by Clark Ashton Smith
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
"The Tale of the Satampra Zeiros
" relates how the rogue of the title lost both his hand and his partner, Tirouv Ompallios, on the same night. Told as almost a tall tale, the story is about how the two surprisingly educated rogues ran into the Cthulhoid deity Tsathoggua during a heist and tied, partially successfully, to escape with their lives.
Continuing to tell the story of Tsathoggua (here Zhothaqquah), "The Door to Saturn
" sends his worshipper, Eibon, to his native Saturn, or Cykranosh chased by the priest Morghi. On Saturn, the two find themselves with a quest from Zhothaqquah's cousin. A misunderstanding leaves the two of them in a precarious position as they come into Cykranosh's various denizens and worshippers of Zhothaqquah and his cousin and the two must learn to put their differences aside.
Tsathoggua appears again in "The Seven Geases"The Coming of the White Worm" tells the story of the Hyperborean creature Rlim Shaikorth, a giant white worm from the arctic who travels on the giant iceberg Yikilth in search of ships and other prey. The story describes the manner in which his prey is frozen and saved.
," where he is the first subject of a geas laid on Ralibar Vooz. The tale follows Ralibar Vooz as he completes each geas and finds himself facing another. The pace of the story is quick, which results in there not being a lot of meat to any of Ralibar Vooz's individual geases.
"The Last Incantation" is a story of the Atlantean mage Malygris' attempts to recapture the lost love of his youth. Once his concerns over Nylissa's appears have been assuaged by his familiar, for she has been dead for several years, Malygris casts his spell and discovers that the physicality of his beloved can't restore to him what was lost in the mists of time.
The imminent sinking of Atlantis is the catalyst for two brothers to plan their escape in "A Voyage to Sfanomoë." The story is one of creation and exploration, but Smith's decision to set it as part of his Atlantis cycle raises questions about motivation in the reader's mind. Why didn't the brothers work on a means to save their fellow citizens? Why didn't they focus on travel from their native land to a safer continent rather than brave the unknowns of space to travel to Sfanomoë?
All evil necromancers must die, but Smith's Malygris doesn't like the idea. Taking place some time after "The Last Incantation," "The Death of Malygris" details the discovery by the world at large that Malygris has, in fact, finally succumbed to death, although in the manner of evil necromancers everywhere, he did not embrace death willingly. Smith has a consortium of wizards and noblemen attempt to discover whether the rumors of Malygris's death are true and to bring that truth to the world at large."The Holiness of Azédarac" is a time travel tale beginning in the twelfth century when a priest, Ambrose, learns dark secrets about the past of Bishop Azéderac. While taking his evidence to the archbishop, Ambrose is drugged by Azéderac's henchman and sent seven centuries into the past, where he meets a witch with her own grievance against Azéderac. Ambrose works with her to try to defeat Azéderac, but in the process he dirties his own vows with the result that Azéderac is able to get away and while Ambrose escapes any form of retribution, his life takes a completely different turn.
The events of the heavens affect more terrestrial concerns in "The Beast of Averoigne." When a comet appears in the skies, the countryside is terrorized by a beast and the local monks, for all their holiness, prove inept at ridding the region of the creature. When an astrologer is called in, the situation is resolved, giving support to one ancient belief system while portraying another as a product of stories and myth.
"The Empire of the Necromancers" is exactly what it sounds like. Mmatmuor and Sodosma are two necromancers who have found a land destroyed by plague. Using their necromantic arts, they raise the former denizens of the land who serve them as skeletons and zombies. While characterization is never one of Smith's strong points, ironically, its absence is very notable in this work in which most of the characters can be expected to lack any characteristics.
Fleeing his plague-ridden kingdom, King Fulbra finds himself on "The Isle of the Torturers" and discovers that although there are physical tortures, mental tortures, especially when they hold out hope, can be worse. Fulbra keeps himself going as long as he believes there is a chance that he can escape, but once he realizes that this hope for escape is merely another torture, he gives up all hope and embraces the release of death, for himself, and for his torturers.
"Necromancy in Naat" is the story of Yadar, who left his home in Zyra to find his beloved Dalili, kidnapped by slavetraders. His journey results in his shipwrecking on the Isle of Naat, where he finds himself guests of the necromancers on the island of Naat. On the island, where he is treated with a modicum of courtesy, he discovers Dalili, who has been treated by the inhabitants and is now practically a zombie. Unlike many of Smith's stories, Dalili and Yadar are able to find happiness with each other.
"Xeethra" follows the young shepherd of the title who deserts his flocks to explore a mysterious cave, wherein he gains the memories of long-dead King Amero of Calyz. Xeethra's personalities is subsumed to King Amero's and he goes on a quest for his lost city's glory days. While most of the tales set in lost Zothique are dark, as is Xeethra, there is a certain amount of nostalgic yearning in Xeethra's adventures.
