Joseph S Pulver Sr: The King in Yellow Tales, Volume One

This review should have been published yesterday on the day that this awesome collection of King in Yellow inspired stories was published. Unfortunately a poorly Little Ms. X was more important than the timely publishing of reviews. So sorry I didn’t get this out yesterday which, fittingly ,was also the 150th anniversary of the birth of Robert W. Chambers.

tl;dr: This is amazing, buy this book.

Joseph S. Pulver is the King in Yellow –sorry True Detective fans; the Yellow King does not reside in Louisiana where he drives a power mower. No; this particular bEast resides in Berlin where he writes a form of Weird Fiction that seamlessly blends Noir, Beat, and Decadence with a cosmic kind of horror which can in turns wash over you with deliciously off kilter poetics before filling you with a dread that works its way into the darker, most hidden, reaches of your psyche.

The King in Yellow is a collection of short stories in the French Decadent tradition written by an American, Robert W. Chambers, in the 1890s. Pulver has been producing work which riffs off of the King in Yellow the_king_in_yellow_t_cover_for_kindlestories for decades and he is the person most responsible for keeping the yellow flame alive as a field of literary exploration in its own right for all that time. During the 20th Century Chambers’ work was brought into the mythology created by H.P. Lovecraft and the strange denizens that wreak havoc in Chambers’ work were turned into ancient and terrible alien gods by the acolytes of Lovecraft, even though he only made passing reference to them in his own work. Pulver has all but severed these ties to Lovecraft and instead seeks to explore the maddening influence of the more mysterious aspects of Chambers’ work: the titular play which drives mad any who witness or read the second act, and the Yellow Sign which casts a baleful influence over all who are unfortunate enough to encounter it.

That’s not to say that Pulver has abandoned all Lovecraftian elements; the first story proper in this collection, ‘Choosing’, is a post apocalyptic nightmare merging both mythologies into a bewildering scream of frustration and pain. Frustration at one’s powerlessness to resist horrors heaped down upon us by those protected by power and tradition; pain at the suffering inflicted upon those about whom we care by those stronger than us. To me this story seemed to speak of the way in which women, as a body of people, are abused and maltreated by society and the powerlessness of individuals to confront and challenge this maltreatment. Of course the story is also a brilliant horror tale and it’s testament to Pulver’s skill as a writer that his works can be read in different ways and to varying depths.

“To no particular where, just went. Stepped right into August like it was a voyage or a baptism. Stopped in his cheap room, grabbed his stuff and left. Somewhere down the road he’d find her. The wind would take him to her”

-‘Carl Lee & Cassilda’

Pulver’s hard-boiled, noir infected, prose in the ‘Carl Lee & Cassilda’ triptych of stories takes Chambers’ creations and places them firmly into America’s bourbon soaked underbelly of hustlers, hookers, lunacy and bloody murder. This dark sensibility and affinity for the broken refugees and cast-offs of society permeates much of Pulver’s work and his characters reflect this darkness. You will not like some, or many, of the characters in this book but then: you’re not supposed to. These are the stories, after all, that lurk in rain drenched alleyways waiting to seize an unsuspecting passerby and to turn their world upside down.

Joe Pulver is no a fearful writer and his prose in this collection illustrates this eagerly as he experiments with the form and function of the English language. Happily jumping from beat infused noir to decadent stage plays and poetic verse. His playing with form suggests to me that the printed page is going to give the reader the greatest appreciation for his work –though a regular e-reader may render the prose as it was initially meant to be read, I read this on my smartphone and the reflowing of some of his more poetic tales has guaranteed that I am also going to seek this collection out in paperback.

In ‘Saint Nicholas Hall’, dedicated to America’s Kafka –Michael Cisco, Pulver takes his creative muse and uses is as a scalpel to hone a beautifully realised modernist(?) prose poem that again plays with the form of the written word to fashion a phantasmagoric Carcosan cityscape through which the protagonist travels towards his confrontation with loss.

These are just a handful of the stories that make up this first volume of Jospeh Pulver Sr.’s collected King in Yellow tales. I highlighted these few as I feel they illustrate quite how deep a literary well Pulver is drawing from. This collection is an absolute must for anyone with an interest in the renaissance of weird fiction which has been underway these last few years. Pulver is a master of his art and you deserve to read him.

