"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Super-lice, cyclostomes, and obours: A Coven of Vampires by Brian Lumley (1998).

I've always enjoyed Lumley's novels and stories, provided they are not pastiches of Derleth pastiching Lovecraft.

The collection No Sharks in the Med and Other Stories was superb, in my judgment. The novel Demogorgon was a fast and rousing supernatural thriller; it brought to mind the Italian films that tried to cash-in on the popularity of The Exorcist and The Omen.

A Coven of Vampires is another entertaining book, filled with stories both weird and droll. (The superiority of the No Sharks in the Med collection resides solely in the fact that it is Cthulhu-free.)


[Quotations in italics.]

What Dark God? • (1975)
Like the vampires in "The Picnickers," the villains of this tale don't rely on the usual neck-biting.
     ....He had been a chalky-grey colour before; we all had, in the weak glow from the alternately brightening and dimming compartment ceiling light. Now he seemed to be flushed; pinkish waves of unnatural colour were suffusing his outré features and his red-slit mouth was fading into the deepening blush of his face. It almost looked as though…. My God! He did not have a mouth! With that unnatural reddening of his features the painted slit had vanished completely; his face was blank beneath the eyes and nose.

Back Row • (1988)
Police statement of a seasoned citizen about what happened at a matinee at the Odeon. A droll story about imagining what the teeenagers in the row behind you are getting up to in the dark, what with their fumblings, slurpings, and growlings.
     ....There was very little flesh on her face, just raw red. Breasts had gone, right down to steaming ribs. The belly was open, eviscerated, a laid back gash that opened right down to the spread thighs. There were no innards, no sexual parts left at all down there. If I hadn't seen her before, I couldn't even have said it was a girl at all.

The Strange Years • (1982)
....They appeared almost overnight, five times larger than their immediate progenitors and growing bigger with each successive hatching; and unlike the new octopus they didn't die; and their incubation period down to less than a week. The superlice. All Man's little body parasites, all of his tiny, personal vampires, growing in the space of a month to things as big as your fist. Leaping things, flying things, walking sideways things.

The Kiss of the Lamia • (1985)
This story is a complete fiasco: a sword-and-sandal potboiler shot-through with modern-day slang anachronism and pretentious back-projections of how people in the Near East talked to each other thousands of years ago.
    ....Bully boys out of Chlangi they were, desperadoes riding forth from that shunned city of yeggs and sharpers, on the lookout for quick profits in the narrow strip twixt Lohmi's peaks and the Desert of Sheb.

Recognition • (1981)
    ...."Prior to the fire which razed the main building to the ground in 1618, there had been a certain intercourse and intrigue of a similarly undiscovered nature between the nameless inhabitants, the de la Poers of Exham Priory near Anchester, and an obscure esoteric sect of monks dwelling in and around the semi-ruined Falstone Castle in Northumberland. Of the latter sect, they were wiped out utterly by Northern raiders—a clan believed to have been outraged by the 'heathen activities' of the monks—and the ruins of the castle were pulled to pieces, stone by stone. Indeed, it was so well destroyed that today only a handful of historians could even show you where it stood!...."

The Thief Immortal • (1990)
An interesting science fantasy about a German sign painter who robs individuals, then nations, then whole sentient species of their life-time, which he accumulates to prolong his own existence. Until the universe has a backfire.

Necros • (1986)
Another lounging sunny Mediterranean vacation ruined. Between Lumley, Ramsey Campbell, and Simon Raven alone there must be enough material for a monograph.

The Thing from the Blasted Heath (1971)
....Many and varied are the weird tales to come filtering out of that area, and fiction or superstition though they may or may not be the fact remains that men will not drink the water of that reservoir.

Uzzi • (1988)
Twice-told travellers tales about running into trouble in a foreign country have always been a thematic current within the genre. Lumley does a bloodily good job here with events in a small town in Germany once named Hexenstadt.

Haggopian (1973)
Romance a la cyclostome
    ...."You see, Mr Belton, I had developed—yes, an organ! An appendage, a snout-like thing had grown out of my stomach, with a tiny hole at its end like a second navel! Eventually, of course, I was obliged to see a doctor, and after he examined me and told me the worst I swore him—or rather, I paid him—to secrecy. The organ could not be removed, he said, it was part of me. It had its own blood vessels, a major artery and connections with my lungs and stomach. It was not malignant in the sense of a morbid tumour. Other than this he was unable to explain the snout-like thing away.

The Picnickers • (1991)
This is by Lumley's finest story. A masterpiece of folk-horror, it has been anthologized by canon-makers Charles L. Grant, Karl Edward Wagner, and Stephen Jones. Redolent of youth's lost time and place, it never ceases to excite me as reader, even after multiple re-readings.
    ....I turned the book over and looked at the pictures. They were woodcuts, going from top to bottom of the two pages in long, narrow panels two to a page. Four pictures in all, with accompanying legends printed underneath. The book was old, the ink faded and the pictures poorly impressed; the text, of course, was completely alien to me.
     The first picture showed a man, naked, with his arms raised to form a cross. He had what looked to be a thick rope coiled about his waist. His eyes were three-cornered, with radiating lines simulating a shining effect. The second picture showed the man with the rope uncoiled, dangling down loosely from his waist and looped around his feet. The end of the rope seemed frayed and there was some detail, but obscured by age and poor reproduction. I studied this picture carefully but was unable to understand it; the rope appeared to be fastened to the man's body just above his left hip. The third picture showed the man in an attitude of prayer, hands steepled before him, with the rope dangling as before, but crossing over at knee height into the fourth frame. There it coiled upward and was connected to the loosely clad body of a skeletally thin woman, whose flesh was mostly sloughed away to show the bones sticking through.
    Now, if I tell my reader that these pictures made little or no sense to me, I know that he will be at pains to understand my ignorance. Well, let me say that it was not ignorance but innocence. I was a boy. None of these things which I have described made any great impression on me at that time. They were all incidents—mainly unconnected in my mind, or only loosely connected—occurring during the days I spent at my uncle's house; and as such they were very small pieces in the much larger jigsaw of my world, which was far more occupied with beaches, rock pools, crabs and eels, bathing in the sea, the simple but satisfying meals my uncle prepared for us, etc. It is only in the years passed in between, and in certain dreams I have dreamed, that I have made the connections....

Zack Phalanx Is Vlad the Impaler • (1977)
Jokey and unhumorous tale about the pitfalls of location shooting on a Dracula movie in Eastern Europe. I suppose everyone in the field has to write one of these at some point.

The House of the Temple • (1980)
The aesthetic wash-outs of most of Lumley's short stories is displayed here perfectly. UK lore about worms (or wyrms?) and water creatures is used as another opportunity for sub-Derleth Lovecraft pastiche.
...."There have been a number down the centuries—the horror that dwelled in the mirror of Nitocris; the sucking, hunting thing that Count Magnus kept; the red, hairy slime used by Julian Scortz—familiars of the Great Old Ones, parasites that lived on Them as lice live on men. Or rather, on their life-force! This one has survived the ages, at least until now. It does not take the blood but the very essence of Its victim. It is a soul-eater...."

19 May 2019

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