Awesome and unexpected connections

I’ll let you in on a secret here, some authors are occasionally known to partake of a nip or two of rum. Also, sometimes these same authors will engage in late-night chats with another author who may or may not have also partaken of a nip of rum or two. Such conversations can wander around many a subject and things may be said that when the light of day cuts through the curtains the following morning are lost in the throbbing hangovers which belie just how much rum constitutes a nip…

Writing, late a night, can be a somewhat solitary endeavor, so when these conversations, over a nip or two of rum, spring up they are bound by the sacrosanct laws of immutable agreement. Those being that no matter what is discussed any agreement struck between parties is held to be struck, even if you don’t remember doing so. Though that said, no author I know personally would abuse this unspoken agreement between scribes.

Now all this may seem rather random, though if you have been here before I doubt that surprises anyone, but the product of one of those late nights with a nip or two of rum and a half remembered conversation came to light this afternoon when I notice that most estimable gentleman of Smuggling folk Nil Nisse Visser had posted something on Facebook in which he had ‘tagged’ me.

If you tuned into the British Steampunk Broadcasting Cooperation earlier this week for Tales at Almost Bedtime in which Daren Callow read chapter 11 from “Fair Night for Foul Folk”, you may have picked up on Black listing innovators of airflight.

Amongst others, Black named MaeYaBee Tu-Pa-Ka from Mark Hayes’s most commendable novel “Maybe”, and also one Peter van Haelen. The original Peter van Haelen was the main character in Piet Visser’s 1901 “De Vliegende Hollander” (Flying Dutchman).

Piet was my (Nils) great-grand-uncle and I decided that gives me a vague right to mess about with his creations. Van Haelen was a daft inventor and innovator, so a Steampunked version was tempting. Further information about Steampunked van Haelen’s background is revealed in two short stories, ‘The Skirring Dutchman’ in Writerpunk Press’s “Taught by Time” Anthology (due out in 20/21), and ‘Learning the Ropes’ that appears in the HD Pirate Special (Hot off the press!). The stories are narrated from opposing perspectives but take place in the same setting, a few weeks apart. Van Haelen makes a personal appearance in both, at the helm of a ghostly airship…

With gratitude to my great-grand-uncle Piet Visser, and thanks of course to the fine folk at #HarveyDuckman for including “Learning the Ropes” in the Harvey Duckman Pirate special, now available online:

After my first reaction of ‘how awesome is that’, I had a few moments of trying to remember if Nils ever told me he intended to throw MaeYaBee Tu-Pa-Ka’s name into his story as one of the fathers of airships. Which was about the point I recalled a conversation between us, late at night, with a nip or two of rum inside me, in which Nils asked me if he could do so, because he enjoyed ‘Maybe’ so much. I’d said yes of course. Vanity alone would have impelled me to do so.

MaeYaBee, for those who have never read Maybe, is a Polynesian engineer who signed on to an expedition with notable explorer Edward West (notable not so much for his discoveries as his lack of them). MaeYaBee’s new ship mates struggled with the pronunciation of his name and over time they started to shorten it to the nearest Anglican equivalent word ergo ‘Maybe’.

While MaeYaBee signed on as just a box standard shipping hand, he shown a remarkable affinity for mechanics and engines and soon became the defacto engineer on the voyage. He and Edward West became firm friends, with a mutual respect built between them and when West returned to England he set MaeYaBee up with his own engineer shop in Cheapside, where MaeYaBee fell in love, married and sired a daughter, Eliza who he raised on his own after the death of his wife. The novel itself opens on the sad occasion of MaeYaBee’s funeral. With Eliza in morning, and looking for someone to blame for her fathers murder, just as Benjamin West ( son of Edward who disappeared fifteen years before) and his former manservant Mr Gothe arrive at the cemetery, things get complicated at that point…

MaeYaBee is a character in the background of the novel, as his funeral is the starting point. But his life and his life’s work are central to everything that happens to Eliza and Benjamin. He was a genius and his great passion throughout his years in London was airships of which he built many models and designs. In the Hannibal universe (Maybe is set some 150 years before the Hannibal stories) he is the defacto father of British Airpower, despite not being British himself. So he fits nicely into Nils Blacklisted airship engineers in his smugglepunk universe. Which was why, he says with the fog of rum impaired memory, he wanted to use the character as a reference, and why I was more than happy for him to do so.

Of course, then I had forgotten all this until Nils posted the above on Facebook, so it was a genuinely awesome surprise to stubble upon this some six months later when the esteemed Darran Callow read Nil’s story for the BSBC. (I went and listened of course, and was impressed by how calmly Darren managed to get his tongue around MaeYaBee Tu-Pa-Ka, which can’t have been easy when you come across a name like that in the text your reading, beside sit not like I know how it pronounced…) Coming across this post genuinely made my day, its lovely to find your creations have wondered off into someone else’s imagination.

