Monday Morning Book Clubbing: “And They Were Never Heard From Again” and “UR”

Hullo and welcome (back) to my blog! It’s been a little while since last I had the pleasure of working on a blog entry for this here Grimoire Reliquary and since I just finished two rather small works (in terms of content), I thought now might be a good time to tell you about these two. One is a short story by Benedict Patrick, a friend and a fantasy author I admire greatly for his folklore-inspired Yarnsworld series. The other is by Stephen King, a novella originally written exclusively for the Kindle. Both together, these reads are a little over a hundred pages — the perfect length to read on a busy Monday evening, afternoon, or whenever you’ve got the freedom to do so. Let’s talk about each of them in turn:

“And They Were Never Heard From Again” by Benedict Patrick

The Magpie King’s Forest was one of my favourite new places to inhabit last year, when I first came across Benedict’s work. It’s a mysterious place, dangerous during day and deadly at night, the Forest still unclaimed by the human villagers who live in its reaches. I’ve had my share of exploration of its great and dark confines, and yet have hungered for more over the past few months. Once Benedict Patrick gets in your head, you see, it’s difficult not to hunger after more knowledge of the Forest’s denizens of the night.

But what is a monster of the night without a pair of humans to horrify and appall? The unlucky protagonists of this story are two brothers, one younger and the other older — as these stories tend to go — by the names of Tad and Felton. Felton drags his younger brother to another village for just about the most teenage reason you could think of, and after a series of unfortunate events, the two end up far, far away from the safety of home after darkness falls down on the forest.

What follows, I won’t spoil — but this was the kind of story that questions the power of storytelling and the collective subconscious in a way eerily reminiscent of my favourite work of Neil Gaiman.

The best part? It’s completely, absolutely, unreservedly free, this story. That’s right. $0.00. I’d grab it if I were you. If you’ve never experienced the world, you might just fall in love with it. My score for “And They Were Never Heard From Again” is 5/5.

“UR” by Stephen King

When I opened this on my Kindle on accident a few days ago, I did not expect to come across a very solid, enjoyable 61-page novella that was also tied to Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series, one of my most beloved meta series.

“UR” does all the things Stephen King’s best novels do. It presents a relatable, likable protagonist with very human flaws — in English Lit professor Wesley’s case, a sort of childish spite — and an event that sees said protagonist’s grasp on reality begin to slip, pushing him towards a questioning of reality as he knows it.

It’s incredible how much I grew to care about Wesley in the span of these sixty pages. The mark of good writing, and King’s writing in particular — the man can make you care about anything and everything in just a few pages, and then force you to bitter tears. I’m looking at you, “The Stand.”

It’s a simple enough story — Wesley is looking for a way to show university colleague and his ex, Ellen, that she’s wrong about him, and so buys a Kindle. This used to be in the very earliest day of Kindle, kids, when you only had the one variable; it came in white, didn’t have touch-screen or LED lights, and was generally a somewhat bulkier and worse device than some of its competitors — but it did have all of Amazon’s considerable catalogue of e-books, which crowned it King of the e-reader market. History lesson over!

At any rate, Wesley gets a pink Kindle, which at first he doesn’t at all mind — he hasn’t done too much research, after all, it was more of an impulse purchase on the advice of one of his pupils, “the Henderson kid” who plays an important role in the novel’s interpretation of “The Three Stooges”. Ha-ha, my reference game is strong today!

At any rate, it’s not the colour that’s the strangest thing about the Kindle — it’s the fact that its experimental features allow the reader to access the works of writers like Ernest Hemingway and William Shakespeare; only, Wesley discovers works never written by these authors. Works that are so obviously written by these authors that to deny their authorship would be madness, greater even than accepting the impossibility of the small pink device being able to tap into the virtual libraries of alternate realities. I’ll say no more, but let’s just leave it at this: there are other, more impressive features this pink Kindle possesses.

What surprised me was the ending. It could’ve gone several kinds of wrong, but unlike in, say, “Pet Sematary” or even “The Dark Tower” itself, King decides to give us readers a break…mostly.

I will say, if I ever see a pink Kindle delivered to my door by mistake, I’d like to think I would squash it with the heel of my boot…but I have the gnawing doubt that I’ll pick it up and sign up for the experimental “UR” features, instead.

My score of “UR” by Stephen King, is…5 stars! Again!

A fine day to review titles, I reckon. Not that I’m complaining. If they weren’t good, I’d be a sad lad! At any rate, thank you for following along! As always, more is soon to come!

Book Recommendation: Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

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I enjoyed my time with Annihilation.

