Lovecraft Reviews – “The Nameless City”

The Nameless City – ★★★★ 4 Stars

Written: Winter 1921

“That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die.”

Before I get into the short story itself, this is where the sour root of the Necronomicon began to sprout its mysteries. While the cursed book won’t actually show itself in Lovecraft’s work for a few more years, “The Nameless City” is where it began to grow its pages.
The Necronomicon became so famous and so dreaded, that people began to fear its appearance in real life. Similar to how people thought the Voynich Manuscript was some kind of lost alien gardening manual, a lot of people thought the Necronomicon was an actual spellbook that you could… buy, for some reason? No doubt in part because of all the fake copies that came out. The only store that would have no qualms about selling evil incarnate would probably be a used bookstore.

Anyway. I love “The Nameless City”. I personally think it’s one of Lovecraft’s best. What I really appreciate about it is the strange sensitivity to dreams that’s there. I don’t know exactly how to explain it, it’s like you’ve found an explanation you’ve been seeking for years, and it’s both beautiful and traumatic at the same time.
The world of this story has shades of Agartha, a city thought to be in the earth’s core, but it’s like a twisted, unholy version of that idea. Continue reading “Lovecraft Reviews – “The Nameless City””

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Poem – “Tension of Wolves”

Tension of Wolves

Question relentlessly what they mean for you
Or risk stripping away your humanity,
First the surface patched with emotions
Then the tangible – the skin and muscle,
The bones that shield your heart and soul
And lastly any threads left of identity
You will be less than phantom if they get you,
Suspect eternal what they mean to do

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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Book Review – Last Stop by Peter Lerangis

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Series: Watchers
Genre: Mystery / Science Fiction
Publication Date: November 1st, 1998
Publisher: Scholastic

Trains have mysteriously always had this reputation for being passages into the unknown, whether it be into death, time or another dimension entirely. The metaphor has remained really persistent, and I like a story that utilizes it well.

Last Stop started off alright, with a teenager, David Moore, having visions of his dad while riding the subrail, waiting for him at a station that’s not even there anymore, much less active as he sees it in the vision. This wouldn’t be too strange except that his father’s believed to be dead or insane, and in the vision he seems to be neither.
This is an interesting setup, and midway through the book becomes very engaging, with a conspiracy of alternate versions of the same city linked together. It’s kind of short, so the characterization given is surprisingly developed for how little time there is, especially David and Heather.
I mean, it’s passable but not great. There’s not anyone who strikes me as memorable, it’s more the concept that stands out.

There’s a dreamlike feeling to the gross, dingy urban settings that I liked a lot. The twist ending is crazy and actually catches you off-guard, which is something I appreciate in the day of the predictable cliffhanger. Last Stop feels extremely short, and there’s much more that could be done with all that this idea offers, but for what’s present it’s not bad. There’s apparently a lot of entries in this series, so it could improve.

(Okay. Something I found hilarious that I just have to mention – the father’s name is Alan Moore. In a series called Watchers. Alan Moore… and the Watchers. Hmm. This sounds unintentionally like an off-brand now. Who watches the watchers? I don’t think this was on purpose? But running across it was awesome.)

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Some Unexpected Progress

Some fortunate news at last! The four chapbooks I’ve been talking about and revamping are currently being primed for publication! To my own surprise after the fact, I was hit with a sudden surge of productivity last week and wrote all four of them from Tuesday to Friday morning. This work needs to be edited, obviously, but barring the completion of illustrations and covers, they’re pretty much done. I expected that to eat up at least another three weeks. The only solution to feeling incredibly tired with having nothing done by the end of the day, apparently, is to do EVERYTHING in a few days.

That being said, I am rather proud of this incarnation. They are cleaner, richer and more resembling legitimate poetry compilations rather than some blog freebies. I ought to get news back soon of a much darker series of poems in the works and when it might be published as well. I don’t want to talk about that one yet, but I genuinely think it was the darkest thing I have or ever will write, and honestly never expected something like that to get picked up for publication.

Cosmic Love, MHz, Blood Ballet and Infinite Summer will return sometime between April 5th and April 25th. They’re going to be free in all eBook formats, but might also be in paperback if they add up to at least 50 pages apiece. I’d rather offer much of my poetry for free, as that’s kind of the nature poetry has always had. It opens it to more readers. I guess the larger ones or ones I’m not in charge of pricing will still cost something, but it’s something I post pretty much every week publicly, so I don’t see the point for the smaller ones. Anyway, I hope you love them and it’s something you anticipate, I promise they far outdo the first (which are still posted back in the archives starting here if you’re curious).

