A Season in Carcosa Hardcover – 15 Jul 2013
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About the Author
Laird Barron is the author of several books, including?The Croning, Occultation, ?and?The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All. His work has also appeared in many magazines and anthologies. An expatriate Alaskan, Barron currently resides in Upstate New York.
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Top Customer Reviews
Weird, horrifying, darkly sexual in places, it will entertain, disturb and lead you into the dark streets of lost carcosa. Just make sure you're able to find your way out again.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Inferior to the Chaosium collections (themselves often problematic with regards to editing), this comes across as a self-published vanity collection. Too bad.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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