys adventure fiction from different eras, most notably E. Douglas Fawcett’s Swallowed by An Earthquake (1894), Frank Powell’s The Wolf-Men: A Tale of Amazing Adventure in the Under-World (1906), and Carl H. Claudy’s The Blue Grotto Terror (1934).

Lloyd Currey’s Imaginary Places: The Earth’s Interior 1721-1947 has something for everyone.  Shall we dig in?

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FANTASTIC POETRY

FANTASTIC POETRY

Introduction by Boyd White

“So it is in poetry that we first encounter permanent entry of the weird into standard literature.” --H. P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Natural Horror in Literature

Readers, collectors, and scholars of fantastic literature have little interest in fantastic poetry.  While they routinely seek out first editions of Robert E. Howard’s Skull-Face and Other Stories (1946) or Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), rarely do they feel compelled to read, much less purchase, first editions of poetry collections by these same authors, such as Howard’s Always Comes Evening (1957) or Le Guin’s Wild Angels (1975).  It’s equally difficult to imagine readers, collectors, and scholars of modern literature wishing they had first editions of Leah Bodine Drake’s A Hornbook for Witches (1950) or John Brunner’s A Hastily Thrown-Together Bit of Zork (1974) sitting on their shelves alongside Langston Hughes’ The Weary Blues (1926) or Frank O’Hara’s Meditations in An Emergency (1967).  Lovers of fantastic literature certainly know that William Hope Hodgson, H. P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith all wrote poetry, but how many of them have actually bothered to read any of it, much less consider its place in relation to these authors’ fiction?  Marion Fox, who wrote several rare weird novels, including Ape’s Face (1914) and The Mystery Keepers (1919), also wrote Vocation (1911), a volume of poetry issued by David Nutt, the publisher of Count Stenbock’s legendary story collection Studies of Death (1894).  Plenty of collectors search for Fox’s novels, but who even cares about her book of poetry? Similarly, collectors pounce on first editions of Studies of Death when they manage to turn up in the market, but would they display the same enthusiasm for any of Stenbock’s poetry collections—Love, Sleep, and Dreams (1881), Rue, Myrtle, and Cypress (1883), or The Shadow of Death (1894)—rare books that are virtually unobtainable?  A serious aficionado of 19th-century poetry would have an easier time acquiring a first edition of Keats’ Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems (1820) than any of Stenbock’s poetry collections and would probably show very little interest even if offered one of them.

In his essay on Robert Aickman in the revised edition of Supernatural Fiction Writers, John Clute emphasizes “the literary world’s displacement of the twentieth century’s most significant form of literature, the literature of the fantastic, to the periphery of ‘high culture.’”  As Clute’s remarks indicate, academic elites and literary snobs view landmark works of fantasy, horror, and science fiction as second rate when measured against the accepted canon of great literature.  Genre writers supposedly lack the thematic seriousness and stylistic achievements of literary authors whose work can loosely be categorized as “realism” with its attendant emphasis on contemporary social and political concerns, the relationship between the self and society, and examinations of institutionalized structures of power, such as marriage and religion. As a result, William Faulkner’s complex novels of race and class inherently merit more attention than David Lindsay’s equally complex examinations of myth and personal identity.  Similarly, John Cheever or Flannery O’Connor can be considered a master of the short story, but Avram Davidson or Margaret St. Clair cannot.  Such hierarchies and divisions also occur within the literature of the fantastic.  Authors who excel at short stories but who produce few noteworthy novels, such as C. L. Moore or Robert Sheckley, don’t achieve the same status as Fritz Leiber or Octavia Butler.  Within such a framework, not surprisingly, fantastic poetry ends up being valued far less than fantastic fiction.

Prior to the 20thcentury, however, distinctions between high and low art, between literature and popular fiction or poetry, were not so firmly set or finely drawn, nor was realism more highly valued in literature and art than the fantastic or supernatural. Numerous foundational works in the current canon of great literature consist of fantastic poetry and contain the earliest inklings of what would become modern fantasy, horror, and science fiction.  Originally composed orally, Gilgamesh (ca. 2000 BC) includes the eponymous hero’s battle with Humbaba the Terrible, a fire-breathing monster, as Gilgamesh attempts to cut down the Sacred Cedar. Homer’s The Odyssey(ca. 750 BC) follows Odysseus, master strategist and tactician, as he sleeps his way through a bevy of immortal females, outwits the Cyclops, and avoids being turned into a pig by a sorceress.  Not to be outdone, the 24,000-verse-long Ramayana (ca. 500 BC) recounts the colorful life of Rama, the prince of Kosala, who wages war against Ravana, the demon king of Lanka, who has kidnapped Sita, the prince’s wife.

As oral traditions gave way to written forms, fantastic poetry continued to thrive and develop as evidenced by the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf (ca. 1000), a distinct influence on Tolkien, and the Norse Poetic Edda (ca. 900 to 1100), each replete with tales of gods and monsters and of doomed warriors at the edge of the world locked in struggle against dragons and darkness.  During the Renaissance, fantastic poetry ascended great heights with works such as Dante’s The Divine Comedy (1308-1320) and its depiction of the tortures suffered by condemned souls in Hell, such as the Forest of Suicides whose leaves are eternally eaten by harpies, a fate as horrific as any imagined by Clive Barker. Likewise, William Shakespeare’s finest plays are not just masterpieces of world literature—they are masterpieces of fantastic poetry.  From the avenging ghost in Hamlet (ca. 1602) to Prospero’s manipulative magic in The Tempest (ca. 1611), Shakespeare’s artistry is suffused with his deep love and appreciation of the supernatural.  Any reader or critic would be hard pressed to think of a more memorable line in horror literature than the Wayward Sisters’ invocation in Macbeth (ca. 1607), “By the pricking of my thumbs, /Something wicked this way comes.”

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, fantastic poetry was inextricably linked to the development of the Gothic and the search for the sublime, a defining characteristic of the Romantics that stresses beauty can be terrifying and the terrifying can be beautiful.  Graveyard poetry, such as David Mallet’s “The Excursion” (1726) and Edward Young’s “Night-Thoughts” (1743-1745), meditations on mortality characterized by funereal settings and images of death and decay, set the stage for the generous public reception of Germanic ballads, such Gottfried August Bürger’s “Lenore” (1773) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “The Bride of Corinth” (1798), when they were first translated into English. These ballads, among the earliest narratives to feature spectral lovers and sexual unions between the living and the dead, are considered not only foundational texts in vampire literature but also an important bridge to Edgar Allan Poe, whose macabre poems “The Haunted Palace” (1839), “The Raven, ” (1845), and “Annabel Lee” (1849) remain as well known today as his short fiction.  Classics of Romantic and Victorian literature that are high spots of fantastic poetry could easily fill several volumes, and include Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1798), a fever dream narrated by a sailor doomed to wander the Earth for eternity, relating his horrific encounter with a ghost ship on which Death and Life-in-Death roll dice for the lives of his companions; William Wordsworth’s “The Thorn” (1798), an unwed mother’s lament over killing her newborn baby on an isolated hilltop only to periodically suffer reminders of her crime because the very landscape has been transformed by her baby’s death; and John Keats’ “Lamia” (1820), a tale of ancient Greece in which a young man engages in a doomed love affair with a serpent in the form of a woman.  The dramatic monologue, poems narrated by fictional or historical personas, is often considered the most accomplished poetic form practiced by Victorian poets, and among the finest examples are Robert Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover” (1842) and “My Last Duchess” (1842), poems narrated by psychopathic murderers that represent a watershed moment in the use of Gothic elements to critique the relationship between gender and power.  In a similar vein, Christina Rossetti’s wonderful narrative poem “Goblin Market” (1862), the story of two sisters struggling to resist the temptation of cursed fruit offered to them by male goblin merchants, employs the supernatural in one of the defining feminist texts of the era, engaging issues of public and private space, traditional genders roles, and social mores regarding female sexuality.  An American writer who lived during the Victorian era, Emily Dickinson produced remarkable poetry that is considered by critics to be the birth of a truly modern poetics.  Her famous carriage ride with Death (“Because I could not stop for Death,” 1896) and her painful accounts of her consciousness experiencing extinction (“I heard a Fly Buzz—when I died—” and “My life closed twice before its close,” 1896) are also logical extensions of not only the macabre preoccupations of Poe and the Romantics but also the Victorian’s concerns with gender roles.

As we eased into the 20thcentury, the status accorded to fantastic poetry as literature waned rapidly.  In his essay “Fantasy and Horror Poetry,” Steve Eng notes, “Supernatural poetry thrived on rhyme and meter for its hypnotic, musical, incantatory force.  But the general worthlessness of sentimental magazine verse caused the ‘modern’ or free verse revolution, led initially by T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.” In addition to the shift to free verse and non-narrative poetry in the 1910s, critics and scholars also tended to lavish their attention on poetry not just firmly grounded in more realistic subject matter, but also that demonstrated a more modernist sensibility in approach and technique.  The Second Industrial Revolution and the rise of Social Darwinism fueled a steady erosion in traditional values, particularly those associated with formal religious institutions.  Growing political and social unrest on a global scale, which would eventually result in World War I, furthered a sense of uncertainty among the general populace and an increased sense of fragmentation and alienation, all of which played a role in changing literary tastes and critical opinions.  Like the great poets of the centuries preceding them, writers such as Thomas Hardy and William Butler Yeats, who straddled the end of the 19thcentury and the beginning of the 20thcentury, wrote both realistic and fantastic verse, but critics and scholars often dismissed their more macabre or fantastic poetry as merely sensationalist or sentimental and, therefore, inferior to their more supposedly “serious” work.  From this perspective, only a naïve reader would consider Yeats’ “The Black Tower” (1939), written a week prior to his death, with its depiction of the dead buried upright in a mass tomb on an Irish hillside, as even being in the same league with “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” (1937-38), famous for Yeats’ use of “the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart” as an expression of his despair over his declining poetic imagination due to old age.  While magazines and journals throughout the nineteenth century had always published a wide range of fiction and poetry, both literary and fantastic, as the 20thcentury progressed fantastic poetry, like fantastic fiction, was soon relegated to pulp magazines, most notably Weird Tales, and disappeared entirely from mainstream literary publications.

