Monday, August 25, 2014

recent read; The Color Out of Time

Michael Shea, creator of Nifft the Lean, among other great writings, sadly passed away in March (2014.) Shea's books were already hard enough to come by, and predictably the prices at eBay nudged up after his death. Fortunately for those seeking out Shea's Lovecraft pastiche, The Color Out of Time, it was made available as an ebook earlier this year, shortly before his death.

The novel is a direct sequel to the H. P. Lovecraft story, "The Colour Out of Space."

At an idyllic New England lake in summertime, two older college professors, Gerald and Ernst, notice a strange, disturbingly colored halo about the lake one dusk. Later they find twisted, stunted trees and giant insects in an isolated tract of the woods. They also feel depression and dread for no seeming reason. Eventually the horror grows as the strange color exhibits and manifests a malevolent nature - poisoning spirit and body alike.

Things only grow worse, as afflicted and endangered vacationers ignore the warnings - perhaps due to the psychic influence of the entity.  The protagonists come to refer to the alien entity as simply, the Enemy. Murders by physical manifestation of the Enemy, along with madness-inflicted deaths, spread. Eventually our heroes take it upon themselves to solve the mystery and destroy the evil. Along the way they meet an older woman, too, who knows the truth of the Enemy - having seen it kill a family when she was a child - before the area was flooded to make the lake. Before H. P. Lovecraft heard the story and rewrote the details into 'fiction'...

Yes, there is a direct, open link to Lovecraft in the narrative. So, I'll stop there to avoid any further spoilers. As for Lovecraft's inclusion in the narrative, albeit as a person dead and in the past, I'm still not sure it works favorably or not. It did put me out of the tale a little, but as the post-climax tension and stakes rose rapidly, I let the story take me along.

Simply put, this was an enjoyable pastiche. Shea was able to imitate and modernize and put his own unique twists on the Lovecraft tropes. While not delving into purple prose, there is an intentional erudite hand in his word choice, which reminds of Lovecraft without falling into parroted imitation. Instead of an unlikely fainting blueblood protagonist, we get unexpected heroes in a trio of savvy, vigorous, whisky-drinking seniors. Instead of pontifications on race and heritage, we get interesting examination of tribal and mob behavior, and how something from Outside can exploit it.

Shea also includes some absolutely horrific moments along the way - shocking the reader out of the cosmic horror, back into grounded terror.

Having the novel on Kindle is convenient, and it was bittersweet to read the fresh introduction from Shea. But I will keep an eye out for a paperback copy. Especially because of this Ken Kelly cover!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Return to Lovecraft Country

Well, not so much of a return as a drive-by.

When it comes to Lovecraft Country, there are different regions. The most famous, perhaps, is the northeast coast of Massachusetts, with its fictional Kingsport, Arkham and Innsmouth. Central-western Massachusetts is another area where at least two of his more famous tales were set - "The Colour Out Of Space" and "The Dunwich Horror."

Supposedly, the events of "The Colour Out Of Space" took place in an area that was destined to be forgotten under the waters of the new reservoir for Boston. Though he died before it was completed, Lovecraft cleverly worked the Quabbin Reservoir into "The Colour Out of Space";
Traces...will doubtless linger...even when half the hollows are flooded for the new reservoir. Then the dark woods will be cut down and the blasted heath will slumber...the secrets of the strange days will be one with the deep’s secrets; one with the hidden lore of old ocean, and all mystery of primal earth.
This weekend we attended a picnic in Amherst, MA. Our drive took us past one lookout area over a small portion of the reservoir along Route 202. We didn't have time to stop - the lookout was across the opposite lane anyway. And we took a different way out. So, I had to settle for a drive-by photo op.

(If you zoom on the sign, you will see that it reads, "Quabbin Reservoir - Pelham Lookout." And you can see a bit of water in the far background.)