One of Smith's recurring characters is Maal Dweb, the lord and tyrant of an entire solar system. In "The Maze of Maal Dweb
," Smith relates how Maal Dweb absconded with the most beautiful women of his realm and turned them into statues in order to fully appreciate their beauty. In an attempt to rescue his beloved Athlé, the hunter Tiglari braves Maal Dweb's palace and finds himself lost in the ruler's treacherous maze.
" is another story of Maal Dweb, this time showing a little of the tyrant's more generous side. Traveling to the planet Votalp, located on the opposite side of the solar system from his home, he works to save strange vampiric flower women from the pterodactyls who prey upon them. In this story, Smith shows a side of Maal Dweb which would not be obvious from the tyrant of "The Maze of Maal Dweb" or even from the initial depictions of the character in this story.
There is an almost symbiotic relationship between the humans who live in Lospar and the plants that grow in the area. This is epitomized by the sacrifice the Losparians make to the Voorqual, an enormous plan in the center of the city in "The Demon of the Flower." When Nala, the love of King Lunithi's life, is to be sacrificed, the King decides to act against the Voorqual. Although Smith could have written about the breakdown of the symbiosis between man and plant, he instead expands the story to examine the strength of tradition and lore.
"The Plutonian Drug" may be one of Smith's most science fictional stories. In a solar system which has seen man visit all the planets, including the then-newly discovered then-planet Pluto, each planet offers its own pharmacology for the benefit or abuse of mankind. In his manner of detailing the effects of the drug plutonium (this was seven years before the element was isolated) is reminiscent of some of the writings of the 1960s. Its effects are interesting and at the end of the story, which is predictable, the reader still wants to know more.
"The Planet of the Dead
" is Smith's entry in the planetary romance genre, much in the vein of Edgar Rice Burrough's John Carter series. In this instance, amateur astronomer Francis Melchior tranports himself to Phandiom where he takes over the person of the poet Antarion and is in love with the princess Thameera. Smith details their relationship and, of course, the means by which Antarion rescues Thameera from the libidinous clutches of an evil monarch.
In "The Gorgon," Smith takes the creature of the classic Greek myth and depicts her as a form of temptation. Set in modern day London (well, the 1930s, when the story was written), the head of Medusa is being used by a mysterious man as a lure for those who enjoy an interest in the occult, although as with many of Smith's stories, the purpose of luring them in an showing them Medusa's head in never examined, instead he simply is trying to create an aura of horror.
Smith presents a response of sorts to H.G. Wells's The Time Machine with "The Letters from Mohaun Los." One of the things many have criticized about Wells's story (and other time travel stories) is that they ignore the fact that the Earth moves through space as it moves through time. Smith's time travelers, Domitian Malgraff and his servant Li Wong, find themselves in the future adrift in interstellar space. Eventually, they managed to travel in time until they are on a planet, although it isn't earth. The story takes the classic narrative delivered to someone who is in our own world, but some of the depictions, particularly of Li Wong, will grate on the modern reader.
"The Light from Beyond" is another story warning of inspecting the occult. In this case, artist Dorian Wiermoth has fled civilization for the high Sierras for a year's respite. While hiking one day, he finds a cairn which had not existed during his previous day's hike. As a typical Smith character, he finds himself pulled into the weird world beyond the cairn. Although through no volition of his own, he eventually manages to return to the Earth he knows, he does so with an altered appreciation for his world and life.Smith's alter-ego in his stories is the weird story author Philip Halstane, who makes an appearance in 1931's "The City of the Singing Flame" (in Out of Time and Space) and again in "The Hunters from Beyond." In this story, Halstane finds himself bedeviled by a creature he first saw in a collection of artwork by Goya. A visit to his cousin, the artist Cyprian Sincaul demonstrates that his vision of the Goya is more real than he would want to admit. When Cyprian's model, Marta, is abducted by the grotesqueries in Cyprian's work, Halstane tries to help his cousin retrieve her, resulting in the realization of just what Cyprian's interest in the occult cost him.
As with so many of the dark weird tales of the 1930s, "The Treader of the Dust" focuses on the power of a book of arcane lore, in this case, The Testament of Carnamagos. Less important than the nature of the supernatural being Quachil Uttaus, the Treader of the Dust of the title, or even the inherent clichéd warning of knowledge man was not meant to know, is the vitality and importance of the written word.
|The Tale of the Satampra Zeiros||Xeethra|
|The Door to Saturn||The Maze of Maal Dweb|
|The Seven Geases||The Flower-Women|
|The Coming of the White Worm||The Demon of the Flower|
|The Last Incantation||The Plutonian Drug|
|A Voyage of Sfanomoë||The Planet of the Dead|
|The Death of Malygris||The Gorgon|
|The Holiness of Azédarac||The Letters from Mohaun Los|
|The Beast of Averoigne||The Light from Beyond|
|The Empire of the Necromancers||The Hunters from Beyond|
|The Isle of the Torturers||The Treader of the Dust|
|Necromancy in Naat|
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