“A Bit Of The Dark World” in audio

For the 500th episode of Pseudopod, a complete audio reading of Fritz Leiber’s story “A Bit Of The Dark World” (Fantastic, February 1962). He had written some early stories that drew somewhat on Lovecraft, back in the 1930s and 40s, but without pastiching the master. Today I think of him as a sword & sorcery author linked with the post-Howard Conan series, but here the mature Leiber attempts a tale of cosmic horror fit for the know-it-all world of the early 1960s.

Leiber had been musing about the nature of writing in changing times for some years, such as in his rip-roaring sci-fi comedy-satire “The Silver Eggheads” (1959, expanded as a novel in 1962). This features an A.I. science fiction setting in which ‘novel writers’ are machines with names such as the ‘Fiction House Fantasizer’ with Fingertip Credibility Control!). It’s also a little Lovecrafty, as it riffs on the idea of still-living “genetically-enhanced brains taken from the skulls of once-living writers”.

Sadly there’s no audiobook version of what appears to be a sci-fi comedy classic, and the OCR on the 1959 novelette version at Archive.org isn’t good enough for text-to-speech. Though the novel is, at least, newly available for the Kindle.

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Lovecraft Country

Here’s an elegant map, which might make a useful folded bookmark or paste-in for Lovecraft scholars. Especially those reading through the ever-increasing number of shelf-strainers that contain Lovecraft’s Letters and Essays, and who are trying to follow the old gent as he zig-zags through the coastal summerlands and backwaters of New England to alight on the doorsteps of fellow amateurs, correspondents and antiquarian museums. The map is from the 1922 edition of The geography of New England.

300dpi, in a 3Mb .jpg file. It’s not a fold-out, so there’s not much I could do about the gutter when aligning the two pages in Photoshop.

Also useful, for following Lovecraft’s more local walks into the city-centre, is a 1907 street-map of central Providence. Hand-drawn by a local, it was intended for use as part of a city-wide ‘open day’. As such it shows the hopping off points for the tram lines that Lovecraft would have used to get out and about, and it usefully highlights and has a fine-grained local awareness of which stores and buildings are worthy of notice. Again, there was not much I could do about the map’s gutter, as it wasn’t a fold-out map.

Lovecraft’s essays – in Spanish

Lovecraft’s essays are now available in a new Spanish translation by Oscar Mariscal, as the book Confesiones de un incredulo: y otros ensayos escogidos (El Paseo, Oct 2018). The publisher’s blurb states that the works have previously been untranslated in Spanish, and also hints that the Letters were drawn on for their essay-like material. The translator’s selection is followed by a tabulation of the stories that Lovecraft noted or remarked on in his works and letters. Amazon Spain suggests the book has 300 pages, but the publisher suggests 240 pages.

A new Lovecraft poem?

I think I may have found another new poem by Lovecraft. Not a macabre one this time, but rather a bit of early juvenilia. It’s the “Fore-worde” to his Hope Street High School yearbook for summer 1907, The Blue & White.

This “Fore-worde” is a poem of suspiciously archaic language, done flawlessly, and also has a characteristic Lovecraft touch in the coining of the neo-archaism “strange-froughte”. Who else but Lovecraft would write such a poem in the style of an 18th century wit, or insert such a phrase?

Neither the title or first line of the poem is in the latest edition of The Ancient Track. Nor is it in the Ancient Track‘s “Chronology”.

If the poem is a very early one by Lovecraft then it’s also interesting for implying that the author was on “ye humbell Boarde of Editours” in early summer 1907, which then leads one to wonder if he influenced the design on the cover. In which the tentacular flame seems to evoke (if you look at it right) a rather Lovecraftian version of a jinn to accompany the surrounding Aladdin’s lamps. If one knows that Lovecraft wore glasses at this time, the central ‘face’ could almost be a self-portrait.

He also appears as “H.P.L.” in the text of a humorous playlet in the Yearbook, titled a “Merry Drama of Hope”. At the plangent end of which he might be trying, in vain, to interest a passing fresher in the concept of meteoritic flight-paths…


Act IV, Scene 1.

The Corridor after school (snatches of conversation heard.)

[…]

“H. P. L. (Sophomorite:) “Well, the only definite theory advanced as to the cause of the meteoric path being hyperbolic or elliptic, is —”

Giddy Freshite (giggling hysterically:) “— And then he said —”

    (Corridor gradually becomes vacant)


Lovecraft was a freshman (fresher) at Hope Street High in 1904-05, but left in November 1905 and did not return until September 1906. He formally left on 10th June 1908, without a High School diploma — as he had only taken a few full classes in his final year.

According to a comment by Chris Perridas there may be a photo of Lovecraft in the next yearbook, 1908. But Chris had not been able to see either 1907 or 1908, and they’re still not scanned and online. Possibly it’s a photo that’s already well-known, though there’s nothing from 1908 here.

The small page-scans above are from a long-lost eBay listing, the data for which was snagged and kept online (just about) by a Web traffic-funnelling autobot.

Lovecraft’s pocket spectroscope

A… “pocket spectroscope, which was the delight of my fellow students at H.S.H.S. [Hope Street High School, Providence]. It is unbelievably tiny — will go into a vest pocket without making much of a bulge — yet gives a neat, bright little spectrum, with clear Frauenhofer lines when directed at sunlight. Many are the times I have passed it around at school.” — Lovecraft, letter to Galpin, 29th August 1918.

He had the device for his astronomy, and it appears that it was specifically used in star-identification. The light of a star would split into a distinctive banding of lines, and thus the identity of an observed star could be confirmed.

Prop it up!

The Museum of Science Fiction invites your replica props, for their “Prop it up!” competition. Entries will be judged to movie-studio standards…

“across a variety of criteria including crafting skill, materials, and accuracy to the presented design. Finalists will be selected based on photographs and illustrated concept art submitted by email.”

Keep in mind that it appears the prop must be an accurate replica of a used movie prop (Conan’s sword, etc), and not some Lovecraftian idol that’s never been seen on the screen before. Deadline is 15th April 2019.

Spicy Armadillo Stories

Inspired by the excellence of Sam Moskowitz’s boots-on-the-ground 1964 biographical article on Virgil Finlay, mentioned here in an earlier post, I went looking to see if he had collected more such articles on artists into a book. It seems not, but Archive.org has the 1974 reprint of his earlier Immortal Storm: A History of Science Fiction Fandom (1954).

Also noted, the last issue of Spicy Armadillo Stories #7 (August 1992), themed “How the Pulps Worked”. Includes “Teaching Pulp Magazine Writing” by Sam Moskowitz. Seems to be totally unavailable today, but a $3 Kindle edition might get some interest re: the growing interest in the pulps among business historians.

There’s a more recent collection on how the pulps worked, albeit only from the point of view of the writers and probably mostly talking about story mechanics. The Penny-a-Word Brigade (2017) is from the makers of The Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide to Pulp Fiction (2018, revised edition).