The plot of the novel takes place in Area X, a self-contained environment quite capable of winning the 2015 Nebula award for science fiction. More important, Area X is home to a mysterious tower that goes not up, but down into the ground. This tower houses unusual, even alien life. . . and other mysteries, besides.

Characters: Our lead is the biologist, a woman detached from the world. She is one part of a four-woman expedition into Area X, the twelfth known expedition so far. The previous expeditions all ended in failure.  The three other members of the team are the psychologist, the surveyor and the anthropologist.

No pressure.

The biologist is an unreliable narrator. Her actions are the drive of the story, and her descent into greater and greater isolation makes for a thrilling character journey. In a place that defies a person’s entire life, the biologist desperately needs a ‘slice of reality’, as someone on Goodreads said, to use as a bridge to understand just what the hell is going on.

Atmosphere: There really isn’t much I can tell you about this book without spoiling it. Then again, I’m not sure that to spoil it would take away from the tension. A lot of people who’ve posted opinions and reviews about Annihilation have called the title ‘horror’. I was never once scared. Rather, I’d make the argument that Vandermeer’s novel is a venture into the unsettling.

What this reminded me of, in a very peculiar way, was Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. That, too, wasn’t scary as much as it was profoundly weird and deeply fascinating.

The prose is wonderful, flowing easily and creating suspense with a masterful stroke. This is my first Vandermeer novel but his prose would be reason enough to investigate his titles further, even if I hadn’t liked this particular one (which I did).

Closing thoughts:

Annihilation is a very atmospheric novel, and the opening act to a trilogy which, I hear, doesn’t close quite as strong as it opens. Perhaps I’ll see. Truth be told, though, I’m not entirely sure I want to delve further into the mysteries of Area X. I quite like them as they are.

P.S. I just solved one of the mysteries the book offers, while writing this. You have to love books that offer you clues to a given question but don’t spell out the solution.

Thank you, friend who gave me this book, for giving me this book. It was a fun read. This one lies somewhere between sci-fi and mystery, in my opinion. You might also find it in the horror section, if your librarian looks like he scares easy.

 

Ten Things I’d do if I were a Vampire Lord!

  1. The connection between a vampire and his progenitor is a sacred one,  akin to that between a parent and a child.
    Naturally, I began plotting the murder of my maker in order to claim his influence and authority for myself as soon as I was turned…once I were to get my predatory instincts under control and my maker’s knowledge safely within my gap.
  2. The older a vampire is, the more difficult to kill…but the bloodline is also of great import, and mine is potent, powerful. My Lord progenitor is old; too old, perhaps. His guard is down and his will to live barely binds him to this world. Would it truly be a crime to aid him in his transition? He hungers for death nearly as much as I hunger for his power.
  3. A stake in his heart as he rests during the day sets the body aflame. His pain and disappointment at my betrayal reverberate through my entire being and I am lost and regretful for a moment — a short moment, as my maker’s essence withers away like the roots of a poisoned oak.
  4. The power sings to me like never before; my form changes, my consciousness expands, and the face that is reflected by the mirror is all-too unfamiliar; pale and red-eyed, lips twisted into a predatory sneer. It is difficult to believe how these changes have affected me so.
  5. Thus begins a downwards spiral into a near-constant hunt for pleasure and escape from boredom. It is the way of immortality — humans chase it all their lives; whenever they get it, they hardly have any clue how to fill their time up.
  6. Centuries pass as I gradually begin to realize that I am a pariah to my kindred. The physical changes that overtook me shortly after I killed my maker are a sign of what I have done, the line that I have crossed. Who’d have thought that the demons of the night from my childhood had such honor amongst themselves?
  7. It hardly matters. For seven centuries I have walked this world alone and have left my mark in more ways than one and I have consumed the very lifeblood of thousands. My power grows ever stronger. Why should I wince at lesser creatures and their morality?
  8. A thousand years have passed me by. I am alone.
  9. In my life, I have never created another. Never given the gift of eternal life, fearful that the betrayer shall suffer betrayal in turn.
  10. A young woman has caught my attention. I have looked upon her life for some weeks now, and find her ambition, her drive, to be unlike any I have come before. She is confidence personified…and she is alone. Perhaps it is time that I introduce myself…

 

Thank you for reading! I enjoy writing diary-like entries from different characters’ perspectives; trying on the shoes of villains, vampires and monster-hunting inquisitors is a great way to exercise the imagination!

If I were an occultist in a Lovecraftian world…Volume 02

Catch up here.

