Ulthar in the Fourth Dimension: Hagiwara Sakutarō’s “The Town of Cats”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

This week, we’re reading Hagiwara Sakutarō’s “The Town of Cats,” first published in 1935 as Nekomachi; the English version in The Weird was translated by Jeffrey Angles and originally appeared in Modanizumu in 2008. Spoilers ahead.

“When the inhabitants did anything—when they walked down the street, moved their hands, ate, drank, thought, or even chose the pattern of their clothing—they had to give painstaking attention to their actions to make sure they harmonized with the reigning atmosphere and did not lose the appropriate degrees of contrast and symmetry with their environs.”

Summary

Narrator, once an avid traveler, no longer has any desire to explore the physical world. No matter where one goes, one finds the same ...

Old Powers Rising: Nadia Bulkin’s “Pro Patria”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

This week, we’re reading Nadia Bulkin’s “Pro Patria,” first published in 2015 in Joseph S. Pulver’s Cassilda’s Song anthology. Spoilers ahead. Trigger warning for suicide.

“Joseph Garanga watched a small brown gecko crawl, belly to the wood, across the open window sill, and wondered why an institution that called itself the National University had installed neither window panes nor air conditioning.”

Summary

Joseph Garanga, political science professor at the National University of Concordia, isn’t entirely displeased when graffiti proclaims that “Garanga’s Law” is “The Restitution of the Damned.” He doesn’t know what that means, but it’s flattering to think he’s been elevated to the level of a Newton or Fermi, even if by a populace incapable ...

Publish and Perish: Ada Hoffman’s “The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

This week, we’re reading Ada Hoffman’s “The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library,” first published in December 2013 in Strange Horizons and later collected in Hoffman’s Monsters in My Mind. Spoilers ahead.

[Since today’s story is shorter than our usual summary, why not just read it in all its undersea glory now?  You won’t regret it!]

“In the Fourth Year of the Hydra, the Mother of All Squid built a library.”

Summary

The Mother of All Squid, having heard from the whales of splendid upper world libraries, decides to build her own.  She sends fifteen of her bodies to the whales, asking for contributions, but they scoff — libraries belong to ...

Rolling the Bones: Ray Bradbury’s “Skeleton”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

This week, we’re reading Ray Bradbury’s “Skeleton,” first published in the September 1945 issue of Weird Tales. Spoilers ahead.

“His heart cringed from the fanning motion of ribs like pale spiders crouched and fiddling with their prey.”

Summary

Mr. Harris’s bones ache. His doctor snorts that he’s “been curried with the finest-tooth combs and bacteria-brushes known to science” and there’s nothing wrong with him except hypochondria. Blind fool, Harris sulks. He finds a bone specialist in the phone directory: M. Munigant. This fellow, redolent of iodine, proves a good listener; when Harris has run through his symptoms, Munigant speaks in a strange whistling accent:

Ah, the bones. Men ignore them until there’s an imbalance, ...

A Little Dark Reading: Margaret Irwin’s “The Book”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

This week, we’re reading Margaret Irwin’s “The Book,” first published in 1930 in The London Mercury and collected in The Weird (Tor Books, 2012). Spoilers ahead.

“From among this neat new clothbound crowd there towered here and there a musty sepulchre of learning, brown with the colour of dust rather than leather, with no trace of gilded letters, however faded, on its crumbling back to tell what lay inside.”

Summary

One foggy November night, bored by his detective story, Mr. Corbett searches for more palatable bedtime reading. The dining room bookcase holds a motley collection: Mrs. Corbett’s railway stall novels, 19th-century literature from Mr. Corbett’s Oxford days, children’s fairy tales. Here and there looms a real tome ...

Fungi From Bob’s Discount Beer: Stephen King’s “Gray Matter”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

This week, we’re reading Stephen King’s “Gray Matter,” first published in the October 1973 issue of Cavalier and later collected in Night Shift. Spoilers ahead.

“Can you feature that? The kid all by himself in that apartment with his dad turning into… well, into something… an’ heating his beer and then having to listen to him—it—drinking it with awful thick slurping sounds, the way an old man eats his chowder: Can you imagine it?”

Summary

In a sleepy town near Bangor, Maine, Henry’s Nite-Owl is the only 24-hour store around. It mostly sells beer to the college students and gives old codgers like our narrator a place to “get together and talk about who’s died lately and ...

Do You Want to Build a Snowghoul? Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today is our 200th post! In celebration, we’re watching Sean Patrick O’Reilly’s Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom, released in October 2016 and based on a graphic novel published in 2009. Spoilers ahead.

“Friends don’t eat each other. Unless they get very hungry.”

