Clark Ashton Smith Collected Fantasies, vol 5 – The Last Hieroglyph

Trekking through the entirety of Clark Ashton Smith’s prose writings has been a long and rewarding experience. The fifth and final part of the journey, The Last Hieroglyph, is mainly characterised by a good level of quality and a (not unrelated to the previous point) shortage of heavy sci-fi material. It also includes a number of stories written after CAS’s main period of activity (namely after the ’30s). These do stand out, in terms not of quality but of writing style: they are more modern (though still quite eloquent, especially vocabulary-wise) and taboo subjects as sex are not being self-censored as much as in his golden pulp era.

Bad:
-The Dart of Rasasfa
: A couple from Earth is stranded in a hostile planet and captured by serpent people who want to sacrifice them.
CAS’s last story is arguably a mess, almost a parody of his writing. Pulpy sci-fi in genre, the plot is weak, and the pacing pretty tiring. To his defense, this was written while weakened and ill.

Mediocre:
-The Witchcraft of Ulua: A wizard apprentice visits the king’s court, where he is under constant siege by the princess (also a witch) who tries to seduce him. Due to an amulet given to him by the wizard, as well as his own merit, he is proven immune to the seduction. When he returns to the wizard, the old man performs a ritual that brings doom upon the palace.
Part of the Zothique cycle. Highly puritan in spirit and character, this is a classic example of how embedded the Christian/Neoplatonic fear and hatred of the flesh is, even in writers who would definitely not be characterized as religious. Other than that, the writing is a typical example of CAS’s mastery.

-The Chain of Aforgomon: A man is found dead. His journal reveals how he tapped memories of a vastly ancient previous incarnation of his, discovering a terrible hubris this incarnation had performed against the god of time.
This is a mediocre foray into the reincarnation theme, where previous life deeds haunt the «descendants.» Nice idea but not terribly great executed, just leaves a blunt aftertaste. 

-Xeethra: A shepherd boy enters a cave, only to be possessed by the spirit of a long dead prince, whose consciousness quickly overwhelms that of his host. The deceased starts looking for his city of old.
Part of the Zothique cycle. This slides into the reincarnation-themed stories of CAS. Something of a fairy-tale, with the echo of ominous fae elves in the distance, a hue of melancholy and nostalgia, as well as the ever-present demonic pact. Solid, though not spectacular.

-The Death of Ilalotha: One of the queen’s consorts, enchanted in life and in death by the lady-in-waiting Ilalotha, visits her tomb in the deep of the night, and the jealous queen follows suit.
Part of the Zothique cycle. Many a time had the stories of CAS been rejected by magazines with the excuse that they are prose poems rather than proper stories, something almost never justified. In this particular case the story does resemble non-prose art transmuted into prose, though I would say it is sculpture, not poetry that provides the raw material. A sword & sorcery foray into Poe.

-The Great God Awto: A lecture from the far future of Earth, concerning the ancient Hamurriquanes people and their sacrificial religious frenzy.
This was unexpected. Akin to the Nacirema case of Horace Mitchell Miner, it is permeated with CAS’s mistrust of technology and modernity. A curio.

-Strange Shadows: A man starts seeing people casting strange shadows in lieu of their normal ones. Set in the contemporary era.
Another atypical specimen of a story, this one is quite sexually suggestive, and exudes a Twilight Zone vibe.

-The Enchantress of Sylaire: Having become a recluse due to unrequited love, the protagonist encounters an enchantress and follows her to her world. There he meets with her previous lover and is forced to choose between his former and new love.
Part of the Averoigne cycle. A play on the seduced-by-the-otherworldly theme, with a bit of lycanthropy thrown in. Reminiscent of Circe and fae abductions. The rather unexpected ending fails to elevate it beyond mediocrity.

-Double Cosmos: A disappeared chemist has left behind a manuscript in which he describes the perception-expanding experiments that revealed to him the existence of a parallel world, in which exist doubles of everything in our world, including him.
Interesting musings concerning cause and effect, as well as the interaction of instances of the same being. Solid.

Nemesis of the Unfinished: A semi-autobiographical story in which the protagonist finds certain unfinished tales of his being completed while asleep, and watches as the piles of incomplete material keep expanding.
A rather predictable story of no large shock value or atmosphere, not very memorable.

-Morthylla: A brooding melancholic poet seeks out a lamia in the wilderness. He finds a woman that seems to fit his criteria.
Part of the Zothique cycle. Tragic poet and undead with a twist. The story simply doesn’t stand out, as its plot seems banal.

-Monsters in the Night: A werewolf lies in waiting for his next victim which turns out to be a bit more than he can stomach.
Very small story with a twist in the end, nothing spectacular or even memorable.

-Phoenix: In the far future humanity has sought refuge underground, after the sun has dimmed. Now, the protagonist embarks on a desperate space mission to re-ignite the sun via a number of atomic bombs.
An okay dramatic sci-fi story that seems to bit the (uncredited) inspiration for 2007 Sunshine film.

-Symposium of the Gorgon: A man finds himself in a feast hosted by the mythological Gorgon; her myth is swiftly reenacted and then the protagonist, after a brush with petrification, finds himself in a tropical island, where he is a novelty for the cannibal indigenous people.
A pocket of mythology in the contemporary world, sadly with almost no integration. The story feels like a dreamy Dunsanian excerpt, with a strong undercurrent of hatred of the modern world, but also many stereotypes. Could have been better.

Good:
-The Dark Age: After the collapse of contemporary civilisation, the vast majority of humanity has returned to an uncivilized life, with only a handful remaining as secretive keepers of now-lost knowledge. One of them abandons the citadel and joins the «wild» people, has a son and is lost. His son grows up and tries to avert an attack upon the citadel.
Though they idealized the noble savant, CAS, Howard and the others of the pulp age had an almost obsessive adherence to civilization, considering it as the last threshold against Chaos. Here, in the story’s last paragraph, is one of the rare moments that CAS stands back and wanders – totally worth it. Other than that the story is pretty well-executed in plot and pacing, though not stepping over the greatness threshold.

-The Tomb Spawn: A pair of jewelers stumble upon the desert ruins of a forgotten city and discover the grotesque tomb of a magician-king and his extraterrestrial servant.
Part of the of the Zothique circle. Of oriental hue, sort of dungeon crawl. Highly memorable grotesquery and tight-packed action. A solid piece of delving adventure writing.

-The Seven Geases: An arrogant military general is lost in the mountains, interrupting a wizard’s ritual. The sorcerer curses him with a geas that takes him in a tour of seven underground realms, each with a ruler more alien than the previous.
Part of the Hyperborean Cycle. This is an excellent basis for an underground RPG campaign setting, describing what could be a megadungeon with seven large sections. Tsathoggua, serpent people, and other beings pass from our sight as the detestable protagonist is forced to descend into the bowels of the earth. Richly decorated with a very sudden ending.

-The Primal City: The protagonists climb unexplored mountains in search for an ancient city. They discover the existence of tremendous nebulous guardians the hard way.
The idea of this short story is amazing, as is its execution. Giants guard an ancient city – menacing clouds that hunt all trespassers. It has something of the cosmic natural majesty of Algernon Blackwood, a truly breathtaking spectacle.

-Necromancy in Naat: A nomad prince goes half across the world searching for his abducted fiancé. He ends up in the island of Naat where necromancers rule. There he falls under their thrall and is intertwined in their byzantine schemes.
Part of the Zothique cycle. Pulp/folk-tale adventure with a strong emphasis on the wonders of necromancy. Reminiscent of the Isle of the Torturers from the previous volume. This is a good story with wonderful imagery. It falls short of Greatness due to its never going beyond the mundane – even with a host of magic, it all seems to human.

