Thursday, January 31, 2013

"A Season in Carcosa" edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.

The review is based on a bought copy of the book

H.P. Lovecraft. Karl Edgar Wagner. Peter Straub. Those are a few of the names that stand tall in our genre and when it comes to Robert W. Chambers and his King in Yellow they agree, Chambers' beguiling tales of the King In Yellow and Carcosa are among the best in "weird" fiction. Miskatonic River Press and Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. are proud and delighted to present an anthology of all new tales inspired by Chambers.
In haunted and splintered minds…
Minds shackled to lonely places…
In the unbound shadows infesting hearts of beautiful woman with frantic sensations…
In an old house where biblical thrived…
In threadbare truths, disturbed by despair, cobwebbed with illusions…
In far cold Carcosa…
Lies madness.
In A Season In Carcosa readers will find the strange and mysterious places of heart and mind that spring from madness, and those minds and the places touched by it are the realms that are mined. Chambers' legacy of the worms and soft decay that spring from reading the King In Yellow play stir both new and established talents in the world of weird fiction and horror to contribute all new tales that pay homage to these eerie nightmares. In Carcosa twilight comes and minds lost in the mirrors of lust and fear, are awash in legacies of shadows, not mercy. . .

Ever since was published in 1895 Robert W. Chambers“The King in Yellow” was a source of inspiration for new fiction, music, movies and games. The mysterious play, the supernatural entity of the King in Yellow, the bizarre yellow sign, the pallid mask, the lake of Hali, the black stars, the two moons and Carcosa are motifs of Robert W. Chambers’ collection of tales, but also intriguing elements that tickle the curiosity and fuel the imagination. Starting from these hallmarks Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. summoned fellow writers in an attempt to bring a tribute to Robert W. Chambers and “The King in Yellow” and the final result is “A Season in Carcosa”.

“My Voice is Dead” by Joel Lane – Stephen fights an incurable illness and resorts to a last hope, a mysterious web page. A dark and macabre piece Joel Lane’s story greets the reader with the perfect tone for an anthology dedicated to Robert W. Chambers and his “The King in Yellow”. The sense of decay and deterioration is amplified by the religious undertone of the story, the state of tiredness brought to the main character by his old religious conviction and the latest events associated with his church. “My Voice is Dead” is a bitter piece to its very end. Excellent, nonetheless.

“Beyond the Banks of River Seine” by Simon Strantzas – Valise sees his fellow music student Henri as his friend, dominates the competition between the two of them for the better musician and wishes to gain Henri’s sister love. But when Henri discovers an old manuscript and decides to compose an opera based on it their relationship takes a sudden turn. The story is told from the first person perspective and Simon Strantzas inflicts the storyteller voice with such an arrogant and pompous tone that is very difficult to like this character. It does not mean that Valise is not a well drawn character; on the contrary, he is one of the best.

“Movie Night at Phil’s” by Don Webb – Philip Saxon is a programmer with an obsession for movies. When his fixation leads him to Roger Corman’s movies, one particular film will throw his world into madness. The readers with a passion for movies will find this short story very much on their liking. A fictitious movie is created and thrown into play with interesting effects. However, the behavior of Phil and his family members are reasons enough for a state of madness without the final element coming into place. A layer that adds a new twist to the story. Sadly, and I am not sure if it is intentional or not, the story is poorly edited and written and that reaps away most of the pleasure of reading it.

“MS Found Dead in a Chicago Hotel Room” by Daniel Mills – Through a letter a man explains to his three year old son the events that led him to a strange and dangerous situation. Daniel Mills wonderfully recreates New York’s 19th century atmosphere blended with eerie elements created masterfully in equal measure. It is a bit unclear why the night clerk wishes to see the main character dead, but the end and the name of the man signing the letter are the things that give this story solidity and meaning. It is an interesting interpretation of a true event, a match for the style of the famous recipient of this imaginary letter.

“it sees me when I’m not looking” by Gary McMahon – Hank Chinaski roams the streets of New York in search of a drink and a place to stay, only to find a play that touches the lives of everyone who reads it. If Simon Strantzas’ character, from the earlier story is not a very pleasant presence, none would like to be caught in the company of Hank Chinaski. A failed poet with an addictive love for drinking, violence and sex, he is the farthest point from the role model notion.

