Nyarlathotep: The Complete Lovecraftian#24

Nyarlathotep . . . the crawling chaos . . . I am the last . . . I will tell the audient void. . . 

Of all the pantheonic creatures of mythos created by Lovecraft, Nyarlathotep is perhaps second only to old tentacle face himself in its impact upon popular culture. I say ‘it’ because Nyarlathotep is an ‘it’, not a ‘he’. Yet it is also the only old god that appears in human form, though that is but one of its forms, and indeed in other tales, Lovecraft went on to write, Nyarlathotep is referred to or appears in a myriad of ways. From the ‘tall, swarthy man’ who resembles an ancient Pharaoh of Egypt several times. But also appears as, ‘the black man‘ in ‘The Dreams of the Witch House‘, ‘A bat-winged tentacled monster’ in ‘The Haunter of the Dark’ and is mentioned in passing in other tales. My favourite description of him is from ‘The Rats in the Walls‘ where he is mentioned almost in passing as the ‘faceless god in the caverns of Earth’s centre‘. Which in part is what makes him so attractive as an antagonist in both Lovecraft own work and beyond. Nyarlathotep walks among us, where as the rest of the Outer gods are both utterly alien, exiled to the stars or sleeping fitfully beneath the waves in the case of Cthulhu.

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Nyarlathotep walks among us, sowing seeds of disorder, a crawling chaos indeed. A creature of a thousand faces and none. Servent of Azathoth, the messenger of the outer gods, a bringer of madness for madness sake. An Outer, who can appear human and interact on a human level in ways that Yog Saraoth, Hastur, Cthulhu and all the rest can never do. Little wonder he has so much appeal to other writers, not to mention computer game designers, role playing gamers, musicans, film makers and much more besides. The impact of Nyarlathotep on popular culture is extensive by any measure. Which is a little strange for a creation that began back in 1920, as the centre of a short piece of prose published in ‘The United Amateur’ in November that year. Though Lovecraft himself went back to Nyarlathotep more than once over the years to come.

With Nyarlathotep having such a huge impact, and tendrils reaching so very far through the Zeitgeist of popular, and importantly geek, culture, it is perhaps a little odd that I must admit until I reach ‘Nyarlathotep‘ in this blog series I had never read the original story. I have previously read most of the other Lovecraft tales in which he makes an appearance. I have also come across him in so many other ways over the years, from Call of Cthulu games, to novels and in pixels all over the place. But never in this first and original form. Which I will admit lent a certain degree of anticipation to reading the tale which has been on the ‘coming soon’ list of the Lovecraftian more or less since I started the blog series, gradually moving down the list as I got closer to it with a strange sinisterness about it. ‘Nyarlathotep‘ has been coming since day one.  What is the saying about ‘never meet your heroes…‘? Would it apply here? Never meet your ‘faceless god in the caverns of the Earth’s centre’?  You’re just asking to be disapointed after all…

So then, what is ‘Nyarlathotep‘ about when it comes down to it? The tale itself, rather than everything that came after it. Did it indeed disappoint? The answer to the latter question is no. The answer to the former… that is more a matter of interpretation. For what it is worth what follows is mine, but it could be read in any number of ways… But my own view stems from this particular passage, early in the prose.

A sense of monstrous guilt was upon the land, and out of the abysses between the stars swept chill currents that made men shiver in dark and lonely places. There was a daemonic alteration in the sequence of the seasons—the autumn heat lingered fearsomely, and everyone felt that the world and perhaps the universe had passed from the control of known gods or forces to that of gods or forces which were unknown.

It is a tale of the end of times, or the end of one age and the beginning of another. A time, to steal a little from elsewhere in Lovecraft’s writings, when ‘The Stars are Right‘ or on the cusp of becoming so, and madness rules. The world of logic and science has had its veils of sanity stripped away and magic of the old, dark, sinister kind is seeping into the world once more, and its harbinger is Nyarlathotep, emerging from old Egypt and walking among us. Everywhere he goes he leaves madness behind. Opening the eyes of humanity to the cosmos it can not even begin to comprehend.

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There is a lurid quality to the tale. In many ways, this is Lovecraft at his most descriptive. Where in other tales he hints, in this, he uses that description as a blunt instrument on the senses of the reader. Yet it is a blunt instrument used with enviable precision.

 A sickened, sensitive shadow writhing in hands that are not hands, and whirled blindly past ghastly midnights of rotting creation, corpses of dead worlds with sores that were cities, charnel winds that brush the pallid stars and make them flicker low. Beyond the worlds vague ghosts of monstrous things; half-seen columns of unsanctified temples that rest on nameless rocks beneath space and reach up to dizzy vacua above the spheres of light and darkness.

This is a masterpiece in creative writing. If you ever wish to know how to get under the skin of a reader, to raise a heartbeat and constantly build to your conclusion, this is the tale to study.   It builds with a slow progression through only 1149 words from beginning to end, but relentlessly as it does so. Like a piece of music progressing towards a crescendo in the final passages.

maddening beating of drums, and thin, monotonous whine of blasphemous flutes from inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond Time; the detestable pounding and piping whereunto dance slowly, awkwardly, and absurdly the gigantic, tenebrous ultimate gods—the blind, voiceless, mindless gargoyles whose soul is Nyarlathotep.

There is something of terror in this tale. Something of horror, and something primal about it. A fireside tale told by the damned. If you let it seep into you and go with the rhythm of it. Which is why I sought out a public domain audio recording of the tale because it’s a tale to be told, as much as to be read.

Listen to it, if you have the time, but if you listen, really listen and imagine you are sat around a campfire in the ruins of the old times… and I defy you not to feel the chill of the east wind, and perhaps to fear those six tentacles that are creeping towards you through the darkness….

