Wednesday, December 9, 2015

"The Ninth Day of the Month"...

For those of you who stuck it out with The Squealing Nerd since its start in 2010, I invite you all to remember when I used to do a "Ninth Day of the Month" op-ed based on a monthly tradition introduced to me by Secretary Barquentine in an extraordinary work by Mervyn Peake entitled Gormenghast. 

Mervyn Peake inspired me many years ago, and he may yet be inspiring me now as I make progress through a novel project entitled The Thaumaturge of Mircea. His trilogy, Gormenghast, his magnum-opus, also inspired some of the greatest authors of fantasy fiction, authors like Neil Gaiman and Michael Moorcock.

Neil Gaiman tweeted that a certain group (unnamed) will be speaking to studios to see who would be interested in Gormenghast as a film. 


Seventeen hours ago puts this relatively smack in the middle of--well of today, the Ninth Day of the Month! 

Personally, the BBC miniseries adaptation will always be my first choice of media for Gormenghast. I have a hard time envisioning Gormenghast for the popular audience without a seriously harsh re-working of the text. Gormenghast is character-driven, story driven. So many films now require the plot to be action-driven, and by action, I mean killing and explosions. Now there are plenty of corpses to go around in Gormenghast, but I think of the books as being more like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre: lots of someone suddenly opening a door and surprised faces, "Oh. I'll just go," with lots of tension and riveting implications of Gawd-Only-Knows-What and only enough murder to keep it interesting (TTSP the book was way better at answering questions than the film). More than a fantasy novel of a decadent kingdom that is slowly killed from within by its own indolence, Gormenghast reads as a warning to the ruling class: you had better wake up now before the working class figure out there's more of them than there are of you. 

The casting of the BBC version was perfection; the atmosphere was just the right balance of the fantastic and the decayed. Each person is a colossal caricature, Gertrude was just the right amount of languid. Alfred Prunesquallor was just the right amount of spasmodic and Miss Prunesquallor was just the right amount of total insanity and so aptly portrayed by Fiona Shaw that I really can't imagine anyone else in the role. 
Irma Prunesquallor and her brother Alfred. Irma portrayed by Fiona Shaw

And the inimitable Christopher Lee as Flay! There it is; there will never be a better Flay! It can't be done. 

Christopher Lee as Flay, Manservant to the Earl

Jonathan Rhys-Myers more than perfectly capture Steerpike's cruelty and cunning. 

Steerpike, the kitchen boy turned usurper as played by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers

I could go on. I really could. Other names like Stephen Fry and Dame Maggie Smith along with the rest of the cast of Harry Potter color the screen with their brilliance.

Naturally we all began taking up opinions as to who would do the work justice. Peter Jackson is totally out.


And Guillermo del Toro is definitely in. 



Mr. Del Toro certainly has my vote!

I'll be keeping my eye on this story as it unfolds. I encourage everyone to give the BBC version of Gormenghast a view this week and discover the wonderful, whimsical, beauty and majesty of one of fantasy fiction's most enduring works. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Review of Meliora, And An Open Apology to Ghost Part II




And Now The Thing You've All Been Waiting For: My Review of Meliora


Initial Observation: Mind Blown


I loved it at first listen. I bought it with my Uber money and listened to it the whole way through, "Spirit" to "Deus in Absentia". Of course my two favorite songs, "From the Pinnacle to the Pit" and "Cirice" were given special attention, "Cirice" being the album's single. I found myself wondering how Meliora fit into the overall concept of Ghost, why it seemed like this album was different somehow from Opus Eponymous and Infestessumam. I found myself looking to reviews to explain it, only to be brutally disappointed to see negative feedback like, "The new Papa sounds bored", or "Not as good as their previous albums." 


I was stunned. I went back to it and listened again, and got some help with this album that made me realize that anyone who has something negative to say about this album does not understand it, and not only that, but they do not understand Ghost, and they need to be exorcised from the flock (I write a blog and not for a brand, so I can say that).


Concept


"Meliora" is Latin for "the pursuit of something better". The word "ameliorate" has its roots in this word. If we accept that Ghost's logical progression from Opus Eponymus as Purgatorio (grounded in worldy evil embodied by figures like "Elizabeth" Bathory) to Infestissumam as Inferno (the presence of Satan among us, incarnated in the song "Year Zero"), then we should now ascend to Paradisio to round out the entire poetic conceit. Ghost does this with a concept in Meliora that was not at first apparent to me, probably because like most Millenials, I stumbled upon the singles first and then tried to fit them into the album before I knew what I was doing. This is why the Internet sucks sometimes.  

Loudwire Magazine's review of Meliora changed my entire outlook on the album, but it changed it in such a way as to shed some light on the album's concept and how the album ties into Ghost as a whole. If Meliora is the Paradisio of the poetic conceit, it is because the search for something better has inevitably left us searching in vain. What we're hoping to achieve in the divine saving image of organized religion is both comforting yet unattainable. We are blinded by bright lights and shiny idols into believing in the hypocrisy of the righteous, the lunacy of believing that a few days at church can ameliorate us in the eyes of the Savior and forgive us for a lifetime of sins.

To preach this message of futility, Meliora has turned to the concert "rituals" themselves as a tool for this album, which is meant to be listened to in it's entirety as a sermon from start to finish, as stated by Loudwire, "complete with worship songs", songs like "He Is" and "Majesty", and with songs that call the congregation together ("Spirit"), and hymns that end the service on a good note, like "Deus in Absentia", proclaiming to us all that "the world is on fire, and you are here to stay and burn with me." Songs that threaten, like "Mummy Dust," songs that seduce and render the listener vulnerable, "like Cirice".

Seen below is the live performance of Ghost on the Halloween Eve airing of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert earlier this year, unusual in that Ghost does not make their rituals televised.





   
Live Performance of "Cirice" on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert October 30, 2015


The audience participation recalls the live rituals Ghost is so well known for, but also revisits the purpose of the song, "Cirice", in which Papa, his roll as the pontiff solidified and given a figurative, if not literal, pulpit to stand at. He reminds the parish that "you're lost without me," calling attention to the idolatry of the holy man, whose job in so many ways is not to bring you closer to God, but to keep you on your knees. Notice the discomfort of some audience members, the tightness of the introduction, the "I don't really know what to do with this" feeling, and the almost obligatory applause. I chose the live video over the official video because though audience participation is present in both, it's important to experience Ghost live, to feel the quaking wrongness the simple parishoner is inexplicably drawn to, yet powerless to escape. 

The new concept belies the usual casual air of evil oneness which the band is usually known for, giving Meliora a more didactic tone. It has drawn some rather harsh criticism from many die-hards.


Criticism and Rebuttal

For those whose primary argument is Papa III "sounds bored", that might almost make sense if you overthink it. Most of the time a career preacher gives the same service over and over again to a congregation of people who are there in body only, not in spirit. Our preacher stands at the pulpit and lets his message fall on deaf ears. Think Reverend Lovejoy from The Simpsons, disillusioned of the notion that there might be some good in everyone and ultimately too smart for his own good; when faced with two sides of the religious spectrum: apathetic, even blasphemous Homer Simpson and the radically moral, unreasonable Ned Flanders, Reverend Lovejoy looses his love for the job quickly. I'm also pretty sure it aged him prematurely. 