“the whisky hit my insides running. it was hot and cool and sweet and evil. it tasted of every woman I’d ever kissed and smelled like every dirty soul I’d ever knocked out in a fistfight in an alleyway behind some bar.”

“but I did her anyway; never let it be said that Chinaski ever turned down a free ride.”

However, for the exactly the same reasons and a bit more he is such a memorable character.
With an interesting technique and use of language to almost perfection Gary McMahon makes his character suffer visions, both appealing and appalling for Hank and his addictions, while at the same time weaves a story of decadence and one of the highlights of this anthology.

“Finale, Act Two” by Ann K. Schwader – It is the only poem included in the anthology. Every element of the original “The King in Yellow”, the king itself, Carcosa, Cassilda, Lake Hali, are played in a new and captivating manner.

“Yellow Bird Strings” by Cate Gardner – After the producers cancelled his show Bird is left constantly meditating upon the old days and his lost partner, Vivian. Once again, Cate Gardner uses even the simple images to their full potential, giving them new meanings and creating an often oppressing atmosphere. A show of puppets and doors, but not once precise on who is holding the strings and keys. With the powerful Cate Gardner’s personal mark on display it is a very original story and a fresh approach for the anthology’s theme.

“The Theatre and Its Double” by Edward Morris – A play writer recollects the discovery of a play and the creation of a new one with the attempt of putting it on stage. This is one of the stories that match the source of inspiration for “A Season in Carcosa”, Robert W. Chambers’ “The King in Yellow”, in terms of style, a combination of screenplay, poetry and prose. But as much as Edward Morris proved to be a capable writer the short story didn’t work for me. It is true that it is told through a series of journal entries and the method throws a light on the character, his transformations and metal degradation, but I would have liked to see a more focused story plot-wise and less exploration of conscious. And when it comes to the latter I often lost my focus due to its extent length, a bit too long for my liking.

“The Hymn of the Hyades” by Richard Gavin – Martin wakes up one morning hearing a loud noise and after he follows it to the nearby river and something stings his hand, things out of his imagination seem to roam free. We are offered a change in the perspective, the events unfold this time under the innocent perception of a young man with all that results from it. Misfit and misunderstood, with a hyperactive imagination that doesn’t find a sensitive receptor, Martin has to deal in his own way with the descent into madness of the word around him. There is something about Martin’s naiveté and bullying he suffers that makes him such a sympathetic character, more than the adult characters we meet in the collection and especially when faced with the insanity of this world or another.

“Slick Black Bones and Soft Black Stars” by Gemma Files – Alice is part of a team called to investigate a strange burial mound on the stranger still island of Carcosa. The boundary between reality and vision is completely blurred in this story to reach the greatest effect, the outcome is held in perfect balance and the things that push the characters to a maddening situation might be real or not, depending on the angle from which they are seen. The scientific investigations, the eerie location, the closed community and the inbuilt legends work in unison for a story that clearly stands out.

“Not Enough Hope” by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. – A short story dedicated to an author who used to be attracted by the motifs of the original “The King in Yellow”. It is a perpetual dream, a domino of visions, a remembrance and an offering brought at the altar of friendship.

“Whose Hearts are Pure Gold” by Kristin Prevallet – Left alone at home, the young Camilla goes exploring through the house and when she discovers a curious pin new doors seems to open for her. Kristin Prevallet’s story shows all the symptoms of somnambulism, a stretched to maximum sleep-walking experience for the story’s heroine. Once again the reader can found many reasons behind Camilla’s state but nothing is obviously stated, it can be the strange pin bearing the yellow sign discovered in her home or the disturbed relationship between the main character and her mother. The only certain thing is that the seeds of madness seem to have been planted long before the events of the tale take place.

“April Dawn” by Richard A. Lupoff – After leaving native Ireland for the New World John O’Leary is hired by Abraham ben Zaccheus as an assistant. Both are invited by Robert Chambers to the premiere of his play, “The King in Yellow”. A lighter tone decorates this story and it is the first that has quite a few humorous moments. The story comes to an end in an optimistic manner despite the supernatural shadow looming over it. But then again, supernatural is no strange thing within the story since Abraham is a paranormal investigator. I liked the voice of Seamus, but my complaint with a few elements of the story comes from the same source. By the looks of it he is a man of little culture and it can be easily seen in his recounting when Italian becomes Eye Tallian and langouste becomes long goose. Delightfully amusing, but losing a bit in credibility when the same character manages to put down every French expression in perfect manner.

