Friday, August 28, 2015

Review: Bastards of the Absolute by Adam S. Cantwell

I think it's appropriate to open this review with a look at the physicality of the book itself. Egaeus Press is consistently publishing some of the best looking hardcover books being put out today. The appearance and feel of the book is enough to get any jaded bibliophile to drool.

Now, even though the book as a physical object is gorgeous, the most importantaspect is the quality of the writing between the covers. Thankfully, this book delivers.

Adam S. Cantwell is a British author, and part of what I'll for now call a "European strange literature" movement. Certain things that come to mind when talking about this subset of weird literature: Old World Europe, dense prose, intellectual narrators, decadence, surrealism. Many of these authors have their work published as beautiful, limited hardcovers from publishers such as Passport Levant, Ex Occidente, Side Real Press and now Egaeus Press.

Several of the stories in this collection have appeared in limited tribute anthologies to Bruno Schulz, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Hanns Heinz Ewers, or as very limited Passport Levant editions, so it's great to see them all collected in a beautiful, yet affordable edition.

Some of my favorites:

The Face in The Wall is a story about a man who is imprisoned inside a city wall. His entire body is in in the wall, with only his face exposed. He spends ages in the wall, watching the changes of the city, and coping with ill treatment from citizens of the city. A clever blend of fantasy and horror, it's great story to open the collection with.

Next up is The Filature, a story in tribute to Hanns Heinz Ewers. As punishment, a German man's employers send him to a Chinese silk factory. The story reads as his journal, and we see the man repeat many of the same mistakes that brought about his corporate exile in the first place. Some truly creepy moments in this one.

Music is an important aspect of several stories in the collection. Three of which (Moonpaths of the Departed, The Kuutar Concerto, and Symphony of Sirens) first appeared collected together as A Pallid Wave on Shores of Night by Ex Occidente. Another, Beyond the Two Rivers: A Symphonic Poem, first appeared in The First Book of Classical Horror Stories edited by D.F. Lewis. I loved the shared themes of these stories, and how they managed to all use music differently. Several (all?) feature real life composers. My favorite of the four may be The Kuutar Concerto,  which features Sibelius having a drunken night out in seedy bars after an incident at one of his concerts. He runs into someone who knows him from the past, and the drunken revelry spirals into the realms of the otherwordly.

Only For The Crossed-Out is Cantwell's Bulgakov tribute, and is a wonderfully absurd story. A clerk of sorts works in an archive of books where they cross-out and censor books.Things take a turn for the interesting when our protagonist falls down a chute and becomes trapped in a basement mass-grave of books.

The collection ends with Orphans on Granite Tides, originally released as a stand alone by Ex Occidente. Billed as a "Metaphysical Grotesque," this tale follows a German man who finds rare books and manuscripts as his occupation, although this job of his has become his life. This serves as a frame story for a peculiar document he finds. The document claims to be a sort of memoir by a well traveled Native American, who has metaphysical experiences and sees the world within our own world. A difficult piece, but one that shines for it.

This book was my first experience with Adam S. Cantwell's fiction, and shan't be the last. His fiction is tantalizingly mystifying, and brings readers to a magical, Old World Europe that is equal parts horrifying and beautiful.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Necronomicon 2015: We Are Providence

I've been terribly slacking when it comes to blog posts. Between my day job, other work I'm doing in the weird fiction field, reviews appearing elsewhere, and sometimes going through periods where I don't read nearly as much as I should, I've just not been giving this blog the attention it deserves. I hope to remedy this, and I have a few reviews lined up that I have to type and post, but first I wanted to take the time to do a post about NecronomiCon Providence, which was held this past weekend.

I actually wasn't planning on doing a write-up on the con this go around, even though it came up earlier in the weekend when The joey Zone told me he enjoyed my blog post about the 2013 con. That was my first con, and it was special in many ways. It truly changed my life.

On Sunday, the final day of the con, I went to see friends in the vendor's room after participating on The Future of Weird Fiction Panel (more on that later). I picked up the Dim Shores chapbooks I pre-ordered, and was planning on buying an original Cthulhu art piece from Dave Felton. I first met Dave at the 2013 con. One afternoon we were both in the Haven Brother's food truck, and recognizing we were both attending the same con, struck up a conversation. Dave was familiar with The Arkham Digest, and we had a nice chat.

So here, the final day of NecronomiCon 2015, I found myself hanging out with Dave in the vendor's room. He gifted me the Cthulhu piece, and told me about reading my write-up of the last NecronomiCon, and some follow up Facebook posts by myself and others. He commented on seeing me say somewhere about how it changed my life, and that he realized the first con changed his life too. He remember how Jeffrey Thomas remarked on Facebook that it felt like the con was still going on via Facebook, which in a way it really was. Excitement was running high for everyone, and it seemed that none of us really wanted to let go of what was truly a magical weekend.

Dave Felton is amazing.

After we parted, I headed downstairs for lunch before grabbing a train home. As I sat on the train I thought about the weekend, and quite a bit about the conversation Dave and I had a few hours earlier, and I came to the conclusion that writing about this year's con was something I should take the time to do.

I remember quite clearly the mix of emotions I had going to the first NecronomiCon. The Digest wasn't even a year old, and despite having made friends and acquaintances online, this would be the first time I would meet many of them. Excitement and nervousness both boiled so high I could no longer tell one from the other. Would I just see them on panels? Would we get to talk much? Would it be awkward? Would they be polite but not really want me bugging them?

