“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.
“For a long time I had wanted to write a fantasy epic like The Lord of the Rings, only with an American setting.”
I finally read Stephen King’s The Stand during the last two months of 2020. What a year to read his story of a deadly new strain of the flu that wipes out most of the population of the planet. “Are you crazy?” I hear you ask. Probably. The timing wasn’t planned, it’s just the way it worked out. The length of this book kept me away from it for so long, 1152 pages in the Complete and Uncut Edition. Now that I’ve read it, I can understand all the high praise it gets. The Standis King’s masterpiece.
To simplify it, The Stand tells the story of a battle between Good and Evil after a devastating pandemic. I can’t say for sure that it is King’s “best” book because I haven’t read them all. It’s subjective, anyway, but it has become my favourite King novel. I could end the review here–“please do!” I hear you shout–but that would be lazy of me. Let me tell you some of the reasons why this book blew me away.
‘All of the reasoned editorials sounded hollow in light of the perverse randomness of the event. It was as if only a thin wall of electric lighting protected the great cities of the world from total barbarism.’
-Dan Simmons, Song of Kali
A random recommendation on Robert Mayer Burnett’s YouTube channel brought me to this book. I read Simmons’s Hyperion a while back and enjoyed it, but never tried anything else by him. The synopsis sounded intriguing, as did the setting of “Calcutta,” (now Kolkata). Song of Kali won the World Fantasy Award in 1986.
‘Song of Kali follows an American magazine editor who journeys to the brutally bleak, poverty-stricken Indian city in search of a manuscript by a mysterious poet—but instead is drawn into an encounter with the cult of Kali, goddess of death.’
Literary magazine editor Robert Luczak (Loo-zack) is sent to “Calcutta” to verify the rumours of new work by the legendary Indian poet M. Das. The poet “disappeared” eight years previously, and nothing has been heard from him since. It is presumed that he is dead. Luczak sets off on this journey with his Indian wife, Amrita, and their baby girl, Victoria.
My horror-themed month continues with one of the best John Constantine, Hellblazer stories: Dangerous Habits. For this, we have to go back in time to 1991 when Garth Ennis became the regular writer of DC Comics’ horror title Hellblazer. This was in the days before the Vertigo imprint existed. (Alas, it is no more!) Hellblazer was “suggested for mature readers,” and was one of a group of “mature” titles being published at that time. These included Swamp Thing, Sandman, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, and Shade the Changing Man.
John Constantine has faced all manner of ghosts, demons, and even serial killers before. But this time it’s serious! Years of smoking 30 cigarettes a day has left John with terminal lung cancer. That’s right, he’s going to die, and there aren’t any magic spells he knows to make it go away. In fact, he’s even contemplating giving up and ending it all. Who would’ve thought it? “Conjob” Constantine not even trying to talk or trick his way out of something? Unbelievable! But hang on a minute. Perhaps there are a couple of possibilities still open to him. Now you think about it, if anyone can actually pull this off, it has to be John Constantine, right?
“Gray Matter” first appeared in the magazine Cavalier in October 1973. It’s taken from Stephen King’s first collection, Night Shift (1978), which contains twenty of his earliest short stories. These stories were originally published between 1970 and 1977. This collection includes Children of the Corn, Quitters Inc., The Lawnmower Man, Trucks, The Ledge, Jerusalem’s Lot, and more.
My Summary & Thoughtson “Gray Matter”
A young boy runs into a 24-hour convenience store during a heavy snowstorm. He looks terrified and asks the owner, Henry, to sell him a case of beer for his father. Henry and the two locals in the store know the boy well. He is Richie Grenadine’s son Timmy, and his father often sends him to buy his beer, making sure it’s the cheapest beer in the store. Richie used to come and buy it himself until fairly recently.
‘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.
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.
‘They float,’ it growled, ‘they float, Georgie, and when you’re down here with me, you’ll float, too–’
I went through a Stephen King phase when I was sixteen years old. It only lasted a couple of years, starting with Misery (1987) and ending with the collection Four Past Midnight (1990). A year earlier and I might have started with It. I wonder what my sixteen-year-old self would’ve made of it. It’s very likely I would have enjoyed it a lot more than I did reading it in 2020. Does that mean that Stephen King is more suited to teenagers? Well, I don’t know about that but I would wager that we are a lot more forgiving when we are younger readers.
Before I go on, I want to point out that I have read Salem’s Lot, The Shining and Bag ofBones over the last four years. And I enjoyed each one of them. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy It.
‘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 →