Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pure Pulpy Plot Power

Cover of Weird Tales (October 1936).
I don't always have time to read but I want to encounter a wide range of literature. Enter podcasts, and if you're interested in classic pulp fiction, you'll love Protecting Project Pulp, which each week serves up a pulp classic in the sci-fi, adventure, or fantasy genres. It's good stuff and you can forget all about the dishwasher or those potatos you're peeling while you trek through the frozen north or wander the dark side of Venus.

As I burned through the archives, I came across a couple stories that warrant comparison:The Tree of Lifeby C. L. Moore and Raiders of the Spaceways by Henry Kuttner. Both stories were published in Weird Tales: Moore's in October 1936 and Kuttner's in July 1937. What's fascinating about these stories, especially if you listen to them back-to-back, is that they're essentially the same story.

"The Tree of Life" concerns an adventurer on Mars who is lured into an alternate dimension controlled by a "being" named Thag whose physical representation is a tree that consumes other creatures. Thag doesn't hunt it's prey. It calls its victims and draws them to it. When Thag calls, you must answer.

“Raiders of the Spaceways” takes place on Venus and tells the story of a man and woman captured by a space pirate who escape only to confront an even worse foe, an amoeba-like being that remains stationary and calls all living things that can move to it through some sort of telepathic suggestion. Eventually the hapless victims leap into the amoeba which consumes them.

The details and feel of these stories are radically different. "The Tree of Life," for instance, incorporates fantasy elements while “Raiders of the Spaceways” is pure science fiction. But these stories were published in the same magazine less than a year apart. There's something inherently powerful about the plots of these stories, in particular the concept of something nefarious that draws you to it despite your efforts to avoid it. You know it's deadly. You know it will destroy you, but you can't resist it. Does this remind you of any counterparts from everyday life? From a religious perspective, this sounds a lot like sin. On a more down to earth level, it sounds like drug addiction.

These two stories are entertaining for their elements of adventure, the strange places that they describe, and the clever ways the protagonists discover to foil the "monster." Entertainment value doesn't make them classics, though. It's the power behind that plot, the connection to a struggle that everyone faces at some level. The heroes are fighting our struggle and we desperately want them to win.

Cover Attribution: James Allen St. John [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Story of the Week: The Forgotten

“… tick … tick … tick …” Hear it? That's the sound of your life ticking away. A timepiece, but not just any timepiece, plays a central role in “The Forgotten,” Derrick Eaves' story of death and burial on the frontier in eighteenth-century Canada.

Sarah's brother-in-law James arrives at her cabin one day to say that her sister Catharine has died and to ask for help with the preparations. James can dig the hole and fashion the coffin, but he can't bring himself to prepare the body. That task falls to Sarah, who lovingly dresses her sister in her wedding dress and brushes the corpse's hair until it's perfect. Catharine's few possessions that had made the trip from England to upper Canada are stored in a trunk. Underneath the wedding dress is a curious clock.

Sarah looked back down at the clock. It was made of solid cherry and had six oval faces encased in glass, each with a single spidery hand. One was clearly a second hand that ran backward. Sarah watched the hand in the next oval and noticed a very slow but clear movement–the minute hand. She wasn’t sure if the other four faces worked, as they appeared stuck in the twelve o’clock position. It must be broken, Sarah thought.

James and Sarah talk about Catharine's illness, the stillborn children, and Catharine's obsession with a fortuneteller. The burial is anticlimatic. James doesn't see the need for a prayer. He doesn't suspect God can hear them out in the wilderness. James tells Sarah that she can take what she likes of Catharine's possessions. Sarah's attention returns to the clock, which is still ticking.

Eaves evokes a subtle kind of horror with this quiet narrative that builds to a shocking climax. Do you really want to know how much time you have left? Would it make a good difference? If you like Edgar Allan Poe's stories of prematural burial, you'll love “The Forgotten.”

Photo Attribution: By Museumsfoto (Deutsches Uhrenmuseum) [CC-BY-3.0-de (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, January 4, 2013

2012: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

I debated a long time on doing this post. Does anyone really care? But don't I need to give 2012 some closure? If I don't write this soon, the issue will be moot.

Let's start with the "worst" stuff so I can end on a good note. I suffered through a lot of rejection letters this year. I suffered through one long dry spell that lasted from April to December. That left me very depressed about the whole business of writing and publishing. I didn't finish writing a novel this year. I didn't make a professional sale. And I didn't write as many stories as I wanted to.

On the bright side, I made a triple figure sale. I created and published three Kindle books (one of my goals for 2012). I and three other writers started the SpecFic Collective. I sold a long story in December that I never thought I would be able to sell because it's too long. I made new friends and joined the W1S1 admin team. Not such a bad year. More of a mixed bag. I'm already feeling better. Bring on 2013.