Goldmund – “Grass Rides”
Famous Places

Goldmund’s melancholy, barely-there compositions make excellent background music, but occasionally one emerges with a clarity of theme that demands attention. This one reminds me of Hauschka’s “Paige and Jane.” (bandcamp)

Vocabulary: Patternity Tectht Edition

talapoins: small African monkey with olive fur and webbed hands; or in Thailand, a monk
santon: a certain type of Muslim monk or hermit, sometimes regarded as akin to a saint
calcine: to heat a metal and achieve reduction or drying, often leaving a residue, calx
wenny neck: having or resembling a fatty cyst (wen); or, an overcrowded large city
antimacassar: protective covering for the top or back of upholstered furniture
parterre: patterned flower garden; or rear, ground-level seats in a theater
brickbat: piece of brick used as a weapon; or, a blunt criticism or remark
macadamize: to pave using broken stone (macadam) and asphalt or tar
palempore: Indian bed covering or cloth, often with a flower pattern
aigrets: ornament made of or resembling a plume (i.e. of an egret)
tamarisk: shrub with small leaves and light pink flowers
serail: women’s living quarters in old Islamic society
tecthtrevan: mobile throne reserved for royalty
rede: advice or interpretation (or to provide it)
apricate: to sunbathe or expose to sunlight
giaour: derogatory term for a non-Muslim
mulct: to obtain by fraud; or, a small fine
sea fencibles: defensive naval units
tarradiddle: a trivial falsehood
dwimmer: illusion or magic »

The Night Land (William Hope Hodgson, 1912)

The Night Land is an astonishingly original, imaginative, and bizarre piece of fiction — one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read. And yet, so powerful are its idiosyncrasies that I would hesitate to recommend it to anyone.

Hodgson was among the progenitors of what was called for some time “Weird fiction,” an ur-genre which translated to modern parlance comprises horror, science fiction, fantasy, and others not common at the time, though with serious literary pretensions, to differentiate it from the lurid and numerous stories and novellas appearing in pulp magazines.

He is best known today for a few of his stories of nautical horror (“The Voice in the Dark” and “The Derelict” for instance) and the genre-flouting The House on the Borderlands, whose divagations in deep time and space place it in a lonely hinterland halfway between supernatural horror and a long-form narrative of a DMT episode.

The Night Lands inhabits a similarly unusual conceptual Venn diagram: A three-way combination of historical epic, hard sci-fi, and travel diary. The final product is more than the sum of its parts, and deserves to be numbered among the founding documents of science fiction — yet Hodgson’s styling and narrative choices are so frustrating that I sometimes wished I could imitate the protagonist and project my own soul forward in time so as to escape his unceasing exposition.

The book begins with a framing story of the protagonist, who remains nameless throughout the hundreds of pages. He is a strong young man of the 17th century who falls in love with a woman who, he finds, experiences eerily similar dreams of a strange world where it is always night. Soon the narrator finds himself in that world, laboriously explaining the apparent coexistence of his soul and mind in both worlds with the passion of one describing a religious experience.

Once there, he describes the situation of the Last Redoubt, a pyramidal megastructure home to millions — the last humans on an Earth, or at least so it is theorized. And it is the world they inhabit — if to cower in an enormous structure protected by technology the secret of which has been lost for thousands of years is to inhabit — that is Hodgson’s greatest accomplishment.

His description of the lightless landscape and the hideous, mysterious creatures and structures that cover it strike, to me, the exact right balance of “show” and “tell,” with the added benefit of having Terrifying Proper Names.

The Watcher in the South; the Road Where the Silent Ones Walk; the Quiet City; the Giant’s Kiln. These objects and places are never fully explained, but their sinister and eons-old nature is sufficiently attested to. Together, with what comes after, they present what seems to be a small snapshot of a totally strange and hostile world unlike any other I have read of.

Hodgson evoked the concept of Deep Time and the passage of innumerable years in The House on the Borderlands, and The Night Land seems to be a ground-level portrait of a world in the middle of that Deep Time: our own but not our own, and so many years hence that the history of our civilizations is not even brought up — indeed the history of mankind itself is in doubt.