-The Treader of the Dust: A contemporary occultist returns home to find it unnaturally full of dust. His servant is missing and his latest grimoire has been disturbed.
Short horror piece with a brooding archaic atmosphere. Nothing spectacular but nice to roll upon. The ending with the star is a nice touch. Extra solid.

-Mother of Toads: An apothecary’s apprentice visits a witch to get some ingredients. This crone, the Mother of Toads, seduces him with an aphrodisiac potion. When he tries to escape, he finds that a legion of toads hamper his flight from the swamp.
Part of the Averoigne cycle. This unusually somatic and erotic tale (written initially for a different type of magazine than the pulp usual suspects) has a strong fairy-tale vibe with a carnal hue. Thus it resembles more than anything one of the imaginal forms of the pre-modern fairy-tale. Very vivid description of both swamp and amphibian element, a quick foray into mythic mires of witchcraft.

-The Garden of Adompha: A bored king and his wizard have a garden wherein they graft human body parts on plants. The king decides to use the wizard’s body so as to pump up the garden’s magic.
Part of the Zothique cycle. A very vivid foray into the blending of forms and beings, quite extreme for CAS yet utterly enjoyable.

-The Master of the Crabs: Following a treasure map wielded by an enemy, a wizard and his apprentice end up in an uninhabited island, amidst some very single-minded crabs.
Part of the Zothique cycle. This is also highly grotesque, painted with colorful, adventurous strokes, and expands the Zothique universe. Not stellar but formidable.

-The Theft of the 39 Girdles: Satampra Zeiros and Vixeela, his one true love, plan and execute a temple heist involving 39 holy girdles made of precious metals and gems. In order to succeed they enlist the help of an alchemist acquaintance.
Part of the Hyperborean cycle. This would be up there at the Great list, if not for the very anti-climatic and sudden ending which left me thinking that this was an unfinished work. The re-introduction of the legendary Satampra Zeiros, the planning and execution of the temple raid, the description of the alchemies the rogues use to obtain the treasure, all of that is sword & sorcery at its best, akin to Conan and Lankhmar. But the end feels like a letdown, a true shame.

The White Worm, by the Cosmic Antipodes blog

Great:
-The Death of Malygris: A royal magician discovers that his arch-nemesis, the tyrant of the land, Malygris, may well be truly dead. Magicians start visiting Malygris’ abode in order to ascertain the truth of the claim.
Part of the Poseidonis cycle. Oh blessed serpents of the deep, slithering through veils of narcotic haze, among chryselephantine artifacts. This story is a painting come to life. Imagine the halls of Thulsa Doom from Conan, but sombre and with the occult element tuned up to eleven. Amazing imagery, amazing language, CAS at his best.

-The Last Hieroglyph: An astrologer discovers a hieroglyph in a zodiac map, which seems to approach him, night by night. When the hieroglyph appears before him, he embarks along with his two companions on a journey through mythic regions.
Part of the Zothique cycle. The core idea (a sign that is both signifier and signified, carrying in either of its aspects the full weight of the other) is weird enough to stand out on its own. The way CAS materializes it is beautiful.

-The Coming of the White Worm: Unnatural snow creeps in a village, leaving only a wizard alive; he finds himself upon the iceberg that was heralded by the frost. There he is forced, along with other magicians, to worship a Worm-like thing with tremendous power, watching helplessly the world falling under the banner of eternal cold.
Part of the Hyperborean cycle. The beginning of this story shines like a frozen star, as an enchanting sense of winterness is evoked. Literary cold-white descriptions. The quality remains excellent throughout and the description of the worm itself is brilliant.

-The Black Abbot of Puthuum: A couple of mercenaries, along with a eunuch and a girl end up in a strange monastery in the wilderness, whose 12 monks and abbot exude malice.
Part of the Zothique cycle. This is very good. A time-forgotten monastery full of unnatural monks and dark corridors is a great setting, and the sword-sorcery pulpness is tangible. What hits the nail of greatness, however, is the final scene, where the protagonists use the abbot’s black fingernails to draw lots.

-Schizoid Creator: A psychiatrist believes that God and Satan are the two faces of a schizophrenic being. Thus, he sets out to cure God’s schizophrenia, by electrocution.
Very nice idea, excellent execution, and an underlying sarcasm atypical of CAS.

Volume 2
Volume 3
Volume 4

Advertisements

Annihilation (Southern Reach, #1)

In most social circles, profession is what most characterizes a person, in a far larger degree than the name or any other individual characteristic. “What’s your job/occupation?” is usually a default question when coming into more-than-trivial conversational contact with someone, and profession tends to extensively colour our thought-form of most persons. It could be said that name and surname are necessary evils only in situations where the same occupations is shared by more than one person.

Enter the Annihilation’s 4-person expedition into Area X. A quartet of women, each with a different professional specialisation, inside an area empty of people. Suddenly names become unimportant; we are left with the surveyor, the psychologist, the anthropologist, and our protagonist, the biologist. Though it is implied later in the book that there might be yet another cause for this abandonment of names, it is also true that in a situation like this (where the only humans in the vicinity each have a different occupation) names are superfluous. Thing is, this equation of one’s being with one’s profession is a bit contradictory in a society where work and personal life are (ideally – for society at least) two completely separated spheres of one’s life.

Enough with this detour. Annihilation, the first part of the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, is a rather short horror/sci-fi novel, which tracks the aforementioned expedition’s trek into Area X, an uninhabited area, demarcated from the rest of the world by a Border of unknown properties. Our expedition is the eleventh to brave Area X’s depths according to the Southern Reach, the vague organization behind the Area’s exploration. Written from the biologist’s first person view, the book reads like a journal of sorts, which mixes the present-day exploration’s narration with flashback fragments of the heroine’s past life.

Annihilation is laconic both in its cast of characters (four main ones, along with two or three more orbiting around them) and its spatial diversity. The whole novel takes place in Area X (though flashbacks connect us with the outside world); or, to be more specific, it unfolds in three landmarks inside the Area: the Camp, the Tower, and the Lighthouse.

«Scientific expedition» + «dangerous, uninhabited, and maybe infected zone.» This aggregate, evident from the book’s first pages, screams of science fiction and has a touch of apocalypse (could it be zombies that I see?) on the horizon. Not exactly my cup of tea as far as horror fiction is concerned. Thankfully, the story grows quickly towards the uncanny and weird side of horror, with a fairy-tale-esque touch towards the end. This is quite a feat, all things setting-wise considered. The unfolding of the story borders on the Lovecraftian, the ghost story, the post-structuralist linguistics, never quite letting any of these dominate. Allusion, implication, and the absence of graphic violence and gore are pillars of the book. The whole idea of the Crawler/Tower complex is pleasantly disturbing and archaic, almost mythological in hue. The despairing uselessness of written-speech-sans-reader is a theme resonating throughout parts of the narrative.

On the negative part of the spectrum I would put the somewhat anti-climactic resolution at the end, though I understand that it is the first part of a trilogy (and yet quite able to stand on its own, though many things are left unexplained). One other thing that bothered me (though not terribly) is the over-abundance of the protagonist’s personal and emotional details in the flashbacks. I understand that there really is one character, so she should be expanded upon, yet I think we could do with slightly less such material, since it tends to weigh down the narrative (this is obviously a matter of personal taste – I like my horror rather de-personized).

