The Ordinary is Ephemeral: Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, and the Battle Against Modernism

Wednesday, June 17th, 2020 | Posted by David C. Smith

Weird Tales of Modernity-smallWeird Tales of Modernity: The Ephemerality of the Ordinary in the Stories of Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and H.P. Lovecraft
Jason Ray Carney
McFarland & Company (205 pages, $39.95 in paperback/$23.99 digital, July 26, 2019)

Jason Carney’s thesis in Weird Tales of Modernity is that, in their reaction to modernism, the artistic and literary movement that upended culture as it had been accepted in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, the Weird Tales Three — Howard, Smith, and Lovecraft — turned modernism on its head with innovations they introduced in their fiction. Make no mistake: the word thesis here is apt. Weird Tales of Modernity is a formal dissertation. Making use as it does of academic jargon, the book will not be for every reader.

Straightaway, for example, Carney introduces us to the term ekphrastic to make clear what the Weird Tales Three were expressing. Ekphrasis is the representation in language of a work of art. Any of us can do this; go ahead and write your own personal, detailed description of Cthulhu or explore how you react to Frank Frazetta’s artwork. Ekphrasis “acts as an organizing principle in poetry and fiction, making explicit the connection between art, storytelling, and life.” This definition is from Patrick Smith’s guest blog on the website Interesting Literature. Smith quotes Michael Trussler in defining ekphrasis as “a kind of ontological mixture that signals a world beyond the confines of the text.”

There we have it: ekphrasis “signals a world beyond the confines of the text.” We are now in Lovecraft’s frightening, paranoid, awakened world of the Cthulhu mythology — alive beyond the confines of the text — and Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne and Poseidonis, and Robert E. Howard’s brutal Valusia and Hyborian Age. As Carney says early in Weird Tales of Modernity, “When a literary artist, like [Clark Ashton] Smith, artistically describes or fictionalizes a work of art by transforming it into an unreal echo or shadow of the actual, that is ekphrasis.”

Carney devotes an early chapter to the history of Weird Tales and then two chapters each to the three authors of his study, introducing them and then exploring their artistic innovations. He begins his study with an examination of what he terms pulp ekphrasis. “In several of their enduring works,” he says,

Lovecraft, Howard, and Smith engage in a form of artistically inflected criticism termed ekphrasis. They do so by fictionalizing modernism, transforming the real artistic movement into an unreal shadow modernism, a strategic distortion of actual modernism. After many creative iterations honed over several stories — e.g., Pickman’s demented art, Malygris’s sorcery, the fell mirrors of Tuzun Thune — this shadow modernism becomes an inhuman technology that, functioning like a cognitive prosthesis in the virtual world of fiction, thereby reveals the secret truth of history: history is a cruelly accelerating process of deformation. The ordinary is ephemeral. History is an interplay of form and formlessness with formlessness terminally ascendant.

The ordinary is ephemeral. Lovecraft, Smith, and Howard were keenly aware of this truth and reacted to it in their fiction while other Weird Tales writers were moving right along in the modern world, writing their stories of scientifiction, offering narratives of ominous cults and mad scientists (with at least one nude woman per story),  or revisiting the tropes of Victorian horrors.

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Witches, Thieves, and Dead Queens: Tales From the Magician’s Skull #4, edited by Howard Andrew Jones

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Tales from The Magician's Skull 4-small

Cover by Doug Kovacs

My copy of Tales From the Magician’s Skull #4 arrived today, and it is a beautiful thing. Jam-packed with brand new tales of heroic fantasy from its finest modern practitioners, it is a joy to hold. Edited by Black Gate‘s very own Howard Andrew Jones, Tales #4 is filled with names that will be very familiar to BG readers, including James Enge, John C. Hocking, Ryan Harvey, James Stoddard, C. L. Werner, and Milton Davis .

In four short issues Tales of the Magician’s Skull has become the flagship publication for English language adventure fantasy, and it looks the part. It’s an oversized magazine filled with fiction and eye-catching interior art, and it looks and feels like a modern pulp, down to the heavy paper stock, which is a faint yellow color (a nice touch). Designed by Lester B. Portly, it’s easy to read and enjoy.

