Tag Archives: Theodore Sturgeon

Sympathy for the Devil

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Sympathy for the Devil edited by Tim Pratt.

Tim Pratt Sympathy for the Devil

I found this book by chance at the public library, being interested in a few of the included authors. It’s one of those monster theme collections, gathering thirty-six stories in which “the Devil” features as a principal character, from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first. (Longfellow’s translation of the thirty-sixth canto of Dante’s Inferno is the oldest item, and concludes the book.) Six stories I had read prior to their appearance here. “Thank you, Satan!” quoth the editor, introducing his first effort at anthology. Despite the title, most of these stories don’t portray the Devil as sympathetic.

Charles Stross’s story “Snowball’s Chance” was a major attraction, and did not disappoint, other than its clumsy misquotation of the Law of Thelema. I suppose any 21st-century Big Book of Beelzebub is likely to include some content touching on the Great Beast who heralded the New Aeon. Nick Mamatas’s fictional protagonist in “Summon, Bind, Banish” may be a full (i.e. Ninth Degree) initiate of O.T.O., but Mamatas himself obviously isn’t. His pretended exposure of the Order’s sovereign secret is overshadowed by the way that he vilifies Crowley with an impressionistic biography of mostly-true episodes.

Elizabeth M. Glover’s “MetaPhysics” was cornball, but some of these pieces were genuinely funny. In particular I was delighted with the one-act comedy “Faustfeathers” by John Kessel, which casts Groucho Marx as the paradigmatic sorcerer. Jeffrey Ford’s “On the Road to New Egypt” was a key inducement to my reading the book, and turned out to be hilarious.

Some of the creepiest stories were the most questionably related to the book’s espoused theme, and these were often among the ones I had already read, such as China Miéville’s “Details,” “The Professor’s Teddy Bear” by Theodore Sturgeon, and “The God of Dark Laughter” by Michael Chabon. Probably the most horrific story in the book that was new to me on this reading was “The Goat Cutter” by Jay Lake. The most surreal story was either “Lull” by Kelly Link or “The Heidelberg Cylinder” by Jonathan Carroll, and both of these get high marks from me.

Older selections included Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” (still excellent), Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Bottle Imp” (how had I missed this one before?), and Mark Twain’s “Sold to the Devil” (justly neglected by a mass readership). “Big names” likely to appeal to genre fans include Stephen King (“The Man in the Black Suit”) and Neil Gaiman (“The Price” and “We Can Get Them for You Wholesale”).

The book is a fairly mixed bag on the whole, as one might expect with such a large number of stories and such a narrow criterion for inclusion. Still, it was definitely worth the bother. [via]

The Dreaming Jewels

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Dreaming Jewels; The Cosmic Rape; Venus Plus X by Theodore Sturgeon:

Theodore Sturgeon's The Dreaming Jewels


This Book of the Month Club edition contains three unrelated novels by Theodore Sturgeon. The third of them, Venus Plus X, I originally read in a battered used paperback, and I’ve already reviewed it separately.

The Dreaming Jewels (also published elswhere as The Synthetic Man) was Sturgeon’s first novel. Written circa 1950, it is also set in mid-20th-century America, with an emerging substratum of non-human strangeness. “Yet—how many men walked the earth who were not men at all; how many trees, how many rabbits, flowers, amoebae, sea-worms, red-woods, eels and eagles grew and flowered, swam and hunted and stood among their prototypes with none knowing that they were an alien dream, having, apart from the dream, no history?” (181)

The comparisons I found myself making for this story were not to other pieces of science fiction, but rather to the horror genre. Without even engaging any extraterrestrial scenario, Sturgeon manages to evoke a cosmic indifference more effectively than H.P. Lovecraft ever did. And, by way of further contrast, he succeeds in making his characters both more detestable and admirable than any Lovecraftian people. Sturgeon had had plenty of experience in his short fiction at drawing vivid personalities, and it shows in this novel.

There is one element of the plot in the closing pages that I was not able to quite reason out: a happy twist for which I can imagine a justification, but which the text doesn’t seem to square away as well as a reader might desire. The prose throughout is graceful and efficient, and The Dreaming Jewels is a speedy, pleasurable read.

The Cosmic Rape remains on my TBR pile for the time being. [via]



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