Thursday, December 26, 2013

Ambrose Bierce’s Final Words

Ambrose Bierce in 1892
One hundred years ago today, December 26th 1913, is that last day that Ambrose Bierce was known to be alive.  During the previous months Bierce had wrapped up his affairs, and in October he left his home to re-visit a number of civil war sites, wending his way from Washington, D.C., to Mexico and then, so he said, on to South America.  That is, he planned to get to South America if he lived so long.

On October 1, 1913, he wrote to the Lora Bierce, wife of his nephew Carleton: 
I go away tomorrow for a long time, so this is only to say good-bye. I think there is nothing else worth saying; therefore you will naturally expect a long letter. What an intolerable world this would be if we said nothing but what is worth saying! And did nothing foolish—like going into Mexico and South America. . . .

Good-bye—if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico—ah, that is euthanasia!

Other letters over the next few months say much the same thing.  And then, after December 26th, the letters ceased.  We have the gist of two communications from Bierce of that date, both purportedly from Chihuahua, Mexico.  The first, from a letter to Carrie Christiansen (1872-1920), Bierce’s secretary, survives only in the form of Christiansen’s summary in a log-book.  Here is the entry in full.

Chihuahua Mexico
Dec. 26, 1913
Ridden in four miles to mail a letter. Ride from Juarez to Chihuahua hard—nights cold, days hot. Allusion to Jornada del Muerta (journey of death) of thousands of civilian refugees, men, women and children. Train load of troops leaving Chihuahua every day. Expect (next day) to go to Ojinaga, partly by rail. Mexicans fight "like the devil"—though not so effectively as trained soldiers. Addicted to unseasonable firing, many times at random. Incident at Tierra Blance—Refuge behind a sharp ridge—Story of Gringo—present of sombrero

The final words from Bierce’s pen are a typically Bierceian outburst to a longtime friend.  It is worth reproducing here in full, for its kaleidoscopic range shows the usual mixture of nuance, complexity, pettiness, and brilliance that made up Bierce’s personality.  Particularly noteworthy for its prescience is the final sentence in Bierce’s postscript:  “As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination.”  That destination has remained unknown for a century. 

To Blanche Partington
Chihuahua, Mexico,
December 26,1913.

My dear Blanche,

    I have been regretting my harshness to you in my letter from San Antonio, Texas—or was it from Laredo? I wrote in anger, having just read your letter forwarded from Washington, and was doubtless unjust. My anger was caused partly by your destruction of Miss Soulé Campbell's new portrait of me, which I had had made more to please you than for any other reason. You had asked me for a picture.
    But also you asked me in the letter to "confess" that I cared for human sympathy, sentiment and friendship. This to me who have always valued those things more than anything else in life! —who have the dearest and best friends of any man in the world, I think, —sweet souls who have the insight to take me at my own appraisement (or, perhaps you would say, to pretend to). You don't know any of them; it would be better for you if you did. Evidently you share the current notion that because I don't like fools and rogues I am a kind of monster—a misanthrope without sentiment and without heart. I can not help your entertaining that view, but you might have kept it to yourself. The "popular" notion of me I care nothing about, but when it is thrown at me by one whom I supposed immune to it by reason of years of friendly observation it naturally disgusts me. Still, I ought to have made allowance for the pressure of your social environment and for (pardon me) your limitations.
    I was also impatient of your foolish notion that in the matter of my proposed visit to "the Andes" I was posing. I do not know why you think the Andes particularly spectacular—probably because you have not traveled much. To me they are no different in grandioseness from the Rockies or the Coast Range—merely a geographical expression used because I did not care to be more specific. The particular region that I had in mind has lured me all my life—more now than before, because it is, not more distant from, but more inaccessible to, many of the things of which as an old man I am mortally tired. What "interpretation" you put upon my letters regarding that spot you have not seen fit to inform me, which before rebuking me (I am not hospitable to rebuke) you should have done. I suppose you have a habit of "interpretation". You worship a god who (omniscient and omnipotent) has been unable to make his message clear to his children and has to have a million paid interpreters, and you are one of them. (Pardon me; you invited me to "convert you from the error of your ways.") So little do I know of your "interpretation" that I was not even aware that I had written you of my intention to go to "the Andes.” If I did, as of course I did, I must also have told you that I intended to go by the way of Mexico, which I am doing, though it looks now as if "the Andes" would have to wait.
    My enemies are fond of saying that I cannot keep my friends. They are right to this extent: many of my friends I do not keep. I can endure many vices and weaknesses in a friend, but one thing I can not and will not endure—the attribution of nasty little vices and weaknesses to me. When a friend offends in that way he (or she) sooner or later receives a formal note from me renouncing the advantage of further acquaintance. You and my foolish relatives are the only persons who have hitherto been exempt. You have offended seventy-and-seven times and I have overlooked it, but in the letter that angered me you passed the limit and (I say it with no feeling but regret) you go into the discard. No pleasure can come of a relation that is not inclusive of respect. If I am what you think me I am unworthy of your friendship; if I am not you are unworthy of mine. You will be spared henceforth the necessity of being either "ashamed" or proud of me, for I hereby withdraw your right to be either.
    It is true that the latter half of your letter was apologetic, but that was insincere, for if one perceives that a letter is offensive, before it is posted, one can put it into the waste-basket.
    So—I bid you farewell.

    Sincerely yours,
    Ambrose Bierce.

