Posts tagged Innsmouth Free Press
I don’t recall how I first encountered the writing of Nick Mamatas. I know it happened in 2007, a year that saw me greyed out and dull from a dead-end managerial job. It pleases me to think I may have been at work when it all went down. At work entailed surfing the internet for anything to cut the boredom, which meant vainly hoping that some intersection of my interests would draw from the electronic undermind a gem. A rare enough occurrence, but it happens. And this time it did.
Mamatas had released his Lovecraftian/Beat Generation mashup novel Move Under Ground online that year (under a Creative Commons licence, it had previously seen print in 2004 through Night Shade Books); a random search had pulled up the PDF for me. It didn’t even take me one chapter for the hook to set in my jaw: I had only recently completed a giant Kerouac kick, bottoming out with the bleak apocalypticism of Big Sur, and Move Under Ground tickled that over-sensitized first thought best thought spot mightily. I consumed it in hours, and read it again the next day. From the start of the novel, I could tell that Mamatas got Lovecraft. Not the beasties and the blasphemous books and the bumpf of HPL (though he gets those too), but the deeper themes, the sublime terror of Lovecraft that manifested not so much in the Old Gentleman’s actual writing, but in the thoughts that come to the mind after you read him.
Mamatas is like that, or at least he was in Move Under Ground, which had within its early chapters a scene wherein Kerouac bests a shoggoth by delivering a “soul kiss”, rapidly followed by harrowing imagery of a R’lyeh not rising from some far-off coordinate in the Pacific, but just off the coast of Northern California, calling to its shifting bulk the dead, soulless drones of McCarthy’s America in a steady stream of pale bloated bodies and the accumulated garbage of a young Capitalism. This was a psychic R’lyeh, a principle of consuming madness made real.
Now, the heart of what makes Lovecraft interesting is dead simple, and yet it can be a hard target to hit: the world seems to be a certain way, and then the Way It Actually Is is revealed. TO KNOW is the worst curse in the Lovecraftian universe. Mamatas gets this. His aim is truer than most.
Well, that was then. That was Move Under Ground, at least. And now? Innsmouth Free Press is releasing the collected Lovecraftian fiction of Nick Mamatas, THE NICKRONOMICON. Sadly, the scuttlebutt associated with this book is that this is it, folks, that’s all he wrote. There won’t be any more Lovecraftian work coming from Mamatas after this. Which is a damn shame, especially considering the new novella that was written specifically for the collection, On the Occasion of My Retirement. But we’ll get to that.
Mamatas is fond of the catastrophe, and that fondness is here displayed to great effect. What I mean by catastrophe is more akin to the mathematical theory than any disaster. What I mean by it is this: in Lovecraft’s fiction, the protagonists are in most cases already halfway into the world that will soon be fully revealed to them, either by virtue of their heritage or character or education. They are solitary scholars, recluses and bookworms, half-mad cultists. When the horrors come, as they must, the punch has been telegraphed almost from the first paragraph. Hence the infamous last paragraph of ultimate horror typeset in italics! in a good number of Lovecraft’s stories.
Not so with the stories here. Among the tone poems (And Then, And Then, And Then…), lovingly researched pieces of ephemera (Brattleboro Days, Yuggoth Nights), and deft examinations of Lovecraft the Man and Collection of Awful Foibles (Jitterbuggin’, The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft) are some of the best tales in the genre, by anyone, and they are almost all catastrophic.
There is Wuji, in which a taiji student in late 60s Oakland undertakes a course of unusual martial training in order to help defend his neighbourhood in the middle of a turf war. It’s tricky to speak of the catastrophe in Nick’s stories without wandering into spoiler territory, but I will in this case and only as an example. There is a moment towards the end of Wuji where the narrator reveals itself to the reader. It’s a moment that can turn the entire narrative on its head, an aha! moment of cursed Knowledge. When it happens, it’s jarring, fantastic, and one of the best reasons to read Mamatas, that catastrophic moment when it all careens away to the left. In Wuji, the narrator simply takes over at the critical point: he’s been chatty and conversational throughout (Mamatas is a dab hand at dialogue) and so when the shift to first person happens, it’s smooth. (Well, maybe a spoiler of the narrator’s identity isn’t actually needed, now that I think of it. Go read it yourself!)
