Gossip Man Was Not Meant to Know: Fritz Leiber’s “To Arkham and the Stars”

Welcome back to Reading the Weird, in which we get girl cooties all over weird fiction, cosmic horror, and Lovecraftiana—from its historical roots through its most recent branches.

This week, we cover Fritz Leiber’s “To Arkham and the Stars,” first published in 1966 in Arkham House’s The Dark Brotherhood. Spoilers ahead.

[“…after you’ve spent an adult lifetime at Miskatonic, you discover you’ve developed a rather different understanding from the herd’s of the distinction between the imaginary and the real.”]

Series: Reading the Weird

A Jittery, Near-future Thriller: Femlandia by Christina Dalcher

Near future America is easily a frightening place in any imagination, and in Christina Dalcher’s third novel Femlandia, America in 2022 is a completely broken, lawless society. After a massive economic breakdown, things rapidly fall apart, supply chains run dry, violence is the only thing that works, there is little food to be found, and everyone is left scavenging as best they can, both for food and safety. 40-something Miranda and her 16 year old daughter Emma have been trying to eke out a survival in their home, but Miranda knows that they won’t be able to stay there much longer. There aren’t many options for them, other than to go to the one place Miranda had sworn off from years ago—Femlandia, the women only commune her mother Win had established before the world broke, a community that is ‘Women Oriented. Self sufficient. Cooperative. Safe. Accepting. Natural. Free’.

Or is it.

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You Should Really Be Reading Victoria Goddard’s Nine Worlds Series

Most of the time, books come into your life in the usual ways—a friend recommends one to you, or you browse through the shelves at your local bookstore deliberately looking for something that will catch your eye, or you see a new release advertised somewhere and decide to give it a shot.

But every once in a while, that small moment of serendipity slams into you like a lightning strike and a clap of thunder—you overhear a title, or you catch a glimpse of a cover, and you are gripped instantly with the knowledge that this is going to be one of those books, one of the ones that change you, that leave you better than you were before you read it: A better writer, or a better reader, or a better person, or… just nebulously, undefinably better—more healed, more loved, more whole.

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The Desolation of Smaug Soars to New Highs and Plummets to New Lows

A long, long time ago, in a quiet little room somewhere in the medieval quadrangle of an Oxford college, a professor named J.R.R. Tolkien found a blank page in a pile of examination papers and idly scribbled the words, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Tolkien likely did not know that the sentence he wrote would become one of the most famous opening lines in English literature, and one of the most influential. This story began very modestly and quietly, after all, but it has continued with us ever since, for nearly a century now, reshaping children’s and fantasy literature, then role-playing games, movies, and global pop culture. The Hobbit wasn’t the first Middle-earth story Tolkien wrote, but it was the first one published, and the one that made everything else possible.

Rereading The Hobbit, it’s easy to see why it was such a success. It’s told with a wry voice, great charm and wit, and is wonderfully imaginative. Bilbo Baggins is one of children’s literature’s great heroes, despite being a fussy, wealthy, middle-aged man. What he lacks in childlike years he makes up for in childlike size, and the book aptly portrays the childlike wonder and fear of finding oneself thrust out into a bigger world, whether one likes it or not.

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Malacandra as Utopia: Plato’s Republic as Reflected in C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet

We’ve spent some time already talking about Out of the Silent Planet as a critique of colonialism in the science fiction of Lewis’ time, and part of that critique is showing the “savages” on Mars to be part of a utopian society that’s not in any need of improvement that human beings can bring. “Utopia” is fun wordplay in Greek, meaning “no place” (as in, it doesn’t exist), as well as being a near homophone for “Good Place” (not referring to the sitcom). Thomas More coined the word in 1516, in his book of the same name, about an island culture where everyone gets along more or less. It’s unclear if he was serious or being satirical or maybe both.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Five SFF Books About Road Trips

To my mind, a road trip is not an exodus or a flight from danger. It can start with one of those things but only transcends to “road trip” status when the danger is over, and the participants are looking for the next thing. Road trips are exploratory and often recreational, more ‘let’s see what’s around the next bend’ and less ‘if we don’t keep moving, we’ll have to eat grandpa.’

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Series: Five Books About…

Small Monsters

All its life, a small monster with emerald scales has been a source of never-ending food to larger and more powerful creatures who feast on the small monster’s limbs each time one regrows. This is the story of how the small monster meets an industrious artist and reforms into someone new—someone who can’t be eaten.

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Read an Excerpt From the First English Translation of the Classic Japanese Novel How Do You Live?