That fantastic poetry in the 20thcentury only survived in the pulps and later via specialty publishers like Arkham House and small press magazines such as Nyctalops and Weirdbook is a claim typical of surveys of supernatural and macabre poetry.  Like the assertion that fantastic fiction and poetry cannot be considered serious literature, such a perspective is skewed and further diminishes fantastic poetry by making it the sole province of supernatural and speculative fiction writers, such as Lord Dunsany, Frank Belknap Long, Walter de la Mare, and Mary Elizabeth Counselman.  Ignoring the numerous fantastic and macabre poems written by prominent 20th-century literary giants suggests that the Gothic and Romantic impulses nurtured by the most highly regarded British and American poets of the 19thcentury ceased to be a worthy pursuit for poets with serious literary ambitions.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Some of the most important poets in 20th-century mainstream literature incorporate elements of the fantastic into their work.  While their subject matter may not be overtly supernatural or speculative in nature, their language and imagery absolutely are.  An astute chronicler of the relationship between rural isolation and mental illness, Robert Frost’s “A Servant to Servants” (1915) is narrated by woman whose life is completely circumscribed by the daily domestic chores she must do for the hired men who work for her husband on his property. Her account of her uncle who took to “carrying his pillow in his teeth” and was kept in “a sort of cage, / Or room within a room, of hickory poles, / Like stanchions in the barn, from floor to ceiling” and who gives way to violent fits throughout the night is a superb example of a modern Gothic in verse.  Even more disturbing, and as grotesque and bizarre as anything in Lovecraft’s poetry, is James Dickey’s “The Sheep Child” (1967), a harrowing account of a Southern legend that functions as a prohibition against bestiality—the supposed existence of a museum of oddities in Atlanta that contains “this thing that’s only half / Sheep      like a woolly baby / Pickled in alcohol      because / Those things can’t live.”  The opulent, baroque decadence of Clark Ashton Smith’s prose poetry is rivaled by the surreal mental landscapes of Wallace Stevens’ great modernist poems whose strange, idiosyncratic nature and sense of awe are evidenced even in their titles, such as “Tea and the Palaz of Hoon” (1921) “The Emperor of Ice Cream” (1923), and “A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts” (1942).  Fairytales and biblical myths get turned on their heads in many modern feminist poems, including Anne Sexton’s “Cinderella” (1971) and Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” (1966) who warns both God and Lucifer to “[b]eware” because she rises “[o]ut of the ash” and “eat[s] men like air.”  Dramatic monologues reach new extremes via the richly absurd first-person personas who speak John Ashbery’s “Daffy Duck in Hollywood” (1977) and William Matthews’ “Homer’s Seeing-Eye Dog” (1988).  What work of supernatural or macabre poetry is more terrifying than Carolyn Forche’s prose poem “The Colonel” (1978), based on her firsthand volunteer experiences in El Salvador, in which a colonel dumps a grocery sack of severed human ears onto a table in front of her, or Frank Bidart’s “Herbert White” (1977) with its matter-of-fact account of a little girl’s rape and murder, which begins, “’When I hit her on the head, it was good, // and then I did it to her a couple of times,—// but it was funny,—afterwards, // it was as if somebody else did it.’”

As these examples illustrate, fantastic poetry is not just the purview of writers of fantasy, horror, and science fiction, nor does it require subject matter that is strictly supernatural or fantastical in order to terrify or elicit awe.  Just as critics, scholars, and collectors of literature often have a ridiculously narrow conception of what constitutes actual literature, readers, collectors, and scholars of fantastic literature have an equally limited view of the value of fantastic poetry and the significant role it has played in the careers and lives of writers of fantasy, horror, and science fiction, as well in mainstream literature.  If supernatural and macabre elements can be used with such success in so-called “high” or “serious” literature, isn’t possible that genre writers whose poetry has been dismissed as mere doggerel hack work might also exhibit the same levels of fine craftsmanship and intellectual rigor demonstrated by their more lofty literary cousins?

Lloyd Currey’s Fantastic Poetry invites you to reconsider the most neglected form of supernatural and speculative literature.  This curated collection challenges readers, collectors, and scholars to stretch their imaginations and move beyond their comfort zones into what is still relatively uncharted territory, an infinite world of words and possibilities.

Not surprisingly, many of the most unique, interesting volumes included in Fantastic Poetry predate the twentieth century.  One of the earliest is Joel Barlow’s The Vision of America; A Poem in Nine Books (1797), a 5,000+ line epic consisting of a dialogue between Christopher Columbus and an angel that covers the entire history of North and South America.  A direct result of the popularity of Bürger’s “Lenore,” Matthew Gregory Lewis’ Tales of Wonder (1801), the first anthology of supernatural and macabre verse in English, contains 60 poems by a diverse group of writers working the early Gothic and ballad modes, including Sir Walter Scott, Ben Johnson, John Dryden, Robert Burns, and Thomas Gray.  A six-canto chivalric romance in the tradition of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590), John Milton Harney’s Crystalina: A Fairy Tale (1816) describes the adventures of Rinaldo, a young knight who must rescue his beloved Princess Crystalina after she is kidnapped by Oberon, the fairy king.  A great rarity, John Greenleaf Whittier’s much neglected Legends of New-England (1831), a foundational contribution to the development of supernatural literature, consists of eighteen tales in prose and verse, a veritable catalog of horrors, natural and supernatural, which confronted early American settlers, including man-eating wolves, frontier massacres, pacts with diabolic forces, and spectral warriors, all told with a gruesome and grim gusto.  Mark Drinkwater’s The United Worlds, A Poem, in Fifty Seven Books (1843) is an early utopian work of American science fiction in the form of a narrative poem concerning the discovery of a subterranean world whose inhabitants have devoted themselves to philosophy and engineering.  Equally enticing is a complete thirteen-volume set of The Yellow Book (1894-1897), Henry Harlan and Aubrey Beardsley’s influential Victorian literary quarterly, a treasure trove of fiction and poetry, much still waiting to be properly assessed, whose contributors include numerous authors of the weird and fantastic, such as R. Murray Gilchrist, H. G. Wells, Baron Corvo, and Netta Syrett.  Written for young readers, Solon L. Goode’s The Winged Ship (1897) recounts in verse a tour that four “Sprites” from “Elfin Land” take of our solar system in a spaceship.  Such works from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries illustrate the richness of fantastic poetry, which like fantastic fiction from the same time span, encompasses everything from fairy tales to folklore, interplanetary travel to utopian discovery, and Gothic horror to psychological terror.

While the poetic achievements of the Weird Tales authors have received some recognition due to August Derleth’s efforts with Arkham House, other writers of fantastic fiction have barely been acknowledged for their poetry, as Lloyd’s listings clearly indicate.  While Ambrose Bierce is justly revered for stories such as “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and “The Death of Halpin Frayser,” the poems collected in Black Beetles in Amber (1892) and Shapes of Clay (1903) have been all but forgotten.  The same is even truer of Fitz-James O’Brien whose sole book, The Poems and Stories of Fitz-James O’Brien (1881), would be completely ignored if it did not contain such classic stories as “The Diamond Lens” and “What Was It?” Aleister Crowley’s reputation as “the Beast 666,” as well as his sexual exploits and drug use, has always overshadowed his fiction, which includes The Stratagem and Other Stories (1929) and Moonchild: A Prologue (1929), so it’s no wonder barely anyone recalls that Crowley, according to Montague Summers, wrote “some fine poetry.” Readers, scholars, and collectors willing to investigate Summers’ claim can delve into Olla: An Anthology of Sixty Years of Song (1946), Crowley’s own selection of his best poetry, the last of his books published in his lifetime. Lagging behind her male counterparts from Weird Tales, the less prolific Mary Elizabeth Counselman produced a number of fine poems, some for mainstream magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, which were not collected until the publication of The Face of Fear and Other Poems (1984) when she was in her seventies.  Even the most jaded reader of fantasy will attest to Mervyn Peake’s brilliance with language in his landmark Gormenghast Sequence (1946-1949).  Why doubt that Peake would achieve less heart-wrenching magic in his poems, particularly those based on his experiences as a documentary artist who visited the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, all of which are collected in The Glassblowers (1950)?