Where last I left off, horror had nestled itself deep within my heart. My associates had contacted me, not as individuals were prone to do but as a group, in one collective voice, a cold, inhuman thing. Speech of such otherworldly nature as to leave no doubt within the depths of my mind that some terrifying thing, some consciousness that is wholly alien to man, spoke through these men and women who had forced my hand into sin.

There is no greater test of strength for a man, to come face to face with all that he has dreamed about and feared, and not break. This test, I failed; the cost left my sanity splintered beyond repair.

The voice called inside my head, slick with blasphemous and sweet deceit, and slowly it demanded of me; and then it promised such chaos as no thing, be it human or animal or something wholly alien, could imagine. In so doing, it reduced me to little more than a slab of flesh, precipitously close to a state of uselessness.

Doubtless, this ancient presence that now filled every corner of my mind felt the undescribable damage that it did, for it recoiled as if afraid that too much strain would break its favored tool.

The whispers begun, then.

I have difficulty holding a steady hand as I scribble this in my notebook, for the lone memory of words of depthless madness alone is enough to weaken any resolve a mere man could muster. And so I listened, and obeyed.

I do not recall what followed.

Come morning, I awoke in bed, my mind aflame. Joints ached and cried out as I forced an unwilling body to prepare for the day ahead. Professor Harold Millson, my patron and great friend, had requested I join him in his office on that morning; his invaluable help and credentials as chair in the Philosophy department had long since allowed me study of some of the Miskatonic University Library’s forbidden corners. While he did not seem to share my fascination with all matters esoteric in this world, he nevertheless steered my hand on several occasions. Had I only suspected…

When I made my way to Millson’s office, what I saw tore off the heavy cloth that shrouded my mind. My friend sat on his heavy cushioned chair, his eyes gouged out, his body — exsanguinated. A gruesome ghost of a smile sat on the dead man’s pale lips.

I crumbled to the ground, my cries a low and guttural thing, sounds I never thought my throat capable of producing. I couldn’t leave this man – my benefactor for five long years – to rot away any longer, and so I got to my feet, intent on finding aid, alerting the authorities.

An etching on Harold’s desk caught my attention. A name that whispered madness in my mind, that suddenly made the night before as vivid, as real as nothing else in life.

The name was “Nyarlathotep,” translated years ago by men wiser and more knowledgeable than I, as “The Crawling Chaos.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Things an Inquisitor would do in a fantasy world filled with evil, vile, no-good things (#1 of the Crossleg’d Chronicles)

Be warned! The following Inqusitorial Scripture takes place in the world of The Unintentionally Helpful Villain and, quite possibly, of a few other entities I have written about, in this here blog.

  1. In a world filled with a host of monsters, demons and an entire Council of Darkness, Brezt Khleid, Inquisitor of the First Order, thrives. Why wouldn’t he? See that crystaline wolf-like spirit, laying on the ground, two expert cuts having even more expertly shattered the magics that held the foul intruder’s body together?
    Ay, ay! That’s his handiwork. Impressive, isn’t it, for a man such as he, crossleg’d and decrepit.
  2. Come now, use thy eyes to look upon him. Do you see that figure, far below, moving slowly, with the determination of a serpent, old and ancient, grasping towards ephemeral rays of sunlight… Down he goes, down the streets of old Feshemar, the city ever-lit by emerald flames, a gift–some say–by a goddess to a mortal lover.
    She had many such lovers, alas. As she grew bored with him, the gift turned to deadly trap, and even now his soul is used as fuel.
  3. Brezt Khleid has little time for legend, but he knows that one. Little does he doubt that, were he to ever find himself against this goddess, he would present upon her a just reward.
    The Inquisitor is not a godly man.
  4. That is not to say that he does not believe. See now as Khleid bursts into the merchant Olivan’s home, as he draws loaded crossbow and points it at shocked Olie’s face! There it is. The moment of truth.
    Shock runs through the face of this most voluminous merchant’s face; shock, then fury — and as metal bolt pierces skin, rends flesh, breaks ribs and shatters the stuff of life, one final moment of peaceful revelation. What is revealed, only a certain few could say, and –nay, don’t look at me with such ardent expectation! My lips are sealed!
    Instead, look upon the scene of this murder most foul.
  5. Brezt Khleid reloads his crossbow calmly, with the expertise of a man much too familiar with routine. He knows his work in the house is not yet done. Sounds from the house — sounds that make the hairs on Khleid’s neck stand on ends — become louder, as if attempting to force the Inquisitor to retreat.
    He has no such intent.
  6. The house resists every step Brezt takes. It is a foul place, in need of cleansing and the Inquisitor is the one to do it. He is the only one who can; Brezt Khleid has, after all, a divine mandate. A few flying trinkets and baubles won’t stop him, inconvenient though as they are.
  7. A door is all that stands between the Inquisitor and the source of evil that has made this dwelling its home. Khleid doesn’t know what awaits behind that door, but he is not a young man, prone to illusion. A merchant with Olivan’s reputation – that of a good and honest man – will only protect this corruption if he has a personal stake in it.
  8. So Brezt Khleid reasons as he breaks through the door, using his shoulder as most man would a battering ram. His sword flashes in one hand, illuminating soft light that parts away the darkness. Figures slide towards him with incredible, impossible speed. He tries to turn to his side, using his side as defense.
  9. Claws dig into Brezt Khleid’s flesh, leaving searing pain behind, rending his right arm useless. The hand-crossbow falls to the side, still loaded. None of this fazes Khleid. To allow distraction is to die. He thrusts his sword at the creature, as its claws are still running down the length of his arm. It — whatever it is — goes limp; as the Inquisitor pulls his sword, the body falls to the ground. He takes a deep breath trying to calm the fire running through his body, and allows himself a moment of reprieve.
  10. It is the face of a woman, far from old, but not young either. There is beauty to her, even as she lay dead; the Inquisitor has seen that many of those touched by evil are beautiful to behold. He does not trust beauty any longer; it is a sign of vile infestation.
    A pair of snarles forces him awake from his reverie. Two figures, child-sized, stand not twenty feet away from him. Watching. Their eyes are cauldrons of fire.
    Brezt Khleid raises his sword, a wan smile playing on his face.

