on July 25, 2013
This collection contains perfectly serviceable stories in homage to Chambers' collection of fiction based loosely around 'The King in Yellow'. Some are interesting, others are poor, most simply adequate. However, the editing is PURE amateur-hour - the introduction is poorly written and is a waste, and spelling and grammatical errors abound through the volume. COMPLETELY unacceptable in this day and age!
Inferior to the Chaosium collections (themselves often problematic with regards to editing), this comes across as a self-published vanity collection. Too bad.
on October 12, 2012
In the 1938 Memorial Edition of Robert W. Chambers' The King in Yellow, Rupert Hughes suggests that if we remove Chambers from the literary landscape, "a great and brilliant life would be left without presentation; a swarm of men and women as typical of our time as any other groups, and living our life to the full, would be entirely omitted from the literary parade." Hughes assures us that the work of Robert Chambers will survive, "unless posterity shall be too deeply involved in its own problems to care for ours."
The King in Yellow was published in 1895. As Hughes suggests, "the central idea is magnificent." The first four stories in the collection reference The King in Yellow, a forbidden play which inspires madness in those who read it. This same leit-motif appears in A Season in Carcosa, a collection of tales inspired by Chambers and lovingly assembled by one of his greatest champions, Joseph S. Pulver Sr. In the introduction to A Season in Carcosa, Pulver suggests that, with The King in Yellow Chambers created a mythology of sorts, "some even term it a mythos, linked by a king in pallid, tattered robes, the madness-inducing `The King in Yellow' play, and the Yellow Sign."
The authors involved in Pulver's collection have collectively embraced, built upon, and perhaps defined the Chambers mythology. In "My Voice is Dead", author Joel Lane capably brings Carcosa into the 21st century without sacrificing the haunted beauty of the 19th. The fact that Lane is able to do this is a compliment to his skills as a writer, and to the timelessness of Chambers' original ideal. With "Beyond the Banks of the River Seine", Simon Strantzas offers a more traditional `Chambers-esque' tale. With his usual brilliance, Strantzas captures the madness evoked by `The King in Yellow' and the very real and all-too-human poison known as envy. He captures the subtle vagueness of Chambers perfectly, making "Beyond the Banks of the River Seine" one of the (many) true gems of this collection. Where Strantzas and Lane build upon the Chambers style, Daniel Mills brilliantly embodies the mythos in "MS Found in a Chicago Hotel Room". Mills is an extremely gifted writer. His often breathtaking prose brings to life the Chambers pantheon, from Camilla to the King himself, leaving little doubt that, as Hughes so hoped, Chambers has survived.
Stories occasionally transcend genre. In 1895 The King in Yellow did this very thing. In 2012 Edward Morris has done much the same with his flawless contribution to A Season in Carcosa. "The Theatre and It's Double" is superb. Edward Morris captures the essence of Chambers' original work while employing his own delightfully exquisite style. As with Pulver's contribution, "Not Enough Hope", and "Salvation in Yellow" by Robin Spriggs, Morris toys with form and style. What makes these three authors stand out within this collection and the Chambers mythology as a whole is their willingness to challenge convention. Rupert Hughes praised Chambers for his "sense of form, of progress, suspense, and climax." Indeed, Hughes appeared infatuated by the form and structure Morris, Spriggs, and Pulver rebel against in this collection. While Hughes was correct in thinking that form and structure serve a purpose in literature, that purpose should not stifle creative brilliance, nor can it contain the monstrous talent exhibited here by these three authors.
Allyson Bird's "The Beat Hotel" rounds out the collection. Like Strantzas, her contribution is a subtle tribute to Robert W. Chambers. Like Strantzas, Bird is brilliant. Few authors are as consistently good as Allyson Bird. In anthologies and collections, the first and last stories often leave the longest lasting impression on the book as a whole. Whether by design or not, Joel Lane and Allyson Bird deliver. "My Voice is Dead" and "The Beat Hotel" linger, ensuring that A Season in Carcosa, like The King in Yellow will survive the passage of time.
on October 29, 2012
This is one of the most significant multi-author anthologies of recent years. A wonderful, concentrated batch of intoxicating goodness.