Annihilation is a great read, graced with several ideas and images that tend to stick in one’s mind. An excellent genre crossover, it emits an air of vagueness which satisfyingly rewards active imagining initiatives.

Clark Ashton Smith Collected Fantasies, vol 4 – The Maze of the Enchanter

The fourth volume is a bit more focused thematically, including 5 stories of the Zothique circle, 3 of the Averoigne one and two Hyperborean ones. This doesn’t mean, of course, that there is any aspect of Clark Ashton’s writing that is not represented here. There are many good and great stories here, with quality peaks at the beginning and at the second half, and a stellar high at the Charnel God/Dark Eidolon combo.

Bad:
-The Dimension of Chance: In the far future of 1970s (the story was written in the ’30s) an American military plane ends up in a strange world after chasing a Japanese aircraft. There, random probability has a much more active role in shaping the world, resulting in creatures whose physiology is pluralistic to say the least.
Nice idea, whose materialization is, however, doomed from inception to be rather tiresome when injected into words. Of the weird science-fiction CAS genre, of which I am not a fan.

Mediocre:
-A Star-Change: Alien beings take the protagonist with them to their planet.
One of CAS’s exercises in descriptions of weird environments, imbued with the fatalistic conception of mankind’s limitations. Not much to keep.

-The White Sybil: In Hyperborea, a poet catches glimpses of the White Sibyl, a divine oracle, follows her up a mountain, sees another world, yet when he touches the woman the mirage is shattered.
This has a poem-like quality, lots of description, and not much in the way of plot or action. It is definitely beautiful but rather tiresome.

-The Isle of the Torturers: After his nation is wiped by pestilence, a king (who has immunity by wearing a magic ring) sails for a distant land. A storm throws his vessel on an island famed for its sadistic inhabitants.
Of the Zothique circle, yet not much in the way of plot. Obvious resemblance to the Masque of Red Death, (also, a very early manifestation of Melnibone?) quite predictable, it unfortunately doesn’t rise above mediocrity.

-The Dweller in the Gulf: A trio of Earth people descend into a huge Martian cave, where they encounter a strange race and the Dweller in the Gulf.
Though it could theoretically be slotted in the dungeon crawl genre, this is more descriptive and eloquent than needed. It has a nice escalation, but feels rather unpolished.

-The Secret of the Cairn: An artist discovers a strange stone in the forest, which he cannot approach – when he does, it seems that it keeps distancing itself, without changing position. Afterwards it is revealed as part of an elaborate alien ritual -the aliens take the protagonist for a short visit to their world.
This had potential to be great, sylvan cairn and all, but the alien edge along with the overwhelming weirdness of the alien world description weighs it down a lot.

Good:
-The Mandrakes: A sorcerer kills and buries his wife in the garden; in this spot start sprouting female-shaped mandrakes.
Part of the Averoigne cycle, a solid short story with grand overtones of rural witchcraft.

-The Beast of Averoigne: The appearance of a comet heralds the coming of a strange beast in the vicinity of a monastery, a terror that hunts in the night. The aid of a sorcerer is finally enlisted to thwart the devil.
Part of the Averoigne cycle, a grand narration from three different points of view/characters, with a brooding twist in the end. Excellent medieval horror.

-The Disinterment of Venus: An ancient Venus statue is unearthed in a monastery garden, inducing the monks to satyriasis.
Part of the Averoigne cycle. A nice, unusually sexually suggestive story which reeks of hidden monastic lust, an exultation of pagan carnality with a satisfying ending.

-The Maze of the Enchanter: A man trying to locate his abducted fiancé enters a wizard’s territory, ending up in the sorcerer’s notorious labyrinth.
Top-notch CAS dark fantasy. The descriptions are evocative and rich like elder vitae. Just a bit more of plot action would take it to the grand category.

-The third episode of Vathek: The completion of an unfinished Vathek appendice, in which twin brother and sister indulge in forbidden love and pacts with the Devil.
A majestic capture of Vathek’s atmosphere, this is overally excellent, though it could perhaps be edited to a lesser word count.

-Genius Loci: A painter seems to be maliciously affected by a locale with a pond and some gnarled trees. His friend, trying to save him, calls the artist’s girlfriend, who however proves incapable of overpowering the locale’s influence.
The spirit of the place as a vampiric entity: this is the core idea of this beautiful little story. Not much to dislike here, apart from the slightly slow pace.

-The Voyage of King Euvoran: The stuffed bird forming the crowning jewel of a king’s crown is revived by a necromancer and flies away. The King embarks on an expedition to retrieve it.
Part of the Zothique cycle, yet unusually humorous in tone, this has very memorable locales, an island ruled by birds, and a fitting fairy-tale-esque ending.

-Vulthoom: Some humans who have been stranded on Mars descend to the planet’s interior and are offered a mission by a god-like entity – a task that involves preparing Earth for colonization.
A nice case of CAS-ian sci-fi, that focuses on plot rather than heavy descriptions.

-The Flower-Women: The omnipotent wizard from the Maze of the Enchanter visits another planet out of boredom. There he meets plant sirens and reptilian sorcerers.
An almost light-hearted story that reveals an almost humane side of the stern enchanter. Very pleasurable.

Scene from the Dark Eidolon, by Mockman

Great:
-The Ice Demon: Three persons embark on a quest towards the oncoming glacier that heralds the coming Ice Age; they seek an ice chamber holding a frozen army, along with royal gemstones. The glacier seems to be imbued with malevolent consciousness and agency.
An ode to ice and cold. Set in the later days of Hyperborea, the story contains amazing descriptions of arctic vistas and ice-sculpted monuments. The demon itself and its signs of attack are a study in majestic subtlety. Strangely reminiscent of Algernon Blackwood’s The Sacrifice, as far as atmosphere goes.

-The Charnel God: A city dominated by the temple of a death god – all people who die in its walls end up in there. The protagonist must rescue his wife, who has the symptoms of death, but remains alive.
Part of the Zothique cycle, it showcases pulpy dark adventuring done right. Not of the sword & sorcery kind where heroes indulge in their skill, but of the one that reads like a good dark fairy-tale.

-The Dark Eidolon: A mighty wizard returns to the city of his birth to wreak revenge upon the prince that once scorned him. With him, he has the dark eidolon of a demon god.
Part of the Zothique cycle, and one of CAS’s most grandiose creations. Has there been a more majestic description of oncoming doom than the one of the beings coming upon the city? This is the stuff apocalypse is made of.

-The Weaver in the Vault: Three imperial guards go to a necropolis to fetch an ages-old mummy to their liege.
Part of the Zothique cycle. When CAS focuses on dungeon crawling he excels. With nice background hues of steppe-like camaraderie, and amazing, atmospheric descriptions of the charnel grounds.

Volume 2
Volume 3

Clark Ashton Smith Collected Fantasies, vol 3 – A Vintage from Atlantis

Despite the larger number of stories and pages in comparison to volume two, the third tome of Clark Ashton Smith’s Omnibus, was overall better, containing no pages that forced skipping. On the contrary, the good stories are many, and the great are among the author’s most exquisite writings.