Most importantly, Lloyd’s catalog highlights a Who’s Who of contemporary horror, fantasy, and science fiction writers most of us aren’t even aware have written poetry.  Thomas Tessier’s first published book was not a novel but the poetry collection How We Died (1970).  Joe Haldeman’s Vietnam and Other Alien  Worlds (1993) contains not only fiction but also poems as do Tanith Lee’s Unsilent Night (1981), Gene Wolfe’s Plan[e]t Engineering (1984), and Neil Gaiman’s Adventures in the Dream Trade (2000).  Fritz Leiber’s The Demons of the Upper Air (1969) and L. Sprague de Camp’s Heroes and Hobgoblins (1981) may sound like collections of sword and sorcery stories, but they’re actually poetry. Titles such as Roger Zelazny’s Poems (1974) and Peter Straub’s Leeson Park and Belsize Square: Poems 1970-1975 (1983), of course, speak for themselves. Then there’s Ursula K. LeGuin’s tour de force Always Coming Home (1985), the story of the Kesh, a future people living in the Valley, as told through a stunning combination of folktales, artwork, maps, poems, and stories.  Lest anyone think poetry is not a crucial component of LeGuin’s artistry, the first edition of Always Coming Home was issued with a cassette called The Music & Poetry of the Kesh long before the Internet facilitated the simultaneous posting of words, images, and music.  How’s that for old school?

No one’s ever heard of, much less read, W. Theodore Parke’s The Spook Ballads (1895) or L. H. Allen’s Gods and Wood-Things (1913) despite such very promising titles. Likewise, begun over 100 years ago, Lafcadio Hearn’s important work on Japanese goblin poetry in The Romance of the Milky Way and Other Studies and Stories (1905) remains sadly unfinished.

Dive into Lloyd Currey’s Fantastic Poetry, and see what else you can discover.

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FANTASTIC CRIME

FANTASTIC CRIME

Introduction by Boyd White

Could smuggling Faerie fruit into Dorimare possibly be connected to the decades-old poisoning of Jeremiah Gibberty with the berries of merciful death?  What is the Society of Sparta’s motivation for engineering a suicide epidemic all across Europe in 1875?  Why do the Three Imposters sew discord and death throughout London as they search for an ancient Roman coin commemorating an orgy held by the Emperor Tiberius?   How can Ben Reichs possibly kill his chief business rival and avoid being demolished when the entire police force has telepathic powers that allow murderers to be detected before they even commit a crime?

The answers to these questions and many more are found in Lloyd Currey’s Fantastic Crime, a genre-bending selection of science fiction, fantasy, and horror that chronicles the exploits of robot detectives, telepathic masterminds, murderous ghosts, and fiendish secret societies.  The books Lloyd has gathered illustrate how classic elements from crime and mystery fiction have long been used to ingenious ends by writers from the fantastic tradition.

Since science fiction’s golden age, numerous authors have expanded the scope of crime and criminals by invoking a wide range of highly imaginative contexts.  E. E. Doc Smith’s The History of Civilization (1934 to 1948) pits the Lensmen, an interstellar peacekeeping force, against the Boskone, a ruthless galactic criminal organization bent on ruling the universe.  The defining space opera, Smith’s Lensman novels provided the blue print not only for DC Comics’ Green Lantern Corps but also George Lucas’ Star Wars saga, as well as numerous intergalactic police forces, such as Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol and Harry Harrison’s Special Corps.  Some of science fiction’s most thoughtful, enduring scenarios, however, involve crimes on a much smaller scale.  In Hal Clement’s Needle (1950), a symbiotic alien policeman and his quarry crash on Earth, respectively taking over the bodies of a young boy and his father as cop and criminal try to outwit one another.  Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel (1954) introduces us to detective Elijah Bailey and his robot partner R. Daneel Olivaw who solve murders in the far future when tensions between humans and robots have reached the breaking point.  Ken Malone, an FBI agent who specializes in “impossibilities,” pursues a telepathic spy in Randall Garrett and Laurence Janifer’s Brain Twister (1962), and DeWitt Dawson, police chief of a small Texas town cut off from the rest of the world by an invisible alien barrier, investigates the death of a Mary Kay sales representative in Patricia Anthony’s Happy Policeman (1994).

Supernatural fiction, of course, has always had its share of investigators of the bizarre and unusual.  Most readers and collectors are familiar with K. and Hesketh Pritchard’s Ghosts: Being the Experiences of Mr. Flaxman Low (1898), Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence (1908), and William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost-Finder (1913), but what about Josephine Bacon’s The Strange Cases of Dr. Stanchon (1913), Uel Key’s The Broken Fang and Other Experiences of a Specialist in Spooks (1920), or John Nicholson’s Costello, Psychic Investigator (1954)?  Drawn into a number of strange disappearances and particularly gruesome murders, Arthur Machen’s Mr. Dyson participates in a memorable series of investigations that bring him into direct contact with the treacherous little people in The Three Imposters (1895), “The Red Hand” (1895) and “The Shining Pyramid” (1895).   Pulp great A. Merritt combines elements of hardboiled crime fiction with supernatural horror in two of his most memorable novels, Burn Witch Burn! (1933) and Creep Shadow! (1934) in which wisecracking New York mobsters team up with a skeptical neurologist to battle a range of dark forces, including an evil dollmaker and a two-thousand-year-old sorceress.  In his World-Fantasy-Award winning The Skin Trade (1988), George R. R. Martin extends the blending of crime fiction and supernatural fiction to its logical conclusion—having monstrous crimes investigated by actual monsters—as P.I. Randi Wade tackles a series of brutal killings with the help of Willie Flambeaux, a collection agent who is an actual werewolf.

Of course, a catalog of Fantastic Crime, by necessity, highlights not only criminals and their adversaries but also the plethora of incredible, over-the-top schemes and devices employed by both sides.  In Richard Marsh’s The Goddess: A Demon (1900), a Hindu idol clockwork automaton commits a series of grisly murders, and in Allan McIvor’s The Mechanic (1908), a brilliant engineer seeks revenge on corrupt industrial trusts by using fluids that deodorize oil and decompose metal.  Robert M. Coates’ The Eater of Darkness (1929) features a weapon that “sees through solids and applies remote-control heat to kill people invisibly.”  Sydeny Horler’s The Screaming Skull and Other Stories (1930) includes a “death beam transmitted over the wireless.”  C. S. Forester’s The Peacemaker is a bumbling schoolmaster who creates a machine that demagnetizes iron at a distance while Belli Luigi’s The Metal Monster (1951) is “a radio-controlled flying killer automaton. . . used for jewel smuggling.” Even the most jaded reader or collector must pause when considering David V. Reed’s The Thing That Made Love (1951), a bit of pulp-fiction insanity whose tag line “No Woman Could Survive Such Harrowing Ecstasy!” apparently refers to women being murdered by a metal swamp monster.

Match wits with Madame Koluchy—doctor, scientist, extortionist, bank robber, murderer—the criminal mastermind behind L. T. Meade’s The Brotherhood of the Seven Kings (1899), a super genius who precedes Siegel and Schuster’s Lex Luthor by three decades.  Try not to get lost while following Gabriel Syme of Scotland Yard’s Philosophical Policemen in G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday (1908) as he infiltrates the Supreme Council of Seven, a clandestine terrorist group who may not be quite what it seems.  Wander with orphan Kirth Gersen in Jack Vance’s The Demon Princes (1964 to 1981) as he tracks down the five intergalactic criminals responsible for the death not only of his family but also of an entire planet.

Peruse Fantastic Crime, and discover worlds beyond Holmes and Moriarty.  Be quick.  The game is afoot!

(To view alternate copies of these books and additional fantastic crime titles, click here.)

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ROCKETRY AND SPACE TRAVEL BEFORE 1960

ROCKETRY AND SPACE TRAVEL BEFORE 1960

Introduction by Michael L. Ciancone

(Adapted from Ciancone's "Introduction" to Foreword to Spaceflight: An Illustrated Bibliography of pre-1958 Books on Rocketry & Space Travel [Apogee, 2018].)

 Three men are widely recognized as the fathers of rocketry for spaceflight—Konstantin Tsiolkovskii (Russia), Hermann Oberth (Germany), and Robert Goddard (United States). Tsiolkovskii developed the theory underpinning human spaceflight and wrote small books on space travel and cosmology (the expansion of humans into the cosmos). The “holy grail” of this genre is an article he wrote in the May 1903 issue of “Nauchnoe Obozrenie” [Scientific Review] on “Exploration of Space by Means of Reactive Devices” in which he established the “rocket equation” and addressed various aspects of future spaceflight.  Tsiolkovskii was influential as a mentor and inspiration to experimenters and spaceflight advocates in the Soviet Union. Oberth was also an early theoretician who was well-known to early rocket pioneers in Europe and beyond. He tried a bit of experimentation, but he was a better writer than scientist or engineer.  Oberth wrote one of the most influential books on spaceflight—Die Rakete zu den Planetenrӓumen (Oldenbourg, 1923)—which inspired a generation of “rocketeers” around the world.  Goddard, on the other hand, was an experimenter who spent his life building and testing rockets. He published his seminal monograph, A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes, in 1919 through the Smithsonian Institution and launched the first liquid-fuel rocket in the world on 16 March 1926.

