Murmurs from the Ether – Volume One: An Intro, a Primer, and a Promise

Murmurs from the Ether – Volume One: An Intro, a Primer, and a Promise

Warm greetings and a hearty hello, good – and even bad – readers of The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog. My name is T.E. Grau, writer of Weird fiction, editor of Strange Aeons Magazine, and essayist for The Teeming Brain, We Love Monsters, and the Esoteric Order of Dagon Amateur Press Association, amongst other non-fiction sources that choose to claim my pontifications. I also run my own bloggy juke joint The Cosmicomicon, which has lately been glaring at me like a puppy waiting anxiously by the door on a late Saturday morn. By invite of tHHHB mothership captain Emma Audsley – who was kind enough to offer up this specially carved out niche of ether – I’ll be sharing with you the latest news, happenings, releases, and general thoughts on the speculative fiction whirlieverse.

I don’t claim to be an expert when it comes to the Weird, I’m certainly not as well read as your average convention attendee (or horror blog reader), and my bibliography doesn’t stretch much past the end of my beakish schnoz. What I do possess is an intense passion for dark fiction, from the inside out, which puts me in a position to read, observe, write, and participate in various aspects and constructs of horror, dark fantasy, apocalyptic, Noir, sci-fi, and Lovecraftian fiction. Plus, Emma knows I work for peanuts (no, really… she pays me in eight ounce tins of honey roasted Planters), and love to run my yapper about cool, spooky shit. So, here I am, on my maiden voyage with nary an albatross in sight and still trying to get the hang of WordPress. Bear with me whilst I work out the kinks, yeah? I’m a quick study.

With that said, let’s spin the wheel and start the show.

ALWAYS JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER

Okay, not always. That would be unfair and silly. But I have found that those publishers who invest the time, effort, and taste in the packaging of a book are usually doing it for a reason. The most valued gifts deserve the best wrapping paper, as no one is going to spend an hour jazzing up the wrapping of a shabbily produced faux Barbie picked up at the Dollar General (and if you do, it smacks of a cheapjack diversionary tactic to distract from the fact that your prezzie is a shabbily produced faux Barbie picked up at the Dollar General). Point being, those who place value on the cover, binding, font, layout, and other design details of a book have my trust to select a worthy piece of writing that motivated such a fuss. As superficial as it might sound, covers sell books, as undecided browsers will often stop and check out the back cover blurb if the front cover art (or title) looks interesting. As a haunter of book shops, I’ve done it more times than I can remember.

One of my favorite publishers and purveyors of finely crafted tomes is Miskatonic Books, founded by champion of dark literature (both fiction and non) and art, Larry Roberts. This independent press – which also sells trade paperbacks – swaddles their deluxe, lettered, limited edition hardcovers in leather, velvet, tray cases, boxes, metal, black goat skin (yes, you read that correctly) and other wonderfully tactile materials, and boasts a roster of living and classic authors, scholars, folklorists, academics, and products that run the Weird and supernatural gamut. I mean, their front page says it all:

Miskatonic Books is an online retailer that focuses on classic horror fiction, Gothic ghost stories, dark fantasy, supernatural fiction and nonfiction, esoteric, philosophy, mythology, folklore, religion and generally anything weird and interesting. We carry many of the classic writers in the genre including: H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Arthur Machen, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch and many others. We also stock many modern authors influenced by these classic writers such as Laird Barron, W. H. Pugmire, S. T. Joshi, Thomas Ligotti, Jeffrey Thomas and many more.

You can find many of your favorite genre publishers here like Arkham House, Tartarus Press, Hippocampus, Arcane Wisdom, Centipede Press, Ash-tree and many others.