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As ever Further Lovecraftian witterings 

 

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The Difficult Chapters…

Every reader has encountered these at some point, more than once I would suspect in most cases. Those chapters that just drag at a readers eyes.  The ones that cause you to put down a book, or more likely not pick it up for a while. The one you get to late at night, and after the first page or so decide to close the book and get some sleep instead, only to find it lurking on the bedside table the next night doing everything it can to drain any enthusiasm you have for opening the book up once more…  I read a lot at night, as I have mentioned before, but the same can apply no matter what your reading habits…

Sometimes, in certain books, it is a POV character that you just don’t enjoy the way you do the others. To give an example from my own experience, the Sansa Stark chapters in the ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ novels (Game of Thrones for those more familiar with the TV series than the books.) With no disrespect to the character on the TV show and the actress who plays her, I hate Sansa. It has little to do with the portrayal on the TV show, and all to do with her POV chapters in the books, and I do mean hate. In book one she is a spoilt brat with no concept of the world not revolving around her.

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“But you can’t take me back to Winterfell. I am going to marry Joffrey and become Queen and we love each other…”      

She rants at her father, despite everything that is going on in ‘A Game of Thrones‘ and generally brats around for all six of her chapters. By book two, considering how the first book ended and the position she is now in you would think she would elicit some sympathy. Yet somehow she manages to come across as a whimpering brat, for eight chapters, still self-absorbed yet to a whole new degree…  Which holds true for seven chapters in book three ‘A Storm of Swords’ until she becomes a bitchy brat, even in book four ‘A Feast of Crows’ she only has three chapters, interesting chapters that reveal a great deal about the underlying plot of the whole series, yet she remains a chore to read. It’s an utter relief she is not in the fifth novel at all. It’s safe to say I hate Sansa’s chapters, I started to dread them coming up even before she got to Kingslanding in the first novel. She is a Westeros mean girl, I don’t want, and indeed find it impossible to, sympathise with her, and that feeling has never shifted. Indeed that dislike bleeds over into the TV show when I watch it, despite the character being much different on screen. Or at least, not subjecting the audience to her inner monologues… I am not alone in this as other people have expressed similar opinions on the character in the novels to me. Yet I am sure there are plenty of fans of the books who look forward to her chapters yet dislike some other POV character to the same degree.

It is safe then to say, that I find Sansa Stark chapters difficult to read, because I really don’t want to read them, I would much rather be reading Arya…

It is not always characters, there are similar issues with other novels. Take good old grandfather Tolkien’s epic, a great many people have read ‘Lord of the Rings’ once, a fair few have read it more than once, but I am sure I am not the only one who has never read the whole of it a second time. I get as far as ‘trudging through Mordor…’ and skip forward a hundred pages. Nothing and no one could entice me to force myself through a hundred pages of miserable, hungry, trudging, hobbits do a travelogue of Mordor a second time.

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While these are major examples that stick out, they are far from alone. Jaw, for example, is a great novel, a fun read that keeps the story moving and is more terrifying in place than the movie could have ever hoped to be. But that’s only parts 1 and 3. Part 2, which was completely ignored in the movie thankfully, is a 150-page affair between the Chief Brodies wife Ellen and the oceanologist Hooper, which has no impact on the main plot and reads like a Jackie Collins novel. Not that there is anything wrong with Jackie Collins, but what is one of her novels doing sandwiched between the first and third parts of a shark based thriller? If you want to read Jackie Collins, you buy a Jackie Collins, no a sub-genre horror.  The affair has a minor impact on the ending (which differs from the movie version) but otherwise if just sub-erotica fluffy added to spice up a summer beach read, and as sub-erotic fluffy goes, it’s not very good. I suspect the publishers made Peter Benchley add it to spice up a novel they were not sure had a market at the time, which I also suspect is why he wrote the affair out of the movie version which he co-wrote a couple of years after the book became a best seller.

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Jaws is a great read btw, just skip part 2 is my advice…

The point of this post is that there are always going to be those difficult chapters. (actually, that was not the intended point of this post, it just ended up this way) As a reader, they tend to stop me from finishing a book for a while. I put the book on one side and get some sleep rather than read Sansa’s latest folly, or trek through Mordor, or discover just why Chief Brodie’s wife fancies a bit of fun on the side, and just how the wierd little oceanologist gets her to her third orgasm of the afternoon. They are different for every reader I have no doubt. Some LOTR reader somewhere looks forward to the Mordor bits I am sure. Clearly, they are one Hobbit short of a fellowship but what are you going to do.

As a writer, I believe its part of the job to try and avoid ever writing those diffiicult chapters that people just want to skip over. Unlike skipping Mordor the second time around, skipping Sansa risks missing something important plot wise. Part 2 of Jaws may have some important bits in it too, though it has been a few years since I read it so I will stick with my assertion it doesn’t.

Of course just because I try and avoid writing chapters (or blog posts come to that) which people just want to skip over, I am sure I am just as inept as doing so as any other writer, which is where the actual original point of this post lay. I have been struggling with the working edit of  ‘A spider in the Eye/Hannibal Smyth ‘ because I have hit a chapter that feels like a ‘difficult’ chapter to me as I work on it. Or more to the point continues to be after several reworkings of it. I love all that comes before, and all that comes after, but this chapter still sits wrong with me, and has done for several weeks now.

