Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Cult Classics - Old School and New School

Following along the lines of the last post, I've read a couple books recently which have much to say about fear, control and knowledge. One of them is a Cult Classic in the literal sense. There are cults and cultists. All the classic tropes get explored. I'm hoping the other one will become a cult classic the usual way, by selling lots of copies.

Anyone who has been around Your Humble Amphibian for more than about ten minutes will know that I like lots and lots of tentacles, especially when they are attached to shambling, hopping mind-blasting Eldritch Horrors. When I was just a tad my father read me H. P. Lovecraft stories at bedtime. People say this explains a lot. Dunno what they mean by that. In any case, for those who are mercifully innocent of sanity-shredding Reality and the Angles outside of Time, most of the stories of the Cthulhu Mythos have strange books of forbidden lore that tell Secrets Man Was Not Meant to Know. Chief among these is the unspeakable Necronomicon written by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred. There have been about a thousand Necronomicons written. Most of them are dog-lame. Everyone knows HPL made up the book, so there's no need to pretend it's anything but fake. The authors should feel free to make up amusing interesting fakes. Almost none of them do.

A few months ago someone recommended Al-Hazred: Author of the Necronomicon by Donald Dyson. I have to admit, I was skeptical. Dyson is a long-time writer for the usually insipid New Age publisher Llewellyn Press. It's hard to imagine someone who write for the crystal-gazing bark-eater crowd appealing to the tentacle and unspeakable horror set.

It may be hard to imagine, but it's true. Dyson has done a fantastic job. I had no trouble turning every one of the 666 pages. Mythos stories are full of deranged cultists, evil necromancers, vile cultists and ravening ghouls. This is one of the very few I've seen that gets inside their head and lets you see the world from their admittedly wild eyes. We see Al-Hazred's origins as a stupid, self-absorbed young man horribly punished, mutilated and driven insane by the King (and he deserved every bit of it) and left in the desert to die. From there everything follows naturally. His adventures make sense once the reader decides to step over the edge and abandon humanity, conscience and a useless sanity. In fact, a couple hundred pages in I was beginning to be worried at just how reasonable it all seemed.

The author takes us through a lot of the classic elements of the genre. Cults hiding under the Sphinx. Hideous semi-human shamans. Elder horrors. Unspeakable deals with terrible gods. Murder. Cannibalism. Torture. Opposition to everything that is good, wholesome and human. Necromancy. Voluntary demonic possession. And it all follows completely naturally which makes for horror of an unusual sort.

It's an awfully fun and twisted ride.

Dyson has written his own Necronomicon. It's a summary of the other book and contains spoilers, so be sure to read Al-Hazred first. It's head and shoulders, or at least pseudopod and pale leprous polyp above most of them.

John Twelve Feathers' first novel, The Traveler, doesn't have any slithering shoggoths. Its horror is a little more early 21st century more of David Brin's Transparent Society and 1984 than alien monsters. The monsters are here. They are the forces which want the world to be predictable, controlled, under surveillance and efficient. Over the centuries they've come awfully close to that goal. The only really random factors left are those few who choose to live off the grid as well as the mysterious Travelers who can travel to levels of reality beyond this one and the nearly extinct secret society which protects them.

Most of the elements are all familiar to readers of science fiction and thrillers. Somehow Mr. Twelve Feathers presents them in a way which has immediacy. The message is nothing new. People need to wake up and open their eyes if they want even the hope of freedom. It suits those in power to keep the sheep stupid, distracted, afraid and unaware of just how badly they're being screwed. When everyone believes that he is being watched there really isn't much need to watch the people. The victims will do the heavy lifting themselves. The one thing that must be prevented is the knowledge that anything else is possible, that there are facets of existence outside of socially-approved authorized reality.

We have a powerful Conspiracy, genetically engineered monsters, a beautiful but emotionally stunted lady assassin, a roguish martial artist, a Magical Negro or two, amoral scientists, wise Native American Elders, a Good Girl who will almost certainly end up in bed with the roguish martial artist by book three, mysterious aliens from other dimensions, enchanted swords and astral travel. He makes it work and doesn't let the somewhat shop worn trappings detract from the story or the message. The Nobel Committee isn't going to be calling him soon, but the series is worth reading, even at cover price.

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