Poem – “Unforgotten”

Unforgotten

Unknowable,
Yet we still see what you are
Unforgotten,
But no memory of you is clear
Blossoms of poison coil in your footsteps
At the root lies something
Unmistakable
Yet the most horrible to look upon
Something botantic, something sub-natural
Unknown
And entirely familiar

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Lovecraft Reviews – “Beyond the Wall of Sleep”

Beyond the Wall of Sleep – ★★★ 3.5 Stars

Written: Spring 1919

“We shall meet again – perhaps in the shining mists of Orion’s Sword, perhaps on a bleak plateau in prehistoric Asia. Perhaps in unremembered dreams tonight; perhaps in some other form an aeon hence, when the solar system shall have been swept away.”

In dreams we hear songs which cannot be captured, yet which we will always long to hear while awake. We can hear in them our history, hidden away in other planets that are no longer our own.
In “Beyond the Wall of Sleep”, a strange man from the boondocks, Joe Slater, is taken in for evaluation after a series of violent psychological attacks. A doctor there takes the opportunity to study the man’s mind more closely and notices that, while at first there doesn’t seem to be much to unravel, there seems to be two halves to his personality. There’s a weird and surprisingly heavy presence in the man at certain times which makes the doctor curious, and he begins to be obsessed with finding out who this is inhabiting Slater’s brain, because it’s certainly not him alone.

“Beyond the Wall of Sleep” is an exploration into the relationship between dreams, madness and the interconnected nature of living things, with a twist of the paranormal. It reminds me, even though it’s not super similar, of the Hypnos and Thanatos myth, with sleep often thought of as being the only link to death that does not involve dying. I feel like at least one of the characters is driven truly insane by the end, though it’s hard to tell which, and when.

This idea… has been done better, I hate to say, and in this instance Lovecraft’s writing style can get pretty grating, being more obsessed with twirling vocabulary around rather than telling us what is happening. No doubt it’s creative, though, and I can see shades of my favourite author in it. I suspect Junji Ito is a big fan of this particular story, having done several adaptations of it. If it piques your curiosity, “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” is worth looking at. I would recommend the original as well as Ito’s “Long Dream” and “Den of the Sleep Demon”, which are similar but also improve upon the theme.

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A Lovecraftian Springtime

hplovecraft

Upon the looming threshold of the second-worst season of the year, under its threat of mildew blooming, pollen poofing, and foul weather glooming, who could be more appropriate to do a mini-series about than the master of the foul and foreboding?
Lately I’ve been binge-reading a compilation of H.P. Lovecraft’s works that I’ve owned for awhile. No, not the Necronomicon. (Disappointingly. I checked.) I’ve noticed reading through them that Lovecraft featured themes of springtime in much of his work. But you know, the hideous realistic early spring when you feel like you have lizard tongues for skin – the kind they don’t model home decor after.

Throughout the next few waterlogged, miserable months I will be reviewing a Lovecraft story or novella whenever I get the chance. I plan to review at least everything that’s in the compilation I have. I… er, don’t believe it includes some of the more racially insensitive stuff that, let’s be honest, deserves to remain mostly unnoticed. I’ll be touching on that bit of infamy in my review of “The Rats in the Walls”. You’ll see what I’m talking about if you didn’t already know.
Admittedly, the overtones make some of Lovecraft’s writing troubling (and writing about it even more troubling), but nonetheless, his work is the foundation of the weird fiction temple, and I think much of it is of value despite the author’s archaic attitudes in real life.

Anyway, I look forward to sharing my thoughts on these stories with you, and hope you enjoyed my eldritch drawings all over Lovecraft’s portrait there. Some of the shortest stories I may post together just for convenience, because there’s not much to say about them. Not sure when I’ll get around to the novellas, those may come last.

(As a side note, a genuine Necronomicon is not the oddest thing one might find in a used bookstore. Believe me.)

Phantom Mechanism – Rebooting MHz

I don’t think I’ve ever even talked much about the original MHz that came out last May. I made it and still never knew what to think of it, was the problem. It also had a strange, rather off-putting cover which I suspect is why it didn’t get the views the others did. That, and MHz is also the only one of the chapbooks whose haiku I never posted episodically on this blog.
I guess it doesn’t matter because the series was initially an experiment in the first place, and just now are being revived as actual, tangible books, and no one in particular has nitpicked it except for me… but something about this one always made me feel peculiar. Bashful about it, even, from square one. I never wanted to promote it. MHz has the most interesting potential and yet I feel will always be damned, because how do you recommend a surreal mashup of sci-fi and Japanese horror inspirations, but in a poetry format?

MHz will definitely be the most entertaining and reigns-free to reboot. There are less rules or direction necessary (not that there was a plethora with the other three, exactly). And yet, I think it will always be the least popular. I might be wrong, but we’ll see in May or April.