This is not writer’s block, as I am working on other thinsg perfectly fine, this is more writers swamp. it keeps sucking me in and trying to drown me in my own morass. Every writer I ever speak to has hit a few of these in their time. the chapter that just doesn’t feel right… Yet here is the thing, the thing I am telling myself rightly or wrongly. Some people like Mordor, some people like Sansa Stark, some people I have no doubt like Ellen Brodies middle-life crisis affair and worrying if the black lace bra and pantie set makes her look like mutton dress as lamb…  All readers are different, occasionally you can worry about the feel of that one difficult chapter too much. Sometimes the best way to get past a difficult chapter is to just write it and move on…

Of course, I shall utterly ignore my own advice and continue to pontificate on the feel of 3 pages of a chapter in the middle of my novel, and polish them until I am happy with them even if I am still working on these few pages for another month or three. because when it comes down to it that’s what I do…

And for some reader, the chapter before that I think is perfect will be the ‘difficult’ one I have no doubt…

Anyway back to editing a thousand words that are driving me round the twist

Adios

Mark

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From Beyond: The Complete Lovecraftian#23

You don’t have to read much of ‘From Beyond’ to know you’re in the middle of Lovecraft country. If ever a passage screamed Lovecraft it is this one from the first page of the story…

What do we know,” he had said, “of the world and the universe about us? Our means of receiving impressions are absurdly few, and our notions of surrounding objects infinitely narrow. We see things only as we are constructed to see them, and can gain no idea of their absolute nature. With five feeble senses, we pretend to comprehend the boundlessly complex cosmos,…

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From Beyond is one of those strange little stories which Lovecraft wrote early in his career, that didn’t get published until he had reached the apex of his fame in the later years when he’d reached an audience beyond the amateur press. While he never quite managed to earn a good living from his stories, he had at least gained a following that was consuming his work. Little wonder then that his back catalogue of dusty manuscripts began to find their way to the printed page. Works passed over when he was a complete unknown, he now had a market for, all be it fourteen years after ‘From Beyond’ was written. It does, however, beg the question… Given it was not good enough to publish in the amateur press in 1920, is it really worth reading now? Every writer, and I speak from experience, has the odd dusty manuscript kicking about that should never see the light of day. With this in mind, my expectations were not high

Thankfully ‘From Beyond‘ is better than my expectations allowed, though not as much as I would have liked. It is also one that perhaps benefits more than other from the passage of time. The frontiers of 21st-century physics add a certain credence to words of the bard of Providence. We’re told now that the universe consists of over 80% dark matter. Of which we know next to nothing, beyond a reasonable bit of formulation that predicts its existence. Which is to say, there is far more stuff out there than we can actually observe…

Which is not to claim that Lovecraft predicted Dark Matter all the way back in 1920 as he tapped away with incessant loathing at his typewriter. (I don’t know why I always think of Lovecraft typing away with incessant loathing, it’s just always the image that comes to mind. That of a self-hating flagellant whom fingers bleed a little with each vowelless name he types with hateful resentment… but moving on.)  In fairness had Lovecraft predicted dark matter it would doubtless have been a far darker matter than the somewhat benign stuff physicist imagine. It is, however, moving beyond our mere human perceptions which this tale goes on to explore. As the narrators ‘friend’ the some what oddly named Crawford Tillinghast explains…

We shall see that at which dogs howl in the dark, and that at which cats prick up their ears after midnight. We shall see these things, and other things which no breathing creature has yet seen. We shall overleap time, space, and dimensions, and without bodily motion peer to the bottom of creation.’

Of course, this is Lovecraft, and once anyone starts talking about ‘seeing these things‘ things predictably go down hill from there. Indeed there is a wonderfully grotesque description of Crawford Tillinghast at the start of the tale, which suggests quite strongly things have been going down hill in the sanity department among other for him for quite a while. Which does make you wonder why the narrator was so keen to follow him up to his attic to see the strange machine that Tillinghast had spent the last few months perfecting… But then what else would the narrator of a Lovecraft story do when faced with a dark staircase, a decaying friend with sanity issues and a strange machine that allows you to see ‘beyond our mortal senses‘. Which is exactly what the machine does, and then some. Strange worlds open up around the narrator, strange world with strange things lurking all around us, just beyond our meagre senses…

Okay, from the off, this is predictable territory for Lovecraft readers. The servants are all dead, a mad scientist, the cosmos unbound by mortal constraints and a narrator who has clearly never read any Lovecraft…

As I said earlier the story was better than my expectations of a forgotten early manuscript but all the same it is not hard to see why the tale took fourteen years to be published. It opens up no fresh ground, instead, it treads a well-worn pathway, one walked better by ‘Beyond the Walls of Sleep’ to think of the most obvious example. Indeed when compared to other Lovecraft tales of a similar nature it has a certain weakness, while they follow a similar path, they have more gravel to them, if you will. In comparison, this tale is just too straight forward, it moves from beginning to end with nothing to make it stand out from its fellows. It isn’t badly written, it just isn’t really anything new, a rehash of better, more mature tales. Which is not to say it does not have merit, just that it lacks something. It just is… yet it could have been so much more. The premise left open so many possibilities then ignored them all and kept down the well-trodden path. If you have never read Lovecraft this is probably a far more interesting tale, but there is the crux when it comes down to it. I have read Lovecraft, and this tale screams Lovecraft, but that’s all it does.

Perhaps this is best described as Lovecraft-lite. As such, I’ll give it 3 out of 6, because it’s not all that bad to be fair to it, it’s just not ‘Beyond the Walls of Sleep‘ or half a dozen other Lovecraft stories that follow this path in oh so much more interesting ways…

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As I often make use of it for this blog series, and as it has this story in full upon it a shout out to the Lovecraft archive, and a link to the story should you wish to read it yourself, which you should, just with reigned in expectations…

http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/fb.aspx

and as ever Further Lovecraftian witterings 

 

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The ‘ends’ of Doctor Who?

