Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Mr. Machen, Strongbow Cider and a Hill of Beans

It's a beautiful, sunny day and I've just returned from a pleasant walk out amongst the towering oaks and lesser trees of one of the local parks. Had a shot of pumpkin syrup in my coffee while I was out. Warm sun and a cool breeze, the leaves are just beginning to change and we're on the very threshold of October. It's good to be alive.

This past weekend, on Sunday, we went off to attend the Second Foundation Group's discussion of Mr. Arthur Machen. We met Mr. Till from the FATE SF & Everwayan  blogs for brunch there at Merlin's Rest, a Britophile-type pub. Brunch was pretty decent all in all, and I was happy to sample Strongbow Cider once and for all. Wonderful stuff. Especially for breakfast. Yum.

So...

In regards to Mr. Machen...

"Sorcery and sanctity...these are the only realities. Each is an ecstasy, a withdrawal from the common life."

...I've read a great deal of his work, especially his weird fiction, some of his essays, The Hill of Dreams (Wikipedia / Gutenberg) and so on. Quite a bit of his work is available for free at Project Gutenberg, so if you haven't read any of his stuff yet, why not check out The White People, The Great God Pan, The Inmost Light (all of which are collected in The House of Souls), or The Three Impostors?

A few quick Links for Mr. Machen: Arthur Machen at Wikipedia, The Friends of Arthur Machen, The Literary Gothic's page for Machen (features a good number of links for all things Machen-related), Machen's works at Internet Archive, and Michael Dirda's excellent essay on Machen.

Arthur Machen is one of those authors that have fallen into a twilight of obscurity, his work is not quite forgotten, but it is not exceptionally well known either. H.P. Lovecraft respected Machen's story The Great God Pan quite a bit, mentioning enthusiastically in his famous essay on the Supernatural in Horror and borrowing a good bit of the literary yeast from it to brew up his own Dunwich Horror.  Machen's best stories, like The White People or any of the installments of The Three Impostors, and especially The Great God Pan provide a glimpse into a variety of moral train wrecks and terrible choices--and the horrific consequences of those choices--that are redolent with all manner of unsavory implications and weird complications. The real impact, the horror of it all comes not from the words Machen committed to paper, but from the wicked hints and things he left unsaid. It's after you finish reading his stories that the horror bubbles to the surface, like glistening black oil seeping through the floorboards. Certainly, the surgical quackery of Great God Pan and misogynistic malpractice of Inmost Light both are quite nasty in and of themselves...but when you consider the knock on effects that follow in the wake of either surgical procedure...the implications grow increasingly twisted and troublesome. By piercing the veil through some sort of reverse-lobotomy, the protagonist in GGP manages to awaken some hidden or latent faculty of sensory perception that allows the subject to apprehend the underlying reality surrounding us all, what the ancients referred to as 'seeing the Great God Pan,' a surgically-rendered state of gnosis. Mutilation as enlightenment. Of course it is only a '...trifling rearrangement of of certain cells, a microscopical alteration that would escape the attention of ninety-nine brain specialists out of a hundred.' But what it unleashes upon an unsuspecting world...wow. Helen Vaughn is one of those great villains whose career takes place mostly off-stage, and we only ever get to see some of the fall-out, after the fact. There is a powerful sense of many, many weird, vile and despicable things having taken place that are pretty much left up to our own imaginations, and that is one of the strengths of Machen's best stories. He leaves a lot of the details up to you, the reader.

"Life, believe me, is no simple thing, no mass of grey matter and congeries of veins and muscles to be laid naked by the surgeon's knife; man is the secret which I am about to explore, and before I can discover him I must cross over weltering seas indeed, and oceans and the mists of many thousands years."

One of my favorite examples of how Machen delivered disturbing implications like subtle little landmines sprinkled throughout his fiction is in his story The Inmost Light. Here a down on his luck would be scientific experimenter, a self-proclaimed genius, cajoles and brow-beats his own wife to submit to become the subject of a human experiment. And not just any old experiment. He intends to extract her soul and place it into a gemstone in a process far more like some sort of perverse alchemical rite than a legitimate scientific inquiry. She consents. He removes her soul. She becomes a 'satyr-like monstrosity' that must be destroyed, as the loss of her soul has transmuted her brain into something no longer quite human nor animal, but rather it has now become more like that of a devil, whatever that really means. (Has anyone actually dissected a devil's brain?) But here's the thing, in the course of conducting this nightmarish medical experiment the so-called scientist conclusively proves that his wife actually did possess a soul, at least until he removed it. He proved the existence of the human soul, or at least that women have souls, which makes this story quite conflicted from a modern/feminist viewpoint, no doubt. Of course, the protagonist would need to repeat the process on a male to show whether or not men actually have souls, for such is the way of science.