First published in 1937, Genzaburō Yoshino’s How Do You Live? has long been acknowledged in Japan as a crossover classic for young readers. Academy Award–winning animator Hayao Miyazaki has called it his favorite childhood book and announced plans to emerge from retirement to make it the basis of a final film.

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from the novel’s first English edition, translated by Bruno Navasky—available October 26th from Algonquin Books.

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Claudia Black’s Sci-Fi Advice to a Young James McAvoy Proves Timeless

Once upon a time, Aeryn Sun gave Mr. Tumnus some advice.

To be accurate, Mr. Tumnus wasn’t Mr. Tumnus yet. He was just James McAvoy, a young actor in Syfy’s Dune miniseries. But Aeryn Sun was, as she always is, actress Claudia Black. As one of the stars of Farscape, she was invited to Syfy’s premieres. And at one of those, she spoke to James McAvoy—who never forgot what she said.

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Beware the Evil Eye in Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood

Within These Wicked Walls, Lauren Blackwood’s debut YA fantasy novel, is marketed as an Ethiopian-inspired imagining of Jane Eyre. The description fits, but I’d argue that it doesn’t do the book justice—there are elements of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, yes, but Within These Wicked Walls is its own story, one that has magic and heartache as well as romance.

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Halloween Kills Is a Cautionary Tale Against True Crime and Vigilante Justice

It’s all the podcasters’ fault. At least, that seems to be the narrative progressing from David Gordon Green’s 2018 Halloween reboot to its covid-delayed sequel, Halloween Kills—that there’s a straight line from Jefferson Hall’s true crime podcaster shaking the Michael Myers mask in the man’s face, roaring for a reaction to the first generation of Michael’s surviving victims taking up baseball bats, screaming “EVIL DIES TONIGHT!” and seeking to… unmask Michael Myers? What seems intended as a redemptive sequel about a town exorcising its Bogeyman instead turns into The Purge: Haddonfield and sacrifices one of its best new characters in a perfect demonstration of the problem with middle-movie syndrome.

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Droning and Dread: How Hereditary Gets Under Your Skin

Welcome to Close Reads! In this series, Leah Schnelbach and guest authors will dig into the tiny, weird moments of pop culture—from books to theme songs to viral internet hits—that have burrowed into our minds, found rent-stabilized apartments, started community gardens, and refused to be forced out by corporate interests. This time out, writer and Marvel editor Sarah Brunstad slaps headphones on our ears and creeps us all the hell out with Colin Stetson’s soundtrack to Hereditary.

“It’s something we have to either make peace with or not.”

Ari Aster was referring to the fear of death and the unknown, but I haven’t heard a better thesis statement for Aster’s feature film directorial debut, the 2018 horror film Hereditary, whose peace with the devil now resonates with America’s own, very real, demonic possession by the hand of a pandemic demon.

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Series: Close Reads

Tricks, Treats, and Halloween Hijinks: Richie Tanskersley Cusick’s Trick or Treat and R.L. Stine’s Halloween Night duo

Elements of horror are naturally central to all of the books within this tradition, from Fear Street to Point Horror and beyond. But when the ‘90s teen horror trend collides with Halloween, there’s a whole different level of scares to be had with Halloween tricks, the looming fun—and potential danger—of Halloween parties, and costume-fueled subterfuge, confusion, and terror.

Richie Tanskersley Cusick’s Trick or Treat and R.L. Stine’s duo of Halloween Night and Halloween Night II are excellent examples of this ‘90s teen horror Halloween tradition. In each of these books, in addition to just trying to survive, the characters face the challenge of figuring out whether their lives are actually in danger or if the seeming threat is an ultimately harmless Halloween prank that just went a little too far, and just whose face resides behind those Halloween masks.

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Superstition Was a Compass: Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

To celebrate an upcoming wedding between two of their number, a group of friends who grew up together in Malaysia reunite to spend one night in a crumbling Heian-era manor house. Ghostly thrill-seeking used to be their lifeblood, so an ancient mansion built on the bones of an entombed bride-to-be and more than two hundred companion girls holds a certain appeal. After all, what better place could there be to prepare for a marriage and blow an obscene amount of their near-billionaire friend Phillip’s inheritance?

However, the drawing together opens old wounds—jealousies, romantic failures, abandonments, privileges and cruelties—especially for Cat, who’s fresh off a six month long recovery from a serious depressive episode. But histories far nastier than their interpersonal squabbles lurk within the creaking foundations of the manor house… and the ghost of a centuries-dead bride has designs on the guests interrupting her estate’s moldering quiet. She’s bound to be getting a little lonely, buried down in the dirt.

[A review essay, with spoilers.]

Series: Queering SFF

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