When I was editing the print version of Black Gate, my readers enjoyed serial fiction the most — and wrote constantly demanding more Morlock stories by James Enge, more Dabit & Asim tales from Howard, and Tales of Brand from John C. Hocking. I’m thrilled to see that Tales has the same love of episodic fiction and larger-than-life characters I do — exciting new sword-and-sorcery series are being born in its pages, mixed in with some familiar names (including Morlock, which should please BG readers enormously).

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Weird Tales Deep Read: October 1934

Sunday, June 14th, 2020 | Posted by John Miller

Weird Tales October 1934-small

Cover by Margaret Brundage

This third installment of the Weird Tales deep read covers the eleven stories in the October 1934 issue, including the first Jirel of Joiry story by C. L. Moore. Her flame didn’t burn as long in the Unique Magazine as the Lovecraft-Howard-Smith trinity’s did, but it did burn as brightly. Moore had sixteen stories in Weird Tales between 1933-1939, twelve in an incredible burst of creativity in the years 1934-1936.

This issue had three stories set in the U.S. (27%) and one each in France, Hyperborea, the U. K., Hyboria, Africa, Serbia, Italy, and an unknown locale (9%). Six had a contemporary setting (55%) and five were set in the past (45%). All in all a decent issue, with the stories averaging 2.27, the score being dragged down by some of the shorter pieces, which were largely undistinguished.

Notable authors include Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, with one of his longest and most ambitious stories, the aforementioned C. L. Moore, and fairly reliable veterans Paul Ernst and H. Bedford-Jones, and Manly Wade Wellman. The Ernst and Eadie offerings could be considered science fiction, the rest fantasy.

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Mysterious Islands, Giant Trees, and Reptilian Aliens: Cirsova Magazine Summer Special #2

Sunday, June 7th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Cirsova Summer Special 2-small Cirsova Summer Special 2-back-small

Cover by Robert Zoltan

On May 22, Cirsova Magazine announced the release of their second Summer Special issue (full and very impressive title: Cirsova Magazine of Thrilling Adventure and Daring Suspense: Summer Special #2). The first one was released last June and was a sturdy 293 pages; it contained tales by Misha Burnett, Schuyler Hernstrom, and others, including a big science fiction novella by Caroline Furlong.

This year’s version is a little most modest (143 pages), but it contains a full eleven stores by James Hutchings, Mark Pellegrini, Lauren E Reynolds, David Skinner, and many others. Not to mention a gorgeous cover by Robert Zoltan! Here’s the complete Table of Contents, with tasty story teasers.

“Just Don’t Open the Door” by Mark Pellegrini
Sean lives next to a weird house with bricked-up windows and an overgrown yard… One day, he sees the strange man living next door leaving in a panicked hurry, offering one brusque warning!

“The Greenery Has Come Again” by Paul Lucas
James’s childhood home is no longer his own, and returning proves an uncanny experience as the mystery surrounding the giant tree his mother named Yggdrasil blooms like the greenwood itself!

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Wendy N. Wagner will Assume Editorial Reins at Nightmare Magazine with Issue #100

Saturday, May 23rd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Nightmare Magazine 84 September 2019-small Nightmare Magazine 89 October 2019-small Nightmare Magazine 92 May 2020-small

Recent issues of Nightmare Magazine. Covers by Alexandra Petruk / Adobe Stock Images

Nightmare may well be the best magazine of horror and dark fantasy on the market. In the last twelve months, under the skilled editorial guidance of John Joseph Adams, it’s published original fiction by Simon Strantzas, Adam-Troy Castro, Brian Evenson, Rich Larson, Ray Nayler, Senaa Ahmad, and many others.

However, JJA is a busy guy. In addition to Nightmare he also edits the acclaimed Lightspeed magazine, a line of popular anthologies, including the Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy and the upcoming Dystopia Triptych, and — let’s not forget — John Joseph Adams Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which published my novel The Robots of Gotham. I guess holding down three full time jobs starts to wear on a guy after a while, and on May 20 John announced that, effective with issue #100, Managing Editor Wendy N. Wagner would be taking over the reins at Nightmare.

