Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Look Away - Richard Skelton

‘As if Samuel Beckett had written The Goshawk
(Mark Valentine)

The Look Away by Richard Skelton (Xylem Books) is an austere and powerful novella about a fugitive in remote country in a world of dark truths and bleak, whittled beauty. It is a study of isolation and the stark facts of survival, yet it is also attentive to the brittle transience shared by all living things, and how this gives every moment an intense significance. The writing is compelling and insistent and makes a deep impress upon the reader.

This is Richard Skelton’s first long fiction and possesses all the haunting, mesmeric qualities of his music, poetry, film work and essays. The original limited edition sold out it in days but now The Look Away is available again in paperback.

‘A narrative of menace and wonder’

(Julian Hyde)

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Dreaming Over Book Titles with Lord Dunsany

In his pithy 1917 introduction to A Dreamer’s Tales And Other Stories by Lord Dunsany, Padraic Colum tells of how the author’s sense of the fabulous could send him dreaming simply over the sound of certain words: “He would not judge a book by its cover but he would, I am sure, judge it by its title. I have seen him become enraptured by titles of two books that were being reviewed at the time. One was “The High Deeds of Finn,” and the other “The History of the East Roman Empire from the Accession of Irene to the Fall of Basil the Third”. Colum adds, with a glancing wit, (“I am not sure I have got the Byzantine sovereigns in right).”

These are indeed titles to beguile the connoisseur of rare and strange works. The first must have been The High Deeds of Finn, and other Bardic Romances of Ancient Ireland by T.W. Rolleston, with an introduction by Stopford A. Brooke, and with sixteen illustrations by Stephen Reid (London: Harrap & Co, 1910). This was one of several books of heroic romance that Rolleston wrote for Harrap: there was also Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race (1911), Parsifal; or, the Legend of the Holy Grail, Retold from ancient sources with acknowledgement to the “Parsifal” of Richard Wagner (1912), and The Tale of Lohengrin, Knight of the Swan, after the drama of Richard Wagner (1913), these last two with artwork by Willy Pogany. It is no surprise that Dunsany would have been drawn to the ancient Irish tales, but what of the other book Colum names?

The book in question must without a doubt have been A History of the Eastern Roman Empire, from the Fall of Irene to the Accession of Basil I. A.D. 802-867 (London: Macmillan & Co., 1912) by John Bagnell Bury (1861-1927). It will be seen that Colum had indeed not got his Byzantine sovereigns “in right”, since the fall was that of Irene and the accession that of Basil, and not the other way about as he has it, and the Emperor Basil was the first and not the third of that name. But I wouldn’t put it past Colum to have juggled his potentates on purpose for greater euphony or peculiarity.

Further investigation of this historian’s catalogue reveals other titles of interest. Dunsany would perhaps also have known his edition of the early Irish chronicle of The Itinerary of Patrick in Connaught, according to Tírechán (1903). On the other hand, The Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians (London: Macmillan & co, 1928) sounds just like an episode passingly told in one of Dunsany’s histories of fallen kingdoms and vanquished cities, when the gods happened to be looking the other way.

The same historian’s The Imperial Administrative System in the Ninth Century, With a revised text of the Kletorologion of Philotheos (London: Oxford University Press, 1911) may not at first glance sound quite so thrilling as the rise and fall of empires and emperors. Yet it certainly may lead us to wonder what exactly was or is a kletorologion and why we have not encountered one before.

It transpires that it is a document giving the order of precedence of all the office-holders in the Byzantine Empire, whether bearded men or eunuchs (such was the distinction made). It was compiled to assist in ensuring they were all seated with the dignity proper to them at the imperial table. It also offers advice on the procession of the banqueting year and other useful information related thereto. This sounds quite Dunsanyesque too, and it would be possible to imagine a tale in which some slight mis-ordering of the imperial guests results in strife and discord and the tumbling of dynasties.