Just to be clear I borrow most of this. it does however exactly express my own view…

23/11/1963 – Doctor Who begins. Doctor Who dies.
21/12/1963 – Silly robot monsters introduced into informative historical series. Doctor Who dies.
26/12/1964 – Susan, the very person who introduced us to the Doctor, leaves. Doctor Who dies.
22/05/1965 – The terrifying Daleks are depicted as bumbling idiots. Doctor Who dies.
26/06/1965 – Ian and Barbara, the very people who introduced us to the Doctor, leave. Doctor Who dies.
09/10/1965 – The fans are insulted by an episode without the Doctor. Doctor Who dies.
25/06/1966 – A villain refers to the Doctor as Doctor Who. Doctor Who dies.
22/10/1966 – William Hartnell leaves. Doctor Who dies.
01/07/1967 – The final destruction of the Daleks. Doctor Who dies.
24/04/1968 – The series runs out of ideas and uses two monsters twice in the same series. Doctor Who dies.
21/06/1969 – The mystery of the Doctor’s people is ruined. Doctor Who dies.
03/01/1970 – The whole point of the show is jettisoned as the Doctor begins his exile on Earth. Doctor Who dies.
24/06/1972 – The first major retcon is made, as the fate of Atlantis changes just one year after it was established. Doctor Who dies.
30/12/1972 – The first two Doctors are sent to help out their third self in a crisis which threatens Gallifrey itself. While it’s nice to see them again, it tears open the massive plothole of why the Time Lords didn’t abduct and sentence the Doctor to exile far sooner than they did if they knew where he was as early as his first incarnation. Doctor Who dies.
23/06/1973 – Jo leaves, breaking the irreplaceable magic between companion and Doctor. Doctor Who dies.
28/12/1974 – The new Doctor is a goggle-eyed nutjob. Doctor Who dies.
12/04/1975 – Dalek history is retconned for the first time. Unfortunately it won’t be the last. Doctor Who dies.
19/04/1975 – The Cybermen go all rubbish. Doctor Who dies.
23/04/1975 – Billy Hartnell, the first actor to play the Doctor, dies. Doctor Who dies.
23/10/1976 – Sarah-Jane leaves, breaking the irreplaceable magic between companion and Doctor. Doctor Who dies.
30/10/1976 – The Time Lords are depicted as doddery old men. Doctor Who dies.
22/10/1977 – A gimmicky robot dog joins the TARDIS crew. Doctor Who dies.
11/03/1978 – Leela leaves, breaking the irreplaceable magic between companion and Doctor. Doctor Who dies.
15/11/1980 – A whiny boy joins the TARDIS crew. Doctor Who dies.
24/01/1981 – Romana and K-9 leave, breaking the irreplaceable magic between companions and Doctor. Doctor Who dies.
21/03/1981 – The best Doctor ever is replaced by a vet. Doctor Who dies.
04/01/1982 – The Saturday tea-time slot is abandoned. Doctor Who dies.
02/03/1982 – The producers forget to put aliens in a story. Doctor Who dies.
16/03/1982 – The Doctor fails to save a much-loved companion. Doctor Who dies.
01/02/1983 – UNIT continuity gets fucked. Doctor Who dies.
22/02/1983 – The creation of the universe is revealed to have occurred from a spaceship discharging its fuel. Doctor Who dies.
25/11/1983 – The First Doctor is re-cast and Tom Baker doesn’t turn up. Oh, and the Second Doctor’s timeline gets even more fucked up as he refers to Jamie and Zoe’s mindwipe despite having supposedly being killed almost immediately after this occurred. Doctor Who dies.
12/01/1984 – Episode 3 of the universally panned Warriors of the Deep airs, depicting scenes of someone attempting to kung fu fight a laughable-looking monster costume, which was hurriedly glued together because Margaret Thatcher had called a general election and cost the production team a lot of valuable time and resources. Peter Davison and Janet Fielding announce that they are leaving during filming of this serial. Doctor Who dies.
23/02/1984 – A new companion is brought in just to fill a bikini. Doctor Who dies.
22/03/1984 – The new Doctor is a psychopath in a clown outfit. Doctor Who dies.
05/01/1985 – The classic twenty-five minute format is abandoned. Doctor Who dies.
16/02/1985 – The show digs itself even deeper into the plot hole regarding the timing of the Doctor’s exile, by showing the Second Doctor and Jamie on a mission FROM the Time Lords. This leads to hardcore fans having to formulate made up fan theories to explain this plot hole away. Doctor Who dies.
01/11/1986 – Bonnie. Langford. Doctor Who dies.
28/03/1987 – Pat Troughton, the second actor to play the Doctor, dies. Doctor Who dies.
07/09/1987 – The new Doctor is a buffoon in an ugly pullover. Doctor Who dies.
05/10/1988 – We get to see Totter’s Yard again, except the inbreds spell “I.M. FOREMAN” incorrectly. Doctor Who dies.
02/11/1988 – The Doctor fights Bertie Bassett. Doctor Who dies.
06/12/1989 – The show ends its twenty-six year run. Doctor Who dies.
26/11/1993 – Doctor Who’s rotting carcass is briefly revived, plugged into the life-support machine known as EastEnders. Doctor Who dies.
20/05/1996 – SPLINK overlord Jon Pertwee, the third actor to play the Doctor, dies. Doctor Who dies.
27/05/1996 – The Doctor kisses his companion. Americans are involved. Doctor Who dies.
30/10/1997 – Who’s creator Sydney Newman dies, therefore taking Doctor Who with him (it dies).
23/11/2003 – Doctor Who’s 40th Anniversary is a colossal disappointment, with the only noteworthy celebratory productions being a below average animation that was de-canonized midway through production, and an overly pretentious 4 hour long audio drama that almost destroyed the credibility of the company which made it. Doctor Who dies.
25/05/2004 – A former teen singer is revealed as the companion. Doctor Who dies.
31/03/2005 – The Doctor quits after one episode has been broadcast. Doctor Who dies.
16/04/2005 – Fart humour. Doctor Who dies.