    I do not know how, nor when, you are to get this letter; there are no mails, and sometimes no trains to take anything to El Paso. Moreover, I have forgotten your address and shall send this to the care of Lora [Bierce]. And Lora may have gone to the mountains. As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination.
Update 12/27/13: 

Mark Valentine has sent along a few interesting URLs.  The first brings up an earlier portrait of Bierce drawn by Soulé Campbell and printed in Bierce's Collected Works (1909):

And the second brings up a contemporary (1913) article on the artist:,2321670

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Henry S. Whitehead News

First, I'll present here my "Late Review" (one from the current issue, no. 21, of Wormwood) of Whitehead's one novel, published the year before his death. I do so primarily to share the incredibly horrid and unappealling dust-wrapper of the book, reproduced below at right.

Whitehead, Henry S. Pinkie at Camp Cherokee (New York:  G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1931)

Henry S. Whitehead (1882-1932) is remembered primarily for his short stories, many of which were originally published in Weird Tales magazine in the 1920s and early 1930s and collected posthumously in two volumes published by Arkham House, Jumbee and Other Uncanny Tales (1944) and West India Lights (1946).  Less known is the fact that Whitehead published two books during his lifetime, the first being a work of populist theology, The Garden of the Lord (1922), the second being a novel for boys, Pinkie at Camp Cherokee. 
            In the 1920s, Whitehead was involved with a number of summer camps for boys, and he was one of the owners of Camp Cherokee on Long Island, so in one sense his novel can be viewed as a kind of advertisement for the camp. Whitehead’s first story for boys, “Baseball and Pelicans,” had been submitted to Clayton H. Ernst, editor of The Open Road for Boys, and it was published in the June 1926 issue.  Ernst told Whitehead that he should write a book around the tale, and Whitehead took up this advice during the winter of 1929-30 while he was ill. The two main episodes in Whitehead’s short story were expanded into a novel titled Pinkie—Superguy.  The title was sensibly changed by the publisher to Pinkie at Camp Cherokee. It centers around a young red-haired boy from Barbados named James Roderick Evelyn Maurice Kelley-Clutton, who is nicknamed Pinkie because his skin turns pink rather than tan when exposed to the sun. The story is told by a regular boy Bill Spofford from Pencilville, Ohio. Pinkie, with his British accent and complete lack of knowledge of regular American traditions, serves as the proverbial fish out-of-water, and an object of ridicule for most of the boys at the camp, until they come to realize that not only is he talented—his running abilities win a competition, and his unorthodox batting, cricket-style, wins a baseball game—but worthy of their respect and friendship.  Of course rivalries between campers and other nearby camps are presented in a simplistic us/good versus them/bad mentality, and the chumminess between the friendly boys is often cloying and sentimentalized. The attitudes are dated, and the whole book would be a dire read save for two stories inserted as tales told to groups of boys. In one (pages 83-90), Pinkie tells a story around a campfire of a West Indies negro superstition about acquiring luck from a Dead Man’s Tooth. In the second (page 148-158), the camp Chief tells the weird life-story of a thin match.  Remarkably, this tale appeared in a slightly different and longer form as “The Thin Match” in the March 1925 issue of Weird Tales. These two inserted tales account for the only value of this book to the modern reader.  

I'd also like to call attention here to an article by David Goudsward coming out later this month in The Weird Fiction Review, no. 4, from Centipede Press. Goudsward's article is called  "Halsey and the Padré: A 14-year-old’s perspective on H. S. Whitehead".  The article shows a side of Whitehead's personality not usually explored, that of his role at a boys' summer camp.

And another piece of Whitehead lore includes the following photograph, originally published in The New York Times, for Sunday, January 26th 1930.  Upon seeing it Whitehead was inspired to write a letter to twelve-year-old Teddy Gants, the second figure from the left. 

The letter, sent from Dunedin, Florida, reads:

Dear Mr. Teddy Gants,

I noticed your picture in the N.Y. Times of Sunday, January 26th, and as I looked at it I said to myself: "There's exactly the kind of boy I want in my camp!"

So it occurred to me to drop you a line and ask if you go to camp summers, or if, perhaps, you might be interested in Pine Bluff Camp at Port Jefferson, Long Island. Pine Bluff is a mighty fine camp, with more than 100 boys, and a good place for an athlete. I've always been one, all my life, and was three years a Metropolitan District (N.Y.) Sr. Champion All-Around athlete.

Maybe if you, or your father or mother, are interested in your going to camp, you might drop me a line, and I can have the catalogue sent to you, etc. Or, if you will let me know your home address I can come in and talk it over when I come north.  It won't be very long now.

We have everything at Pine Bluff from handball up and down!

Best wishes,
Very sincerely yours,

Henry S. Whitehead

Teddy Gants, a twelve-year-old girl, noted of the letter, "Say, I wonder what kind of person that man thinks I am."  But that question should really be directed toward the letter-writer. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Joel Lane (1963-2013) - John Howard

Joel Lane was a good friend for nearly thirty years. Never in robust health, he raged against the dying of the light – many different and varied lights, all sorts of dying – and now his published work must continue to do that for him.

Joel encouraged and mentored numerous writers, providing incisive and positive feedback that could only improve their work. He was loyal and unstinting with praise where he believed it to be due.

Joel was politically committed and active: he saw the lights going out and raged – but also tried to do something about it. What he was against was usually worth being against; the world he wished to live in was the sort of world that anyone should wish to live in. Joel took people and their views seriously, perhaps sometimes too seriously. He was painstaking and generous with friends and strangers alike, whatever was asked of him.