If that doesn’t whet your appetite, you need to pull the fork out of your cake hole.
Knowing Darkness – Art Inspired by Stephen King

As more and more publishers chase the ever-changing habits of an ever-shrinking pool of readers by focusing on eBooks, it warms my cockles to know that companies such as Miskatonic Books (and Centipede, Chomu, PS Publishing, and others) are not only continuing to focus on print editions, but are putting extra time, effort, creativity, and craftsmanship into make those dead timber books a true sensory delight.
Boneland – Jeffrey Thomas

I have nothing against eReaders (both electronic and fleshy), and salute anything that gets books in front of ever-softening brains. But personally I prefer to turn an actual printed page, to smell the pulp and ink, and to cart my book around with me, waiting to open it again, like a surprise that I knew was coming but was so amazing it wasn’t spoiled a bit.
Cherry Hill – James A. Moore

Check out their main site, and the Miskatonic Books Blog, and just TRY not to resist the urge to reconfigure your monthly budget to allow extra funds for the “new, rare, signed, and totally extraordinary books” bracket. I dare you. I double dog dare you.

PEANUT BUTTER WITH YOUR CHOCOLATE

I’m not sure if other writers are like this, but I tend to get much inspiration for ghastly and twisted fiction from decidedly non-fiction sources. I’m in the car a lot, screaming into the unnaturally white teeth of Los Angeles traffic, and lean on terrestrial radio for moral support – an audio stress ball, of sorts, to keep murderous thoughts at bay. As such, NPR is my dour faced shrink in reverse, telling me stories from strange corners of the globe that have inspired more than one dark tale. In addition to radio, I dig through news articles, documentaries, science programming, religious broadcasts, rendition transcripts, criminal profiles… All of these sources provide excellent compost from which to grow fetid vines that hopefully bear monstrous fruit.

A few non-fiction tomes I’ve just recent run across play into my fascination with the bleed-over between philosophy and horror, which seems to be an ever-expanding field of discussion, if not also straight up research and scholarship. I think as more and more respected writers, readers, scholars, and thinkers push for such writers as H.P. Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti, and other proud Weirdists to join the Canon Invisible of legitimate Literature, you will see these various high brow offshoots sprouting from the snarling polyp of speculative fiction.

A recent study (thanks NPR!) shows that espionage-heavy television series such as “24” and “Homeland” have actually increased the popularity and acceptability of (Western and/or American) state-sanctioned torture. The influence of media is that persuasive. I see this same influence cross germinating the Rise of the Weird with modern philosophy, which is folding in the age old explorations of fear, madness, personal insignificance, and nihilism that form the bent backbone of contemporary horror fiction, lead by the (re)rebirth of Lovecraft’s fiction and influence, which has ALMOST entered mainstream pop culture on the spongy tentacles of plush Cthulhu. Adding to this is the celebration of the fictional works and essays of Thomas Ligotti, who is – for my money – the finest Weird fiction writer since the crowning of the Pulp Age, and one of the greatest dark fiction writers of all time. Indeed, he specializes in a strain of philosophical horror that appeals to a wide swath of readers, from sneery hipsters to depressed nihilists to academics to genre saps. Sadly, Ligotti is no longer writing, but his influence and popularity seems to grow daily, joining hands with Lovecraft, who was an important influence. These two writers, more than any others specializing in cosmic and infinitely bleak horror fiction, are having a profound impact on the philosophy and consciousness of a generation, while erecting new monoliths of proto-philosophy.

For instance, Dr. Graham Harman recently published Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy, which possesses a title alluring enough to a asshole geek like me to drive me to mugging the elderly (they had it coming!) to purchase this book (available through the publisher Zero Books/John Hunt Publishing, and Amazon).

