Friday, 16 December 2016

This Spectacular Darkness - Part 2.

In my first part of this staggered review of Joel Lane's non-fiction I pointed out how enjoyable it is to read a good critic discuss a writer I know little about. I move on now to Joel Lane's essays on two authors I am more familiar with.

Firstly, Fritz Leiber. Lane rightly holds Leiber in high esteem, pointing out that his ability to write first rate science fiction, fantasy, and horror went hand in hand with a remarkably original approach. Leiber was the 'master of literary modernism' in the genre, transcending his pulp origins. Leiber was a poser of questions, and seldom offered definitive answers. I was surprised to find that there were still quite a few Leiber stories I have no read, which is heartening. But, not surprisingly Lane focuses on the better known tales and novels, such as Our Lady of Darkness, 'Smoke Ghost', 'The Girl With Hungry Eyes', and 'A Bit of the Dark World'.

Again and again Leiber found new ways to present the reader with strange phenomena that are both supernatural and yet don't partake of the obvious gimmicks that we find in less original ghost stories. And I think Lane is right in identifying loneliness, and a particularly urban, sophisticated kind of loneliness, as a driving force in Leiber's fiction. In his essay 'No Secret Place: The Haunted Cities of Fritz Leiber', Lane also provides valuable insights into the way Leiber's troubled personal life influenced his work.

Robert Bloch was a contemporary of Leiber and, like him, a disciple of Lovecraft. Both authors found distinctive personal voices. In his essay on Bloch's novel Strange Eons Lane considers the ways in which Bloch wrote within the Lovecraft tradition, but stayed true to the spirit the Cthulhu Mythos rather than simply using the Great Old Ones as walk-on characters in conventional horror stories. In 'Hell Is Other People' Lane provides an excellent overview of Bloch's brand of horror noir, much of which he produced in script form for TV and Hollywood. Psycho looms large, of course, but Bloch's neglected short stories are rightly foregrounded. They are well worth seeking out.

I can't recommend this collection too highly. In two blog entries I have still not covered a quarter of the material collected, and my brief comments can't do justice to Joel Lane's thoughtful, humane criticism.

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