"..when the house of life is thus thrown open, there may enter in that for which we have no name, and human flesh may become the veil of a horror one dare not express."

But proof of the existence of the soul is completely overlooked. It's a minor, inconsequential side effect. Hardly even relevant. But then the entire experiment is botched and badly handled. There's no control, shoddy records kept in a cheap journal, only one subject and we don't know for sure just how reproducible the results might really be. There's tons of speculation possible. The industrial applications of extracted souls, and the exploitability of soulless laborers are left unexplored, but it does invite speculation. Which is one of the reasons why Machen has been such a major inspiration and influence on Wermspittle. For instance, my Flash fiction story Extractive, which is directly inspired by the transference of the human soul into a weirdly opalescent gem, that could be misconstrued as a version of the Philosopher's Stone...in Wermspittle the Soulless experience a form of unholy longevity as a side-effect of the extraction process. This is why certain individuals seek this operation out, voluntarily undergo the process, and consider it a fair trade-off for what they receive in return for their souls. And that is before I even mention the infamous White Powder, which is if anything, even more integral to the Corruption Trade that dominates Wermspittle.

"...the universe is verily more splendid and more awful than we used to dream. the whole universe, my friend, is a tremendous sacrament; a mystic, ineffable force and energy, veiled by an outward form of matter; and man, and the Sun and the other stars, and the flower of the grass, and the crystal in the test-tube, are each and every one as spiritual, as material, and subject to an inner working."

But getting back on track, we discussed The White People, Hill of Dreams, and The Three Impostors as well as some of Machen's other works. It was remarked upon by more than one of us present that Inmost Light, Great God Pan and The White People taken together form the essential core of an Ur-Mythos that has served as a vital root for what we take for granted as being the so-called 'Cthulhu Mythos,' but in fact these stories stand apart from the usual Yog Sothery and are entrees into their own mythos unto themselves. It's easy to see the attraction of Machen's weirder stories for the speculative Cthulhuist, but really, these tales can and do form a fairly vital seed-core unto themselves and do not require getting grafted onto HPL's imaginative juggernaut of collective post-modern myth-making. There is much that could yet be profitably explored taking the various weird revelations of Mr. Machen's tales as an inspiration...Many of Machen's best stories remain potent and rife with all sorts of weird loose-ends, tantalizing implications and horrible side-effects yet to be described or explored.

"It is hard to write of such things as these, and chiefly because that shape that allured with loveliness was no hallucination, but, awful as it is to express, the man himself. By the power of that Sabbath wine, a few grains of white powder thrown into a glass of water, the house of life was riven asunder and the human trinity dissolved, and the worm which never dies, that which lies sleeping within us all, was made tangible and an external ting, and clothed with a garment of flesh."

The discussion of Machen's life, personality, and body of work was great good fun. Inspiring even. I particularly liked the comment that the Angels of Mons/The Bowmen, which Machen publicly stated frequently and often had become something of a burden to him, a hindrance to his career of sorts, might not have been an outright hoax at first, but could well have been an actual supernatural experience, especially as it was originally published in a newspaper, etc. As our host remarked; perhaps Machen protested too much. Very interesting line of speculation there.

All in all this was a great discussion and we're both looking forward to the next one.

In the meantime, I intend to go back and re-read The Three Impostors all over again...after all, like Machen's London, Wermspittle is a city of resurrections...just not in exactly the same sense...perhaps...

Friday, April 19, 2013

Work In Progress 4: Mask

The tongue may, or may not be taken from some large beast and then mummified. It may have strange powers or particular ritual significance.

I have about a dozen of these things nearing completion...

Monday, April 15, 2013

Index: Friday Flash Fiction by Garrisonjames

Friday Flash
by Garrisonjames


The goal is to post a brand new piece of flash fiction every Friday. Most flash fiction clocks in at under 1,000 or 2,000 words, but can be as brief as 365 words, 101 words, 140 words, five or six sentences, even just six words. There's a lot of room for experimentation and exploration.

