I’ve been a fan of Aliya Whiteley since I was recommended her 2014 novella “The Beauty“. That was a strange, surprising, and stunning story about a future England in which the women have all died. Poetic, creepy, intelligent, it blew my mind on first reading it. Here’s a link to my short review. So when I heard the author had a new book out, I put my other reading on hold and dived into Skyward Inn.
A star-gate has opened the way to the peaceful planet of Qita. Meeting little resistance, humans have built a small colony on the planet and are making use of its resources. Back on Earth in what used to be Devon, England, Jem runs the Skyward Inn with her Qitan companion Isley. This small pub in the “Western Protectorate” is popular with the local farmers who enjoy drinking its prized Qitan “brew”. Their idyllic quiet is upset when an unexpected visitor from Isley’s past turns up at the Inn.
As I type these words, trying to make some kind of sense of the events that have plagued me over the last few weeks, I fear the worst. Dear God, if you are reading this, I can only hope you will believe my testament. You must do so, I beg you, because every word is true, no matter how incredible it may sound. It is coming for me. I feel it in my soul. I pray to heaven that I can finish this letter before it finds me.
It began with my research into Lovecraft’s story “The Colour Out Of Space“. I never should have opened the cover of that accursed book. I thought I was being clever by writing the words down instead of reciting them. Little did I know it was this physical act of inscription that likely sealed my doom. I was performing a spell and I had no idea I was doing it. God, the irony, it’s almost funny when I think about it. But I fear the laughter, once it starts, will never stop.
It’s difficult to find good movie adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories. Out of the few I’ve seen, “Re-Animator” (1985) and John Carpenter’s 1994 movie “In the Mouth of Madness” are the best in my opinion. “Re-Animator” is a loose adaptation of the story “Herbert West: Reanimator” (1922). “In the Mouth of Madness” is not a direct adaptation of any Lovecraft story, it’s more of a tribute to the author’s weird fiction. (If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it. It’s a pulpy blast of B-movie madness with a memorable performance by Sam Neill.)
So when I heard about this recent film version of Lovecraft’s story “The Colour Out of Space” I was curious to watch it. Especially after I learned it was directed by Richard Stanley, the South African director who had seemingly disappeared from the movie scene after being fired from that production of “The Island of Dr. Moreau” (1996). I enjoyed Stanley’s first two films “Hardware” (1990) and “Dust Devil” (1992), which have since become considered “cult classics”.
“West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight. On the gentler slopes there are farms, ancient and rocky, with squat, moss-coated cottages brooding eternally over old New England secrets in the lee of great ledges; but these are all vacant now, the wide chimneys crumbling and the shingled sides bulging perilously beneath low gambrel roofs.”
-H.P. Lovecraft, The Colour Out of Space
These are the opening lines to H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 short story The Colour Out of Space. It is said to be the author’s personal favourite out of all his stories.
Set in 1870, the story begins with the reporting of a meteorite that “fell out of the sky and bedded itself in the ground beside the well at the Nahum Gardner place.” Miskatonic University sends three professors to investigate the fallen rock. When they arrive at Gardner’s place, he insists that the rock has shrunk overnight, a claim which the learned men laugh off as impossible.
They take a small fragment back to the university to investigate. This piece of the meteorite produces some strange effects in the laboratory where we learn “it displayed shining bands unlike any known colours of the normal spectrum”. These “bizarre optical properties” provoke much excitement among the “men of science” as they speculate about possible new elements and discoveries.
‘Outsiders visit Dunwich as seldom as possible, and since a certain season of horror all the signboards pointing toward it have been taken down.’
Lovecraft wrote The Dunwich Horror in 1928 and it was first published in the April 1929 issue of Weird Tales. He is said to have rated it highly and described the story as being “so fiendish” that his editor at Weird Tales“may not dare to print it.” It is now considered one of the core tales of the Cthulhu Mythos.
It has finally cooled down over here in Yonago, Japan, after a late and hot end to the summer. The leaves are starting to fall and we can feel autumn in the air. This time of the year is one of my favourite times for reading and I like to bring in a Halloween theme to my selections for October.
I don’t read as much horror as I used to. As I get older, I find that I enjoy weird fiction more than the gore-soaked horror of my teenage years. So, what exactly is weird fiction? Instead of consulting wikipedia, here is a brief definition from Penguin Random House:
“It’s a literary style that can blend speculative fiction with elements of horror, fantasy, magical realism, Lovecraftian Cosmicism, and others to create a genre that is surreal and deeply unnerving.”
Area X has been cut off from the rest of the world for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide, the third in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another. The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition.
The Private Life of Elder Things (2016) is a collaborative collection of new Lovecraftian fiction by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Adam Gauntlett and Keris McDonald.
“From the wastes of the sea to the shadows of our own cities, we are not alone. But what happens where the human world touches the domain of races ancient and alien? Museum curators, surveyors, police officers, archaeologists, mathematicians; from derelict buildings to country houses to the London Underground, another world is just a breath away, around the corner, watching and waiting for you to step into its power. The Private Life of Elder Things is a collection of new Lovecraftian fiction about confronting, discovering and living alongside the creatures of the Mythos.”
‘It is a mistake to fancy that horror is associated inextricably with darkness, silence, and solitude. I found it in the glare of mid-afternoon, in the clangour of a metropolis, and in the teeming midst of a shabby and commonplace rooming-house.’
A foul-smelling leak from the apartment above leads our protagonist to hear about the reclusive Doctor Munoz. A famed physician from Barcelona, he now spends his days in his rooms, only occasionally venturing out onto the brownstone’s roof.
One day, the narrator suffers a heart attack and seeks assistance from Doctor Munoz. He is surprised by “a rush of cool air” which hits him after the doctor opens the door to his apartment. Doctor Munoz saves the narrator’s life, telling him that he is “the bitterest of sworn enemies to death,” and needs to keep his apartment below 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
‘On August 9, we espied the ocean floor, and sent a powerful beam from the searchlight over it. It was a vast undulating plain, mostly covered with seaweed, and strewn with the shells of small mollusks.’
I first got interested in H.P. Lovecraft’s weird fiction when I was in my early teens. Like most readers, I started off reading a volume which contained a selection of his more popular stories. This journey into Arkham horror began with a copy of “Omnibus 3: The Haunter of the Dark” which includes The Rats In The Walls, The Call Of Cthulhu, The Haunter Of The Dark, Pickman’s Model, and The Lurking Fear. These are some of Lovecraft’s most famous tales. (I’ve never forgotten this cover illustration by Tim White!)
Recently, I was looking for some lesser-known gems by the author and I came across this one. It’s called “The Temple” and was published in issue 24 of Weird Tales back in 1925. It is dated as being written in 1920. I read it in the Delphi Classics kindle edition of the Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft, which I highly recommend. Continue reading →