This book is replete with recondite and rather rococo detail. In contemplating the elaborate Byzantine hierarchies, Mr Bury provides some diverting footnotes. For example, we learn: “The Protovestiarius descended from the old comes sacrae vestis of the fifth century. He presided over the private wardrobe (sacra vestis) of the Emperor, to be distinguished from the public wardrobe which was under the Chartularius.” Who could doubt it?

Also, “The Deuteros was the assistant of the Papias, and took his place when he was ill, but was independent of him, and had subordinates of his own. His special province was the care of the Emperor's chairs and thrones (and probably the furniture) in the Chrysotriklinos, as well as the curtains in those apartments, and all the Imperial apparel and ornaments which were kept there.”

We may look in vain, however, for such surely essential appointments as the acolyte of the imperial cats, and the Lord High Librarian. But, now, what was the Chrysotriklinos? Why, it was the great domed throne room of the Emperor, in which the golden throne was guarded by two golden lions and crested by a golden banana tree with bejewelled birds perched among its leaves. Even the many refulgent palaces of Dunsany’s tales could not perhaps quite compete with that.

Curiously enough, Dunsany's own book titles are rarely of the same resonance as those he apparently admired. The Gods of Pegana is perhaps not so far off the mark, but Fifty-One Tales might be regarded as somewhat plain, while even The Book of Wonder and A Dreamer's Tales itself are not exactly richly ornate. Instead, Dunsany reserved his echoing prose for his story titles, and certainly there are those, such as "The Fortress Unvanquishable Save For Sacnoth" and "The Fall of Babbulkund" which might indeed compete with the high deeds of Finn and the accession of Basil I.

Mark Valentine

Picture: T W Rolleston (with thanks to The Offaly Historical & Archaeological Society).

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Kaer of Ibu Wardani - T E Lawrence

"Between Aleppo and Hamath the train drags over a monotony of lands, barren to the unskilled eye, but hiding nevertheless in folds villages of clay-domed houses, and black tents . . ."

Penrith, Cumbria, has two excellent second-hand bookshops. One of them, in an architectural salvage yard, is called Withnail Books, after the film, and the owner tells us: “I collect books. I’ve got too many of them. So now I’ve opened a bookshop by mistake.”

He also publishes occasional well-designed opuscules of rare literature, and has just announced The Kaer of Ibu Wardani by T E Lawrence. This is an early essay, not easy to find, contributed by the 23 year old Lawrence to the Jesus College Magazine, Oxford, where it was published in January 1913. It describes a visit to the desert ruins of a Byzantine palace.

It is offered in a strictly limited edition of 70 hand-numbered copies for sale, with an original, hand-printed linocut frontispiece. The interior is set in Lawrence's preferred font Caslon, with a recreation of the striking decorated capitals designed by Edward Wadsworth for the 1926 Subscriber's Edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

The contents include, as well as the full text of 'The Kaer of Ibu Wardani', an extract from Seven Pillars where Lawrence recalls his visit to the ruins, plus a 'Note on Fonts' and annotations by Adam Newell, with supporting illustrations.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Biblio-Curiosa and Currawong: A List of the Pulps

A couple of noteworthy publications from Australia:

Issue No. 7 of Chris Mikul's excellent Biblio-Curiosa is out with reviews and biographies of unusual books and authors.  The contents are as follows:

The Queue by Jonathon Barrow
Spawn: A Novel of Degeneration by Nat Ferber
The Weird Fiction of Violet Van der Elst
Tod Robbins Update
F.C. Meyer: Poet of the Antipodes
The Great Boo-Boo by Henry S. Wilcox
Der Orchideengarten

Also out is John Loder's latest bibliography, this one a lavishly illustrated 52 page stapled chapbook of the Currawong pulps, one of the more desirable Australian pulp publishers of the 1940s and '50s:

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Abigail Parry - After Aickman

The latest issue of the London Review of Books (Vol. 40 No. 4, 22 February 2018, page 10) includes a poem by Abigail Parry, ‘The nine lives you might have lived, were it not for the nine thin spells through your heart’, which has the acknowledgement 'after Robert Aickman'. The sequence of strange images certainly does include some which seem to belong to the world of Aickman's stories, such as "An attic-flat with moths/erupting from espaliers of cracks' (hints of 'The Unsettled Dust', perhaps), and in particular his art of making everyday things seem sinister and filled with portent ("Moonbeams/over moon things: tooth enamel, silver spoons,/flakes of eggshell.") The poem also alludes to sisters "bright as needles" who bring to mind those met in 'The Inner Room'.

