Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Klarkash-Ton Cycle: Clark Ashton Smith's Cthulhu Mythos Fiction: edited and with notes by Robert M. Price (Collected 2008)

The Klarkash-Ton Cycle: Clark Ashton Smith's Cthulhu Mythos Fiction: edited and with notes by Robert M. Price (Collected 2008):

Chaosium reprints the Cthulhu Mythos-related short stories of Clark Ashton Smith in three volumes, with this being the one containing stories that aren't set in the distant past when the Book of Eibon was being composed nor those Smith stories that focus on his quasi-tricksterish god Tsathoggua.

Despite the availability of Smith's work in multiple editions, this text is valuable because it reprints several variant versions of Smith's stories that aren't available that easily, along with a long story fragment -- "The Infernal Star" -- that is otherwise out of print.

'Klarkash-Ton' was the nickname H.P. Lovecraft gave Smith in their correspondence in the 1930's. The stories range from straightforward horror to science fiction to science-fiction horror, while Smith's prose style ranges from the relatively plain to the poetically baroque, almost arcane diction that one really either loves or hates. I love it, in part because there's clearly a sense of humour at work behind the occasionally loopy word choices.

One caveat: the stories have been proofread and copy-edited with mind-boggling ineptitude. You may want to grab a pen and correct all the errors for the next person who reads the collection. Think of it as a fun game!

  • "The Ghoul" (1934): Smith's ghoul isn't as idiosyncratic as Lovecraft's ghouls, though it sure loves to eat dead people. 
  • "A Rendering from the Arabic" (Variant of "The Return of the Sorcerer" [1931]): Slightly different version of the oft-reprinted "The Return of the Sorcerer." Lovecraftian references abound in a story about the walking, shuffling dead.
  • "The Hunters from Beyond" (1932): One of those Smith stories that plays with his own multi-talented career as a painter and sculptor as well as a writer of prose and poetry. It does seem a bit derivative of both HPL's "Pickman's Model" and Frank Belknap Long's "The Hounds of Tindalos."
  • "The Vaults of Abomi" (Variant of "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis" [1932/1989]): A few hundred words flesh out the beginning of one of Smith's two or three finest works of science-fictional horror, set on his version of Mars and possessed of imagery and situations that anticipate such later horrors as Alien, The Thing, and The Puppet Masters.
  • "The Nameless Offspring" (1932): Well, we get the offstage rape of a woman in a coma by a ghoul, followed by the resultant offspring. One of Smith's most obliquely disturbing works.
  • "Ubbo-Sathla (1933)": Much-reprinted reincarnational horror story.
  • "The Werewolf of Averoigne"  (Variant of "The Beast of Averoigne") [1931/1984]): The variant is superior to the standard version, preserving as it does Smith's original multi-viewpoint epistolary format.
  • "The Eidolon of the Blind" (Variant of "The Dweller in the Gulf" [1933]): Another creepy science-fiction horror story set on Smith's version of Mars, which makes most other early 20th-century writers' versions of Mars seem like a goddam Disneyworld.
  • "Vulthoom" (1935): Another Mars story, much lighter on horror and, as Price comments in the notes, not that different from many other contemporary interplanetary stories involving humans and decadent, Orientalist civilizations.
  • "The Treader of the Dust" (1935): Excellent, concise horror story with a strikingly creepy evil god or demigod or whatever you want to call it.
  • "The Infernal Star" (Fragment) (1935/1989): Fascinating, long fragment of what was to be a novella-length dark fantasy involving reincarnation, atomic 'memory,' and a Sun made, basically, of Evil.


In all: highly recommended, though I do wish for an edition with better copy editing.

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