Sneak Peek Extract: The Tainted Isle by Dan Weatherer

The Screaming Skull.

Burton Agnes, Yorkshire, February 1872

            My third investigation (to this day I do not count my time in Alverton as anything other than a failed exercise) came by way of an invite to Burton Agnes Hall. This particular manor house had occupied the same site since the days of the Norman Conquest, changing hands over the centuries not by means of sale but by family lineage. I was instructed to pack for a short stay and informed that I would be briefed as to my duties in person by the lord of the manor. There was little in the way of further information.

Located in Burton Agnes, Yorkshire, the manor house was an impressive example of Norman construction, though I must admit that its subsequent history was of far more interest to me. It seemed that my reputation as an investigator of note had spread further afield than I had dared imagine, having caught the attention of Lord Fawksby, and I was only too eager to begin my work anew.

Upon my arrival, my belongings were taken to my room and I was ushered into the study, whereupon I was introduced to Lord Fawksby. He was a fellow of similar age to myself, and as I listened, I judged him to be well read and of high intellect. We drank excellent port and discussed my previous investigations. Satisfied that there was nothing in his demeanour which would suggest an air of the fantastical, I accepted his invitation to remain as his guest and to investigate the claims of which he spoke at length. Indeed, a crucial part of my investigation focused on the credibility of key witnesses, and this was a skill that I would be able to hone further over the countless cases yet to come.

Presented here, in words told to me by Lord Fawksby himself, is the plight of Burton Agnes Hall.

“You may well know that the hall and its many treasures have passed through the ownership of many generations, yet not one single penny has ever changed hands to procure her ownership. It is blood that inherits the manor, not wealth nor influence, and it is said that many lengths have been taken to keep it so.

“In 1643, the manor and its land were owned by Lady Anna Farlish. History tells us that her husband, Lord Timothy Farlish, was a most unpleasant sort. A letch and a drunk, it is said, he indulged in many extramarital affairs, yet his wife stood resolutely by his side.

“One such affair involved Lady Farlish’s sister, Margaret Anstey. She was the younger of the two, and it is said that Lord Farlish had lusted after her for many a year. Margaret fell pregnant by Lord Farlish, who at this time had no immediate heir. With no plans to divorce Anna (for she held the rights to the estate), it is said, he attacked Margaret as she guested in the east wing, stabbing her with a pocket knife in a desperate attempt to rid her of child.

“Sadly, Margaret succumbed to her injuries and died that very night. With her dying breath she cursed Lord Farlish for his deeds, citing that she belonged in the manor house with her family, and should her head not remain perched atop the mantelpiece until the manor did crumble, then each who resided within would suffer terribly.

“The murder of Margaret Anstey was attributed to one of the servant boys and the claim put about that having been spurned in his efforts to woo her, he had attacked her out of fury. He was hanged from a tree in the grounds at the very same time that Margaret was interred in the Anstey family crypt, in Burton Agnes Cemetery, which lay on the opposite side of the village.

“That night, the house was beset by all manner of terrors, so much so that the body of Margaret was ordered exhumed the next morning and her head removed and brought back to the manor.”

It was at this point that my host stood and bid me follow him. I asked what specific terror had befallen the house that night, but he did not answer. We left the study and followed a narrow, oak-panelled corridor as it weaved its way through the bowels of the house. After passing several rooms, Lord Fawksby stopped before a set of grand double doors. He searched his pockets for a moment and produced a small key. He paused for breath after turning the key and spoke to me, his eye fixed upon the keyhole. “I shall warn you, no person has set foot in this room in almost a decade. I cannot prepare you for what you may experience in this place. Know that you look upon Margaret of your own will. Yes?”

I nodded and assured him that I wished to continue.

The door eased open with a groan, and we stepped inside. Lord Fawksby threw aside a pair of heavy drapes, thick with dust, and the mid-afternoon sun flooded into the room. I moved deeper inside as my host busied himself with the second set of drapes.

The vast chamber would have served as a dining room at one time; such was its size, shape and location. Though now devoid of all furniture, the air rang with the memories of countless engagements past.

Lord Fawksby began to speak. “There.” He pointed, covering his mouth with a handkerchief. “The mantelpiece.”

I turned in the direction Lord Fawksby had indicated and saw something sat in the centre of the mantelpiece. With a nod, Lord Fawksby gave permission for me to proceed, and I approached. The object was covered with a black, silken cloth, which despite the environment was utterly devoid of dust. My hand hovered tentatively above it. I knew that beneath this lay the head of Margaret Anstey, and I required a moment to compose myself before unveiling her.

With a quick motion, I removed the silken cloth and stared at the sight before me. The skull was tinged with patches of black and grey. The lower jawbone was cracked and several of her teeth were absent. Though long dead, the gaze of Margaret Anstey seemed to mock my repulsion. I staggered backward, dropping the cloth onto the floor, feeling nauseous and dizzy.

“You are not the first to react so poorly to our permanent guest,” remarked Lord Fawksby. “Tell me, do you feel unwell?”

I assured him that whatever sickness had taken upon me had quickly subsided, for several feet away from her, I felt immediately better. I concluded that now was not the time to show distaste, not in front of the man who tasked me with dispelling her myth. I stared at the skull, and the skull stared back.

Lord Fawksby replaced the cloth over the skull, breaking my concentration. “Come, friend,” he said. “Let us to your chambers. There shall be plenty of time for you two to become acquainted over the next couple of days.”

 

Much to my surprise, I slept soundly that first night. Any thoughts of the rotted skull of Margaret Anstey remained far from my mind. It was at breakfast I first encountered Lady Jasmine Fawksby. Boiled egg and freshly baked bread in hand, I had seated myself at the foot of the table. Lord Fawksby, having sent his apologies, was conspicuous by his absence, meaning that the table was shared by only Lady Fawksby and me. We engaged in pleasantries and light conversation while the servants busied themselves, and I remember feeling at ease in her company. I guessed her to be a shade younger than myself. She was of similar height and a slender build, and had long, dark hair that lay unnaturally straight. Her face held quite the softest features I had ever set eyes upon and she spoke with intelligence and enthusiasm. Her eyes sparkled with a mischievous nature, and she wielded with ease the sharpest of wit. It would be safe to say that I was enchanted by her presence, and I allowed myself to linger at the breakfast table a while longer than I had initially planned.

She took a keen interest in my ideas regarding the paranormal and revelled in hearing tales of my work. She had several keen theories of her own, though lamented that she had few around her with whom to share her interest. Even her husband forbade her from conducting an investigation into the skull of Margaret Anstey, a practice which I assured her was most unfair. Time slipped quickly by that morning. All too soon was she called away to carry out the duties required of the lady of the manor, and I was left with the lingering feeling that she and I had experienced a unique connection.

 

It was decided by Lord Fawksby that on the second evening of my stay I would remain alone in the great hall, with nought but the remains of Lady Margaret Anstey, the means to record any observations I might make and a solitary candle. Were it not for the kindness of Lady Fawksby, who in the dead of night sought my company and delivered a thick woollen blanket, I wager that I would have perished, it being so cold! The lady stayed but a few moments, curious as to my findings, before returning to her chambers. What little warmth the blanket afforded seemed to dissipate upon her departure.

Aside from a ferocious wind which seemed to pound the outer walls for the majority of the night, there was little out of the ordinary to note.

 

I spent a good part of the third day sleeping in the guest quarters, having being granted so little reprieve by the uncompromising weather the night before. I knew that tonight would be where the real crux of my investigative work would begin, for Lord Fawksby had ordered one of the kitchen staff to remove the skull from the mantle and to deposit it somewhere within the gardens. The exact location of Lady Anstey’s skull was known only to the lord and the poor wretch ordered to hide her.

 

It was not long after dusk when the disturbances began. Again I was settled in the great hall, my notes at my side and the thick woollen blanket gifted from Lady Fawksby laid across my lap. At first, the sounds consisted of a series of sharp raps that seemed to emanate from within the area occupied by the fireplace. They would cease whenever I ventured close, so it was impossible for me to identify the exact location of their origin. This game of back and forth continued until approximately one o’clock.