But the poet has made these things her own and juxtaposed them together in a hypnotic rush which makes the poem read like an incantation. The invocation of Aickman is not archaic: the poem suggests how things seen through his gaze might look like now, with a dash of cyberpunk, and images drawn from cocktails, drugs, and the city at night. Above all, the poem is alert to how curious colours ('Blooddrop sun') and fragments of light ('match-flare') can cast a sorcery at us in sudden moments.

Abigail Parry has a first collection of poems, Jinx, due out in March from Bloodaxe Books, and described as "concerned with spells, and ersatz spells: with semblance and sleight-of-hand. It takes its formal cues from moth-camouflage and stage magic, from the mirror-maze and the masquerade, and from high-stakes games of poker."

Mark Valentine

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Beardsley 120 - The Death of Pierrot

Aubrey Beardsley was born in Brighton in 1872 and attended Brighton Grammar School. He died in 1898 at the tragically early age of 25 from tuberculosis.

Beardsley 120: The Death of Pierrot is a series of events in Brighton that commemorate 120 years since Beardsley’s untimely death. The events are co-ordinated by Alexia Lazou and present aspects of Beardsley’s life and work in various ways including tours, talks and films. They include:

Aubrey Beardsley: 25 Years in 25 Pictures
Launch event. Saturday 3 March, 1pm, The Yellow Book café/bar, York Place, Brighton.Free entry. At 2pm Alexia Lazou will present a short introduction to Beardsley—25 Years in 25 Pictures.

The Brighton of Aubrey Beardsley
Sunday 4 March, 2pm, The Annunciation Church, Washington Street, Brighton. Free, donations welcome. Alexia Lazou presents an illustrated talk, ‘The Brighton of Aubrey Beardsley’, exploring the buildings and places associated with the artist’s early life. Following the talk there will also be an opportunity to look round ‘the artists’ church’ with writer Stephen Plaice.

Beardsley’s Brighton tour

Saturday 10 & Sunday 25 March, 11am. Meet outside W H Smith's bookshop, Brighton Station concourse, Queens Road. Free. Join guide Alexia Lazou for a gentle 90-120 minute stroll through Brighton, exploring the buildings and places associated with Aubrey Beardsley.

Aubrey Beardsley: 120 Years After The Death of Pierrot
Bite-Size Museum Talk, Tuesday 27 March, 12pm, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. No booking required. Come and discover more about Beardsley, see two of his original drawings close up, and hear about some of the ways he has been commemorated during the 120 years since his untimely death. With Alexia Lazou, Collections Assistant.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Psammomancy – Mark Valentine and Brian Lavelle

Fine sand is poured from a pouch,
trickled onto a tray or table,
fingertips are used to find figures,
tracing, erasing, effacing, shaping . . .

: the mysterious art of sand reading explored in text by Mark Valentine and music by Brian Lavelle, with black and white photography by Jo Valentine. Professionally printed 16 page booklet and professionally duplicated CD.

Limited to 120 numbered copies, of which 100 only are for sale. £8 plus postage of £1.50 UK, £4.00 Europe and £5.00 Rest of the World.

Available here, or via Bandcamp (slightly higher prices there to allow for charges).

Friday, February 9, 2018

Steve Holland's Forgotten Authors, Volumes 1 & 2

Steve Holland has recently published two volumes of his researches into forgotten authors, and some of these authors (like Gerald Biss and Ella M. Scrymsour) are of definite interest to Wormwoodiana readers.