The new MHz, and to a lesser extension the old MHz and the touched-up segments that showed up in Absolute Heaven (which I still need to prepare a print book for, as grueling as it will be), are loosely based around the imagery found in the filmography of Shinya Tsukamoto. If you have zero idea who that is, you absolutely need to look it up right now.
The colour-cast look to Tsukamoto’s films is entirely dreamlike – to the point of them feeling like re-watching some of your weirdest dreams that you recall pieces of at random times. I love that aesthetic dearly, and several of those movies. They’re not really story-heavy, relying more on personal interpretation and just good old-fashioned entertainment for your visual cortex. Tsukamoto, in general, is sort of the “anti” pretentious art film. His movies are artsy, but like a painting, not a philosophy thesis that the director is intent on shoving down your throat.

Am I getting off-topic? Okay, well, MHz is set to be the last redone chapbook at this point. I’ve entertained doing a fifth one just because they’re fun and relatively easy to write and I think people will like reading them, but I’m afraid attempting storytelling is taking a precedent over my poetry right now, and probably still will be when these come out. I have the date April 21st in mind for the first two (Infinite Summer and Blood Ballet), and the second half should come right behind. I know I keep talking about them but they will actually be in print soon. Promise.

Loss and Returning to Blogging

There’s been a very brief span of dead air over the past two weeks. I realize I didn’t get around to some things I had promised, but I have recently had to trudge through a painful tragedy. These days have been one drawn-out night that will not pass into morning for me. It’s not really something that would be cathartic to discuss or that I’m prepared to discuss publicly – it was an absolutely horrible loss of somebody that I’ve known all of my life. To cope, and this may be the only remote positive that could’ve come out of it, I will be writing a lot more. More than my usual obsession with it compels me to. So, starting this Monday, I’ll likely be posting daily for a long while. I have some articles on writing tropes, a couple of poems, and some mixed-genre reviews in no particular fashion or order.

Unfortunately, given the circumstances, I’ve found a wealth of time for reading. But at a cost that was certainly not worth that. I do look forward to the next month or two at least, and I ought to know soon when I’ll have some more books out, so that will be something pleasant, at least. A series of reviews on the H. P. Lovecraft catalogue is coming up on the horizon throughout the rest of spring, which should be… a colourful ride. A colour out of space, you might even name it.

I should just tell you now that I hate early spring, and thought it fitting to focus on an author whose primary settings are flooded, moldy semi-sentient swamplands, which is the image I automatically get in my head when I think of the first half of spring. Others may see in pink and blue, but I see in grey and green, and not pretty shades of them either.

Woodland Dreams – Rebooting Infinite Summer

The Infinite Summer reboot is actually on the verge of being finished. All it lacks is a final edit and a cover, so it ought to be out first, I suspect around March. Infinite Summer was my favourite one, and that remains true. This is the “lightest” one thematically, having a ghostly, romantic fairytale vibe. Probably should’ve spent the time I spent on the original on useful literature, but hey, it was pretty fun.

At the risk of deflating my own update post, I honestly don’t have as much to say about it as I imagined I would. I have fewer aspirations with its makeover than the others, I guess. The old versions of the haiku are still posted starting here. I don’t think I’ll remove these, even though they’ve gone through variable changes. There’s not really a reason to. It could be quite fascinating to see the improvements, or disagree with them if you thought the old were better.

If you’ve ever thought about trying your hand at fantasy poetry, you ought to. Don’t be shy about displaying it, either, there needs to be more genre poetry in the world. Fantasy is general is a sort of imagination exercise, but fantasy with the loose non-limits of lyricism is even more so. Not too many publish their fantasy poetry, it seems. Continue reading “Woodland Dreams – Rebooting Infinite Summer”

Poem – “Closed Hearted”

Closed Hearted

Why do you always expect difference
You know I’ve been closed hearted
So long the doors have melded to one
There is no way to release what I’ve lost
I don’t know why you ask every day
When you know to change is impossible

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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Book Review – Dolly by Susan Hill

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Suspense / Horror
Publication Date: October 5th, 2012
Publisher: Profile Books

“All, all of it I remember. Then I relived, my heart pounding again as I stood at the window and through the fog-blanketed darkness heard the sound again. Deep under the earth, inside its cardboard coffin, shrouded with the layers of white paper, the china doll with the jagged, open crevasse in its skull was crying.”

The atmosphere in Dolly is so heavy and intense that it’s almost its own character, perfectly at home in its loneliness. Dolly recalls pieces of Burnett’s The Secret Garden, but twisted. It’s like the marshy underside of the Secret Garden, where you would expect fairytale things to be waiting in the bog.

After the death of his aunt, a man, Edward, recalls his childhood staying at Iyot Lock, her manor house decaying out in the middle of the moor. The house is straight out of a gothic novel and nobody much enjoys being there save for the aunt, and especially not Edward’s cousin, Leonora. He tries to get along with Leonora desperately, but sometimes she just turns into an evil stranger with no warning or transition, and Edward becomes afraid of her. The aunt buys Leonora a baby doll that she breaks, and afterward the doll becomes kind of… vocal, but only late in the night when it’s only Edward there to hear it.

