Scott Nicolay

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Stories From the Borderland #X.1: “The Black Destroyer” and “Discord in Scarlet” by A.E. Van Vogt

This special installment first appeared as an exclusive debut for Unwinnable Monthly #84 (2016). Please visit Michael Bukowski’s blog to see his artistic interpretations of Coeurl here and Xtl here.

When Michael Bukowski and I first hatched the concept for this project at NecronomiCon 2015, my working title was some clunky monstrosity along the lines of “Great Weird Stories Hidden in Plain Sight.” Fortunately Michael suggested Stories from the Borderland, the far more felicitous rubric under which our humble idea ultimately burst into the world. Never let it be said that the artist in this partnership doesn’t pull his weight on the prose side as well—something he managed more than once in this installment—whereas I am pretty much dead weight when it comes to the artistic end of things. Fortunately, Michael has that side covered.

Yet though the concept behind that original title has dwindled from sight like the oranges and sardines in Frank O’Hara’s famous poem “Why I Am Not a Painter,” it remains operative nonetheless. Stories From the Borderland was never intended as a selection of “deep cuts.” Our mission from the beginning has been to show that many of the most important stories in Weird Fiction truly are hidden in plain sight, often in other genres, especially science fiction.

In previous installments of this series, Michael and I have examined tales of cosmic horror and weirdness by such canonical science fiction authors as James Tiptree Jr., Arthur C. Clarke, J.-H. Rosny aîné and John W. Campbell. Campbell’s novella “Who Goes There” in particular—his most successful story and probably the most obvious selection we’ve tackled—has left an enormous footprint on science fiction, horror and The Weird. This time around we explore “The Black Destroyer” and “Discord in Scarlet,” a pair of closely related stories by A.E. Van Vogt whose combined impact may just be to “Who Goes There” what King Ghidorah is to Barney. The shadow of these two tales falls heavily over some of the most famous films and franchises in the speculative fiction universe. From tiny eggs, my friends… Continue reading

Stories from the Borderland #18: The Weird Fiction of Zenna Henderson

“Stevie and The Dark”
“Hush!”
“And a Little Child—”

“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.”

Isaiah 11:6, KJV

Many are the reasons why great Weird stories slip through the cracks of whatever passes for a canon of Weird Fiction. Slip through the cracks, fly under the radar, remain hidden by a veil, obscured by clouds…choose your metaphor. Canon may not be the right word either for this thing we share, but it’s our thing, and we all need to work on it together. Here at Stories from the Borderland, we take that mission seriously. so damn the would-be gatekeepers, full steam ahead! Over the last couple years, Michael Bukowski and I have presented tales that have been forgotten and others that never became memories, formerly ubiquitous stories that haven’t seen a reprint for a generation or more, works by authors whose entire known oeuvres consist of only one or two stories, stories never translated into English, and most of all, stories hidden in plain sight that no one thinks of as Weird because everyone identifies their authors with science fiction, fantasy, or mainstream lit. Here are purloined letters of Weird Fiction, if you will, though here we are liberating what never had to be stolen in the first place.

Even in this company, Zenna Henderson is a special case. Not only was she one of a very few mid-century female authors publishing science fiction under her own name (along with Margaret St. Clair, whom we have previously featured), her approach to the genre was vastly different from most of the Campbellian “Golden Age” science fiction writers, with the exception of the “pastoralist” Clifford D. Simak, to whom she is often compared, and whose work shares a combination of rural settings and a certain tonal background with Henderson’s. I realize, though, that Simak is both fraught and apt as a reference point, in that neither author is a household name today, even in houses where spec lit maintains a hold. The fact that the most frequently invoked comparison point for Henderson’s fiction is an increasingly obscure male author should emphasize the overall uniqueness of both her work and her position in speculative fiction.1 There really was no one like her, nor has there been since (except maybe Nnedi Okorafor). Continue reading

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