“King Wolf” by Anna Tambour – Four siblings find themselves on their own after a car accident involving their parents. The story freezes the magic to the point of full connection, Narnia is just a game for the four young characters, but it also can be a thing just within or at the tip of their fingers, the surrealism and weird fervor can be felt in a recollection of their grandfather. However, as much as I liked the small part involving mysterious paintings in a strange house I must admit that I could not make head or tail from the story. It is something about it that slips my grasp and prevents me in putting all the pieces together.

“The White-Face at Dawn” by Michael Kelly – The main character has difficulties coping with the disappearance of his lover and tries to accommodate with the new existence. There is a wonderful sense of vintage exhaled by the story, a sense of placement into a golden age. Legends are told and remembered, but one in particular seeps into real life with consequences on the protagonist.

“Wishing Well” by Cody Goodfellow – A former actor of a children’s show receives a copy of the last unaired episode and the tape sets him running. “Golden Class” lived only for one season but the mentally ill, drug-addict and paranoid character is still haunted by the eerie TV show. His unreliable memories of the show mixed with pieces of information revealed in Wikipedia style start spinning a reel of strange and uncomfortable images. Cody Goodfellow successfully gives the reader the sensation of morbid curiosity, despite the oddness this show emanates it still fuels the desire to know more about it.

“Sweetums” by John Langan – Keira Lessingham is in need of a career revamp and she cannot refuse the latest role offering despite the bad reputation of the movie director. The contours of reality are blurred to almost extinction, but like the desperate actress of the story running from scene to scene the reader can’t clearly define what is part of a scenario and what is actual fact. The sense of urgency imprinted by Keira’s hasted wandering around the movie set, the constant presence of the cameras’ recording red light and the scenes unfolding before the character’s eyes forge a surreal reality. With the loss of time, the phone conversation heard from one perspective on a scene set and from the other on another, the monologue describing an encounter with the King in Yellow and a sinister contraption that leaves little choice to its user are just little pieces of a maddening puzzle. However, these are just parts of a larger canvas, but with enough sections left undiscovered the picture will haunt Keira and the reader alike long after John Langan’s story has actually ended.

“The King in Yellow” by Pearce Hansen – While trying to obtain more from their contractor for the book they stolen Speedy, his brother Little Willy and Fat Bob find themselves in a living nightmare when Little Willy opens the mysterious tome. With accents of crime fiction the story kicks into action from the first sentence until the last, speeding from a certain point through a yellow madness.

“D T” by Laird Barron – A renown author and his editor have an on and off love affair, but when they meet one more time strange events unfold around them. A masterfully built story, with strong, believable characters and a veridical medium. Laird Barron’s original approach of the anthology’s themes gives even more power to an already strong story.

“Salvation in Yellow” by Robin Spriggs – After the death of Preacher Daddy, the man who raised her, the heroine of the story is left to deal with a house of her own, with the proximity of the newly built highway and the memories and influence of the departed preacher. The religious and physical abuse together with the constant paranoia constrains the character to a constantly growing isolation, a negation of the outside world to the breaking point. From that point there is only a small step to obsession and whirlwind downfall.

“The Beat Hotel” by Allyson Bird – Juliette is an artist who lives in the Beat Hotel and her art is influenced by the King in Yellow himself. Paris, the city of art, and the Beat Hotel, the lowest establishment for artists, of the 60s are wonderfully brought to life in an atmospheric story of creativity, decadence and naturally, one particular king. A story that draws in style the curtains over the collection.

“A Season in Carcosa” gravitates around the same basic ideas and concepts, the trademarks of the original “The King in Yellow”. But it is only normal since it is a testimonial to Robert W. Chambers and his crafted supernatural tale. The 21 authors signing the stories of the anthology compel visions and fevered dreams tinted with yellow madness. There are a couple of these delirious delusions that didn’t stick long into memory but most of the stories are haunting, sinister and chilling, leaving a dreary mark on the reader. Plenty of these tales are original, play with new elements while exploring the common ones and inject fresh life into the features of Robert W. Chambers’ “The King in Yellow”. It is difficult to create a perfect themed anthology, but Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.’s “A Season in Carcosa” comes pretty close to it.


Carole said...

A thorough and lovely review. Sounds like I must read this!

Mihai A. said...

Thank you, Carole! It is a excellent book, I highly recommend it. :)