I can also heartily recommend joining the BSBC (who really should start a you tube channel so I can link it.) As its a bloody marvelous idea, created as a response to COVid canceling all those wonderful steampunk festivals I normally fail to get to anyway. Full of readings, interviews, music and other steampunk delights.

Clicking on the banner below should take you to there Facebook group if your interested in joining them.

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The Dreams of the Witch House : TCL 62

In terms of Lovecraft stories The Dreams of the Witch House is a little odd due to its mixing the cosmic horror that is Lovecraft’s staple with hints of Judo-Christian concept of the devil. It stands out as the only real example of Lovecraft doing this in any of his cosmic horror tales. Rooting aspects of this story in pseudo Judo-Christianity should work well, there is a logic to it, after all explaining things in terms of religion is what humanity has been doing for thousands of years, so seeing the devil in a manifestation of cosmic horror, or the roots of judo-christian myth laying in aspects of Lovecraft’s myths is not only logical but enticing as a concept. Doing so in a story that involves witch craft and witches, those traditional worshipers of the devil, is also logical. After all, who is to say if a witch is praying to the devil or some cosmic horror that takes on that aspect. there si so much that could be done with this idea… Unfortunately given the way it was done, there are also troubling questions raised by his doing so, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

The story itself centers are William Gilman a student of mathematics and, of all things, folklore at dear old Miskatonic University. Probably the only University in the world where such a odd pairing for a joint degree could be studied… As such Gilman takes an attic room in The Mason House in Arkham, a house that bears the local nickname, ‘The Witch House’ as one of its former residents was Kexith Mason, who was to be tried for witchcraft in 1692 when he mysteriously disappeared from a jail cell in Salem. His former residence developed a reputation as being haunted that persists to the present day in the way such rumors do. Rumors linked to the premature deaths of several residents over the last couple of centuries. Residents who all occupied the same attic room Gilman find himself living in. A room that he soon realizes is distinctly odd, with strange almost unearthly geometry.

It is then Gilman starts to dream, and such odd dreams they are…

In his dreams Gilman is witness to cities of elder things, strange impossible geometric shapes that communicate with him, and other oddities. He also encounters a witch called Keziah and her strange rat like familiar Brown Jenkins which while having a rodent body has a human face. But this is only the start, the dreams escalate as does the effect these dreams are having upon Gilman in the physical world. Among other things he goes deaf due to the inhuman sounds he hears in his dreams. Eventually Keziah takes him to meet ‘The Black Man’ a who makes him sign ‘The book of Azathoth’ whence he is taken to the throne of Asathoth and forced to kidnap a child for sacrifice in the dream…

And here is where the issues starts …

‘The Black Man’ is the allegory for the devil. The epitome of evil. He is also Nyarlathotep, the crawling chaos, the harbinger of Asathoth who will usher in the age of chaos and destroy human civilization. Now, in aspect, that is all well and good, but specifically throughout this story the coven hoofed devil is called ‘The Black Man’ and ‘The Black Man’ is therefore the harbinger of chaos and destruction in the form of Azathoth. Remember this was written by H P Lovecraft in 1932, the era of Jim Crow laws, Nazism coming to power in Europe, and Lovecraft’s racist views, opinions and rhetoric are well documented. The subtext whether intentionally or otherwise is obvious.

…a tall, lean man of dead black colouration but without the slightest sign of negroid features: wholly devoid of either hair or beard, and wearing as his only garment a shapeless robe of some heavy black fabric.

In fairness, Lovecraft’s description of ‘The Black Man’ states he does not have negroid features. It could be argued that this distances the character from any obvious allegory of Lovecraft’s views on what he calls elsewhere in his letters and writings ‘The negro Problem’. But that’s a thin defense when Lovecraft’s views are well established and the portrayal of ‘The Black Man’ as the Judo-Christian Satan was problematic at best even in 1932. Its difficult to read the story and put that on one side. It is in fact possibly the most obnoxious bit of racism in all of Lovecraft’s writing. In previous stories the case, no matter how loosely, could be made that racist opinions and views expressed were the views of the narrators of those stories. Here however it is clearly a view expressed by the writer himself, as here it is the subtext which is expressing the abhorrent views. Perhaps all the worse for the literary slight of hand in that description above.

The ‘Black man’ controversy and the desire of those who have drawn upon this story to distance that controversy from the story as a whole is mostly the reason why the picture above shows a devil figure bedecked with horns. It’s also why when the Lovecraft historical Society commissioned a Rock opera of the dreams of the witch house ‘The Black Man’ was somewhat overtly replaced with Satan in the story.

That album is rather good all considered, if you like operatic rock music with a entwined story. Its not up there with Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, or likely to inspire me, in part at least, to write a novel as Jeff’s album did, but what is? If you like the genre there are worse ways to enjoy the story… Such as reading Lovecraft’s original.