I really appreciate the oddness of the characters. Edward and Leonora have a weird dynamic – they start off like you’d expect they’re going to end up being best of friends. They hate each other on a subtle level from square one, even for the moments they get along. I think that they had always enjoyed seeing each other miserable, and that’s probably why, even though Edward wasn’t insufferable as Leonora was, they are both doomed to be bound to each other through horrible occurrences that they can’t explain to anybody else. Their relationship is surprisingly bleak for being children through most of the story. Continue reading “Book Review – Dolly by Susan Hill”

Book Review – Leontyne Price by Carole Boston Weatherford

★★★★ 4 Stars

Full Title: Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century
Genre:
 Biography
Publication Date: December 23rd, 2014
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Leontyne Price is a classical singer, the first African American woman to become a prima donna at the Metropolitan Opera, inspired by the magnificent Marian Anderson and her own family who encouraged her to learn music. Price is an innovator and a fascinating figure that I didn’t really know much about, so this book is kind of an introduction to me as well. I was already familiar with Marian Anderson, who I probably don’t even need to say, was superb.

Both Anderson and Price faced and rose above prejudice in the American music industry, and in opera, to now be renowned as some of the best. Their voices are striking and one-of-a-kind.
Voice of a Century is a beautiful, inspiring book aimed at children, but you know, anyone can like, and I think it does justice to Leontyne Price’s story. I stress that the illustrations really are amazing. Splashes of red, blue and gold brighten the eye while her biography is told, fittingly, in lyrical poems.
It’s a little abridged but if music, history, or both is an interest to you, I definitely recommend this one!

illustration2

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Poem – “Barefoot on Dreams”

Barefoot on Dreams

The dunes of a dream appear as glass
Smooth as the diamond on a queen’s ring,
Pink as the hollow of an oyster’s mouth
Shall we dance barefoot without once slipping
Until the stars reach the underside of the sun?

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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Bookshelf and Review Update

Just your run-of-the-mill improvements. I’ve renovated the bookshelf on here to include most of the self-published books I’ve written or that are coming out within the next year. I am less certain about ones that may be traditionally published, so they are not listed. Loverboy and the Kindle edition of Absolute Heaven are the only ones out right now. The reason AH doesn’t have a paperback is because I didn’t like the cover and the art will have to be re-scanned to a sharper quality specifically for that. At least if I want it to look good, it will.

Anyway, the reviews I wanted to do for Women in Horror, I really got bored with both of those books so I’ll be doing reviews for two different ones. It was going to be Thicker Than Blood and Alice in Zombieland, but now it will be Rebecca, Dolly by Susan Hill, and The Unfleshed by Lisa Vasquez. I have been extremely busy writing my own work, and was ill-prepared for a theme this month. No real blood lost, I guess.
Some other reviews coming up soon are Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century, and No Place Like Oz by Danielle Page, so stay tuned for those.

Poem – “In the Library”

In the Library

Drawn in by shelves of soothing ochre
But kept here by an aura mysterious
Cobwebs in the dark, come into my parlor
Says the skeletal hand of a horror
Drawn away from that fate by fairydust
From a fantasy all too enticing,
Ducking from gunshots, an action, a war
Contained to the shelves of a store
Tearing through pasts retold,
Futures imagined, just to find the door
Leave with only the one you were looking for

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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Loverboy is $1 on Kindle

Just a friendly reminder that the Kindle edition of my debut is only a $1 (or the equivalent). I’ve worked very hard to make this collection the most beautiful, stylistically and linguistically that I am able to, so please consider buying a copy if it looks interesting to you. It’s available in any countries that have Amazon, and if you purchase a new copy of the paperback, you get a download of the Kindle version as well for free. Both versions look quite good, actually, I’ve made doubly sure that they do. There’s samples for your convenience.
It is also on Kindle Unlimited for the time being but I’m afraid I’ll be letting its KU license expire later this month so that I can publish it in ePub.

LoverboyCover(Complete)

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Hearts + Thorns

This poem, “Hearts + Thorns”, was featured in the twelfth issue of Radium Piano Band, an awesome newer blog dedicated to experimental writing. “Hearts + Thorns” is from and will be one of the early pieces in an upcoming poetry book that was picked up for publication, that will likely come out next year or late in this year. “Hearts + Thorns” is pretty reflective of the collection, which deals heavily with occultism and the weight of suicide.
Interestingly, the collection ties in with a novella that I’m on the second draft of. They are perfectly reasonable separate, of course, but share a lot of imagery. Anyway, enjoy!

Radium Piano Band – Issue #12

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