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

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

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Funny sort of thing: Brian Lumley's Screaming Science Fiction

Screaming Science Fiction (2006)

by Brian Lumley

Snarker's Son (1980) 

No Way Home (1975)

These are two of Lumley's strongest stories. Don't let them get lost in the fireworks glare of his more popular tales. I'm a sucker for protagonists who slide inadvertently into other realities and only realize their predicament too late.

"Snarker's Son," the more modest of the two, will also recall King's "Crouch End." "No Way Home" is a wrong-turn masterpiece with a droll and wonderfully gruesome ending.

In his The Darkening Garden A Short Lexicon of Horror, Clute discusses tales in which horror protagonists (as opposed to fantasy protagonists) slip inadvertently:

....what is defined as Portal in Fantasy does not exist in Horror: so the term Cloaca is applied here to semblances of Portal when such are uncovered. If entering a Portal can be likened to swimming with the tide as upon a quest, then entering a Cloaca can be likened to swimming upstream like a gaffed fish: HOOKED . The Cloaca is a Parody of the Portal: an extremely bad joke (such being common in tales of Horror) about the true nature of the world. The term is visceral, it allows a strong inference of deep unpleasantness ahead....

Lumley's humour and aplomb are put to good use in these two stories.


The Man Who Felt Pain (1989)

A poignant existential SF horror story.

...."Ray," Durant looked straight into my eyes, "your brother is convinced he's going to die—of other people's pain. He says he's given it plenty of thought and knows there's no way of stopping it. And he says that since it's coming, he'd prefer it came here on Earth than out there. Going out into space would only delay it anyway, he says. So you're his last chance. Possibly he's already too far gone physically for the job, in which case you'll not only have to talk him into accepting it, but also get him back up on his feet one last time. You did it before, between you, so maybe you can do it again. That's the whole thing, and that's why I sent for you…."


The Strange Years (1982)

An apocalyptic look at (probably) the end of humanity. Lumley is fully engaged and on a small compass, where he can work to his strengths. And make your flesh creep!

     "Ma Nature strikes back. Get rid of the human vermin. They're lousing up your planet! And maybe that's what gave Her the idea. If fire and flood and disease and disaster and war couldn't do the trick, well, what else could She do? They advise you to fight fire with fire, so why not vermin with vermin?"


The Man Who Saw No Spiders (1978)

Mirthful, modest and ingenious tale about alien conquest of earth. It's a brief, well-told stinger and Lumley pulls it off beautifully.


Deja Viewer (2005)

Feasibility Study (2006)

There's compelling Lumley.  Then there's mythos Lumley. And lastly there's jocular, jargony, trite and tiresome Lumley, as in these two stories. Being glib is just not good enough.

[When compared with a tale like Shea's "Polyphemus," Lumley's failings with "Deja Viewer," "Feasibility Study" and "Gaddy's Gloves" are even more starkly outlined.]


Gaddy's Gloves (1991)

Prognosticating about lifestyles of future videogame pros, and of the games themselves, is an auto-humiliation device for writers who think they have the skills to write SF. 

Nothing dates quicker than today's hot take on tomorrow's hobbies. Lumley's mixing of this with small time conmen and alien worlds (it's all water!) leave "Gaddy's Gloves" stuck in fanfiction mode, along with nearly all his off-earth SF.


Big "C" (1990)

The story's voice is like a friend rattling off a mythos tale at machine gun tempo in their own rough and ready way. Craft ain't in it.

People used to call cancer "the big c." The Big C in Lumley's tale is an astronaut's sentient, growing cancer. It is surgically removed  and quickly takes command of a US space flight base.


18 June 2020

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