Every anthology includes pieces that don't work for all readers. In this case, the intelligent, provocative bullseyes greatly outnumber the few misses. A few highlights come from the expected places, such as Laird Barron and John Langan, who lately seem never to miss the mark. Both writers use the "King in Yellow" theme as an excuse to veer off the path of their usual focuses and themes.
The greatest anthologies are important because they do more than just parade one famous author after another; they bring to the reader's attention work by less familiar names. I'd never read anything by Gary McMahon before, but his Bukowski-inflected noir, "it sees me when I'm not looking," was a wonderful surprise. Edward Morris comes up with a surreal and disturbing tour de force, "The Theater and its Double."
My two favorites here are Allyson Byrd's "The Beat Hotel," an atmospheric, art-flavored 60s-in-Paris wonder that hit this reader's sweet spot, and Cody Goodfellow's extravaganza of mental illness, drugs, dark ritual and mind control, all with a children's television backdrop, "Golden Class."
Themed short fiction anthologies roll out into the marketplace too quickly for any reader to keep up, but in a given year there are a few standouts worth every genre reader's time. A Season in Carcosa is one of those few that deserve everyone's attention.
on October 27, 2012
This is a hard one to review. Normally, when I review a book I like to think of to whom I would recommend it. But here, I can't think that the average reader would have any interest. Unfortunately, moreover, I can't think that the average horror reader would find much in here, either. However, those with an appreciation of The King in Yellow could find nothing better. So how do I write a review?
This book (I know through my membership in horror-afficianado websites) was a labor of love by the editor, Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. When the de rigeuer anthologists (e.g. Joshi and Datlow) were unavailable, he took it upon himself to complete this labor of love through the relatively-unheard-of Miskatonic Press to create this anthology. It was a labor of love in the making for years.
So does that excuse the egregious typos? From personal pecadilloes like not properly spacing the ellipses to flat-out spelling errors that Word would catch ("unbeibable" in Gemma Files's story). Maybe not all of them. (Although I'd be more than happy to proof his upcoming Ligotti-inspired collection!!)
The real question, however, is what will the reader get from this collection? If you knew nothing of The King in Yellow . . . you'd get 2.5 to 3 stars. The opening story, then "Movie Night at Phil's," then Gemma Files's "Slick Black Bones and Soft Black Stars," and several others are all more than worthy horror tales. If you know the Carcosa-mythos, these are all the richer but none the poorer for an unfamiliarity.
Others, however, will probably be less appealing to the masses. If you didn't know who Karl Edward Wagner was (or even our bEast), you'd probably get far less out of Laird Barron's contribution than you normally would (and I'm Barron-mad). If you weren't accustomed to Mr. Pulver's style, his would ring off, as well as several others. Finally, if you weren't familiar with the idea of the play central to Chambers's mythos, then a lot of the meta- stage/screen-plays probably won't do much for you.
So, as a pure horror collection, I would give it 2.5 stars. As a "King in Yellow"-inspired collection, I would give it 5. (But mainly because if you've been digging into Chambers, you've also come across a number of the authors here, so their homages will ring both nostalgic and toothsome.)
All in all, a tough tooth to pull, I give it 4. I think that anyone interested enough in horror to seek it out will find names and predilections enough to satisfy them and fill their reading list for months and years to come. For those who appreciate the unquiet of weird fiction, they'll find enough to keep them squirming.
