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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In the Court of the Yellow King

I’m a huge fan of the mythos that has developed from Robert W Chambers’ 1895 decadent collection The King in Yellow, more so even than I am a fan of Lovecraft’s mythos. Lovecraft’s mythos seems, to me at least, to be more codified. He produced, and inspired, a far larger body of work than Chambers’ four stories and so there is a much larger canon for new tales to fit into. The Yellow Mythos, or Carcosa Mythos, of Chambers’ creation however has very few things that are required in order for a tale to become a part of the mythos. There is the titular play and its locations and characters (Carcosa, Lake Hali, the black stars, the Tattered King, the Stranger, and so on) and the themes of madness and suicide as well as the prose style of the late 19th Century Decadent Movement. A story can incorporate some or all of these elements and still fit within the canon of the King in Yellow. This openness really appeals to me and so I am always keen to pick up any new collections of stories inspired by Chambers and his maddening play.

In the Court of the Yellow King was released recently by Celaeno Press in Japan, edited by Glynn Owen Barrass, and features some absolutely amazing authors including Wilum Pugmire, Robert M. Price, the late C.J. Henderson (to whom the book is dedicated), William Meikle and Pete Rawlik amongst others. It has a beautiful cover by Danielle Sera and a couple of internal plates by Eric York.

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I’m going to be reading this collection, and the others that I was given for Christmas, over the next few weeks. I’ll post micro-reviews of the stories here as I go.

Before I start though I should note that I find it really odd to see a King in Yellow collection without a story by Joe Pulver. Not that all Yellow books need to feature Joe but it just seems odd that one wouldn’t. That said they do have an extremely fine selection of very talented authors here.

Table of Contents(Titles link to the reviews below)

These Harpies of Carcosa – W.H. Pugmire

The Viking in Yellow – Christine Morgan

Who Killed the King of Rock and Roll? – Edward Morris

Masque of the Queen – Stephen Mark Rainey

Grand Theft Hovercar – Jeffrey Thomas

The Girl with the Star-Stained Soul – Lucy A. Snyder

The Penumbra of Exquisite Foulness – Tim Curran

Yield – C.J. Henderson

Homeopathy – Greg Stolze

Bedlam in Yellow – William Meikle

A Jaundiced Light at the End – Brian M. Sammons

The Yellow Film – Gary McMahon

Lights Fade – Laurel Halbany

Future Imperfect – Glynn Owen Barrass

The Mask of Yellow Death – Robert M. Price

The Sepia Prints – Pete Rawlik

Nigredo – Cody Goodfellow

MonoChrome – T.E. Grau

 

These Harpies of Carcosa by W.H. Pugmire

Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire raises the curtain on this latest round of Carcosan tales with this brief tale that sets the stage for what is to follow. Through the medium of the dream inspired, and starving, artist we are introduced deftly to the trappings of the Yellow Mythos of R.W. Chambers. The twin moons and the dim lost city, black stars and the king and his daughters, madness, suicide and the Yellow Sign.

Pugmire’s prose is as Lovecraftian as ever which works wonderfully to evoke the world of the artist and his narrating patron.

The Viking in Yellow by Christine Morgan

 I really quite liked this story, it places the origins of the tale related in the play in the 9th Century Viking expansion into the North of England(judging by the names of the human characters) and the sacking of various monasteries.

Who Killed the King of Rock n Roll? by Edward Morris

edward-morris

I’m afraid this story, which is set in the 1950s at the birth of rock’n’roll and conflates one King with another, didn’t really do it for me. Which isn’t to say that it’s a bad story, it certainly isn’t, I just found the 1950s American lingo a bit off putting at times.

Masque of the Queen by Stephen Mark Rainey

I loved this story. The tale of a young actress seeming to get the big break that she’s been waiting for and the calamity that ensues when she truly becomes one with the character she is portraying. This was brilliantly executed and really gave me a shiver when the protagonist’s fate became horribly clear.