Forgotten Authors Volume 1 covers thirteen authors, including W. Stephens Hayward,  Anonyma, Stella M. During, Edric Vredenburg, Morley Adams, Gerald Biss, W. Holt-White,  Alphonse Courlander, Ella M. Scrymsour, Alexander Wilson, Guy Ramsey, E. T. Portwin, and Dail Ambler. It is available in trade paperback and Kindle formats via and See the Amazon pages for more details.

Forgotten Authors Volume 2 covers another ten authors: Bracebridge Hemyng, Philip Richards, Frank Barrett (Frank Davis), Ernest Protheroe, Charles Granville (Charles Hosken), Louise Heilgers, C. E. Vulliamy, Evelyn Winch, Frederick Foden, and David Roberts. This volume is also available in trade paperback and Kindle formats, via and Clink on the links for more details.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Reading Walter de la Mare - a Cambridge Conference

‘Reading Walter de la Mare’
is a two day conference to be held in Cambridge on 20-21 September 2018, organised by Yui Kajita and Anna Nickerson, with support from the University of Cambridge and The Walter de la Mare Society.

The conference has now issued a call for papers on any aspects of de la Mare’s writing – his poetry, plays, fiction, essays, anthologies. Proposals should be received by 31 March 2018. Expressions of interest in attending are also invited. The announcement for the conference advises that “It is anticipated that the main programme, including lunch and refreshments, will be free for all.”

De la Mare’s influence on the field of supernatural fiction has been profound, and can be seen directly, for example, in the work of Elizabeth Bowen, Mary Butts, Forrest Reid and probably Robert Aickman. He may be seen as one of the first to move the ghost story into subtler and more uncertain terrain, and to mesh ideas of an other world with the ambiguities of this one, the borderlands of the mind, the enigmatic country of dreams, obsessions, visions.

The idea for the conference is very welcome and should be an excellent opportunity to explore the many rich dimensions of de la Mare's work.

Mark Valentine

Monday, February 5, 2018

Une Autre Cigarette – Two Versions of An Uncollected Poem by Percy Lancelot Osborn

Percy Lancelot Osborn was the author of two books: Rose Leaves from Philostratus (‘adapted into English verse from the Greek epistles’), published At the Sign of the Unicorn in 1901; and The Poems of Sappho (‘Poems, Epigrams and Fragments: Translations and Adaptations’), issued by Elkin Mathews in 1909.

The Spectator (16 April, 1910) thought the Sappho book “shows scholarship and a feeling for the more delicate shades of cadence and emotion”. In the very brief fragments, each of a few words only, given at the end of the book, Percy Osborn also showed a modern sensibility, almost as a herald of the Imagist dedication to the terse and elliptical.

In the Sappho book he is described as ‘Late Demy of Magdalen Coll., Oxford’. At Oxford, he contributed to The Spirit Lamp, the journal edited by Lord Alfred Douglas. It was redolent with the aesthetic and decadent ambience of the Eighteen Nineties. His work appeared under his initials, as by ‘P.L.O.’ He translated Baudelaire and in one issue offered, from Meleager, ‘The Garland of Boyhood’s Flowers’, a paean to Greek youths.

‘Caprice: la cigarette’ appeared in the 6 December 1892 issue (Volume II, no IV). It has never been collected. To write about a cigarette, and to compare it as he does to the human soul, would have been seen at the time as a daring and disdainful thing to do: other decadents such as Arthur Symons also evoked the symbolism of its sordid silver smoke.

In his essay ‘Butterflies, Orchids and Wasps: Polyglossia and Aesthetic Lives: Foreign Languages in The Spirit Lamp (1892-1893)’, Xavier Giudicelli suggests the influence of Verlaine in Osborn’s cigarettes verse, and adds: “The tone and subject of this poem are rather playful. It is an ode to the cigarette as the epitome of ephemeral pleasure and as a metaphor for the inanity of man’s life in this world.”