Eventually the narrator departs on a quest to find a person to whom he seems to be able to speak via some sort of ESP that is hinted to be a familial property of some sort. And amazingly, from the first steps of his departure, for the weeks and months to follow, whatever happens is minutely described almost to the hour. There is no days-long ellipsis wherein he says something like “for some days I made my way north.” Every step is accounted for, though he makes irregular time as he avoids and contends with the many horrible surprises the Night Land has in store.

And here we find where the book will either repulse or, as in my case, morbidly compel the reader. For all this minutiae is described not in a brisk traveler’s jargon or even the high-flying prose to which Hodgson and his fellow Weird authors often resorted. Instead it is in a sort of faux-antique dialect that is exasperatingly repetitive and needlessly opaque, scrupulously avoiding common words and tenses in a way I have never encountered in writing from any period, and certainly not the 17th or even 16th century.

Here are a couple representative excerpts:

And there grew therefrom a little courage into mine heart, and I obeyed my spirit, and took an hold of my strength and went slowly backward into the bushes. And presently I was come a long way off. Yet troubled and disturbed, and very strict to my going.

And onward I did pass, and I do mind me how that I saw the lower fires of that Country to burn very fierce; and this I set to the richness of the air; but yet with no surety of knowledge; and do but tell the same that you shall see the oddments of thought that went oft across my brain, and so have so much knowledge as I, concerning this and that.

And I ceased to run, and lay quiet; for, in truth, I did near swoon away with the hardness of my travel. And indeed as you shall know, I had slept not for seven-and-twenty hours, and had scarce ceased to labour in all that time. Moreover I had eat not, neither drunk, for nine hours; and so shall you conceive that I was truly a-weary.

“As you shall know” indeed, for he keeps careful reckoning of the time, of his meals, of the direction and distance of his travel, of pretty much every single thing. This confounding diction never lets up, although you do get used to it.

And yet, despite these infuriating aspects, the journey he is undertaking is so compelling, and the world he travels through so mysterious and well-formed, that it is immensely difficult to stop reading despite the difficulty of doing so.

The truth is that the style does narrative work as well, adding a layer of strangeness to the already strange, and keeping the reader in mind of the fact that the narrator, like them, is a stranger and a visitor to this world.

By the time the end rolled around, I was loath to let go of this world, knowing that once the final page was turned, there would be no further revelations as to the nature of the narrator’s experiences. What was that disembodied laughter? What was the airship, and the primitive ones who guarded it? How did the world become like this?

Like the narrator, Hodgson’s masterpiece transcends time; It is too weird and dated to come from the present, yet too ingenious and original to be consigned to the past. It is unique and beautiful and without parallel. That it was published more than a century ago, predating the rise of cosmic horror and serious science fiction, is a fact that continually boggled my mind as I was reading it. For anyone delving into the origins of weird fiction, Lovecraftian horror, and ambitious science fiction, it is a must-read — but one that will try your patience nonetheless.

One last point: The book was essentially rewritten lately as “A Classic Retold” or some such. I looked into this as an alternative when it became clear that the original’s stylistic choices were not going to abate. Unfortunately it is not worth even considering, as it does away with an enormous amount of what makes the original so strange and wonderful. Read The Night Land, or don’t. »

I now rambled about in great uneasiness from the coffee-house to the promenade, from thence to the museum, from the museum to the tavern, from the tavern to the exhibition of wild beasts, and at last to the playhouse, but I could nowhere find tranquillity.

Lawrence Flammenberg, The Necromancer; or, The Tale of the Black Forest »

Angel Olsen – “Lark”
All Mirrors

One of the best album openers I’ve heard in some time, “Lark” puts Olsen’s almost Parton-esque crooning in juxtaposition with orchestral strains, backed by pulse-like percussion that promises a heart attack and delivers one about a minute in. (artist website) »

A soothing demonstration of fluid dynamics from Cambridge (link) »

We don’t need other worlds. We need mirrors.

