Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Zombies from the Old School - Clark Ashton Smith

This morning at the gym, while fighting a pitched battle against five consecutive days (and counting) of starch and gravy, I read "The Isle of the Torturers," by Auburn, California's favorite wizard of the weird, Clark Ashton Smith (first published in the March, 1933 edition of Weird Tales).

In the story, the young king of Yoros is one of the scant few survivors of an astral plague ("The Silver Death"), and in his attempt to flee to a secluded safe haven across the sea, ends up being washed ashore on the Isle of Uccastrog, better known amongst sailors and whispering wanderers as the Isle of the Torturers.

After watching five glorious weeks of the superb, refreshingly elegant "The Walking Dead," I've lately been in a zombie state of mind, and so was struck immediately by CAS's often use of zombies in his 1930's dark and fantastical fiction, particularly in his expansive collection of Zothique Tales, first conjured in 1932, which comprised of sixteen finished stories, a poem, and a one-act play, all taking place on the doomed continent of Zothique.

According to Black Gate Magazine:

In a letter to H. P. Lovecraft, Smith gave a tongue-in-cheek description of Zothique:
I have heard it hinted in certain archaic and obscure prophecies that the far future continent called Gnydron [Smith's abortive early name for the continent] by some and Zothique by others, which will arise millions of years hence… and will witness the intrusions of things from galaxies not yet visible…
Very cosmic horror.  Very Lovecraftian.  Very Clark Ashton Smith.

My morning discovery of "The Isle of the Torturers," and the appearance of bloated, flayed zombies in dire need of eyelids (no spoilers here, folks), reminded me of "Empire of the Necromancers," which was the very first CAS tale I'd ever read, and which immediately hooked me into Smith fandom forever with its combination of fantasy, sorcery, and brutal, charnel house horror (first published in the September, 1932 edition of Weird Tales).

After being immersed nearly exclusively in Lovecraft, discovering Clark Ashton Smith opened a whole new vista into the horrifying and bizarre, and bridged a needed gap between my youth spent in the thrall of fantasy adventure, and my adult sojourn down the darkest halls of cosmic horror and speculative fiction.

And - to stay on topic - "Empire of the Necromancers" has an entire KINGDOM of magically re-animated zombies (and mummies and skeletons), who aren't necessarily your garden variety, brain-dead shamblers.  Some of these staggering dead are long term thinkers, and possessed of a generational pride not often found in contemporary zombie fare.

Luckily, there's still so much yet to be read, and I'm very much looking forward to digging deeper into CAS's Zothique Tales, and in so doing, am sure to find more extraordinary stories of crypt-crawling ghouls, toadish monstrosities, extraterrestrial monsters, and even a bit of high fantasy.  And freakin' zombies.  That's the magic of this man, who hopefully will some day get his due, like his devoted brothers-in-arms - H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard - are just now beginning to receive.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Seeping Into Your Dreams... and Your Classic Belgian Cartoons

Inspired artist (and obviously devoted Lovecraftian) Murray Groat created a small series of covers for "The Adventures of Tintin," which is one of the most successful and widely-read European comics of the last century, created by Georges Rémi (1907–1983), who wrote under the pen name of Herge.
For those of us who like our cosmic destruction and unutterable horror mixed with a bit of "Aw shucks!" (or however the Belgians say it) European "good old days-ism."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"There's Still Hope For Us Yet" Update #37: H.P. Legocraft

As stated before in these electronic pages, I often feel melancholy when I ruminate upon the human race.  So much potential gifted to such fragile, squishy little water bags that almost uniformly choose to waste their few moments on this amazing planet doing exactly squat.  Why create, when one can consume?  Why build up, when tearing down comes more naturally?  Why be brave, when being scared is safer?  Why do anything, when doing nothing is easier?  Silly, lazy, worthless little water bags.

Then, I stumble across something like this, and my faith is momentarily restored (until my next scrape with  reality television, conversation with a nuclear family member, or simple stroll down the gum stained streets of Northeastern Los Angeles).

I mean, how friggin' badass is this? (Answer:  IMMENSELY badass):
I've always loved Legos, from my early childhood in the 70's, back before they sold many pre-made sets, and you had to build your own castles and space ships and Star Wars figures' backdrops out of the rectangular basics (before walking to school on our face through seven feet of snow during a nuclear winter - and we liked it that way!    /end crotchety old man squawk)
As boring as you want us to be...
As Christmas creeps up, go a little old school and throw some shekels to my Danish peeps across the pond.  Buy some Legos for your wee ones, and let their imaginations soar as they build up, out, and side to side, drilling a damning hole into the abyss of apathy and boredom via the laser beam of self initiated creativity.  My future melancholy may lessen, and we might just evolve out of being silly, lazy, worthless little water bags one of these fine days.