“As Hölderlin was to Martin Heidegger and Mallarmé to Jacques Derrida, so is H.P. Lovecraft to the Speculative Realist philosophers. Lovecraft was one of the brightest stars of the horror and science fiction magazines, but died in poverty and relative obscurity in the 1930s. In 2005 he was finally elevated from pulp status to the classical literary canon with the release of a Library of America volume dedicated to his work. The impact of Lovecraft on philosophy has been building for more than a decade. Initially championed by shadowy guru Nick Land at Warwick during the 1990s, he was later discovered to be an object of private fascination for all four original members of the twenty-first century Speculative Realist movement. In this book, Graham Harman extracts the basic philosophical concepts underlying the work of Lovecraft, yielding a weird realism capable of freeing continental philosophy from its current soul-crushing impasse. Abandoning pious references by Heidegger to Hölderlin and the Greeks, Harman develops a new philosophical mythology centered in such Lovecraftian figures as Cthulhu, Wilbur Whately, and the rat-like monstrosity Brown Jenkin. The Miskatonic River replaces the Rhine and the Ister, while the Caucasus of Hölderlin gives way to the Antarctic mountains of madness of Lovecraft.”

Another must-have from Zero Books is Slime Dynamics, written by Ben Woodard. Please make me believe you when you try to tell me that you can actually continue living while not having this on your shelf.

“Despite humanity’s gradual ascent from clustered pools of it, slime is more often than not relegated to a mere residue – the trail of a verminous life form, the trace of decomposition, or an entertaining synthetic material – thereby leaving its generative and mutative associations with life neatly removed from the human sphere of thought and existence. Arguing that slime is a viable physical and metaphysical object necessary to produce a realist bio-philosophy void of anthrocentricity, this text explores naturephilosophie, speculative realism, and contemporary science; hyperbolic representations of slime found in the weird texts of HP Lovecraft and Thomas Ligotti; as well as survival horror films, video games, and graphic novels, in order to present the dynamics of slime not only as the trace of life but as the darkly vitalistic substance of life.”

This is philoso-porn braised in Weird fiction yumminess. And while I haven’t yet read both tomes, you can bet your bottom dollar I intend to do just that very, very soon. (special thanks to bendk at Thomas Ligotti Online for bringing the above to my attention)

Don’t be too cool for school. Read your textbooks, kids. Dig into that nonfiction, as it can often be far more heinous and odd than anything us hacks can come up with on our own.

RECENTLY READ

I just finished the novella Nightmares of a Lovecraftian Mind, by Jordan Krall. This is post-Ligotti, impressionist Lovecraftianism – subtle, urban, monumentally Weird, spontaneously murderous, and totally lacking in incomprehensible alien gods or even recognizable monsters, except for those who live down the block, or hanging around the playground reading manuals on industrial parks. Krall is helping show us where Lovecraftian writing can go, without being chained to the increasingly limiting (and often abused) confines of the Cthulhu Mythos.

CURRENTLY READING

With every free second I can muster, I find myself immersed in the wonderful pitch black fiction of one Richard Gavin, as I quiver before At Fear’s Alter (unleashed this coming Halloween by Hippocampus Press). I’m still early in this anthology devoted to tales of true bleakness and terror, but I’ve already come to the conclusion that this is some of Gavin’s best work, which will send his already rapidly ascending star higher into the veined, copper-colored firmament. Gavin is a writer that will be remembered and discussed – and continually read – from now until The End.

STILL EYEING ME FROM THE NIGHTSTAND

– Nerves by John Palisano, published by Bad Moon Books.

– Unholy Dimensions by Jeffrey Thomas, published by Mythos Books.

– Beneath The Surface by Simon Strantzas, published by Dark Regions Press.

– Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter by Edward M. Erdelac, published by Damnation Books.

– The False Magic Kingdom series of books from (the above-linked) Jordan Krall, published by Copeland Valley Press.

More on these beautiful babies as I slowly and lovingly consume them.

RESOURCES YOU CANNOT LIVE PROPERLY WITHOUT

Not a Lovecraft fan? Never really got around to reading the guy? Afraid of not-so-well-disguised racism, an obsession with gambrel roofs, and wading through eggplant purple prose? What the hell is wrong with you, sons and daughters? This is cornerstone reading for any horror, especially those with an appreciation for the cosmic and the unnameably strange.

If you’ve read HPL, and just don’t like him, I get it. I don’t like you anymore, but I do get it. He ain’t for everyone. But then again, people say that about sushi until they try it.

However, if you’ve always wanted to read Lovecraft, but used financial means as a convenient obstacle in purchasing one of the 47 million respective collections on the market of his work (people do love to make a buck off of the Gentleman from Providence, as all of his writing is in the public domain), then your day has come.

Every bit of poetry and fiction Lovecraft ever wrote is available online for free, at The H.P. Lovecraft Archive. Download and print like we have rain forests coming out of our goddamn ears, and thank the Outer Gods that HPL never sired a legion of money-hungry estate hounds (although he did famously give birth to The Hound).

For those with a jones for Clark Ashton Smith – and let’s face it, that should be ALL of us – check out The Eldritch Dark, which is a portal in which I’ve lost days on end, yet still return regularly to sample yet another black tale of Zothique or Hyperborean saga when not near my bookshelf proper.
CAS, the grandpappy of my dreams

To complete the The Weird Tales Trio, untether your inner Cimmerian and throw up a prayer to Crom at Conan.com, the new(ish) home to all things Robert E. Howard (RIP, TheCimmerian.com, once one of my favorite hangouts on the web).

Don’t forget to pay homage to those who came before – Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, Robert W. Chambers, Ambrose Bierce, Lord Dunsany, and even the oft forgotten cosmic Weirdist William Hope Hodgson, whose work and life are explored in great and wonderful detail by Sam Gafford at his terrific William Hope Hodgson Blog. And, the Godfather of the Supernatural needs a toast as well, so please drink deeply at PoeStories.com.

ON THE SERIOUS TIP

To fulfill the final claim in the title of this Volume One of Murmurs from the Ether, I do promise you this: I will never apologize for enthusiasm, zeal, avidity, or any other form excitement that is apparently off-putting to some who prefer a dour take on what amounts to the reading and writing of spooky stories and the creation of fantasy art.

In this world where “cool” is run by tyrannical, embittered hipsters who sneer at the very idea of enthusiasm – let alone a full-on geek out – I promise to bring the vehemence while I bring the ruckus. THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN, PEOPLE! No one writing genre horror fiction is getting rich (not these days), and no one reading genre horror fiction is benefiting via an accumulation of punk rock points or an elevation in dopeness factor based on their wise book choices. Weird fiction ain’t curing cancer. Lovecraftian pastiche ain’t cracking the New York Times Bestseller List. Name dropping T.E.D. Klein at a patio cocktail party won’t get you laid (well, MOST places). So…. let’s just have some goddamn fun with it, shall we? We read and we write bizarre, hopefully discomforting stories. It’s not that serious, ladies and germs, so those active in the scene don’t need to treat it as such. Serious in our work, yes – but let’s not take ourselves too seriously, okay? As my friends and I are wont to say: this ain’t rocket surgery. Bailing on real life is why we all escaped into books in the first place, so let’s not let the oppressive nature of Beat Down Grown Up Life infect the beauty and magic that resides inside every great work of fantastical fiction. This is expertly rendered child’s play, as it should remain. Let the Thought Fascists kick rocks, or maybe get their asses kicked. This is a bloody good party we are throwing. Rip off your shoes and dance around the fire.

So, that’s it for now, Weirdlings, bipeds, and Horrorheads. I’ll be back soon with more Murmurs from the Ether. In the meantime, shut down your electronics, toss that glowing piece of plastic into your drawer, crack a page, then a window, and listen for the murmurs on your own. I’m no lightening rod. I just keep my ears open.

FOR NEXT TIME: More blather and oversharing. SLIGHTLY fewer links and tags. Also, an exploration of the horror fiction magazines and literary journals still fighting the good fight in the face of a ridiculous world, that provide quick and topical fixes of exceptional horror, art, interviews, and reviews. ‘Til then, good Weirding to you, and Happy All Hallow’s Eve.