The catastrophe hits again in Real People Slash (a brutally funny account of one Socialist’s Lovecraftian enlightenment at the pincers of the Mi-Go), and in Dead Media (again with those Fungi from Yuggoth! but Mamatas has thought these beasties through and delivers a cosmic uppercut in the last paragraphs that’s delightful), and again in And Other Horrors (with Don Webb – a supremely twisty tale of mind-swapping and the implications of the Yith). Orrin Grey, in his clever Introduction to The Nickronomicom, notes that Mamatas has a thing for Lovecraft’s brain-raping critters and isn’t shy about using their own dread tactics, drastically moving perceptions around, both in his characters and in his readers. These shifts are true catastrophes, there’s no preparing for it, he does not telegraph his punches: one moment you’re in a squatter’s riot in Queens and the next you’re instantly freezing to death on the surface of dark Yuggoth. Mamatas is merciless.
It’s a mercilessness that comes to perfect fruition in the final novella here, On the Occasion of My Retirement. Mamatas lets all the tropes come out to play – cursed statuary, antagonistic Miskatonic professors, mind-swapping that shouts out to The Thing on the Doorstep) – but he also throws cutting-edge nanotube tech (VANTABLACK! I admit it: I swooned), predatory sexuality, freaking Kafka, deconstructions of key sentences from Lovecraft’s pen, and a dizzying amount of academic-speak (my wife, who works in Ivory Towers, confirms for me its authenticity) into the mix. The effect is hallucinatory, and again, the catastrophe is there, waiting, when the identity of the narrator, their goals, the very nature of what you’ve been reading, even… shifts. It all shifts horribly. Welcome, Vertigo! Hello, Horror! Following this particular catastrophe, then, comes another joy of reading Mamatas: his skill with a great ending… “And now, administrators and administrated, acolytes and initiated, students and drop-outs, hangers-on and soon-to-be-hanged, my prefatory remarks are over and my keynote lecture shall begin. First slide, please.”
FIRST SLIDE, PLEASE. Every shift and catastrophe experienced through On the Occasion of My Retirement leads to that final sentence, which is itself a fresh catastrophe, another profound shift that waits on the other side of that last period. Which is what Lovecraft, at his best, was all about: inducing thought, triggering fear through the correlating of contents. The real italics come after you put down the book.
Nick Mamatas gets it. And Innsmouth Free Press gets Mamatas. They’ve put together a marvellous book in The Nickronomicon: beautifully set, graced with interior artwork by GMB Chomichuk (pages from a book that don’t look like cheap Simonomicon rip-offs) and a cover by Oliver Wetter. If you enjoy Lovecraft even a little, enough to have grown tired of the rehashed Mythos slurry that passes for “weird fiction” these days, you owe it to yourself to get a copy of The Nickronomicon in your hands, and into the hands of your friends. Highly recommended.
Available for pre-order now from Innsmouth Free Press
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 both Summer of Lovecraft and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.
Scott R Jones’ When The Stars Are Right: Towards An Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality has been out in the world for a mere three months, but that’s enough, apparently, to get people talking. So we thought we’d round up a few reviews for easy tagging here on the MMP site. Excerpts below and links to the full reviews: see what the Weird Fiction community has to say about the book Laird Barron calls “sly, intelligent, and darkly entertaining. Jones gives Ligotti a run for his money in the Cosmic Horror Philosophy arms race.”