Nothing seems to be known of Percy Osborn after his second book. His brother, E.B. (Edward Bolland) Osborn (1867-1938), who also contributed to The Spirit Lamp, was later the literary editor of the highly respectable Morning Post newspaper, an anthologist and general man-of-letters, most known for The Muse in Arms, his anthology of First World War poems. There is always a sense of fleetingness in Percy Osborn’s work: we are left to wonder if he was another of those from what Yeats called the Tragic Generation, who succumbed young.

Here is the cigarette poem in Osborn’s original French, and my two renderings of it:

Caprice: la cigarette

‘P.L.O.’ [Percy Lancelot Osborn]

Ô cigarette à douce odeur,
Les tourbillons de ta vapeur
Ressemblent à la vie humaine,
Qui n’est que vaporeuse et vaine.

Comme dans l’air la vapeur fuit
L’âme qui meurt s’évanouit
Dieu s’écrie ! Ah, si l’on regrette
Roulons une autre cigarette.

Caprice: the cigarette
Respectfully Englished by Mark Valentine

O cigarette so sweetly odoured,
The swirling of your vapour
Is as human life the same:
Nothing but hazy and vain.

Just as your fumes fade in the air
The dying soul will disappear.
God cries out! Ah, if we regret
Let’s roll another cigarette.

Caprice: the cigarette
Freely Englished by Mark Valentine

The scented cig fumes rise
Resembling our lives
Each crazy silver spiral
Just as hazy, just as futile.

Yeah, the fumes disappear;
And we’ll end up nowhere.
So what? Je ne regrette.
Roll another cigarette.

Other versions would be most welcome.

Mark Valentine

Thursday, January 18, 2018

An Interview with Henry Wessells - Part 2

You note that H G Wells created for himself a role as a “public intellectual of the first order”. Can science fiction still lead thinking and debate in this way? Is it still involved in a “conversation”, or is it just talking to itself now?

Lead in the sense of walk along untrodden pathways and offer concrete fictional models for thought, yes. Whether those outside the field pay attention to science fiction is ultimately a different question.

One thing about the twenty-first century is clear, science fiction writers do not turn away from their roots when their intellectual engagement takes them into a broader public sphere. As Phillip K. Dick wrote, the world became increasingly phildickian during the 1970s. The publisher of William Gibson may no longer use the science fiction label to market his novels, but Gibson has not forgotten where he comes from.

You mention Philip K Dick’s “vision of disintegrating reality” but also say “his books are about what it means to be human.” That suggests a bleak view of the human position. Is SF increasingly a pessimistic genre?

No! Emphatically, no! I am the least pessimistic person you can think of. Science fiction is the literature of imaginative possibilities. The real point of interest in recent dystopian fiction is not the immediate circumstances of the dystopia, but an idea most clearly articulated by Christopher Brown in an essay entitled “Dystopia Is Realism: the Future Is Here If You Look Closely”: “We need to write our way through our own ruin to have any hope of finding what could be on the other side.”

Lastly, what’s your current reading in SF and the Fantastic?

Gnomon by Nick Harkaway; Little, Big by John Crowley (to re-read: I resisted the temptation all last year while writing my ‘Conversation’); and I want to read some ghost stories of the interwar years, to follow up on some of the suggestions in Richard Dalby & Rosemary Pardoe’s anthology Ghosts and Scholars (1987).

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

An Interview with Henry Wessells - Part 1

In our previous post we discussed A Conversation Larger Than the Universe - Readings in Science Fiction and the Fantastic by Wormwood contributor Henry Wessells. Henry kindly agreed to answer a few questions about the book.

Your book takes us back to imaginary voyages, often written with polemical or satirical intent (More’s Utopia, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels etc), and to the Gothic novel. Do you think this sort of continuity is important to how science fiction sees itself? Couldn’t it rather be seen as a bold example of “make it new”, as a disruption?

To think about how science fiction is at its core about disruption or innovation is really useful.

