Cosmic Claustrophobia: Gabriel Blackwell’s ‘The Natural Dissolution of Fleeting-Improvised-Men’

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Part of the appeal of H. P. Lovecraft’s work is the sensed worlds (of teeming monstrous biology, creeping paranoia, undeniable nihilism) that lurk not so much within the text itself (famously verbose and weighted with archaisms as it is) but in the spaces between the flowery words and behind the formal lines. Lovecraft’s fiction is all about the suggestion, the hint, and that which we speak of when we speak of the unspeakable. To read Lovecraft is, in a lot of ways, to get what the man was about, under his surface veneer of genteel literary gentleman and scion of a decaying New England family. Under all that, well… horrors abound. Potent fears. Crippling anxieties.

All of which goes a long way to explain his continuing popularity well into the 21st Century, while the other, more successful pulp writers of his own time are all but lost to obscurity. Lovecraft somehow speaks to the current human condition. This is the Age of Crippling Anxiety, and Lovecraft is fast becoming its patron saint.

Gabriel Blackwell’s The Natural Dissolution of Fleeting-Improvised-Men (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) taps into that pervasive feeling of alienation and helplessness that bleeds out crimson between HPL’s purple prose and infects the reader. And the manner in which Blackwell does it!

Here are the bare bones of the plot: Lovecraft did not die of a combination of bowel cancer and Bright’s Disease. Or rather, he did, but the illness was merely a symptom (and not the only one) of a foul existential contagion transmitted to him through a textual artefact, a letter from a deranged fan resident in an asylum. And the name of this secret priest of the Great Old Ones? Gabriel Blackwell.

Natural Dissolution… is the record of the author (the present-day Gabriel Blackwell) travelling to Providence to search for his vanished girlfriend (who may or may not actually exist), where he finds temporary work shredding old hospital documents. Among these he finds HPL’s file, and within that, he finds Lovecraft’s final hand-written letter to his fan/persecutor/killer, which details the effects of that Blackwell’s (no relation? Maybe. Maybe not…) letter to him, and the rapid slide into hallucination, madness, and disease it triggered in him. Effects which, as the author Blackwell soon learns during his own descent into madness, continue to transmit through Lovecraft’s own letter.

There are some marvelously descriptive passages in Natural Dissolution…, passages that deliver on the fevered promise of both Lovecraft’s fiction and psychedelic use: if we could only look deep enough into things, then all would be revealed. It’s William Blake’s doors of perception getting busted wide-open, only to reveal, not a spacious and infinite universe of light and reason, but a claustrophobic infinite regression of fractal foulness, mutating forms, and crushing psychological darkness. Lovecraft, who only thought he saw the truth at the bottom of things, finally sees it, and it kills him. Blackwell, who only wants to find his girlfriend, instead finds a twisted passage (through the transcription and translation of the letter) into the emptiness of his own existence. The final chapters, with his return to the West Coast (divested of the letter by a thoroughly Lovecraftian trope: the jostle/mugging by a dark stranger in an alleyway near the piers) and the half-life he left there, give the reader a final maddening coda: Gabriel Blackwell the Author is perhaps host to the personality of Gabriel Blackwell the Lovecraft correspondent, and evidence of another person or entity living in the apartment he rents (and has filled with hoarded material to become a maze-like mirror of his psyche) hints that doors through time and mind have been opened and will never shut.

That being said, Natural Dissolution is also funny as hell. There’s a real David Foster-Wallace feel to the narrative, a dry humour in the sorting of awful phenomena and altered perceptions. Much of the story is pieced together through footnotes, and footnotes to footnotes, reminding me of House of Leaves, but in a good way. And Blackwell hits the perfect tone for Lovecraft’s voice: plummy and self-assured at points, devolving into “my god, that hand! The window! The window!” fevered hysteria at others, but sympathetic at all times. It’s Lovecraft’s last letter, and it feels just so, which is an amazing accomplishment.

The Natural Dissolution of Fleeting-Improvised-Men is far and away one of the better literary horror novels I’ve read. Witty, urbane, deranged and ultimately very unsettling. Highly recommended.

Scott R Jones is the author of the short story collections Soft from All the Blood and The Ecdysiasts, as well as the non-fiction When the Stars Are Right: Towards An Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality. His poetry and prose have appeared in Innsmouth Magazine, Cthulhu Haiku II, Broken City Mag, and upcoming in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.