Summary

Once upon a dreary time, we find young Howard Lovecraft living not in his beloved Providence but in what appears to be dreary rural seclusion, in the dreary house of paternal relation Mary Lovecraft. Mother Sarah drags him to see father Winfield at an institution very much NOT Butler Hospital, run by Dr. West. Yes, the ethically challenged prototype of THAT Dr. West, who keeps Winfield locked babbling in a bare ...

Shadow Over Argentina: Mariana Enriquez’s “Under the Black Water”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re reading Mariana Enriquez’s “Under the Black Water,” first published in English in Things We Lost in the Fire, translated by Megan McDowel. Spoilers ahead.

“She dreamed that when the boy emerged from the water and shook off the muck, the fingers fell off his hands.”

Summary

Marina Pinat, Buenos Aires DA, isn’t thrilled with the smug cop sitting in her office. He hasn’t brought a lawyer—after all, he says, he’s innocent. Never mind that Pinat has his voice on tape, saying “Problem solved. They learned how to swim.” The time stamp suggests that he at least knew that two young men were thrown into the Ricachuelo River. But then, that sort of thing ...

Tourist Traps: Shirley Jackson’s “The Summer People”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re reading Shirley Jackson’s “The Summer People,” first published in 1948 in Come Along With Me. Spoilers ahead.

“I’d hate to leave myself,” Mr. Babcock said, after deliberation, and both he and Mrs. Allison smiled. “but I never heard of anyone ever staying out at the lake after Labor Day before.”

Summary

The Allisons’ country cottage stands on a grassy hill above a lake, seven miles from the nearest town. For seventeen summers now, Janet and Robert have happily endured its primitive accommodations—well water to be pumped, no electricity, that (for the neophyte city sojourner) unspeakable outhouse—for the sake of its rustic charms. And the locals are great people! The ones they’re acquainted with, you know, ...

The Most Scientifically Interesting Community in the U.S.: Welcome to Night Vale

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at the first episode of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor and voiced by Cecil Baldwin, first broadcast on March 15 2015 through Commonplace Books. Spoilers ahead.

“A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.”

Anne’s Summary

Unlike Ruthanna, I was a Night Vale virgin, wandering innocent and vulnerable into its many-layered mysteries. So I took some friends with me. En route, we stopped at a cantina in the middle of nowhere (everything in the vicinity of Night Vale being in the middle of nowhere. Interesting phenomenon, this multiple-maybe-infinite middleness of ...

Dexter and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Real Estate Deal: Tim Pratt’s “Cinderlands”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at Tim Pratt’s “Cinderlands,” first published in the Drabblecast podcast in August 2010. Spoilers ahead.

“The lemons were small, and while they were yellow, it was less the yellow of cartoon suns and more the yellow of jaundiced skin or nicotine-stained teeth.”

Summary

Close to the end:

Dexter West wakes to the sound of claws on the hardwood floor of the apartment above—no. He’s moved into a house of his own; the noise is coming from the heating duct in his walk-in closet. He presses an ear to the metal and listens to the scuttle of tiny claws. Rats. In the duct. Or in the walls? He should get a cat. Back ...

Have No Fear, Or Else: Francis Stevens’s “Unseen – Unfeared”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at Francis Stevens’s (a.k.a. Gertrude Barrows Bennett’s) “Unseen – Unfeared,” first published in February 10, 1919 issue of People’s Favorite Magazine. You can read it more recently in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Weird anthology. Spoilers ahead.

“My eyes fixed themselves, fascinated, on something that moved by the old man’s feet. It writhed there on the floor like a huge, repulsive starfish, an immense, armed, legged thing, that twisted convulsively.”

Summary

Narrator Blaisdell dines with detective Jenkins in a low-rent Italian restaurant near South Street. Jenkins chats about old Doc Holt, recently implicated in a poisoning murder. Only reason Holt was under suspicion was he lives amongst superstitious people, who swear he ...

Worse Than an Evil Twin: Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson,” first published in the October 1839 issue of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. You can read it more recently in Lovecraft’s Monsters. Spoilers ahead.

“Gasping for breath, I lowered the lamp in still nearer proximity to the face. Were these—these the lineaments of William Wilson?”

Summary

William Wilson (not his real name, for that has become an object of scorn, horror and detestation due to the unpardonable criminality of his later years) feels the shadow of Death creep over him, and he now longs to explain what made him leap from relatively trivial wickedness to “the enormities of an Elah-Gabalus.” Hence this narrative.

Unopposed by weak-minded ...

Understanding the Reptilian Nature of the Divine: Robert Silverberg’s “Diana of the Hundred Breasts”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at Robert Silverberg’s “Diana of the Hundred Breasts,” first published in the February 1996 issue of Realms of Fantasy. Spoilers ahead.

“And for a moment—just a moment—I seemed to hear a strange music, an eerie high-pitched wailing sound like the keening of elevator cables far, far away.”