To step back a bit before following that line: I subscribe to a very broad description of science fiction as encompassing fantasy and horror. I use science fiction in preference to John Clute’s useful notion of “fantastika” but that is a personal habit of speech. I do see the awareness of history, of the past as material for fiction, as a key component of the Gothic, which can be discerned from 1762, when Longsword appeared. The tale creaks, but everything is there: evil monks, menaced maidens, imprisonment in castles and monasteries, infant kidnappings, “secret malignity,” poisons, indirection and difficultly, and wild coincidences.

Labelling is inherently retrospective. There are any number of works that have been identified as “where science fiction begins” (the earliest being Lucian of Samosata, which I have not read). To make such an assertion — for Utopia, the Chemical Wedding, Kepler’s Somnium, or Hugo Gernsback — is a political statement, as Chip Delany reminds us.

For me, Frankenstein (1818) is where science fiction emerges from the Gothic. The innovation is in the extrapolation from science, and the boldness to create life from dead parts. The creature is not an automaton or doll but a sentient individual capable of self-education and the acquisition of language (and a vegetarian, too!).

Mary Shelley grew up in a literary household, her father William Godwin wrote Things as They Are, the bleakest late Gothic novel of persecution. When Mary wrote a novel, how natural to adapt the epistolary form and other trappings of the Gothic mode. And yet the subject matter and intellectual concerns of Frankenstein mark the novel as something new, a gate once opened and not to be closed again.

The late Brian Aldiss was a bold advocate for Mary Shelley as the origin of science fiction, but he was certainly not the first to articulate the importance of Frankenstein in science fiction. For example, Frankenstein is one of the earliest novels recorded in the 1953 bibliography “333”.

I suppose that as a reader I am interested in two aspects of a book: innovation, what is new, and “filiation,” how it relates to earlier works. I use Philip Gove’s very useful term, from The Imaginary Voyage in Prose Fiction (1941).

And yet it could be argued that pretty much up to cyber punk, science fiction used fairly conventional storytelling forms to explore its unconventional themes. Why wasn’t there a Modernist science fiction – or was there? What experiments in form or style do you see?

One of the joys of science fiction is the ability to move unflinchingly through time and space: and the knowledge that the reader will follow. And so this will be a slightly roundabout way of getting to the question of modernity and the fantastic.

Science fiction is a living literary mode that is perpetually open to change (sometimes to the dismay of readers who can no longer keep pace with all the books). In the flood of new work, sometimes older works are overlooked. As a reader, I am often drawn to such “forgotten” books. Some are very much worthy of rediscovery.

Take Richard Jefferies' After London (1885). Jefferies removed London from the face of the earth and wrote a two-part tale of what one might call the Day after the End of the World. The first part is nature writing of a formally innovative kind: not explaining the cataclysm but observing the consequences. Nothing else like it. And if the second part takes the shape of a boys’ adventure tale, it is still recounting events hundreds of years after the defining event (and that part of After London is the archetype for all the neo-feudal futures to come). Science fiction does sometimes evolve new forms in the struggle of the story to be told.

A year or so ago, while I was writing the chapter on Jefferies and others, Peak Victorian (published in Wormwood 29), when I would ask people if they had read Jefferies, even well-read people often looked at me with puzzlement. Even when I met people who knew Jefferies’ nature writings, they had never heard of After London. Yet in the same week that Wormwood 29 appeared this fall, the TLS reviewed a new scholarly edition of After London edited by Mark Frost for Edinburgh University Press. Steam-engine time for Richard Jefferies.

Now to think a bit more directly about literary modernism and the fantastic. Heart of Darkness is an early Club Story, and the apotheosis of the form. Just look at John Clute’s A Darkening Garden (2007) to see how his thinking about Conrad developed in the decade after the Encyclopedia of Fantasy.

Hope Mirrlees was a contemporary (and friend) of T. S. Eliot. Virginia and Leonard Woolf published her Paris a Poem (1919), now seen as one of the antecedents of The Waste Land (1922). As Michael Swanwick observes, Lud-in-the-Mist “is a dissident work, written in full awareness of what the proper literary writers were up to, and in its refusal to go along with them daringly defiant.”