25/12/2005 – The new Doctor spends all his time in bed. Doctor Who dies.
17/06/2006 – A Doctor-light episode is an exploration of the notions of fandom and the human experience. Doctor Who dies.
08/07/2006 – An actress with her own sketch show is revealed as the companion for the Christmas special. Doctor Who dies.
16/06/2007 – The Master is turned into a raving loony. Doctor Who dies.
02/07/2007 – A former teen singer is revealed as the companion for the Christmas special. Doctor Who dies.
03/07/2007 – The actress with her own sketch show is revealed as the companion for Series Four. Doctor Who dies.
03/09/2007 – A Christmas special, four specials for 2009 and a whole series for 2010 are confirmed. Doctor Who dies.
22/11/2007 – The original producer of the program, Verity Lambert, dies. Doctor Who dies.
25/12/2007 – For the first time ever, the show is the most watched of the week. It is also the second-highest rated program of the year and the Audience Appreciation index is 86. Doctor Who dies.
29/10/2008 – The best Doctor ever announces he is leaving. Doctor Who dies.
04/01/2009 – The new Doctor is revealed to be a young male actor. Doctor Who dies.
29/05/2009 – The new companion is revealed to be a young female actor. Doctor Who dies.
06/10/2009 – The logo people originally criticized for having too much lens flare is replaced by one that people criticize for having too much lens flare. Doctor Who dies.
17/04/2010 – The Daleks change colour and become a bit bigger. Doctor Who dies.
22/02/2011 – Nicholas Courtney, who played beloved character the Brig, dies. Doctor Who dies.
19/04/2011 – Elisabeth Sladen, who played beloved character Sarah Jane, dies. Doctor Who dies.
23/04/2011 – The Doctor dies. Fuck, you thought 2016 was bad? Doctor Who dies.
04/06/2011 – The season is split so that the latter half is shown in the Autumn, just like the fans had always demanded. Doctor Who dies.
21/03/2012 – The new companion is revealed to be a young female actor who has been in a soap opera. Doctor Who dies.
01/06/2013 – The best Doctor ever announces he is leaving. Doctor Who dies.
04/08/2013 – The new Doctor is announced in a live show in primetime in the UK, simultaneously broadcast in America, Canada and Australia. He is younger than William Hartnell. Doctor Who dies.
23/11/2013 – Christopher Eccleston doesn’t turn up and his era becomes victim of the eraser via a shitty cop out retcon of the Time War. Doctor Who dies.
25/12/2013 – Matt Smith is naked and Capaldiddle doesn’t know how to fly the TARDIS, triggering NuWho scrubs everywhere. Doctor Who dies.
04/10/2014 – The Moon is an egg. Doctor Who dies.
25/10/2014 – The show has the perfect opportunity to do a Krynoid story but doesn’t. Doctor Who dies.
01/11/2014 – The Master’s cock collapses in on itself. Doctor Who dies.
09/26/2015 – Skaro is destroyed by undying mutant sludge healed with regeneration energy. Doctor Who dies.
10/03/2015 – Fucking ghosts? Doctor Who dies.
10/08/2015 – The Doctor Who General Wiki begins recording dates on this page in MM/DD/YYYY format. Doctor Who dies.
14/11/2015 – A deeply unpopular Who writer’s “found footage” episode is complete shit. Doctor Who dies.
05/12/2015 – A companion is saved from dying, becomes functionally immortal, and gets her own TARDIS with which she has lesbian adventures with someone from Game Of Thrones (not you). Doctor Who dies.
22/01/2016 – An official statement from the BBC reveals that the current disliked showruiner is quitting to be replaced by a man that wrote a script about Oods and loos in 2018 whilst confirming no new series will air for 2016. Doctor Who dies.
23/04/2016 – None of /who/’s preferred predictions are cast as the new companion, instead, a black lady that’s not Martha is cast as “Bill”. Doctor Who dies.
25/12/2016 – A goddamn superhero? Doctor Who dies.
25/12/2016 – The Series 10 coming soon trailer is aired and reveals Bill is working in catering, contributing to obesity crisis ravaging United Kingdom. And emoji robots are real. Doctor Who dies again.
27/01/2017 – Beloved War Doctor actor John Hurt dies, putting all War Doctor audios on hold forever. Doctor Who dies.
30/01/2017 – The best Doctor ever announces he is leaving. Doctor Who dies.
06/03/2017 – A picture is revealed on the show’s social media depicting shit(tier) versions of the Cybermen from The Tenth Planet surrounding Capaldi on the set of the Series 10 finale, with the image caption referring to them as “Mondasian Cybermen”. Doctor Who dies.
17/03/2017 – Series 10 is announced to feature a three-parter, which is one-parter longer than normal two-parter, breaking a perfectly good formula. Doctor Who dies.
03/04/2017 – The new Series 10 trailer reveals Missy dabbing. Doctor Who dies.
15/04/2017 – The Doctor and the new homosexual companion spend the whole episode running away from water. Doctor Who dies.
22/04/2017 – Sentient emoji robots become a canon life form in the universe. Doctor Who dies.
06/05/2017 – The Doctor is revealed to be a fan of literal who normie music. Doctor Who dies.
13/05/2017 – They fuckin’ blinded The Doctor. Doctor Who dies.
20/05/2017 – The vault reveal is predictable as fuck. Doctor Who dies.
17/06/2017 – The next time trailer for World Enough and Time confirms that the Tenth Planet Cyber variants are referred to as “Mondasian Cybermen” in-universe. Doctor Who dies.
24/06/2017 – The Master reveal in World Enough and Time is ruined due to him being teased in the trailer before and it being announced before the Series 10 premiere. Doctor Who dies.
01/07/2017 – A puddle breaks into the TARDIS. Doctor Who dies.
16/07/2017 – The new Doctor is revealed to be played by a woman. Doctor Who dies.