What began as a solitary endeavor grew, as people with similar interests formed small groups to share news and plan for the future. Writers, particularly during the formative years of the 1920s and 1930s, were the publicists who used their medium to spread the “gospel” of spaceflight and to explain what it offered to the future of mankind. These visionaries were able to take the dreams of spaceflight and weave them into stories for public consumption.  The first book of non-fiction in English on the use of rockets for human spaceflight, The Conquest of Space (Penguin Press, 1931), was written by David Lasser, a founder and the first president of the American Interplanetary Society (later re-named the American Rocket Society, which exists today as the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics).  The first British books of this genre appeared shortly thereafter—Stratosphere and Rocket Flight (Astronautics) (Pitman, 1935) by C.G. Philp and Rockets Through Space—The Dawn of Interplanetary Travel (Allen and Unwin, 1936) by P.E. Cleator.  Although many of these early rocketeers tended to be writers, they were soon augmented by technical members, such as engineers, who were interested in the practical application of rocketry to human spaceflight.  Together, these groups of dreamers and doers provided a fertile breeding ground that merely awaited a catalyst.

Certainly, it has to be said that it was extremely important to the development of rockets when the military became interested.  This took rockets from the realm of the amateurs and into the arena of military applications.  However, there is also a price to pay for relying on military support for a particular technology, whether it is atomic energy or rocketry. Technology is a sword with two edges that cuts in both directions. Rockets that fulfill dreams of launching humans into space are also potential weapons of war. This is a dilemma with which rocketeers have struggled. But it is a legacy that we must acknowledge and understand. 

The development of the A-4 (V-2) rocket by Germany during World War II was a catalyst for rocket development in the United States and the Soviet Union following World War II. One of the most interesting contemporary books on the V-2, Ballistics of the Future by Kooy and Uytenbogaart(Stam, 1946), provides detailed schematics of the V-2 rocket and the location of launch sites in The Netherlands. 

Early rocket experimenters were pleased to see their rockets launch into the sky without exploding. Then they were eager to send their rockets higher and farther. The destination was unimportant, other than “up.” Later, it became important to control the flight of the rocket with an intended destination. To advocates of human spaceflight, this destination took the form of placing a spacecraft into orbit around the Earth, or sending it to the Moon or Mars. Perhaps the most influential book on this theme was The Mars Project (University of Illinois Press, 1953) by Wernher von Braun, who was an early member of the German Society for Space Travel and architect of the V-2 rocket program in World War 2, and later a prominent figure in the US space program.

Cold War tension between the United States and the USSR led to the space race—space was the new field of competition in a battle of ideologies. The initial venue for this competition was the International Geophysical Year (IGY) during which nations of the world were encouraged to join together to explore and better understand the Earth. At this same time, the United States and the Soviet Union were both eager to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). IGY offered a convenient opportunity to sustain rocket development in support of the launch of the first artificial satellite into orbit around the Earth, ostensibly for peaceful purposes.

Like a bicycle race, the space race was a race of stages. The Soviet Union won the first “stage” with the launch of Sputnik on 4 October 1957. And it won other stages as well, representing major milestones, such as the first human in space (with the launch of Yuri Gagarin on 12 April 1961). But on 20 July 1969, the United States became the first nation (and thus far, the only nation) to land humans on the Moon. 

These achievements generated a lot of public interest, which resulted in many publications about those achievements. Before the launch of Sputnik, there had only been a few hundred books published of speculative nonfiction on human spaceflight since the early 1900s. Most of these appeared in English and German, but there were also books published in Russian, Italian, French, and Spanish.  After the launch of Sputnik, the number of books about spaceflight increased significantly as people around the world sought information on efforts to explore this ultimate frontier.

An early chroniclers of the history, current status and future of human space flight was Will Ley, who escaped Nazi Germany in 1935.  He is perhaps best known for Rockets, Missiles and Space Travel, which first appeared as Rockets—The Future of Flight Beyond the Stratosphere (Viking, 1944), and went through many editions and printings under different titles through the 1960s. 

The history of spaceflight is still being written as mankind continues its journey, back to the Moon and on to Mars.

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UTOPIAN AND ANTI-UTOPIAN LITERATURE

UTOPIAN AND ANTI-UTOPIAN LITERATURE

Introduction by Boyd White

Although Sir Thomas More coined the word utopia in the 16th century from Greek that translates literally as “no-place,” in common usage the term refers to an imagined ideal community constructed upon egalitarian principles of economics, government, and justice.  While its homophone eutopia, derived from Greek that means “good place,” is the correct term for a positive utopia, utopia and eutopia have been used interchangeably for decades.

More’s Utopia (1516), a fictional account of the religious, social, and political customs of an island society located in the South Atlantic, is not the earliest example of a proposal for an ideal community.  That distinction rests with Plato’s Republic (380 BC), a rigid class-structured society ruled by philosopher-kings whose wisdom has eliminated poverty and want through the equal distribution of all resources.  For every utopian ideal a political philosopher or satirist has imagined, however, a counter proposal has never been far behind.  The deification of logic and reason in Plato’s Republic reaches its horrific extreme in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) when the narrator finds himself among the Houyhnhnms, a race of hyper-intelligent talking horses without emotion, who have degraded and enslaved human beings because humanity, from the Houyhnhnm point of view, lacks reason and cannot overcome its base nature.

Lloyd Currey’s Utopian and Anti-Utopian Literature explores the innumerable ways that authors throughout the centuries have imagined rebuilding and perfecting civilization, as well as their inevitable anxieties about how such attempts to save humanity may ultimately only end up destroying it.  As Lloyd’s catalog illustrates, from the rustic matriarchal households of W. H. Hudson’s A Crystal Age (1887) to the interstellar mixture of socialism and anarchy in Ian M. Banks’ Matter (2008), utopias and dystopias have taken many forms.

While the classics of the literature are certainly well represented—Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward 2000-1887 (1888), Thea von Harbou’s Metropolis (1926), Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), and Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (1962)—the most fascinating books Lloyd has gathered include some of the earliest and least known examples of the genre, unclassifiable works that combine elements of lost race fiction, interplanetary romance, occult fiction, and high fantasy.  Simon Berington’s The Memoirs of Sigr. Gaudentio di Lucca: Taken from His Confession and Examination before the Fathers of the Inquisition at Bologna in Italy (1737), recounts di Lucca’s life as a successful artist in the kingdom of Mezzoraim in Northern Africa among isolated descendents of the ancient Egyptians whose culture is defined by a natural religion that channels all ambition for material gain into a desire to benefit the nation as a whole.  James Reynolds’ Equality; A History of Lithconia (1837), one of the earliest American utopian novels, describes an island society that “denounces private property and requires no assistance from the divine, placing its faith in bureaucracy to impose order, technology to reduce drudgery, and omnipresent gardens to instill virtue.”  Neither of these titles, however, compares with the screwball eccentricity of Austyn W. Granville’s The Fallen Race (1892) in which the lone survivors of the doomed Frisbee Expedition into the Great Australian Desert find themselves in the land of the Anonos, the descendants of female aborigines and a particularly randy troop of kangaroos, or John O. Greene’s The Ke Whonkus People (1893) in which an arctic utopia executes its religious heretics by sacrificing them to vampire dragons who drain their blood in underground caverns.

Perhaps the most remarkable work in Utopian and Anti-Utopian Literature is Shirby T. Hodge’s The White Man’s Burden: A Satirical Forecast (1915).  Written by Roger Sherman Tracy, a noted graduate of Yale University and an associate of the New York Board of Health, this remarkable book is narrated by an unnamed white man from 20th-century New Hampshire who is mysteriously transported to West Africa in 5027 AD.  The narrator encounters a remarkable utopia inhabited by African-Americans who relocated after achieving economic superiority in North America and eventually defeating the white race in a devastating war.  Characterized by technological marvels such as air cars, interplanetary travel, and disintegration rays, the society the narrator explores is essentially anarchist with no laws, private property, money, or prisons, each person working at whatever he or she chooses to do.  A ground-breaking work decades ahead of its time socially and politically, The White Man’s Burden: A Satirical Forecast is a work ripe for rediscovery by scholars and enthusiasts.

Of course, not every author has embraced the progressive economic and social reforms that have characterized such ideal societies.  For many early writers, the concept of an idealized socialist utopia is inextricably linked to the enslavement of the individual and the erasure of all creativity or desire.  Frank Cowan’s Revi-Lona: A Romance of Love in a Marvelous Land (1879) satirizes numerous tropes of 19th-century utopian fiction in its depiction of a super-scientific matriarchy destroyed, as the author says, by a “big and brawny man, with many of the vices of his sex and years.”  Likewise, Walter Besant’s The Inner House (1888) imagines the eradication of aging through medicine and the institution of a socialist state not as unleashing humanity’s unlimited potential but instead as breeding out all individuality, desire, and creativity.  While The Inner House is often read as a literary precursor to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948), Besant’s novella, unlike Orwell’s masterpiece, is steeped in anxieties about the progressive social movements of its time and is best understood as the kind of anti-utopian work that gets taken to its logical extreme in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (1957) and its rejection of governmental controls for unrestrained capitalism and individual achievement.

Lloyd rounds out Utopian and Anti-Utopian Literature with an excellent selection of key contributions by modern and contemporary speculative fiction writers, including Zenna Henderson’s Pilgrimage: The Book of the People (1961), Keith Roberts’ Pavane (1968), Suzy McKee Charnas’ Motherlines (1978), Alasdair Gray’s Lanark: A Life in Four Books (1985), Elizabeth Hand’s Glimmering (1997), and Charles Stross’ Glasshouse (2007).

Economic.  Ecological.  Feminist.  Religious.  Single-gender.  Single-sex.  Scientific.  Technological.