Soon yours truly will be passing the editorial torch… although she will be newly minted in title, the editor has a name and face you already know: Our long-time managing/senior editor, Wendy N. Wagner. If you’re a diligent Nightmare reader, you’re already familiar with her editorial contributions: She was the guest editor for our Queers Destroy Horror! special issue back in 2015. But in truth if you’ve read any issue since 2014 you’ve seen Wendy’s input; she’s been my stalwart advisor and lieutenant for more than six years. I know that I’m leaving the magazine in the best possible hands…

Issue 100 will be my last issue as editor of Nightmare, but despair not, friends, for I honestly can’t think of a better person to take the reins . . . and I for one can’t wait to see where Wendy leads us next.

Wendy is a terrific choice, in my opinion. In addition to her editorial chops, she’s a fine author. We’ve covered two of her previous novels here, An Oath of Dogs (Angry Robot, 2017), and the Pathfinder Tales novel Starspawn (described as “Pathfinder Meets Lovecraft”). Garrett Calcaterra interviewed her for Black Gate back in 2013.

Read the full announcement here, and check out the latest issue of Nightmare, with fiction by Yohanca Delgado and Claire Wrenwood, Jarla Tangh, Adam-Troy Castro, and Steve Toase. You can purchase individual issues for $2.99 each, or subscribe for just $11.94 for six months here.


Weird Tales Deep Read: March, 1933

Friday, May 22nd, 2020 | Posted by John Miller

Weird Tales March 1933-small

Weird Tales, March 1933. Cover by Margaret Brundage

This installment of the deep read of the Unique Magazine examines the nine stories in the March, 1933 issue of Weird Tales. We see some familiar names from the previous column: Seabury Quinn, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and Harold Ward, as well as a couple who might be familiar to fans of pulp fiction, Otis Aldebert Kline and Paul Ernst. Kline is probably best known for his imitation Edgar Rice Burroughs planetary adventure novels. He was also Robert E. Howard’s literary agent for awhile, which will no doubt come up for discussion at the appropriate time. Paul Ernst was a rather prolific pulpster, possibly remembered mostly today for writing the Avenger hero pulps, but he was also a frequent contributor to Weird Tales.

Some stats for this issue before we get to the individual stories, then a few comments on some of this issue’s offerings. Locations: US (4/9; 44%), fictional realms (2/9: 22%), Venus, UK, France, Tibet (all 1/9: 11%). Contemporary setting: 6/9; 67%). Past: (2/9; 22%), Future: (1/9; 11%). Four of these stories (44%) are part of a series: Quinn, Howard, Kline, and Smith.

Seabury Quinn [Jules de Grandin] (2) “Thing in the Fog, The” [US, PA, Harrisonville, fictional town; Contemporary] Occultist de Grandin and Dr. Trowbridge literally run into a man on the street being attacked by a werewolf. He’s only injured but his companion is killed by the creature. They soon learn that his future wife was once the werewolf’s fiancee and that he’d initiated into his clan. After the wedding, the bride is again transformed into a wolf by a potion given her anonymously by her werewolf ex, but she attacks him while both are in their canid forms, giving de Grandin the opportunity to deliver a fatal shot. De Grandin then releases her from her curse by using an incantation in the form of a prayer. [Medical doctor. Occultist. Occult being, werewolf. Death by occult being, werewolf. Love triangle. Magic potion. Werewolf transformation by magic potion. Magic incantation, prayer]

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Star System Politics and Factions: Dell Science Fiction Reviews

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

Asimov's Science Fiction May-June 2020-small Analog Science Fiction and Fact May-June 2020-small

Dominica Phetteplace is a name to which I pay attention, after having read many of her works now in Asimov’s. If I don’t point out her work enough, it’s because Phetteplace doesn’t usually construct whirling plots or astonishing metaphysics*, but instead sculpts a very convincing and immersive (what the literary genre calls “slice of life”) simulation of normal people living in a near-normal future. Phetteplace’s vision, on average, is ingenious, and “Digital Witness,” in the current issue of Asimov’s, is a standout.

Phetteplace’s attitude about our social-media-saturated future is both accepting of it and pragmatically cynical. This story, despite all of its darkness, is not a shrill prophecy about dystopia. If there are warnings here, then they are that marketing and digital commodities will have to be altruistically revolutionized. Rather, Phetteplace’s meditation seems resigned to how “business” will be conducted, how it will affect relationships and “true” social lives. Any canny reader should recognize that this reality is upon us now. And, if Phetteplace’s protagonist in the story actively works in the field of data mining, Phetteplace herself seeks to avoid self-commodification. In the editorial foreword, Phetteplace says that the story was inspired by herself choosing not to download an app that her physical therapist claimed would be of use to Phetteplace in monitoring back pain. In context of the story that Phetteplace ended up writing, it is clear that Phetteplace expected that following her therapist’s advice would infringe on her privacy and result in her information being traded within the digital marketplace.