The complete playlist for the Lovecraft Historical Society Rock Opera ‘dreams of the Witch House’, if you like that kind of thing (I do but I am aware I may be in a minority )

Putting the controversy of ‘the Black man’ to one side, (and frankly everything about this story could have been better, or at least less horrifying for the wrong reasons, if he was described and refereed to differently throughout,) the story is a reasonable read. There is a certain obviousness about the ending, and some of the imagery early on in the dreamscape sequences is tedious, but that may be just me, I have never fully got along with Lovecraft dreamland’s fiction. Certainly there are aspects of horror that are visceral images that are horrifying in the sense you want. Brown Jenkins the man faced rat eating his way out of Gilman, for example, is particularly nasty bit of imagery in the good way. But the final ending has a predictability about it, there were other ways he could have gone with it which would have been far more interesting. But that last is perhaps a niggle of my own . Its a solid enough ending but its a solid ending to a fairly weak story.

Of all Lovecraft’s later works this is one of, if not the, weakest. Perhaps it better than I give it credit for, but I find it hard to get past the whole ‘The Black Man’ problem, particularity in light of the world as it is today and all that is going on. But even in better times I doubt I would find it easy to stomach the racist subtext. Because of that but mostly because its just not the best of stories it gets a lowly two tentacles. Read it if you feel you must, but if you want my advice, stick on the rock opera, crank the speakers up to eleven and enjoy the story in a much better way…

Further Lovecraftian witterings as ever can be found here

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The Shadow over Innsmouth / TCL #61

While many of Lovecraft’s stories were published in periodical magazines like Weird Tales in his lifetime, only one was ever published as a book, even then the whole print run was only 200 copies each priced at a dollar. It carried many typos and print errors, so many in fact that Lovecraft insisted a corrections sheet be included after the fact. Lovecraft himself was not even particularly taken with the tale in question and originally had no plans to offer it for publication at all. It was too long for most magazines, hard to split in to more reasonably sized parts as was done with ‘Call of Cthulhu‘ and ‘At The Mountains of Madness‘. When it was published in hardback Lovecraft complained about the poor quality of the typesetting and was generally disappointed by the whole enterprise. The publication was a failure and contributed to the collapse of the small publishing house. None of which did much to lighten Lovecraft’s own view of the story.

These days of course, a good quality 1st edition copy of this book, which in case you missed the obvious was, ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ will cost you anything up to $7000 now as copies are highly sought after by Lovecraft collectors.

Despite Lovecraft’s own lack of faith and general dissatisfaction with Innsmouth it is widely considered to be one of his seminal works. It also has within it some of the best action sequences of any of Lovecraft’s stories, which make it more accessible than many of his stories. there is actual pace to that action, which helps drag the reader along, something many of Old tentacle Huggers tales often lack. All the while it keeps the level of steadily building tension and slowly impending dread that you expect from Lovecraft.

The story begins simply enough, with Lovecraft’s favorite trope of a narrator retelling his tale after the fact. Robert Olmstead (the narrator) never actually names himself, his name is only known from Lovecraft’s notes on the story which were publish after his death. Olmstead is doing a tour of New England doing government genealogical research when he arrives in the small dilapidated fishing village of Innmouth which by coincidence was the birth place of one of his ancestors. He realizes fairly soon that there is something odd about the place, and more interestingly in terms of genealogy the people.

They walk with a distinctive shambling gait and have queer narrow heads with flat noses and bulgy, stary eyes.

As a government researcher Olmstead is not exactly made welcome by the insular inhabitants. But he starts to gather information all the same, and so the strange history of the town, its links to a strange religious cult  ‘The Esoteric Order of Dagon’. A cult which he is told by a clerk called Zadok practiced human sacrifices and worshiped the ‘deep ones’. As well as the local population interbreeding with the deep Ones themselves. Olmstead is understandably a tad unnerved by all this, but finds it hard to credence the fantastical tale he is told.

Side note. Dear old Dagon, it’s oddly comforting to read that name, from way back in January 2017 when I started this little challenge, the first six tentacle story and only the forth of these blog posts. On how happily naive I was back then… but I digress.

Olmstead might have brushed all this off if he had not then been marooned in the town when the bus he planned to leave on develops engine problems and he is forced to stay the night. Going back to the clerk to talk more he discovers the man has vanished, the same man who had urged him to leave town. then some time in the night, as he sleeps in a crappy hotel room, he wakes to find someone trying to break in to his room , and the action starts as unnerved he makes a break for it into the night through the hotel window.

What happens next is uncharacteristically for Lovecraft all a bit pulp action adventure as Olmstead tries to elude the strange inhabitants of Innsmouth, and an influx of deep-ones (best described as fish-men, or perhaps merlocks…) who have come for there tribute and congress.