After a brief hiatus, the sound of slamming doors echoed throughout the manor house, followed hastily by heavy footfalls that seemed to walk in several parts of the house at once. Lord Fawksby had instructed that all serving staff remain in their chambers after dark and promised that he and Lady Fawksby would do likewise. Several times did I venture from that room, convinced that I would successfully identify the person whose footsteps at times shook the very fabric of the house. Not once did I observe anyone walking the halls, despite a thorough search. The footfalls continued, gaining in volume. On occasion, they seemed to occur in my immediate vicinity, and to my ears, appeared to be heading straight towards me. Again, I saw nothing of their origin, even when they sounded so close to my person.

It was the wailing which finally prompted me to knock upon the chambers of Lord and Lady Fawksby. The house was alive with the sounds of the damned and I was at a loss as to their source. What began as a resonant moan, which one could easily mistake as the sound of the wind billowing over the tops of the chimney pots, soon developed into a chorus of screams and lamentations the likes of which would unnerve even the hardiest soul. Lord Fawksby answered my furtive knocking, his face ashen with terror. “I have heard naught as harrowing as the wails that have shaken these walls this night!” he began. “Come, we must return Margaret to her resting place above the mantle.”

I agreed, for whatever manner of horror afflicted us showed no sign of waning. The two of us hurried through the darkened corridors of Burton Agnes Hall, beset on all sides by ferocious rappings, the crashing of doors and a cacophony of anguished cries. Leaving the hall, it was a relief to be outside, free from the sombre mood that had befallen the manor house with the advent of darkness, if only temporarily. The shrieks and crashes that gripped the house could still be heard as we made our way deep into the gardens, and my thoughts turned to those still in the house, those who must have been cowering in their beds, afraid to peek out from beneath their blankets.

Lord Fawksby led me first into a barn, then to an upturned bucket. “Here,” he said, lifting the tin pail, “take her back inside.” Only nothing lay beneath. Curses flowed from his lips as he searched the barn. “Dammit, boy, you said you had placed her beneath an upturned pail! Yet she is not here? Will this madness continue until it drives us from our home?”

I joined the search, remarking that it might be possible another bucket was the hiding place of Margaret’s skull. After a further ten minutes of searching, Lord Fawksby cried out. “Success! Come, let us return! Jasmine shall be at her wits end, no doubt!”

As we carried the skull of Margaret back inside, an instant hush settled upon the manor. Lord Fawksby and I stood a moment, unnerved by the sudden calm. Moments before, chaos had raged within these walls. Now all was still. Lord Fawksby made his way towards the great hall and I followed, eager to see Margaret returned to her rightful place, grateful that we might be able to savour a moment’s peace before dawn. With shaking limbs, Lord Fawksby placed her skull onto the centre of the mantelpiece, back in the position where she had long held court.

What followed was a curious feeling. The mood lightened the moment she touched the wood of the mantel. It was then that I noticed the first rays of sunlight piercing the ill-fitting drapes, and heard with a sense of welcome relief the opening notes of the dawn chorus.

 

The night’s events were discussed at length during breakfast (which was taken later than usual due to the disturbed night that all occupants of the house had suffered). Lord Fawksby appeared the more shaken of our number. I assumed he felt an air of blame in regard to our torment, as it was he who had arranged for this experiment to be carried out. Both Lady Fawksby (who seemed utterly fascinated with the night’s events) and I explained that he need not feel he ought to take any form of accountability.

I concluded that despite my best efforts, I could find no rational explanation for what we had endured during the night. Though at first I had been confident that I could at the very least attribute the heavy footfalls to a person or persons actively wandering the house, this was not the case. Throughout my searches at the height of the disturbances, I had failed to apprehend anybody.

Again, with regard to the wailing, which I had initially attributed to the wind, I concluded that this was not its origin, given the variety, volume, location and content of sounds heard. There had been a human element behind the majority of the sounds. Genuine emotion, that of anger and torment, had carried through the halls. Occasional words had been heard such as lamentlovereturn and family. These I could not satisfactorily explain away.

Nor the rapping and the slamming of doors. For frequently they had occurred in several locations at once. I was confident that should hoaxers have been at large within the manor, I would have caught sight of them at some point during the night.

I advised that for the time being, in order to keep an air of calm in the hall, the skull of Margaret Anstey remain on the mantelpiece.

 

That was not the last I saw of Lady Jasmine Fawksby. Little did I foresee the profound influence that she would have upon me. Alas, those are tales for another time.

In our first correspondence (of which there were many), she informed me that her husband had taken to excavating a nook behind the top of the mantelpiece, in which the skull was soon interred. The remains of Margaret reside there still. There have been no further reports of disturbances occurring in or around the manor house to date.

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Sneak Peek Extract: The Killing Moon by Allister Timms

A bandaged hand reached out and grabbed Max. He stifled a cry.

“Will you do something for me?” The thick bandages around the soldier’s head made his voice sound like a dry husk.

Max thought he wanted water. “I’ll get you some water.” He couldn’t bring himself to look at the dark stain on the slipshod dressing.

“No, no,” the voice rasped. “Something else. Please?”

“What?” asked Max, shaking in the soldier’s grip.

The soldier shoved a letter into Max’s hand. “Will you take this and pin it to the greatcoat hanging in the orchard?”

Max didn’t know what the soldier was talking about.

“Please, will you take it?” The soldier crumpled the letter into Max’s hand. The wounded man’s breath scratched behind the dressing. The dark stain grew bigger.

“Yes,” said Max, and he tore his hand away, the letter scrunched in his fingers.

“Thank you, thank you,” said the soldier, his breath nothing more than a shiver behind the crimson gauze.

Max gripped the letter and hurried away. He stumbled through the rest of the cots and dashed outside into a clean dusting of snow. He gulped down the cold air.

The night was cold. A raw wind blew from the north, and off in the distance artillery fire froze men’s hearts. It didn’t frighten Max. He slipped passed the dead on their stretchers, cupping the little flame of his candle like it was his own heart, which at any moment might blow out. Max ran around the side of the chateau where a few soldiers limped, using the stone of the house for support. At the back an archway choked with vines led into the orchard. There were piles of frozen earth everywhere, crude crosses. And a long line of stretchers with unmoving shapes under the blankets already covered in a light layer of snow.

Max’s breath smoked up the air. He had no idea where he was running. And then he saw it. He stopped. Grasped the letter in his hand.

The great overcoat hung by a rope from a plum tree. Max inched toward it. Carrion squabbled in the trees, twisting frozen fruit from stiff stems. The coat trembled slightly as a big raven landed on the branch where it hung. Behind Max, a gang of crows was hopping onto the stretchers, pecking at the material, a few squawking and yelling over some morsel. The raven in the plum tree yakked at Max and then plucked free a frozen plum.

Max reached out and touched the coat. The buttons were ice cold. He shifted the coat open and gasped. The letter fell out of his hand.

Inside the greatcoat were pinned hundreds of letters. Max stepped back. He went to reach down for the fallen letter but stopped.

Two eyes stared at him from the tree where the greatcoat hung.

“What do you have in your hand?” asked a voice.

“A candle,” replied Max.

“Silly boy, the other hand. But I already know. And you can’t pin it inside the coat.”

Max lifted the candle higher. Perched in the tree was a young girl. Her legs swung back and forth and there were two big holes in her stockings. Her oversized boots struck the fruit tree with a thud.

Max snatched the letter off the ground and stepped closer to the tree.

“Don’t even think about it,” the girl said. She swung down and landed right in front of the coat. Her eyes sparked like they were filled with oil. She unslung her storm rifle and pointed it at Max.

“Who are you?” asked Max.

“I’m a Valkyrie. And this is my coat.” A large raven landed on her shoulder and spread its wings behind her head. “I won’t let you pin the letter.” She smirked. “Not yet, anyway.”

Anger burst like a rotten fruit inside of Max. He stepped forward, his right hand balled into a fist.

A cane shot out of the dark. It rested firmly against Max’s trembling body.

