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Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books

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“Dark Wings, Dumb Words.”

By way of Do You Feel Loved, various social media networks get their Westeros sigils. Theirs is the funny.

Mr. Toad’s Cantankerous Contraption.

“For her Steam in the Willows illustrations, Brennan takes as her inspiration the industrial era in which Grahame was writing, but chooses to celebrate artisanal technology in lieu of mass production.”

Lauren Davis of io9 offers some glimpses of artist Krista Brennan’s forthcoming steampunk rendering of The Wind in the Willows. Makes sense. Mr. Toad is as steampunk as it gets this side of Jules Verne.

The Bayou of Madness, Pt. II.

“Much has been made of the connections between True Detective and the cosmic-horror tradition…and rightly so. But what’s largely been missed is that the cosmic-horror genre — rooted, as it is, in humankind’s subprime position in the pecking order of the universe — is deeply entwined with the character of Louisiana’s physical and cultural landscape.”

In Slate, Adrian Van Young delineates True Detective — and Lovecraft’s — debt to Louisiana, one of the cultural crossroads and borderlands where shadows linger and tricksters thrive. “Lost cities, liminal realms, and cosmic fear come more or less naturally to Louisiana…The chief-most horrors of the show are not voodoo curses or tentacled monsters or consciousness-destroying plays, but environmental slippage, religious perversion, badly mangled family trees. True Detective wears the cosmic-horror genre and its lineage, in other words, not unlike the Mardi Gras masks being worn today all over its native state. The mask is scary, sure enough, but what’s underneath can be even more frightening: one place in the U.S. where anything, it seems, can happen.'”

Also, for a more prosaic take on HBO’s current hit, see the credits for Law & Order: True Detective, below.

At the Bayou of Madness.

“For many fans of weird fiction, the surprising appearance of this madness-inducing play into what ostensibly appeared to be just another police procedural was a bolt of lightning. Suddenly, the tone of the show changed completely, signaling the descent into a particular brand of horror rarely (if ever) seen on television.”

In io9, Michael Hughes explores True Detective‘s many references to The King in Yellow, an 1895 collection of short stories by Robert Chambers, and a “fictional play…that brings despair, depravity, and insanity to anyone who reads it or sees it performed.”

As Molly Lambert of Grantland pointed out of HBO’s dark and addictive mini-series, “True Detective’s closest relative is Twin Peaks, which mined similarly nocturnal depths. Both shows espouse mythologies that feel extremely personal to the creators but also eerily universal, tapping into the same brain waves as paradoxical sleep.”

For his part, show creator Nic Pizzolatto recently talked about his debt to another Weird Fiction author, Thomas Ligotti. “I first heard of Ligotti maybe six years ago, when Laird Barron’s first collection alerted me to this whole world of new weird fiction that I hadn’t known existed. I started looking around for the best contemporary stuff to read, and in any discussion of that kind, the name ‘Ligotti’ comes up first…[H]is nightmare lyricism was enthralling and visionary.

On top of everything else, True Detective also has one of the more captivating credit sequences in recent years, as per below. (It apparently owes a heavy debt to the work of artist/photographer Dan Mountford.)

The Last Days of Orwell.

[B]eset by poor health in various manifestations, he had to finish off the novel’s manuscript, which he had then tentatively titled The Last Man in Europe, before his conditions finished him off. ‘I am not pleased with the book but I am not absolutely dissatisfied,’ he wrote his agent of the rough draft. ‘I think it is a good idea but the execution would have been better if I had not written it under the influence of TB.'”

In The Guardian, Robert McCrum tells of a desperately sick George Orwell’s race against time to finish 1984. “In late October 1947, oppressed with ‘wretched health’, Orwell recognised that his novel was still ‘a most dreadful mess and about two-thirds of it will have to be retyped entirely’.” Orwell died in January 1950. (As seen as OpenCulture, who also point the way to these jpgs of Orwell’s original manuscript.)

Mithrandir Falls.

“Understand, Frodo, I would use this Ring from the desire to do good. But through me, it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine.” Frodo wasn’t the only one who failed: Artist Benjamin Collison imagines a Gandalf the Black, in thrall to the One Ring. Rather than a simple wraith, I think he’d be more of his own unique evil, a la Fritz Lang’s Galadriel. But to each his own.

The End of Easy Hypocrisy?

“The deeper threat that leakers such as Manning and Snowden pose is more subtle than a direct assault on U.S. national security: they undermine Washington’s ability to act hypocritically and get away with it. Their danger lies not in the new information that they reveal but in the documented confirmation they provide of what the United States is actually doing and why. When these deeds turn out to clash with the government’s public rhetoric, as they so often do, it becomes harder for U.S. allies to overlook Washington’s covert behavior and easier for U.S. adversaries to justify their own.”

In Foreign Affairs, Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore argue that, as a result of whistleblowing, the US is “no longer able to rely on easy hypocrisy in our foreign policy. “Secrecy can be defended as a policy in a democracy. Blatant hypocrisy is a tougher sell. Voters accept that they cannot know everything that their government does, but they do not like being lied to.”

Note: The link is behind a paywall, but Digby has an excerpt and thoughts up, as does Farrell in the Washington Post. This also reminds me of Neal Stephenson’s Neo-Victorians in The Diamond Age, which I presume is the tack a defender of our obvious diplomatic double-standards would take: “That we occasionally violate our own stated moral code…does not imply that we are insincere in espousing that code.”

From Old Ones to New Deal.

“The sketch on the right side of this page of notes, with its annotations (“body dark grey”; “all appendages not in use customarily folded down to body”; “leathery or rubbery”) represents Lovecraft working out the specifics of an Elder Thing’s anatomy. As Lovecraft’s narrator was a scientist, the description of the Things in the novella is dense and layered; here we can see the beginnings of that detail.”

Speaking of taking notes: In her house at S’late, Rebecca Onion points the way to H.P. Lovecraft’s handwritten notes for At the Mountains of Madness. “The writer, who had fallen on hard times, used a deconstructed envelope in an attempt to save paper.”

Also, I forget if I’ve blogged this before, but I found this interesting read while looking to briefly shoehorn Lovecraft into the dissertation: Lovecraft’s final years as a New Dealer:

As for the Republicans—how can one regard seriously a frightened, greedy, nostalgic huddle of tradesmen and lucky idlers who shut their eyes to history and science, steel their emotions against decent human sympathy, cling to sordid and provincial ideals exalting sheer acquisitiveness and condoning artificial hardship for the non-materially-shrewd, dwell smugly and sentimentally in a distorted dream-cosmos of outmoded phrases and principles and attitudes based on the bygone agricultural-handicraft world, and revel in (consciously or unconsciously) mendacious assumptions (such as the notion that real liberty is synonymous with the single detail of unrestricted economic license or that a rational planning of resource-distribution would contravene some vague and mystical ‘American heritage’…) utterly contrary to fact and without the slightest foundation in human experience? Intellectually, the Republican idea deserves the tolerance and respect one gives to the dead.”

Tales of Wonder.

By way of io9, an impressive collection of vintage sci-fi pulp art. (You can still make your own here.) Note the editor above — Hugo Gernsback, sci-fi pioneer and the Man in the Mask. (He also appears briefly in Uphill All the Way.)

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