Looking for the perfect world?  Here’s a good place to begin.

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DARK FUTURES: CYBERNOIR

DARK FUTURES: CYBERNOIR

Introduction by Boyd White

 With the publication of William Gibson’s “Johnny Mnemonic” in the May 1981 issue of Omni, the burgeoning science fiction subgenre of cyberpunk arrived on the scene almost fully formed.  Gibson’s tale of a data trafficker who becomes a target of the Yakuza is an inspired mash-up of science fiction and hardboiled fiction set in a near future dystopia characterized by low-life anti-heroes, nihilistic femme fatales, corrupt mega-corporations, sprawling cities, and cybernetically enhanced humans.  That same year, the anonymously edited Dell paperback anthology Binary Star No. 5 featured Vernor Vinge’s novella “True Names” in which hackers wage war in both virtual reality and the real world against a sophisticated AI known as a personality simulator.  Vinge’s novella is the first work of science fiction to conceptualize “cyberspace,” a term Gibson would later coin in his 1982 short story “Burning Chrome.”  Gibson honed cyberpunk to perfection with the publication of the Hugo- and Nebula-Award winning novel Neuromancer in 1984.  The story of Henry Case, a former drug addict and burnt-out hacker who infiltrates a private corporate enclave with the assistance of a “Razergirl” named Molly, Neuromancer reads like Dashiell Hammett hopped up on science fiction steroids with the mean streets of cyberspace replacing the mean streets of San Francisco.

An equally defining moment for cyberpunk came with the 1982 release of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, which Gibson saw when he was two-thirds of the way through writing Neuromancer and from which he feared readers would think he had cribbed heavily.  An adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), itself a huge influence on cyberpunk, Blade Runner cemented the relationship between cyberpunk and film noir in terms of thematic concerns and style.  Set in Los Angeles in 2019, Scott’s film follows Richard Deckard, an ex-cop who hunts down genetically engineered workers known as “replicants.”  Deckard’s investigations immerse him in a web of deceit and paranoia as he discovers the Tyrell Corporation has developed a new breed of replicants with false memories that lead them to think they are actually human.  Although Scott filmed Blade Runner in color, he lifted his visual palette entirely from classic film noir from the 1940s and 1950s.  His futuristic Los Angeles is a rain-drenched world of street hustlers, prostitutes, and corrupt police, the perfect setting for exploring social decay, economic exploitation, the effect of technology on human nature, and the blurring of subjective and objective realities.

Critics and scholars have long pointed to Blade Runner as the work that gave rise to the term “cybernoir,” a hybrid genre that blends elements of science fiction and film noir.  In fact, “cybernoir” is a much more apt description of many foundational novels and short stories often characterized simply as “cyberpunk.”  While everyone readily acknowledges the classic works of science fiction to which this subgenre owes it origin, we often overlook cyberpunk’s equally vast debt to hardboiled fiction. Cybernoir touchstones such as Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy, Nicola Griffith’s Slow River (1995), and Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon (2002,) draw as much upon Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest (1929), Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister (1949), and Ross Macdonald’s The Chill (1959) as they do Alfred Bester’s Tiger! Tiger! (1956), Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” (1967), and James Tiptree, Jr.’s “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” (1973).  The same forces that disrupt Chandler’s Los Angeles or Macdonald’s San Francisco—patriarchal industrialists, corrupt corporations, and a wealthy, insular elite—are still front and center in cybernoir, only now with increased technology, such as cybernetic enhancements and virtual reality, at their ready disposal.

Lloyd Currey’s Dark Futures: Cybernoir gathers influential and interesting works in this important subgenre of science fiction, all of which deal with a dark vision of the future in which humanity is enslaved by or in conflict with machines and technology.  In addition to seminal books like Bruce Sterling’s Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology (1986), Mary Rosenblum’s Chimera (1993), and Peter Watts’ Starfish (1999), Lloyd includes some early forays into the subgenre. In Algis Budrys’ Who? (1958), we encounter an American physicist no longer sure of his identity because his entire head, arm, and internal organs have been replaced by highly advanced artificial prosthetics.  John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider (1975), often considered the first true cyberpunk novel, follows Nick Haflinger, a fugitive hacker, who uses his computer skills to avoid capture in a fragmented 21st-century America in which vast computer networks and sophisticated quantitative analysis have become the cornerstones of international competition.

A good many of the entries in Dark Futures: Cybernoir feature scenarios and characters that emphasize the influence of film noir and hardboiled fiction on the subgenre. George Alec Effinger’s Hugo-nominated When Gravity Fails (1987) introduces us to Marid Audran, a small-time hustler in Buyadeen, the criminal quarter of an unnamed Middle-Eastern city, who reluctantly undergoes a series of experimental cybernetic modifications in order to pursue a serial killer who is not only murdering witnesses but also Marid’s friends.  Melissa Scott’s Trouble and Her Friends (1994) focuses on Cerise and Trouble, young lesbian hackers who steal industrial secrets and later try to go straight only to learn someone is impersonating Trouble on the web and committing industrial espionage.  Tricia Sullivan’s Someone to Watch Over Me (1997) follows the complex love affair between Adrien Reyes and Sabina Lazarich, lovers who work as surrogate bodies via The Deep, a network of brain-wave surfers who “watch” their hosts’ minds and experiences, a situation that puts Sabina at risk when Adrien’s “Watcher” takes an unexpected interest in her.  What situation could be more typically noirish than Michael Marshall Smith’s One of Us (1998) in which Hap Thompson, a petty criminal who works as memory receiver temporarily storing other people’s unwanted memories, must clear himself of murder by finding the woman who gave him her memory of actually committing the crime? 

Like the great authors of 19th-century scientific romances, such as Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, cyberpunks do not predict the future but instead extrapolate from their given circumstances to imagine what the world could become.  Virtual sex, identity theft, data security, extreme body modification, surveillance and drone warfare, the dangers of being constantly “plugged in”—spend some time surfing Lloyd Currey’s Dark Futures: Cybernoir and see how reality has finally caught up with these innovative authors.

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DARK FUTURES: DYSTOPIAS, DISASTERS AND TERMINAL VISIONS

DARK FUTURES: DYSTOPIAS, DISASTERS AND TERMINAL VISIONS

Introduction by Boyd White

From the moment humankind first drew breath, all cultures and religions have envisioned the end.  Gods and devils war over creation.  Great floods and fires destroy the Earth.  In Norse mythology, during Ragnarok, the Midgard Serpent spews poison over the world, the sun dies, and the Earth sinks into the sea.  In the Book of Revelation, the Four Horsemen ride, and creation is plunged into war, disease, starvation, and death.  From the very beginning, the end has always been with us.

Given our pressing concerns with global warming, dwindling natural resources, cyberterrorism, and flourishing pandemics, no one should be surprised that grappling with the apocalypse has become the dominant motif in our popular culture.  Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (2011) and Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation (2014) depict futures ravaged by climate change.  Max Brooks’ World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (2006) and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven (2014) chart humanity’s demise at the hands of unstoppable viruses.  Such books have inspired the term “eco-thriller” and have become huge best-sellers, attracting the attention of A-list filmmakers like Stephen Spielberg and Alex Garland.  Likewise, the Zombie Apocalypse is now the defining scenario for expressing our culture’s anxieties about our future.  Robert Kirkman’s enormously successful graphic novel The Walking Dead (2003 to the present) has spawned two television series and host of imitators, including films such as Zombieland (2009) and novels such as The Girl with All the Gifts (2014).  Apocalyptic themes are no longer just the purview of writers whose work critics often categorize pejoratively as science fiction or horror.  Contemporary literary giants have also embraced such concerns, including Kazuo Ishigoru (2005’s Never Let Me Go) and Cormac McCarthy (2006’s The Road).

 Lloyd Currey’s Dark Futures: Dystopias, Disasters, and Terminal Visions shines a spotlight on speculative fiction that explores humanity’s future in often unexpected, unusual ways.  The catalog is the result of a lifetime spent reading and reflecting on trends in fiction.  The range of books Lloyd has selected is remarkable and refreshing--science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime, rare first editions, paperback originals, genre high spots, and obscure or virtually unknown gems.  Lloyd's approach both challenges and invites us to discover what radically different works like Margaret Oliphant’s The Land of Darkness (1888), Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate (1959), and China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station (2000) actually have in common. All of us are familiar with H. P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” (1936) or Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (1959), but how many of us have even heard of Cicely Hamliton’s Lest Ye Die: A Story from the Past or of the Future (1928) or Sam Lundwall’s 2018 A.D. or the King Kong Blues (1975)? As a unique thematic grouping, Dark Futures: Dystopias, Disasters, and Terminal Visions breaks down genre boundaries and allows these books to engage in conversation with one another.