(‘For me, he was more like a conscience. He reminded me of battles unfought and pain unfelt.’ Joel Lane, “The Circus Floor”.)

Joel was a sound critical voice. In an often bloated field he knew what would endure, and why. He provided new insights on classic works and authors, especially H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Aickman, Ramsey Campbell, Fritz Leiber, and Theodore Sturgeon. Returning to these authors after Joel had written about them was to see them from fresh, and refreshing, angles.

Joel relished evenings in the pub (the particular one changed as things such as the owner, the quality of the beer, the policy on music, and opening times changed) discussing new and old stories, famous and unknown authors, current lunacies at large in society, and anything… His puns and limericks were atrocious, and often even spontaneous.

A few random recollections: Those garish shirts. The infinite supply of carrier bags. His utter unselfconsciousness. The ability to quote song lyrics by the yard. Puns again. Printouts of draft poems.

A brick has been removed from the wall, from near the foundations. It won’t collapse, but there’s a gap now.

John Howard

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

R.I.P. - Joel Lane, Author, Poet, Scholar

"...Your words
reach out from the dark like branches,
complex and definite."

Joel Lane, 'Matt', from Instinct (2012)

I have heard with great sadness that author, poet and scholar Joel Lane, a regular contributor of fine critical essays to Wormwood, has died. I have also lost a friend. I first met Joel at the British Fantasy conventions held in Birmingham in the Nineteen Eighties. He became part of an informal circle of keen enthusiasts of fantasy and horror, the Doppelgangers: he was one of the most well-read and thoughtful characters in our group.

Joel contributed his short stories of bleak but poetic urban horror to Aklo, the journal of the fantastic I co-edited with the late Roger Dobson, and also to Dark Dreams, the journal of the macabre edited by Jeff Dempsey and David Cowperthwaite. Despite the darkness of his vision in these stories, Joel enjoyed as much as anyone the flippancy and japing of Doppelganger gatherings and publications, and there was always a side of him that relished bad puns, improbable book titles and persiflage.

But in his work, from the first, his was a sombre, powerful but compelling voice. I was pleased to publish his short story ‘The Foggy, Foggy Dew’, in a chapbook (1986, with a poem, 'Lifting the Cover') which, to our delight, was selected by Karl Edward Wagner for his Year’s Best Horror series, the first of many such tributes to his fiction. Joel’s reputation as a master of urban horror continued to build over the years, culminating in the World Fantasy Award for Best Collection (for Where Furnaces Burn), a fully-deserved accolade, which he received only weeks ago. Amongst his notable publications were The Earth Wire (1994), From Blue to Black (2000), The Blue Mask (2003), The Lost District (2006), The Terrible Changes (2009), The Witnesses Are Gone (2009) and Do Not Pass Go: Crime Stories (2011).

While it will be his short stories that will prove an enduring legacy, Joel was also a fine poet, who used modern forms and imagery while at the same time expressing concisely and acutely the perennial concerns of love, mortality, longing and loss. And Joel was furthermore an exceptionally pensive and insightful critic of the fantasy and horror fields. For Wormwood he contributed a series of essays on major figures in the field, including H P Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti, Fritz Leiber, Ray Bradbury and (most recently) Robert Aickman. We had recently discussed an essay by him for next year on Shirley Jackson.

Joel never relied on past evaluations or readings of these figures: he read everything of importance by them with great care and focus, and thought through his own original perspective on their work. I know from our correspondence how much concentration and creative energy he put in to these studies, which should also stand as a testament to his devotion to our literature. He would, incidentally, give the same respect and acumen to other arts too: I remember, and wish I'd kept, his remarkable insights into the lyrics of Joy Division and New Order, some of whose words he made use of in his book titles, epigraphs and themes.

Joel was never in good health, and had also faced tragedy in his life, and when I think of him, I see a vulnerable, slightly tentative figure, for whom words were worth serious weight. That image, however, must be balanced with the extraordinary determination and depth of thought that characterised everything he wrote, the intense, vital intelligence that gave us so much that was so strong and unique in his commentary, poetry and stories.

"then walk out into a fractured night
that aches with the promise of winter:
the ceasefire, the falling snow,
an album whose every track is silence."

Joel Lane, 'Autumn Light', from Instinct (2012)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Graham Stone - Australian Bibliographer

I was saddened to hear of the death last Saturday of Graham Stone. Graham (1926-2013) was a legendary Australian bibliographer, book collector and book dealer.  His is best known for his Australian Science Fiction Bibliography and Notes on Australian Science Fiction.  He has also brought back into print rare works of Australian science fiction and fantasy.  He didn’t publish his books through commercial publishers but printed and bound them himself, and was a member of the Australian Bookbinding Society.

Here is an unpublished interview I did with him a few years ago on one of his trips to Canberra.

A Life with Books: An Interview with Graham Stone

You were born in Adelaide?
Yes, the beautiful city of Adelaide. What a dump! My recollections of Adelaide are 50 or 60 years out of date.  I’ve only been back there a few times, and briefly.  It’s very much homogenised – much the same as other Australian capitals.  But when I lived there at an early age I knew that it was, to put it kindly, a backwater.  I’ve put down my thoughts on conditions in Australia before the war several times, and I won’t repeat them here.

How long did you live in Adelaide?
Up to the age of fourteen. 

Did your first experience with fiction magazines begin in Adelaide?
Yes, my early reading in boys’ magazines.  I’ve set down some memories which have been published in part in several places over a long period.  One of my current projects is to put all that in order and update it.  It should amount to a book.