Max hadn’t seen or heard anybody else in the orchard. He cried out and stumbled back, tripped, fell. He tried to run but the person with the cane grabbed a hold of him and at his touch Max froze.

“You will take the letter,” said Victor Quenet, having materialized out of the shadows.

The young girl sneered at Victor. “What are you doing here? You know I only listen to Mother.” She trod right up to Victor. “I won’t allow him to pin his letter.”

“Yes, you will,” said Victor again. He prodded the coat with his cane. “Go on,” he said to Max. “You’d better pin it inside.”

Max took the letter and did as he was told. He pricked his finger with the pin, a drop of blood oozed out.

The raven on the girl’s shoulder squawked. The girl glared. “So, you think I’ll deliver it now, do you silly boy?” She let her lip curl into a sneer.

“You will deliver it,” said Victor, “or else Mother will have something to say to you.”

The girl slung her storm rifle onto her back as if it was her wings. “Come on,” she said to the raven. “We have work to do.”

The raven flew off her shoulder, the letter in its beaks. The girl vanished up the tree.

“You’d better get that looked at,” said Victor, pointing to Max’s cut. “Men die around here over much less.”

Max frowned.

Victor Quenet frowned back. He was slight and fragile but had strong bones. He was tall but stooped, maybe on account of his large head.

Max stuck out his tongue.

Victor did too. “I’m much better at this game than you. I’ve had more years of practice.” He leaned on his cane. “There’s someone who’s been waiting to meet you.” Victor held out his hand for Max.

Max stepped back.

“Do you like wild sparrow in tarragon sauce?” asked Victor.

Max shook his head.

“Neither do I. But it’s Mother’s favorite. And we must always humor our mothers. And Mother sent me to find you. You see, we’ve been expecting you, Max.”

Victor held out his hand again. This time Max took it.

When Victor walked, he walked with a limp, so he carried the cane. Victor ran a hand through his ginger hair to make it look wild and rough. His left eye twitched, then his right. And now his left hand shook. “Do you ever wish you could fold your body up like a portmanteau and ship it to an exotic land with no return label?”

“I don’t know what a portmanteau is,” replied Max.

“Neither do I,” said Victor. “But that still shouldn’t stop us.”

 

The Killing Moon by Allister Timms

Want to know more about Allister Timms’ THE KILLING MOON? Here’s this from the man himself:

The American writer James Salter wrote: “There is no complete life. There are only fragments.” The inception of my novel, The Killing Moon, began in fragments, howls of anguish, synchronicities, transient moments of clarity and the roiling, boiling clouds of fog, cries, whispers, the pleasure of a metaphor that finally worked, joie de vivre and a Keatsian melancholy. To steal outright from the great Scottish writer George Mackay Brown: The novel stretched like a child and rubbed its eyes on light.

The first image that ascended from the dark underland of my unconscious was of a young boy trapped inside a chicken coop. As happens with most of my stories they are a mix of the familiar and unfamiliar, and the frustration that exists between these two, at least this is how narrative “happens” for me. In truth, this image got into me because a friend of mine once told me about how his young son liked to go into their chicken coop and sit with the hens. And so the telling of his story became the seed of my own and entered the “realm of mythology,” while making my very own memories, myths, and metaphors.

When you arrive at the very bottom, you will hear knocking from below.

As Rilke so rightly knew: “We are the bees of the invisible. Frenziedly we gather the honey of the visible, to gather it in the great golden hive of the invisible.” Once the story had me in its grip, or as Jonathan Carroll says, “write what bites you,” the secret of this particular beehive started making sense on the imaginative and literary level, which I’ve found is never a flat perspective. (My use of the bee metaphor is no coincidence: bees figure prominently in The Killing Moon.) Stories pass through us all like ghost particles, and some stay, others pass on. Well, this story stayed, I’m glad to say.

Il faut toujours travailler.

I remember listening to that unforgettable TED Talk with Elizabeth Gilbert and how she retold that wonderful story about the musician Tom Waits (a favourite of mine) who was driving along the freeway in LA and a song came to him and he was like, not now, damn it, I’m not ready for this now, can’t you just wait until I’m at home in front of my swordfish trombone! There’s nothing you can do when a story grabs you and won’t let you go….

Trust me, I’m telling you stories.

I could go on writing about the origins of this story and its process, but you know what, I think you’re likely to drop the thread and wander off, thinking at this point it would be more interesting to meet the minotaur.

I’m reading Robert Macfarlane’s Underland, which happens to be one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in a long time, especially the way he writes about the beauty and the damage to nature, this profound awareness of both suffering balanced with generous life. A moment of true ataraxia. Maybe eudaimonia at the stunde null. I don’t know, but I love his work. In it he meets this young scientist named Merlin Sheldrake who is studying the life under our feet, in particular fungi and the hyphae that webs the earth below us. I love how Merlin wants to talk about “the frothy mad fuck-ups and happenstance and false starts” of science. What he wrote really go into my “underland.” I think writers can have a habit of being crown-shy (I know I can), of not wanting to discuss or share anything beside the book. But I wonder if that’s wrong. Not wrong morally, of course, but just plain manipulative to some false end. The writing of a book is so much more than just the writing, it’s really everything else that goes into the making of a story, about which writers barely say anything. Which is not to say that I’m going to tell you my entire life story here, but I want to give you “fragments” of my life that went into and out of this novel. But how to begin to talk about all those “mad fuck-ups and happenstances and false starts”?

A ghost of a world lay down on a world.

It all begins really with love, because everything begins with love, and it will outlive us, as the sometimes dour English poet wrote. Love for Nitasia, my daughters Gwen and Vienna, love and grief over the death of our baby son. Deaths and entrances. An abundance of life in loss. A love of words, language, stories, Wales, where I was born. Sometimes you’ve got to “dig for fire” as the Pixies sing. (And, yes, music is not a coincidence, either, as you will soon see.) What other “spots of time”? God, there are so many. Tart green apples, Dubliner cheese, and potatoes from the rich soil of another’s garden. Whiskey, sea, sun, snow drifts, sea smoke, the injured barred owl, coyotes raising hell in the night. Bees at the high-bush blueberries, so thick, you can’t pass through them. The rooster killed by the neighbour’s dog, the cockerel’s red coxcomb bright and menacing, his wattles battle-red, but the dog killed him anyway. It’s all there, every moment, every particle of time, meshed together, springing loose and then knitting back together again. Everything and nothing, like the abundance of life in a little plot of earth. It all enters the narrative in some form and gets transformed, as Ovid knew so well.

Now I am ready to tell how bodies are changed into different bodies.

And music. This novel wouldn’t have made it without music. Some things are just meant for each other, like bread and cheese, Morrissey and Marr. My novel includes a soundtrack, the music I listened to while writing and editing, procrastinating and wildly imagining what was to come next in the story. They are its “sound and vision.” The music wasn’t predetermined, songs either found a way to get under the record player’s needle or else my fingers were guided to my CD collection. They are not in any particular sequence (except for the final Bauhaus track), because I wanted to leave that up to the reader to shape their own soundtrack when it comes to reading The Killing Moon, and what songs will help them to further “see” the novel.

What’s he building in there? What the hell is he building in there?

Robert Macfarlane writes “We are often more tender to the dead than to the living.” This troubled me when I read it because The Killing Moon is set in the past, in the twilight of the Third Reich, and while I was trying to equally say something about this historical moment, I was equally trying to transcend it with metaphors, myths, the fantastical, the surreal, the weird. I imagined something else. “Ruins, for me, are the beginning” the German artist Anselm Kiefer has said. And just as he works with ash and lead, shards of glass and battered books that evoke war-ravaged wastelands, he adds a lyricism into the violence of his creations. In my own way, I have tried to do the same thing in The Killing Moon, but with a young boy and his father who make a perilous odyssey across war-torn Europe to save the boy’s mother from the Erlking, a menacing spirit out of myth who has been given eternal life in death and destruction, and, yet, life opens up before these characters like a door into the dark….