The Friday Flash meme is hosted by the nice people at the Friday Flash website. Sometimes I use the prompts, or I use other prompts, other times I don't use any prompts. It all depends on my mood and the phase of the moon.

You can find out more about the challenge, and what stories are available each Friday by clicking over to the Friday Flash G+ Group..


Stories are listed from Newest to Oldest.
Thanks for taking a look.

2015


Chemistry Lessons (1)
Posted: 8/28/15
Silas and the Patchwerk Girl, a story from Wermspittle.


2014

Martha
Posted: 7/30/14
Some family resemblances run deeper than mere appearances. Inspired by a writing prompt from Ganymeder.

Bacon and Eggs
Posted: 4/4/14
Rustling up grubs in the deep dark below...

Smoke and Mirrors
Posted: 2/28/14
Human life isn't necessarily cheap in Wermspittle, but it does have a price...

Making the Rounds
Posted: 2/14/2014
An alternative viewpoint to Cutting Loose.

In An Obscure Wood
Post: 2/12/2014
A group of soldiers wander out of a war and into the weirdness along one of the Cold Roads leading to Wermspittle.

Cutting Loose
Posted: 2/7/14
Madness is in the eye of the beholder; but which one is the reflection of the other?
Part One   Part Two   Part Three   Part Four

Bleak Prospects
Posted: 1/31/14
A brief moment in the life of three young Foragers...

Bitter Morning
Posted: 1/11/14
Vorthrid wakes up to a harsh new reality after leaving Idvard's Keep. Maybe he can make a new life for himself here along the Inner Ramparts...
[A continuation, of sorts, of Bujilli: Episode 47]

Of A Feather...
Posted: 4/12/13
A girl out to avenge her brother's untimely death discovers that not everything is as she assumed or believed. Sometimes the greatest challenge one can face is the lies that blind us to a particularly painful truth.
This story is a spin-off from the on-going Bujilli serial set in Wermspittle featuring Gudrun (whom we haven't seen since Bujilli: Episode 21), and Sharisse (last seen in Episode 33), and taking place sometime after the events of Series Two.

Forbidden (001)
Posted: 4/12/13
Gabrielle is cut of from her group by a freak gritstorm on Alshain-4. She discovers an Obelisk. Then the ground collapses. At least she's out of the storm...

This may or may not develop into another serial.

Counterfeit
Posted: 12/7/12
A quick little bit of robot SciFi dealing with identity, mythology and mob violence. Always a winning combination...

Extractive
Posted: 11/30/12
A Wermspittle story, this time dealing with the creation of the Jewel of Souls...

Better Than Worms
Posted: 11/9/12
Valg is out hunting worms in the midst of a blasted wasteland when he discovers something far more interesting than just a few scraps of wriggly-meat...

Valg first appeared in Option 3 of our second Scenario Seeds: Obelisks post. He may show up again.

Gruekiller
Posted: 11/2/12
There are monsters. This guy deals with them on a regular basis.

Empress of Wastelands
Posted: 3/22/12
This isn't strictly part of the Flash Fiction Friday thing, but it is one of my first forays into writing Flash, and it may well be the piece that caused Wermspittle to come all together, at least in part.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Forbidden 001


On an archaeological expedition into the smoldering wastes of Alshain 4 funded by the Corvus Foundation, one overly curious young girl finds herself separated from the rest of the expedition by an unseasonally harsh gritstorm. Caught by surprise, Gabrielle Abrams is lost. Cut off from all communications. She's on her own. Good thing her parents taught her well...


The storm howled wildly all around her. The ground before her was swirling up into the air, lunging at her, tearing at her. The comm unit was one long, whine of static. Useless. Her envirosuit was degrading faster than it could heal. The grit in the storm was lacerating the silicanamel down to the carbon filament undermesh. The air-filters were clogged or torn to tatters; she was on recycled air now. She took another step forward. At least she thought it was forward. She couldn't tell any more. The storm was disorienting. Intimidating. She never really knew what elemental meant before.

The caves ought to be close. She was sure of it. The GPS was asking to be reset. Useless. The downloaded map in her headsup flickered like a bad cartoon as the suit's servers tried to update it but could not latch onto a datafeed. The compass was spinning as if in synch with the wind. Probably magnetic particulates in the dust. She needed to reach some sort of cover before the storm sandblasted its way into her suit. That would be an ugly, not to mention painful, way to die.

