Funguspunk, Lovecraft, and You: A Review of Caitlin R. Kiernan's "Agents of Dreamland"

Kiernan's prose provides the greatest part of that wonder.  Achingly beautiful, always strange and never quotidian, she never lets the reader find any firm ground.  Fittingly for a story which involves a Manson-like cult, it feels hallucinatory, dreamlike.  And unlike most stories that fit, even peripherally, into Lovecraft's mythos, the story does not try too hard to replicate the feeling induced by the Master's works.

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History as Speculative Fiction: Some thoughts on reading "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" and "From Hell" While Under the Influence of Robitussin

Having come down with a nasty cold the last few days, I did what I always do when I feel like total shit, and tucked into the biggest, thickest, most difficult books that I could reach without having to get out of my chair.  In this case they were Susanna Clarke's magnificent Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and Alan Moore's almost appallingly excellent From Hell.  

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High Strangeness and Family Romance: a review of Sharma Shield's "The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac"

In author Sharma Shield's The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac, an American family are touched in surprising, tragic and often poignant ways by their connection with a large upright bipedal ape named, improbably, Mr. Krantz.  Mr. Krantz can talk - well enough, in fact, to seduce a woman named Agnes away from her husband and son.  Her son, a sensitive boy named Eli, even meets Mr. Krantz, stuffed into a too-small suit, with tufts of thick and gnarled hair betraying his animal nature, before his mother leaves to begin a new life in the woods with her lover.  The event is a catalyst of "high strangeness" which affects generations of his family in various ways.  

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On the "Evil Text", from the "Necronomicon" to "The Ring" by way of Judas Priest

Media has always been a little scary.  It started way before Trump’s constant attack on the “unfair” or “fake” news, before the internet, even before the word media connoted some form of published communication.  It probably started with grimoires, arcane texts full of spells and esoterica, prized by magicians and alchemists, decried by the medieval Catholic church. 

But this, you understand, was before horror was a genre.  Horror as we know it didn’t exist until some folks in the 18th and 19th century had sufficient privilege and leisure to amuse themselves, and then us, by writing ghastly stories.  Before that, horror was merely the way things are. 

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UFOs Streak the Skies, and other "alternative facts" unrelated to Trump

There has been some recent furor, understandably, over the sudden coining of the term "alternative facts".  It startles, not because of what it seems to say about our relationship to "truth", but it has never before been put so concisely.  There have always been examples of "alternative facts", but there has never been a term for it that didn't sound ugly, like "conspiracy theory", or "lie".    

Here is an "alternative fact", by which I mean a statement that is maybe not be true -- "they" say isn't true -- but which you and I, wink wink, "know" is true anyway:  there's something fishy about the JFK assassination.   

The official story, of course, the fact, is that Lee Harvey Oswald murdered the President on 11/22/63.  But the "alternative fact" is that Oswald was set up, or had help, and that the real party responsible for JFK's murder was the Mafia/CIA/Communists/aliens/time-travelers/etc.  This "alternative fact" has had an effect on reality, or in the very least in our experience of reality.

So many novels, television shows, films, and other media have some stake in the alternative fact that the "truth" -- it was just one scrawny little guy acting alone -- almost seems like the more lunatic idea. 

Here's another fact, a real bummer.  Humans occupy, or fly over, or peer through satellites at even the most remote areas of the North American continent.  The country is much surveilled.  We have probably discovered all of the larger flora and fauna long ago.  Related to this fact is another: those few remaining pristine areas are few, and at constant environmental risk

But here's the "alternative fact", which seems to speak to us from another, truer world: our planet's haunted forests still crawl with monsters and strange beasts, flagrantly unconcerned with tourists and cameras.  Bigfoot, when he thinks we're not looking, hollers eerily and covers big swaths of forest with great big bounds.  As a Montanan, I can't help when I see the mountains to hope, fervently, that he really is up there somewhere, a hairy Thoreau roughing it for all us sinners.   

There are others, too.  The Loch Ness Monster, of course, and Mothman, and the Jersey Devil, and the Ozark Howler, who is sometimes heard, I'll let you guess doing what, in Oklahoma.   

And there's the Owlman, and the Sea Monk, and the Thunderbird, not to mention the Man-Eating Tree.   

And for all of them, there's someone on the Earth, and often quite a few someones, who believes intently that the whatsit exists.  This is the distinction between a lie and an "alternative fact".  A lie is told consciously.  If the Lutz family fabricated the their stories of violent and disturbing hauntings in their Amityville home, it was pure invention, a lie.  But to walk by the house, Google it, or see it in one of the many films and say "you know, that place was haunted" is to cite an "alternative fact".

And anyone who has ever been a kid knows (which is most of us, anyway) know that our childhood houses, maybe even our childhoods themselves, are monster-ridden.  My own was a very tall, very old woman who stared at me from in between the slats in the closet.  The only way I knew to keep her at bay was an arbitrary ritual of yelling and running. I was loudest when I was most at risk; going up the stairs, the darkness reaching up after me.  Once up in the bedroom, only marginally safer in bed, I would lie very still, covers pulled over my head.  I intuited that it would all be alright if she didn't see me move, but that if she knew I had caught her staring at me, something awful, I'm not sure what, would happen.  I knew, with a certainty and intensity that I left in the past, that she was there.  Something tells me that this might sound familiar to you.

One more, to demonstrate their awesome power.  The fact is that we are a tiny island light-years away from anything, surrounded by a sea of nothing.  The human race shouts itself hoarse in the dark. 

The "alternative fact", a lot more fun, is that the skies are positively lousy with spaceships: UFOs have been visiting us consistently since at least the mid 20th century, if not way way before.  They may have built the pyramids, the sphinx, Stonehenge, the ancient city of Teotihuacan and everything else.  One night in the late 1940s, they even crashed into the desert, and were subsequently covered up, metaphorically if not literally, by weather balloons. 

So many of the American 20th and, so far, 21st centuries' stories have seen their genesis in "alternative facts" that they've coined their own oxymoronic phrases to describe them.  One of those phrases is "science fiction". 

I would encourage you, therefore, to take a moment to celebrate that cherished nonsense, our "alternative facts", at least once a day, preferably at night.  Take a long, nervous moment and look at the black tangle of the treeline, if there is one.  If not, look warily to the sky. 

Look until your senses leave you and, if only for a moment, you truly expect something wonderful and irrational  to appear.