There the notion that Papa III is bored ends. I find Papa III to only lack some of the creepy weirdness of Papas I and II. This suits the album perfectly. Where Papa I and II seemed like you should not get too close to them--and definitely don't let the children near them!--Papa III is fresh on the scene, seductive. He is less frightening and more compelling. Like the rest of the album, he has, if anything, more power than Papas I and II, which made "FtPttP" and "Cirice", and "Mummy Dust" feel more like Power Metal songs, recalling "Con Clavi Con Dio" of Opus Eponymous and "Zombie Queen"  of Infestessiumam. Papa III's look might be a large part of what turns old-school fans off. The new concept calls for new leadership, and though the traditional raiment and vestments can still be seen, Papa III's new look removes that creepy wrongness I mentioned, bringing him down to our level and speaking to us not from on high, but writhing with us in the machine of life assembly line as we're trundled one by one into a mass grave.



Papa Emeritus III ready for the ritual to begin.


Which brings me to the second most ignorant of criticisms, the idea that this album is different from the others and that is somehow a bad thing. No doi this albums is different! It's a concept album! And besides that, most albums experience some change during the evolution of the band. The front man Papa Emeritus is like a reincarnation of the Doctor, fundamentally the same, but somehow just a little different. Ghost is finding themselves at a point that is unusual for this band: popularity on an international scale. Three major albums in, with a presence on social media and record label representation, it's hard not to change, if not impossible. Yes, Ghost is addressing a new audience; yes, Ghost is the same band as it always was; yes, Ghost is allowed to change to meet the demands of new and old fans; Ghost is obliged to change tactics--how long can you beat a dead horse anyway? Bands that cannot adapt and who are not allowed to evolve fail. I think it's safe to say we'd rather Ghost go on as a band rather than fade into the void to be remembered only as those guys that had those weird costumes. Whatever happened to those guys? That Fate is not for Ghost. 


Conclusion


Meliora is a concept album that has brought the rest of the albums together to round out a poetic conceit that Ghost has been working tirelessly in the studio, on screen, and with their rituals to achieve. Meliora is Ghost defined. The emergence of a new Papa Emeritus and the amalgamation of the old audience with new fans has infused new blood into a band that is by no means becoming obsolete or grasping at straws. Despite criticism from supposed die-hards, the band has had no shortage of fans all over the world, and popular opinion places Ghost among the greats of Progressive Rock. Meliora is not only the legacy of the band's enduring spirit, but also the gateway to something new and unexplored. 

Though I think my favorite album is Infestessumam, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Meliora, but mostly because it's just good fun and I was introduced to Ghost with "FtPttP". 

The next time Ghost comes through Texas, I will not sit idly by and be content with my albums and music videos. I will be at the ritual, and I will greet the unholy father with outstretched arms and become one with the band, the phenomena, and the spirit that is Ghost. 



Too Long, Didn't Read: Hail Ghost! 

A Review of Meliora, And An Open Apology to Ghost Part I

Papa EmeritusII, Infestessumam


Before I get to Meliora in Part II, I have a confession to make:

I have probably known who Ghost is for some time. It would be hard to be in the Goth and metal scenes for as long as I have been and not catch a glimpse of the tell-tale makeup of Ghost's pontiff front man Papa Emeritus I, II, and most recently III, who assumed the mantle of power earlier this year. I had heard their name, of course, but I had never sat down to their music.


Papas Emeritus 2008-2015

So I can't be everywhere and all places at once! Don't all of you act like yall are so perfect! 

Before you all rip my head off, let's think on this for a second: I've been in the Goth and Metal scenes since before most of Ghost's current fans were out of high school. Ghost as most of us know it have has been around since 2008, their debut album Opus Eponymous coming to light right as I was finishing up college (2010). I've been around the Nu Metal, Goth, Doom Metal and Emo scenes for a while, and I think any sane adult would agree with me that it's really hard to hear everything, especially when you spend the majority of your adult life listening to European Power Metal (and some Japanese metal) My adult soundtrack was, and is, Nightwish, Blind Guardian, Falconer, Hammerfall, Iron Maiden, Iced Earth, Gackt, among many others that don't always fall directly under the heading of Power Metal. 

Like every single fantasy novel ever written, like every author of classic sci-fi, it is impossible to consume every single band that ever crosses ones path.

And yet, for all that I just said, there is absolutely no excuse for my appalling lack of astuteness in this matter.

Forgive Me Father, For I Have Sinned!

I would like to now bow in obsequiousness before the wicked pontiff and those swirling winds of blackness on guitars, bass, keyboard, and drums. I prostrate myself before the ritual alter and beg forgiveness for this wrong that I cannot right. I had, for too long, observed others at Ghost concerts, wondering what it was I could possibly be missing. A simple group of musicians in funny costumes? What? Keep scrolling. 

No, no! I was wrong! Please! Please forgive me! Take me into the fold at last, Father! I repent! I repent!

Rest assured, traditionally unnamed members of the best band in all of Prog Rock/Doom Metal, that though I have come late to the gathering, I am by no means ignorant. I have peered into the darkness in the blinding light and sought shelter within its depths. I no longer come to the alter an uneducated naysayer with benign shrug and tilted head, but a devoted disciple. I have donned the requisite attire in haste, and caught up to the back of the crowd. I've stumbled my way forward to get a closer look at His Eminence. I've tripped over my vestments, scrambled back up, brushed myself off, and have prepared myself for whatever fate He has in store for me. 

Will Papa Emeritus III welcome me to the flock, the patient shepherd, or will he turn me away in disgust as punishment for my lack of faith? 

I cannot know the answer to that. All I can do now is wallow in the music.

What do I think of Ghost? I mean what do I really think of Ghost? Well, I'll tell you!

It Is Always Best to Start At the Beginning

Ghost wrapped up the American leg of their Black to the Future tour in early November. However, I had no idea they were even on tour. I spend the vast majority of time hating the fact that I miss almost every single MIW concert that comes within a hundred miles of me. I came across no small amount of Instagram selfies containing costumed followers dressed as Papa Emeritus II and III for Halloween. Finally, a few band members I follow from a few other underground Doom and Black Metal bands posted some footage of a Ghost concert. 

It was as if there was someone out there trying to tell me something...

I was very wrapped up in making sure Richard Sammel saw my Halloween costume (I went as a steampunk-like Strigoi from The Strain). As far as I know, Herr Sammel did not see my costume, but I kept my nose firmly glued to my phone. 

So when the Heavy Metal Is Law Facebook page posted a video of a live performance of "From the Pinnacle to the Pit," I scrolled past it--and then immediately back up to it. Ghost had shown up not once, not twice, but three times in my social feeds in only a couple of days. At last, I took note. At last, I reached over to my laptop, as my work computer doesn't have speakers, and played the official video for "FtPttP". 

I listened absently. I listened again, and watched the video. I followed that up with "Cirice". I was at work too, so I had a very unproductive day.

Within moments, I was reborn.

