Scott Nicolay

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Tag: Michael Bukowski (page 1 of 5)

Stories from the Borderland #20: “In the Avu Observatory,” by H.G. Wells

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

—Walt Whitman, “When I heard the learn’d astronomer”

Please visit Michael Bukowski’s blog to see his artistic interpretation here.

Michael Bukowski and I have been creating these illustrated essays for long enough now that a distinct set of interrelated themes has emerged. Paramount among said themes is the recognition that a deeply entangled yet entirely center-less corpus of Weird Fiction began its accretion well over a century ago, and certainly long before anyone thought to tease out any sort of canon for it from the vast warp and weft of genre and mainstream fiction within which it remains woven, and from which it extends into cinema, comic books, and many other popular media. In form it is like unto Blake’s vegetative Polypus, one of Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizomes, or perhaps even a hyperobject à la Timothy Morton, too massively distributed in time and space for any single person to see all at once. The project of delineating the neglected parameters of this almost unviewable structure provides the raison de combattre for our struggle with the real, as well as with those critically restricted notions of a Weird Fiction canon that bottleneck somewhere during the Farnsworth Wright-era of Weird Tales.1

Attendant upon that understanding are other ideas, and though most of these date back to our original planning discussions, our research and discoveries here have enhanced, expanded, and refined all of them over the last several years to a far greater extent than either Michael or I anticipated when we began. Our current selection highlights the importance of several of these themes, in particular:

  1. 19th and 20th century science fiction is rich in Weird Fiction, and the two forms broadly coextend throughout their history and share common roots
  2. The true Weird monster exists outside of any human ontology or telos2
  3. Weird Fiction has had a central obsession with cryptozoology3 since long before either concept had a name

Thus far in Stories from the Borderland we have demonstrated the first point through explorations of High Weirdness in the works of such iconic science fiction authors as Arthur C. Clarke, William Gibson, James Tiptree Jr., and J.-H. Rosny aîné. The second theme is one we have explored in depth from our very first installment, wherein we showcased Joseph Payne Brennan’s signature tale of amoeboid horror, “Slime.”4 As for the cryptozoological fixation of Weird Fiction, though the featured creatures in many of our story selections certainly could be read as cryptids, our first explicit foray in this direction came last year, when we examined Lady Rosa Campbell Praed’s 1891 tale “The Bunyip,” about a legendary creature of great cultural significance in Australia. The date of Praed’s genuinely and organically Weird contribution makes clear the deep roots of our subject. Indeed, it predates our current selection, which first appeared in the Pall Mall Budget for August 9, 1894,5 by several years.

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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

Stories from the Borderland #17: “Hippie Hat Brain Parasite” by William Gibson

“I’d called my slab ‘science fiction,’ but the art I’d cultivate would be the art of interstice, burrowing from surface to previously unconnected surface, through the waiting wealth of weirdness I sensed between those surfaces.”
—William Gibson, blog post Jan. 8, 2003

With special thanks to Edward Austin Hall, Marc Laidlaw, and especially Lewis Shiner for their invaluable support and assistance…

By now it should be obvious to readers of this series that science fiction is a virtual cornucopia of only loosely camouflaged great Weird Fiction. Without its own literary ecosystem to occupy during the previous century, The Weird quietly, patiently extended its mycelia beneath the leaf-littered forest floors of science fiction, fantasy, and mainstream modes alike, infiltrating their various oΐkoi with utter disregard for critical taxonomy. Now that its fruiting bodies are bursting forth all around us in a Weird Renaissance, we can finally take some measure of its full expanse. Here at Stories from the Borderland we specialize in spotting and plotting those loci where weirdness has long since spread beneath the surface, and we work like tireless truffle pigs, snuffling up the treasures we deliver you on our finest silver serving ware. This week’s fungal entrée comes your way with a side of brains. Continue reading

Stories from the Borderland #16: “The Bunyip” by Rosa Praed

A mysterious resident of Manitoba named John E. Wall coined the term “cryptid” in a 1983 letter to the newsletter of the now-defunct International Society of Cryptozoology. Credit for the coinage of “cryptozoology” goes to either Ivan T. Sanderson, Bernard T. Heuvelmans, or Lucien Blancou. Though the word’s exact origins are appropriately unclear, it definitely appeared in print by 1959. The first usage of “weird” in the literary sense now familiar to us belongs either to Sheridan LeFanu in the late nineteenth century or H.P. Lovecraft in the early twentieth. Cryptids and cryptozoology however, have been fixtures of Weird Fiction since long before popular culture cemented any of these terms in their current forms and denotations.1

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