In short, this is what this story is about: data mining as a business, showing what nefarious uses may result from it, and how commonplace in our world this already seems to be. Phetteplace strikes me as a very powerful and literary writer of science fiction.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, October 1954: A Retro-Review

Sunday, May 17th, 2020 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy Science Fiction October 1954-small Galaxy Science Fiction October 1954-back-small

Cover art by Mel Hunter

My apologies for an extended absence from posting reviews. Personal matters took my focus and drive, but I’m back again for another retro-review of Galaxy Science Fiction — in this case the October, 1954 issue.

Mel Hunter’s cover art is titled “The Latest in Dugout Canoes.” At least, I think that’s the title. It’s listed inside as “Lastest”, which I think is a typo, given that lastest isn’t a word. But even in a prestigious magazine like Galaxy, mistakes happen. I like finding reminders that professionals of all sorts make mistakes from time to time. I think it lets all of us relax a bit more when we make our own mistakes.

“A World of Talent” by Philip K. Dick — Tim and his parents live among a colony of people who have talents beyond normal humans, including precognition, teleportation, and telepathy. The colony watches vigilantly for attacks from the Terrans, knowing people on Earth have a persistent fear — not only because people on the colony are different but because they’re powerful.

There’s no romantic relationship between Tim’s parents; their union was solely for the benefit of the colony — to try to create a new level of powers through parents who are both precogs. But Tim lives in his own world, remaining in silence much of the time and seeing Others (as he thinks of them) that no one else perceives. What these Others represent slowly unravels the puzzle of Tim’s talent, and it could protect the colony both from Terrans and itself.

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Heroic Fantasy Quarterly 44 Now Available

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly–Q44

Issue banner by Rengin Tumer

The ancient druids used to use gigantic standing stones to precisely chart the passing of the seasons. Me, I have a more accurate and satisfying method. I rely on the mystical and inexorable cosmic cycle that gives birth to a new issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, every quarter, without fail.

HFQ 44 is a special treat as it contains a complete story by our very own Greg Mele, whose most recent article for Black Gate, an Interview with Christian Cameron, appeared just last week. Tangent Online gives “Heart of Vengeance” a solid thumb’s up, calling it “A dark tale of betrayal and lethal fury, this thoroughly enjoyable story is as much about the power of love and sacrifice as it is the justice of the grave.” For audiobook fans, there’s also a complete reading of the tale by Karen Bovenmeyer.

The issue also contains “The Whispering Healer,” by Larisa Walk (which Tangent calls “full of the unexpected,”) and “Do Not Fear, for the Work Will be Pure,” by Michael Johnston (which “follows the mission of the royal sculptor Deonoro Zayal… [into] the wilds facing down mutated brigands”).

Here’s the complete TOC, with fiction links.

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Vintage Treasures: Beyond the Beyond by Poul Anderson

Saturday, May 2nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Beyond the Beyond Poul Anderson-small Beyond the Beyond Poul Anderson-back-small

Beyond the Beyond paperback original (Signet first edition, August 1969). Cover artist unknown.

When I pick up an old paperback these days, it tends to be an anthology or collection. There aren’t very many published nowadays, and I miss them.

So naturally I’m reading many of the old paperbacks I missed out on in my youth. One of my recent favorites is Beyond the Beyond, a thick collection of six stories by Poul Anderson. Anderson was one of the most prolific SF writers of the 20th Century, and he produced dozens of collections in his lifetime. This one is particularly interesting to me because, as far as I know, it’s his only collection of novellas.

Anderson was a terrific science fiction short story writer, and he was even better at length. Beyond the Beyond contains six long tales published between 1954-1967, including a story in his David Falkayn: Star Trader series, one in his Technic History, and two in his popular and long-running Psychotechnic League saga. These aren’t Anderson’s best-known stories, not by a long shot, but this is a decent snapshot of his work in the SF magazines during his most productive period in the 50s and 60s.

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