The Ghost Phenomena

Feeling the need to realize the phenomena from the beginning, I started with Ghost's debut album, Opus Eponymous. It surprised me that I enjoyed Ghost despite their muse, which, if my research proved fruitful, is predominately Pink Floyd. I actually hate Pink Floyd. Not hard enough for me. I'm a Power Metalhead, you understand. If myself and a group of like-minded individuals can't bash our brains out to fantasy lyrics, I'm usually not interested. I have been reassured that even the most stalwart metalhead will tell you Dark Side of the Moon was absolute genius before trashing it and running away, screaming something about life being too short for mellow rock. With Ghost it's different. I expected the bulk of their music to be metal, but that's no quite it. Like Pink Floyd before them, slow songs are slow ("I Am Waiting for the Night to Fall", the opening to "Zombie Queen" being most notable). The hard songs are hard(er). Up until Meliora (different concept), the lyrics have been dark and unrelenting set against a backdrop of upbeat major notes punctuated by the downbeat and heavily stressed syllables at the end of each line of the verse. It's like, "The Devil has come, but that's okay, ya know?"

I listened to If You Have Ghost last, and I'm glad I did. Having listened to their other three albums and watching a few of their videos, I found the EP is exemplary of Ghost's sound; it epitomizes the irony of the band. Not only does Ghost adapt an ABBA song, among others, but they do it in such a way that darkens and twists the Pop icons they are covering, leaving one to revel with them in delight as songs like "Marionette" and "Crucified" are rendered hilariously overwrought, ingeniously re-arranged in meter and instrumentation to adapt each song as if Ghost had written it themselves. The style of the arrangement coupled with the irony of the subject matter leaves one giggling. I wondered what kind of musical Mama Mia would have been if Ghost had covered the entire thing. Meryl Streep would have been sacrificing goats, but she wouldn't know why. She'd just stand on the beach covered in blood screaming, "I don't understand!", the proverbial marionette with Papa pulling the strings. Papa Emeritus II would have taken the head of the aisle in the wedding scene and commanded Pierce Brosnan to commit sepuku. I'd have paid money for that! 


Ghost as Performance Art

All music is meant to be experienced live. Like trying to enjoy the Broadway theater experienced only through Pandora Radio, there is a lot of the Ghost experience lost in listening to the albums alone. Ghost is meant to be experienced live. That is the long and short of it. Ghost got its start live, as most indie bands do, touring and exposing the world to the grandeur and menace of the "rituals". Ghost has been a band since 2008 (Papa I), but did not release their debut album Opus Eponymous until 2010, featuring the favorites from the band's live shows, like "Elizabeth" and "Satan Prayer". Their EP If You Have Ghost reprised the go-to song "Secular Haze", which is featured as a live track.

Everything from the placement of props on stage to the makeup and costumes serves a purpose that is lost in listening to the albums alone. Music videos are a must for this band, their most high budget ones like "FtPttP" 



                    "From the Pinnacle to the Pit" official video, Meliora (2015)

are beautiful, but incomparable to the old school elegance and swirling stage mist of "Secular Haze" and "Monstrance Clock".



                        "Secular Haze" a waltz from Infestessimaum (2013)


The live Ghost experience is nothing short of transcendental, with audience members transported from their own bodies to become one with the gathered congregation. To say that this is not done on purpose (that we're just a bunch of Satan-worshiping metalheads on drugs--lookin' at you, Mom!) is naivete itself. The purpose of the shows is to mock and ironize Christian and organized religious congregation, complete with spiritual touches and what the Puritans referred to as "ecstasies," in which the Holy Spirit would literally (and this is what Puritans truly came to expect and believe) inhabit the body, proof that the Puritans were not only the chosen few but also that God could in fact make Himself manifest. This most commonly referred to in the Bible and in most organized religions as "speaking in tongues." I've spoken in tongues before. You should see me in the moshpit. I'll show you jibbering and slathering in a spasmodic seizure the likes of which you have never seen. 

At a live Ghost show, your ecstasies do not invite the Holy Spirit, but a different entity, one entirely at odds with organized religion. Your transcendence will not lift you to heaven, but merge you with the congregates in a soulless orgy of the mind and spirit that can only be accomplished under the tent at a Baptist evangelical youth camp or in the moshpit. 

It is this merging of the inherent danger of metal, the ecstasies of spiritual inhabitance, the lyrics of the songs that call upon Beelzebub, Satanas and Lucifer, and the overall concept of Ghost that has gotten these guys exiled and banned from whole cities and countries around the world, unfairly in my opinion, since the band has no real militant message. Anyone who listens to the band's lyrics may find themselves at first rather uncomfortable until you realize you are not being called to the army of darkness. You are being seduced by an evil that is not coming as it was foretold, but who is already here.

Ban them, call them Satanists. There can be no light without the dark, and like the world's most enduring organized religions, Ghost isn't going anywhere.

Stay Tuned for Part II

Saturday, December 5, 2015

On H.P. Lovecraft and A Review of The Martian Falcon

"The Lord of the Visible World"


Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a wordmaster who has left an indelible mark on the literary world. Despite his numerous flaws, he was largely regarded by his childhood friends and adult correspondences as a warm-hearted, good-natured, easy-going fellow who could even be counted on to hold his own in a fight. Either through prejudice, bad research, or misguided competition, Lovecraft has been described by those who consider themselves educated on the matter as a degenerate, racist, sexist recluse who gave birth to a slew of monstrosities that were summarily ripped off, so that he did not even attain relative success in his lifetime. Careless biographers coined him an ""eccentric recluse,"" (Joshi, Schultz Lord of a Visible World Ohio University Press 2000, pg x). The venerable Cat Valente had some choice words for Lovecraft during the on-going scandal when Lovecraft's likeness was removed from the World Fantasy Association's Lifetime Achievement Award. At the time my opinion was no better informed than Ms. Valente's, but in light of my most recent research, I have reason to believe that I was correct as well, but for the wrong reasons. I stand by my original opinion that Lovecraft should never have been the WFA's representative figure, but I am, like so many others, able to look upon him with a softer eye.


I do not mean to say that what Ms. Valente said did not have merit, nor was it at all inaccurate. It was the way with which Ms. Valente gave voice to her opinion, vehemently leveled and patently disingenuous. Of course, there can be no question that Lovecraft's societal opinions and ethnic viewpoints do not align with the Association's own goals and culture, and so to remove him as its symbol is not only logical, but natural. However, to say without hesitation that his prose was was "not that good" (short quote because I can't find her tweets) gives me the impression that Ms. Valente has not yet taken the time to get to know him, as it were. Of his fiction, yes there are better authors out there. Of his prose, there are better writers out there in general, but as a writer of letters, an essayist, a wordsmith, I find it difficult to believe that Lovecraft could have nothing to offer the world as a writer. 



Lovecraft was a unique human being that was loved by as many people as hated him. His talents never fully exercised nor trained, and after a lifetime spent horribly depressed and suffering from anxiety, he languished in poverty, and he died in poverty. His voice survives in his letters, and though he is most fondly remembered for defining contemporary horror and weird fiction, it is his own voice that is the most fascinating part of him. Editors S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz masterfully compiled an autobiography of Lovecraft through his letters that offers us a tantalizing glimpse into the mind and heart of one of literature's most beloved, and most controversial, figures.  



Others and have tried and failed to imitate his fiction. Many fictional outlets have reprised his most exemplary works for table-top gaming, computer gaming, and other media that has guaranteed Mr. Lovecraft's immortality, and many authors have said that they owe their career to Lovecraft and his works, but it is only recently that any real effort was made to bring him back to life as the author, the man, and the master, to let him speak with his own voice, the voice we find in his letters, journalism, and essays, so that we may not know him not only as an author of the macabre, but as an ally, perhaps even someone we would think of as a friend.