For the rest, how did you even get to this review? But as long as you're here, support the non-mainstream and buy this book.
on October 1, 2012
A Season in Carcosa (Miskatonic River Press, 2012), edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. (something of a `new' weird fiction savant and auteur himself), is a themed anthology inspired by Robert W. Chambers' celebrated work, The King in Yellow. After an interesting introduction by Pulver detailing the backstory behind the long road to the completion of this project, the grim festivities are kicked off by Joel Lane with "My Voice is Dead," the very contemporary story of a dying man named Stephen who will do anything to live, including grasping at the last straws of electronic hope via the Internet, leading him to a representation of the mysterious Carcosa and a chilling encounter with the King in Yellow. Lane's story is macabre and spell-binding, beautiful in its darkness and bitter religious undertones. It is also a wise choice by Pulver to lead with this one, since the story provides a broad stroke synopsis of KIY for those unfamiliar with it. Allyson Bird closes the collection by checking us into "The Beat Hotel," a clever and wonderfully resonant tale that introduces the reader to latter-day (late 1960's) French Decadents Juliette, Michel, Henry and Charles--oh, and once again, that Dread Fellow in Yellow.
In between live a brilliant assembly of wickedly diverse offerings riffing on/around/adjacent to The King in Yellow's milieu. Among the stand-outs for me:
-- "it sees me when I'm not looking" by Gary McMahon. A drunken poet flirts dangerously with the Yellow madness in this bleak, noirish tale.
-- "Yellow Bird Strings" by Cate Gardner. Puppeteer and puppet alike are imprisoned at home by hues of Yellow in this atmospheric psychodrama.
-- "Not Enough Hope" by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. The bEast his-own-self weighs in with this alternatingly poetic, bludgeoning, and heartfelt paen to Karl Edward Wagner.
-- "Slick Black Bones and Soft Black Stars" by Gemma Files. My personal favorite, a captivating blend of historical fact, science, and Mythos--a modern-day black fable with a chilling sense of in-the-moment presence and narrative that perfectly complements the extremely effective and nightmarish denouement.
-- "D. T." by Laird Barron. An author, his doppelganger, his dead agent, and his lover make for a desolate industry inside joke in this richly textured story.
-- "Finale, Act Two" by Ann K. Schwader. A beautifully wrought poem that could easily serve as a coda to Chambers' forbidden play.
The cover art is a stunning piece by Daniele Serra, 2012 British Fantasy Award winner for Best Artist. This is a superior collection, with a diverse and outstanding line-up of talent. As with any anthology, some of the stories will work better for individual readers than others, but each one merits inclusion and consideration here. Does it accentuate the reading experience to be familiar with Chambers/The King in Yellow? Probably, and though I would highly recommend reading the source material, it certainly is not a necessity. All readers who enjoy ominous, enigmatic and darkly beautiful literature, highly imaginative journeys into madness, altered realities and the true terror behind the Mask will relish spending A Season in Carcosa.
A 4.5 star out of 5 anthology.
on May 30, 2014
It's unfortunate that no one used spell check or took the time to do a quick edit review for these stories, because they end up distracting and taking away from the content. The stories in here are pretty great (Most of them anyway) but the editing is such garbage that I had a hard time focusing on the actual story. Some stories where so poorly edited I couldn't even understand what the hell was going on.
In short: Good stories, AWFUL editing.
Its 2014, run this through Microsoft Word before printing
on November 12, 2012
Night fell as I ascended the burnished staircase to the Odd Fellows Hall. No longer a meeting place, the hall's upstairs ballrooms were rented for ballet classes and theatrical experiments. In smaller rooms, narrow as cubbyholes, artists, performers, and practitioners of occult sciences resided as quietly as mice.
I searched every room, muttering apologies along the way. In one room a woman located a beating heart wrapped in a scarf inside a mahogany chest of drawers. In another a painter depicted a sunrise so real it was blinding and could only be approached by wearing protective goggles...
Let's face it: Nothing I say is guaranteed to entice you to read this gorgeous anthology. But if you have reached this point in the post without grumbling or grinding your teeth, let us agree that you have unusual taste in fiction and a willingness to enter a writer's world without reservation. This anthology, then, is for you. Layered and varied, with interlocking themes and images that shift and resonate long after you finish reading, A Season in Carcosa is for the adventurous lover of all that is strange lying just beneath the surface of life and art.