Stanislaw Lem, Solaris »

Vocabulary: Byrny Bro Edition

aludel: bulbous glass vessel open at both ends used to collect condensates
roundelay: poem with a regularly repeated phrase; also, a circular dance
athanor: steady-temperature heating element for chemistry or alchemy
fazart: hermaphroditic fowl; also, a weakling or coward (also faisard)
meacock: a meek, effeminate, or henpecked man (meek + peacock)
smaragd: emerald (from lat. smaragdus, to flash or shoot lightning)
brail: small ropes used to haul in a sail, or a small net for fishing
byrny: chain mail shirt covering the upper arms to below waist
misprision: failure of office, especially in preventing treason
cymophane: a translucent yellow gem in the beryl family
thripping: snapping one’s fingers (onomatopoeic)
gramercy: exclamation of thanks or emotion
haskardly: coarse, unpolished, or vulgar
carcanet: decorative women’s circlet
stour: turmoil, conflict, or dust cloud
matrass: long-necked glass flask
greengage: a type of green plum
mediamnis: canal or dyke (lat.)
supervivid: surviving (arch.)
footling: trifling or silly
sithence: since (arch.)
colubrine: snakelike
cupshotten: drunk »

Vocabulary: Picul of Pulque Edition

cotter: part used to fix two other parts together or otherwise prevent their motion
sprue: channel in a mold through which molten metal flows; or, a tropical disease
wickiup: a simple (often Native American) hut or shelter made of mats or brush
skiffle: jazz or rock-derived music using improvised instruments; or, a light rain
replevin: recovery of goods unlawfully taken (security deposit often required)
malversation: improper professional behavior, esp. in public office
manciple: steward of provisions for a monastery, college, or court
sizar: a student at Cambridge or Trinity receiving an allowance
spancel: the act of or knotted rope used in hobbling an animal
yamen: in imperial China, the office or residence of an official
fard: facial cosmetics, esp. white, or the act of applying them
pulque: lightly alcoholic fermented drink made from agave
pampooties: rawhide slippers worn in the Aran islands
scrog: short or naturally stunted trees or undergrowth
thrapple: the windpipe, or to throttle (it, presumably)
catty: a Chinese weight measure of about 680g/1.5lb
archimandrite: head of one or several monasteries
corposant: St. Elmo’s Fire (lit. ‘holy body’)
diffide: to distrust or act distrustfully
picul: 100 catties »

There is little else to do but write this clear explanation of everything that has happened to me since the misfortune of birth. He that has fared better, and without deceiving himself, let him utter his jackass cry.

Robert Aickman, The Fetch »


Anenon – “Mansana”

A lonely, quietly wild wind solo metamorphosizes into something more layered and yet also more delicate. When I’m not paying attention and this track comes on, it always arrests my attention halfway through and I can never remember how the transformation took place, or when. (bandcamp) »

Vocabulary: Weel Talk Edition

quiddity: the essence of or a distinctive feature of something, or a trifling legal issue
emprise: an endeavor or exploit, or the qualities that drive one to them
squail: to throw something awkwardly, esp. weighted sticks at animals
malanders: blisters or crusty eruptions on a horse’s neck or knee
madstone: a stone believed to have antivenomous properties
quintain: a target set up for knights to tilt at, or the sport itself
keelpin: a small peg on cargo that locks it in place in the hold
gastine: a wasteland or desert, or the pillaging of something
erysipelas: a skin infection also known as “St Anthony’s fire”
pritchel: a punch or shaping tool used in metalworking
plethoric: overabundant, in blood or just in general
turves: plural of turf; units or blocks of peat
glede: archaic name for the red kite, a bird
opiparous: sumptuous or luxurious
snite: to blow or wipe one’s nose
eyot: an island, variant of ait
colophony: rosin or resin
weel: a deep pool
ratchel: gravel »

For art is like a living organism — better dead than dying.

Samuel Butler, Erewhon »

Never could the eye have beheld the sun, had not its own essence been soliform, neither can a soul not beautiful attain to an intuition of beauty.

Samuel Coleridge (paraphrasing Plotinus) – Biographia Literaria »

Clever video idea by Jonah Haber; the background is photosensitive and captures silhouettes of the dancer whenever the flash fires. »

When the artichoke flowers, and the chirping grass-hopper sits in a tree and pours down his shrill song continually from under his wings in the season of wearisome heat, then goats are plumpest and wine sweetest; women are most wanton, but men are feeblest.

At that time let me have a shady rock and wine of Biblis, a clot of curds and milk of drained goats with the flesh of an heifer fed in the woods, that has never calved, and of firstling kids; then also let me drink bright wine, sitting in the shade, when my heart is satisfied with food, and so, turning my head to face the fresh Zephyr, from the everflowing spring which pours down unfouled thrice pour an offering of water, but make a fourth libation of wine.

Hesiod, Works and Days »