Alan K. Baker has given Lovecraft back to us.


May Contain Minor Spoilers:



Lovecraft and Fort: Private Investigators in the The Martian Falcon



Lets leave Lovecraft out for a second and consider the work of Alan K. Baker, a prolific author of six novels, his most recent work, The Martian Falcon, published through Snow Books. 


The Martian Falcon is at first glance a noir. It follows the noir formula and executes it masterfully. Charles Fort is a private investigator in the early Twentieth century, but that is where the conventional noir ends. Fort specializes in supernatural phenomena and dabbles in the magickal arts in the steampunk backdrop of post WWI New York City. It's a pastiche noir, pulling together a slew of familiar characters based on real figures (and ficitional) who must band together to solve the most mysterious of mysteries. Leaving Lovecraft out, I found The Martian Falcon to be refreshing. The Martian Falcon took me back to the four Edgar Allan Poe Mysteries by Harold Schechter, my favorite being The Hum Bug, in which Poe must team up with P.T. Barnum to solve a series of hideous murders at the hands of one of Barnum's sideshow freaks; the Dante Club by Matthew Pearl comes quickest to mind as well, in which four famous New England poets including Oliver Wendell Holmes and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow teamed up to stop a string of murders that acted out scenes from Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy



I have the Longfellow translation of the Inferno's first lines of Canto 3 tattooed on my right arm because of that book. 



As an added bonus, Baker's work is a steampunk masterpiece. It's difficult to find good steampunk fiction. Our choices aren't exactly limited if one has no objection to overlooking plot and world building and one is purely interested in the steampunk. Mark Hodder and Scott Westerfeld come quickest to my mind, one being an exemplar of good steampunk writing and the other not so much. I leave you to figure out which is which, but I'll give you a hint: I almost put Spring-Heeled Jack down like five times. 



Baker's characters meld beautifully with the steampunk backdrop. The entire alternate universe is crafted seamlessly, even bringing in real-life scientist Nikola Tesla, who meshes perfectly in this setting; so many steampunk die-hards consider him at odds with the movement, as he is not a Victorian character. Baker's choice to set this story in 1925 New York was bold, and well-executed. Real life gangster Al Capone of Chicago becomes the "Diesel Powered Gangster" who squares off with his New York rival, the vampire Johnny Sanguine, who tries to set Capone up for the theft of a Martian artifact. Each character plays well into the stereotype before being completely ripped out of it and cast in an original characterization that functions without flaw against the backdrop. For a short read, each character is well-developed and has a unique voice. I love Carmine, Johnny Sanguine's right hand man, and Capone's zombie lackeys. The lackeys get about two lines each (maybe a few more for Carmine) and each is so beautifully predictable and acceptable in a noir pastiche that I literally have no complaint.  



Then there's the "Lovecraftian" aspect of the story, the overarching story that at once encompasses the novel and reminds humanity of its minuscule place in the larger universe. Authors: choose your side! Your protagonists can cower before the might of the Great Old Ones as your predecessor's did, or they can fight back! Where Lovecraft was stalwart in his opinion that our moment in the universe is brief and meaningless and that there are some parts of the universe we were never meant to explore, Baker's characters (like Titus Crow from Brian Lumely) are not prepared to give up so easily in the face of Lovecraft's own primary theme: the threat of utter annihilation. Neither is Baker's incarnation of Howard Phillips Lovecraft himself, who does not shrink from the fight against creatures who, in this reality, are real and terrifying, and not of his creation. He joins it readily, glancing nervously at his weapon, but never hesitating to use it.



I suppose we can talk about Lovecraft now.



As I stated above, nothing is more fascinating when reading Lovecraft than reading his own words, words he wrote not for himself to satisfy his own ego, but what he wrote to friends and colleagues, in journals and publications. It is this voice that has received so little attention in the fantasy and horror genres of our time. Baker does not relegate his understanding of Lovecraft's voice to his fiction, but proves he's done his homework. The Lovecraft the reader meets in The Martian Falcon does not vary at all from the Lovecraft of reality. His voice is entirely accurate, scathing when it has to be, flamboyantly verbose, purposefully archaic, and even rhythmically accurate. Lovecraft is a man quite out of his time, the soul of an Eighteenth-Century gentleman trapped in the Twentieth while at the same time fascinated and at one with the natural world. Some of Lovecraft's most humorous and witty (I doubt he would have described himself as "funny") moments are short and sweet. Lovecraft sometimes ended a long-winded rant with a very short phrase like, "I'm a done with Dunn!" (Joshi, Schultz, 45), which is clearly a pun. He ended a beautiful description of the vacant lot beside his family's new home with a elegiac shake of his head, "Adulthood is Hell," (Joshi, Schultz, 26). Baker captures this aspect of Lovecraft's short bursts of wit in the scene in which Fort, our boy Lovecraft (who has been recruited by Fort to solve the caper of the missing Martian Falcon), and Capone must escape Johnny Sanguine's angry cohorts. Capone teases Lovecraft.




""And what might that be?" asked Lovecraft hanging on to his own hand-grip as the car swerved this way and that, braking and accelerating in quick succession as Tony tried to shake their pursuers.


"Probably try to run us off the road and use their strength to rip open the doors..."



Lovecraft ratcheted up the look of horror on his face by several notches. "And then?"



"They'll probably rip your heads off and beat me to death with them."



"Charles," said Lovecraft.



"Yes, Howard?"



"I resign."" 



--Capone, Lovecraft, and Fort, Alan Baker's The Martian Falcon



Baker's Lovecraft reminds the reader that there was a man behind the stories, the gentle life of a man who loved beans and coffee. Behind the shadows of the macabre was a voice that Lovecraft himself feared would only ever be heard in one single, paltry volume and a few pieces of publication he spearheaded himself, a fear of failure and dejection that sent him into years of depression and landed him in lifelong poverty, though he eventually comforted himself with the thought that all success is eventually equivocated by the grave. A moment of rebelliousness led him to an ill advised marriage that ended in failure, which he picked himself up from and soldiered on.Yet this is not a man deeply sunk into the shadows and wasting away, quaking at sudden movements. Baker's Lovecraft captures the man's original spirit of adventure, his pragmatism, his outright conservatism (that borders on fascism), his search for meaning and purpose in life, the near childlike youthfulness and innocence of his character and the wisdom of his old soul.



I'm not sure yet if I should thank Baker for leaving out Lovecraft's blatant racism or not. In the end, I think it was a good move; I always admired the way Dan Simmons chose to paint Charles Dickens as more of the horrible person he was rather than the lovable public figure he purported himself to be in Drood, and so Baker does more justice to Lovecraft by not drawing attention to the fuel that fired so much of Lovecraft's fiction and is present in his daily life (and gradually got worse with age). It had little to do with the story and the setting, and so does not bear scrutiny. Nevertheless, when it comes to craft, much can be gleaned from what isn't said as well as what is left in. There are many who would like to gloss over Lovecraft's xenophobia, but I cannot, nor will I gloss over his either blatant distaste for women or his fear of them. Unlike Poe's weird relationship and marriage to his cousin in Schechter's novels, Baker places Lovecraft in his novel just after his wife's exhibition to the mid-west and forcible divorce, but before his recall home to Providence by his aunts from "exile." I make no assumptions about this particular plot choice, but since it fits the character and there probably wouldn't have been much room for her anyway, I can safely assuage Lovecraft's harsher critics by saying I would not read too much into it. 