The works gathered in this volume are original. The writers are among the most imaginative artists crafting dark fantasy today: Joel Lane, Simon Strantzas, Don Webb, Daniel Mills, Gary McMahon, Ann K. Schwader, Cate Gardner, Edward Morris, Richard Gavin, Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., Kristin Prevallet, Richard A. Lupoff, Anna Tambour, Michael Kelly, Cody Goodfellow, John Langan, Pearce Hansen, Robin Spriggs, and Allyson Bird.
The prompt is The King in Yellow, a collection of weird tales by Robert W. Chambers, first published in 1895. Rife with characters on the verge of collapse, the collection reflected the fin de siecle clash between rationalism and emotionalism, positivism and decadence, while inventing a new literary mythology. A yellow sign, a king in tattered robes and a play with the power to induce madness are the icons of this mythology, and they recur throughout A Season in Carcosa.
The styles range from Bukowski bowery prose to the high-minded self-justification of an early 20th century composer. Yet they share an atmosphere of veiled sickness and ruined dreams. Most of the characters have become lost. Yet they obsessively continue their journey far beyond the loss of the object of devotion.
To decipher all of the permutations and implications of the icons and themes connecting Chambers's stories to this anthology, you will want to read The King in Yellow. To wander in a state of dreamlike wonder from one odd room to another, discovering tantalizing literary beauty at every dark turn, simply open the pages of A Season in Carcosa.
(For the purpose of writing this post I requested and received a digital reading copy of A Season in Carcosa from the publisher.)
on November 27, 2012
Chambers's The King in Yellow is the essence of the evocative and the subtle. If one tries to imitate him, the result is liable to be disastrous, cringe-worthy. One can only be inspired by Chambers to render one's own homage to the Tattered King. Taskmaster Joe Pulver has somehow managed to get a surprising number of writers to do just this. The result is a fascinating and poisonous garden of flaming autumn leaves. How can so many be so good?
on October 16, 2012
Years ago, I read the excellent anthology from Chaosium, The Hastur Cycle, and in doing so read one of my all time favorite short stories "The River of Night's Dreaming" by Karl Edward Wagner. When the Wagner story was mentioned prevalently in the introduction to A Season In Carcosa, I knew I was in for a treat.
And the anthology is a treat. Each story seems to recreate that wonderful dreamy quality that I remember from playing the game years ago. I think that the King In Yellow lends itself to moody pieces, which might be why the poetry selections in the anthology are so effective, where establishing mood and evoking emotion are held over concrete story.
Nitpicking, I could point out a greater number of proofreading errors than I normally find (why it is I'm cursed to have the ability to spot these errors in everyone else's writing, but miss them in my own, I'll never know), but these hardly detracted from the greatness of the storytelling. I thought all of the stories were high quality, but "My Voice Is Dead" by Joel Lane, "it sees me when I'm not looking" by Gary McMahon, "Wishing Well" by Cody Goodfellow, and "D T" by Laird Baron were all superb.
on January 3, 2013
Originally appeared on my blog, The Arkham Digest.
The late 1800's were host to a few pieces of literature that would forever alter the way readers see the color yellow. The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, saw publication in 1892, and focused on a wife who obsesses with yellow wallpaper, driving herself mad. As creepy as this story is, it is mostly known today as an important work of feminist literature. It was three years later, in 1895, when Robert Chambers' collection The King in Yellow would see publication, taking the connection between yellow and madness one step further, into the realm of the supernatural.
The first four stories in Chamber's collection are connected by common plot devices and themes: a play titled The King In Yellow, a mysterious and evil being also referred to as The King In Yellow, a symbol called The Yellow Sign, decadence, decay, and madness. Over the years these stories, along with others by various authors, have become something of their own Mythos, similar to what many people have dubbed the Cthulhu Mythos or Lovecraft Mythos. Despite the similarities and sometimes overlaps between stories from either Mythos, the "Yellow Mythos" is proving more and more that it can stand independently .