Mediocre:
-Beyond the Singing Flame: The sequel to the City of the Singing Flame takes us back to the great city of Ydmos, and even beyond, explaining some of the Flame’s mysteries.
A rare sequel, this story builds on the success of its predecessor, and tries to elaborate on the Flame’s hazy nature. The cosmic and psychedelic elements are increased, the atmosphere becomes more ominous and tenebrous, even apocalyptic (somewhat reminiscent of Dunsany’s gods), but the truth is that the weirdness, a crucial part of the original’s magic, is here reduced. Solid, though somewhat tiring in alien descriptions.

-The Eternal World: A man finds himself in a place beyond space and time, where he, along with three other omnipotent beings, is abducted by a mysterious spaceship.
An interesting idea, yet the implementation is tiring, as tends to be the norm with CAS’s hard space science fiction

-The Demon of the Flower: An empire ruled by plants, with a demonic flower as a divine emperor. A man travels to find a way to banish the tyrant.
This one is a mix of fairy tale and weird fiction, an intriguing combination that unfortunately proves less than stellar in this one, most probably due to the weirdness immensely overpowering the flow.

-The Invisible City: Two explorers wander through Gobi desert and reach a city with invisible buildings and denizens.
A stellar idea which however was is less than stellar in its execution. Things are rather forced and sped up, especially in the latter half.

-The Immortals of Mercury: A man is captured by the immortal people residing in Mercury’s interior, and is to be used as an ingredient for a metal alloy.
A typically protracted sci-fi story which however has a nice Underdark (deep cave) feeling. Still, more a train of gonzo and action scenes than a proper story. The idea of heat-resistant giant lizards used as grills was amazing.

Good:
-The Holiness of Azedarac: Part of the Averoigne circle, this centers around the pious monk Ambrose, his quest of exposing Azedarac’s satanic faith, and his sudden disappearance.
Not an astounding plot, yet here Clark Ashton’s pen indulges in a wealth of verbal delights. Good sylvan atmosphere and a pinch of archaic druidic mysteries. Also, the end is unusually kind and optimistic, pushing aside the cold hand of duty that is many times unmoving in such fairy-tale-like legends.

The Maker of Gargoyles: Also part of the Averoigne circle, this concerns two malevolent gargoyles, imbued with their creator’s spiteful instincts and desires.
An essentially magical way of thinking, the transference of and animation with powerful emotion to creations. The story is not unpredictable, but it nicely zooms in the setting, town and particular period, offering also a wealth of lore.

-Seedling of Mars: An empty martian spaceship kidnaps (somewhat) a number of humans and takes them to Mars, who is revealed to be an almost animated planet. What follows is a battle between open-mindness and exploration lust on the one side, and conservative human nature on the other.
Finally, a very good science fiction story. This is part philosophical, part action, vibrating with the wonder of novelty.

-A Vintage from Atlantis:A pirate crew finds an ancient jar in a beach, containing a wine from Atlantis. Once drunk, the wine bestows visions of the now-sunken continent.
Magnificent prose, jewel-encrusted words that flow like amber wine through the pages. An oneiric atmosphere.

-The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan: A miserly moneylender pawns a couple of huge emeralds which start rolling from his reach. He chases them through city and forest to a cave, where doom awaits.
A quirky story with a weird idea (gems rolling on their own), completely on the side of fairy-tales. Almost great.

-The Seed from the Sepulcher: Two Amazonian explorers looking for rare plants. One of them becomes infected by a parasitic plant.
Grotesque, with a fear of hybrids and impurity in its core. A bit verbose, it could benefit from a tighter editing.

-The Second Interment: The protagonist is deathly afraid of premature burial, having already been buried alive once. The story follows his mental and bodily sensations as he sinks in the despair of the inevitable second coming of his dreadful situation.
A Poe-like thematic story which traces the manic, panicked and feverish thoughts of a phobic man that dreads the grave.

-Ubbo-Sathla: An artifact found in a pawnshop is revealed to be a divination implement, able to bridge eternities. Using it, the protagonist’s consciousness is slowly merged with that of an ancient sorcerer, and then a primordial god.
A nice story of sorcerous might and hubris, it kind of fails to rise to stellar levels.

-The Plutonian drag:An extraterrestrial drag causes anyone imbibing it to perceive near future and past visually, flattening time into perspectiveless space.
The core idea of this is ingenuous and very well presented. Alas, it could be expanded a bit more; right now it is just a rough uncut gem.

-The Supernumerary Corpse: A man poisons his nemesis but ends up with two identical (and far removed in spatial terms) corpses.
This has a very short and weird plot, which remains essentially unexplained. Very nice.

Empire of the Necromancers

Great:
-The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis: A team of settlers from Earth ventures into the ruins of a forgotten race on Mars.
An amazing dungeon crawl in Martian ruins, better than your best dungeon crawl adventure (fantasy or otherwise).

-The Nameless Offspring: Someone finds himself in the vicinity of his childhood neighborhood. He ends up in the manor of an old acquaintance, who hides a secret offspring.
A gothic manor story which has everything: the decrepit owner, the dead spouse, crypts, the deformed spawn, the butler. This is the stuff CAS lived and died for, who in this particular case throws in both Necronomicon verses and ghoulish delights.

-The Empire of the Necromancers: Two necromancers leave a region populated by the living, in order to establish an empire, in a province long decimated by plague; their empire is populated by undead animated by their spells.
This is how the archaic undead rises through the pen of a true master. This is how terrible majesty and arcane wonder is evoked. One of the best CAS stories.

-The Double Shadow: A sorcerer’s apprentice watches his master’s approaching doom as a conjured unfathomable being slowly approaches his shadow.
Clark Ashton Smith at his best. Sorcerous evocation, a weird and utterly unexplainable horror from the dark past.

-The Colossus of Ylourgne: The dead start leaving their graves and converge in a ruined castle where a sorcerer plans his revenge upon the world.
Magnificence incarnate in the Averoigne circle. A long story with highly atmospheric parts, a solid plot and parts that could well have influenced such a masterpiece as «In the Hills, the Cities.» Reified awe.

Volume 2
Volume 4

Clark Ashton Smith Collected Fantasies, vol 2 – The Door to Saturn

The second tome of Clark Ashton Smith’s collected works gathers a number of stories, ranging from choked-in-action sci-fi (A Captivity in Serpens) to oriental weird (The Willow Landscape, The Ghoul) and good old grotesque horror (Return of the Sorcerer). Obviously, the reader’s disposition towards a particular genre will be of the uttermost importance concerning the pleasure derived from each story, structural issues notwithstanding. Thus, not being a huge fun of pulpy science fiction I was exhausted by the sheer length of «The Red World of Polaris,» «A Captivity in Serpens,» and «The Letter from Mohaun Los.» The sheer weight of the never-ending descriptions in these three stories required a Herculean effort to navigate which proved too much for me. Thus I consider them the weakest of the bunch.

These three aside, the others can be put in the following three qualitative categories:

Mediocre:
The Door to Saturn: The collection’s namesake kicks off in a promising way, with a sorcerer hunting another through a portal that leads from Earth to Saturn, and their consequent travels in the alien planet.
Alas, the Saturnian landscape, fauna and flora, edges on the gonzo side of the aesthetic spectrum. The descriptions are not as lengthy and numerous as in the aforementioned trio of sci-fi stories, there is bizarreness aplenty, but still, the story is rather distanced from my personal taste. Of course, for those whose mind exalts in such settings, this is a very well-written specimen.

-An Offering to the Moon: The Pacific Ocean, two explorers, and a jungle temple of a long-lost tribe.
Rather standard «exotic» material without much of an edge. Nothing spectacular.

