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ranking CAS's stories for relative "strength"
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 26 August, 2020 01:05PM
By "strength" I mean to convey the satisfaction that you felt as a reader--a consumer of escapist literature--when you completed the story, in relative ordering among CAS's other published stories?

This isn't really looking to see technical competence or superiority, but simply "was it pleasing?", and why.

For the first story under this kind of consideration, I'd like to put forth "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis". This is a Martian tale, with contemporary "explorer/scholar" characters (like in HPL's Mountains of Madness) and this is a template that CAS uses, some, and I don't particularly like it.

But I like *this* story quite a lot!

Maybe because it dodges the silly and trite comicbook hero interplay in some of his other stories of adventurer/explores, with the cliched dialog conventions of the era. He does this by using HPL's device of an "expert" narrator, and he conveys a heightened sense of informed judgement, leading to higher reader credibility.

To, the labyrinthine setting, the antiquity, and the bizarre fate of the previous Martian inhabitants, soon to be shared by the narrator, himself, add a lot of "spice" to this story.

I think it's significantly better than Vulthoom--which is itself a solid story.

Your thoughts? Other CAS story rankings that you are interested in?

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: ranking CAS's stories for relative "strength"
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 26 August, 2020 06:59PM
I think I would rate "Vaults ..." and "Vulthoom" about the same. But maybe that's because I read so many of CAS's stories that doom-and-gloom endings began to wear on me, and I appreciated a little variety. Not that "Vulthoom" was all sweetness and light or anything.

One thing that "Vaults ..." has over many other of CAS's doom-and-gloom tales, is it addressed the question of how the tale has been relayed to others. When no-one is left to tell the tale at the end, it can hurt suspension of disbelief a bit.

Two interesting stories to compare, among those tales that deal with Mars, are "The Planet Entity" and "Vulthoom". "The Planet Entity" is very curious tale. It is memorable, and not, I think, in a good way. I suppose if I were to suggest that there was anything immoral about it, I would be accused of talking it too seriously. So perhaps that's the wrong word.

But the parallels between "The Planet Entity" and "Vulthoom" are quite striking; and they are also striking in their contrasts. Let's just say I prefer "Vulthoom".

Re: ranking CAS's stories for relative "strength"
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 27 August, 2020 07:51AM
I'd really rate CAS for his prose style rather than his plotting. 'The Maze of Maal Dweb' would be one of my favourites, but then it's the first story I ever read by him. You could argue that maybe 'The Empire of the Necromancers' is a more satisfying read, as there's an arc of sorts. But then my preference is for a certain type of CAS story; one involving socerery etc, and his output was pretty varied.

Still, Platypus makes a very valid point about CAS and doom-and-gloom endings. I think Howard, HPL and CAS were all defined by the format in which their stories were published (you could say the same about hardboiled fiction) - that is, pulp magazines. Each author quickly became known for a certain tropes, tropes which defined them, the important thing being how they told their respective stories. A lot of modern comics operate in the same way; a key selling point is the artwork, with the storylines being secondary.

This becomes problematic when the stories are published collectively because they can seem repetitious. You ALWAYS knew things weren't going to end well for a CAS protagonist.

Re: ranking CAS's stories for relative "strength"
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 27 August, 2020 09:41AM
BTW, "The Planet Entity", which I mentioned, appears on this site as "Seedling of Mars". I had forgotten there were two titles.

Re: ranking CAS's stories for relative "strength"
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 27 August, 2020 05:14PM
Cathbad, did you read that “Maze” in The Young Magicians, Lin Carter’s 1969 anthology, when it first was published (like me)? Just curious.

Re: ranking CAS's stories for relative "strength"
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 27 August, 2020 06:17PM
I've got that volume, I think.

That was one of the first of the Ballentine Adult Fantasy series, right?

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: ranking CAS's stories for relative "strength"
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 28 August, 2020 06:00AM
Yeah, I did! It was a seminal book for me, as I was unfamiliar with most of the authors. There were some great books in that series as a whole, many of which would have been largely forgotten were it not for Lin Carter (e.g. Evangeline Walton's version of the Mabinogian) - say what you like about Carter's literary abilities, he was a great editor.

Re: ranking CAS's stories for relative "strength"
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 28 August, 2020 11:30PM
The Young Magicians started me off on quite a bit of enjoyable exploration. I recently reread most of it — everything except Carter’s own piece and the Cabell — I just can’t read him. Perhaps my favorite selection, 50 years after a first reading, was the Morris, “Rapunzel.” I like Morris more now than when I was a kid.

Re: ranking CAS's stories for relative "strength"
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 29 August, 2020 04:16AM
It's funny you should mention Cabell, as I was considering including him as one of the authors Carter re-discovered. I read a couple of his books after The Young Magicians - e.g. Figures of Clay - and remember the overall mood (ironic, bittersweet etc, etc) but absolutely nothing about the story lines, apart from how women are generally bad news! I don't know if I'll ever read him again, whereas I might give Morris a second chance, particularly on the basis of your assessment. After all I read McDonald's Phantastes and enjoyed it, so maybe he's one of those authors you grow into?

I remember Carter's story as being pretty bad, which was startling as he introduces most of the stories and by the time you come to his contribution, you've learnt to trust his judgement. Suddenly you're not so sure. Two other stories that really stick in my mind from that collection are The Dragon Glass by Abraham Merritt and Howard's Valley of the Worm.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 29 Aug 20 | 04:17AM by Cathbad.