And that doughy little video game monkey you belched into this world just might surprise you, and bust out something like this: 

Dare to dream....  Dare to build....

Every noble work is at first impossible.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

When Viewing the Universe With a Certain Set of Eyes... What Will We See?

How about Azathoth chilling at the center of the Milky Way, for starters.
"Azathoth" (c) by Paul Carrick (http://www.nightserpent.com/)
What else could you call a roiling, gaseous bubble of elemental forces stretching 50,000 light years from tip to tip, that is billowing out of the center of our galaxy?
We were unable to see this until the development and deployment of the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope, which specializes in the search for gamma radiation, as well as elusive "dark matter," the eldritch stuff that makes up 80% of our known universe, yet has baffled scientists for almost a century.  While on quest, Fermi detected a powerful expulsion of  gamma rays, which are invisible to the naked eye (and capable, apparently, of turning pencil neck scientists into hulking green monsters in tattered purple jorts when agitated), coming from this impossibly massive, bubbling shape towering both above and below our very own galactic plane.  Now, suddenly, we're able to see these mysterious, energy-emitting shapes, which definitely moves us forward in our understanding of the seemingly limitless dimensions of elastic space and time.

Which begs the question:  If this was there all along, looming large, and was only recently seen, what else is out there, or even right HERE, that we cannot see, but is most definitely THERE? Will we see ghosts?  Will we see God?  Will we see GODS?  Should we see ghosts and Gods?  Can our mind handle the knowledge of the things that move unseen around the most likely through us, or are we best left to shortsightedness, boxed up in three ordered dimensions?  Will the extra magnification and the far reaching lenses we send into the very womb of the unknown spacial abyss build us up as a human race, or tear us down with madness and the crushing realization of our own innate insignificance and flimsiness compared to our distant cousins long forgotten, who grew up on the other side of the universal tracks?
With a certain set of eyes, what else will we discover, and will we be glad in our discovery?  Will we one day long for the blindness of ignorance and our old sets of eyes, that saw little, yet kept us safe and blissful in our limited sight, right to the campfire's edge?
Art by Kris Kuksi
What else lurks in the limitless void of darkened chaos that has so far gone unglimpsed?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Visualizing The Indescribable... for these fine parting gifts!

A challenge to create creatures based on the stories of H.P. Lovecraft was issued by Jon Schindehette, a creative art director at Wizards of the Coast, to students at the Rhode Island School of Design.  These are some of the impressive results.

Is it just me, or is there something distinctly "fishy" about this fine Innsmouth gent?
Baby Yoggie?
Shade passes over the frozen Plateau of Leng

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

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Zombies Go (Almost) Mainstream... and Threaten to Vanquish Liberalism

AMC, birthplace of such fantastic and ballsy (and fantastically ballsy) television as "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" (haven't had a chance to catch "Rubicon" with the great James Badge Dale from "The Pacific"), debuted their highly anticipated pilot for "The Walking Dead," based on the comic books by writer Robert Kirkman and artist Tony Moore (Image Comics), which looked a little like this....

and like this...

Before it started to look like this....

and like this....

and like this...

and like this...

Anyway, the series debuted on Sunday night, and scored higher ratings than my boys Colbert and Stewart.

I'm not really sure how I feel about that, other than having a sneaking suspicion that zombies are part of a vast Right Wing Conspiracy to spit putrified intestinal gore into the Lefty/Pinko punch.

Ah, well... We've all gotta' die someday.  I just hope I stay down when I do.  I could use the rest.

Oh yeah, the pilot was fantastic.  Measured, patient, well acted/written (after the ham handed opening convo between the two sheriffs), and not overly giddy with its own "zombieness," which I think overpowers and undercuts most inferior, clumsily handled fare in the genre.

I think it'll be a smashing series, which apparently is only six episodes long, although it's rumored that a second season has already been greenlit.

Sunday night has long been the best night for television (just ask Paul Rudd in "I Love You Man").  Now, it just got a little more noxious.

Behind the Scenes of "The Walking Dead"

If you're not watching AMC's newest offering, then you're just an air sucking meat sack.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy Halloween (A Day Late, But Never a Schekel Short)

As I'll be filling these electronic pages with line after line of written blather going forward, let's just let the pictures do the talking in celebration of our favorite holiday at The Cosmicomicon.

Plus, I'm absolutely KNACKED after singing, dancing, and howling at the moon for the past two weeks, and want to show off my two girls a little bit.  It's been a hell of a ride, leaving lasting memories and deep impressions of the beautiful dark.