It must have been wonderful to have been alive in the heyday of the pulp magazine, "Weird Tales". Can you imagine going to the newsagents once a month to buy a magazine which contained all-new stories by H P Lovecraft, Robert E Howard, Seabury Quinn and Frank Belknap Long? In his very useful Afterword to this latest (No 26) Fantasy Masterworks volume, Stephen Jones tells us that the "big three" authors to appear in Weird Tales were Lovecraft (understandably), Howard (of course), and Clark Ashton Smith (who?). Apart from a couple of slim paperback collections issued in the mid-seventies, Smith's work has been lamentably out of print in this country, and his homeland across the pond has given his books little better treatment.
So listen carefully as I tell you this. Smith's work is literally fantastic. If you have any interest in, or love for, the kind of fantasy that the above-mentioned authors used to write, then you must read this collection of 46 Ashton Smith stories. Even if you feel that you've read enough Lovecraft rip-offs to last you several lifetimes you still need to read this. What makes him worth reading?. Well, he was originally a poet. Now keep reading because I know some of you will have stopped at the mention of the 'p' word. But the descriptive passages in Smith's work are superb examples of decadent, twisted prose. His vampire's castles, fog-wreathed swamps, other-worldly dimensions and tales of the 'Book of Eibon' come alive on the page in ways that many of his contemporaries could never have hoped to aspire to. The writer I can most liken him to is Lord Dunsany (Masterworks 2 & 15). But whereas Dunsany had a predilection for pixies and elves, and heavenly kingdoms, Smith brings you all manner of decaying corpses and hideous other worlds. Like the Dunsany volumes you need to read Smith's work slowly. There are innumerable words that you will probably have not come across before, so have a big dictionary to hand. But don't let this scare you off - this is seriously fabulous, wonderful stuff and the more people who get to know about Clark Ashton Smith the better. A final note - followers of fantasy publishing may be aware that Chaosium Publishing are about to release a collection entitled "Book of Eibon". From the title, you might expect this to also be a Smith collection but in fact it only includes a few of his stories. If you've been debating which to purchase, definitely buy British.