The Kiss of Zoraida: The fate of two illicit lovers is sealed in a brutally ironic way.
Descriptive grotesquerie galore, but other than that this snapshot-like, fatalistic and very short story doesn’t boast a supernatural element or something spectacular.

-The Face by the River: A killer haunted by his victim’s visage.
This is more of a study in the emotional deterioration of a ghost-tormented individual, rather than a ghost-story in itself. Well-written nevertheless, it will definitely appeal to some.

-An Adventure in Futurity: A lengthy time-travel story that begins with slight hues of the weird mystery before taking us to a rather distasteful far future of humanity, where human superiority is characterised by emotional detachment and cold intellectualism, as well as the enslavement of beings from Venus.
Apart from the excellent beginning there was little to personally enjoy in this story.

-The Justice of the Elephant: A short story of justicial revenge (somewhat fairytale-esque) set in the East.
Very short and rather satisfying, it nevertheless doesn’t manage to set itself apart.

-The City of the Singing Flame: A man discovers a portal to a strange gigantic city, in whose center is a Flame that sings, luring everything in it.
A fantasy thematic with sci-fi-like descriptions (as far as their overwhelming abundance is concerned). This borders on the Lovecraftian oneiric/fantastic of Kadath and Randolph Carter. The central idea of the Singing Flame is extraordinary, but the realisation seems somewhat faulty.

Good:
Told in the Desert: A story of the Arabian Tales sort with a mythological core (the extraordinary bride setting a rule that must not be broken).
Beautiful, evoking description of the desert, of the campfire, of the oasis, of the tormented protagonist himself.

-The Willow Landscape: An oriental-themed short story about a magical painting, this is a good-hearted, touching and satisfactory story.
Not much else to say without spoiling the plot.

-The Gorgon: A man is led to the depths of London, where he faces (sort of) the head of the Medusa.
Bordering on greatness, yet just missing the final step, this is a masterful blending of the contemporary urban with the mythological. Ominous escalation of the macabre, amazing hinting at heroic artifacts, and greatness in the description of the Medusa lair. Still, it stumbles just before the end.

-The Ghoul: A man is forced into a horrendous pact with a ghoul, in order to save the corpse of his deceased loved one.
Arabian Nights on grotesque steroids, this delivers all that the title implies: ghoulish delights steeped in gothic drama.

-A Good Embalmer: An embalmer makes sure that his body will, after death, stay clear of his business partner’s less-than-perfect funereal art.
Due to the setting it reminded me somewhat of the funeral house in Neil Gaiman’s «American Gods.» This is a light-hearted narrative that could be part of a Hammer horror-anthology extravaganza. Beautiful and pleasantly shocking.

-The Testament of Athammaus: Set in an unspecified ancient era, this is an executioner’s narrative of how his city was deserted, after a convicted outlaw (and possible distant relative of Tsathoggua) refuses to stay dead.
I had difficulty deciding if this is good or great – it certainly borders on the latter. I finally settled on very good. A fairy-tale-esque recurring motif, heaps of graphic description, and the helplessness in front of the abhorrent – the consumption of passers-by is of monumental conception and execution (sic).

-The Hunters from Beyond: An artist taps into the occult to enhance his work and (obviously something goes wrong).
Not the most original of stories, somewhat related to Lovecraft’s «Pickman’s Model,» yet it comes out solid due to the sheer weight of Clark Ashton’s language and atmosphere evoked.

Moonlight on Boulder Ridge, Clark Ashton Smith

Great/Amazing:
A Rendezvous in Averoigne: A man, his lover and two servants are lost in an ancient, labyrinthine forest, ending up in the castle of an ancient aristocrat.
One of the best vampire stories of all time, this is graced with an incredibly evoking gothic atmosphere. The rich language flows like blood falling on velvet curtains, it smells of ancient mysteries and crypts just opened.

-The Kingdom of the Worm: Sir John Maundeville (a knight that features in a 14th century book) travels through the cursed land of Antchar, beholding unnerving visions before coming to the court of the Worm in all its terrible majesty.
Written in the style of the original «Travels of Sir John Mandeville» the story is steeped in medieval, religious horror. Antchar is revealed as a land out of Poe’s more terrible fantasies. A piece of art to be visited again and again, bound to reveal new unholy treasures each time.

-The Return of the Sorcerer: The protagonist is employed by an old man as a secretary. The employer requires both the man’s linguistic skills in Arabic as well as the presence of another living being in the huge empty house.
A claustrophobic, dark and brutally suggestive story, that ends in a crescendo of implied grotesqueness. (There is an alternative ending that is of less quality) A classic in the spirit of Lovecraft’s Charles Dexter Ward.

Volume 3
Volume 4

A Thousand Plateaus – Τα πρώτα 500

rhizome

Μπορεί ο Κόναν να υποστήριζε πως “Crushing your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women” είναι το καλύτερο στη ζωή, αλλά η απάντηση του προηγούμενου πολεμιστή στην επίμαχη σκηνή είναι αυτή που έχει όλο το επικό ζουμί: “The open steppe, fleet horse, falcons at your wrist, and the wind in your hair”. Εδώ και καμιά δεκαριά χρόνια τουλάχιστον κουβαλάω τον τίτλο ενός βιβλίου που πρέπει να γράψω κάποτε. Ο τίτλος είναι “Η Σφαίρα των Σλάβων”, η πρώτη σκηνή περιλαμβάνει ένα κάρο εν μέσω ενός απέραντου επίπεδου τοπίου, και στον πυρήνα του είναι -παρά τον τίτλο- οι Σκύθες και οι νομαδικοί λαοί των στεπών, ενώ κάπου υπάρχει και μια χρυσού χρώματος σφαίρα. Τόσο η στέπα (όσο και η τάιγκα της Σιβηρίας), είναι από τα γεωγραφικά μέρη που λειτουργούν πολύ δονητικά εντός μου, λόγω απομόνωσης/αραιής κατοίκησης, εξωτικού στοιχείου, αίσθησης ελευθερίας – δραστικά αντίθετα μορφολογικά από το αστικό τοπίο – καθώς και σαμανιστικής ψυχής.

Το “1000 Plateaus” είναι ένα βιβλίο που είχε αναπτύξει εντός μου μια πολύ μυθική σκεπτομορφή χωρίς να το έχω διαβάσει μέχρι τώρα. Γνωρίζοντας εμμέσως (και ελάχιστα άμεσα, μέσω του πολύ λίγου που έχω διαβάσει από τον “Αντι-Οιδίποδα”) και πολύ αδρά το που κινείται η σκέψη των Ντελέζ και Γκουαταρί, το 1000 Plateaus φάνταζε ως ένα γοητευτικό γριμόριο επίθεσης στην ενισχυμένη θωράκιση της σύγχρονης προσωπικότητας, στις αυστηρές κατηγορίες, και ωδής στην ανοιχτή στέπα, στις νομαδικές κινήσεις και τρόπο ζωής. Επίσης όμως και ως μια ακατάσχετη μάζα με πολλαπλά ελισσόμενα πλοκάμια, πάνω στην οποία στέκουν τα 1000 οροπέδια του τίτλου, κλειδωνιζόμενα και παρασυρόμενα μα συγχρόνως ικανά να κουβαλήσουν το κάρο και τον έφιππο γερακάρη καθώς αυτός ατενίζει από μακριά το καραβάνι με μια ματιά αποστασιοποιημένου ενδιαφέροντος αλλά και συνετής απόστασης. Τουλάχιστον έτσι ήθελα να μοιάζει, και μέχρι στιγμής η μάζα του προσαρμόζεται στις φιάλες αυτές.