All of which makes for a cracking read, for all Lovecraft’s dismissal of the story. It then spirals towards a conclusion, before the epilogue which goes back to Lovecraft’s more tried and tested style. As an older Olmstead becomes aware he is undergoing a transformation of s his own and his ancestral Innsmouth blood is calling him to the sea…

The Shadow Over Innsmouth is one of Lovecraft most loved tales, its also one of his most accessible, it has few of his faults (which as we know are many) and ironically the very things about the story Lovecraft felt were weaknesses by are probably its strengths. It had a little action and adventure about it as well as Lovecraft’s brooding dark horror and steady building of tension. It, along with At the Mountains of Madness, and Call of Cthulhu form a somewhat unholy trinity in some respects as the stories most recognizable by non-Lovecraft fans, they may know little about Lovecraft but these three they have heard of. It has also, like the other two, has inspired artwork, pc-games and board-games as well as countless other writers.

Including a little known science-fiction writer from the north east of England who wrote a story inspired by this particular bit of Lovecraft’s mythos called ‘The salmon swim both ways’ that was first published in the Harvey Duckman Anthologies V5, and later as part of my own anthology Cheesecake, Avarice & Boots.

Of the trinity its my least favorite, mountains and Cthulhu have something a little extra about them that this story falls just short of, I was tempted to give it only five tentacles because of this, but that was mostly because it came straight after mountains, so I thought i should give it five and a half, but then, possibly because of its deep one connections the half tentacle grew back…

Further Lovecraftian witterings as ever can be found here

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Writing in the dark

Fairy tales, those bright cheerful stories of our childhood upon which Walt Disney built an empire, once you get below the gloss tend to be on the dark side. But then, most fairy tales started out as folk tales, and fold tales have always been dark. Stories told around the fire on those long winters nights. Storytelling is a dark profession by its very nature for so much of its subject matter is darkness. What lays beyond that ring of fire light. What moves in the forest. What awaits you in the depths of inky pool.

Why do storytellers tell tales of the darkness? Well that is simple enough to understand, because the darkness is the unknown and humanity has ever been fascinated by the unknown and the unknowable. Fascinated and afraid, it makes the blood quicken, and the only thing better than explaining what lays in the darkness, is not. So storytellers back from those days around the campfires, to the first writings, to novels and movies have always dwelt a little in the darkness because they know there audience. Its the dark stories that people crave. But there are two sides to that coin….

“It was the possibility of darkness that made the day seem so bright.”
― Stephen King, Wolves of the Calla

Darkness can only exist as a concept because of light. If there is never any light, if all there is is the darkness, if there is no campfire to huddle around, then the dark is no longer the unknown, it is everything.

What i am saying here is not that endings need to be happy, or good needs to defeat evil in the end. God forbid that all stories ended happily. Sometimes the big bad wolf needs to eat little red. Sometimes the wood-cutter never comes. And sometimes even when the darkness is pushed back by the light and the hero wins out, its is just a respite, an the darkness still lurks, because the storyteller needs the darkness as much as his audience does. The darkness left hanging, the threat remains…

However, all that said,

Something very much on my mind this afternoon. I’m wondering is 2020 is paying attention…

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At The Mountains Of Madness :TCL #60

Its fair to say that of all Lovecraft’s stories Call of Cthulhu has had the greatest cultural impact in the zeitgeist, but in terms of over all impact and inspiration At The Mountains of Madness probably tips the scales. Of all of Lovecraft’s writings it impact is spread further and deeper than any. The long trek across Antarctica and back through the pre-human history of the planet has been inspiring other writers and film makers for nearly a century now. Echoes of the images and ideas within this long novella can be found in films and books like John Carpenters The Thing, Alien vs Predator, Heart of Ice, and many many more. Its a story that has gripped the imagination with its core idea of alien civilizations on earth millions of years before humanity’s rise is a beguiling one and the idea that dangerous remnants of those civilizations could still exists in far flung parts of the world, not quite dead, and far from benign…

As ever, because old tentacle hugger knows no other way, the story is slowly narrated and builds in layer upon layer, but unlike the last story, despite it’s length the story builds in stages that draw the reader in and onward. There are several stages to the novella, which is recounted by William Dyer a geologist and one of only two survivors of an ill-fated expedition to Antarctica composed of scholars from Miskatonic University. The expeditions aim was among other things to drill for rock samples, determine the age of ice sheets and other such scientific endeavours and is the largest of its kind ever sent to earths most remote continent.

Things start to get strange when an advance party led by professor Lake discover the frozen remains of various prehistoric life forms deep under the ice. Reports of these discoveries reach Dyer at base camp via radio, with Lake’s reports becoming steadily wilder as his team examine there finds, then suddenly contact is lost with the advance team, as a blizzard sets in and never re-established. Eventually Dyer and Danforth, one of his graduate students, fly to the advance camp in the hope of re-establishing contact, assuming simple equipment failure to be the cause. What they find however is a blood bath. Both men and sled dogs have been brutally murdered. Some showing signs of dissection, only one man is unaccounted for, and Dyer suspects the man has gone insane and is responsible for the murders as it seems the only logical conclusion.