As Lloyd’s catalog demonstrates, the threat of human extinction or the destruction of civilization via natural catastrophes, widespread pandemics, and nuclear warfare has been a core part of fantastic fiction from the beginning.  A great rarity with only a single recorded copy in the Library of Congress, Alexander Pitts Bettersworth’s The Strange Ms. By --, M.D. (1883) imagines a world in which the polar ice caps melt, and most of humanity has perished, the few survivors fleeing Kentucky amidst a new Ice Age in hopes of finding a warmer climate in which to live.  The threat of a nuclear holocaust first rears its head in Robert Cromie’s The Crack of Doom (1895) as a telepathic political radical threatens to destroy the world with an atomic explosion, a theme that dominates science fiction over the next century.  M. P. Sheil’s The Purple Cloud (1901) is the seminal last-man-on-Earth novel, the story of Adam Jeffson who travels the world after a cloud of poisonous gas devastates civilization.  These early works prefigure later classics of their kind, including John Christopher’s The Death of Grass (1956), J. G. Ballard’s The Drought, and Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954), a landmark fusion of science fiction and horror in which a pandemic spread by dust storms and mosquito blooms turns everyone into a vampire.  As the novel George Romero has long acknowledged as the inspiration for his influential film Night of the Living Dead (1968), I Am Legend, a direct descendant of The Purple Could, is the grandfather for the Zombie Apocalypse.

 Dark Futures: Dystopias, Disasters, and Terminal Visions also illustrates how the current crop of dystopian fiction, such as Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games (2008 to 2010) and Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking (2008 to 2010), which floods the young adult marketplace and has clear adult crossover appeal, pales in comparison to its predecessors.  First collected in The Eternal Moment and Other Stories (1928), E. M. Forester’s “The Machine Stops” imagines a future in which technology rules the world, and most of humanity lives underground in individual rooms they never leave, their daily needs met by an omnipotent, self-repairing mechanical entity known as “Machine.” In Sarban’s The Sound of His Horn (1952), set in a world in which the Nazis have won World War II, Reich Meister Count von Hackelnberg and his guests hunt women dressed as birds for sport and watch genetically engineered leopard-women feed on deer.  One of the most harrowing and prescient visions of the United States ever created, Philip K. Dick’s Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (1974) confronts us with a police-state dictatorship which confines professors and college students to underground communes, sterilizes African-American couples after the birth of their first child, and promotes widespread recreational drug use.

The most intriguing and rewarding aspect of Lloyd’s catalog, however, are the “Terminal Visions,” unique, unclassifiable works whose highly imaginative scenarios both thrill and terrify us.  William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land (1912), David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus (1920), and Mervyn Peake’s Gorgmenghast (1946-1959) are undeniable visionary masterpieces, but the obscure or little known gems Lloyd has included are equally gripping and powerful.  Alfred Gordon Bennett’s The Demigods (1939) introduces us to highly intelligent giant ant-like beings living underground in Africa that threaten to take over the Earth using powers derived from an ancient hive mind, including the ability to hypnotize humans.  In Peter Brown’s Kafkaesque Smallcreep’s Day (1965), we meet Pinquean Smallcreep who, after spending years his inside a vast, labyrinthine factory slotting slots in pulleys, decides to learn the purpose of what he’s been making by seeking out the mysterious General Parts Store deep within the bowels of the factory.  Joan Samson’s The Auctioneer (1975) charts the quiet destruction of Harlowe, New Hampshire, at the seemingly benevolent hands of Perly Dunsmore, a kindly auctioneer who wishes to raise money via weekly auctions to rejuvenate a struggling town.  Nothing, however, can prepare the most discerning reader for M. John Harrison’s A Storm of Wings (1980), which recounts how the dying consciousness and bloated corpse of a lunar explorer unwittingly trigger a psychic invasion centuries after a nuclear holocaust on Earth as alien and human realities attempt to rewrite one another, creating unstable lifeforms, shifting landscapes, and decaying cities.

 A society that allows its members to mortgage their own bodies for spare parts (Richard Engling’s Body Mortgage, 1988)?  An America devastated by environmental ruin whose government rests upon the constant oppression and humiliation of the unprivileged (Rebecca Ore’s Gaia’s Toys, 1995)?  What, indeed, does the future hold for us?  Start perusing Dark Futures: Dystopias, Disasters, and Terminal Visions and find out.

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EXPLORING THE PAST: THE FANTASTIC TRADITION IN PROSE AND VERSE THROUGH 1870

EXPLORING THE PAST: THE FANTASTIC TRADITION IN PROSE AND VERSE THROUGH 1870

Introduction by Boyd White

Lloyd's bookselling website is a treasure trove of bibliographic information that other booksellers, collectors, and bloggers refer to frequently. The website is essentially an ongoing "Guide to Fantastic Literature," an invaluable electronic reference tool that is ever changing depending upon acquisitions and sales, which is why anyone deeply interested in fantastic fiction knows to check Lloyd's listings regularly.

Recently, Lloyd wrote to me, “I get as much pleasure handling and describing the material as I do selling it. . . .  The only reason I sell books is to pay the overhead, and I use most of what’s left to buy more material.  Basically, I am a bibliographer and collector who enjoys being surrounded by interesting and curious books, art, manuscripts, and relics.”  Nowhere is Lloyd’s attitude more evident than in The Development of the Fantastic Tradition Through 1870 in Fiction and Verse, an electronic catalog that is an ongoing project of Lloyd’s with 371 listings and counting.  Consisting of books featured only on Lloyd’s website, the catalog is a virtual who’s who of early fantastic fiction and includes a wide range of genres—imaginary voyages, lost race novels, utopian fiction, interplanetary travels, hollow Earth adventures, fairy tales, Gothics, and ghost stories. 

To be sure, Lloyd’s catalog contains a number of high spots with which any enthusiast of science fiction, fantasy, or horror will be familiar, such as first editions of Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Uldolpho: A Romance (1794), Mary Shelly’s The Last Man (1826), Edgar Allen Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), and J. S. LeFanu’s Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery (1851).  The most fascinating books, however, are early works that very few collectors or bibliographers have actually seen in the first editions even if they have been able to read them in later reprints. 

The representative works of science fiction are almost overwhelming.  One of the earliest imaginary voyages to the moon, the first edition of Johannes Kepler’s Somnium (1634) is described as “virtually unobtainable,” and Lloyd’s listing details not only key aspects of Kepler’s dream voyage but also its publication history and the merits of currently available translations.  Images of Somnium and its title page are included.  Equally interesting are the listings for Ludvig Holberg’s Nicolai Kilmii Iter Subterraneum (1741), a journey to utopian cultures amidst an undiscovered world in the interior of the Earth, and Jane Webb’s The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century (revised edition, 1828), a futuristic romance that involves weather control, mobile houses, and a reanimated Cheops.

Some of the most compelling and entertaining content descriptions belong to the American Gothics in Lloyd’s catalog, important books that are rarely seen in any edition.  This brief excerpt from the summary of George Lippard’s The Quaker City; Or, The Monks of Monk-Hall (1845) reads like a lost film treatment written by Dario Argento and Wes Craven: “Monk Hall itself is an updated version of the infernal subterranean of the castle or abbey. Teeming with malicious creatures of every type and presided over by a crippled monster called Devilbug, Monk Hall also has a Gothic maiden-in-residence, Mabel Pyne. The plottings of Devilbug provide the occasion for live burials, necrophiliac love affairs, necromancy, satanic ritual, and other depravities embellished with nauseating scenes of Lippard's own.”  The list of plot devices in Mansfield Walworth’s Warwick: Or, The Lost Nationalities of America (1869) is equally delightful: “A sensational Gothic romance with alchemy and occult science, detection, mysterious disappearance, impersonation, dastardly deeds, murder (skeletons of killer and victim ultimately found in a hidden room), discovery of artifacts of a forgotten advanced people who inhabited America in antediluvian days and perished in the Biblical Flood, fabulous riches found in the depths of Mammoth Cave (a long fantastic and horrific sequence), and more.”

The substantial contributions of female authors to the fantastic tradition also play a significant part in Lloyd’s catalog beyond the obvious highlights by Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley, and Charlotte Smith.  Ann Augusta Carter’s The Great Rosy Diamond (1856) is a children’s fantasy with shape-changing elves, a hollow Earth kingdom consisting of floating islands, and life forms that are both mineral and vegetable.  Harriet Prescott Spofford’s The Amber Gods and Other Stories (1863) is a seminal collection of American short fiction that includes a number of genres, such as the detective story (“In the Cellar”), the frontier adventure (“Circumstance”), and the erotic fantasy (“The Amber Gods”).  Jane Porter’s Thaddeus of Warsaw (1803) is a legendary rarity of Gothic fiction, a superb historical novel about a young man of Polish-English descent who flees Warsaw in the 1790s to seek his fortune in London.

The Development of the Fantastic Tradition Through 1870 in Fiction and Verse is more than just a distant window into the past.  It is a celebration of the human imagination from the earliest days of fantastic fiction before genre elements codified into what we now term science fiction, fantasy, and horror.  Anyone who wants to appreciate the rich tradition from which spring contemporary works as diverse as J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997), Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (2001), Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes (2014), and N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season (2015) should spend some time with Lloyd’s work-in-progress. 

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ARKHAM HOUSE AND MYCROFT & MORAN

ARKHAM HOUSE AND MYCROFT & MORAN

Introduction by Boyd White

For collectors and scholars of weird fiction, Arkham House needs no introduction. Established in 1939 by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei in order to rescue the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft from obscurity, Arkham House secured not only Lovecraft’s literary legacy but also those of Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard. Along with landmark collections by Weird Tales’ “Big Three,” Arkham House published the first books by Ray Bradbury, Fritz Leiber, and Robert Bloch, earning a pre-eminent place in the history of American fantastic fiction. Derleth and Wandrei also introduced US audiences to the work of significant British authors of supernatural fiction, including William Hope Hodgson, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Marjorie Bowen, and H. R. Wakefield. Towards the end of his career, Derleth’s mentoring of younger writers, particularly Ramsey Campbell, helped usher in a more sophisticated age for horror fiction in terms of psychological and cultural depth. In addition, Arkham House has served as the template for dozens of specialty presses for almost eighty years, including Dark Harvest, Ash-Tree Press, Golden Gryphon Press, Cemetery Dance, Subterranean Press, and Tartarus Press. Without Arkham House, the entire landscape of fantastic fiction would be significantly impoverished.