Conclusion



Lovecraft has received wide post-humus acclaim for his works, though he received little more than a pat on the back and an author's copy for his trouble during his lifetime. He will always be held in high regard by myself and the more than 43,000 adoring fans he has on the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society's Facebook page, although were he alive today, he probably would not partake in our usual tet-a-tets over what "Lovecraftian" means; rather I think he would sit back and watch us squabble, sipping very sweet coffee and admiring the more conservative his fans and shaking his head at the more liberal minded. He would blog, review books, and have a very active Twitter account. His email list would have thousands of followers, and he would never want for backers on his Patreon. 



Lovecraft's fiction and his work have been immortalized by hundreds of publishers, and his praises sung by hundreds of authors. It is Alan K. Baker who has given Lovecraft pulsing life once more, but it is not the life his adoring fans know him for, but the sharp wit and gentle self-indulgence of the man his friends and colleagues knew him as, the type of man I would not have been ashamed to know myself. Baker and his P.I. character Fort gave Lovecraft what so few people in his own time had given him, a chance to prove his worth. Perhaps in Baker's alternate universe, Lovecraft would not die of cancer alone in his bed, nor would he die relegated to the annals of history as an "eccentric recluse", nor as a man who held no gainful employment and had some of the strangest prose fiction to ever come out of the early science fiction and fantasy genre. We can hope so. 



Alan Baker is a prolific author who deserves a very wide, mainstream readership. You can find his works for sale from Snow Books from his official publisher's site and you can find him on Twitter at @AlanKBaker. Look for his next Lovecraft and Fort adventure from Snow Books, Dial M for Mi-Go. I can't wait.




Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Fantasy Walkthrough: Pillars of Natura Vol 2--Halen

So, you're there. You wake up, and the sound of rolling thunder fills you with a nameless dread that has spread from your reoccurring nightmares to your waking mind. You roll for perception. 

Well not you; Rennick rolls for perception, and since this is 3.5 Edition, and this is me writing this blog, and this is Rennick we're talking about, he rolls low. Not embarrassingly low, but low enough to come up swinging at imaginary monsters while a tribe of nomads takes off with the horses. 

Thank the Goddess Erta for Kanias--still my favorite character by the way.


Artwork by Spenn

Pillars of Natura Vol 2: Halen Fantasy Walkthrough

Some Spoilers Ahead!

These blogs posts will become useful to you as you traverse The Realmwalker Chronicles. Come back to them for a quick refresher before starting the next serial installment. 



A Brief Recap

Each novel of The Realmwalker Chronicles focuses on a particular Lani power--you will recall each of the Four Realms of Erta possess latent Lani powers; the users of those Lani are separated into societies of De'Lani: 17 unique races with their own influences and physical characteristcs. The De'Lani cannot inter-wed or interbreed. Those who do so disrupt Erta's Balance (imposed by Erta, as we will see, during The Realm Wars), and cannot return to their people. These people are known as Neph, and their children cannot receive the Yeltas (signs) of either of their parents' De'Lani. Neph children must be purified of their sin--which they inherit from their parents. Only then may they go out into the world, and marry or live out their lives, without causing further imbalance. Some Neph do die in the purification ritual during the annual Yelta Luna, a ceremonial time. When the youth of each De'Lani come of age (eighteen Yelta Lunas) they receive their Yeltas at this time. 

The Seraph are protectors of Erta's will. They possess the Diamond Lani, and can call upon each of the four Lani of their Realm. They maintain the balance, and preserve the line of the Realmwalker and his or her Successor. No one De'Lani belonging to one Realm, not even the Seraph, can use their power off of their continent--except the Realwalker. 

For more about the 17 races and De-Lani powers, journey here.

Enter Raine and Rennick Sherril, the new and long-awaited Realmwalker and Successor. The twin son and daughter to Dani and Jair Sherril, two Cou'Rali adepts tasked with the Gran Shiga, honor mission, of raising Raine and Rennick to their eighteenth Yelta Luna. We don't know much about Dani and Jair, only that they had been assigned a bizarre Gran Shiga. Rennick manifested Lani powers, which meant he would not likely survive his purification--which ended up not being necessary, as the Seraph Kanias soon discovered that Raine and Rennick were not in fact Jair and Dani's children, were not in fact born Neph, and had no need to be purified. Kanias, in a battle of confusion, kills Jair, who believed Kanias had come to disrupt his Gran Shiga. Now, with no no past and a strange future in front of them, Kanias, Raine and Rennick make for the city of Cha'Li and the Temple of Erta nestled in the Pillars of Natura, a mountain range at the West of the continent. 


The Halen De'Lani: Influence Over Creatures

The best example of the Halen De'Lani's influence in action is the Quine. Short for "equine", the Quine are a clan of horse-herders who protect horses from those who wish to ride or domesticate them against the animals' wills. Classically Native American in appearance and devoted to the land and the animals they serve, the Quine live among the horse herds of Natura, guiding and protecting them. Imagine Kanias, Raine and Rennick trekking across the Staked Plains in search of a clan of folk who can communicate with horses. The beauty of the first volume's setting of Domo Vale and Jaske Green has not diminished. It has become the open, sweeping landscape of the wind-tossed Rayvon Plains. 

Kanias, Raine and Rennick must use the Halen Lani to convince their horses, and the Quine, that they mean them no harm. Kanias has no trouble, as he is friends with his horse. Raine and Rennick's horses were pilfered from the two rogue Seraph that killed in Domo Vale. The horses had not accepted them, thus prompting the Quine to liberate them. Communicating with her mount is no great feat for Raine either. As the Realmwalker, her Lani come more quickly to her. Rennick, on the other hand, is our low roller. His tentative use and success with the Halen Lani reminds him of the task set to him by his foster father to watch over his sister (who needs him less and less), and who finds each new task set before him as daunting as the first, reminding him of his shortcomings, urging him to move to the Temple of Erta and the training that awaits him. 

Thus mastering--sort of--the Halen Lani, Kanias, the twins, and the Quine move away from a pack of birds of prey, and into a nest of a different sort.

The Murgon Hybrids

Kanias knows, and so do the twins to a certain extent, that the use of any particular Lani outside of it's home continent is not possible, so when the group comes upon a pack of roasted Rukan, giant hunting birds. What Kanias can't figure out is what is powerful enough to kill a Rukan, and furthermore, what is powerful enough to kill five of them, roast them, and eat one of them? What can kill giant hunting birds of prey, and what the Hell is that smell?


