Horrible it was, if there had been aught to apprehend the horror; and loathsome, if there had been any to feel loathing. —“Ubbo Sathla”
Clark Ashton Smith was approaching his writing peak and fortunate to have multiple markets open to his best work during the period of the stories in this volume (1931–32). Three magazines were publishing him on the regular: Weird Tales, Wonder Stories, and Strange Tales. The situation didn’t last; Smith suffered a slowdown when Strange Tales folded at the start of 1933. Without the Clayton Magazine, Smith lost a reliable alternative for whenever editor Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales turned something down for being too outré or sexual. The deepening effects of the Great Depression pinched the surviving magazines and delayed payments. Wonder Stories, like any Gernsback mag, was dilatory enough with payments already. Although we’re approaching the CAS apex in this and Vol. 4, the omens of the end of his fiction-writing days are already clouding the cerulean skies.
Boilerplate recommendation for The Collected Fantasies: If you’re new to Clark Ashton Smith, these Night Shade editions aren’t the best starting point. I recommend the Penguin Classics collection The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies for readers who want to get started with a collection of some of Smith’s key short stories and poems.
Vol. 3 contains stories written over a little more than a year: April 1931 to June 1932. Each is listed with its original date and place of publication, sometimes in a modified form different from the corrected text the editors include here. Unlike previous volumes, every story reached professional magazine publication within a few years of composition, with the exception of “The Double Shadow,” which Smith self-published.
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I’m back from my latest amble through the collected SF and fantasy stories of Clark Ashton Smith from publisher Night Shade. I’m reading these at a gradual pace, sprinkling a story here and there among whatever else I’m reading. It’s like having Clark Ashton Smith casually hang out with you for months at a time, a darkly erudite and sporadically mordantly humorous traveling companion who occasionally asks: “Hey, what are you reading there? Well, let me tell you this story I just thought up…”
Same caveat as for Vol. 1: If you’re a Clark Ashton Smith neophyte, these Night Shade chronological editions aren’t the best starting point discovering him. I recommend the Penguin Classics collection The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies for readers who want a quality primer with a collection of some of Smith’s stories in an inexpensive and easily available volume.
Vol. 2 features stories written over a more abbreviated period than in the previous volume: July 1930 to May 1931. Each story is listed below with its original date and place of publication — often (as is the case with “The Red World of Polaris” and “The Face by the River”) many years after when it was first composed, and sometimes in a modified form different from the corrected text Night Shade presents.
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I’ve read the complete works of Clark Ashton Smith. And I’ve been known to write at length about them, or to chat with journalists on the topic. There’s nothing unusual about this, since Smith ranks among my favorite five or so authors of all time.
But only recently did I decide to undertake reading his fantasy stories in the original order he wrote them. I can thank Night Shade Books’ five volume series, The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, for making this an easier task than it would’ve been only a few years ago. When the series started to appear in 2007, the hardcover volumes went out of print rapidly. Even a hardcore fan like myself couldn’t justify a purchase of one of the high-priced used copies.
However, as of 2016, all five of The Collected Fantasies are now available in inexpensive trade paperbacks that can be purchased through online retailers with a few clicks. The texts for these volumes have been meticulously prepared (no simple feat considering the revisions and alternate versions published in the past) and offered in the chronological order of composition.
I’m taking a stroll through these editions to read the stories as they were imagined and committed to paper. Instead of regaling you with further long essays, I’m going to take on the role of sightseer, bringing back notes and a slideshow presentation about the best — and the rest — of each volume.
By the way, if you are new to Clark Ashton Smith, the Night Shade editions aren’t the best way to start out. They’re aimed at the collector and long-time connoisseur. I recommend the Penguin Classics collection The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies as a better Smith introduction. If you like the heady journey, there’s much more to explore in the dark fathoms below…
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