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Sneak Peek Extract: The Companion & Other Phantasmagorical Stories by Ramsey Campbell

INTRODUCTION: PULLING SIXTY

PUNTERS, SALUTATIONS! PLEASE START HERE IF YOU LIKE, OR possibly sample a tale or two. You’ll be perfectly safe. Presenting sixty years’ worth of my published shorts, a personal selection, was Pete’s suggestion—Pete Crowther, I mean, the man behind PS. He didn’t prompt so lengthy an introduction, but I’ll present some background to the tales, which I predict should provide sustenance; in fact, I’ll presume success. If you proceed slowly you may perceive secrets, and so I implore you not to pass sentence too soon.

I made a precocious start very early in life. I believe I was reading before I was two years old—not just the verses that accompanied each panel showing Rupert Bear’s adventures but the paragraphs supplied for the abler reader—and pretty soon after that I graduated to Hans Christian Andersen and George MacDonald. Maturity in reading doesn’t guarantee it in one’s own writing, which is rather more liable to demonstrate one’s level of experience. That’s certainly on show in my early work, which betrays the age of the author. The public suffered some verses in the children’s section of the Liverpool Echo, “Wag is my Dog”, when I was five, and two years later I perpetrated several chapters of an unfinished novel, Black Fingers from Space. Both pitiable specimens can be found in Ramsey Campbell, Probably, published solely by PS.

By the age of eleven I’d read all the classic horror fiction then in print, and much contemporary work too. I believe I simply wanted to pay back some of these pleasures by writing tales like them or at least imagining I could. The result was Ghostly Tales, my first completed book. Many were ramshackle, pieced together from fragments of stories I’d read, but the longest—“Bradmoor”, written when I was twelve—derives coherence from imitating a particular story. While I shudder to acknowledge its parentage, it’s essentially Dennis Wheatley in digest form, though the final paragraph of section IX is lifted from Adrian Ross’s tale “By One, by Two, and by Three”. It’s presented here as written, with its punctuation, spellings and general eccentricities intact, except that I subsequently added a new last line to link it to a later story in the book: “I never laid another ghost, except that of the Tower, of which you will learn if you read on.” Presumably “something”, which shows up quite a bit, isn’t as bad as “something”, powered by italics. I think Daisy Ashford may remain perched securely on her pedestal.

BRADMOOR

I

Come at once. I am in a horrible trap.

                                                                              —Frank.

That was all. Just ten words. All that was in a letter that I read over a cup of coffee. I am a private psychic investigator, and in my profession I naturally get a large number of cranks, one or two psychiatric patients and quite a few practical jokes. But the writer of the letter was a personal friend of mine; he was none of the things I’ve mentioned, except possibly the latter. That was why I left everything just as it was, and drove as fast as I could to my friend’s country house.

I had to ask the way to his home, which was called Bradmoor. The only person I could find to ask was an old man who was smoking a clay pipe that was not a thing to go into ecstasies about. The fumes that came from it made me think twice about the methods that farmers use to dispose of surplus pig swill. Something like that must have been in that pipe.

Anyway, I asked him how to get to Bradmoor, and he said, “Bradmoor? Ar, the man there be right snappy. Don’t you go there, sir. Ar.” And he blew out a cloud of dense smoke.

But I told him I was Frank’s friend, and after muttering something about “you will find him different” and blowing out a cloud of smoke that lingered in the air and insinuated itself into my throat, he gave instructions that I could just barely follow.

At last I saw the house. It was partly hidden by clumps of trees that grew haphazardly around it, but on the iron gate outside the drive I read the letters, partly obliterated, “B AD OOR”.

Above me the clouds ran across the purple sky in a macabre ballet. I drove my sports car up the drive. At the top I alighted, then walked into the old wooden porch and crashed the iron knocker against the door.

Hesitating footsteps approached the door. Then it opened. A man stood there; his eyes had dark rings under them. I said “Is Mr. Bardell in?”

That was my friend’s other name. It was my first shock that night, as I felt a vague edge of horror trace itself down my spine.

The man was Frank Bardell.


That scene-setting (from ‘Bradmoor’)—with that so wonderful line “you’ll find him different), all of it so intoxicatingly characteristic of Ramsey Campbell’s work, brings to bear all manner of bizarre people and situations. What’s not to like . . . or, indeed, to love with unashamed passion?

Available for Pre-Order.

BEST OF BLACK WINGS edited by S.T. Joshi

S.T. continues the proceedings with the long-considered BEST OF volume in the BLACK WINGS series though, in truth, any tome in the series heartily deserved the same ‘best of’ appellation. And so it was that, at long last, at a convention I would imagine, S.T. and I finally went ahead. If you’re wanting to know how it all came to pass? Well, kind of like this, I guess. Over to you, S.T . . .


When, around 2008, I assembled the first Black Wings anthology, I had no idea that it would prove as successful as it has been—with readers, critics, and especially with the authors who have chosen to write original stories for it. I had just completed the writing of The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos (2008), a volume in which I surprised myself by discovering the striking new riffs on Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos in recent years by such writers as William Browning Spencer (Résumé with Monsters), Donald Tyson (Alhazred), and others. I had begun the writing of that treatise with a severe prejudice against the Mythos—or, more precisely, against the unimaginative and poorly written pastiches that had been prevalent since Lovecraft’s death. August Derleth had seriously misconstrued the essence of the Mythos and had written dozens of novels and tales whose aesthetic inferiority and disfigurement of Lovecraft’s bleak atheistic vision should have been recognised as textbook examples of how not to expand upon the Mythos; but, because of his standing as Lovecraft’s publisher and leading champion, he had led other writers—such as Brian Lumley, Basil Copper, and even the young Ramsey Campbell—into writing pastiches of Derleth rather than of Lovecraft.

But a new generation of creative writers—perhaps benefiting from the renewed scholarly interest in Lovecraft beginning in the 1970s, which exposed Derleth’s erroneous view of the Cthulhu Mythos—seemed to be on the threshold of utilising of the true essence of Lovecraft’s worldview rather than the flamboyant surface details of the Mythos. That worldview—which emphasised the temporal and spatial vastness of the universe and the resulting inconsequence of human beings—was one that could be adapted by a wide range of writers. Moreover, such writers sensed that writing mechanical pastiches of a revered writer is a profitless undertaking; rather, they would use Lovecraft’s themes and conceptions—cosmic indifference; human decadence and devolution; the horrors inherent in topography and history; and so on—as vehicles for expressing their own visions and worldviews. And in the past decade or more they have done exactly that. This is why the revised version of my treatise bears the title The Rise, Fall, and Rise of the Cthulhu Mythos (2015).

Back in 2008, as some authors of my acquaintance sent me Lovecraftian stories they had written, merely for my personal examination, I sensed the possibility of at least one volume of new Lovecraftian tales. I then actively began to solicit contributions from those writers who I believed could do the kind of work I was looking for, and in a surprisingly short time the first Black Wings anthology was assembled. In all frankness, I had initially intended it for publication by Arkham House, which was still regarded by many as the leading small press devoted to Lovecraft and his disciples. Just as Ramsey Campbell had assembled New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1980) as a kind of updating of Derleth’s own Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1969), I felt that my anthology would showcase work by a new generation of writers for an audience that had much more accurate and sophisticated views of Lovecraft the man and writer.

But Arkham House was in a somewhat troubled state at the time, and my anthology was apparently not given serious consideration. I was momentarily in a quandary as to where to turn, and I am eternally in debt to Pete Crowther of PS Publishing for accepting the book without reading the contents. All I had sent him was a list of the authors who had contributed to it; and Pete evidently felt that this list was sufficiently impressive to justify acceptance. His prescience was rewarded by the critical acclaim the volume received.

And by golly, the praise was well deserved.


And so, some nine or ten years down the track, here’s this.