Info on where to buy the book in print or as an ebook can be found here(LINK).

Table of Contents

  • Introduction by Rick Lai
  • A Line of Questions
  • Choosing
  • Carl Lee & Cassilda
  • An American Tango Ending in Madness
  • Hello is a Yellow Kiss
  • The Last Few Nights in a Life of Frost
  • Chasing Shadows
  • Last Year in Carcosa
  • An Engagement of Hearts
  • Cordelia’s Song
  • Saint Nicholas Hall
  • A Spider in the Distance
  • Under the Mask Another Mask
  • Epilogue for Two Voices
  • Yvrain’s “Black Dancers”
  • The Songs Cassilda Shall Sing, Where Flap the Tatters of the King
  • The Sky Will Not Fall
  • Tark Left Santiago
  • Marks and Scars and Flags
  • Long-Stemmed Ghost Words
  • In This Desert Even the Air Burns
  • Perfect Grace
  • My Mirage
  • Mother Stands for Comfort
  • A Cold Yellow Moon (with Edward R. Morris Jr.)
  • Afterword by Pete Rawlik
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Year’s Best Weird Fiction: Volume One

Last year saw two major publishing events in the field of Weird Fiction. The first, and the one that garnered the most mainstream column inches, was the publication of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy –Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance, which saw The Weird being thrust into the mainstream as it never has before. The second major event was the publishing of Michael Kelly and Laird Barron’s ‘The Year’s Best Weird Fiction’. This is the first, to my knowledge, explicitly Weird Fiction anthology* to be released since the Vandermeer’s tome ‘The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories’ was released in 2011 (following on from their 2008 anthology ‘The New Weird’). The reason that this release is so important is that it pushes the literary experimentation with the weird to the forefront without focussing on the work of any particular author. We have seen a glut of anthologies of work based on the Cthulhu mythos over the last 10 years or so, with their number increasing seemingly exponentially as time goes on, and anthologies based on the work of weird writers R.W. Chambers, Arthur Machen, Thomas Ligotti, Laird Barorn, and a forthcoming collection based on the work of Robert Aickman. All of which is utterly fantastic but can not expose the reader to the wild experimental creativity that defines(?) the weird. This anthology does just that and it does it brilliantly. Another reason that this publication is so important is that a book that contains a wide variety of works, some of which are at the very edges of the weird, has sold enough copies within but a few short months of release that volume two has already been put together. Viva la weird!

*There is of course the wonderful ‘Women Writing the Weird’ anthology from Deb Hoag, also released in 2011, but that -as the name implies, only featured female authors and therefore couldn’t represent all of the best weird writing of that year.

Of particular note in this collection are Livia Llewellyn’s Furnace, Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us? by Damien Angelica Walters, and The Girl in the Blue Coat by Anna Taborska.

‘The Year’s Best Weird Fiction’ is published by Undertow Press in paperback and for e-readers things like that there Kindle device.

Table of Contents(Titles link to reviews)

The Nineteenth Step – Simon Strantzas

Swim Wants to Know If It’s As Bad As Swim Thinks -Paul Tremblay

Dr. Blood and the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron – A.C. Wise

Year of the Rat – Chen Qiufan

Olimpia’s Ghost – Sofia Samatar

Furnace -Livia Llewellyn

Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us? Damien Angelica Walters

Bor Urus – John Langan

A Quest of Dream – W.H. Pugmire

The Krakatoan – Maria Dahvana Headley

The Girl in the Blue Coat – Anna Taborska

(he) Dreams of Lovecraftian Horror – Joseph S. Pulver Sr.

In Limbo – Jeffrey Thomas

A Cavern of Redbrick – Richard Gavin

Eyes Exchange Bank – Scott Nicolay

Fox into Lady – Anne-Sylvie Salzman

Like Feather, Like Bone – Kristi DeMeester

A Terror – Jeffrey Ford

Success – Michael Blumlein

Moonstruck – Karin Tidbeck

The Key to Your Heart Is Made of Brass – John R. Fultz

No Breather in the World But Thee – Jeff Vandermeer

The Nineteenth Step by Simon Strantzas

The opening salvo in this volume comes from Canada’s Simon Strantzas. It is a fitting opener for this volume as it exemplifies perfectly, and succinctly what is, to me, one of the defining thrusts of Weird Fiction -that our understanding of the world in which we live is limited and fragile. A young couple, Mallory and Alex, just setting foot on the bottom rung of the housing ladder, have their perception of The Real splintered by something so simple that it probably would have remained unnoticed by most. By the lucky ones.
The final line of this story also makes want to both slug Mr Strantzas and buy him a pint at the same time. Well played sir, well played.