My fears turned out to be unfounded, and I felt as if I had come home, so to speak. These were my people.

A lot has happened in the last two years. I've attended a few more cons (the wonderful HP Lovecraft Film Festival Portland, Cthulhucon Portland, Readercon). I edited an anthology that was published. I started to become a guest at the cons I attended. I've been on panels. I've had a story published, another one taken for con-exclusive round robin. Reviews and interviews by me are appearing in other places. My anthology was nominated for an award. In two years I went from being a fan who wrote reviews, to an active participant in the field that I love. It's been, simply, a wild two years.

Future of Weird Fiction Panel. L to R: moderator SJ Bagley, Simon Strantzas, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, myself, Mike Griffin, Joe Pulver

Even though I take pride in each accomplishment, everything I've done so far pales in comparison to the best thing that has come from all of this: the friendships. I've been lucky to fall in with some truly wonderful people, some of whom I talk to almost daily. And this is why cons are so special. Some people go for the gaming. Some to see some cool, hard to find films, or hear their favorite authors read. Some go to watch some interesting panels. And sure, all of that stuff is fun, but that's not why I go anymore. I go to see my friends. Social media is a great way to keep in touch, yeah, but isn't even comparable to being able to sit around a restaurant table enjoying good food, good drinks, and fine conversation with friends you too rarely get to spend time with. I'm sure I'm far from alone with this sentiment.

NecronomiCon is cementing itself as the premiere weird fiction convention. As sad as I am that it doesn't occur ever year, I think having it every other year actually works best. Neils Hobbs and crew should be commended for doing such an excellent job.

I arrived late Thursday night. My flight out of Philly was cancelled at the last second but I managed to catch a train just in time. It was a stressful day, but I finally made it, just in time for the witching hour. As I walked towards the hotel from the train station, I saw a group of people on the edge of the small park across from the hotel front, directly in my path. As I moved closer, they began to take on more familiar shapes, and I realized that it was several of my friends. Running into them upon arrival couldn't have been a better welcome in Providence.

A beacon in the dark...

Although I missed out on the Thursday night shenanigans, I managed to see several readings and panels over the course of the weekend. I caught most of the Ramsey Campbell interview, and all of the New Weird panel. I attended readings by Mike Griffin, Pete Rawlik, David Neilsen, Scott Thomas, Richard Gavin, Tom Lynch, Simon Strantzas, Jeffrey Thomas, and caught the end of Michael Cisco reading during the Aickman's Heirs book launch. I also attended, and was called upon to get up and introduce the authors, readings by Scott Nicolay, Anya Martin, and Joe Pulver. My weekend also ended with a bang when I was invited by moderator SJ Bagley to take an absent Laird Barron's spot on The Future of the Weird panel. Other panel members included Simon Strantzas, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mike Griffin, and Joe Pulver, and was quite a bit of fun. Scott Nicolay recorded the panel for his podcast, The Outer Dark, and I know there is some video footage out there as well.

While not attending panels or readings, I was apt to be found in the vendor's area, the hotel bar, a restaurant, or somewhere else among friends. Along with all my old friends, there were many other online friends I was able to hang out with the for the first time, including but not limited to: Heidi Ash, Scott Dwyer, Matthew Warren Richey, Michael Wehunt, Damien Walters, Barry Lee Dejasu, Rick Lai, Scott Jones, Christopher Patrick Burke, Michael Bukowski, Todd Chicione (we met so briefly last time), Ian Welke (we hardly saw each other! Definitely a drink next time!).

The weekend was just as magical as it was two years ago, and I hope that this con continues for a long time.

L to R: Lena Griffin, Erin Laroue, Nathan Carson, Ross E. Lockhart, Scott Dwyer, Heidi Ash, myself, Tom Lynch

A final story, to end the post.

In 2013, when I first arrived, I dropped my bags off in my room at the Biltmore and then went down to the hotel bar for dinner. A man staying in a neighboring hotel (The Omni or Hotel Providence I believe) wandered in and took the seat next to me. We exchanged pleasantries and names, realized we were both there to attend the same con, so had a conversation over beers and dinner. I realized then that there was probably nothing to be nervous about. I was attending a convention with a bunch of other kindred spirits, and would be in good company. After we parted, I entered the lobby and ran into the group of people who would become some very important people in my life. For the rest of the weekend, the man I dined with and I didn't cross paths.

As the Future of Weird Fiction panel wound down, several people approached the stage to talk with the various panelists. Some wanted to remark on something we said they heartily agreed with, or thought profound, one lady told me she was happy I mentioned video games since she was a game designer. A few people came bringing books for the panelists to sign. But one stood out in particular. It was the man who I shared a meal with when I first arrived in Providence two years ago, and now our paths finally crossed again, two years and a convention later. He was with his wife (or girlfriend? I'm not sure.) who had some questions, and he recognized me from before, and thought it was very cool that I was now on panels.

Afterwards, while I sat on the train, I thought about running into this man. I thought about my friends I was leaving. I thought about what Dave Felton said to me. And I realized: cons are more than meet and greets, and more than panels and vendors and fancy costume balls. Cons are about friendships and coming together. They change lives.

Weird fiction fans and Lovecraftians are often considered a fringe society. We are often outsiders, spread thin. But on weekends like this, it all changes. We all make the pilgrimage. Introverts become temporarily extroverted, and we all share an experience that is totally different yet the same for all of us. We realize that we aren't outsiders at all, we are a family. We are Providence.