Artwork by Spenn

Originally, Kanias believed that dragons had been responsible for the great fire at Domo Vale, which swallowed up the town, and the twins' own farm, which Kanias had already torched to cover their escape. Dragons would have been just as impossible, but what these were, Kanias could not know, but there they are, two of them, eating a Rukan, with three more joining the party. Kanias can't make heads or tails of it, and in a brash judgement call, decides they are more useful alive than dead. Hoping to take them down with Maior--the Lani that controls sentient beings--all the three really do is piss the things off. The creatures are capable of spitting a substance called mastula that acts the same way napalm does: it sticks to things and burns them. Before they can all be downed with Maior, one of the creatures sets the woods on fire, forcing the three to run. Bent on destruction of any sort, and partially obsessed with the "vwoosh" sound a thing makes when it's on fire, the lead creature (with the crested head) begins to set a large fireball into motion. Using D'ware, Raine attempts to kill several of them, proclaiming to her brother that they are "untouchable", which Rennick, in a better frame of mind, knows is not true. The lead creature is able to track her movements despite the fact that she has compressed time and should not be visible to the naked eye. As Rennick runs to her aid, a strong compulsion to run emerges as the Aspect of the Erta in the Successor urges him to protect himself, to take Raine's place should she die. Pulling even harder on D'ware, Rennick extricates Raine and Kanias before collapsing into a three-day coma, in which we learn a thing.

The Realm Wars

Succinctly, the Realm Wars were begun when Darkness and Light began fighting, ending all life as it was known before Erta, the Goddess of Light and Balance, split the known world into the Four Realms: Natura, Mecho, Elementa, and Necro. It is revealed to Rennick that Erta imposed the Balance on the Four Realms to keep Darkness from rising again, and blotting out the Light. Rennick watches it unfold in his dream. His unknown future solidified for him by Erta, urging him toward the bonding with the Sword of Angios, or rather Raine's bonding to the Sword of Angios. The Balance had to be restored. The dragons, or the Murgons, appearance in Natura were clue enough that the Balance was in jeopardy. He is possessed of a singular purpose now: "never will the night be without the light." 

The March from Cha'Li to The Temple

On the road to Cha'Li (just let the name of that city roll of your tongue--Cha'Li), Kanias and the twins meet with two other Seraph, Eidan and Yenli, who announce that not only did they believe Kanias to be dead, but that almost two hundred Seraph had been massacred in firey uprisings across Natura. Kanias has a fantastic idea about who was in fact killing off the Seraph, but he keeps it to himself. Desperate to confirm Raine as the Realmwalker and restore the Realms' faith in the Balance, Kanias takes a bold risk and decides to parade Raine in full fanfare through Cha'Li, igniting the spark of love and joy in the hearts of the people, and erasing all doubt about the existence of the Realmwalker, Erta's will incarnate. Pomp and circumstance ensue, and Eidan and Yenli--and a coterie of other Seraph--formally escort the party to the temple. The parade has the desired effect: the populace basks in the glory of the Aspect of Erta, and Kanias and Rennick can watch for threats. Turns out, the only real threat they face is at the gates of the Temple itself.

Dissension in the Ranks

The Seraph are undergoing a schism. Three schools of thought now exist, each taking root in the last remaining Seraphs who saw Ge'Lion (the Realmwalker Raine had come to replace after a search spanning over 100 years) alive. Realm Master Orryn believes staunchly in the return of the Realmawalker. Grevan Martuli believes Erta has abandoned the Realms. Yoltani Albrek believes Erta will show subtle hints of her will. Each requires real proof of the existence of the Realmwalker, which Kanias hopes to prove by parading Raine through Cha'Li. Grevan, the non-believer, refuses to allow Raine and Rennick entry into the Temple without confirmation, prompting Raine to a show of force that leaves her unable to handle the Aspect as it fills her. Instead of killing everyone in the room, and Grevan in particular, she drops them all into a deep sleep, leaving herself alone with her thoughts as the novel comes to a close. 

Basic Observations

Halen is filled with the innocence, beauty, and power of the re-emergence of the Realmwalker. Volume 2 of The Pillars of Natura is filled with a hope tempered by the growing imbalance and the distrust between the Seraph and the people of Natura. There is danger at every turn, yet in Raine, faith in  Erta is restored. Raine is full of untapped potential and dangerous powers she is barely able to cope with much less fully control. Yet, with the exception of the dragon hybrids, everything around Raine and Rennick is full of life. The bustling city of Cha'Li is delightfully mundane, yet picturesque and inviting. Having only been exposed to Domo Vale and Jaske Green, Cha'Li is a thriving port city that could quickly become disorienting and exciting all at once. 

Kanias remains torn between doing his duty to the Seraph, to Erta, and also to helping Raine and Rennick. Essentially children entrusted to his care, Kanias must walk the fine line between care-giver, guardian, and Seraph. 

The divide between the Seraph is expanding, and it was sinfully delightful to watch Grevan turn his nose up at Raine after the blind acceptance of the other people of Natura, and it was equally great to see Raine beat him down, though the cost of her blunder in the attempt of the beat-down has yet to be determined. 

Conclusion

Book 1 of The Realmwalker ChroniclesThe Pillars of Natura continues along it's path of hope and destruction. Look for Volume 1 and Volume 2 on sale now in both paperback and Kindle from Amazon, and on therealmwalkerpublishing.com. 


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Reading Deprivation Week: An Almost Success Story

The hardest part of any participant's journey through the Artist's Way.

Week 4: Recovering a Sense of Integrity. Challenge: reading deprivation. 

Week 4 of the Artists' Way focuses on removing the blinders we place on ourselves and the power our shame has over us. When we read for the purpose of escapism, or binge on Netflix, or drown ourselves in Instagram for hours, when we read fun articles at work instead of following up on SEMA Show sales leads, we lose track of the words in our minds, the unspoken words of our artist child who is constantly being ignored while we wallow in remaining stuck. "When you run out of work," the text says, "You will eventually play." The idea is that in avoiding all the static, we can listen to ourselves. My artist child was excited to begin. I was terrified. 

I did not skip reading deprivation week. Gods I wanted to. I said, "I can't this week. Too much to do. Blogs to read for; work to do; books to finish; people need me to be connected so I can't quit social media for the week. Gotham. I haven't even finished watching Gotham. Or Star Trek: Voyager; or Hannibal. I haven't started "Hoshruba"."

Well, let me tell you, resistance is futile.

It took me two days of mental preparation to make the decision that I would not listen or read other people's words, unless it was for work, for a whole week. For the most part, I did it.

I've been reading Barb and J.C. Hendee's novels of the Noble Dead, so putting down books was difficult, especially considering I owed Lee Aarons and Gail Martin book reviews (less so Ms. Martin, but I do a book review for her without her asking me every year--it's a tradition for The Squealing Nerd.). I hadn't been watching Gotham. I'd given up trying to keep up with a regular television show. I never started Hannibal. I'm even watching Ripper Street on Hulu. I had been ignoring my re-play of Kingdom Hearts. I needed a break from social, and I knew it. I've been burying myself in it, even at work, to avoid boredom and challenging co-workers, and other things, like cleaning out our closet and bedroom from our move. So pretty much every piece of resistance I offered was simply that, resistance. I had no good reason to skip the reading deprivation week, so I committed to it.