Lloyd Currey’s Arkham House and Mycroft & Moran catalog provides the perfect entry point for exploring the rich legacy of the most important specialty press in the history of American publishing. All of Arkham House’s seminal publications are represented, including signed or inscribed copes of Robert Bloch’s The Opener of the Way (1945), Ray Bradbury’s Dark Carnival (1946), Fritz Leiber’s Night’s Black Agents (1947), and Ramsey Campbell’s Demons by Daylight (1973), as well as beautiful copies of H. P Lovecraft’s The Outsider and Others (1939), Clark Ashton’s Smith’s Out of Space and Time (1942), and Robert E. Howard’s Skull-Face and Others (1946). Lloyd’s listings also include a significant number of Arkham House titles rarely found signed or inscribed, such as H. R. Wakefield’s The Clock Strikes Twelve (1946), L. P. Hartley’s The Travelling Grave and Other Stories (1948), Zelia Bishop’s The Curse of Yig (1953), and John Metcalfe’s The Feasting Dead (1954). In fact, one of Lloyd’s most impressive offerings is a superb association copy of August Derleth’s first collection of short fiction, Someone in the Dark (1941), inscribed to M. P. Shiel. 

As Lloyd’s listings indicate, from the beginning Arkham House published interesting, important works of weird fiction by women writers. Evangeline Walton’s Witch House (1945), an excellent neo-gothic, has the distinction of being the first full-length novel that Arkham House published. Cynthia Asquith’s This Mortal Coil (1947) has the similar distinction of being the first collection by a female author that the publisher issued, the only book of original short stories by the noted editor of such classic horror anthologies as The Ghost Book (1927) and When Churchyards Yawn (1931). Other works of supernatural fiction by women writers included in Lloyd’s catalog are Greye La Spina’s Invaders from the Dark (1960), Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s Collected Ghost Stories (1974), Marjorie Bowen’s Kecksies and Other Twilight Tales (1976), Mary Elizabeth Counselman’s Half in Shadow (1978), Elizabeth Walter’s In the Mist and Other Uncanny Encounters (1979), and Tanith Lee’s Dreams of Dark and Light: The Great Short Fiction of Tanith Lee (1986).

Not surprisingly, Arkham House’s enormous achievements in the realm of weird fiction have often overshadowed its contributions to science fiction. Thankfully, Lloyd’s catalog remedies this oversight by including Arkham House’s most singular efforts in this genre, starting with A. E. Van Vogt’s first novel Slan (1946), an acknowledged classic of science fiction’s golden age originally serialized in John W. Campbell, Jr.’s Astounding Science Fiction. While Derleth and Wandrei published very little science fiction during their tenure, James Turner, Arkham House’s managing editor from 1975 until 1996, shifted Arkham House’s focus to cutting edge speculative fiction, publishing the first short story collections by a number of key authors, including Michael Bishop’s Blooded on Arachne (1981), Greg Bear’s The Wind from a Burning Woman (1983), Lucius Shepard’s The Jaguar Hunter (1987), Bruce Sterling’s Crystal Express (1989), and Mary Rosenblum’s Synthesis and Other Virtual Realities (1996). Lloyd’s listings of Arkham House’s science fiction titles also includes two cornerstone collections of feminist speculative fiction, Joanna Russ’ The Zanzibar Cat (1983) and James Tiptree, Jr.’s (Alice B. Sheldon) Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (1990). A posthumously published career retrospective, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever ranks as one of Arkham House’s most significant publications, gathering together numerous Hugo- and  Nebula-Award-winning works, such as “The Girl Who Was Plugged In,” Houston, Houston, Do You Read?,” “Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death,” and “The Screwfly Solution.”

In addition, Lloyd has included a number of titles published by Arkham House under the Mycroft & Moran imprint, which Derleth created in order to publish his Sherlock Holmes pastiches featuring Solar Pons, as well as occult detective stories, such as Seabury Quinn’s The Phantom-Fighter (1966), featuring Jules de Grandin, and Margery Lawrence’s Number Seven Queer Street (1969), featuring Miles Pennoyer.

Arkham House and Mycroft & Moran is a strong reminder of Arkham House’s pre-eminence in the field of specialty presses and genre fiction. Collectors and readers who only know Arkham House as a publisher of weird and supernatural fiction are in for some pleasant surprises. 

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H. P. LOVECRAFT: PRINTED AND MANUSCRIPT MATERIAL, 1912-1990s

H. P. LOVECRAFT: PRINTED AND MANUSCRIPT MATERIAL, 1912-1990s

Introduction by Boyd White

Since the publication of “The Call of Cthulhu” in the February 1928 issue of Weird Tales, H. P. Lovecraft’s influence on modern and contemporary popular culture cannot be overestimated.

A prolific correspondent, during his short lifetime Lovecraft befriended and mentored such seminal writers of fantastic fiction as Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, and Clark Ashton Smith.  Stephen King has called Lovecraft “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.” Not surprisingly, one of the many aliases of King’s immortal sorcerer Randall Flagg, the villain in The Stand (1978), The Eyes of the Dragon (1987), and The Dark Tower series (1982 to 2012), is “Nyarlathotep,” a direct nod to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu’s Mythos.  As one might expect, Lovecraft’s influence is easy to detect in the work of many of the late twentieth- and early twenty-first century’s most important writers of supernatural fiction, such as Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Neil Gaiman, Caitlin R. Keirnan, and Thomas Ligotti.  Literary giants as diverse as Jose Luis Borges, William S. Burroughs, Michael Chabon, and Joyce Carol Oates have also praised Lovecraft’s work, as have French cultural theorists Delueze and Guattari.  In 2005, the Library of America cemented Lovecraft’s acceptance among the first tier of American arts and letters with the publication of Tales, a selection of Lovecraft’s best fiction chosen by Peter Straub.

Lovecraft’s influence, however, extends well beyond fiction and literature.  Directors John Carpenter and Guillermo del Toro have long acknowledged Lovecraft’s influence on their films.  Dan O’Bannon, who wrote the screenplay for Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), has stated that Alien was “strongly influenced, tone-wise, by Lovecraft,” a remark which should surprise no one since H. R. Giger’s conceptual designs for Alien were a direct follow-up to Giger’s first published book, the Lovecraft-inspired art compendium The Necronomicon (1977).  Junji Ito, Hideyuki Kikuchi, and Chiaki J. Konaka have incorporated elements of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror into their various manga and anime storylines, and Alan Moore’s graphic novels The Courtyard (2003), Neonomicon (2010 to 2011), and Providence (2015 to 2017) are firmly rooted in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.  Likewise, Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Eisner-Award winning Locke and Key (2008 to 2013) takes place in Lovecraft, Massachusetts, while Hellboy creator Mike Mignola’s The Doom That Came to Gotham (2000 to  2001) pits an alternate universe Batman against an ancient entity known as The Lurker on the Threshold.  Lovecraft’s influence in the gaming world is no less extensive.  Chaosium’s highly regarded Call of Cthulhu has been one of the most popular role-playing games since its initial release in 1981 and has spawned a cottage industry of table games steeped in Lovecraftian elements.  Video games, such as Alone in the Dark (1992), and online role-playing games, such as The World of Warcraft (2005), also draw heavily from Lovecraft’s work.  Lovecraftian references even crop up in popular music, particularly heavy metal, such as Black Sabbath’s “Behind the Wall of Sleep” (1970) and Metallica’s “The Thing That Should Not Be” (1986).  As a crowning achievement, Narragansett Brewery in 2015 inaugurated its Lovecraft Series of beers that now includes Lovecraft Honey Ale, Innsmouth Olde Ale, and Reanimator Helles Lager.  What other author of fantastic fiction can claim such a pervasive influence?

Lloyd Currey’s H. P. Lovecraft: Printed and Manuscript Material, 1912-1990s, is a curated gathering of Lovecraft’s writings that provides fascinating insights into Lovecraft’s life and work.  To be sure, the catalog contains seminal works by Lovecraft such as The Shunned House (1928), The Outsider and Others (1939), and Beyond the Wall of Sleep (1943), but the most intriguing and important items in this catalogue are unique offerings that are virtually unobtainable.  Only 42 copies of The Cats of Ulthar (1935) were printed by the Dragon-Fly Press—the copy offered by Lloyd is inscribed by Lovecraft to his close friend Samuel Loveman with the note “A ‘Rare First Edition’ with ye / Perpetrator’s Compliments.”  The complete set of tear sheets for “At the Mountains of Madness” is a remarkable item, one of three known copies with extensive handwritten revisions in pencil by Lovecraft himself.  As Lloyd notes, these tear sheets “made their way (presumably through HPL’s literary executor, R. H. Barlow) to August Derleth at Arkham House where they provided the ‘revised’ text [of Lovecraft’s novella] for its appearance in The Outsider.”  The revisions include not only “minor corrections of spelling or punctuation” but also “insertions of major blocks of copy that were cut from the original text.”  The most astonishing item, however, is an archive of 55 letters from Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, totaling 509 pages, 80% of which is unpublished.  The archive is a treasure trove of insights into the most significant decade of Lovecraft’s life, 1921-1931, the period when Lovecraft’s mother died and Lovecraft began publishing in professional magazines, as well as composing “Supernatural Horror in Literature.”  In addition to his assessment of Poe and his recent reading discoveries, these letters reveal Lovecraft’s thoughts about a wide range of subjects, including literature, history, theology, philosophy, anthropology, and race.  The archive is a major find of significant interest to research institutions with holdings in supernatural fiction and to scholars of Lovecraft’s fiction.  Additional manuscript material include letters to Robert Bloch and a six-page handwritten synopsis of revisions for a Wilfred Blanch Talman horror story called “The Pool.”

