Author Topic: What are you reading?  (Read 519 times)

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Offline kimmy

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #45 on: December 19, 2018, 12:19:16 am »
So I'm trying to fight off "seasonal affective disorder" by spending at least an hour a day with a "Happy Light". And since I'm going to be sitting in a bright light anyway I figured I'd read some of the books I've picked up and never got around to. First on the list:

The Book of Cthulhu

This is a large collection of short stories inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's writings and the "Cthulhu Mythos".  From the editor's introduction:

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Lovecraft's impeccable storytelling-- often filtered through his collaborators and "disciples"-- has inspired many to pen their own Mythos tales, and the Cthulhu Mythos story cycle has taken on a convoluted, cyclopean life of its own, as posthumous collaborators continue to expand the scope, scale, and ultimate interpretation of what is perhaps the most diverse shared fictional universe ever created.

Today,  the Cthulhu Mythos cycle includes tales by some of the most prodigious writers of the twentieth century... and so far, some of the most astounding writers of the twenty-first century as well. Mythos fiction has become one of the major cultural memes of our era-- everybody knows what Cthulhu looks like, even if they haven't read Lovecraft. And it would seem that Cthulhu and his minions are everywhere, not just books and short fiction (especially online short fiction), but represented in music, toys, audio dramas, feature films, comics, and games (video and otherwise).

While I would quibble with some of that (Lovecraft was hardly an "impeccable" writer... his prose was often cumbersome, awkward, and to borrow his signature adjective, "cyclopean".)  But I think it's fair to say that his work has had an immense influence on the fields of science fiction and horror. Even though during his lifetime his work was recognized only in the pages of pulp magazines ("Amazing Stories!") and he died quite young, his ideas and creations have found a much larger audience since his death.  Other authors-- including Stephen King and Robert Bloch, to name a couple-- have penned their own contributions to his mythology, some of them better than his own work, others... not so good.

Two of the main themes found in Lovecraft's work are fear of the unknown, and humanity's tiny insignificance in the vast cosmos.  The universe is fully of mysteries, and if we knew the answers to them we'd go insane with terror. We're lucky to be ignorant, and those who delve too deeply into these mysteries usually meet terrifying fates in Lovecraft's tales.

These stories are often told through a "frame".  A "frame" is a storytelling technique that explains how you, the reader, have obtained the information you're about to read. A collection of letters from an increasingly nervous correspondent who suddenly stops writing, leaving the reader to extrapolate his fate. "Notebook Found in a Deserted House". "The Blair Witch Project" and other "found footage" movies are examples of how a frame can be used in storytelling.  As in Blair Witch, the frame in which the story is told is in itself giving you a message, which is often that the narrator of the story isn't around anymore, creating an ominous air right from the start.

I read the first of the stories in this book last night, "Black Man with a Horn" by T.E.D. Klein. The author addresses the frame right from the start:

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There is something inherently comforting about the first person past tense. It conjures up visions of some deskbound narrator puffing contemplatively upon a pipe amid the safety of his study, lost on tranquil recollection, seasoned but essentially unscathed by whatever experience he's about to relate. It's a tense that says, "I am here to tell the tale. I lived through it."

 ... "It's over now," he says. "I lived through it."  A comforting premise, perhaps. Only in this case, it doesn't happen to be true. Whether the experience is really "over now" no one can say; and if, as I suspect, the final chapter has yet to be enacted, then the notion of my "living through it" will seem a pathetic conceit.

We learn that he's an elderly man typing away at an electric typewriter, and that he's very sure that he's going to die soon.


Like most stories in the Lovecraft genre, the curtain pulls back a little at a time... revealing to the reader ever-so-slowly what's really going on, letting the reader fill in the blanks using their knowledge of the mythos which the narrator, not having this knowledge, isn't able to piece together as quickly as the reader.  But eventually, both reader and narrator arrive at the same place.  This story works on two levels... on the more literal one, it's a horror story about an old man who believes that he's become the target of strange Asian cultists and that a supernatural creature will soon arrive to end him.  But less directly, it's about grappling with his mortality, accepting that his life is coming to its end, his casual racism and xenophobia are the realization that the world is changing around him... the supernatural creature that's coming for him is really just old age and mortality. It's very satisfying to get to the end of the story, put down the book, and realize that the author was really telling you two stories at the same time, and then go back and reflect on the details that contribute to both aspects of the story.


  -k
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