Monday, March 20, 2017

2014 weird tales from Melanie Tem, Steve Rasnic Tem & Darrell Schweitzer

If you undertake even the most cursory research on H. P. Lovecraft, the name of S. T. Joshi is bound to come up first, last and often.  Joshi is not only the towering figure in Lovecraftian scholarship--he has also edited numerous volumes of brand new weird stories.  When I looked up his name in the catalog of Central Ohio libraries, 2014's Searchers after Horror: New Tales of the Weird and Fantastic was among the numerous titles that came up (Joshi is prolific and indefatigable, and has published a lengthy and eclectic list of books on a variety of subjects.)  Last week, I borrowed Searchers after Horror, which has a fun wraparound cover by Richard Corben replete with human bones, from the Worthington Library, and this week I read stories included in the volume by authors whose work I have already sampled, Melanie Tem, Steve Rasnic Tem, and Darrell Schweitzer.

"Iced In" by Melanie Tem

Longtime readers of MPorcius Fiction Log may remember that I thought Melanie Tem's 2005 story "Country of the Blind" was a first-rate tale of shock and disgust, a well-crafted story that offered up an emotionally draining experience for sensitive souls like your humble blogger who used to get faint in health class when various diseases were discussed.  So, how did I handle this one?

"Iced In" is a depressing realistic story about a woman who has made a lot of poor decisions in her life (if you are the kind of person who judges, as the kids say) and suffers psychological problems.  She is a hoarder, has alienated all her friends and family, and blames others for her problems.  (While the story is in the third person, it is entirely told from the protagonists point of view and has aspects of an "unreliable narrator" situation.)  When an ice storm hits her Kansas home, because she has not paid her bills, has wasted her welfare money on ice cream and chips, and has not maintained her house or put aside supplies for an emergency, she freezes to death.

This story is well-written, and I liked it, but it is not shocking or disgusting, just sad, which is kindof a relief, and kind of a disappointment.  As far as I can tell, "Iced In" has little or no "weird" elements; this isn't supernatural horror or "cosmic horror," this is the horror of real life as lived by real people who suffer from mental deficiencies and/or bad luck.  The ice which is slowly invading the dilapidated house is sort of anthropomorphized, but I don't think we are expected to think it is really alive.

"Crawldaddies" by Steve Rasnic Tem

Like his wife Melanie, Steve Rasnic Tem has written a ton of horror stories and won a bunch of awards.  I was hoping the pun title of this one was not a warning that it was some kind of joke story.

I need not have worried; "Crawldaddies"is not a joke story; in fact it is a pretty traditional Lovecraftian tale.  At age thirty-five Josh feels a powerful urge to return to the remote mountain village in Virginia where he was born, which he and his mother left when he was five.  This place is so remote there isn't even a usable road to it; Josh has to hike there after saying goodbye to his wife and child.

Josh has always been a little odd, and in his place of birth it is quickly revealed why.  In Lovecraft's "Shadow Over Innsmouth" a remote seaside village is home to a bunch of people who have interbred with fish people; well, the town where Josh comes from is right next to a creek and everybody has some of the genetic material of giant crustaceans much like crayfish!  Josh himself is about to molt his human exterior and sprout additional limbs; presumably he is not going to return to the outside world and his wife and toddler.  The reader also has to speculate that Josh's own child, in thirty or so years, will likewise transform into a part-human, part-arthropod monster.

This story isn't bad.

"Going to Ground" by Darrell Schweitzer

I enjoyed Schweitzer's novel, The Shattered Goddess, a fantasy novel which had a healthy proportion of horror elements.  Schweitzer actually edited Weird Tales from 1988-2007 (the ups and downs of Weird Tales' long publishing history are actually pretty interesting--during Schweitzer's tenure, for example, they had to change the name of the magazine because they lost the rights to the name "Weird Tales"), and his stories appear in many of Joshi's anthologies of new weird fiction, so this is a guy who is committed to the weird.

The protagonist of this quite short story is a college professor who is an expert on Edgar Allen Poe, and the story refers to Poe's "The Imp of the Perverse" directly several times, so I dutifully read that 1845 tale immediately after finishing "Going to Ground."  Poe writes in the story about our irrepressible urges to do things which we know are immoral, counterproductive or even self-destructive, providing as examples the common desire of people looking over a cliff to jump, and the all-to-common practice of procrastinating in performing even the most urgent of obligations.  The narrator of "The Imp of the Perverse" is a murderer who has escaped detection for years who gives in to a sudden urge to confess, which leads him to the hangman's noose.

In "Going to Ground" the college prof wanders into the forested wilderness late at night, his memory a blank.  He finds he is marching among a column of corpses and ghosts, and then remembers that earlier today he murdered his wife and child.  Soon thereafter he is confronted by their own ambulatory corpses.  Schweitzer's character's experiences mirror many of those of Poe's character: both flee wildly, lose their sight (Schweitzer's prof drops his glasses) and are cornered by a crowd.  I'm not sure if the prof is already dead when he discovers he is marching with the dead, or if the dead are leading him to his own seems possible that he died while falling into a ditch (where he lost his spectacles) or maybe when he stopped his car by the forest he was in reality crashing it.

Not bad, and, of course, it was a spur to reading an important story I would have already read if I had had a decent education.    


These stories are all good, but not great.  Also, I've gotten so used to reading old books, that encountering references to the common currency of quotidian 21st-century conversation (e. g., hoarding, the Internet) was a little jarring.  We'll be going back some 37 years into the past in our next episode.

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