What they do find is Lakes notes and the strange six sided mounds of ice from which the strange specimens were extracted, the best preserved of which have vanished. Among lakes notes they discover the advance team had found evidence structures in the mountains, where no human structures could be. Dyer and Danforth decide between them to fly on to these structures and investigate further, partly in the hope of locating the missing man, partly out of scientific curiosity. What they find there however defies reason. The remains of a lost civilisation of Elder things that existed millions of years in the past. Murals tell of the history of that civilization, its rise and decline, and of other things across a million years of history.

Then things get really bad, they realise the city is waking up, that the remains found by lake were hibernating creatures not dead as Lake assumed, and it was these creatures which destroyed lakes camp and killed his team. These elder things returned to there ancient city only to fall victim to something even worse reawakened by there presence, the shoggoth’s which had once been slave workers of the elder thing civilization but had rebelled against there masters. And of course lastly, the giant blind albino penguins which once served as domesticated cattle…

Yes, I know, the penguins…

I’ve always had a problem with the penguins, they seem somewhat frivolous against everything thing else. A strangely off key addition to what is otherwise a very dark intense story. Perhaps it’s because growing up in the late twentieth century penguins are inherently funny so its hard to take the idea of giant blind albino penguins seriously.

Aside the penguins however this tale is beautifully ominous and brooding. It steadily layers on stranger and darker ideas while the strange history of the earth before mans rise to prominence as Dyer discovers it is perfectly toned and doesn’t bog the reader down. Its a long read but a great one, and one that has seldom been matched by anyone, it is At the Mountains of Madness that really hold the mythos of Lovecraft together and I would posit the story more than any other that made Lovecraft more than just another long forgotten pulp scifi/horror writer from the age of pulp magazine.

Also unlike other Lovecraft stories there are few if any troubling aspects to this one in terms of the unpalatable aspects of Lovecraft’s fiction (its not the star spawn horrors that horrify, and make uncomfortable, modern readers of Lovecraft as much as his politics, racism and sexism). Perhaps simply because this story doesn’t have the problematic aspects of some of his other fiction this is more enjoyable to read and remains popular, and on occasion inspiring to other writers. This is Lovecraft you can enjoy without been remined what a shit the writer was.

That’s probably also why more than one filmmaker has tried to get a movie of this novella off the ground, the most notable and recent attempt being by Guillermo Del Toro which sadly failed to get off the ground, though he has been trying to get the project funded for over a decade. Del Toro is one of my favourite filmmakers, particularly when he has been allowed to make his vison and not tied by a studio so I hope one day he will. Until that hopefully happens there are other short film version of the story, some noticeably closer to the original than other, among the best of these (to use the word loosely) is a low budget student project film by Matt Jarjosa made as his final student project in 2017. All things consider its a fine effort on a budget not so much shoe string as sandal toe loop… I stumbled across it last year, its only has a few hundred views and deserves some wider recognition despite its obvious limitations, its a shadow of what Del Toro would could have achieved with a Hollywood budget of course, but its wonderful all the same. So give it a watch and enjoy the shoggoth…

At The Mountains of Madness is Lovecraft’s tour de force. It has much to unpack not least an entire pre-history mythology for the earth on which much of mythos of the wider Lovecraft universe is built. It’s a story that writers, artists and game makers keep going back to, a deep well of strange weird brilliance.

As for tentacles, well it has them in abundance but gets six from me, and always will because this is Lovecraft at his best without any of the problems he normally brings along with reading him.

Further Lovecraftian witterings as ever can be found here

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The Whisperer In Darkness: TCL #59

Its been a while since I wrote about Lovecraft, my original plan to read and blog every Lovercraft story in a year is somewhat behind schedule as I started it way back in January 2017. But there are still plenty of Lovecraft story’s to cover, and some of the most famous among them. But before we make our way to the mountains of madness, Innsmouth, the witch house and other delights we need to tackle ‘The Whisper In Darkness’.

See the source image

As an early unexpected spring warm snap creates a flood of meltwater from the Vermont mountains local newspapers report strange things seen floating in bulging rivers, Albert N. Wilmarth, an instructor of literature at Miskatonic University becomes embroiled in a controversy regarding the reality and significance of the sightings. The academic at first sides with the sceptic’s, blaming hysteria fed by old Vermont legends about monsters living in uninhabited hills. But when he receives a letter from the ponderously named Henry Wentworth Akeley who lives in an isolated farmhouse claiming to have proof of the creatures’ existence, Wilmarth sets off to the backwaters of Vermont to investigate.

As set ups go, this is a familiar one, sceptic academic, remote countryside, ponderous names, a truth to be revealed… This is Lovecraft 101 in many ways and draws a lot on the similar set up of The Dunwich Horror, its also longer than Dunwich (which was ponderously long for a short story), indeed its a true novella at 26000 words, which should be no surprise as at the time Lovecraft was writing a lot of his longer fictions. Much like Dunwich however this suffers from Lovecraft’s somewhat laborious style by this point in his writing career. Its a story that ten years before he would have written in full but half its length. It feels slow and is somewhat methodical, but that is trademark Lovecraft horror, a slow relentless build up of incremental plateau’s of tension and looming madness… The trouble is that while this technique works so well in his short fiction struggles to hold the interest of the reader in longer works.