Briefly, I started reading the pre-adolescent English boys’ weeklies, and there was quite a bit of primitive science fiction in those.  I haven’t been able to pin down dates, but I remember the first interesting thing was a serial in The Champion – probably in 1933, when I was seven years old – called The War of the Planets.  All I can remember is that it had intrepid rocketeers mixed up in a war between, I think, Mars and Venus.  It introduced to me space flight and rocket propulsion, which was a complete novelty.  The concept of communicating between worlds and travelling between worlds, and the concept of non-human intelligence was something new and fascinating to me.  And I thought, “This is what I want to read.”

There was also Terror from the Stratosphere, which was in The Triumph, another of the boys’ weeklies.  There were a number of these periodicals all published by the same firm.  There was a whole industry with writers grinding out material.  I haven’t seen too many examples of the very early boys’ periodicals, but I have seen examples from about 1911, and several from the 1920s and 1930s. 

There were other odds and ends from this time.  I remember the comic strip, Mandrake the Magician, running in the Women’s Weekly in 1933 or 1934.  A lot of this stuff involved magic, which isn’t all that interesting.  The first episode that I read had a brain transplant – a human brain transplanted into a gorilla. 

As for books – there was juvenile science fiction at that time, but I didn’t see any of it.  However, there were two Wells’ novels that were in the house, The Invisible Man and Food of the Gods.  There was Verne, but he was already quite dated.

While I was in Adelaide, the last of the boys’ weeklies that I read was The Modern Boy.  It was quite a bit different to the others – it was up-to-date and emphasized things that were going on in the 1930s.  I followed it religiously for several years, and I was especially interested in the serials involving Captain Justice.  It closely resembled other adventure serials that were popular at the time, such as Doc Savage in the American pulps.  You had stereotyped characters - a scientific genius, a general handyman, a smart-arse teenager and so on.  If you picked up The Modern Boy at any time the odds were that there would be a Captain Justice serial running. There were robots, dinosaurs in Antarctica, inter-planetary flight and so on.

In 1936/7 Buck Rogers ran in the New Idea in competition with Mandrake the Magician in the Women’s Weekly.  There was a lot of interest in Buck Rogers and it ran for a long time and got away from the original concept.  It didn’t start off as a comic strip, but as two prose stories in Amazing in 1928/9.  The interesting thing is that the title of the original story was Armageddon 2419, which suggests to me that it was first written in 1919 and took a while to find a publisher.  It starts off with Rogers just after the First World War; he pokes around a mine, gets entombed, is overcome by gas and is miraculously preserved in a coma for 500 years.  He wakes up to find the Americas, and the world, have been taken over by Mongols.  The comic strip actually starts well into the series, which is when I started reading it.

I moved around in Adelaide – my father died in 1937, in the depth of the depression.  He was a PMG phone technician and had regular work, but my two older brothers were out of regular work right up until the war.  My mother had some superannuation, which was a pittance, and she tried various ventures, including running a residential at Semaphore, which was a particularly run-down part of Adelaide.  This was in 1937.  There were two local libraries that had some interesting books, particularly Edgar Rice Burroughs. 

They weren’t public libraries in the sense that we know now.  There were two kinds of libraries: the institutes, which were derived from the earlier Mechanics Institute or School of Arts libraries, and commercial rental libraries, which were just a shop front – you walked in and there were shelves everywhere and three signs up, always the same – Mystery, Romance, Western.  My mother ran just such a place as her next venture.  Anyway, this place was obviously run by someone who knew something – there were a lot of books of interest to me, and there was a shelf of Edgar Rice Burroughs.  I read most of the works of Burroughs in just a few months – it’s a marvel that I survived it!

After that I had pretty much exhausted Burroughs.  There was Dennis Wheatley, and above all an early work of a writer better known as John Wyndham, who in those days used the name John Beynon, with the repulsive title Planet Plane.  This was a first-trip-to-Mars novel with the classical Mars of desiccation, deserts, canals, with a few Martians hanging on, and also some robots, which he called “machines.”  Very dated now, but it was hot stuff then and I was greatly impressed with it.  A few months later I spotted a magazine which featured on its cover what was obviously a sequel.  It was Tales of Wonder, the first English sf magazine, though it was half American in content.  From then on I started looking for similar magazines and I was off and running.  That’s how it all began.

When did you leave Adelaide?
I’d had a trip to Sydney at the end of 1936 – an el-cheapo bus tour.  My brothers had both moved to Sydney in search of work.  We had an uncle there who had a small clothing factory and he gave my older brother a job as a rep.  My other brother couldn’t get a regular job in Sydney and he took off and eventually got work as a miner at Mt Isa.  So I had been to Sydney and I saw it as the height of civilisation and wanted to live there.  At the end of 1939 my mother gave up running the library and she asked her brother to give her a job, which he did.  She worked for him for a couple of years, until 1941.  I don’t know how you could do this during the war, running a clothing factory, but he obviously went broke!  She then worked for David Jones for a couple of years, until early 1944.  Then she went back to Adelaide, dragging me with her. 

She hated Sydney and thought it was crude, vulgar, and American.  But I loved it – it was inundated with American pulp magazines.  I was only into sf, but there were millions of them!  The shop front lending libraries overlapped with regular newsagencies.  Often a place would be both – a newsagent that loaned books for a small fee.  These places usually had tables stacked high with pulp magazines.  They were remainders, unsold copies that were dumped in Australia.  The copies that didn’t sell in America were sold as waste paper, they were loaded in ships as ballast, came out here and were taken up by Gordon and Gotch, Woolworths, and the newsagents.  This had been going on through the depression and there were literally millions of these things, of which sf was only a small part.

