Tuesday, November 17, 2015

That'd Be'd Unreadable

"Shall We Join The Hades?"
Horror in the Modern Style by Ran Screaming.

Two guys heading for the guillotine, bobbing and weaving just like Joy'd said they would, that night when Rita'd heard Macie tell Jane about The Plan, ducking and stumbling, and then Mary laughing and the blade coming down on vertebrae, first on one, and then, after that one, another one after the first one -- snap, snap! -- because June'd the best grip for letting that rope go, fast, and then after the first one and the next one, no one, and just like Bessie'd said, The Plan'd worked.

"Did anyone see us?"

Marie'd had her doubts, but straddling the neck of guy number two, scooping out the entrails of guy number one, Allison'd known for sure that Deborah'd remained invisible to the world.

"Don't forget the liver."

"Write it down on a Post-It, and fax it to my office."
Anna'd cackled, and that'd made June Bug smile. Liver on a Post-It, hold the mayo. What'd Frieda think of that?

"Yeah, well, no."
Their livid viscera, their unredemptive haecceity, their chopped meat of satori in a cosmic abbatoir.
Rock 'n' ruin.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Incessant Conflict

H. E. Bates on Ambrose Bierce:

In Bierce, as in all writers of more than topical importance... two forces were in incessant conflict: spirit against flesh, normal against abnormal. This clash, vibrating in his work from beginning to end, keeping the slightest story nervous, restless, inquisitive, put Bierce into the company of writers who are never, up to the last breath, satisfied, who are never tired of evolving and solving some new equation of human values, who are driven and even tortured by their own inability to reach a conclusion about life and thereafter remain serene.

[Wouldn't that describe many people? Not only writers, but anyone?]

But Bierce, who as a writer tirelessly impinging a highly complex personality on every page will always remain interesting, is significant in another respect. Bierce began to shorten the short story; he began to bring to it a sharper, more compressed method: the touch of impressionism.

"The snow had piled itself, in the open spaces along the bottom of the gulch, into long ridges that seemed to heave, and into hills that appeared to toss and scatter spray. The spray was sunlight, twice reflected: dashed once from the moon, twice from the snow."

The language has a sure, terse, bright finality. In its direct focusing of the objects, its absence of wooliness and laboured preliminaries, it is a language much nearer to the prose of our own day than that of Bierce's day.

Again the same 'modern' quality is found:

"A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man's hands were behind his back, his wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck."

Note that there is no leading-up, no preliminary preparation of the ground. In less than forty words, before the mind has had time to check its position, we are in the middle of an incredible and arresting situation. Writers throughout the ages have worked with various methods to get the reader into a tractable and sympathetic state of mind, using everything from the bribery of romanticism and fantasy to the short bludgeon blow of stark reality. But Bierce succeeds by a process of absurd simplicity: by placing the most natural words in the most natural order, and there leaving them. Such brief and admirable lucidity, expressed in simple yet not at all superficial terms, was bound to shorten the short story and to charge it in turn with a new vigour and reality. Not that Bierce always uses these same simple and forceful methods. Sometimes the prose lapses into the heavier explanatory periods of the time, and unlike the passages quoted, is at once dated; but again and again Bierce can be found using that simple, direct, factual method of description, the natural recording of events, objects, and scenes, that we in our day were to know as reportage.

Born too early, working outside the contemporary bounds, Bierce was rejected by his time. A writer who wants to be popular in his time must make concessions. Bierce made none. With a touch of the sensuous, of the best sort of sentimentalism, of poetic craftiness, Bierce might have been the American Maupassant. He fails to be that, and yet remains in the first half-dozen writers of the short story in his own country. Isolated, too bitterly uncompromising to be popular, too mercurial to be measured and ticketed, Bierce is the connecting link between Poe and the American short story of to-day.

-- H. E. Bates, The Modern Short Story: A Critical Survey.
The Writer, Inc. Boston, 1941. (1961 reprint.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

First Person

Alfred Bester on the styles of Fritz Leiber:

Shadows With Eyes by Fritz Leiber is a collection of six long stories by that warlock of the outre, dating from as far back as 1941 ("The Power Of The Puppets") to as recent as the current year ("The Man Who Made Friends With Electricity" and "A Bit Of The Dark World"). We had the misfortune to dislike Mr. Leiber's novel, The Silver Eggheads, a few months ago, so it gives us great pleasure to endorse this collection and heartily recommend it.

But we've been doing some intensive thinking about Mr. Leiber's work, wondering how it is that some of his stories can inspire us with delight, while others leave us cold and unmoved. All authors are entitled to failures, but when a rapport is established between author and admirer, there should be understanding and communication even through those failures. We think we've discovered the answer.