Swim Wants to Know If It’s As Bad As Swim Thinks by Paul Tremblay

Next we have Paul Tremblay’s look at drug addiction and self perpetuating cycles of abuse through the lens of meth addiction, motherhood and kaiju.  Following the nameless protagonist, who is also the titular Swim, as she endures the pressures of being a small town pariah and drug addict and the longing to be with the daughter denied her by the courts and circumstance.

This is very much a stream of consciousness/modernist story that draws the reader directly into the confused mind of Swim.

Dr. Blood and the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron – A.C. Wise

A bizarro tale of a squadron of interplanetary trans action heroes sent to chew gum, smash gender norms, and high kick trans-fetishism in the teeth. All whilst looking utterly fabulous.

Not really sure what more there is to say about this other than it actually had me laughing out loud at points. Completely unsubtle metaphors are used, abused, and then glammed up. This is a fabulous feminist tale that would horrify TERFS and MRAs in equal measure.

Brilliant. 🙂

Year of the Rat by Chen Qiufan

 

Translated by Ken Liu this military SF story has more than a passing similarity to Catch 22 in its examination of the futility and absurdity of military organisation. It also has some rather scathing things to say about the relationship of the average proletarian to global capital.

I’m definitely going to be looking out for more of Chen’s work.

Olimpia’s Ghost – Sofia Samatar

An masterfully crafted faux 19th Century homage to E.T.A. Hoffman told through a series of letters from a young woman sent to a young man with whom she was once infatuated. It speaks of the madness of art, of poetry, and the arrogance and proprietariness of the ‘man of science’ who eschews the lustiness of youth and of life for a pursuit that he will one day regret.

Furnace – Livia Llewellyn

This is one of the stories I was really looking forward to as I absolutely adore Llewellyn’s sensual prose and I’m a huge fan of Thomas Ligotti and as this tale comes from Joe Pulver’s Ligotti tribute anthology -The Grimscribe’s Puppets, I was highly anticipating something magical. I wasn’t disappointed. This tale of the strange degradation of a small town as rot and decay sets in captures Ligotti’s corporate horror period work perfectly yet still retains Llewellyn’s voice. Anyone living in a town facing the ravages of austerity capitalism will find this story set unsettlingly close to home.

Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us? – Damien Angelica Walters

“Inside each grief is a lonely ghost of silence, and inside each silence are the words we didn’t say.” The opening lines of this piece of experimental prose perfectly encapsulate the sense of loss and longing that permeates this short tale. Walters’ story is disjointed and disorienting and disturbing. Fabulous.

Bor Urus – John Langan


John Langan’s stories are always a slow burn and Bor Urus is no exception. In this story youthful fancy develops into startling obsession and realisation which fuel a potentially devastating mid-life crisis in the narrator. As ever with Langan’s work this is a superbly crafted weird tale and that’s no bullshit.

A Quest of Dream by W.H. Pugmire

Wilum H Pugmire is very much the person who carries the Lovecraftian torch into the 21st Century and one of his other stories, Inhabitants of Wraithwood, is one of my all time favourite weird fiction stories. This story is set in Wilum’s Sesqua Valley and, indeed, was first published in his Bohemians of Sesqua Valley collection. Unfortunately I’ve not read any of Wilum’s Sesqua stories and so I was rather unfamiliar with the setting. Still; I think this added to the strangeness of this story which deals with the overlapping of Lovecraft’s Dreamlands and our world. This is a sumptuous story that displays well the finesse with which Wilum writes.

The Krakatoan by Maria Dahvana Headley

A many motherless girl, her astronomer father and a former astronomer neighbour who has turned his gaze towards the stars within the Earth. Both the prose style and the subject matter of this story reminded me heavily of the work of manga artist Juni Ito, which is high praise if you ask me.