Lloyd has supplemented his selection of Lovecraft manuscript material with the inclusion of amateur press publications from the beginning of Lovecraft’s career, several of which contain the earliest publications of Lovecraft’s fiction.  The November 1919 issue of W. Paul Cook’s The Vagrant features the first printing of “Dagon,” considered by many to be Lovecraft’s first mature weird tale, a clear precursor to ideas that would be developed more fully in “The Call of Cthulhu.”  The November 1925 issue of C. W. Smith’s The Tryout contains the first printing of “In the Vault,” a story of supernatural vengeance originally rejected by Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright.  The April 1922 and June 1922 issues of Home Brew contain the first printings of parts three and five of “Herbert West—Reanimator.”  Other amateur press publications include all three issues of The United Cooperative, which Lovecraft helped edit and publish, and several issues of W. Paul Cook’s The Ghost featuring E. Hoffman Price’s reminiscences of Farnsworth Wright and Robert E. Howard that would later be collected in Arkham House’s Book of the Dead: Friends of Yesteryear: Fictioneers and Others (2001).

In addition, a handful of rare publications highlights Lovecraft’s poetry and criticism.  Further Criticism of Poetry (1932) is a critique of amateur verse written by Lovecraft that the National Amateur would not publish because it was too long.  Some Current Motives and Practices (1936), one of the rarest Lovecraft publications with only eight extant copies, is a mimeograph of Lovecraft’s open letter to the National Amateur Press Association in which he defends NAPA president Hyman Bradofsky against attacks from the association’s membership.  HPL (1937), a twelve-page booklet limited to twenty-five copies sent to subscribers of Corwin F. Stickney’s Amateur Correspondent, collects eight of Lovecraft’s poems with occasional commentary by Stickney.  Issued in an edition of 75 copies, The Notes & Commonplace Book Employed by the Late H. P. Lovecraft (1938) includes Lovecraft’s musings on various elements of weird fiction and potential story ideas.

 For anyone interested in H. P. Lovecraft’s life and works, Lloyd Currey’s H. P. Lovecraft: Printed and Manuscript Material, 1912-1990s, is essential reading.  As always, Lloyd’s catalog entries contain a plethora of interesting details, and the pictures Lloyd has included of these publications and manuscripts are the only way many readers and enthusiasts will ever see these often unique items.

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CLARK ASHTON SMITH: PRINTED AND MANUSCRIPT MATERIAL, 1912-1970s

CLARK ASHTON SMITH: PRINTED AND MANUSCRIPT MATERIAL, 1912-1970s

Introduction by Boyd White

 

Along with H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, Clark Aston Smith is one of the three giants of Weird Tales’ golden age.  Unlike Lovecraft and Howard, however, Smith has never quite had the reputation he deserves.  Lovecraft’s tales of cosmic horror, which August Derleth codified as the foundation for the Cthulhu Mythos, and Howard’s Conan the Barbarian have inspired countless pastiches and imitations that continue to keep each author a vital part of contemporary popular culture.  By contrast, Smith has always been an acquired taste.  He created no series characters, like Conan, Solomon Kane, or Bran Mak Morn, and although he contributed to the Cthulhu Mythos, he was not its inspiration.

 

The baroque, ornate language that characterizes Smith’s best fiction has often been blamed for his lack of popularity, but plenty of Smith’s stories are not written in his “high style,” a carefully measured, cadenced prose as meticulous as that of Dunsany or Shiel, with both of whom Smith shares clear affinities.  Smith’s fiction, too, is difficult to categorize.  His most fascinating stories are genre hybrids uniquely his own, such as “The City of the Singing Flame,” which is visionary science fantasy, or “The Dweller from the Gulf,” which is interplanetary horror, or “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros,” which is swords and sorcery with a Lovecraftian touch.  Critics and scholars have also written extensively about Smith’s morbidity and his obsession with death and decay, but such assessments typically miss the point.  Like the Romantic poets he greatly admired, such as Shelley and Keats, Smith understood and appreciated the close relationship between beauty and terror—how the terrible can often be beautiful and how beauty can often be terrifying.

 

Science fiction and fantasy grand master Ray Bradbury has cited Smith’s fiction as playing a central role in his decision to become a writer, referring to Smith as an author who “permanently touched and changed and excited his life.”  As Bradbury writes in his introduction to In Memoriam: Clark Ashton Smith (1962), Smith’s stories “filled my mind with incredible worlds, impossibly beautiful cities, and still more fantastic creatures on those worlds and in those cities . . . .  Take one step across the threshold of his stories, and you plunge into color, sound, taste, smell, and texture—into language.”  With Averoigne, Poseidonis, and Hyperborea, Smith created his own version of The Arabian Nights, tales set in legendary exotic lands populated by foolhardy thieves, vainglorious warriors, egotistical sorcerers, and beguiling princesses who seek their fortunes and more often than not meet their dooms amidst remote mountain ranges, abandoned cities, desert wastes, and forbidden islands.  His greatest achievements—“The Dark Eidolon,” “The Isle of the Torturers,” and “Necromancy in Naat”—are masterpieces of the imagination characterized by rich painterly detail which immerses the reader in the very fabric of Zothique, the last continent on a future Earth with a dying sun.  An enormous influence on Jack Vance’s Dying Earth tales and M. John Harrison’s Viriconium series, Smith’s Zothique is a seminal contribution to the development of fantastic fiction. 

 

Lloyd Currey’s Clark Ashton Smith: Printed and Manuscript Material, 1912-1970s, is a discrete selection of Smith’s most important publications and writings.  In addition to an inscribed copy of Smith’s self-published first collection of fiction, The Double Shadow and Other Fantasies (1933), the catalog includes beautiful copies of Smiths’ landmark Arkham House collections, Out of Space and Time (1942) and Lost Worlds (1944), which contain Smith’s most highly regarded stories.  Later collections, such as Genius Loci and Other Tales (1948) and The Abominations of Yondo (1960), are also included.

 

Lloyd’s listings serve to remind us that Smith considered himself first and foremost a poet, not a fiction writer.  As a teenager, Smith’s poetry attracted the attention of George Sterling, whose involvement led to the publication of Smiths’ first book when Smith was just 19, The Star-Treader and Other Poems (1912), represented in this catalog by a signed copy.  Smith’s poetry not only garnered the recognition of California writers, such as Ambrose Bierce and Porter Garnett, but also eventually led to his association with Donald Wandrei, whom Smith later introduced to H. P. Lovecraft.  Of great interest are the typed manuscripts of numerous poems, all signed by Smith and some with his holograph corrections, including “Satan Unrepentant” (dated “2-28-1915,” published in Odes and Sonnets in 1918) and “The Barrier” (dated “Nov. 2, 1921,” published in the September 13, 1923, issue of The Auburn Journal).  “The Garden of Dreams” (dated “Jan. 7, 1916”) and “To Thomas Paine” (undated) are apparently unpublished as is the handwritten manuscript of “The Tempation” (undated), which Lloyd describes as “[a]n erotic poem of sufficient explicitness as to have undoubtedly prevented its publication during Smith’s lifetime.”

 

The crown jewel of Lloyd’s catalog of Smith material, however, is undoubtedly a remarkable association copy of Smith’s third book Ebony and Crystal: Poems in Verse and Prose (1922) inscribed to Smith’s future publisher and patron August Derleth: “For August W. Derleth, / This reliquary of forgotten / arabesques and grotesques, / from his friend / Clark Ashton Smith. / Auburn, Cal., Nov. 25th, 1930.”  The catalog is rounded out by the Arkham House editions of Smith’s poetry, most notably an inscribed copy of The Dark Chateau and Other Poems (1951), Spells and Philtres (1958), and Poems in Prose (1964).  Donald Sidney-Fyer’s Emperor of Dreams: A Clark Ashton Smith Bibliography (1978) and David E. Schultz and Scott Connor’s Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith (2003) are also listed and provide important insights into Smith’s life and works.

 

With the recent publication of Night Shade Books’ five-volume Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith (2007 to 2010); Centipede Press’ In the Realms of Mystery and Wonder: Collected Prose Poems and Artwork of Clark Ashton Smith (2017); and Hippocampus Press’ Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith (2017), Smith is enjoying a long overdue revival of renewed interest.  Clark Ashton Smith: Printed and Manuscript Material, 1912-1970s, provides collectors and scholars with an excellent opportunity to revisit the Weird Tales writer whom critic Michael Dirda claims is “just possibly, the greatest of all.” 

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