Το είχα ξεκινήσει άλλη μια φορά πριν δυο χρόνια, αλλά το πρώτο κεφάλαιο με είχε ζορίσει, με αποτέλεσμα να το ξαναβάλω στο ράφι. Φέτος, με την ευκαιρία της κυκλοφορίας της ελληνικής έκδοσης έγινε ένα μικρό σούσουρο στο facebook λόγω της επιλογής του όρου πλατώματα στον τίτλο, και σκανδαλίστηκα. Όταν δε, βρήκα και μια προτεινόμενη εναρκτήρια σειρά ανάγνωσης κεφαλαίων για πιο ομαλό μπάσιμο από σχόλιο κάποιου φίλου, αποφάσισα πως ήρθε το πλήρωμα του χρόνου. Η ανάγνωση έχει πλέον καλύψει τα μισά κεφάλαια (7) του βιβλίου, και οπότε ήρθε η ώρα για έναν πρώτο απολογισμό του καθενός. Η σειρά που ακολουθώ στα κεφάλαια έχει να κάνει με το προαναφερθέν σχόλιο (που πρότεινε τα 12->1->10 για αρχή) και μια ακόμη λίστα στο reddit, καθώς και την παρέμβαση των affects που διέπουν το assemblage «Εγώ-και-το-βιβλίο».

Δυο λόγια λοιπόν για κάθε κεφάλαιο (καθαρά το πρώτο απόσταγμα που μου αφήσανε, χωρίς βλέψη για κάποια στομφώδη γνώμη), των οποίων προηγείται μια (ή και παραπάνω) εικόνα που πιστεύω πως πιάνει τη σκεπτομορφή που έχω για το καθένα κεφάλαιο.

Κεφάλαιο 12: Treatise on Nomadology – The War Machine

Εικόνα: Όσοι έχετε διαβάσει (έστω και το πρώτο βιβλίο) Malazan θα θυμάστε ένα τεράστιο κάρο με αλυσοδεμένους νεκρούς και μη πάνω του, το οποίο όλο σύμπλεγμα βρισκόταν μέσα στο σπαθί του Anomander Rake. Κάπως έτσι φαντάζομαι τη War Machine, αλλά χωρίς τις αλυσίδες, μια seething mass στις στέπες της Ασίας.

Ιδανικό ξεκίνημα με ένα αρκετά εύκολο στην παρακολούθηση κεφάλαιο-μαμούθ (το ένα από τα δυο πραγματικά μεγάλα). Ωδή στο νομαδισμό, τις ροές, την απεδαφικοποίηση, την αλληλεπίδραση μεταξύ άκαμπτων και μη εξουσιαστικών δομών και της νύχτας που ελοχεύει έξω από αυτές – μια νύχτα ευμετάβλητη, η οποία με νύχια και δόντια στέκει απέναντι στην οργανωτική εξουσία. Τα χαρακτηριστικά της πολεμικής μηχανής (προδοσία, πτήση, ταχύτητα, ελαφρότητα, μυστικότητα) προβάλλονται ως δικλείδα ασφαλείας απέναντι στη συσσώρευση εξουσίας, η δε πολεμική μηχανή ως πρωτίστως δημιουργική (που διαβρώνεται όμως όταν φτάνει να έχει τον πόλεμο ως σκοπό). Επίσης οι Πόλεις στου Λόφους είναι πολεμικές μηχανές, βεβαίως.

Κεφάλαιο 1: Introduction: Rhizome

Εικόνα: Όταν ψάχνεις για τους μεγαλύτερους οργανισμούς στη γη, ανακαλύπτεις για τεράστια δίκτυα από μύκητες που εξαπλώνονται για χιλιόμετρα κάτω από τη γη, δίχως κεντρική ρίζα.

Κάτι γενικότερα για τη γραφή του βιβλίου: έχω την αίσθηση πως οι πολλές επαναλήψεις εννοιών και κάποια από τα ενδιάμεσα δυσνόητα εδάφια του βιβλίου λειτουργούν εκτός των άλλων και ως κονίαμα για τη διαισθητική κατανόηση των εννοιών και της ατμόσφαιρας του βιβλίου. Εδώ έχουμε μια δυσκολούτσικη εισαγωγή που με είχε αποθαρρύνει κάποτε. Λοιπόν, το ρίζωμα εξαπλώνεται σαν παραφυάδες και κληματσίδες χωρίς κεντρικές ρίζες, σαν τεράστια πλοκάμια μεδουσών χωρίς κορμό, σαν παλίμψηστο χωρίς βάση, δίχως αρχή ή τέλος, σαν ένας ιδεατός χρόνος χωρίς γενεαλογία. Το ρίζωμα είναι που παράγει το ασυνείδητο, κι όχι ένας τρόπος-μοντέλο ερμηνείας αυτού [του ασυνειδήτου]. Το ρίζωμα είναι όμως μια πολύ ωραία εικόνα για την αναπαράσταση ροών, των τρόπων σύνθεσης και αποσύνθεσης, και πάνω από όλα για τις γενεαλογίες, ένα κουβάρι που συνεχώς ανακινείται και σπαρταράει χωρίς να έχει νόημα να αναζητούμε την πηγή του (μιας και αυτές είναι λεγεώνα).

Κεφάλαιο 2: 1914: One or Several Wolves?

Εικόνα: Αγέλη λύκων, ο καθένας ουρλιάζει με διαφορετικό κάλεσμα στο φεγγάρι, έξω από το παράθυρο του παιδιού-ταυτότητα, λιμπιζόμενος το κομμάτιασμα του παιδιού, του δωματίου και του σπιτιού.

Η συνύπαρξη διάφορων πλασμάτων το άθροισμα των οποίων προσπαθεί να θεωρηθεί η αποκρυσταλλωμένη ταυτότητα του εγώ. Ο Φρόιντ και η ψυχανάλυση γαντζώνονται με νύχια και δόντια από την ταυτότητα, από το συμπαγές εγώ του ατόμου, και αυτό προσπαθούν να συντηρήσουν. Αυτό το μικρό κεφάλαιο είναι ουσιαστικά μια υπέροχη κριτική στην ψυχανάλυση και στην ατομική συμπαγή και ακίνητη σύγχρονη ταυτότητα.

Κεφάλαιο 10. 1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible…

Εικόνα: Ο sorcerer (όχι ο μάγος) στέκεται ποζάροντας με τις κλειδώσεις του σε γωνίες φορώντας ένα σαμανικό καφτάνι και υψώνοντας το χέρι ενάντια στους ουρανούς, με την παλάμη σε ορθή γωνία σε σχέση με το κάτω μέρος του καρπού .

Το δεύτερο κεφάλαιο-μαμούθ, και ίσως το πιο απολαυστικό μέχρι στιγμής. Ξεκινώντας από τους στρουκτουραλιστικούς τρόπους ταξινόμησης της Φυσικής Ιστορίας, περιπλανιέται ανάμεσά τους για να τους απορρίψει. Το becoming παρουσιάζεται ως μια αυθύπαρκτη δυνατότητα ύπαρξης, ξέχωρη από το being, ένα συνεχόμενο στροβίλισμα μέσα σε assemblages (υπεροργανισμοί, σύνολα οργανισμών, άσχετα με βιολογικές κατατάξεις, μονάχα με αλληλεπιδράσεις – για παράδειγμα, όπως είχε γράψει ο Bateson ο τυφλός άνθρωπος με το μπαστούνι του είναι ένα assemblage. Το ίδιο και ο Κόναν με τον τροχό του μύλου που γυρίζει – όπως σωστά μου επισημάνθηκε).