Lesser Demons — Norman Partridge

Howling in the Dark — Darrell Schweitzer

Passing Spirits — Sam Gafford

When Death Wakes Me to Myself — John Shirley

The Abject Richard — Gavin

Dahlias — Melanie Tem

Bloom — John Langan

Thistle’s Find — Simon Strantzas

Houdini Fish — Jonathan Thomas

Artifact — Fred Chappell

Cult of the Dead — Lois H. Gresh

The Dark Sea Within — Jason V Brock

Night of the Piper — Ann K. Schwader

The Woman in the Attic — Robert H. Waugh

The Walker in the Night — Jason C. Eckhardt

The Organ of Chaos — Donald Tyson

Voodoo — Stephen Woodworth

The Shard — Don Webb

To Move Beneath Autumnal Oaks — W. H. Pugmire

Lore —Wade Germa


Not a bad line-up whatever your yardstick for measuring.

And now, as the nights draw in and sweaters call strangely from forgotten wool-filled drawers, S.T. steps up to the plate with twenty tales guaranteed to spread goose pimples . . . and, cool as cucumber, he starts swinging.

There are twenty home runs in the pages that follow so you’ll be wanting to get moving and start drinking up the horrors and strangeness that await. Do not expect to emerge unchanged.

Available for Pre-Order.

THE DIVIDE by Alan Ayckbourn

THE DIVIDE by Alan Ayckbourn (PS Publishing)

Review by Gary Fry

It’s always been difficult to keep up with Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s prolific output. I try my best. Of the 83 stage plays he’s written since the 1960s – from early undisputed classics such as The Norman Conquests and Absurd Person Singular to tricksy modern masterworks like Arrivals and Departures and (his very latest) Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present – I’ve seen or read about 70. The range of his work is striking, including straight adult dramas (with often ingenious structures), genre material (sci-fi, thrillers, ghost stories), musicals, and children’s plays. And now he’s added a new form to his repertoire, the literary novel. Slow down, man! You’re giving me whiplash!

Although The Divide was conceived and written as a novel, it was first presented onstage (in a shortened version) as a rehearsed reading (or a “narrative for voices”), a treat for regulars during the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s 60th anniversary events. This live production in Scarborough, nudging eight hours, was later adapted (not by Ayckbourn) as a play produced at London’s Old Vic. The play, bearing little resemblance to the author’s original conception, received mixed reviews, with some celebrating its timely exploration of gender relations (as if Ayckbourn hadn’t spent his whole career poking around in such fractious territory) and others suggesting that the piece would work better in book form. But of course, that was how the author had first planned it. And so here it is at last, The Divide as the novel it was always intended to be.

The piece, in my view, pulls together two strands of Ayckbourn’s previous work: his various dabblings in sci-fi (Surprises, Henceforward, Comic Potential, to name but a few) and his frequent work for children. Indeed, despite exploring some decidedly mature themes – oriented around what we might crudely call the gender wars – The Divide reads like a Young Adult novel.

The story is set about a hundred years in the future. A plague has rendered relationships between men and women nigh on impossible and, consequently, the country has been divided in half, with all the men to the north and the women to the south. Male children, however, remain with their two mothers (Mama and Mapa) in the south until old enough to make the journey north.

The plot is largely conveyed through diary entries of a daughter and a son coming of age in this grave new world. There are other contributions, including meeting minutes from a local authority in which the two youths live (a microcosmic representation of broader political trends, methinks). We also get to read letters from other characters, as well as various flyers and memos, all of which round out the depiction of a society functioning in paranoiac mode, of new legislation prohibiting the liberties that we – yes, even in our ostensibly oppressive times – take for granted. This is a world turned upside down, as the phrase goes. Heterosexuality is illegal, art is pornography, and Vanity is elevated to the worst sin of all.

If all this hint at a new prudishness, a systemic response to the age-old problem of controlling passions arising from human nature, there is satire here. The mores of Ayckbourn’s exaggerated world might be taken as the ultimate consequence of pursuing contemporary fundamentalist solutions to conflict between the genders. I won’t get waylaid by such contentious debates – let each reader take what they will from the worldbuilding – but I will state that many aspects of this future are grimly imagined. For instance, a Ten Day Collar, attached to a female found guilty of deliberately contaminating a male, put me in mind of brutal aspects of the similarly themed The Handmaid’s Tale.

The Divide, however, is lighter in tone than Margaret Atwood’s celebrated novel. This arises entirely from its focus on two youngsters, both documenting their daily reflections and concerns in private. Their lived worlds are fleshed out in convincing detail, each of them revealing the eternal travails of being pre/postpubescent whatever the social circumstances. The diary entries read like the kind of mini-monologues so many characters in Ayckbourn’s plays deliver, usually when someone else is just listening (or commonly, pretending to listen). The author’s mastery of articulating people’s inner feelings lends the book a relentless readability. There was an obvious risk in assigning to only two characters the great majority of the narrative, but both Soween and her elder brother Elihu are so sympathetically engaging that the story remains hugely enjoyable throughout.

Less positively, I did occasionally think, during some dramatic episodes, how much more satisfying the scenes would play in situ, drawing on the author’s peerless dialogue. There is a hint at such potential richness in the verbatim transcript of a court case (a very funny scene), but otherwise we’re left with exposition from those who have recently observed or participated in events alluded to. This is the unavoidable consequence of telling a story in an epistolary manner, a problem of form rather than execution. All the same, from such a great dramatist, it’s hard not to yearn sometimes for a live action telling.

But we needn’t dwell on overly fussy negatives. When Soween and Elihu fall in love with the same person (Giella, the feisty daughter of politically progressive parents), the novel becomes a version of Romeo and Juliet, with all the tragic implications inherent in that cultural enclave. In my estimation the subtext of this tale is the irrepressibility of human nature. The siblings’ surname is Clay, but can either be moulded in any old fashion? No, says Ayckbourn, but rather than thump a tub to this (or the alternative) effect, as so many ideologically motivated people do in our own time, he skilfully dramatises the observation, delicately depicting the youthful awakening of sexuality and love in circumstances not of his characters’ choosing. That is the purpose and value of the kind of art that is banned in the novel, and The Divide is a convincing testament to such timeless verities.

 

The Divide is available from PS Publishing: https://www.pspublishing.co.uk/the-divide-hardcover-alan-ayckbourn-4900-p.asp

 

The Divide by Alan Ayckbourn

Sneak Peek Extract: Foreword

Being so closely involved with the events leading up to the fall of the Divide, I have been asked on countless occasions to write down my experiences leading up to that momentous event. Till now, I have always declined. I had two reasons for doing so. The first was that, on a professional level, my reputation, such as it is, has been based till now as a successful writer of popular fiction. Not only was I hesitant to attempt a factual account of real events but I was anxious lest they be mistaken, especially by the young, as creations of my own imagination. This period in our history is far too important to be relegated to the realms of myth for recent generations who never experienced them at first hand. We are often too ready to dismiss or conveniently forget such uncomfortable or inconvenient chapters in our history. My second reason for refusing was, on a personal level, though long in the past the events are still too clear for us who lived through them for the pain they caused to be entirely softened by time, most especially for my Mother. Although we both lived through them together, I somehow felt she, a loving parent and partner, bore the brunt of events far worse than I, an immature fourteen-year-old. But my Mother died a few weeks ago. It was thankfully a peaceful passing, in her own bed as she would have wanted. She’d reached a good age and her family were all there, myself, her daughter, her devoted son-in-law and her three beloved grandchildren, Fayla, Japeth and Jilli, to say our farewells to Mama.

First, some apologies. What follows is less a straight narrative and more a montage gathered from various sources, mostly from my own diary from the age of eight upwards. I’ve edited this as little as possible, attempting to avoid the obvious trap of trying to improve, through misguided hindsight, the outpourings of an immature girl battling the usual agonies of adolescence. Some entries I was tempted to remove to spare my blushes. Particularly my embarrassing ‘sub Brontë’ period in which I appear to have been completely carried away! Nonetheless I hope my diary will capture at least some of the flavour of how it was to live and grow up, as a child, during the final years of The Preacher’s regime, in an isolated, strictly puritanical all-female society entirely segregated from men. The inhabitants meekly underwent a form of endless penance on behalf of their sex for sins long past and wrongs long forgotten. The image in our Village Square of The Men’s Memorial with its ten thousand names of those who died from The Plague will remain with me for ever. It stood dominating everything, a massive granite reminder to all us Women, of our responsibility for that appalling loss of life. We were a society ruled by guilt which we were seldom allowed to forget. Four times a year, spring, summer, autumn and winter, came those Days of Reflection, when the entire Village would fall silent for twenty-four hours, whilst each of us jointly acknowledged her responsibility for the past. I suppose my view of events is slightly skewed by the fact that my mother’s partner, my Mapa as she was known, was devoutly Orthodox. As children, during our early years especially, my brother and I were brought up strictly according to the rules laid down by The Preacher.