The Girl in the Blue Coat by Anna Taborska

That night I had a terrible nightmare. Mindla was standing by the marsh at the bottom of the field. She was only in her underwear. She reached out to me and at first I thought she had that same sadness in her eyes, but as I drew closer, I saw that her eyes were gone.” This is definitely the saddest of the stories that I have come across so far. An investigative journalist discovers that there are those who seek to ensure that those with the power to do so bear witness for those who can not. This story is soaked in sadness, from the setting, to the subject matter, to the prose which simply and clearly depicts a world scarred by its past and haunted by its ghosts.

(he) Dreams of Lovecraftian Horror by Joseph S. Pulver Sr

This is a beautiful tribute to the Lovecraftian author Wilum H Pugmire. Written in Pulver’s distinctive, fractured, prose style this piece of flash fiction gives us a look at a mythical Pugmire’s life and writing process.

In Limbo by Jeffrey Thomas

Horrible, horrible, horrible. This story is wonderful. An ageing man experiences loss, hope, and resignation as the lights go out. Maybe the lights are just going out for him or maybe for all of humanity, would either of these be bad things? I did love this story in its Ligottian darkness.

A Cavern of Redbrick by Richard Gavin

 

There is something about this story, of a young boy’s summer and the horrible discoveries he makes, that reminds me of Stephen King in both its setting and execution. The tale is rather open to interpretation in that whilst it’s a ghost story the other forces at play could be either supernatural or mere human madness.

Eyes Exchange Bank by Scott Nicolay

I keep on hearing great things about Scott Nicolay and going by this story every bit of praise that has been heaped upon him is warranted. Like Livia Llewellyn’s story this is set amid the deterioration of an economic collapse -though this time it is the recession of the late 1980s/early 1990s. The narrator of this story is brought by circumstance to a town that is decaying and is forced to confront the untruths upon which his life has been based. Nicolay really is a master of the weird and I can’t wait to read his collection Ana Kai Tangata.

Fox into Lady by Ann-Sylvie Salzman

 

Wow, this is a special story. It reminds me, in part, of Bruno Schulz or Stefan Grabinski though it is also very, very different to those authors’ work. This is a psychically discombobulating story of anxiety, fear, and resignation. I really want to read more by Salzman. (This piece was translated from the French by William Charlton)

Like Feather, Like Bone by Kristi DeMeester

demeester

Another lovely/horrible piece of flash fiction here. A story of mourning, sorrow, and what we do when we try to escape the inevitable process that comes with grief.

A Terror by Jeffrey Ford

Normally stories that feature historical characters make me wince somewhat. Jeffrey Ford’s strange adventure with the 19th Century poet Emily Dickinson and her brush with death was however thoroughly enjoyable. I get the feeling that I may have enjoyed it more had I known more about the poet herself. Still, even without this knowledge this is a startlingly good, and weird, ghost story of sorts.

Success by Michael Blumlein

The longest piece in this collection -a novelette rather than a short story I suppose, Blumlein’s story explores academic obsession, madness, and love at the interstices of the natural sciences and how one person’s approach to their obsession can drive them to madness where another’s can drive them to success and how the two approaches are not that different at the end of the day.

Moonstruck by Karin Tidbeck

Moonstruck is an utterly beautiful and masterful fairy tale, a modern myth. An allegorical tale of a young girl’s emergence into womanhood and a mother’s fear that she is now being replaced by her offspring set against an impossible backdrop of a moon that is rapidly approaching the Earth and the home of the story’s protagonist. Beautiful.

The Key to Your Heart Is Made of Brass by John R. Fultz

This is a bewildering tale set in a post-human steampunk world where we see a member of the ruling, beatific, class being blackmailed. The vacuity of ruling class culture and the illusions of money and status are here exposed in a fantastical world that I would love to explore in greater detail. Hopefully Fultz will expand on this setting in the future.

No Breather in the World But Thee by Jeff Vandermeer

I don’t think it would be possible to have a collection of the best Weird Fiction at the moment without featuring a piece by Jeff Vandermeer. This is an extremely strange story of ‘it‘ happening again ‘like last year‘ and told as a series of vignettes merged into a single narrative. Each one told from the perspective of the occupants of a mansion that has come under attack from a huge monster which has plummeted from the sky. A fitting end to the anthology this rather post-modern piece is a fine example of both some of the excellent work that is being done in the field of the Weird and of the sheer imagination of Jeff Vandermeer himself.