This is actually the reason it has taken me seven months to get back to this project, because every time I have picked up my bumper books of tentacle hugging goodness to read this story I’ve lasted about a third of its length then decided to go read something else. It’s not that I have a problem with Lovecraft’s style as such, I just don’t have a patience for this story. Unlike most of his longer fiction , Mountains of madness, call of Cthulhu etc. the story is not cut down into acts that make it palatable to the reader. All of which is a shame, as there is a lot in this story which is good.

Lovecraft more or less invented yet another scifi/horror trope with the brain a jar which is ultimately revealed. There is also a lot of links to the wider mythos too, as well as Lovecraft’s own brand of fanboyness in this passage.

I found myself faced by names and terms that I had heard elsewhere in the most hideous of connections—Yuggoth, Great Cthulhu, Tsathoggua, Yog-Sothoth, R’lyeh, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, Hastur, Yian, Leng, the Lake of Hali, Bethmoora, the Yellow Sign, L’mur-Kathulos, Bran, and the Magnum Innominandum…

While you will recognise the mythos refers in that passage, there are also refences to the writings of Lord Dunsany and Robert E Howard in that list. As for Magnum Innominandum its a carefully crafted joke as in Latin it means ‘the great not-to-be-named’, admittedly as jokes go its dry to the point of arid, but its a joke none the less.

The are also some of Lovecraft’s most creative otherworldly horror here with plutonian fungi and strange alien technologies. But its all wrapped up in such a trawl that its hard to enjoy it, which is probably why I didn’t and never have. Even the ending has a predictable reveal that the reader can see coming a mile away, if they manage to read all the way to the end. Which I did, finally, about a month ago, yet it still took me a month to get around to talking about it.

All that said, plenty of people believe this is a good story, not one of his best but far from his worst. In fairness I agree to an extent, but mainly because his worst is bloody terrible as a rule. This isn’t terrible, its just not very interesting despite having all the elements it needs to be a great story. Had it been tightened up and been shorter it could have been so much better, but perhaps that’s just me.

If you want to read the complete works, you need to read this one, if you want to read just the important mythos stories, then you should probably also read this one, but if you want to be entertained, I’d give it a miss. but on the bright side At The Mountains Of Madness is next, as without giving away any spoilers, its easily the best of all Lovecraft’s long fiction… But for this a mere three somewhat begrudging tentacles is all the whisper gets.

Further Lovecraftian witterings as ever can be found here

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Harvey the website

I have, you may of noticed, been extolling the virtues of Harvey Duckman for a couple of years now. I will admit some personal interest as I have stories in every edition. But if that’s not enough to tempt you, each volume has at least fourteen other writers as well as me, and somewhere in the region of sixty authors have written for the series so far. From established names in the indie writing scene to entirely new voices who have first had works published within the pages of the series. More than one of whom has gone on to publish novels and other works beyond Harvey.

Harvey is one of the most fun, entertaining and rewarding things I have ever been a apart of. Which is why I put so much effort into talking about it here. (did you notice the ten post series for the latest Harvey offering that I have just finished? You didn’t, well go back and read them now… )

The Harvey team are always on the look out not just for readers but for new writers too, and they have just released a new website where you can read about Harvey editions, Harvey’s growing stable of writers, and even join the stable yourself by submitting a story and joining me and the rest of the Harvey writers, all of whom are talent individuals.

The website is new, and expanding, soon to include a wiki for every writer and every work featured in the books. So take a look, bookmark it , and go back again every now and again.

To pop in go to

If however you haven’t read a Harvey yet. Why? You don’t know what your missing… Go take a look, and don’t worry if this seems like a lot, you can read them in any order. So Come, Welcome to our worlds…

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Pirates of Harvey 10

Avast M’hearties Pirate Day be a’coming. So batten down y’hatches. Splice the main sails. Steer with the wind, and damn y’eyes, for that callow cove Captain Duckman will keel haul the lot of y’ if y’nay pay him some mind…

International Talk Like A Pirate Day is on the horizon, and with it comes the release of Harvey Duckman Presents, The Pirate Special.

Just like the main series of Harvey Duckman Anthologies this is a collection of fifteenth exciting new writers and established independent authors of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, horror and Steampunk. To celebrate this I’m running a feature for the new few weeks on the authors and stories featured in this edition, cause Captain Duckman made me and there was mention of rum…

Mostly because of the rum…

Few people in the world would happily say they are a Muppet. Certainly in the vernacular of modern Britian and one assumes elsewhere, calling someone ‘a Muppet’ is a soft insult implying they are somewhat foolish. R.Bruce Connelly, on the other hand, is a Muppet, professionally. Which is to say he is the actor behind the mask, or full length Muppet costume. He is also a writer of somewhat chilling fiction, a regular contributor to the Harvey stable, and an all-round nice guy.