David Leingang of Unspeakable Gibberer: “What Mr. Jones has accomplished is beyond any Cult of Cthulhu or Esoteric Order of Dagon. It is not so much a practice of occultism, but rather a philosophical approach to what Lovecraft may have been hinting at in his writings. Taking a more poignant stance behind Shub-Niggurath, Nyarlathotep, and Dagon and unveiling a study in character of each of the gods, taking into account what they stand for and what teachings they have in store for those who are enlightened by what Jones identifies as The Black Gnosis.” > full review here
Allen Griffin of Innsmouth Free Press: “Once again, there is something here for everyone. At one point, the author states the whole project started as a joke. But I am reminded of Aleister Crowley’s famous pun in Chapter 69 of The Book of Lies, a pun which some claim laid bare the secret teachings of the IX degree of the Ordo Templi Orientis, a pun that would resonate with occultists over the course of decades, if not longer … When The Stars Are Right is a thought grenade and reading this tome may just send ripples through one’s thought processes. Contemplate these concepts at your own risk; you might just come out the other side a practicing R’lyehian.” > full review here
And a very well written Amazon review from Joseph Legander III: “Although relatively brief, it is in alternating turns wise, funny, insightful, practical, and a little scary. Like some exotic, eclectic cuisine, it’s full of hints of other dishes, but duplicates none of them. Traces of Buddhism, chaos magick, and shamanism are obvious. Bits of Ken Wilber’s Integral Philosophy appear (intentionally or not), and there’s even a soupçon of the author’s clearly less-than-happy Christian upbringing. But the odd alchemy at the heart of it creates something so strange, so alien, and yet so lovely that it never feels at all derivative or forced … When The Stars Are Right is simply light years beyond the typical scribblings of Necronomi-con-artists and Gothic poseurs. It combines the blackest insights of Gnostic imaginings with a beautiful, tear-worthy epilogue in the form of a letter to the author’s newborn baby daughter. Regardless of how deep in slumber great Cthulhu may be, I’ll bet he sits up and takes notice of this delightful, non-fictional addition to the Lovecraft canon.” > full review here
Jones recently appeared on the Miskatonic Musings podcast with Sean Thompson and Charles Meyer. Yes, When The Stars Are Right was talked about, but there was also discussion of embarrassing Halloween costumes, the possibility of a kind of chakra-based activation of Godzilla’s blue atomic-breath, why you should always try to include at least one giant phallus in any sculptural attempt of Cthulhu, and Jones waxing all fanboy-ish about Grant Morrison AND Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials. So, something for everyone and nearly two hours of it. Right here, weirdos > http://www.miskatonicmusings.com/episode-53-always-look-bright-side-life/
Laird Barron likes the book. Reviewers and readers like the book. But the best response we’ve seen so far? Jones sent us a photo of the little girl to whom When The Stars Are Right is dedicated: his 9-month old daughter, Meridian, who finds it a toothsome read indeed! Normally we shudder a little when Cute-thulhu things happen (looking in your direction, Plush Cthulhu manufacturers!) but in this case we can’t help but allow it!
You can order your copy of When The Stars Are Right: Towards An Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality here. NOTE: there are ONLY 2 COPIES LEFT of the original print run, but we will be making arrangements this month to create a Print On Demand edition of the book. Missed out on the paperback? You can still order your electronic copy from Amazon (instant delivery to your Kindle) or directly from MMP (slightly-less-instant but still under 12 hours delivery). And follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates on the PoD availability, as well as news and weird links to things our readers enjoy.
Martian Migraine Press: the Best Kind of Headache!
Though I grew up in the era that saw the rise of Dungeons&Dragons as a cultural touchstone, I was largely clueless about the genre it drew most if not all of its cues from. An example: I had no idea what those kids were playing when I saw E.T.: The Extraterrestrial as a boy.
I thought it was some kind of club meeting or something, and wondered when the spaceships were gonna show up. (I suppose it was a club meeting, after a fashion. And I was always waiting for spaceships to show up, anywhere.) This remained the trend into my teens: I was more into Heinlein than Hickman, more Bradbury than Brooks, more PKD than Piers Anthony.
When I did finally get into Sword & Sorcery, it was only through the British New Wave, and the work of Michael Moorcock, especially…
And back from there, to Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories, to REH and Conan, and finally to Clark Ashton Smith, who I was learning about at the same time I was first encountering HPL. And even then, I burned out on Sword & Sorcery early, finding the majority of the stuff (aside from the greats already mentioned) to be derivative and dull. It’s a genre of necessarily broad strokes, easily becoming a parody of itself.
So, I was prepared to be underwhelmed by Sword & Mythos, the new anthology from Innsmouth Free Press that melds S&S with the cosmic beasties and themes of HPLs world and worldview. The Cthulhu Mythos is itself a genre (or a thematic idea that attaches itself to genres, leech-like) that crumbles into pastiche in less-than-sensitive hands.