Is that when you started collecting?
I’ve gone hot and cold on collecting.  At the present time I’ve got next to nothing.  I’ve sold a lot of stuff that I should have kept.  The few things I’ve kept include the first issue of Amazing Stories, which was the holy grail of science fiction collecting, and I got a tolerable copy.  I’ve also kept a copy of the first issue of Astounding Stories of Super Science, which ended up as Analog.  I’ve also kept a 1931 issue of Amazing, which has the first part of Space Hounds of IPC, and the reason I have is that it is inscribed by Smith to Robert Heinlein. 

Where did you get that?
After Heinlein visited Sydney in 1954 – he met the Sydney sf group- he sent us a stack of magazines.

Also, I’ve kept the August 1937 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories, the first American SF magazine I saw, and which has a lovely cover of a magnificent dinosaur; a reprint of All-Story magazine with the complete Tarzan of the Apes; and Wells’s The Time Machine – a first edition, but later issue, and not a very good copy, so it’s not worth a fortune.  At auction it might get a few hundred.  But that’s about all.  It’s a pity because I should have kept a lot of the Australian stuff.  Once I decided to let everything go, I let everything go. 

When did you get involved in science fiction fandom?
This is curious in a way.  In Adelaide you had to search for magazines, but I found some.  I read every word down to the ads.  Thrilling Wonder Stories had a Science Fiction League Department which had a few pages of reports on what local fan groups were doing.  One particular issue had a request for contacts to start a local branch in Adelaide by John Gregor.  Somehow I missed that – if I’d seen it I surely would have contacted him.  However, I did know through Wonder that were a few fans in Sydney, but I didn’t follow up at that time. 

I didn’t do anything until late in 1940 when I found a bookseller who had a lot of stuff that he was sitting on.  I should explain that this was September/October 1940.  All the US stuff had stopped coming in June due to the currency restrictions, and import procurement control had been introduced.  A lot of stuff would not get approval for import.  Anything that wasn’t essential was prohibited.  From then on the existing stock of stuff dwindled and most of it was destroyed for waste paper.  This guy, Nash, ran a bookshop at the Spot opposite the Randwick Ritz Theatre.  He hung on to his magazines because he knew they would be worth something one day.  I’d been getting stuff from him and he asked me if I knew two guys who lived around the corner from him.  I got their addresses, wrote to them, and immediately got a letter from one of them, Bert Castellari.  He was glad to see me – he was delighted to meet anyone who had heard of sf.  There were so very few of us.

Who was involved at that early time?
Bert and Ron Levy.  They lived in adjoining streets, almost back to back.  Their club was the Futurian Society of Sydney.  The first meeting of that club was the 5 November 1939.  The same group had been meeting previously through 1939 under the name of The Junior Australian Science Fiction Correspondence Club.  They were all teenagers at that time.  For reasons not clear to me they decided to start a new club, perhaps they decided to give up on the idea of a correspondence club, there were so few known outside Sydney.  The idea behind the name, the Futurian Society of Sydney, was to show which side they supported in the current controversy in the United States, which is described in a later book, The Immortal Storm by Sam Moskowitz, which describes the shebang in exhaustive detail.  The Sydney group favoured the New York Futurian faction of Wollheim, Pohl, Kornbluth etc. 

By the time I met Bert there was an interregnum.  There had been a meeting which had broken up in confusion without fixing a date for the next meeting.  All the executives had resigned and the remaining members were left wondering about the future of the thing. 

Anyway, I met Ron Levy, Bert’s friend, and we had a really good meeting at Bert’s place.  There was also Bill Veney and Bruce Sawyer.  It wasn’t a proper meeting, but it had been arranged that everyone be invited to Bill Veney’s place to get things started again.  That was the first proper meeting I went to.  It was later called the First Conference and was attended by most of the members at that time.  So, it started again and staggered on.  But there was a lot of pointless bickering over points of order and so on, but we saw each other all the time and exchanged stuff.

Who was regarded as worth reading by members?
We ran a poll of the best writers and had nominations for the best story of 1939.  It was dominated by E. E. Smith, who was someone mentioned a lot, Jack Williamson, and Eric Frank Russell (not to be confused with the local fan Eric Frederick Russell).  Of course, a lot of leading figures just beginning at that time – Sturgeon and Heinlein.  Simak had been writing for a few years.  As for books, we knew of Wells, Burroughs and a few more, but books weren’t important.

The society had a successful library didn’t it?
There was a library that ran for years and ended up in my hands.  By the 1970s nobody was interested in it.  I made it available but nobody wanted it and I sold it off.

The society also produced publications, didn’t it?
Individuals published stuff.  The society only produced one small item in the war period.  Bert mostly, and other people from time to time, published the Futurian Observer, which was a single fortnightly sheet and reported such news as there was.  There were others who published fanzines.  Vol Molesworth produced several titles, originally called Luna, then Cosmos.  It consisted of a few pages of miscellaneous stuff.  This was through 1939 and 1940.  The foundation members were Molesworth, Veney, Castellari, Levy, and Eric and Ted Russell.  Other early members didn’t stick.

A group of members, Levy, Dwyer and one or two others, produced a magazine called Zeus, which consisted of miscellaneous, rather primitive humour.