He has had four stories in his ‘Bike Cycle’ series published in Harvey Duckman Present… Volumes 1-4, plus a short story in Harvey’s Christmas Special, 2019, and a fantasy story in Harvey Duckman Presents… Vol. 5.

Of his story in the HD pirates special he says:

“This story was inspired by a substitute teacher I had in elementary school. Some nights I still awaken in a cold sweat thinking she’s in the room, although she never is. Just the Dawes 5 speed, and who would be scared of that? I have included three shout-outs to Sir James Barrie, who first brought the world of piracy to my knowledge. Two are obvious. The third refers to one of the funniest incidents in children’s literature. Let me know if you find it!”

We will Bruce, we will

Another of the stable of repeat offenders (by which I mean Harvey authors who appear in most editions) is Peter James Martin. Creator of Brennan and Riz, a pair of supernatural folklore investigators/troubleshooters, one of which isn’t a rat… Actually I’m far from sure the rat is really a rat either but that’s by the by. A Harvey Duckman anthology without a Brennan and Riz story would be a strange animal.

Peter James Martin is an author who knows a thing or two about talking rats, namely that they’d make terrible pets. Nestled in the North East of England, on the banks of the River Tees, he lives with his family and two Shih Tzus.

In this edition the pair encounter The Flying Dutchman, things do not go will for Brennan…

If you want more Brennan and Riz? Then you can follow them on Twitter at @Brennan_and_Riz where Peter posts mini adventures of the duo through the #vss365 tag. While his blog features short stories and folklore galore over at his

The Strange Tales of Brennan and Riz is available in paperback and in E-book, there is also a review of the first book I did a couple of years ago here, a new novel is due early next year.

And finally… having spoken of the flying Dutchman , by strange coincidence our last writer in this edition is a Dutchman, and if you think that seems a bit contrived on my part, the Dutchman in question is Nils Nisse Visser who is a descendant of Piet Visser who wrote the original Dutch telling of the tale of the Flying Dutchman a fact he discovered while researching the original story for a updated steampunk version of the tale set on an airship… Neither Peter, nor the editors were aware of this connection… And unless they read this they will remain so, I however am amused…

I have a little culpability here, as I have been badgering Nils to write a story for Harvey for over a year now. This is because Nils is one of the best authors I have discovered over the last couple of year, and coincidentally one of my favorite humans as well. I’ve reviewed several of his novellas in the past couple of years, though in all honesty I have merely scratched the surface, I’ve put links in the extensive list below for the books I have read and reviewed. But for the moment I’ll let Nils speak for himself through the medium of his HD bio.

Told once too often that he spends too much time in his imagination, Nils Nisse Visser finally got the hint and moved there on a permanent basis, having located it in Brighton, Sussex. His wisdom in life choices is best demonstrated by deciding to move to the UK just in time for the Brexit referendum, so the future is as uncertain as could be. He’s embarked on a rather insane quest to retell old Sussex folklore (and some Dutch sealore) within several different genres. Entering his fifties, Visser hopes to become a pirate if/when he grows up.


Will’s War in Brighton

Will’s War in Exile


On Brighton Streets – co-authored with Cair Going 

Contemporary Fantasy

Escape from Neverland

Dance into the Wyrd

Historical Fantasy 

Draka Raid

Forgotten Road

Smugglepunk (Steampunk)

Amster Damned

Rottingdean Rhyme

Them That Ask No Questions

Sanctuary Asylum Festival introduction to Smugglepunk:

The Harvey Pirates Special comes out on International Talk Like A Pirate Day on the 19th of September and will be available in paperback and on kindle, the kindle version is available for pre-order now… So get it or I’ll make yer walk the plank…

And with that my days of piracy are done… normal blog service of weird and wonderful stuff ( and me wittering on a bit) will resume shortly.

Posted in amreading, amwriting, book reviews, books, Harvey Duckman, indie, indie novels, indie writers, indiewriter, pirateday, pirates, reads, sci-fi, steampunk, writes, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pirates of Harvey 9

Avast M’hearties Pirate Day be a’coming. So batten down y’hatches. Splice the main sails. Steer with the wind, and damn y’eyes, for that callow cove Captain Duckman will keel haul the lot of y’ if y’nay pay him some mind…

International Talk Like A Pirate Day is on the horizon, and with it comes the release of Harvey Duckman Presents, The Pirate Special.

Just like the main series of Harvey Duckman Anthologies this is a collection of fifteenth exciting new writers and established independent authors of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, horror and Steampunk. To celebrate this I’m running a feature for the new few weeks on the authors and stories featured in this edition, cause Captain Duckman made me and there was mention of rum…

Mostly because of the rum…

Joseph Carrabis first came to my attention in the third Harvey Duckman volume with one of the oddest and in many ways most beautiful short stories I’d read in an age. In this regard he represents all that is great about been involved in the Harvey Duckman Anthologies for me, because they give the reader (and the writers for that matter,) a chance to discover new authors they would never otherwise have come across. He is not alone in capturing my interest, he is one of several authors that I have been lucky enough to discover through Harvey and while not every Harvey author may have become my favorite, every one of them has becomes someones I suspect. Joseph in this regard, is one of mine, (but don’t tell him that…) mainly because I never know what to expect from one of his stories.