One of the authors who championed Chambers for years is Joseph Pulver Sr. He has written several stories and poems dealing with the King in Yellow, along with promoting other writers that do the same. One of the fruits of his labor is the recently published A Season In Carcosa. This small press anthology, published by Miskatonic River Press, contains twenty short stories and one poem, all dealing with the mythology of Chambers' stories.
Anthologies are usually a mixed bag, and a perfect anthology is a rare thing indeed. While this anthology is not perfect, the good manages to far outweigh the bad. Pulver has managed to gather a nice variety of stories, from a very talented group of authors. Madness, decadence, and the King himself are explored in several ways. Some tales are modern and others take place in the past. The one common thread that connects all of them is the link between madness and the color yellow.
Some favorites include:
Beyond the Banks of the River Seine is another example of why Simon Strantzas is a must-read author. It has an antique feel and explores themes such as jealousy and competition between two young music students. While easy to see where the story is going, the arrogant narrator and beautiful language makes for an entertaining read.
It sees me when I'm not looking, by Gary MacMahon, has a noir feel, and follows a poet as he comes into contact with the Yellow Mythos. It's definitely a more subtle tale, and is all the better for it.
Cody Goodfellow's Wishing Well features a paranoid, mentally ill protagonist as he deals with a haunting past as a cast member an a surreal kid's show. The man's foggy memory mixed with the sheer wrongness of the show helps this story to leave a lasting impression. As I read passages about the show's history, I couldn't help but think of One Got Fat, a 1962 bicycle safety video which has the cast of youths wearing macabre monkey masks and never speaking a word.
Richard Gavin's story, The Hymn of the Hyades, stands out because of the main character. Instead of a troubled or artistic adult, we are treated to a story from a child's point of view. It's refreshing to experience the madness of the King through the eyes of a child who can't even come close to understanding what is happening.
Sweetums by John Langan is one giant set piece of madness and terror. Literally. A down on her luck actress takes a role in an auteur's film, and wanders around a large movie set. It is literally a tour through scene after scene of surreal madness. The way she flits from room to room and sees smaller parts of the whole adds a very dreamlike quality to the story. There's enough creepiness here for the story to stick with the reader long after reading.
MS Found Dead In A Hotel Room is one of the best stories of the collection. It is such an interesting spin on the King and has a nice twist on the ending. I will definitely be hunting down more work by Daniel Mills.
Slick Black Bones and Soft Black Stars by Gemma Files is another standout story. Files utilizes a second person narrative, which is rather uncommon. This is not an easy task to pull off, as it often comes off as feeling "gimmicky", yet in this case it only seems to help immerse the reader into an unsettling tale about an eerie island that may or may not be a gateway to another world. This might just be the best story in the anthology.
Laird Barron also has a standout tale, D T, which is a story dealing with an alcoholic author and his doppelganger. Barron has never disappointed, and doesn't start now.
There were a few mediocre to good stories, and only two that I found to be weak. One story in particular makes me wonder if the printed version was an unedited early draft. Movie Night At Phil's is plagued with errors, both spelling and grammatical, to the point that it was a struggle to finish the story. As a lover of film I was looking forward to the story, but it just seems sloppy.This doesn't seem typical of Don Webb, as his story Sanctuary (Cthulhu's Reign 2010) is one of my favorites from that anthology.
Kristin Prevallet's Whose Hearts Are Pure Gold is another story that didn't work for me. The story has an interesting premise, following a sheltered girl who goes out on her own and spirals out of control. It also raises a question as to whether she is just mentally ill, or if the "yellow pin" she found at home is really the cause of what's going on. As much as I loved those questions that were raised, the style in which it is written is extremely bland, blunting it from making much of an impact at all.
Overall, A Season In Carcosa is a strong anthology with a good amount to offer. If you're a Chambers fan, than this anthology is must have. If you're a fan of Lovecraftian horror, or any horror dealing with madness, then odds are that you will greatly enjoy this anthology. For any casual horror readers this book would greatly serve as a modern introduction into the "Yellow Mythos". Highly recommended.