One member was David R. Evans who was born in rural Wales and learned English only at school. He was older than the other members and was interested in writing and had stories published in cheap magazines.  He was into weird, supernatural and science fiction.  He struck up a correspondence with Bob Bloch, who sent him copies of Weird Tales, which of course you couldn’t get here because it was banned.  There were a lot of complaints in the mid-thirties about US magazines, especially horror, and there was a list of titles that was specifically banned, and Weird Tales got in there mainly because of the artistic nudes on the cover.

Evans had a letter in Amazing in early 1939, and that was how he was contacted by the society.  Being older and having some idea of what was what it was only natural that he immediately took a leading part in the society.  However, it didn’t go so well and it was thought by some other members that he was the main source of everything that went wrong, quite wrongly I thought.  At the First Conference it was decided that members should be screened by a committee to see if they were suitable - this was a polite way of expelling Evans.  But he remained friends with members and a regular group used to meet at his place on Sundays through 1940/41.

The publication that really dominated the group was Ultra produced by the Russell brothers, which was much more substantial than the other fanzines.  The first two issues were carbon copied, but then they liberated a stencil duplicator from the Boy Scouts, and after a few experiments got it to work.  This made things a lot easier.  It ran for 2 and a bit years – 30 issues – and each issue ran to 20 or more pages.  Various stuff, some of it worth while. 

Also, at this time there was the first activity out of Sydney.  Warwick Hockley produced a number of issues of Austra-Fantasy in Melbourne.  Don Tuck also commenced activity in Hobart.

When did you get involved in the Australian book collectors society?
1947.  After the war the currency control was still on, so we resorted to various fiddles for getting science fiction.  There were basically two possibilities.  We got hold of a fan in the US who is interested in something Australian and did a swap.  The other way was to go through England, which was the same situation but a lot looser and was able to get stuff in. 

Sometimes, the authorities loosened up and you could get American books through Angus and Robertson, then things would tighten up again.  Through A&R I came into contact with other collectors who were doing the same thing. 

Walter Stone (no relation) started the Book Collectors Society and was the leading figure for many years.  He got interested in Arkham House books.  He brought in a number of those.  Another who was particularly interested in fantasy was Stan Larnach.  They used to have a regular gathering on Friday night in a coffee shop.  You could go in, have a coffee, and sit there chatting until 11 o’clock, and the Book Collectors had a regular table.  Not to be outdone, the Futurian Society started a regular Thursday night gathering of the society which continued in various locations for some years.

We got exposed to serious book collecting through the Book Collectors Society – we found out what it was all about.

What book collectors do you recall?
Well, I’ve mentioned Stan Larnach, who was an early member of the Book Collectors Society.  He was in the Anatomy Department at the University of Sydney for many years, and was an expert in Aboriginal craniology.  He was a voracious reader and book collector, and was especially interested in Gothic and Penny Blood literature.

Ron Graham was a well-off business man who accumulated a world-class science fiction collection, which was eventually donated to the University of Sydney library.  His collection of pulps was one of the best in the world and included complete runs of science fiction magazines.

Leon Stone (again, no relation) was a great amateur journalist and a historian of that movement.  He accumulated a large library of books, including a lot of Penny Bloods and boys’ weeklies.  The tragedy was he lost the lot in a fire that burnt down his house in 1961.

David Cohen was born in London and came to Australia in the late 1930s.  I met him when he was heavily involved in science fiction fandom in the 1950s, but I lost contact with him after that.  After he died I was called in to assess the collection he had left behind.  Damp had destroyed a lot of stuff, but there were still some important items, including the first issue of Amazing that I have.  There were also runs of Weird Tales and Unknown, but if he had specialty press books like Gnome Press or Arkham House, they had already been sold off. 

Monday, November 18, 2013



“a funhouse looking-glass”
Brian J Showers on Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum

“an Edwardian Byron”
Mark Andresen on poet and anarchist John Barlas

“footprints leading away from the house”
Tim Foley on Elizabeth Gaskell’s “The Old Nurse’s Story”

“emotional and sexual vampirism”
Tara Isabella Burton on D’Aurevilly’s Les Diaboliques

‘it isn’t only the dead who can live again’
Murray Ewing on The Violet Apple by David Lindsay

“a lone figure swaddled in black”
Dan Corrick on Paul Leppin and macabre Prague

“the sound of candles being dashed to the ground”
Mike Barrett on William Croft Dickinson’s ghost stories

With Reggie Oliver on a biography of C S Lewis and stories by Quentin S Crisp; Doug Anderson on Lesley Keen Segal, S. Carleton, Logi Southby and Henry S. Whitehead’s camping stories; and John Howard on the Forster-Cavafy Letters, John Langan’s stories, the last novel by MacDonald Harris and more.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Litanies for the first quarter of the moon - Jules Laforgue

“Beautiful cat’s eye
Of our destiny…”

Fourteen incantatory couplets evoking the luminous mysteries of the young moon, like the chant of a lost lunar ceremony. The author, Jules Laforgue (1860 -1887) was a Uruguayan-born Parisian dandy, one of the pioneers of French symbolism, and an important influence on Modernist poetry. He died of consumption aged 27, followed shortly after by his young English wife Leah, of the same cause.

Mark Valentine here provides a new version of the poem in English, published for the first time, responding to the original’s exquisite and elusive French, also included. He admits to taking a few liberties in the quest to get the right effect in the other tongue. Each copy of this delicate lunar grimoire is handmade. Jo Valentine has designed a pocket-sized hardback book, bound with a Coptic stitch. The cover depicts a crescent moon stencilled in silver, framed in a Moorish arch, while the inside pages are of hand-painted watercolour paper with printed blue parchment overlays.

