Though the Chicago bookshop specializing in all things cult doesn’t, as the lyrics proclaim, need a new address every other week — it does need one soon. They’re facing the termination of their lease at the end of July and must vacate their current storefront.
They don’t want to leave their neighborhood, and the store’s devoted local following certainly don’t want to see them go. (Black Gateis based in Chicago, and more than a few contributors have perused the shop’s shelves or attended one of its events.)
They’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to raise funds to offset the high cost of moving. It’s down to the wire, with less than a week left, and every little bit helps.
The shop’s expertly curated collection of genre fiction, vinyl oddities, horror and sci-fi films, and assorted weird artifacts have made it a beloved destination among casual fans and avid collectors alike.
When most bookstores can’t be bothered to separate their fantasy from their science fiction, and have a horror section consisting of a ramshackle shelf of VC Andrews and Stephen King, Bucket O’ Blood is something special.
They’re seeking not just a new space, but an expanded location to better serve the community, offering space for book clubs, writing workshops, author events, live music, and perhaps the occasional arcane ritual when the stars are right.
Jonathan Mayberry observes in his introduction to The Madness of Cthulhu that H.P. Lovecraft has inspired a subgenre that “already has thousands of stories and hundreds of novels in it, not to mention movies, TV shows, toys, video and board games, and even live-action role playing.” Nowadays, it seems every other horror fiction outing can at least in part be described as “Lovecraftian,” an amorphous adjective that has come to mean so many things that one wonders if it retains any meaning at all. This, as Mayberry points out, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Lovecraft didn’t give us one world — he gave us “an infinity of worlds.”
Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness serves as the inspiration for many of the authors in The Madness of Cthulhu. HPL’s reputation among science fiction writers (as well as critics) has always been, as S.T. Joshi states in the anthology’s second introduction, “ambivalent.” At the Mountains of Madness itself is a fine example of both the first-rate and the rather questionable aspects of HPL’s work.
On one hand, it’s masterful in concept and at times in execution. A fusion of Antarctic adventure, science fiction, and early-modern horror, it not only offers chilling passages with an escalating sense of dread and isolation, but also constructs a world horrifying in its implications about mankind.
On the other hand, it includes phrases such as “a myriad of grotesque penguins.” The Antarctic landscape is compared, between two characters, four separate times to “the Asian paintings of Roerich.” HPL is simultaneously brilliant and absurd, at turns deeply unsettling and unintentionally comical. Rather than sweep this ambiguity aside, The Madness of Cthulhuwisely embraces the spectrum of tone and content HPL can inspire.
Novellas (usually considered to be 20,000 — 50,000 words) are notoriously difficult for authors to place with publishers, which is unfortunate because it’s a wonderful length for genre stories. Sword-and-sorcery, science-fiction adventure, hardboiled crime, and horror stories all lend themselves to lean, compact novellas.
Most short fiction markets top out at about 5,000-7,000 words, though, due to the practical considerations of available space in the publications, as well as available editorial reading time. Stand-alone novellas struggle even more.
Digital printing has eliminated the technical issues of shorter print editions in last-generation printing presses, but the length is unfamiliar to readers (who often are hesitant to pick up a smaller book).
This is compounded by pricing issues. A book needs to provide the publisher a certain margin of profit. However, a novella can’t be priced in the same way as a novel that offers two or three times as many pages.
This means it’s tough to price a print novella in a way that makes editing, layout, cover design, and publishing economically viable.
Some publishers have taken to releasing novellas in limited, collectible editions — a good route if the author already has an established following, but a harder sell for emerging authors.
Unlike Karl Edward Wagner’s earlier work, Why Not You and I does not depend so heavily upon abominations lurking in warped dimensions or monsters gathering in subterranean underworlds. In a Lonely Place, his first collection, deals primarily with threats from beyond and from beneath: dark forces seeking entry into our world through the strange totems in “Sticks,” inhuman armies mustering beneath the Southern kudzu in “Where the Summer Ends,” and cave-dwelling legions emerging in “.220 Swift.”
His second collection sees a shift in focus from the otherworldly to more terrestrial terrors. Why Not You and I deals primarily with characters seeking respite from life’s miseries through art, fandom, and fame; but finding only the more toxic avenues of excess, madness, and death. It tells of monstrosity everywhere, within and without us.
You and I live in an insane world; you and I are at its mercy. “Into to Whose Hands,” the collection’s first story, makes this clear. One could debate whether it’s truly a “horror story” in the traditional sense. Set in an English military base turned psychiatric hospital, we follow a doctor through the paces of his shifts. He is the keeper of something worse than hell — the perdition of humans broken, imprisoned, and punished by arbitrary cruelties of fate and failures of the mind. The existence of God and Satan is irrelevant here, as are the ideas of good and evil. Both doctor and patient alike are damned to live in an inescapable madhouse of corridors without end. In Why Not You and I, this world is our own.
Karl Edward Wagner was a man fascinated with monsters and, by most accounts, tormented by an overwhelming host of personal demons. A bearded and brawny hard-drinking Southerner who typed with two fingers like his childhood idol Robert E. Howard, he is perhaps best known for his iconic sword-and-sorcery character, Kane: a red-haired, black-hearted warrior whose love of battle and lust for knowledge combine into one all-consuming will to power. Wagner himself was an unlikely combination of savage and savant, his rough outlaw biker exterior sheltering a deep love for tales of imagination and wonder. At one time a practicing psychiatrist pursuing a doctorate in microbiology, he left that field for a writer’s life. He went on to edit numerous anthologies (including DAW’s The Year’s Best Horror from 1980 to 1994), co-found his own short-lived press, and pen several novels and collections. Most of Wagner’s original work is currently out-of-print. Centipede Press is releasing two hardcover collections of his short horror fiction this year. Hopefully, this will re-kindle interest in the man’s work, making it more available (and more affordable) for those who wish to read it.
I was first introduced to Karl Edward Wagner’s work through his R.E. Howard pastiche, Conan: The Road of Kings, a ripping good tale any fan of the barbarian hero should read. From this I moved onto the Kane material, tracked down in musty used bookstores or acquired through well-placed eBay sniping. Over the holidays I managed to find one of his horror collections stuffed into a shop’s bottom shelf. It is Wagner’s first horror collection, In a Lonely Place, and through it I discovered yet another impressive facet of the late author.
I’ve never been part of a book club until recently, and feel quite lucky to have attended one in which all members were writers and editors in some way involved with the fantasy genre, both men and women were evenly represented, and the book lent itself well to discussion of fantasy literature’s various facets: not only questions of plot, structure, and characterization, but also what ethos (if any) heroic fantasy is meant to illustrate.
The book in question was The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, which I understand has become a boogeyman to those who look to fantasy for uplifting tales of derring-do that affirm the indomitable human spirit. This, to the online fantasy community, is now ancient history (which means a blog post incited the argument over three months ago). It was, however, news to me.
The Blade Itself is by no means a book above criticism, but to attack the ideological bent of this fantasy series seems deeply strange to me. I’ve been informed one of the main proponents of this criticism is Leo Grin, who claims to not to be a fan of fantasy as much as “the elevated prose poetry, mythopoeic subcreation (?), and thematic richness that only the best fantasy achieves, and that echoes in important particulars the myths and fables of old.” Mr. Grin believes the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert E. Howard best represent these.