Lord Dunsany, whose early work had close ties to W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory, wrote novels of fantasy in sonorous prose in the 1920s. The King of Elfland’s Daughter (1924) describes the forging of a magic sword from thunderbolts with a monstrous, unequivocally post-war simile: “like the evil pool that glares when thermite has burst.” His 1933 novel The Curse of the Wise Woman is tale of rural Ireland and the magic of the red bog set mostly in the 1880s. Except that it is a retrospective tale narrated by an Irish consul in an unnamed Balkan country, and within the first three chapters, Dunsany specifically uses the words “silence,” “exile,” and “cunning”: he was not unaware of modernism.

Certainly there are strains of fantasy that are conservative and even hostile to literary change. For all his cosmic philosophical viewpoint, H. P. Lovecraft rejected Eliot’s modernism and aspired to eighteenth-century English literary ideals; and the American pulps did not reward literary experimentation. In many ways the pulps operated in defiance of modernism. Science fiction was never at a distance from literary activity. Look at Shelley or Wells. Literature never excluded science fiction until it excluded itself.

Things began to change in the late 1940s. Anthony Boucher encouraged literary quality in the works selected for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and he was the first translator of fiction by Jorge Luis Borges into English. James Blish and Damon Knight raised the standards of literary criticism in American science fiction. But it is really with the New Wave of the early 1960s that the learned or self-imposed isolation of science fiction collapsed.

Writers such as J. G. Ballard and Tom Disch and Joanna Russ asserted literary excellence as inseparable from the aims of science fiction. And for formal innovation, Pamela Zoline’s “The Heat Death of the Universe” (1967) is still pretty dazzling. William Burroughs was familiar enough with the tool-kit of science fiction to add it to his cut-up machine in the early 1960s: think of Nova Express and The Soft Machine. Science fiction writers of the 1980s such as William Gibson and Rudy Rucker were conscious of these writers when they burst on the scene.

Friday, January 12, 2018

A Conversation Larger Than the Universe - Henry Wessells

A Conversation Larger Than the Universe - Readings in Science Fiction and the Fantastic by Henry Wessells is to be published by The Grolier Club in January, with an introduction by John Crowley. Henry is a Wormwood contributor, antiquarian bookseller and founder of The Avram Davidson Society, who writes thoughtfully and lucidly about the history of these two linked literatures, from Frankenstein through to cyberpunk and beyond.

The major figures are discussed with particular clarity and a thoroughly informed understanding of the significance of their work. However, this study also looks at some less well-known books and authors in the field, and considers SF and Fantasy not just as enclosed genres, but in the wider context of contemporary culture. Engrossing and informative as history, the book is also a pleasure to read because of Henry's personal style and perspectives.

The publication will be accompanied by an exhibition open to the public at New York's The Grolier Club from 25 January to 10 March 2018, which will include rare books, magazines, manuscripts and ephemera.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Postcard from the Tower of Moab

In a previous post we discussed the likelihood that L A Lewis’ story ‘The Tower of Moab’ was based upon Jezreel’s Tower, Gillingham, Kent, and in another post reported on a local history group’s account of the demolition of the tower. Before it was destroyed, however, the tower was very much a local landmark, and it was depicted on several designs of postcard.

Quite a few of these survive. The example illustrated here, printed by Thornton Bros of New Brompton, Kent, is postmarked August 16 1905, and has a message from the anonymous sender with a couple of interesting allusions.

It reads: “This is the Tower that was supposed to hold 144,000 persons at the End of the world it is just up close to us and is being pulled down to be turned into a factory this card will be a novelty of the future.”

The author’s last comment was prescient. But it is also interesting to see a first hand report of the lore associated with the Tower, and also to learn that it was thought locally to be about to be demolished as early as 1905. In fact, demolition did not begin for another 55 years and it was not finally destroyed until 1961.

The recipient of the postcard lived in Cookham, Berkshire which, curiously enough was the birthplace and home village of Stanley Spencer, the artist most known for his visions of the resurrection of the dead at the end of time.

Mark Valentine