Grand Theft Hovercar by Jeffrey Thomas

Imagine. Punktown is a horrible place to live; a far future dystopia on the planet Oasis. A melting pot of alien races the city is notorious for being riddled with crime. Now imagine that in Punktown there was a VR game, similar to our Grand Theft Auto, set in a replica of Punktown and that that game became infected by a yellow virus. That’s this story and it is so good that I’m going to go and buy Jeffrey Thomas’ Punktown books at the first chance I get.

The Girls With the Star Stained Soul by Lucy A. Snyder

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.

Autumn Cthulhu

Mike Davis, the editor at the Lovecraft Ezine, has issued a call for submissions for an upcoming anthology entitled Autumn Cthulhu.

he sums up what he’s looking for thus:

Well, the words Autumn Cthulhu sum it up somewhat.  But, though pastiche can be done well, I don’t want it here.  In other words, less “Mythos” and more “Lovecraftian”.  I’m talking about the themes of Lovecraft: cosmic horror, deep time, man’s irrelevant place in the universe, horrific truths about reality, etc…

So the story should be Lovecraftian, set in the fall.  You could include Halloween, and in fact I very much hope some of you do, but it’s not a necessity.  There’s a mood and a magic and a mystery to autumn; think colorful falling leaves, crisp days, rainy afternoons and evenings.  A cold drizzle.

Which sounds particularly enticing. Especially as I recently began work on a Yellow story set on a housing scheme on the outskirts of Glasgow in, of all times, the autumn! So if I can get it finished and edited before Halloween(nice deadline there Mr Davis!) I’m definitely going to submit it. The story is more of a Yellow tale than anything related to the Cthulhu mythos so I’m glad Mike wants Lovecraftian over mythos stories.

All the details on how to submit stories are in the post over at the Ezine so head over there if you fancy sending Mike a tall tale. Anyway, back to work on my story.

typing

True Pessimist – True Detective

I yesterday discovered the new HBO drama True Detective thanks to The Lovecraft Ezine‘s posting about the show’s Ligottian influence. A second person then linked to an article on the Wall Street journal blog that referenced both Lovecraft and Robert W Chambers in relation to the show as well as expanding upon the Ligottian influence.

Whilst I am a bit of a fan of crime dramas I tend to veer towards European, particularly Scandinavian, shows that don’t distract from the horror of the murder/crime being investigated with gaudy effects and cack handed appeals to emotion(I’m looking at you CSI). Shows like Wallander(Sweden) and, especially, Forbrydelsen(Denmark). So normally a show like True Detective would just pass me by had it not been for these mentions of Ligotti, Chambers, and Lovecraft. Needless to say, my interest was more than piqued.

The show, now on its third episode, follows two investigations into two seemingly linked murders. One in 1995 and one in 2012. In 1995 we see detectives Rustin “Rust” Cohl(Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart(Woody Harrelson) as two mismatched homicide detectives investigating the bizarre, and seemingly occult related, murder of a young woman. the 2012 plot line consists of Cohl and hart being interviewed by a pair of detectives investigating a strikingly similar murder.

The dialogue between Cohl and Hart is fantastic throughout the show but what stands out most, to me being a Ligotti fan anyway, are Cohl’s nihilistic diatribes against life, religion, and the bullshit in which we cloak the essential meaninglessness of existence. A prime example of this is seen in the very first episode when Hart, an ostensibly Christian man, asks Cohl what he believes.

That could have been lifted from any number of Ligotti’s stories.

Whilst the murder is most certainly weird and just drips with all manner of occult symbolism it isn’t until the second episode that the influence of weird fiction authors becomes overtly clear. References to the Yellow King in the diary of the murdered woman and direct quotes from Chamber’s work are laid out before us on the screen.

The Yellow King

In Carcosa

I don’t know if the show is going to feature any supernatural elements, that exist outside of the mind of the killer/s, nor do I know if the show needs anything supernatural to convey the bleak cosmic horror of Ligotti’s work that it so closely resembles. The washed out colours, the bleak existential nihilism of Cohl, the occult(but not necessarily supernatural) elements of the murders, the hypocrisy and denial of Hart. All combine to give the show an air of resignation where the true horror lies not in the actions of the, seemingly, deranged killer but in the mundane stripping away of the façade of normality by Cohl’s unshakable nihilism.

The series continues on the ninth of this month.