This is the fourth publication from the Valentine & Valentine imprint, and is in a limited, numbered edition of 25 copies only. Update - all copies have now been taken. We hope to announce further handmade books in 2014.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Reprint of Frank Walford's Twisted Clay

I'm pleased to announce that the esteemed Johnny Mains is reprinting Frank Walford's neglected horror classic, Twisted Clay, first published in 1933, under his Noose & Gibbet imprint, complete with lovely restoration cover.

The book is reprinted with the permission of Walford's family who have provided access to his personal archive.  New South Wales writer and historian, Jim Smith, provides a full biographical introduction, I provide an account of the book's reception and later banning in Australia, and Johnny provides some critical insights into the novel.  Publication date is the second week of January 2014, and you had better get in quick because it will be issued in a strictly limited edition!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Who Is This Artist?

That is a real question.  Here is a selection of some art (second generation photocopies, courtesy of Ned Brooks), that was offered for sale nearly thirty years ago as by Donald Corley. Yet the art itself does not resemble any of Corley's that I have seen (in his books, in inscriptions, and in a portfolio issued in 1921), nor does the handwriting look like Corley's. (This art has a finer line, and a different kind of humor than Corley's art has.) Yet it does seem to date from the 1920s.  Does anyone recognize the art or artist?  (Click to enlarge.)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lord Dunsany's clay caricatures

Three photos from The Sketch, 7 December 1932, page 461 (all courtesy of Ned Brooks). Click on each one for enlargement: 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

'OR OPALINE ALGOL' - A Lost Edwardian Poet

The offices of provincial printers, booksellers and stationers (they were often in one place) sometimes saw their everyday fare of tradesmen’s handbills, notices, business cards and brochures enlivened by more exotic literature. It was a printer in Chelmsford, Essex, who first saw the languorous verses of Evelyn Douglas, later to earn repute as the anarchist firebrand and dandy John Barlas. A works in Rugby, Warwickshire, produced the rural verses of the Nineties minor poet Norman Gale, a nightingale of the shires. A Hereford stationer undertook the publication of Arthur Machen’s Eleusinia, his now fabulously rare poem of the ancient Mysteries, the first work by the later master of supernatural horror and supernal wonder. Some printer unknown, but possibly in Yorkshire, did a job for ‘N.B.’, entitled A Book of Deadly Sonnets, the work of the Edwardian fantasy and nonsense poet Norman Boothroyd. These examples suggest to the seeker after the recondite in literature that there may yet be other volumes of rare and precious lyrics awaiting discovery. In some archive, in some filing cabinet, in boxes in some musty stock room, what may still be found?

These reflections are prompted by just such an unknown book, Verses and Translations, in tawny paper wrappers, printed by Hills and Co of 19 Fawcett Street, Sunderland, in 1910. The book is anonymous, and there is no introductory matter, nor are there any notes to give any clue as to who wrote it. The only very slight hint is that my copy, on the last page, has the initials 'H M' in light pencil, but they could be those of a previous owner or bookseller, and have no link with the author. There does not appear to be a copy in the British Library. Some of the original work is very well done, rather in the manner of Swinburne or Rossetti. There are translations of French decadent and symbolist poets such as Paul Verlaine, Henri de Regnier and Jules Laforgue, and versions also from the Greek Anthology. Whoever wrote the verses had a certain taste in exquisite phrasing and strange incantation.

Probably the book was printed at the author's expense and undertaken by Hills & Co as a piece of jobbing printing, rather than in the role of publisher. The newsletter of the Sunderland Antiquarian Society has carried an article on Hills & Co, who were evidently a much-respected local firm of long standing, principally a bookshop and stationers. They opened in the High Street in Sunderland in 1852, moved to 6 Fawcett Street in the Eighteen Nineties, and to 19 Fawcett Street a few years later, and, after other moves, only closed as recently as 2008.

There are other books to their name as printer around the same period as Verses and Translations. In 1910 they also produced (with Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co) Bungalow Ballads – Echoes from the East by G.P.P. Randell, a collection of Kiplingesque verses composed in North India: these are probably not by our anonymous poet, unless he was very versatile. A year after, they did print another anonymous book, Three Plays – Dr Sylvester’s Supper; The Last Day of Daphne; Cythera: and another anonymous title was The Story of a Little Pool (1915).

They also printed local guides and histories and folk-lore, lives and memoirs of local worthies, a book of sermons, and the rather splendidly entitled Catalogue of 9842 Stars, or All Stars Very Conspicuous to the Naked Eye, For the Epoch of 1900, With preface explanatory of the construction of the Catalogue, and its application to the use of 14 large star maps on the gnomic projection, designed for meteoric observations by T.W. Backhouse, complete with the fourteen large star charts. The poet of Verses and Translations invokes several stars by name, and ponders whether they are responsible for his fate. It is therefore tempting to wonder if there might be a connexion here, particularly as one piece speaks of the marvels seen through a telescope (“The moon, that great white vampire of the skies.”) But usually astronomy and astrology do not mingle, and Backhouse, it seems was also a keen weather-watcher who kept records for over sixty years. This doesn’t sound very like our aesthetical poet.