As to The Preacher himself (or herself, we were never quite sure), we were encouraged to believe that he/she was immortal and still lived. But I think many of us abandoned that belief along with Father Christmas (who was most definitely frowned upon!) Evidence, following the fall of the Divide, suggests that the original Preacher died many years earlier (some reports say from a sexually transmitted disease!) and was replaced by a committee of two, initially men but later on of both sexes in an attempt to maintain the status quo established by The Preacher and the legacy he left in his Book of Certitude, the Bible we were all meant to live by.

There were, needless to say, powerful factions of society, particularly on the Male side, with a considerable vested interest to maintain it. But when has it ever been otherwise?

The other major source I have drawn from is my own brother, Elihu’s diary. He was a slightly less conscientious diarist than I, being a boy he became preoccupied with Other Things.

In the case of both our respective diaries, I have used their original system of dating that is the PD (Post Divide) method we lived under at that time. I never quite understood why our lives were run on this system, rather than the previous Anno Domini version. Possibly it was intended to make our lives feel greyer still, without days of the week or calendar months. Just numbers and seasons. It certainly gave our existence a sense of remorseless monotony and so perhaps achieved its intention.

Other documents I’ve gathered from here, there and everywhere and must especially thank Talyed Chilzer, the former Chair of South Sarum Village Council for access to previously restricted documents including the trial transcripts. I have also included material from the archive of the now defunct North Sarum Journal. My reason for this was I was aware that I had otherwise included very little relating to conditions North of the Divide during that period. It was a region, of course, from which I, as a Woman, was excluded. By including samples of correspondence from its lively letters column plus a rather enlightened (certainly for the period) leading article, I hope to redress this imbalance somewhat. My grateful thanks also to the Journal’s Archivist, Simeon Mappletrose. Lastly, without apologies, I occasionally quote from The Prophet’s Book of Certitude, a thick tome we were instructed to read every morning and night but rarely did.

By rights, I ought to dedicate this book to the memory of the lovers, Elihu and Giella, who more than any other single individual were instrumental in bringing down The Divide. But their praises have already been sung by many and countless legends have already been written about them both and even this book is really about them so I’m sure they will forgive me, wherever they are, if I dedicate this book to the least sung hero, my dearest late Mama, Chayza, who was there throughout and indomitably survived it all. This is for her.

Soween Clay-Flyn April 2154

Available for Pre-Order.

Mountains of Madness Revealed edited by Darrell Schweitzer

Sneak Peek Extract: Introduction by Darrell Schweitzer

This entire book is, of course, a sequel to H.P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness.” All of the stories herein take place after the events in the Lovecraft story, refer back to it, and exist in a universe in which the Pabodie-Dyer-Lake expedition to Antarctica of 1930-1931, as sponsored by Miskatonic University, actually happened, even if the details have been to some degree either suppressed or disbelieved.

That means that you really do need to read the Lovecraft story immediately, before you read this book. No, no, don’t put this book down. Buy it right away, but save it until you have read “At the Mountains of Madness,” which is itself easily available in any number of editions. Any that make use of the corrected texts edited by S.T. Joshi will do.

“At the Mountains of Madness,” along with the slightly later “The Shadow out of Time,” represents the zenith of Lovecraft’s efforts to create a non-supernatural horror story. It is as far as it is possible to get from his other two longest narratives, “The Dream- Quest of Unknown Kadath” and ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’ (both of which he had repudiated and which were not published in his lifetime). There are no ghostly revenants or eldritch horrors summoned up by dark magic here. The Necronomicon is mentioned, and a couple of the scholarly characters have even read it, but it is seen, not as a book of magical spells that actually work, but a compilation of primal myths that can only hint at the true history of our planet’s deep past.

It is in search of evidence of that deep past that the Miskatonic expedition sets forth. The intention is to drill through the ice and stone to recover mineral samples and fossils from millions of years ago. But the explorers find far more than they bargain for, including clear evidence that “our” planet is not “ours” at all, except only be default and perhaps temporarily, since it was inhabited by various intelligent species that filtered down from the stars as the world cooled, long before life evolved there. There is even a suggestion that the Old Ones or Elder Things, of which complete, amazingly well- preserved specimens are found, created all life on Earth, including us, either on a whim or as a joke. Certainly the proto-simian creatures depicted in some of their murals were never the center of attention.

It is not too much of a spoiler to tell you that the “specimens” turn out to be in suspended animation, not dead, and that two members of the expedition take off  in an airplane and discover a vast alien city, at least a hundred miles long and fifty miles wide, half-buried under the ice on the other side of a newly-discovered range of mountains which “put Everest out of the running” as the tallest peaks on Earth. Th e explorers land and spend several hours deciphering the carvings and wall-reliefs of this ancient race, learning shocking secret after shocking secret, before they also learn that the city is not entirely deserted.

“At the Mountains of Madness” is one of the greatest masterpieces in the Lovecraftian canon, but it is not, I think, the place to start reading Lovecraft. It would be rather like starting Poe with ‘Th e Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.’ Instead, begin with some of the shorter, popular works like “The Colour out of Space” or “Pickman’s Model” or “The Dunwich Horror.” Chances are you will soon be duly hooked and want to read everything anyway. (Oh, in the meantime, you did buy this book and put it on your “to-read” shelf, didn’t you?) “At the Mountains of Madness” will give you an even more rewarding experience if you come to it with some understanding of Lovecraft’s “Cthulhu Mythos,” which here we are seeing through a scientific, reductionist lens (the “gods” having become extraterrestrials, and there is no “magic.”) It would help to understand some of Lovecraft’s philosophical and even political thought (his strict materialism, his late turn toward socialism), which you can master by reading S.T. Joshi’s monumental I Am Providence, The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft and some of Lovecraft’s essays and letters.

Of course you don’t have to go through a course of study before reading “At the Mountains of Madness.” The story’s strongest feature is the vividness of its descriptions, its often claustrophobic sense of detail and text, as we are taken step by step into the haunted, pre-human ruins amid the stark Antarctic heights. It is one of Lovecraft’s great “caverns of horror” stories, probably deriving a bit from Poe’s “Arthur Gordon Pym” and even from Jules Verne’s (occasionally creepy but much more cheerful) A Journey to the Center of the Earth), but also expressing in its most complete form a Lovecraftian fascination with tunnels, caves, and unplumbed abysses, which we see even in his earliest, semi-juvenile eff orts (“Th e Beast in the Cave”) but also in such mature works as “Pickman’s Model,” “The Festival,” “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” “The Mound,” “The Shadow Out of Time” and many others.

Th e story is densely written, with little conventional plot or “action” (in the pulp-magazine sense). Here we see Lovecraft achieving the kind of spare, unemotional prose style that he had been striving for over the years. Gone are the eldritch, gibbering, necrophagous, blasphemous adjectives of the sort you find in a story like “The Hound.” “At the Mountains of Madness” is written as a scientific report. Indeed, the motif behind it is that Professor Dyer and the graduate student Danforth never revealed all of what they saw and experienced—until now. The story is being told to discourage further exploration, as Miskatonic’s later Starkweather-Moore expedition is being organized. As we see from some of the stories in the present book—You did buy it, didn’t you?—this effort was in vain. Th e Starkweather-Moore expedition seems to have set forth, then vanished without a trace shortly before World War II.