Mr. Leiber seems to function most powerfully in the first-person story form. When events are related by a protagonist, when characters are seen through his eyes, and when the conflicts are revealed by his reactions, then Mr. Leiber is at his best. But when he works from the omniscient or third-person point of view, he is handicapped. There isn't any opportunity in this form for the marvelous nuances, references, allusions... the network of stream-of-consciousness that is the quintessence of his unique style.

Proof of this is the fact that the two best Leiber stories of the past, classics today, are first-person stories: "The Night He Cried" and "Coming Attraction." And five of the six stories in Shadows With Eyes are also in the first-person form. Mr. Leiber and his many fans will probably disagree with this analysis; but isn't that a function of the critic, to provoke controversy?

-- Alfred Bester, "Books."
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 1962.

Shadows With Eyes. Ballantine Books, 1962. Artist uncredited, but is most likely the great Richard Powers.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

La Maison des auteurs

"La Maison des auteurs," a fountain site
Essential to the bicyclists of Hull,
Has posted smiling portraits to annul
These morbid little dream-tales that I write,
These verses that a poet would indict.
The early-morning scribes whom cameras cull,
In this town, pen with charm, and charm has pull
To strand a lesser typist in the night.

For anyone with eyes, the path is clear:
Cater to the sunlit norm, and reap
The recognition that is linked with day.
But I stop for the fountain, not the cheer,
In autumn cold while charming people sleep;
Then, guided by the moon, I ride away.

Image source: National Capital Commission (NCC), Canada.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Which Is The Way?

The story that Loren Eiseley refers to, here, is "Winter."

"I may truly say," wrote Sir Francis Bacon, in the time of his tragic fall, "my soul hath been a stranger in the course of my pilgrimage. I seem to have my conversation among the ancients more than among those with whom I live." I suppose, in essence, this is the story of every man who thinks, though there are centuries when such thought grows painfully intense, as in our own. Shakespeare -- Bacon's great contemporary -- again speaks of it from the shadows when he says:

"Sir, in my heart there was a kinde of fighting
That would not let me sleepe."

In one of those strange, elusive stories upon which the modern writer Walter de la Mare exerted all the powers of his marvelous poetic gift, a traveler musing over the quaint epitaphs in a country cemetery suddenly grows aware of the cold on a bleak hillside, of the onset of a winter evening, of the miles he has yet to travel, of the solitude he faces. He turns to go and is suddenly confronted by a man who has appeared from no place our traveler can discover, and who has about him, though he is clothed in human garb and form, an unearthly air of difference. The stranger, who appears to be holding a forked twig like that which diviners use, asks of our traveler, the road. "Which," he queries, "is the way?"

The mundane, though sensitive, traveler indicates the high road to town. The stranger, with a look of revulsion upon his face, almost as though it flowed from some secret information transmitted by the forked twig he clutches, recoils in horror. The way‌ -- the human way‌ -- ‌that the traveler indicates to him is obviously not his way. The stranger has wandered, perhaps like Bacon, out of some more celestial pathway.

When our traveler turns from giving directions, the stranger has gone, not necessarily supernaturally, for de la Mare is careful to move within the realm of the possible, but in a manner that leaves us suddenly tormented with the notion that our road, the road to town, the road of everyday life, has been rejected by a person of divinatory powers who sees in it some disaster not anticipated by ourselves. Suddenly in this magical and evocative winter landscape, the reader asks himself with an equal start of terror, "What is the way?" The road we have taken for granted is now filled with the shadowy menace and the anguished revulsion of that supernatural being who exists in all of us. A weird country tale‌ -- ‌a ghost story if you will‌ -- ‌has made us tremble before our human destiny.

Unlike the creatures who move within visible nature and are indeed shaped by that nature, man resembles the changeling of medieval fairy tales. He has suffered an exchange in the safe cradle of nature, for his earlier instinctive self. He is now susceptible, in the words of theologians, to unnatural desires. Equally, in the view of the evolutionist, he is subject to indefinite departure, but his destination is written in no decipherable tongue.

For in man, by contrast with the animal, two streams of evolution have met and merged: the biological and the cultural. The two streams are not always mutually compatible. Sometimes they break tumultuously against each other so that, to a degree not experienced by any other creature, man is dragged hither and thither, at one moment by the blind instincts of the forest, at the next by the strange intuitions of a higher self whose rationale he doubts and does not understand.

-- From
Francis Bacon and the Modern Dilemma, by Loren Eiseley.
University of Nebraska Press, 1962.