Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Campbell Mythos

Visions from Brichester (2015) by Ramsey Campbell; illustrations by Randy Broecker: containing the following stories and essays (dates are first publication, not composition):

  • The Stone on the Island (1964): Campbell begins his transition from Lovecraftian pastiches to his own style of horror here, as he mixes an idea from M.R. James, a Lovecraftian island, and his own experiences at work. 
  • Before the Storm (1980): Written in the 1960's, the story again shows Campbell mixing cosmic body horror and his own Lovecraftian deities with the daily grind at an office.
  • Cold Print (1969): Campbell's first truly great short story by my reckoning. A quest for a particular form of (perfectly legal, now anyway) pornography by a Physical Education teacher takes him to a bookstore he never, ever should have gone into.
  • The Franklyn Paragraphs (1973): Fun, disturbing metafiction about a mysteriously vanished horror writer.
  • A Madness from the Vaults (1972): Really a deft riff on the sort of stories Clark Ashton Smith used to write, set on an alien world and involving all-alien characters.
  • Among the pictures are these: (1985): Campbell describes a series of sketches he made back in the 1960s. Interesting.
  • The Tugging (1976): Campbell suggests that this is a too-literal interpretation of the Lovecraftian chestnut about the "stars being right" to bring back certain deities. I like it a lot -- it may be literal, but the images are grand.
  • The Faces at Pine Dunes (1980): A great, great story. Its imagery climaxes in something deeply disturbing and chilling; its 20-year-old protagonist is sympathetic and carefully drawn.
  • Blacked Out (1985): Fun scare is, as Campbell notes, Lovecraftian primarily because it appeared in his previous Lovecraftian collection Cold Print because the editor wanted to include at least one previously unpublished story. Rarely has a Campbellian protagonist had a more emblematic last name.
  • The Voice of the Beach (1982): Maybe Campbell's crowning achievement in writing a Lovecraftian story without any recourse to all the machinery of Lovecraftian terms for 'gods' and creatures and menacing books. It most resembles Lovecraft's "The Colour Out of Space." The imagery and situations are sinister, horrifying, vague, and often uncomfortably vertiginous and hallucinatory.
  • The Horror under Warrendown (1995): Very funny pastiche turns a famous English children's book series into a source of cosmic body horror.
  • The Other Names (1998): Very solid combination of a sensitive character study and a Lovecraftian menace.
  • The Correspondence of Cameron Thaddeus Nash (2010): Funny, satiric examination of one very bad Lovecraft fan.
  • The Last Revelation of Gla'aki (2013): Campbell's return to his Lovecraftian god Gla'aki manages to be both disturbing and weirdly soothing at points -- and it does a better job of showing why people might find comfort in the embrace of these terrible 'gods' than any story I can think of after David Drake's brilliant Lovecraft-meets-Joseph-Conrad novella "Than Curse the Darkness."
  • The Successor (First draft of Cold Print) (2015): Fascinating look at the early version of a story.
  • The Franklyn Paragraphs (First draft) (2015): Fascinating look at the early version of a story.
  • Mushrooms from Merseyside (2015): Campbell's often hilarious salue to Lovecraft's sonnet cycle Fungi from Yuggoth sees the writer summarize all of his Lovecraftian fiction in a series of... limericks.
  • Two Poems by Edward Pickman Derby (2015): Interesting early poetry.
  • The Horror in the Crystal (Story fragment) (2015): 1960's fragment; interesting.
  • Rusty Links (Essay) (2015): A snarky Ramsey Campbell from the 1960's.
  • Lovecraft in Retrospect (Essay) (1969/1994): A very pissy Campbell from the late 1960's gets critiqued by the lovable Campbell of the 1990's.
  • On Four Lovecraft Tales (Essay) (2013): As good an explanation of Lovecraft's strengths as a writer as you'll ever read, this essay really caused me to re-evaluate certain aspects of Lovecraft's work. It's a concise piece that explains how much more complex Lovecraft's style and structure were than he's generally given credit for from even his greatest admirers.
  • Afterword (Essay) (2015): Campbell contextualizes all the pieces in the book. Invaluable, but I want more!

Overall: The stories are great, the non-fiction pieces are great, and the illustrations by Randy Broecker are extremely enjoyable and often very much 'Old School' in an early 20th-century pulp magazine way. Highly recommended.

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