But, the way out was interesting, too. I forewent the GPS's suggested route on the way to the picnic - mostly for the Quabbin photo op. On the way back, the GPS took us through even deeper backroads, which are also Lovecraft related. I vaguely recognized some of the buildings and crossroads. I had explored around the area in my Lovecraft reading heyday. I had used "Lovecraft and the New England Megaliths" by Andrew E. Rothovius from The Dark Brotherhood and Other Pieces as my guide back then - referred to many USGS maps, too, before Google and Yahoo maps existed.

I sometimes forget how lucky I am to live in such a historical region - fictional history or otherwise. It was nice to drive through there with Lovecraftian fiction in mind, even if it was a brief passing by.

The nights here are already growing colder. It might be time to reread "The Colour Out of Space" and perhaps follow it up with a read of Michael Shea's The Color Out of Time, which is in my to-be-read queue.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Whovian 2-fer

On the way to NECON last month, I had an hour & a half ride each way, so I loaded up some Doctor Who audio dramas for the ride.

Energy of the Daleks

Though released later in the series, this story was Tom Baker's first audio return to Doctor Who. It is also the first time his companion, Leela, gets to tangle with Daleks.

Speaking of Daleks, this is a welcome return to conniving Daleks with attitude and a plan for world destruction. During Tom Baker's era, Davros, the creator of the Daleks, was invented by Terry Nation. In the two Dalek appearances for Tom Baker run, the focus was more on Davros. The Daleks were reduced to (sometimes none-too-bright) foot soldiers.

This is a very convincing Dalek tale that fits right into the 4th Doctor era. You can almost see the t.v. episode in your head. (My head, anyway.) The Daleks are "old school" and there is a nice return of Robomen (first used and only seen in The Dalek Invasion of Earth.) The Daleks are behind a new "free energy" beaming scheme that will rescue the near-future Earth from its energy crisis. The Doctor intends to find out why.

It is one of those stories that you don't want to think too hard about. If the Daleks can send a scout ship with six Daleks onboard back in time to alter history, why not just send a whole fleet? Such things are easily explained away by "timey wimey wibbly wobbly," so a line or two of dialog to explain away the question would have been nice, but, whatever.

Tom Baker was the first Doctor I ever watched. I don't subscribe to the "your first Doctor is your favorite Doctor" paradigm - especially with all the Doctors to choose from now. But, I had forgotten just how enjoyable he can be as the Doctor.

This was a lot of fun.

This is nearly pitch perfect for a 4th Doctor era story. I will absolutely be visiting more Tom Baker audios from Big Finish.

The Architects of History

This story closes out a trilogy featuring the villain, Elisabeth Klein. Klein is a Nazi from an alternate timeline where the Doctor's negligence helped the Nazis to win World War 2. During their previous adventures, the Doctor obliterated her timeline and tried to enlighten her. But Klein was patient, and gained enough knowledge to abscond with his TARDIS, and establish a future Reich that spread across the galaxy. Now the Doctor has arrived to put things right - which doesn't seem very possible from his prison cell.

Klein is a wonderful, thought out villain (villainess.) I wish she could have been on the t.v. show, proper. (Let's face it, The Rani never came up to potential on t.v.)  She has motivations, she goes toe-to-toe with the Doctor and nearly pulls off her grand schemes.

I really enjoyed this one. There is a second Klein trilogy - as well as a series that focuses on her non-fascist counterpart in the correct timeline. I look forward to listening to all of them.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Running silent

Sorry for lack of posts, interesting or otherwise. NECON is a tough act to follow ;)

I've been reading a lot of different things which means I don't have anything cohesive to review. My current novel read is Kevin J. Anderson's Enemies & Allies which is a period piece (Cold War - late 50s/early 60s) where Superman and Batman meet. I am really enjoying it - just taking a while.

I've started #WellmanWednesday where I read a Manly Wade Wellman short each Wednesday night. This week's read was "The Third Cry to Legba" via the Haffner Press' John Thunstone collection.

I've read some other miscellaneous short stories and lots of comics. I started binging on The Goon last night. Darkly twisted and very funny stuff.

More book scores, too, of course. Nothing super rare or exciting, but they make me happy. I'll be happier when I get around to reading them.