It's one of the hardest weeks of the Artist's Way.I remember the first time I did it when I was a housewife with nothing to do. I spent a lot of time working on my Nicolades drawing exercises and writing my novel Once Burned. I baked a lot. That was the month I won NaNoWriMo. That was the month I gave up Reddit for good. That was the month I woke up and realized what I was missing in my life. It was when I woke up and realized how cruelly I was being smothered, and how my own hands where pushing the pillow. And then, somehow, after my divorce, I started falling back on my old habits. I stayed on social media pretty much constantly despite blogging very little (my Twitter and Instagram accounts were intended to increase the reach of my blog). I used it to avoid cleaning up and unpacking after our move. I used it to take my mind off of the slow success of my projects at work, or to comfort myself from the rise and fall of my new duties. I read to keep myself from feeling guilty that I had all but stopped working on Once Burned. I played nostalgic video games to keep myself from feeling that same guilt. I started bingeing on Voyager and Law and Order: SVU to keep from feeling inadequate or afraid of failing at the several start-up companies I became involved with, and I became involved with those in a futile attempt to make myself solvent so I could write my novels (despite the fact that I know I can do both and become solvent). None of them came to fruition, and thank goodness no one was left holding the bill for any of it. Then I began using all of these practices to avoid another attempt at starting my own business. I had the model and the marketing all laid out. All I lacked was the market research, which was well within my power to conduct without help. I put it off, and put it off. And I am still in debt, and I am still stuck, and I am still not writing. 

The payoff of these escapist practices, for me, is avoiding the fear that I've failed, when in truth I had not even allowed myself to start. Am I half way through Once Burned? Yes, and finishing it will be no difficult task if I ever sit down it, but I will never know its a failure if I don't finish it. Of course, I will never know whether or not it would ever achieve success. How can I have failed at a business when I have not even started? In putting it down, I don't have to fear that I will fail and I will be no better off than I am now.

When you think about, it in the quiet apartment while you write your morning pages, the payoff of staying stuck is asinine, while the very real possibility of success lays just outside my grasp. If I stand on my tippy-toes, I can reach it. In light of this, bingeing on Netflix and social media makes no sense. 

So I started depriving myself of these escapist practices all at once. There is no Nicorette gum for reading withdrawl. I put down my novels and my prior obligations. I quit social media entirely except for work, and there is so little of it that I found myself actually doing more work than socializing, and it felt incredible. I finished a project that should have gotten done when we came back from SEMA Show last November. I started email campaigns and have actually increased sales and social media interaction. At home I finished the closet and bedroom. I cooked Thai soup. I completed the first successful series of weighted and modeled drawings I had done in months. No fancy tools, no sophisticated techniques--just me and a number-two pencil and some of the paper I jacked from the kids. I wrote another eight thousand words on The Thaumaturge of Mircea. I paid our bills and almost made it to the gym. 

When I sat down to listen, my artist child spoke, and she told me that if life is just waiting to die, then why don't I do something with that? All of my hope came back. In a moment of synchronicity, I found one of my old stories I thought long gone. It was terrible. I wrote it when I was sixteen, but it made me so stupidly happy to find it I almost woke my mom up to tell her about it.

Reading deprivation is not self punishment. You are allowed time to yourself to consume art. How can a painter paint if they don't consume the art they want to create? How can a person write for television if they never watch it? How can a novelist write a novel if they never read them? We need art, and we need to consume it, but we also need to know when we are consuming art and when we are hiding in it. Now that I am allowed on social media, I haven't been using it. Now that I'm allowed to read, I've decided to cook and write instead. I went cold turkey, and now I'll have to ease myself back in slowly. 

If you are going through the Artist's Way, this week will be very important for you. Don't skip it. Embrace it. Will you fall of the wagon? Yes, I did three times this week. It's okay. You can get back on. Listen to your artist child this week. Play. Do something you wouldn't normally do. Pick up your husband's guitar and teach yourself chords. Pick up a cook book and make a meal. Get out a sketch pad and make stick figure cartoons (man I'm good at that). It won't be perfect and it won't make you rich, but it will be good art for all it's imperfections and false starts. Who knows, maybe a synchronous moment this week is all you need to kick start your recovery. 

Note: The Artist's Way is a 12 week spiritual guide to artistic recovery for blocked artists. You can take the course alone or in a group--lots of people prefer the support network you get with a group, while some of us prefer to grieve our mistakes and creative u-turns in solitude. It is highly suggested for anyone feeling spiritually lost and in need of that voice in the endless dark that says, "You are not alone."


Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Lovecraft Short Story Contest

In October of 2014, the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society's official Facebook page (affiliated with the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society) held a short story contest. Though the Facebook page never announced the results of the Facebook page contest, a lot of great stories were submitted by some of the 39,000 Facebook page members. 

The rules were challenging. I think I barely scraped by with my post. 

1) No one could die. I'm still not sure why this was a rule, but no one in the story is allowed to die outright.

2) The story had to include the internet.

3) The story had to include multicultural elements. 

4) The story could only be 2,000 words. 

We were allowed to do with these rules what we wished. 

The Squealing Nerd is proud to publish these stories here with full permission of each contestant. Each week I will post a new story for as long as I am receiving them. Each story is in the exact state it was in when it was submitted. I have made no changes to these stories. 

These stories are not owned by the HPLHS. These stories are the property of their respective offers, and their presence on this site does not affiliate me in anyway with the HPLHS.

Our first story is from Tarquin Mandrake, member of the HPLHS Facebook page. 


"The Malware Maleficarum"

The vicissitudes of fate and the sharp tongue of a nagging wife had necessitated my acceptance of a position in the IT department of the United Nations. My spouse encouraged me to settle alone in Switzerland, leading a vanguard she would follow at some unspecified juncture.

I work in the Palais des Nations (formerly base of the League of Nations) among academics who strike thoughtful poses in tweed. The UN is an IMF slush fund whose function is to transform forests into reports that nobody reads or acts upon, it’s a coalition presiding over massacres in UN safe areas and a kindergarten where the NSA can despatch their greenest recruits to learn the rudiments of espionage confident they’ll wreak no lasting damage.

However, there are leagues within leagues and some are more effective than others.

I found Geneva cold, grey and superficially pleasant. My command of languages helped to offset some of the barely concealed hostility my dark skin provoked. The faux roman Palais des Nations afforded me a respectable office where I led a team comprising; myself, Stephanie, a researcher of French Algerian stock, and Abdul, a scrawny diminutive Muslim cockney from London’s East End, a vulgar jackanapes with a genius for computers.

It was Abdul’s contention that they had bundled all the ethnics on our wing into one office.

We were tasked to unscramble the blog journals of the missing Professor Hoffhenk whose references to a hybrid pantheon of mostly Egyptian deities may prove instrumental in unlocking a computer system which contains vital records of all of the United Nations’s endeavours in North Africa for the last 60 years and obstinately refuses being opened or backed up.

Within the UN the Professor’s disappearance had been almost as murky a business as the ghastly fracas on the steps with Carla Del Ponte. We have a two month deadline to find the 8 letter password that would open the Professor’s operating system, retrieve the data and expunge the OS entirely from the mainframe.

I was reading an alarming account of the Blue Devil children of Gilgamesh when the switchboard patched through an excited Stephanie, finally we had a line on Professor Hoffhenk’s office and it was only an hour’s drive.

“Lick wood!” I said, “Jah provide.”

“I’m sorry,” Stephanie answered, “I do not understand vous?”

“Make I fetch Abdul and meet fe in car park” I said.

“Mais oui, naturellement,” Stephanie replied doubtfully.

I raced to the canteen to find Abdul sitting at a long table surrounded by dossiers and young academics enjoying lunch, the multi-cultural clatter of the canteen is his preferred working environment. I recognised one of the folders; Cyrillic letters found on chemical weapon fragments in Syria.

“Yeah, look,” Abdul addressed the table, “Who bombed them? We didn’t bomb them?”