Keeping It R’lyeh, One Month In

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Migraineers, we released Scott R JonesWhen The Stars Are Right: Towards An Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality exactly one month ago. Print and electronic editions. Now, the ebook version, well… there’s an unlimited supply of those, obviously. Photons and code, basically. Same stuff of which the Universe is built: common as muck. But the print editions, constructed of precious inks and the rendered flesh of forest titans? Ah, rare materials indeed. The first print run came to 100 books, a number which we were told was pretty reasonable for a micro-press. A number which (IN OUR NAIVETE) we thought we’d have months and months of casual selling to do before we saw the bottom of the boxes they came in…

That's a box of 50, right there. Small, innit?

Long story short: one month after the release date, When The Stars Are Right is sold out of the print edition. Or almost. We’ve got only 15 copies left here at MMP HQ. Here’s the breakdown of how these weird little tomes flew from our hands…

10 copies to contributors, the good folk who wrote advance reviews and blurbs, and Friends of the Show
11 copies in the pre-sale
25 copies regular orders (to Canada, the US, the UK, various spots in Europe)
37 copies at the three nights of book launches in BC (Victoria, Vancouver, and Salt Spring Island)
2 copies to the National Library of Canada for obligatory cataloging purposes

We had to break into Box #2 after the first launch party. YES.

Rest assured, there will be another print run before the end of the summer, but, if you want to snap up your copy from what’s left now, the ordering info can still be found over HERE, with links to purchase WTSAR in ebook formats as well. And as far as those go, sales have been brisk there as well: WTSAR has hit in the Top 10 in the Philosophy & Metaphysics categories a couple of times already in Canada and Spain (of all places) and enjoys a Hot New Release status in Canada, still. We’re also looking into implementing POD (that’s Print On Demand) options for the book (indeed, for a good portion of the MMP catalogue) so that physical copies will never be out of stock. We’d rather not get caught short again, frankly. We’re happy to be caught short, sure. But only this one time.

And since we haven’t mentioned it yet… thanks for Keeping It R’lyeh, Migraineers! We’re very pleased with the reception When The Stars Are Right has received so far. You’re all fhtagn in our books.

More updates to come in the next week: WTSAR review round-up, news on Justine G’s Blackstone series AND the second installment in the Lust Larvae books, and a possible new magazine project that’s going to straighten your curlies if we can get our act together enough to make it happen! Stay tuned…

Justine Geoffrey’s Top 5 Sexy Lovecraftian Stories

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So, I trust we’ve all gotten over our sticky prudishness re: the intersection of Lovecraft’s Mythos/general philosophy and the vast and pulsing arena of human (and non-human) sexuality? Yes? Good. Moving on! Here are my Top 5 picks (and one Honourable Mention) for the Sexiest Lovecraftian Stories…

Honourable Mention
Le Ciél Overt
by Kirsten Brown
For me, Lovecraftian sexuality is all about going that extra mile, y’know? What swims in those black seas of infinity, and more importantly, what are it’s turn-ons and turn-offs? I’m not a post-coital cuddler by any stretch, but will it call me in the morning? I’m omni-sexual in my literary tastes, and trans-humanist everywhere else, so I like any erotica that takes me Beyond the usual limitations of form and function. In Brown’s story here, the narrator explores a dead zone in Lovecraft’s Arkham where an extra-dimensional incursion took place years before. There are hints and signs, teasing evidence of a Presence, and the Big Reveal triggers a reaction in the narrator that made me clap my hands with joy. I may have even said you go, girl! which is a completely atypical thing for me to do. Great story. You can check it out in the amazing anthology from Dagan Books, Cthulhurotica.

5. The Black Stone by Robert E Howard
For me, this is the story that started it all. My whole weird-erotica experience has its germination right here, in the wild hills above Stregoicavar. Witch-cult orgies beneath cyclopean stone pillars? Blood and sacrifice? Hellish visions visited upon wandering poets? Hideous toad-deities getting off to the whole sordid display? Hells yes. Howard’s story has it all.

"Time to get our Freud on, fellow cultists!"

I was so taken with The Black Stone that when a girlfriend asked me to write her “something hot and weird” I couldn’t help but head up into those hills. That was six years ago, Tracey is long gone (miss you, hun!), and the short piece I wrote then has been expanded into the Blackstone Erotica series. Now, as a story, The Black Stone is not all that erotic (though Howard’s muscular action style does help it along) but it’s hints and florid description of awful things done in service to even more awful things from Beyond make it a classic. You can find this one in a bunch of decent anthologies.