To summarise the reason for this post, The Doctor, a fictional time traveller from another planet, who periodically cheats death by regeneration, has in ‘his’ latest incarnation is going to be played by an actor without a penis. This, some claim, will be the death of the show…  presumably because fictional time travelling aliens who periodically cheat death by regenerating into someone else, have always periodically cheated death by regenerating into a male fictional time travelling alien from another planet. Generally, white middle-class male fictional time travelling alien from England or Scotland, which is what fictional time travelling aliens look and sound like… Instead, this time the doctor has a womb, clearly this the death of the longest running sci-fiction show in the world, and we should believe the nay sayers because they have been right so many times before…

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On the other hand, in the ‘unlikely’ event that this is not the death of Doctor Who, but just another chapter in a rich ever changing challenging show that constantly reinvents itself we can all take heart that it is only 46 years to the 100th-anniversary special. So I would venture the more important question is can they carbon freeze Tom Baker so he can be defrosted in time to make an appearance in it…

I look forward to the next series. I look forward to life in the tardis with ‘Jodie Whittaker’ at the console. A new doctor, a new writer, a new chapter… Frankly, I can’t wait to see what they do with it…

I also look forward to the next thing that is proclaimed to be the ‘Death of Doctor Who.’ as it almost certainly won’t be.

 

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Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family: The Complete Lovecraftian#22

As titles go, ‘Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family.‘ is laborious, and fails to even give the slightest of inclines as to what the tale is about. Even for Lovecraft, a writer knows for his occasionally vague titles, ‘Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family.’ stands out as both the longest and one of the vaguest titles he ever penned. Indeed, it sounds like a court reporter’s miss placed journalism before his editor got a hold of him and told him how to write a headline… Which probably was the reason ‘Wierd Tales‘ republished it in 1924 with the title ‘The White Ape’, (three years after it first appeared in ‘The Wolverine‘ under its more onerous original title.)

wt1924-04-whiteape-240

Old tentacle hugger H.P. was less than pleased when ‘Wierd Tales‘ did this, reputably his response was to say, “If I ever entitled a story ‘The White Ape‘, there would be no ape in it”.  While it didn’t lead to him falling out with ‘Wierd Tales.’ relationships were a tad fraught over the matter. Later reprints shortened the title to ‘Arthur Jermyn’ as late as 1986 until the full name was restored in a collection entitled ‘Dagon and Other Macabre Tales‘ all of which goes to show that an author will get his own way in the end, even if he happens to have been dead for fifty years when his title finally gets restored…

Interesting though all that is to me as a collector of trivialities, laborious is a word that many might ascribe to more than just the title of this Lovecraft story, spanning as it does several generations of the Jermyn family as there rather odd genealogy. I, however, am not among these detractors. While this may not be Lovecraft’s finest work, there is a lot quirks about this tale that I really enjoy. Indeed, did I not know better, I would swear old H.P. was trying his hand at writing comedy. Tragic, rather depressing comedy, but comic all the same. Take for example the mildly bizarre Jermyn family tree.

The family tree starts with Sir Wade Jermyn, an explorer of Africa’s dark interior, in particular, the upper reaches of the Congo (because its always the Congo…) and the odd wife he brings back with him after one of his longer trips. His wife is described in the tale as being the daughter of a Portuguese trader, though not long into the tale you start to realise that this may not be entirely true… Which accounts for the oddities of the family tree from there on, and this is a family much enamoured of trees. She is however kept in the house, and Sir Wade brings all her meals to her himself. Not long after the pair produces an heir, they return to Africa and are promptly never seen again.

Sir Wade’s son. Philip, despite his noble background, becomes of all things a sailor, and not the kind that stands on the poop deck, barking out orders, but the kind who run up and down the rigging for a living, before marrying a gypsy girl, fathering a son, then disappearing into the Congo one night when he jumps ship…

Sir Philip’s son, Robert, married a viscount’s daughter and became a scientist, a far more respectable profession for the progeny of a noble house. He fathers three sons and then goes off to explore Africa himself. Somewhere along the way, he meets another explore called Seaton who tells him of “a grey city of white apes ruled by a white god” much like the one described in his grandfather’s journals. Then he kills Seaton and goes on a bloody rampage killing all three of his sons before being locked up in an asylum.

Nevil Jermyn, Sir Robert’s middle son, father a child call Alfred with a dancer who is never named, and it is this child who becomes Sir Alfred, father of the Arthur of the title. Alfred grows to manhood and ends up marrying a music-hall singer and fathering Arthur. Then he runs off and joins the circus as an animal trainer with a strange unexplained passion for a gorilla of ‘lighter colour than usual’. Then after a few years pass he suddenly goes into a rage and attacks the gorilla who kills him.

Which leaves us with Arthur who inherits the title, the family pile in the country, and takes up poetry. Presumably, he writes a lot of bad poetry about trees… and is described as looking a little odd, like most of his family line since good old Sir Wade came back from Africa with his reclusive wife.

Then a Belgian explore sends word of a strange discovery of a mummy in the Congo and links to Sir Wade. Sir Wade it seems for all his professed fame as an explorer was a bit of a laughing stock after claiming he had discovered a city of white apes in the interior of the Congo. This has been a bit of a bugbear of the families history ever since, quite apart from the mad, murderous Sir Philip going totally batshit crazy when it last surfaced as a rumour…

As noble lineages go the Jermyn’s take some beating as a comic progression of inbred oddity. Though Lovecraft does not lend himself to the comic as a rule. The implication throughout this tale is that Sir Wade’s wife was not human herself, but a White Ape, worshipped as a goddess by the strange tribe of white apes who built the strange city in the Congo.