It would be pleasant to report that the story brought Lovecraft fame and fortune, but, alas, it did not. Farnsworth Wright, the editor of Weird Tales, rejected the story with his usual excuses that it was “too long,” “not easily divisible into parts,” and “unconvincing,” this last being a virtual buzz-word for him when he could not come up with a better articulated reason for turning something down. Whether Wright made the correct decision is still open to debate. Certainly most serials in Weird Tales were lowbrow action melodramas designed to make less sophisticated readers keep buying the magazine, and “At the Mountains of Madness” does not fit this description. But my own feeling is that Wright, for all his brilliance—and you have only to read a few issues edited by his predecessor, Edwin Baird, and compare them to the Wright issues of the late 1920s to mid-’30s to appreciate how good an editor Wright really was—could be overcautious at times. Admittedly the magazine was often in perilous shape, particularly after losing its assets in a bank failure during the Depression, but one of the things I learned as one of Wright’s successors, co-editing Weird Tales between 1988 and 2007, is that if you have what you know to be a good, even brilliant story that you are afraid many readers will not understand, the thing to do is simply to pad the issue in question with other material that you know will be popular, so that if some readers don’t like that particular story, they will like enough of the rest to keep on buying the magazine. If Wright had chopped “At the Mountains of Madness” into three 10,000-word installments and deliberately packed those issues with Robert E. Howard’s sword and sorcery, adventures of Seabury Quinn’s psychic detective Jules de Grandin, a lurid torture tale or two, and an Edgar Rice Burroughs knockoff  serial by Otis Adelbert Kline, I am sure he would have gotten away with it. But he never took that leap of faith.

What is certain is that the rejection crushed Lovecraft. About a year later he rejected “Th e Shadow over Innsmouth” for the same reasons, while a mainstream book publisher (G.P. Putnam’s) turned down a proposed collection of his stories. Lovecraft’s confidence evaporated. He began to feel that his fiction-writing days were over, and certainly that the cozy relationship with Weird Tales that he had enjoyed in earlier years had come to an end. From Wright’s point of view, Lovecraft was evolving away from the kind of material Weird Tales needed from him—shorter, atmospheric stories like “Pickman’s Model,” “The Dunwich Horror,” or “The Outsider.” For Lovecraft, never a commercial writer, the very idea of tailoring his output to fit a market was anathema, and writing more such stories would have been for him an artistic step backwards. He was interested in vast studies of alien societies, such as we see in “At the Mountains of Madness,” “The Shadow Out of Time,” and “The Mound.” We can now see that he was at the height of his creative powers, but to Lovecraft, his powers seemed to be failing.

Then he had a stroke of luck. His young friend Julius Schwartz, who was trying to set himself up as an agent in the fantasy/science fiction pulp field, sold “At the Mountains of Madness” to F. Orlin Tremaine, the editor of Astounding Stories, the leading science fiction pulp of the day. (The same magazine now published as Analog.) Apparently Tremaine was so impressed by Lovecraft’s reputation in Weird Tales that he bought the story without reading it. He serialized in in the February, March, and April 1936 issues of Astounding, with excellent illustrations by Howard V. Brown.

Th e huge check that resulted certainly relieved Lovecraft’s dire poverty for a while, but even so, his troubles were not over. The text was heavily edited by Astounding. Pulp editors did not usually think in terms of publishing “literature.” They saw their material more on the order of a newspaper’s “copy,” which is to be edited, cut, reparagraphed, or otherwise banged into shape as needed. Th e result brought out the strongest language ever recorded from the otherwise impeccably genteel Lovecraft (“that god-damned dung of a hyena Orlin Tremaine…”). He came to regard the story as unpublished. He spent several days with pen and exacto-knife correcting three sets of the Astoundings serial (restoring whole passages) so that he could circulate the text among his friends. But he did not have the manuscript in front of him and so did not correct all the errors. While Arkham House based its early editions on those corrected Astoundings, the story was not published as Lovecraft wrote it until Joshi revised and edited a new edition of At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels in 1985.

To add insult to injury, the serial drew at best mixed reactions from Astounding’s readers, who were not used to dense, philosophical fiction, or scary stories. Th e letter columns resonated for the rest of 1936 with tirades for and against Lovecraft, mostly against. Farnsworth Wright, seeing this, might have concluded that he’d dodged a bullet.

Virtually all of Lovecraft’s triumphs seem to have been posthumous ones. Since 1936, “At the Mountains of Madness” has continued to fascinate readers. It is not only included in H.P.L.’s Library of America collection, Tales, but it also had a separate edition, as a literary classic, from Modern Library. It is now part of the canon of 20th century American literature, which cannot be said for anything else Astounding published in 1936.

All of this brings us to the subject and premise of the present anthology. Th is was never intended to be a political or propagandistic work, but we do live on a rapidly warming planet, where just about every year records the hottest temperatures on record. The climate is changing more rapidly than the earlier projections had supposed. Glaciers in the Alps, the Himalayas, and, yes, in Antarctica are disappearing. So if we apply observable reality to Lovecraft’s fiction, isn’t it inevitable that before long that 100-mile-long, 50-mile wide stone city of the Old Ones, millions of years old, will be in plain sight? What if you can see it on Google Earth (at least until censorship kicks in) and every intelligent person on the planet is faced with the realization that 500 million years ago, in the age of dinosaurs, another sentient species, perhaps superior to our own, flourished on the Earth and occupied it? The Starkweather-Moore expedition may have vanished without a trace (I believe that is my invention), but other intrusions, both national and private, sponsored by universities, corporations, and even private individuals, will soon be tramping all over the Mountains of Madness and may soon discover the final horror, a glimpse of which put the graduate student Danforth off  his head and which neither he nor Lovecraft could ever describe. What comes next? Science? Exploitation? Even a ridiculous attempt by an entertainment conglomerate (herein tactfully referred to as the Funny Mouse Corporation) to build a theme park? This, one suspects, is not going to end well.

Let our authors tell you how it all turned out.

—Darrell Schweitzer, Feb 8, 2019

Available for Pre-Order.

The Unquiet Dreamer: A Tribute to Harlan Ellison

As Nabokov said, “I think it is all a matter of love; the more you love a memory the stronger and stranger it becomes.”

It was sometime in the mid-nineties at Dangerous Visions Bookstore in Sherman Oaks, when a seismic shift altered the foundations of the room. It wasn’t the Northridge quake, but it was certainly a force of nature—in walked Harlan, the man who had written “Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes” and “Repent Harlequin. . . .” and “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.” In walked the man who had met Bruce Lee, mouthed off to Sinatra, marched in Selma, had lived through the insanities of Hollywood producers . . . and, oh, so much more. Something had happened to the crowd, as if they had fallen into the path of a McCormick thresher—husks torn away to reveal something essential in their awe-struck silence.

I knew all too well how meeting one’s heroes can turn out badly (as it had for some of Harlan’s fans), but I was indefatigable in my youth and I told him what I thought of his work and he smiled and shook my hand and we talked for a while. I had told him my dream of putting together an anthology someday, with a table of contents that included some of the very writers in this book. “That’s a pretty nifty list,” Harlan said. “Do it, kiddo.”

As the years passed, I went on to write for Nature Magazine and became a contributing editor at Locus, and the dream kind of fell by the wayside, but Harlan never let me forget.

And though I wish Harlan could see it, the dream is finally here—a book full of memories and love—thirty-three international contributors who have joined together to celebrate his life. It’s strong and strange in ways I never expected, full of inspired ideas, anecdotes and stories of Harlan. Of course, to include everyone influenced by Harlan and the work he celebrated would more than fill The Lost Aztec Temple of Mars.

And without further ado . . .

I’d like to share a few excerpts from THE UNQUIET DREAMER                                                                                                                                                                                            — Preston Grassmann


THE FIRST OF MANY SHUDDERS

by Kaaron Warren

The evicted drifted back to see the place, sift through the rubble.

Some of them had watched the demolition of their homes from across the road, belongings in garbage bags around their feet, because until then they really didn’t believe it was going to happen. Or they thought; they’ll stick up the condemned signs and we’ll move back in, because that had happened before, blocks of flats considered derelict but still livable if you had nowhere else to go.

But the place was reduced to rubble and every day the rubble shifted, formed into something else, made of memories, good and bad.