Summary

Tim Walker’s on his annual tour of Mediterranean ruins. He can afford to prowl the world without profession because, like older brother Charlie, he’s lucked into a seven-figure trust fund. Charlie’s also a genius with movie-star good looks, winner of trophies and prom queens, now a renowned professor of archaeology leading a dig at Ephesus. Tim’s always felt like “Charlie-minus, an inadequate simulacrum of the genuine ...

Othniel Marsh, (Probably) No Relation: Caitlín Kiernan’s “A Mountain Walked”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at Caitlín Kiernan’s “A Mountain Walked,” first published in 2014 in S.T. Joshi’s The Madness of Cthulhu anthology. Spoilers ahead.

“What was witnessed, for all its horror, I cannot wish to forget as it hints at a world even more distant and ultimately impervious to our understanding than the bygone ages and their fauna hinted at by our diggings.”

Summary

We read, verbatim, excerpts from the field journal of Arthur Lakes, made during an expedition to the Wyoming Territory in 1879. At Como Bluffs, with the assistance of “bone sharp” Bill Reed, Lakes and party have been unearthing the fossil treasures of the Jurassic and Cretaceous. At night the fellows tell tall tales ...

Monsters Bearing Bouquets: R.A. Kaelin’s “Mnemeros”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at R.A. Kaelin’s “Mnemeros,” first published in 2015 in Lynn Jamneck’s Dreams From the Witch House anthology. Spoilers ahead.

“Some names are like keys; they swing doors wide open that are best left shut.”

Summary

Leah Byrd recalls her youth in a rural Texas rotten with ghost towns. With the nearest “live” town two hours away, she made her own entertainment exploring abandoned buildings for relics like bent branding irons and old medicine bottles.

Her best leads come from an old “River Rat.” He tells her about strange carved stones down by the Brazos River, which were there before the Comanches. ‘Course, you don’t touch ‘em, or the tarry stuff they drip. ...

Honor Thy Oozy, Headless Ancestor: Clark Ashton Smith’s “Ubbo-Sathla”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at Clark Ashton Smith’s “Ubbo-Sathla,” first published in the July 1933 issue of Weird Tales. Spoilers ahead.

“Moment by moment, the flowing vision in the crystal became more definite and distinct, and the orb itself deepened till he grew giddy, as if he were peering from an insecure height into some never-fathomed abyss.”

Summary

The Book of Eibon supplies our epigraph: a description of Ubbo-Sathla, the featureless demiurge that dwelt upon Earth before even the Great Old Ones arrived. It spawned “the grey, formless efts…and the grisly prototypes of terrene life” which must one day return to it through the “great circle of time.”

A few years along that great circle, ...

You Wish It Were Forty-Two: Algernon Blackwood’s “The Man Who Found Out”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at Algernon Blackwood’s “The Man Who Found Out,” first published in the December 1912 issue of The Canadian Magazine. Spoilers ahead.

“Here, in all the homely, friendly turmoil of a Charing Cross crowd, a curious feeling of cold passed over his heart, touching his life with icy finger, so that he actually trembled and felt afraid.”

Summary

In Professor Mark Ebor is found that rarest of combinations, the esteemed scientist and the earnest mystic. His contributions to biology are great, his “optimistic, stimulating little books” published under the pen-name “Pilgrim” eagerly awaited. Only his publishers and his assistant Dr. Laidlaw know the scientist and visionary are one and the same. Laidlaw respects ...

Sucking the Life Right Out of the Room: Mary Wilkins Freeman’s “Luella Miller”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at Mary Wilkins Freeman’s “Luella Miller,” first published in the December 1902 issue of Everybody’s Magazine. Spoilers ahead.

“‘Yes,’ says I, ‘she’s killin’ herself. She’s goin’ to die just the way Erastus did, and Lily, and your Aunt Abby. You’re killin’ her jest as you did them. I don’t know what there is about you, but you seem to bring a curse,’ says I. ‘You kill everybody that is fool enough to care anythin’ about you and do for you.’”

Summary

From villagers old enough to remember Luella Miller to children born long after her death, all fear and shun her former home. None will enter the unassuming one-story house, much less ...

Resistance is Futile: Peter Watts’s “The Things”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at Peter Watts’s “The Things,” first published in the January 2010 issue of Clarkesworld. Spoilers ahead.

Trigger warning for rape as a (possibly very apt) metaphor.

 

“Mutinous biomass sloughed off despite my most desperate attempts to hold myself together: panic-stricken little clots of meat, instinctively growing whatever limbs they could remember and fleeing across the burning ice.”

Summary

The scene is Antarctica, and a US research station in turmoil. Our narrator gives no name for itself but many names for the “skins” it’s currently “being”: Blair escaping into a rising storm, Copper rising from the dead, Childs guarding the main entrance. Not that names matter; all biomass is interchangeable.

This world ...