Some commentators point to all this as evidence of Lovecraft’s obsession with his own lineage, in-breeding, mental issues and the issues of coming from a rather ‘close’ family tree himself. His own parents both ended their lives in mental institutions. Certainly, it is not the only time Lovecraft draws from this particular well, ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth.‘ and other tales are full of such themes. But for me, this seems like Lovecraft laughing at the idea and playing with it for comic relief as much as anything. With the subtlety of ‘Carry On Screaming...’ (the best carry on film ever made). Indeed, this reads like ‘Carry on Lovecraft‘. And in the film version, Syd James would play Sir Wade no doubt…

carry on

So there you go. Ridiculous, and probably not actually written for humour but it makes me laugh, so it’s four slightly rubbery and clearly fake tentacles for this one. A tale to be read with a certain degree of mirth in mind. It’s a dry kind of wit… Arid even. But it amuses me if no one else…

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Further Lovecraftian witterings 

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Retro Book Reviews: Fahrenheit 451

Paper burns at 451 Fahrenheit, or so the legend goes… Regarded by many of Ray Bradbury’s finest work Fahrenheit 451 remains as prescient today as it was when it was first written back in 1960. It sits within the cannon of Dystopian classics like ‘Brave New World‘, ‘We‘ and ‘1984‘ as both a terrifying vision of the future and a warning to the present. But unlike the other three, I have just mentioned, ‘Fahrenheit 451’  has a surprisingly positive message about the human spirit. In rereading it with a view to this blog, (and because it has always been among my favourite novels), I was struck, as ever, by this one passage.

“Stuff your eyes with wonder. Live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. see the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that. Shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.”

― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

As a guide to living your life, you can’t go far wrong with those words. Though more aspire to them than ever succeeded in following them I am sure, myself included. If it seems a message out of place in a dystopian novel, that’s because it would in any other, but ‘Fahrenheit 451‘ is a strange fish in many regards. It is also more prescient than it’s bedfellows from Orwell and Huxley.  Fahrenheit world is one where the intellectual is held in low regard.

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If you have read other ‘retro’ book reviews I have done, you will be aware I try to treat them as freshly published novels, to see how they stack up against their modern counterparts. If Bradbury was releasing this today there would need to be very little, if anything, changed within the text. The future the novel envisioned is one that we are only closer to living than we were in 1953 when the novel was first released. It was always a novel of the near future, it was just a near future that little bit further away than Bradbury foresaw. A glance at US politics and the prevailing ethos of the nation is all it takes to see the parallels between the world as it is, and the world of ‘Fahrenheit 451‘. The intellectual, the scientist, the economist, the academic, in general, is increasingly disparaged. Science as a whole has become a thing to denigrate. Just look at the rhetoric on climate change, or the way in which science budgets are being cut, or the way the Liberal ‘elite’ were portrayed as remote ‘intelligentsia’ in the last US election, castigated not just by the right but by large portions of the traditional left as the shift to popularism held sway. Intellectual has become a dirty word in political circles. All of which have echoes in ‘Fahrenheit‘ world of firemen and book burnings.

The rise of social media and screen life has become ever more prevalent. We may not sit in a single media room in our houses, surrounded on all sides by screens that push the latest soap opera upon us as Guy’s wife Mildred does in ‘Fahrenheit’. Instead, we carry our screens with us everywhere, engaging in the banal, and contributing to it. Pictures of our food, selfies, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, flood our collective minds. We are all constantly connected to the outpourings of the global zeitgeist of popular culture while becoming ever more disconnected from our neighbours and relationships beyond the screen. Anti-depressants are handed out like candy, meditation of the mind, by popular prescription. Another echo from within the novel as Mildred takes happy pills when ever a conversation gets her down. We may not have firemen to burn our books but to quote Bradbury once more…

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And, that we have, in. many ways, there has been a steady, but an increasing decline in the reading of books over the last several decades. As this article in the Atlantic explains.

Bradbury’s vision is as much a vision of a near future now as it was then. It speaks the same warnings it ever did. Warnings of the death of the intellectual liberalism, and its replacement with a populist autocracy. The context may be different, but the parallels with the current political climate are there all the same. Indeed there are so many echoes it is at times hard to believe this is a novel from the fifties, not one that has slipped off the word processor in the last year or so.

Yet as I said when I began, the message of ‘Fahrenheit 451‘  is surprisingly uplifting for a dystopia. Unlike ‘1984’ for example, the protagonist does not end up accepting the status quo, just another cog in the machine ground down by the system. Instead, it ends with Guy joining the strange resistance group who have set themselves the task of saving books by memorising them. It’s a message that says, ‘We will not be beaten, we know this day will pass and a new day will come,’ Which is perhaps a message to us all when we look on despairingly at the current state of the world.

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The Rare Unsigned Copy: and other mistakes

“You don’t really want one of the signed copies, what you really want is one of those rare unsigned copies.”

Laughter echoed around the bar at the Blackpool landlords amusing quip… Possibly because this was one of the funniest things anyone said the whole weekend. The noticeable exception to the laughing voices of many lifelong friends was my own. Not that I harboured any great resentment at being the butt of that particular joke. I am more than capable of laughing at myself. I have also been known to throw the occasional harsh one-line observation around. As my dad, a dour Yorkshireman to his core, is often fond of saying, if you can’t take it, you shouldn’t give it out… Equally, I was in fairness, as amused as anyone else. As one line observations go, it was a sharp, poignant and amusing one for sure. Far more, I suspect, than the landlord in question knew.

All this took place at the annual gathering of itinerant souls known as ‘Adamscon’. A gaming weekend that I and a few of my closest friends attend in February each year in a small hotel in Blackpool. It was once known as ‘Hayescon’, before Mark Adams who organised it with me every year, realised I had stopped doing any of the actual organising five years before. So back in 2011, its name changed, and it has been ‘Adamscon’ ever since. It remains one of the most entertaining weekends of the year, and a good time spent with friends I see less than often enough…

The rare unsigned copies in question were copies of ‘Passing Place‘ my second novel. It had been released a few months earlier, and several of those present in the bar room had requested signed copies from me on the release of the book. Indeed between them and others, I had worked my way through two large shipments of authors copies. Which to my mind of course raised the question,

Why would any of you actually want a signed copy from me anyway?