4. Infernal Attractors by Cody Goodfellow
Two words: Tillinghast Resonator. You’d have to be some kind of dyed-in-the-wool uber-prude to miss the sexy-fun-times implications of the dimensional barrier-bustin’ device that features in Lovecraft’s story From Beyond. A harmonic machine that allows the user to see the alien beings that “float and flop loathsomely” through the very air and matter of their mundane reality? Come on. It’s the through part that filmmakers like Stuart Gordon and authors like Cody Goodfellow have rightly fixated on: the Tillinghast Resonator is the ultimate sex toy.

"This light show is giving me... ideas."

In Infernal Attractors, a femme fatale enlists the aid (well, it’s more of an enslavement) of a nebbish-y engineer to help her construct a Resonator, with a singular goal: to finally locate, lay, and in the end, destroy, the ultra-telluric fuck-beast that’s been feeding off her sexual energy since puberty. Some of the language in this story is completely psychedelic and transcendent, the descriptions of transhumanist congress with demonic phantom-crustaceans is totally transporting. It is a sexual chakrapocalypse painted in neon colours and glowing at full strength, with a great Lovecraftian ending, too. Beautiful. This one shows up in Cthulhurotica as well, and it’s easily one of the strongest tales in there.

3. Babymama by Kenton Hall
Full disclosure: this tale is brand-spanking new, from a brand-spanking new writer, and I chose to include it in the weird-erotic anthology I edited earlier this year, Conqueror Womb: Lusty Tales of Shub-Niggurath. Hall grabs the reader by the delicates in the very first line and doesn’t let go through a torturous narrative of raw sex and stripped-to-the-bone emotions. It’s all very real, very literate, very immediate and visceral. Also, hot. The narrator, and the personification of his libido (which he names Steve) meet the girl of their dreams, and one thing leads to another, and then another, and another. The question posed by Brown in Le Ciél Overt is answered here: what happens when you fuck a god? What happens to you? Nothing good, but possibly something better than good. I loved this one immediately, with it’s deft examination of the plurality in us all, and I hope to read more from Hall in future.

2. The River of Night’s Dreaming by Karl Edward Wagner
This is technically a King In Yellow/Carcosa tale by Wagner, and not specifically Lovecraftian, but the sense of dread, cosmic ennui, creeping madness, and forbidden lusts satisfied in dark rooms really does it for me. It has a wonderfully Victorian-era repressive feel to it: corsets and straightjackets, outer social niceties binding an inner world of insanity and incest. Think The Pearl, but written in the world of Chamber’s The Repairer of Reputations. Something, too, about all the evocative King In Yellow name-checking… Cassilda, Constance, Castaigne, the C’s and S’s just drip off the tongue, sliding through a slick narrative with ophidian ease. Dig it. This story shows up in The Hastur Cycle from Chaosium and I’ve just learned it was also made into an episode of the cheesy Canadian/British softcore/horror TV series, The Hunger. I… I probably won’t watch that. You go ahead, if you want.

1. Ink by Bernie Mojzes
Mojzes’ story takes a while to get into, but it’s worth the somewhat tough initial slog through what feels like a derivative noir potboiler. A girl goes missing, the mother hires a detective to track her down, and what he finds is an Eldritch Abomination that holds a kind of transhumanist sexual court in a seedy bar near the river. Again, getting it on with a Great Old One: what is that even like?

artwork by Alfonso Elola http://elolartwork.blogspot.ca/

In answering that question, it’s important to me that the story not simply devolve into standard hentai. Much as the inclusion of tentacles does not make a horror story Lovecraftian, neither does the intrusion of those tentacles into the usual places make a weird-erotica story Lovecraftian. And Ink does not go to the usual places, expanding the very idea and practice of sex into a kind of super-space of complete sexual and genetic expression. There is horror here, but also ecstasy: the body is used as a vehicle to transcend itself, and we come out the other side of the experience (and the story) changed. More. Different. Better. And isn’t that why we fuck in the first place? You can find Ink (and quite a few other very excellent pieces) in the anthology Whispers In Darkness from Circlet Press.

What are your favourite Sexy Lovecraftian tales? Get at me on the twitter @BLACKSTONErotic with your top picks!

Justine Geoffrey is the author of the BLACKSTONE Erotica series, Orgy in the Valley of the Lust Larvae, and Seawater & Stars: the Last Novel of Gideon Stargrave. She’s also the editrix (with Scott R Jones) of the weird-erotica anthology Conqueror Womb: Lusty Tales of Shub-Niggurath, all from Martian Migraine Press.

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