Εδώ υπάρχει ενότητα Memories of a Sorcerer, αυτό και μόνο μου αρκεί (η ακολουθία του μοτίβου των τίτλων του βιβλίων του Dumezil είναι εμφανής). Οι μεταμορφώσεις και τα becomings υμνούνται και πλαισιώνονται με αναφορές σε Lovecraft και Castaneda και τη Μαγεία. Αυθύπαρκτες ορδές ζώων, μετάθεση της συνείδησης (ή της οποιασδήποτε παραλλαγής της) εκτός του ορισμένου από εμάς ως οργανισμού. Εκεί που ο οργανισμός βασίζεται σε χαρακτηριστικά οι αγέλες και τα σμήνη βασίζονται στα affects και τις παρορμήσεις και τις αναβράζουσες δυναμικές. Η μαγεία, ως περιθωριακή δύναμη είναι ενάντια στο κράτος, ενάντια στην εξουσία, ενάντια στα ιδρύματα. Οι μάγοι ακολουθούνε παράλογους συνειρμούς και αναλογίες. Οι συγγραφείς, και με τα 1000 στόματά τους αναφωνούν: “Of course there are werewolves and vampires, we say this with all our heart.”

Υπάρχει και ένα απόσπασμα που ουσιαστικά δείχνει προς το μεγάλο Έργο του Αποκρυφισμού, την ένωση και διάλυση μέσα στο Godhead: “To be present at the dawn of the world. Such is the link between imperceptibility, indiscernibility, and impersonality—the three virtues. To reduce oneself to an abstract line, a trait, in order to find one’s zone of indiscernibility with other traits, and in this way enter the haecceity and impersonality of the creator. One is then like grass: one has made the world, everybody/everything, into a becoming, because one has made a necessarily communicating world, because one has suppressed in oneself everything that prevents us from slipping between things and growing in the midst of things. One has combined «everything» (le «tout»): the indefinite article, the infinitive-becoming, and the proper name to which one is reduced. Saturate, eliminate, put everything in.”

Στο τέλος αναφέρεται στην ανάγκη κατεύθυνσης προς τη θρυμμάτιση της πλειοψηφικής ταυτότητας (λευκός-άνδρας-άνθρωπος-ενήλικας-κτλ) ως απεδαφικοποιητική αρχή για την ανάδυση των μειοψηφικών ταυτοτήτων και των becomings αυτών – γιατί προς τις κυρίαρχες, πλειοψηφικές δεν υπάρχουν becomings.

Κεφάλαιο 14. 1440: The Smooth and the Striated

Εικόνα: Ο αργαλειός που υφαίνει έναν υφασμάτινο χάρτη πάνω στον οποίο ξεφυτρώνει μια πόλη στις μασχάλες της οποίας αναπτύσσονται θύλακες τσόχας και αστικομαγικών ρευμάτων που ακολουθούν τα περιστέρια, οι κατσαρίδες και τα πνεύματα του αστικού πεδίου.

Το υφαντό στον αργαλειό που πλέκεται οριζοντιοκάθετα είναι ένας καμβάς που μετατρέπεται σε χάρτη, έναν χάρτη φορέα πολιτισμού απέναντι στα συμπιεσμένα συσσωματώματα των κετσέδων, τον χάρτη των νομάδων δηλαδή, εκεί που η οργάνωση είναι οργανική και δίχως αρχή και τέλος παρά μόνο με αναδύσεις και περιφέρειες. Πιο κάτω υπάρχει μια ευπρόσδεκτη αναφορά στην εργασία και την ανάπαυση (ως υπάρχουσα μόνο μέσω της αντιπαραβολής με την εργασία), καθώς και σχολιασμός του εργασιακού χρόνου. Μια ουροβορική αύρα απλώνεται, καθώς μέσα στα τελείως χαρακωμένα (territorialized) πλέγματα της πόλης βρίσκονται χαοτικές απεδαφικοποιήσεις – υποσχέσεις για μια Megapolisomancy. Επίσης υπάρχουν αρκετά θεωρητικά μαθηματικά και μουσικά εδάφια, τα οποία έχω αφήσει τα μεν δεύτερα για μετέπειτα στιγμή, τα δε πρώτα για πάντα.

Κεφάλαιο 9. 1933: Micropolitics and Segmentarity

Εικόνα: Μαύρες τρύπες μέσα από τις οποίες κοιτάνε τα μάτια των θεών. Πίσω από το βλέμμα τους οι μικροφασισμοί που κυλάνε μέσα στην κοινωνία σαν το μαύρο λάδι των X-Files.

Το ότι οι κατηγοριοποιήσεις και τα αυστηρά δοχεία είναι κάτι που διαπερνά το βιβλίο από άκρη σε άκρη είναι λίγο πολύ κατανοητό μετά από πέντε κεφάλαια. Εδώ όμως αφιερώνεται ολόκληρος τίτλος κεφαλαίου στην τμηματοποίηση. Μια μελέτη του φασισμού και ανάδειξη της τμηματοποιημένης φύσης του: ο φασισμός είναι οι μικροφασισμοί. Κι ενώ μέχρι τώρα η ακαμψία και η δομημένη φόρμα ήταν ο εχθρός και η πλάνη, εδώ πληροφορούμαστε πως οι μικροφασισμοί ανθίζουν και εξαπλώνονται και μέσα από ροές, κρύβονται μέσα στις μη ευκρινείς πτυχές και ριζώνουν στα άτομα. Τέλος, οι τέσσερις κίνδυνοι στην αναζήτηση για το Ιερό Δισκοπότηρο.

Κεφάλαιο 3. 10,000 B.C.: The Geology of Morals (Who Does the Earth Think It Is?)

Εικόνα: Ο αστακός της χαρακτηριστικής εικόνας του κεφαλαίου.

Αυτό ήταν το πρώτο πολύ ζόρικο κεφάλαιο. Οι αρκετές αρχικές σελίδες του βουτάνε σε μια παράθεση γεωλογίας και (μη-)προσπάθειας εξήγησης των χαρακτηριστικών των stratas, με μια ζαλιστική μετάβαση μεταξύ μιας φανταστικής διάλεξης και κειμένων το υποκείμενο των οποίων είναι τα χίλια πρόσωπα των συγγραφέων. Ειδικά οι διπλές αρθρώσεις (εξ ου και ο αστακός με τις δαγκάνες με τα δυο στελέχη στη φωτό του κεφαλαίου) ήταν μαρτύριο. Από τα μισά όμως κι έπειτα το υλικό ξάφνου αποκτά εξαιρετικό ενδιαφέρον και ευκολία παρακολούθησης λόγω μετάβασης σε γλωσσολογικά θέματα και πιο απτή άρθρωση. Έχει στο τέλος και μια πολύ ενδιαφέρουσα ιδέα, το Plane of Consistency, το οποίο όπως το αντιλαμβάνομαι είναι σαν αυτό που φαντάζομαι πως μοιάζει ο κόσμος αν δε διαμεσολαβείται από καμία αίσθηση, μετά-αποκαλυπτικό τοπίο χωρίς χρώματα ή ήχους ή τίποτα, παρά μόνο saturated contrasted μορφές.


