Sunday, January 24, 2021

#StayAtHome: William Hope Hodgson's "The House on the Borderland"


Imagine Lovecraft, but without the racism. That's what William Hope Hodgson puts on offer with his novel, "The House on the Borderland".  Hodgson's book was published in 1908, and his work was in fact an influence on Lovecraft. And that influence is easy to see: a big chunk of the novel is exactly the kind of investigation into the weird that Lovecraft wrote. Another chunk of the novel is visionary travelogue, a cosmic journey into the far, far future.

In this novel, two men go on a fishing trip in the Irish countryside. They decide to follow a river trail for a bit. The river goes underground, and then emerges into a chasm. Near the chasm they find the ruins of an ancient estate. There, they discover a manuscript, and set to reading it. 

The first part of the manuscript relates the narrator's discovery that his home is under siege by Swine-Things. These seem to have emerged from the chasm, although as he sets about the defense of his house, he discovers a mysterious well plug in his cellar that seems to connect to the chasm. The Swine-Things have mesmeric abilities, and much later in the novel, we discover that they have the ability to deal wounds that glow green in the dark, and eventually feed some nasty form of fungal life.

It's worth noting that the Swine-Things (or creatures inspired by them) have made an appearance in other SF ranging from Doctor Who ("The Daleks Take Manhattan") to the Revelation Space setting of Alastair Reynolds, and Hodgson in recent years became an inspiration for old-school gamers as well, such as here and here and here. I know my friends Jim and Jason have read a fair amount of Hodgson, but I suspect many of his other fans have not. There is a lot more to the world than the weird tale as constructed by Lovecraft, and Hodgson offers new directions that gamers can pursue in their storytelling, such as the game, Casting the Runes.

In the second part of the novel, the narrator travels to the far future. The sun shifts to red, and then to black, and then a new, green star enters the picture. This part felt much like an early SF novel might, in which travel in space and time seems to use a conveyance (the house?), or even astral projection. The time travel sequence was much less interesting and suspenseful (and perhaps a bit tedious), but in reading it I wondered if Hodgson had read the astronomy of his time. I suspect so.

There are other books I am reading at the moment, but I'd like to continue reading this volume, and eventually take on The Night Land.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

#StayAtHome: Yoon Ha Lee's "Hexarchate Stories"

True Confession: While gay military erotica aren't exactly my thing, gay space operatic erotica certainly do hit the mark. Yoon Ha Lee's Hexarchate Stories delivers one of these in the short story "Gloves". More of this, please.

But the entire collection is really, really good. I believe this is Yoon Ha's second short story collection. His first one, Conservation of Shadows, is also quite good. Hexarchate Stories has one story which overlaps that first collection, "The Battle of Candle Arc". That story draws upon real history in the form of the Korean Admiral Yi Sun-Shin's incredible victory over a vast Japanese armada in the Battle of Myeongnyang, during the Imjin War. Moral of the story for GMs everywhere: make your space battles  happen on interesting space terrain. Admiral Yi  Sun-Shih used a whirlpool to his advantage to defeat a numerically superior force. Jedao does the same in this story by manipulating both the high calendar, which makes certain weapons more effective than others, and how the high calendar is spatialized in local space. I like this short story and have without a doubt read it more often than any short story by anyone. 

There are a lot of great stories in this collection, and this was my second time reading it, this time for the North Country Gaylaxians' Book Club. While there aren't a lot of authors that I reread (other than Michael Moorcock), Yoon Ha's work really does merit that as there are all sorts of subtleties to the setting and the characters' interactions with each other that come out this way. 

All of the stories in this collection take place in the Hexarchate universe featured in the Machineries of Empire series (which begins with the novel Ninefox Gambit). We get nice insights into the early years of both Jedao and Cheris, and it is nice to meet their families. There are two caper stories within the collection, the pre-Heptarchate "The Chameleon's Gloves" and "Extracurricular Activities", although the long novella with Cheris and Jedao II (Jedao-the-xenomorph) is also a caper story. Readers who have completed the Machineries of Empire series really owe it to themselves to read this collection, and especially the novella at the end, which in a number of ways integrates and completes the trilogy.