ON AN OLD MAN’S CONTEMPLATION OF AN ARCHWAY SEALED WITH STONES

by Adam Troy Castro

His name is Stick. He is an old man. He is not feeble. He is not confused. He is young in aspect because such is his nature. It is impossible to consider him old. But he is old, very old; old enough to remember when times were green. He knows that he does not have much time left. He avoids the end as best he can, as we all do. In the meantime, he does what he has always done, visit the worlds that he finds through the portals from the Gray.


A THIN SILVER LINE

FOR HARLAN ELLISON

by Steve Rasnic Tem

A thin silver line: color of moonlight, or morning fog, the highlight on your grandmother’s lips. The fading borders of the dream just before you discover it is morning. It’s a separation keeping you from the dream, the day from the night, and the fantasy from nightmare. The division is less substantial than mist; you can cross it and not even know.


THE WAY YOU CAME IN MAY NOT BE THE BEST WAY OUT

by Paul Di Filippo

The first time Sal Broome heard a Rigellian play the gnostic flute, he was ruined for all other music. His mind shattered into myriad tiny mirrored fragments, his soul melted down into a puddle of honeyed whey, and his gut suddenly hosted a whirling maelstrom that made the vortex that Arthur Gordon Pym encountered look like a bathtub drain.


HUMS

by Peter Crowther

The waiting area was cramped but William found a seat. He eased himself between a man wearing a tweed jacket and an old woman whose spectacle lenses were so thick that there didn’t seem to be eyes behind them.

He looked at the table alongside and scanned the books, magazines and newspapers. Several copies of Readers’ Digest, the morning’s Independent with what looked to be the word ‘sugary’ (although William decided it must have been ‘surgery’) scribbled above the masthead, a couple of well-thumbed copies of National Geographic (one which proclaimed “we are not alone” in large blue letters written on an interstellar gaseous cloud) and a coffee-ring stained Beano Book showing all of the comic’s characters in a bus whose side boldly proclaimed ‘Christmas Or Bust’. He opted for a Readers’ Digest that boasted a story about clairvoyant pets.


THE LAST SHOUT OF THE BEAST

by Bruce Sterling

To witness the end of the world was a nightmare. Professor Echo knew he wasn’t dreaming, though; the end of the world smelled worse than any dream ever could.

The Mogul’s rocket-base stank of decomposing plastics, dead topsoils, arctic methane, and the ill-winds from bomb-cratered cities. Space-rockets towered on the desert horizon. Each colossal, gleaming missile had a sharp nose and four big hollow fins. They were ranked as neatly as literary awards.


THE RE-EVOLUTION OF CLOUD 9

Nikhil Singh

They’re out there, friends. They are out there with their quadrophobes and their capsules of rotten time and their Eye-rooms. They say and we lousy mugs do. Their fingers are in your pie, Sunny Jim. So, what you gonna to do? Sit there with a stupid expression on your Happy Frank while Little Miss Eyeball and her bugs peel open your dreams like bananas? What’s this rotten egg they’ve sold you, Bubba? Why are things in the shitty state they are in? I mean, you can wave your anti-matter cyclons and your peace signs and your anti-retrovirals, but what you going to do? The clocks have stopped. Time is doing the geriatric tango and still you working for the Man. We have one great Age to duck and weave in kids, from the dinosaurs to the apocky-clips, and still you pumping checks for Daddy God and the great white picket fence in the sky…..


Artist Biography: Yoshika Nagata

Yoshika Nagata was born in 1977, and lives in Tokyo. After graduating from Tama Art University in 2000, she began working for a CM editing company, but left her job in 2003 to pursue her art full time. Her illustrations and paintings have appeared in various art galleries around the world. She currently illustrates for books and performs in live-painting events.


Editor Biography: Preston Grassmann

Preston Grassmann was born in California and educated at U.C. Berkeley. He began working for Locus in 1998, returning as a contributing editor after a hiatus in Egypt and the UK. His most recent work has been published in Nature Magazine, Shoreline of Infinity, and “Futures 2” (Tor). He is a regular contributor to Nature and writes a feature for Locus called “The Cosmic Village”. He currently lives in Japan, where he enjoys hiking, watercolor painting, and performing at live events throughout Tokyo.


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The Ice Garden and Other Stories by Eric Brown

Sneak Peek Extract: Introduction

A few weeks ago, while I was contemplating putting this collection together, I had an email from a reader with a question: “How do you write a short story?”

That gave me pause.

I’m largely an instinctive writer who believes that the answer lies in giving the subconscious free rein. I get an idea, a notion, a character with a dilemma, and I sit down with a setting in mind and start writing. A day or so later, as if by magic, the story appears. Then begins the longer task of rewriting the thing.

Which doesn’t really answer the reader’s question.

The best way to answer the question, I realised, was to think back to my last collaboration with my friend and fellow science fiction writer Keith Brooke, because, as I don’t have free access to Keith’s subconscious, with him I write short stories differently and of necessity the process is a bit more drawn-out and laborious.

One of us gets an idea, a notion, and tells the other about it; we bat this idea back and forth for a while, over many emails, until we’ve ironed out the gremlins. (I come up with a lot of half-baked ideas which, under Keith’s sharp-eyed scrutiny, sag and die.) The idea suggests characters, and conflict, because the powerhouse behind any story is conflict: What does the character want? What is stopping him or her from attaining it? How can he or she prevail over these problems?

Once we’ve got this far—with an idea, a cast of characters, problems that the characters need to overcome—a storyline pretty rapidly develops. One of us sits down and begins writing, and after a couple of thousand words hands it over.

That must have been how I wrote short stories back in the early days, when I had to think through every aspect of the story before I was confident enough to sit down and start writing. Nowadays, with over forty years’ experience at the keyboard, I’m more gung-ho about things, and I’m a great believer in rewriting. No story is ever right after just one draft. I’m not infallible, and I make mistakes, and those mistakes need ironing out over a dozen re-readings and a dozen re-drafts, or more.

Some ideas come in an instant, a dizzying inspirational flash that hits me  and begs to be developed—while others take much longer to germinate. For instance, for the past six years I’ve been sitting on an idea for a SF story entitled “Life in Orbit”. It’s about an expeditionary survey mission to a far-flung world, and the two telepaths aboard the starship who compete to find sentient life. The backstory is that the funding for the expedition is due to be cut, and one of the telepaths will be made redundant—crudely, the telepath who discovers life will save their job. Also, if sentient life is discovered, colonisation of the planet will not take place. Now, for the purpose of the tale, one telepath will be investigating a shoal of aliens which float in the stratosphere high above the planet’s surface, while the second will be assigned to look into a race of herbivores which lives  on the surface. The conflict, other than the need to come up trumps and save his or her job, will be heightened by the fact that the telepaths detest one another  for reasons that will be explicated in the telling of the tale. Our viewpoint character will be the telepath investigating the herbivores—who thinks she’s been given  the short straw, as the herbivores are just grass-munching bovines, right? The second telepath arrogantly assumes he will triumph, and rubs the other’s nose in the fact. However, thanks to the twist in the tale, which I won’t divulge here, the land-based telepath wins the day, discovers the sentient aliens and secures her posting.

Now, something is stopping me from beginning the story, and I don’t know what. Perhaps I need a second idea to rub against the other, in the manner of flint and stone, or perhaps I need to pass the idea on to Keith.

The stories collected in this volume were written between 2002 and 2017, the oldest being the collaboration with the late, great Michael Coney. They run the gamut of the old, tried, and tested SF tropes: the coming of aliens to Earth, contact in space with a race of very odd aliens, near-future social satire set very much on our planet, clone technology and its potential misuses, an autistic character’s drastic life-choice and the repercussions it has on the people who love him, and a biological murder mystery set on a colony world. One story, “Conway and the Almorans”, features the characters and setting of my Starship series of novellas, and was written specially for this volume.

What they have in common, I like to think, is that they’re all character-oriented and, very importantly, are all stories in the traditional sense of the world, with coherent plot lines; a beginning, middle, and end, and satisfying resolutions.

I hope you enjoy them.

Eric Brown, Cockburnspath, Scotland, May 2019

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