Len Deighton was not an author of spy thrillers but of horror, because all Cold War–era spy thrillers rely on the existential horror of nuclear annihilation to supply a frisson of terror that raises the stakes of the games their otherwise mundane characters play. And in contrast, H. P. Lovecraft was not an author of horror stories—or not entirely—for many of his preoccupations, from the obsessive collection of secret information to the infiltration and mapping of territories controlled by the alien, are at heart the obsessions of the thriller writer.
This volume contains a brief novel (Stross’s first to be published) and its longish short story sequel. Of the two, I preferred the first with its more leisurely pacing. Also, there was a major plot-twist in the short story that I was able to spot about thirty pages in advance. The meat of both is a very artful hybrid of exo-horror and spy-thriller, with a sardonic take on postmodern bureaucracy and a generous helping of hacker culture. The characters are well-drawn and their context is a UK occult intelligence organization called the Laundry. I found myself often resorting to the appendix which decoded the alphabet soup of (mostly non-fictional) abbreviations, acronyms, and organizations; and I laughed out loud when I had to look up TLA and find it explicated as “Three Letter Acronym.” Other features I appreciated: misfiring demonic evocations, inside references to weird literature, a romantic dinner in Amsterdam, and cow jokes.
As it turns out, the book is far from unique, not even counting Stross’ own sequels. In his afterword, he points to Tim Powers’s Declare and the gaming supplement Delta Green as evidence that the early 21st century was steam engine time for this sort of story. (The Torchwood television series was late to the party, and thus quite possibly inspired by Stross’s own work–a thought that would probably be unwelcome to him, since he has repeatedly expressed in his blog his contempt for recent SF television generally, and Russell T. Davies’ work in particular.)
There’s no need to discuss Stross’s sources or literary influences here, because he does so himself with verve and candor in the aforementioned afterword. He also shares some interesting thoughts about the construction of spies and hackers as fictional protagonists. At all events, this book was a lot of fun, and I expect to read more of Stross’s stories about the Laundry.
Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Conan the Barbarian, Book One: The Life and Death of Conan [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Mahmud Asrar, Jason Aaron, & al., book 1 of the Conan the Barbarian (2019-) series.
This trade paperback collects the first six issues of the new iteration of the Conan the Barbarian title at Marvel Comics. Writer Jason Aaron and principal artist Mahmud Asrar appear to be accomplished creators within the contemporary Marvel operation, and they both do competent work here. I’m not really blown away the way that I was in the early numbers of the Dark Horse run back in 2003-4, but I did find these new comics to be quick and satisfying reading. It does seem like there’s an attempt to strike a balance between the tone of the original Marvel run and the Dark Horse title.
Aaron hits a few clinkers with his language, but on the whole his Conan seems more faithful to Howard’s original hero than most of the pastiche novel Conans have been (to say nothing of the movies). Each issue starts with the same Nemedian Chronicles quote (“… when the oceans drank Atlantis yada yada …”) and a full-continent Hyborian Age map highlighted to show the location of that number’s principal adventure.
This collection has stories set throughout Conan’s life, using as a framing device young Conan’s encounter with a malevolent witch who returns to kill him in sacrifice to her arch-demon benefactor many years later when Conan is king of Aquilonia. Whether she succeeds (as implied in the “Life and Death of” title of the book) is left unresolved at the end of the sixth issue.
Appended to the reprinted contents is a vast gallery of alternate cover art. For the first issue alone, there were at least a dozen covers. I really have to wonder if this now venerable publishing gimmick is really serving any purpose. Are readers foolish enough to buy multiple copies for the different covers? Well, I guess I represent the opposite extreme, since I waited for the trade collection and then borrowed it from the public library.
To all the monsters hiding in this world, I hope the children will skin you alive. To the children in the world, let no one say you can’t make your monsters bleed.
—Cassandra Khaw, Hammers on Bone
“Fairy tales seem to be innocent stories, yet they contain profound lessons for those who would dive deep into their waters of meaning. In this book, Marie-Louise von Franz uncovers some of the important lessons concealed in tales from around the world, drawing on the wealth of her knowledge of folklore, her experience as a psychoanalyst and a collaborator with Jung, and her great personal wisdom. Among the many topics discussed in relation to the dark side of life and human psychology, both individual and collective, are:
· How different aspects of the “shadow”—all the affects and attitudes that are unconscious to the ego personality—are personified in the giants and monsters, ghosts, and demons, evil kings and wicked witches of fairy tales
· How problems of the shadow manifest differently in men and women
· What fairy tales say about the kinds of behavior and attitudes that invite evil
· How Jung’s technique of Active imagination can be used to overcome overwhelming negative emotions
· How ghost stories and superstitions reflect the psychology of grieving
· What fairy tales advise us about whether to struggle against evil or turn the other cheek ” — back cover