His bio in Harvey reads…

Joseph Carrabis’s short fiction has been recommended for the Nebula (Cymodoce, May ‘95 Tomorrow Magazine) and nominated for the Pushcart (The Weight, Nov ‘95 The Granite Review). His work has recently appeared in Across the Margin, The New Accelerator, parAbnormal, serialized in The Piker Press, HDP, and podcasted on Chronosphere Science Fiction. His first indie novel, The Augmented Man, is getting 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes&Noble, and others. His two self-pubbed books, Empty Sky and Tales Told ’Round Celestial Campfires, are getting 5 star reviews (and he has more books in the works). Joseph holds patents covering mathematics, anthropology, neuroscience, and linguistics. When not writing, he spends time loving his wife, playing with his dog and cat, flying kites bigger than most cars, cooking for friends and family, playing and listening to music, and studying anything and everything he believes will help his writing.

I reviewed one of Joseph novels ‘The Augmented Man’ back in June the review can be found here.

He has also written ‘Empty Sky’ , and ‘Tales Told ‘Round Celestial Campfires’ which I need to read at some point.

Find out more at his blog and on social media:

The Harvey Pirates Special comes out on International Talk Like A Pirate Day on the 19th of September and will be available in paperback and on kindle, the kindle version is available for pre-order now… So get it or I’ll make yer walk the plank…

Posted in amreading, blogging, book reviews, books, fantasy, fiction, goodreads, Harvey Duckman, indie, indie novels, indie writers, indiewriter, novels, pirateday, pirates, reads, sci-fi, writes, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pirates of Harvey 8

Avast M’hearties Pirate Day be a’coming. So batten down y’hatches. Splice the main sails. Steer with the wind, and damn y’eyes, for that callow cove Captain Duckman will keel haul the lot of y’ if y’nay pay him some mind…

International Talk Like A Pirate Day is on the horizon, and with it comes the release of Harvey Duckman Presents, The Pirate Special.

Just like the main series of Harvey Duckman Anthologies this is a collection of fifteenth exciting new writers and established independent authors of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, horror and Steampunk. To celebrate this I’m running a feature for the new few weeks on the authors and stories featured in this edition, cause Captain Duckman made me and there was mention of rum…

Mostly because of the rum…

Elizabeth Tuckwell ( and I use her Sunday name because I have enormous respect for her writing, which has produced some of my favorite Harvey stories) is a British writer of quirky science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories. She currently lives in London, and shares her house with a husband and too many books. (At no point has she ever explained what ‘too many books’ means, as someone living in a library with a house in the middle myself, I’m not sure such a thing is possible, but maybe that’s just me…)

Liz enjoys reading and writing, and cramming as many holidays as she can into a year. She’s a member of the Clockhouse London Writers group. Aside harvey Liz has had stories published in other anthologies such as MCSI: Magical Crime Scene Investigations and the Short! Sharp! Shocks! series, and on the 101fiction and Speculative66 microfiction websites.

Indeed for Liz who manages to produce great works of fiction you can fit in a tweet at times, the short stories in Harvey are almost long form… Which perhaps explains how she managed to make them seem so perfectly crafted.

Christine King, according to her Harvey bio, has always loved telling stories and writing for as long as she can remember, from bedtime stories for her young siblings to fantasy-filled short stories as a hormonal teenager. Growing up, she had a couple of short stories published in a teen magazine of the 1970s called Fab 208 and has a few rejection slips from Jackie which she held on to for years. In 2013 she won a national writing competition with her first novel, The Blade and The Dove, and has gone on to have two more books published, with two more presently underway. She finds her inspiration mainly from walking the hills and coastline of the beautiful North East of England.

Regular readers of these pages may remember I recently reviewed Smugglers Moon one of Christine’s novels, which was a great read and encouraged me to get copies of her earlier novels The Blade and the Dove, Echoes of the Stones despite not generally been a reader of romance fiction.

But as well as romance fiction she writes a little horror as well and it is in this vain that she has had stories in previous Harvey volumes. If there is a link between regency romances and horror fiction (other than pride and prejudiced & zombies) Christine is one day going to find it.

Find out more on Amazon

The Harvey Pirates Special comes out on International Talk Like A Pirate Day on the 19th of September and will be available in paperback and on kindle, the kindle version is available for pre-order now… So get it or I’ll make yer walk the plank…

Posted in amreading, amwriting, book reviews, books, booksale, fantasy, fiction, goodreads, Harvey Duckman, horror, indie, indie novels, indie writers, novels, pirateday, pirates, reads, sci-fi, steampunk, writes, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment