Friday, November 5, 2010

Day Tripping to Yoh-Vombis

"If the doctors are correct in their prognostication, I have only a few Martian hours of life remaining to me. In those hours I shall endeavor to relate, as a warning to others who might follow in our footsteps, the singular and frightful happenings that terminated our researches among the ruins of Yoh-Vombis. Somehow, even in my extremity, I shall contrive to tell the story; since there is no one else to do it. But the telling will be toilsome and broken; and after I am done, the madness will recur, and several men will restrain me, lest I should leave the hospital and return across many desert leagues to those abominable vaults beneath the compulsion of the malignant and malevolent virus which is permeating my brain. Perhaps death will release me from that abhorrent control, which would urge me down to bottomless underworld warrens of terror for which the saner planets of the solar system can have no analogue. I say perhaps . . . for, remembering what I have seen, I am not sure that even death will end my bondage . . . ."

When I recently read this article, about NASA's plans to launch one-way missions to Mars, I immediately though of one of my favorite masters of the pen, clay and ink, Clark Ashton Smith, and his fascination with the possibly menacing nature of Mars, most famously explored in his The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis, which has come to be his second-most famous story (after the dark fantasy masterpiece The City of Singing Flame, which, in my humble opinion, rivals anything written by Smith's contemporaries, including HPL).

Smith - hereafter referred to as "CAS," as he's known to all annoying fanboys like me - completed the original version of "Yoh-Vombis" on the 12th of September, 1931, and after several frustrating re-writes at the behest of Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright, the magazine finally accepted a pared-down version of the story in late October.

"The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis" was later published by Arkham House as the 19th tale in the CAS anthology Out of Space and Time, first released in 1942 with a print run of just over 1,000 copies.

Later editions were also published by Arkham House.

In "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis," CAS describes an ancient cosmic horror that dwells under the ruined Martian city of Yoh-Vombis, discovered by a group of intrepid archeologists, after being abandoned by their two hesitant Martian guides.  I don't want to give away the plot points, but let's just say they don't discover grumpy little creatures with broom-topped green helmets and oversize sneakers.
With NASA's push to Mars, we might uncover something a bit more... "substantial" and less Warner Bros. in the dusty dark of the Red Planet that doesn't necessarily cotton to the sudden presence of biped humanity - or worse yet, decides to do something about it.
Sending squishy human beings to Mars without a return ticket could leave us at the mercy of things unimaginably strange, and potentially quite nasty.  Or, we could just find ancient, dried out waterways and lifeless rock.  We don't really now.  Yet, we MUST know.  Isn't that what drives us?  Isn't that why Eve plucked the apple (and then quickly invented biodegradable pasties)?  The constant quest to uncover the Unknown, and possibly even the Unknowable?  In the last fifty years, we've just taken the first, shaky baby step into physically exploring the cosmos.  What if don't like what we find?  Worse yet, what if we jostle something that was best left undisturbed?

It's the height of human hubris to believe that we could the only possible sentient life in this vast, immeasurable and constantly expanding universe (without taking into account dimensions and spheres beyond our reckoning, understanding, and ability to locate).

That brash arrogance will be tested very soon...


Oh, and read some Clark Ashton Smith very soon.  He's old school tough, a rough hewn American badass and naturalist gentleman of the weird and wonderful.
One of the Godfathers of the Cosmic - Clark Ashton Smith

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