“S'il vous plaît, aidez-moi?”


A Syrian delegate looked uncomfortable.

I tapped Abdul on the shoulder.

“Wha’gwan?” I enquired.



“Nothing boss, ‘aving me dinner, innit.”

“Well, is move yer rass me ah tell you, no fill your belly and talk foolishness like a damn h’idiot. Cho.”

With this I left the canteen, Abdul dutifully swept the folders into a tote bag and followed.

While Abdul drove, Stephanie briefed me on the back seat. She had been systematically ringing all of the antique booksellers in Switzerland, a loathsome task. Today she struck gold. A bookseller remembered Professor Hoffhenk and offered an address.

I find it is when I’m with Stephanie that my prolonged separation from my wife weighs least upon my thoughts. She has the customary insanity of the French and some difficulty in understanding clear English, but amply compensates for these deficits in wit, sagacity and diligence. Crass though it is to record such doggerel she also has physical attributes that make for a pleasing companion; brown skin, hazel eyes and the region of Stephanie’s posterior is not entirely abhorrent to me.

We arrived in Maxilly Sur Léman at the guest house, a modernist monstrosity enveloped by the neatly tended lawns that overlook Lac Léman. Banging on the door elicited no response. I encouraged Abdul to work his East End magic and we were soon entering the concrete structure through a smashed open door to the rear of the property.

But for a few Adam and the Ants posters the lower rooms were sparsely decorated, our dread concern was that the house had been let to other tenants since the professor’s disappearance. A few copies of Scientific American were piled beside the television. It was up the wooden stairs that we started to see some reassuring signs of our quarry’s occupation.


Egyptian papyrus were framed in the corridor, Abdul took pictures. There were three doors on the landing, Stephanie stood behind me while I opened the first. A bedroom, white walls, a few more Adam Ant posters; the kinky ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ era. Beside the bed a liverish pink book, silky to the touch with a certain diabolically familiar odour.

“Bumberass” I involuntarily exclaimed. A quick glance within the book almost stopped my heart.

Torture upon living subjects was the topic of the books illustrations. Here was a tome, perhaps a millennia old, whose illuminator seemed completely competent in human anatomy. No comical bodily humours here. It was an awful combination of sadistic bloodlust coupled with a minute attention to detail.

Why bother, I thought, nah kill nobody?

There were a few annotations in the margins, “join our insect nation,” and later “cut off his head, legs come looking for you.” Noticing some arcane symbols in the text I sent Stephanie with the book to the car.

In a wall closet I found an impressive arsenal of weapons; rifles, shotguns and machine guns. Abdul entered the bedroom, “Ere boss, have a gander.”

He held an olive green plastic memory stick that had been taped to the back of one of the picture frames, the size of a pack of chewing gum, Mnomquah was written on the back in marker pen. I made a quick mental calculation – 8 letters, and bumped fists with Abdul. This had to be it.

We set up Abdul’s laptop in a shabby office. Within minutes we had the password prompt page of the Professor’s operating system open. I tapped in mnomquah and hit enter, the screen dimmed.

A door slammed open downstairs.

“Bonjour?” a voice called, "Il y a quelqu'un?" Abdul and I crept back into the bedroom, he dived into a closet and shut the door firmly behind him. The little shit. I stood behind the bedroom door and peered anxiously through the crack. "Vous n'avez pas le droit d'entrer ici dedans, vous savez."

He was a pale Middle Eastern man, wearing a blue suit and a pink grease-stained shirt that barely concealed an impressive pelt of chest hair. He looked decidedly unwell. I suspected jaundice. He walked into the bedroom we had so recently vacated then stopped dead, transfixed by the laptops screen.

I looked for a means of escape. The window was double-glazed, there was a door on the far side of the room, but to get there meant scaling the bed, the floor or the door might creak and even if I managed to get past him to the stairs I’d end up leaving the loquacious Abdul behind. Hopeless; diplomacy was called for. I straightened my tie, comporting myself.

The creatures head is a writhing mass of tentacles; it lumbers savagely into the room, raking deep grooves in the wallpaper with its pincers. It wears a blue suit and I shudder realising that this was the man that had just climbed the stairs, somehow horribly transformed.

At first I assumed that it used its tentacles as a star-nosed mole employs its disgusting snout, building a mental construct of its environment through touch, but as it lifted its pincers I saw that there were vents in the ribs of its light blue suit through which hateful green eyes bulged, and as I saw them they narrowed in on me, crouched behind the door.

The creature changed direction, ululating a horrible gargling din akin to a walrus drowning in tar, its claws smashed aside an occasional table, the tentacles slapped meatily against the ceiling. I leapt sideways and climbed over the bed to reach the door on the far side of the room. It was bolted at the top and bottom. My sweaty fingers worked desperately at the top latch, looking back the creature was within five feet.

The latch reluctantly pulled down but now the creature was too close. I jumped across the bed and used its width to keep the enraged creature at bay. If only I had something sharp I could take out an eye. I could smash out a glass panel from the book cabinet but how to handle broken glass without carving up my own hand? The weight of the creature was starting to buckle the bed.

My phone rang. The opening bars of Pink Floyd’s "Money" incongruously filled the room. I instinctively glanced at the screen. Did I want assistance reclaiming a PFI? I pocketed the phone, swearing freely. A heavy pincer swatted me around the head, dislocating my jaw. Agony, I fought the compulsion to pass out.
The creature reared back, preparing to charge. I dove towards the door, both hands yanking at the lower latch. The creatures shadow loomed over me. The latch seemed to be superglued in place. I puffed short urgent breaths through my mangled jaw.

The latch would not come loose. This was the end.

Abdul yelled ‘Let’s have it!” and machine gun fire raked the room.

While Abdul pushes my jaw back into place I glare at the creature we have tied up and pushed into a corner. It will not remain restrained for long. Leaving is imperative. There is a painful jolt and my mouth is realigned. I spit blood.

We hear a scream and find Stephanie in the office with the laptop closed in her hand.

“Don’t open it,” she drops the portable computer, “the project is .. online.” 

She struggles with her belt buckle, one of her legs is rapidly swelling.

At her request Abdul and I take her trousers off.


Her right leg is now four times larger than the left and mottled with a cottage cheese like growth. The smell is appalling, like pilchards and rank tobacco.


I nod to Stephanie but her eyes are rolled up in her head, something like the furled wing of a grotesquely magnified house-fly flickers out of her nostril. I leave the house just in time to see Abdul drive away, I’d shout at the car but my jaw hurts and in truth 

I know; there’s nowhere to go.

The project is online.

The air is full of screams coming from every direction but one; the broad flat expanse of Lac Léman. I boot up my smartphone. The internet has pretty colours today.

From other houses and cars, pulled up on the route nationale, I see screaming people emerge and head towards the lake, all undergoing revolting transformations.

An elderly man with a foot growing out of his groin, a woman with five arms and a head swollen with a puce liquid, they walk and crawl down the steep incline towards the water.

I am screaming so hard I find it difficult to breathe. A vortex is forming, I see a bird trying to fly pulled inexorably backwards towards the lake. Within Lac Léman a vast creature swims towards the surface, beneath that creature is not a lake bed, but stars. The lake is a portal and we are summoned.


That which where once hands let go of my phone, I have invited my wife to play Candy Crush Saga on Facebook.