Μέχρι τα επόμενα επτά κεφάλαια, ας ρίξουμε όλοι μια ματιά στην entry του Living Wall στο Monstrous Manual.

livingwall

Βιβλία που διάβασα το 2017

Λογοτεχνικά

Gateways to Abomination (Matthew M. Bartlett, 2014)

Ανθολογία με πολύ μικρής έκτασης και χαλαρά συνδεόμενα μεταξύ τους διηγήματα τρόμου, τα οποία αναδύουν παρακμή (δυστυχώς) αλλά και παράδοξο (ευτυχώς). Δομικά συγγενές των Παγανιστικών, έστω κι αν είναι πιο αστικό και δυστοπικό θεματολογικά. Εδώ γράφω περισσότερα.

————————————————————————————————————————–

Ghosts And Ruins (Ben Catmull, 2013)

Κάπως έτσι φαντάζομαι μια εικονογραφημένη εκδοχή των Παγανιστικών. Βιβλίο για να κάθεσαι και να χαζεύεις σελίδες με τις ώρες. Αγνό setting, πινελιές ιμπερσιονισμού, ελάχιστο στόρι – προσωπική αδυναμία. Σαν να βουτάς μέσα σε ένα horror sandbox.

————————————————————————————————————————–

The Last Wish (Andrzej Sapkowski, 1993)

Το πρώτο βιβλίο του Witcher είναι μια συλλογή διηγημάτων που μπολιάζει το κλασικό fantasy με φιλοσοφικές ανησυχίες (ειδικά στο θέμα της πολιτισμικής σύγκρουσης) και σλάβικο φολκλόρ. Ευκολοδιάβαστο, σαγηνευτικό, μια ιδανική πτυχή της φανταστικής λογοτεχνίας. Εδώ γράφω περισσότερα.

————————————————————————————————————————–

The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales (Mark Samuels, 2011 https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1903149660)

Μεταμοντέρνος τρόμος και Άρθουρ Μάχεν είναι τα στοιχεία που συνθέτουν το αγαπημένο μου βιβλίο για αυτή τη χρονιά. Με μια γραφή στρωτή και συνάμα λυρική, που δε σε κουράζει. Όπως θα έπρεπε να είναι ο τρόμος των αρχών του 20ου αιώνα στις αρχές του 21ου.

————————————————————————————————————————–

The Secret History of Twin Peaks (Mark Frost, 2016)

Φέτος ήταν μια twin Peaks χρονιά και το ντοσιέ του Mark Frost ήταν αναπόφευκτο ανάγνωσμα. X-Files-ίζουσα αισθητική με ότι καλό και κακό αυτό συνεπάγεται (συνωμοσιολογία, εξωγήινοι, δουλεμένη μυθολογία), ενώ λύνονται αρκετές απορίες και στρώνεται η πλοκή των δύο πρώτων σεζόν.

————————————————————————————————————————–

The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies (John Langan, 2013)

Καταπληκτικός τίτλος μιας καλής συλλογής διηγημάτων (και) μεταμοντέρνου τρόμου, η οποία μπαίνει στη λίστα λόγω δύο καταπληκτικών ιστοριών: του Technicolor (ένα πλέξιμο της βιογραφίας του Πόε με μια οκάλτ εναλλακτική ιστορία) και του Mother of Stone (σπουδή στο πως πρέπει να γράφεται ένα απλωτό διήγημα τρόμου, από τα καλύτερα πράγματα που έχω διαβάσει). Εδώ γράφω περισσότερα.

————————————————————————————————————————–

Μπόρχες, Άπαντα τα πεζά Ι (Jorge Luis Borges, 2014)

Πρώτη επαφή με Μπόρχες μετά το Βιβλίο των Φανταστικών Όντων – εμπειρία ζωής. Ακόμη δεν έχω κάτσει να σταχειολογίσω πλήρως το υλικό για γράψιμο εκτενούς παρουσίασης. Πάντως οι ιδέες που παρουσιάζονται στην πρώτη κιόλας ανάγνωση απαιτούν σημειωματάριο δίπλα για σημείωσή τους.


Η σκιά στο σπίτι (Κωνσταντίνος Κέλλης, 2016)

Το ελληνικό gothic είναι εδώ και είναι όμορφο, ατμοσφαιρικά τρομακτικό, και άκρως ευανάγνωστο. Μια σκιώδης ματιά στην εξοχή της βορείου Ελλάδας, με καλά δουλεμένη ιστορία και χαρακτήρες, και όλα τα φόντα του best-seller. Εδώ γράφω περισσότερα.



Μη λογοτεχνικά

Circles of Power: Ritual Magic in the Western Tradition (John Michael Greer, 1997)

Ίσως η καλύτερη αναλυτική πρακτική εισαγωγή στην δυτική μαγεία, μαζί με το Modern Magick του Craig – ισορροπεί τέλεια ανάμεσα στο ευανάγνωστο και το ουσιαστικό. Προτιμήστε την πρόσφατη δεύτερη έκδοση, μιας και διορθώνει πολλά λάθη όσον αφορά την εβραϊκή γραφή.

————————————————————————————————————————–

Dreamtime: Concerning the Boundary Between Wilderness and Civilization (Hans Peter Duerr, 1985)

Πολεμική ενάντια στο ρασιοναλισμό. Παγκόσμιο στο φάσμα του, το έργο του Duerr έχει εμμονή με το δίπολο Civilization-Wilderness και με ένθερμη γλώσσα νοσταλγεί διαφορετικά συνειδησιακά φάσματα. Πολύ καλά τεκμηριωμένο (σημειώσεις και βιβλιογραφία καλύπτουν μεγαλύτερη έκταση από το κυρίως κείμενο), στρατευμένο και δίχως διαθέσεις αντικειμενικού.

————————————————————————————————————————–

Mysteries of the Dreamtime: The Supernatural Life of the Australian Aborigine (James Cowan, 1993)

Πολεμική ενάντια στο δυτικό πολιτισμό. Απαραίτητο ανάγνωσμα για όσους γοητεύονται από τους Αυστραλούς ιθαγενείς και τον για χιλιετίες απαράλλαχτο πολιτισμό τους. Πολύ καλό γράψιμο σχετικά με τη σημασία και την ιεροποίηση του χώρου/περιβάλλοντος για τους νομάδες αυτούς, φυσικά στρατευμένο και αυτό.

————————————————————————————————————————–

Soul Hunters: Hunting, Animism, and Personhood among the Siberian Yukaghirs (Rane Willerslev, 2007)

Συμμετοχική ανθρωπολογία από τον Δανό Rane Willerslev που έζησε με τους Yukaghirs για 3 χρόνια. Καταπληκτική εκ των έσω παρουσίαση των ανιμιστικών ψηφίδων τους, με αρκετή ανάλυση περί του φαινομένου της μεταμόρφωσης και του κοινωνικού συστήματος ελέγχου της συσσώρευσης πλεονάσματος που έχουν οι Σιβηριανοί.

————————————————————————————————————————–

The Varieties of Magical Experience: Indigenous, Medieval, and Modern Magic (Lynne Hume, Nevill Drury, 2013)

Παραφράζοντας τον τίτλο του κλασσικού The Varieties of Religious Experience, αυτό εδώ καταπιάνεται με την Μαγική Εμπειρία (από ψυχολογική, συνειδησιακή, και πολλές άλλες σκοπιές) ανά την ιστορία, δίχως διάθεση χλεύης ή επιστημονικής αποστειρωμένης ματιάς. Συν τοις άλλοις πολύ πλούσια βιβλιογραφία.