There are perhaps a few clues in passing references in the poems. One, a fine tale of faery trickery, has the narrator take a route past what is evidently Durham Cathedral, and beyond Hadrian’s Wall. Another poem speaks of a “Firth”, a Northern name for a river estuary. Several poems speak of scenes by the sea. But these tell us only what we could already guess, that the poet was probably local to the coastal North East. A single poem refers to a room in London: another is inspired by an epitaph in Derbyshire; they do not take us too much further. There is an opening dedicatory poem, not listed in the contents, ‘The Lamp (Salve Amica Lux),’ which laments a “well-lov’d light” that has been quenched: but the name of the mourned, who had “a beauty strange and fine” is not given. Notable, however, is the poet’s pagan invocation: “O God, O Pan, O flame-bestower,/Somewhere, somehow, the lamp, anew/With its essential flame endower…”, suggesting the ardour of his love and longing for the lost friend.

I am afraid we may never know who wrote all these rather swooning Swinburnean lines in the brittle beige paper wrappers. That seems a loss, but it must be a fate the poet foresaw when they refrained from putting their name or even a pseudonym to the pamphlet. There is a pessimism about human vanities in most of the verses, and several times the poet, perhaps in their own person and not as a posed character, speaks of a doom upon their destiny. They must, however, have hoped the verses themselves would find appreciative readers – else why issue them? – and so, in recognition of that fragile trust placed in us in that last Edwardian year, over a century ago, here is one of them, the last original verse of the volume, on the riddle of their sidereally blighted fate:


Star-stricken, constellation-cross’d,
I call to the clear unanswering sky –
‘Where lurks my foe, inimical stars ?
‘Silver Procyon, ruby Mars ?
‘A gem of the glittering galaxy ?’

Was it Aldeboran’s rusted gold
Mis-ruled my wayward destiny ?
Whose was the influence malign ?
Emerald Altair, was’t thine ?
Thine leaden Saturn, heavy and cold ?
Or opaline Algol’s evil eye ?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


In my short story "The 1909 Proserpine Prize" I imagined an Edwardian literary award, founded by an inventor of luminous umbrellas, "to reward the author of the book that most skilfully went into the dark and emerged with something of the light . . . ." The story is available for free reading in the Swan River Press Reader.

In an interview for Swan River Press, John Howard asked me who I thought should receive the Proserpine Prize today. This gave me the splendid opportunity both to mention some favourite authors and to think of some imaginary books by them, books that don't yet exist, but should. So if you ever hear of Mary Ann Allen's A Crown for the Unicorn or John Gale's Saraband of Sable, or one of four other fanciful titles, you'll know that the real world has caught up with the dream world at last.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Paperback Fanatic is a surprisingly long-lived labour-of-love of collector/cognoscente, Justin Marriott.  The magazine specialises in the 'mushroom jungle' of the British paperback industry in the '60s and '70s, though it does range further afield into American, German and Australian pulp paperbacks, with a particular focus on horror, fantasy, science fiction and crime.  It's a beautifully produced publication - full-colour, perfect-bound, the latest issue weighing in at a hefty 132 pages - with a nice mix of articles, interviews, cover galleries and letters by writers, editors, collectors and fans.  For those who discovered The Hill of Dreams through the 1960s Corgi reprint, or Hugh Lamb's anthologies in the Coronet editions, or Clark Ashton Smith in the extraordinary Panther reprints of the 1970s, Paperback Fanatic is a constant source of interest and delight.  Given its small press origins it's not mass produced or available in the usual places - subscription info is available here.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Evangeline Walton's SHE WALKS IN DARKNESS now in print

Another quick note to call attention to the fact that Tachyon Publications has just published for the first time Evangeline Walton's novel She Walks in Darkness, a kind of Gothic thriller written in the 1960s.  Tachyon has done a splendid job packaging it, with an excellent cover by Thomas Canty, an introduction by Paul di Filippo, and blurbs by Tim Powers and Patricia McKillip.  There is also a short afterword by me about the background of the manuscript. She Walks in Darkness is published as a trade paperback at $14.95, and can be ordered via Amazon US by clicking here for the paperback and here for the Kindle ($7.99), and via Amazon UK by clicking here for the paperback (£12.50). 

(Click on the covers to see larger versions.)


A quick post here to recommend a new book from Alchemy Press, which collects (often in expanded and revised forms) a bunch of essays Mike Barrett has published in the last decade on older writers of weird fiction. Three originally appeared in Wormwood, and others appeared in Dark Horizons, Fantasy Commentator,  and The New York Review of Science Fiction.  Introduction by Ramsey Campbell.  The full contents are listed below, but Doors to Elsewhere can be order from Amazon by clicking here for the UK (£10.99) and here for the US ($17.00).


Introduction by Ramsey Campbell
Arkham House: Sundry Observations
Weaver of Weird Tales: Greye La Spina
Narratives Out of Nightmare: Edward Lucas White
From Simorgya to Stardock: Fritz Leiber
Otherworldly Presences: Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Screaming Skulls and Dead Smiles: F. Marion Crawford
Dark and Sinister Shades: Marjorie Bowen
Mostly in Shadow: Mary Elizabeth Counselman
Opportune Recitals at Convenient Intervals: Ernest Bramah
West Indian Frights: Henry S. Whitehead
The Passion, the Magic, and the Outrageous: Theodore Sturgeon
A Forgotten Disciple: C. Hall Thompson
Another Forgotten Disciple: Clifford Ball
Tales in a Major Key: C.L. Moore
Shapes and Sounds: M.P. Shiel
Things of Darkness: G.G. Pendarves
The Final Resting Place: Lord Dunsany