"Not today. I didn't come all this way to let a stiff wind stop me. Not now." Especially not when she was so close. So very close. The words helped. A little. She was determined. It had taken her a lot, cost her a great deal to get here. She wasn't going to let a storm drive her away. For her there was no going back.

So she forced herself to keep walking.

One more step.

Another.

There. Another obelisk. Just like the first one. She touched it. Solid. Heavy, dense stone of some sort, some sort of mineral that had endured these kinds of storms for centuries, possibly millennia. It had a greenish cast to it. Green over gold.

Her left filter panel ripped loose and flew away in the raving winds.

The cave was not far from the Obelisk. Not far at--

The ground gave away.

She slid down, tumbling through grit and gravel.

Until she stopped.

Hard.

Darkness claimed her.




To Be Continued...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Blast From The Past

We visited Midway Book, one of my favorite local bookstores today while we were out and about. The weather was very nice and it was good to be away from the monitor. I'm still not 100%, but it is good to be productive again and getting things done. Anyhow, it was a lot of fun to go rummaging around in the stacks of old paperbacks looking for dubious treasures. They were having a sale on all the books down in the basement, so I went to see what I might find. I picked-up a copy of Balzan of the Cat People: The Caves of Madness. Never heard of it before, but it appears to be the second installment in a short-lived series from the Seventies. It's a rollicking pulp-style sword-and-planet adventure with a protagonist referred to as 'The Tarzan of Outer Space.' I also found a copy of Dave Van Arnam's Star Barbarian which I'd heard about from a friend, but have never been able to track down until now. It's an obscure book, part of another series,  about a post apocalyptic barbarian adventurer whose exploits so far haven't even garnered a Wikipedia entry. I also discovered A Plague of Nightmares which is book1 in Adrian Cole's Dreamlords series which was a real treat. I've been a big fan of Adrian Cole's work from way back, especially his Voidal stories. When I won Chris Kutalik's contest with my one page dungeon Tomb of the Forgotten Toad People, back in 2011, I used the prize money to buy all three volumes of the Voidal series produced by Wildside Press: Oblivion Hand, Long Reach of the Night, and Sword of Shadows. (Thanks again Chris!)

Happy with having found these obscure bits of pop culture flotsam, I returned upstairs and began to browse through some of the boxes of old pulp magazines. I hadn't gotten very far when I spotted a mint condition copy of Weirdbook 23-24. Wow, was that ever a surprise. One of my first professional sales of artwork was to W. Paul Ganley, publisher of Weirdbook. I sold several pieces to Ganley and it was through corresponding with him that I learned about the Small Press Writer's and Artists Organization (SPWAO), which led to my involvement with a number of small press 'zines like Scream Factory (I did the cover for #2), Scavenger's Newsletter, and others. I really enjoyed doing illustrations for small press 'zines all through the Eighties and early Nineties. Of course the Internet pretty much killed off the 'zines, though there are a few signs that 'zines might be making something of a comeback of sorts. But that's a detour for another time.

It was in Weirdbook 14 that I read my first Adrian Cole story Thief of Thieves, a Voidal Tale, and one of my all-time favorites. I actually prefer the version in Weirdbook 14 to the revised and polished version that is in the Wildside Press collections, but that's a minor quibble. Weirdbook 23-24 has another Voidal story in it Weaver of Wars, which is quite good. So on the same day that I lucked into finding a copy of an Adrian Cole novel I'd been hunting after for a long while, I also re-discover a copy of Weirdbook. One with three of my old illustrations in it. Serendipitous, huh? I hope it finds a good home soon. I really miss Weirdbook. If I ever did start-up my own 'zine, I'd love to call it Weirdbook...but apparently the name is taken. Oh well. So it goes.

When we got back home, I pulled out my own copy of Weirdbook 23-24 and some loose papers fell out. When I picked them up I realized they were the three illustrations I had done for that issue.

Page 45

Page 96

Page 98
I did a dozens of these not-quite-silhouette style characters back then. There was a really nice pen from Berol that I used to draw these with, but that model isn't produced any more, so I'll experiment with some of the new pens we picked up recently (there was a nice sale at one of the local art supply stores).

What an interesting chain of events and odd-ball connections. It was really nice seeing that copy of Weirdbook and now I just need to track down the remaining two books in the Dreamlords series.