It was this observation that led to the Landlords quip, just after another friend had bemoaned the somewhat impersonal nature of the message I wrote in his copy. (Actually, it had been one of thirty books I was signing in my living room at midnight, in order to post them out in the morning. I had ceased coherent thinking by that point, or I would have written something more personal to the friend in question. But, as I eluded, I still found the idea of signing copies of my novel a bit bizarre.  I still do. I have lots of signed books. Ones I have gathered over the years from the likes of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. Some signed with a great deal of flourish like the one below, but people asking for sign copies of my own witterings still seem mildly absurd…

signed coipy of reaperman (3)

As I said, I did not laugh and was alone in the bar room in not doing so, but mainly this was because I realised just how right the Landlord was. To my knowledge at that time, the ‘rare unsigned copy‘ in question belonged to a gentleman called Frank de Vocht. I know this because he was kind enough to write a fabulous review of the novel (see below). I also knew this because I had sold exactly one print copy through Amazon at the time…

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase

This book is an (unexpected) gem as far as I am concerned. I read the writer’s first book as well, which was also an enjoyable read, but this one fitted a lot better with the genre I normally read. It’s a very interesting mixture of fantasy, horror, a doorman with a past, a club with a forest attached, an engaging personal journey…all mixed with a bit of suspense.
…oh, and there is a cat. An odd one…
In summary, it combines many different things with a story that goes nowhere and everywhere, and I will be waiting impatiently for the sequel….

 

Like most self-published authors, E-books are where I get the majority of my sales. I go to the effort of setting up a paperback version of the novel because some people, my mum, for example, don’t like Ebooks. Also because frankly, I like to have at least one copy of my novel I can hold in my hand. It feels more real that way. It seems odd to me to say you have published a book if it is only in pixel form… I don’t say that out of any disrespect to those who only publish in the virtual form, I just like bits of paper with ink on them…

In fairness I am not alone, a lot of people just like to have paper copies. However, the cost is prohibitive, print on demand books are a little more expensive than the average new release paperback, and never get reduced in price. Unlike trade paperbacks, they don’t turn up in ASDA on the three books for a fiver stand. So while you might order author copies to sell at fairs and send out to people, copies bought through Amazon are generally a rarer commodity. Even more so when the majority of those who are likely to buy the novel in paperback ask you for a signed copy, rather than buy one through Amazon. Where in there resides a problem…

Here then is the point of this post, beyond an amusing anecdote involving me being the butt of a landlords joke. Signed copies are a lovely idea. I doubt there is a single author, self-published or otherwise, who doesn’t always feel pleased when someone asked for a signed copy of their latest novel. So we all happily will sign a few copies for people who ask. But in the cold light of the day what we are doing is kicking ourselves where it hurts the most, because, in the wider scope of things, we are hurting our ability to sell books by doing so. Ironic I know, but here is why…

By sending out signed copies on request, and a lot of signed copies at that, I lost a lot of Amazon sales on release day and the week or so that followed. Yes, I sold copies of the novel and was more than happy to do so. Indeed, I was gratified that some many readers expressed such interest. But it had a definite impact on Amazon sales figures and prevented the novel rating highly in the first week or so in its genre. To understand why that was a problem, you need to understand how Amazon sales can work both for and against you as a self-publisher…

To understand why that was a problem, you need to understand how Amazon sales can work both for and against you as a self-publisher. The way Amazon markets books internally has everything to do with rankings. The higher you rank in your genre, the more likely they are to recommend you book. As an experiment pick up your Kindle and search for books in your favourite category, ‘Time travel sci-fi’ for example…. Go on I’ll wait for you a moment…

Go on I’ll wait for you a moment…

See how it came back with the top 100 books in that category… that the top 100 by sales figures, nothing else. It’s not the top 100 ratings or most positive reviews, it is pure and simple on sales, which makes sense if you’re a multinational trying to make money selling books. People have bought this before, so more people are likely to buy it in the future… And yes, you can alter the search parameters, but the default is the number of sales every time, and people don’t normally change the defaults setting. The best way to find your audience through Amazon is, therefore, to sell books on Amazon, pure and simple. So selling your books direct, having scribbled a nice heart-warming message on the blank page at the front, is cutting your own throat in many ways.

Then there is the second problem, the review problem. As I have discussed before Amazon reviews are important to you as an author. Amazon can, and will, publish reviews from people who didn’t actually buy their copy on Amazon. None verified purchase reviews unlike Franks review above, are however far more likely to be rejected by Amazon. Amazon will almost certainly reject none verified reviews unless you have a lot of verified ones. They will use reasons, such as it is a review someone on your friends’ list, by another author, etc. While they would protest otherwise, one suspects they will reject as many as possible. So though nice people with signed copies may struggle to leave a review.

review-picture

Finally, the nice people with signed copies are less likely to leave a review anyway. The majority of reviews are left because people get a nice email from Amazon asking them to review a product they purchased. ( if you have bought anything from Amazon ever you will have received more than your fair share of these.) Also at the end of a kindle book the leave, a review message pops up to remind you as well. So signed copies will also inevitably lead to fewer reviews.

So there you go, a little wisdom for the budding author there, don’t do signed copies ( except for your mum perhaps, and the proofreaders/editors  who I always send a copy to as a thank you …) Say thank you, apologise that your unable to do so, and promise to sign their Amazon purchased copies if they happen to bring it with them to the barroom of the hotel in Blackpool in the middle of a rainswept February…

Of course, I am more than likely to forget this insight when I release my next novel, and lovely people ask for signed copies, but there you go, I never said I am good at taking my own advice …

Adios

Mark

Other witterings of the subject of self-publishing…

 

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