Thankfully, the diverse hands at work here are sensitive indeed, and editors Moreno-Garcia and Stiles have collected stories that are thoughtful, energetic, creative fusions that are (with one exception) a joy to read, and I’m happy to report there’s not a blonde-headed reaver of the standard S&S type anywhere.
Locales and times visited here range from Africa (Maurice Broaddus’ The Iron Hut and Thana Niveau’s The Call of the Dreaming Moon), ancient Palestine (Ed Erdelac’s incredibly muscular and horrific The Wood of Ephraim), primal Mesoamerica (Nelly Geraldine Garcia-Rosas’ creepy In Xochitl In Cuicatl In Shub-Niggurath), the island nations of Java (Nadia Bulkin’s regal Truth is Order and Order is Truth), and imperial China (the tone-perfect and truly excellent The Sorrow of Qingfeng by Grey Yuen), to more mythic zones: Arthur’s Britain (Adrian Chamberlin’s The Serpents of Albion), the Carcosa of Chambers (Sun Sorrow by Paul Jessup), and an interdimensional hell-realm ruled over by an avatar of Nyarlathotep (E. Catherine Tobler’s And After the Fire, A Still Small Voice).
This latter tale was a standout for me, and a good example of what makes Sword & Mythos such a good collection: Tobler’s heroine here is someone familiar to readers who know their history, and the tragic nature of her plight, and the nuanced way Tobler hints at her identity and reveals her character through the narrative is masterful. (I won’t spoil the reveal.) This mastery is on display in most every selection here, whether it’s used in the service of humourous broad-chested bombast (Balogun Ojetade’s Black Caesar: The Stone Ship Rises), revealing the terrible costs of sorcerous contracts (Spirit Forms of the Sea by Bogi Takács), or cleverly deconstructing the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs (Jon Carver of Barzoon, You Misunderstood by Graham J. Darling) and fairy-tale tropes (Orrin Grey‘s little gem, The Bones of Heroes). Each author’s mash-up of the genres is fresh and interesting, and their characters are anything but cookie-cutter Conans. There are plenty of strong women (I do not mean the execrable Strong Female Character), fully eight of the fifteen tales have female protagonists; and people of every race (human and otherwise) besides. This is an anthology that attempts, and I believe succeeds, in presenting a very wide world to the reader. “Myopic” is one thing Sword & Mythos is not, which is incredible, considering the subject matter.
The only exception to this rule, in my reading, was an irritating tale by the prolific William Meikle, No Sleep for the Just. This featured a sentient blade and its English master/slave versus a fairly standard Dagon cult. I’ve enjoyed Meikle’s stuff elsewhere, but here he employs a stylistic tic of italicizing certain words again and again (the sword is constantly thrumming, there are fish, and things, and so on), an amateurish effect that pulled me right out of the story. Maybe it’s my early exposure to the cult of Moorcock, but the living sword here could have been done so much better, as it is in the other, superior tale here, Jessup’s Sun Sorrow. Diana L. Paxson’s Light was similarly clunky, but I put that down to the modern day setting (an archaeologists dig, manned by at least two SCA members, possibly more, and referencing that organization at least once) meshing poorly with elder Norse mythology more than anything else, and it is nowhere near as grating as Meikle’s entry.
Sword & Mythos finishes up with a quintet of short essays on the literary underpinnings, historical and otherwise, of both genres. Highlights here are G. W. Thomas and his Conan and the Cthulhu Mythos (a nice breakdown of the partnership-on-the-page of REH and HPL); editor Paula R. Stiles marks out the fine lines of the genre in What’s So Great About Sword and Planet?; and editor Silvia Moreno-Garcia has some fun with the Mexican comic-books of her youth in Spanish Conan: Manos, Guerrero Indomito.
Another great anthology from Innsmouth Free Press, easily one of the best small presses out there. Recommended. You can purchase the print edition directly from IFP and the title is also available in e-book formats (I strongly urge you to go print on this one: as with all IFP titles, it’s a very nicely put together book.)
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.