Re: ranking CAS's stories for relative "strength"
Posted by: Kipling (IP Logged)
Date: 1 September, 2020 02:44PM
Your preferences seem entirely subjective, yet you use the word "rate," implying a degree of objective literary criticism. To "rate" Smith's "Vulthoom" above "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis," or to "rate" both Lovecraft's "The Strange High House in the Mist" and "Cool Air" as "lower"
(your word) than "From Beyond"...well, those are not reasonable critical statements, so one may quibble with the words chosen to express them. There is an excellent analysis by Cecilia Drewer,"The Symbolism of Style in 'The Strange High House in the Mist'" (LS 31).
And "Cool Air" could be compared (favorably) to "From "Beyond" as both deal with the mad ambition of their central figures.

jkh

Re: ranking CAS's stories for relative "strength"
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 1 September, 2020 03:26PM
Kipling Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Your preferences seem entirely subjective, yet you
> use the word "rate," implying a degree of
> objective literary criticism. To "rate" Smith's
> "Vulthoom" above "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis," or to
> "rate" both Lovecraft's "The Strange High House in
> the Mist" and "Cool Air" as "lower"
> (your word) than "From Beyond"...well, those are
> not reasonable critical statements, so one may
> quibble with the words chosen to express them.
> There is an excellent analysis by Cecilia
> Drewer,"The Symbolism of Style in 'The Strange
> High House in the Mist'" (LS 31).
> And "Cool Air" could be compared (favorably) to
> "From "Beyond" as both deal with the mad ambition
> of their central figures.

I think that the lead-off posting makes it fairly clear what we're trying to do:

Quote:
Sawfish
By "strength" I mean to convey the satisfaction that you felt as a reader--a consumer of escapist literature--when you completed the story, in relative ordering among CAS's other published stories?
This isn't really looking to see technical competence or superiority, but simply "was it pleasing?", and why.

Did the discussion evolve away from that enough so much that the "ratings" were taken to be an attempt at an objective justification of value?

To me, no, but then again, that's just me...

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: ranking CAS's stories for relative "strength"
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 1 September, 2020 05:27PM
Kipling Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Your preferences seem entirely subjective, yet you
> use the word "rate," implying a degree of
> objective literary criticism. To "rate" Smith's
> "Vulthoom" above "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis," or to
> "rate" both Lovecraft's "The Strange High House in
> the Mist" and "Cool Air" as "lower"
> (your word) than "From Beyond"...well, those are
> not reasonable critical statements, so one may
> quibble with the words chosen to express them.

I have no idea what you are going on about. When I hear about guys rating girls on a scale of one to ten for beauty, I assume they are expressing their personal opinions about an issue infamous for being "in the eye of the beholder", and not relying on a scientific and objectively-verifiable pulchritudometer. There is nothing about my statement that "I would rate" this story higher than that story, that implies any particularly objective criteria. I am expressing a personal opinion, that is all.

Quibble with my choice of words if you like. But what is the quibble based on? Not on any dictionary definition, surely?



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 1 Sep 20 | 05:30PM by Platypus.

Re: ranking CAS's stories for relative "strength"
Posted by: Kipling (IP Logged)
Date: 2 September, 2020 11:46AM
Okay. How stories end is germane to the topic. I've always felt that Smith hits the right end notes consistently, apart from editor's or perceived audience expectations affecting the writing. A personal favorite is the revised ending of "The Satyr", depicting the physical abduction of the woman and the dumbfounded reaction of the cuckolded husband and his rival. Stronger, I think, than the homicidal ending Connors and Hilger favored. Most personally satisfying, if vaguely less impressive overall, is "The Death of Illalotha." For sheer unearthly horror, the last seven paragraphs make the cold grue of purely physical fear and horror pale in comparison. It has as much cinematic potential as anything in the Smith oevre, IMO. "The Disinterment of Venus" has a rhetorical flourish at the end, sure to amuse even the most jaded reader, but I tend to prefer the more imaginative and poetic conclusions, like "The Planet of the Dead." Lovecraft's worst ending has got to be in "He". He wrote it on a park bench, and mimics Ambrose Bierce's ending to "The Night-Doings at Deadman's". The effect is unintentionally comical & makes no sense.

jkh

Re: ranking CAS's stories for relative "strength"
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 2 September, 2020 01:18PM
Good recommendation!

I had never read The Satyr, and I had two immediate impressions.

The narrative voice is detached, but also conveying a sense of being more worldly and jaded, than one would find in the narrative voice of the main thematic collections, like Hyperborea or Zothique. It is almost as if we're reading a translation of The Decameron.

The second observation is that this is not a story that HPL would ever have written. This seems outside of his range of personal experiences or perhaps his willingness to address human sexual emotion.

To me, the ending felt almost "odd", abrupt. Anti-climatical. A lot is unresolved, but not necessarily hinted at and/or left for the imagination--which is usually a positive.

It *feels* unfinished, in a way.

But all this is for subjective enjoyment, anyway, and I got to read a CAS work that I has not yet read.

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: ranking CAS's stories for relative "strength"
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 2 September, 2020 10:24PM
Btw the Tolkien scholar John Rateliff has read elsewhere in fantastic fiction, and I recall his thinking “Strange High House” Lovecraft’s best short story.



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