"There is a black sun which is not visible to the human eye. It is our beacon and its fire burns within us." -- Akkadian temple inscription

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Black Sun

Steven Kaye's irregularly updated blog

All right, so Uncle Don didn't really say "That ought to hold the little bastards," scarring millions of WOR listeners. In recompense I can only offer you the life of William Buehler Seabrook. The man studied metaphysics at the University of Geneva, worked with H.L. Mencken, loaned Crowley money (always a bad move), visited the Druses, the Yezidi, and alleged cannibals in French West Africa (if I remember correctly, the present-day Congo). Seabrook hung out with all the fashionable young American expats in Paris in the 1920s, and talked Man Ray into babysitting a girlfriend he'd chained to a staircase in his flat. Seabrook wrote the book The Magic Island, which introduced the word 'zombie' to the English language. In fact, if you've ever seen the Lugosi flick White Zombie, the scene in which our hero finds out about the status of zombies in Haiti's legal code is taken from that book. So was much of the Haitian voodoo ceremony portion of Sax Rohmer's The Island of Fu Manchu. The man was so committed to reporting that he ate human flesh in Paris so he could accurately report its taste (apparently, it really did taste like pork). There are some good biographical sketches on the Web at http://www.redflame93.com/Seabrook.html and http://www.carr.org/hscc/research/yesteryears/cct2001/011028.htm. I can recommend his books Adventures in Arabia: Among the Bedouins, Druses, Whirling Dervisches & Yezidee Devil Worshippers and The Magic Island from personal experience, haven't had a chance to read his autobiography No Hiding Place or his second wife's biography The Strange World of Willie Seabrook. What a fascinating and terribly unhappy man.
So what have I been up to during my long hiatus? Well, I finished my review of Song of Cthulhu: Tales of the Spheres Beyond Sound, and it should hopefully be appearing in Paul Berglund's Nightscapes soon. I also got my contributor's copy of The Black Seal, for some research the shadowy Mr. Harms and I did for Adam Crossingham's "A Mythos Gazetter to the British Isles." The Black Seal's a modern-day Call of Cthulhu amateur zine, though considering that it's got a full-color glossy cover and is distributed internationally "amateur" isn't really doing it justice. I also finished reading several books - Tales of the Dying Earth, New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, The Rishi and Viriconium Nights. I have no excuse for why I haven't checked out Jack Vance's Dying Earth stories before - they're clearly influenced by Clark Ashton Smith, one of my favorite writers. Elaborate prose, ironic, decadent, endlessly inventive - Vance's novels are a welcome antidote to the plethora of generic Northern European settings that suffocate speculative fiction like some particularly repellent form of algae. If you can't get the collection, see if you can find some of the individual novels - The Dying Earth, The Eyes of the Overworld, Cugel's Saga and Rhialto the Marvellous. New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, on the other hand, is a serious disappointment, which is surprising considering that Ramsey Campbell was the editor. Several of the stories are readily available in multiple anthologies, such as "Black Man With a Horn" and "Shaft 247." Others are merely awful, such as "The Black Tome of Alsophocus." Perhaps as penance for my missing several weeks, I'll write an essay here on common flaws of Lovecraftian fiction. The Rishi is a pretty silly suspense novel that I started when it first came out and never got around to finishing. Obviously this was my subconscious brain acting in my best interests, as is its wont. The idea of a Thuggee revival could be handled well, but falls apart into a motley collection of clich├ęs - the Dedicated Husband, the All-Knowing Occult Expert - and stock situations (gee, a character who only gets a brief mention earlier in the novel shows up more and more - wonder if he's --- naah, couldn't be). Viriconium Nights is another offbeat speculative fiction work, a collection of short stories by the British author M. John Harrison. Harrison struck out to demolish traditional fantasy, and in this collection he succeeds. Viriconium - or Vira Co, or Uroconium - is a highly mutable place, with characters and places changing roles and locations constantly. A scene with a noble seems to occur in ye olde generick fantasy inn - until the noble pulls out a snuffbox of cocaine. Gods create Chinese takeaway and wellington boots before ascending to the heavens. Also, the stories emphasize decadence and dysfunctional relationships, as well as often avoiding a pat ending with all loose ends tied up. Since he's a classic British speculative fiction author, I don't think his work's in print in the US. Night Shade Books is coming out with a collection of his short fiction, but I don't know whether it includes any of the Viriconium stories. So check out Amazon's UK site or your favorite used bookstore. I finally saw the 1999 movie Ravenous which was entertaining. A Mexican War "hero" is sent to Fort Spencer in California and finds himself and the other residents of the fort faced with the legendary windigo, which gains its strength from feeding on human flesh. Guy Pearce plays the war hero, Jeffrey Jones plays the commander of the fort, David Arquette plays a pothead who fortunately doesn't get much screen time and Robert Caryle plays the priest F.W. Colqhoun. Carlyle steals the movie, in my opinion, but Jeffrey Jones does well in both comic and dramatic scenes. The only really annoying part was the forced 'manifest destiny' speech towards the end of the movie. The scenery's gorgeous, although I don't know why they filmed the Sierra Nevadas scenes in the Tatras mountains of Slovakia rather than the Sierra Nevadas. I'm reading an interesting paper by Victoria Nelson on fandom and religion, which draws on ideas from her book The Secret Life of Puppets. I'm wondering what possessed me to call the monstrously egotistical person who could write "Often I must wonder whether it would be easier to live with a terminal physical ailment, such as cancer or AIDS, rather than the lingering abyss of chronic depression." in an e-mail to 22 (yes, 22!) people, at least two of whom have relatives suffering from cancer and at least two of whom suffer from chronic depression but got off their asses and did something about it rather than writing long self-pitying e-mails and hoping the Prozac Fairy would come and magically solve all the problems they created for themselves, a friend. Oh, and at least one of the recipients of that e-mail had previously written him to say "Never e-mail me. Never call me."' But I'm not bitter. I'm looking forward to seeing some old friends at the World Horror Convention in Chicago, and to seeing them more frequently once they move from Louisiana to Vermont in late May. And more immediately, to getting my taxes out of the way, after waiting until the last minute as per standard operating procedure. As Uncle Don put it, "That ought to hold the little bastards."
© 2002, Steven Kaye