And cut! How did you enjoy this story? Let me know if you’d like more!

If I were an occultist in a Lovecraftian world…(Ten Things, part 1)

Today’s post is written in celebration of the release of the Darkest Dungeon’s DLC – The Crimson Court. Brilliant game, narrated by the wonderful Wayne June (perhaps the most atmospheric narrator of Lovecraft’s works).

In seeking knowledge, I enrolled into that most prestigious of places for higher learning…the Miskatonic University.

Though this repository of knowledge has many a volume of coveted lore, there exists  great difficulty into procuring these wondrous books of arcane and occult writings. Such hardship did I encounter in laying my hands on these idolatry works that I found myself desperate for aid; and, even worse…for understanding.

I discovered that I was far from alone in my unsavory fascinations with otherworldly tales and myths of creatures, ancient and godlike and grotesque. My pursuits did not remain unnoticed for long; a group of men and women, all older than I — and well on their road out of the philosophical school of Miskatonic University — cornered and spoke with me at great length. I had been dodging this group for some time, for they awakened in me a primordial fear.

They had prepared with great care and — with the use of a young and attractive acolyte I knew nothing of — baited me into an abandoned wing of the university, closed down for renovation. Their organization, so foolproof as to give me no way of retreat,  was sure sign of a primal, predatory streak that bespoke of experience in such matters.

So it was that I found myself cornered on all sides by the scions of the most powerful men and women in America; young as they were, I was younger, and they did not take no for an answer. Their demand was that I join them, and do so without question. My destiny forced upon me, I had no choice but to concede.

My word was not, they said, strong enough binding. More was needed — nay, demanded — for the compact to take hold. They spoke to me, then; not individually but as one, their voice serpent-like and seductive as no other, and they closed the fingers of my palm around a blade, and they held her there, as she thrashed and screamed to no avail.

The rest of the night, I can not recall, or do not wish to, except when I close my eyes. Then do I recall the taste of iron upon my lips, and a sweeter taste, by far…

Come the next day, my life continued as it had before — the life of a poor philosophy student, lucky enough to be part of the acclaimed Miskatonic University.

One difference persisted, of course–my continued contact with the coven I had been forced into. While my fear persisted, and indeed, grew to heights I had hoped unattainable, so did a perverse, ghoulish thrill at being involved with such unique individuals.

These events took place five full years ago. Much blurred from my mind once my fellow occultists went their own ways into the world. I continued my studies; both into the realms of philosophy and theology, and those studies that threatened my expulsion from the university and the taking away of the lifeline that was my scholarship.
That I would’ve put these events behind me, of that I have no doubt…if it wasn’t for the call that I received late last night. A call in a serpentine voice, one that suffered no objections…

To Be Continued!

I’ve wanted to write something with a Lovecraftian edge, theme and so on and so forth for the longest time. Seeing as I decided that I would give the recurring wizard/lich/demonic slave, Hyperius, a little break…well, I just couldn’t resist the opportunity! I hope you had fun reading this wee exercise!