~fini~

Blood Will Have its Season | Joe Pulver

Two Pulver Posts in a row!

A couple of weeks ago I won a copy of Blood Will Have its Season by Joe Pulver through the regular book give away during the Lovecraft Ezine web show. It’s a digital copy and as I don’t have an ebook reader I’ve been dipping in and out of it on my phone -which makes for slow going as I’m not the biggest fan of reading on a screen. Last night I read the titular story and I just wanted to say HOLY FUCK NUTS BATMAN! That’s probably one of the most disturbing short stories I’ve ever read in all ma puff! Seriously, seriously messed up. It’s a story of The King in Yellow and I really can’t say much more about it than that without giving anything away. Damn I do love Pulver’s work.

Also: Content warning for sexual violence.

Pulver in Yellow

Joe Pulver, if you haven’t already heard of him (and why the hell haven’t you??), fuses beat, noir, pulp and high weird with startling skill. He’s also the go to person when it comes to Robert W. Chambers’ King in Yellow stories. Joe has written god knows how many King in Yellow stories over the years –well I suppose he knows how many too, as does Mike Davis of the Lovecraft Ezine as Mike is currently preparing to put out volume one in a the collected Yellow stories of Joe Pulver! Excited? You could say so!

I find it most fitting that Joe’s work is being collected this year as 2015 is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Robert W. Chambers as well as the 120th anniversary of the first publication of his collection The King in Yellow. I get the feeling this year is definitely going to have a maddening yellow hue to it. 😀

Keep an eye on the Lovecraft Ezine for news on when the book is going to be released. I’m sure I’ll probably be posting somewhat excitedly about it here too. 🙂

Pulver in Yellow
Cover design by Steve Santiago http://www.illustrator-steve.com/

 

Now, Mike Davis, a quick message for you.

What a Day

Wow, yesterday was rather good for me and mine and I truly hope it was good for you too.
C and I got to spoil Little Ms. X, and one another, absolutely rotten. It was also really nice to see that the most excitedly expectant look on Ms. X’s face wasn’t when she was opening her own presents but when C was opening the Tremors collection we had gotten her. She’s a good kid so she is.
I’m presently laying bed nursing something of a hangover after having rather over indulged in one of my more liquid presents..

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I do like a wee tipple of Laphroig so I do.
I’ve been laying here in bed for the last half an hour or so wanting to crack into one, or some, of my other gifts from C and X but you know what? I can’t decide which to delve into first! I have options paralysis! Oh the humanity!

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As an added bonus this also turned up in the post on Xmas Eve.

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So I have a rather wonderful amount of reading to do over the next few months if only can decide where to begin. 😀

A Day Off!

Three actually. In a row! I’ve not had a day off work since June 12th and now I have three of them! Wahey! I can read, I can write. Oh me oh my do I feel good. 😀

But what to read? I’ve got one hell of a backlog that has built up over the last year or so what with university, dissertation, and work. My present backlog looks a little like this, since you asked. Which you didn’t but this is it anyway.

To Finish: This is all short stories. I tend to take a collection with me to read during my commute as the 20-30 minutes on the train is normally just about right to get through a story.

The Weird – edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer

The Dark Domain – Stefan Grabinski

The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter

American Supernatural Tales – edited by S.T. Joshi

To Read: Books that I haven’t had the chance to dip into yet but am chomping at the bit to devour. 🙂

The Spectral Link – Thomas Ligotti

The Grimscribe’s Puppets – edited by Joe Pulver

Celebrant – Michael Cisco

Deadtown Abbey – Sean Hoade

The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All – Laird Barron

I also need to be writing. Currently I have a cosmic horror story set amongst the Caledonii of Iron Age Scotland, and a post-apocalyptic Lovecraftian tale on the go. I also really need to get some more blog post writing done. On that front you can expect my half arsed attempt at an analysis of Ligotti’s Our Temporary Supervisor – which is, beyond a doubt, my favourite story from the Grimscribe himself.

So, until next time. Stay weird. 😀

 

PS: Also; BIG congratulations to Joe Pulver who’s anthology The Grimscribe’s Puppets won the Shirley Jackson award for best anthology! WAHEY!

grimscribe