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The Last Continent: New Tales of Zothique
edited by John Pelan
ShadowLands Press, 440 pages

The Last Continent: New Tales of Zothique
ShadowLands Press
ShadowLands Press is Bereshith Publishing's Horror & Dark Fantasy imprint. All ShadowLands Press releases are published in limited/signed editions and in deluxe editions. The deluxe editions are slipcased and packaged with memorabilia related to the book itself. ShadowLands Press wants to publish the finest in Dark Fantasy & Horror and hopes to showcase the best talent in both fields, presenting both new and established authors.

Clark Ashton Smith Tribute Site
Clark Ashton Smith Tribute Site
Clark Ashton Smith Tribute Site
Clark Ashton Smith Tribute Site
ShadowLands Press
Bereshith Publishing
SF Site Review: Of Pigs and Spiders / A Lap Dance With the Lobster Lady / Two From Zothique: A Chapbook

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

Short works of dark fantasy, written in an evocative prose-poem form, with situations full of black humour and irony, depicting worlds where heroes, kings and/or sorcerers vainly try to stave off their impending doom are nothing new. As early as the late 1880s, European writers like Marcel Schwob (Le roi au masque d'or, 1892) and Richard Garnett (The Twilight of the Gods and Other Tales, 1888) had already done much to codify this sort of tale. In the early part of the 20th century one of its masters, Lord Dunsany, emerged. With story titles like "The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth Poltarness, Beholder of Ocean," Dunsany took the prose and formation of names to new heights. However, with the possible exception of some of Robert W. Chambers' early tales in The King in Yellow, few if any North American authors had dabbled in the genre.

In the early 1920s with the blossoming of the pulp magazines, and in particular Weird Tales and its stable of regular writers, the genre came to America. While H.P. Lovecraft in his early Dunsanian phase, and authors like Donald Corley (The House of Lost Identity, 1927) and Nictzin Dyalhis ("The Sapphire Siren") produced some fine work in the genre, it was a young poet and autodidact from Auburn, California, Clark Ashton Smith, who assumed the mantle of Dunsany in America. Most of Smith's tales of the imaginary lands of Averoigne, Hyberborea, Poseidonis, Xiccarph and Zothique, amongst other settings, were collected in the Arkham House titles Genius Loci, Lost Worlds, Out of Space and Time, and The Abominations of Yondo. Smith's tales of Zothique, Earth's future when the continents have reassembled and a dying desert land survives only on the whim of its dying sun, are considered among his best. This is the springboard for the new stories of Zothique by various authors, contained in The Lost Continent: New Tales of Zothique

Donald Sidney-Frier, expert on Smith and author/compiler of Emperor of Dreams: A Clark Ashton Smith Bibliography (1978) introduces the book, pointing out that The Lost Continent is not a book of Smith pastiches or re-hashes but rather fresh interpretations of Smith's fantasy milieu. In this regard, the stories are excellent in capturing the mood of Smith's Zothique, the richness of his prose, but without simply aping his writing style or reworking his plots. In the wrong hands, the prose-poem writing of a Dunsany or Smith can quickly degenerate into an exercise in thesaurus scanning -- simply padding the text with archaic or erudite word play does not make the mood or story. The authors in The Lost Continent range from one or two that border on the style over substance problem (e.g. Rhys Hughes' "The Decibel Circus," though Smith himself sometimes succumbed to this) to many who have largely avoided the prose-poem format but maintained the atmosphere and plotting of Smith's Zothique stories. Nonetheless, the stories are all highly entertaining and original, certainly none suffering from a dearth of the weird and exotic.

Many of the stories have a very noir/conte cruel feel to them. In "Love and Death at the End of the World" by Mark Chadbourn the ruthless and dissipated warrior Rathsamman is ready to give it all up, redeem himself, and devote himself to loving a beautiful young woman and by so doing save his doomed world, only to have the woman laugh scornfully at him and send him and his world to their doom.

In "The Leper King" by Charlee Jacob, Lyrkatra a young but physically flawed woman loses the only man who has ever cared for her to his lust for wealth and decadence. When, as a mature sorceress, she comes before him as little more than a performance artist, she is provoked into disassembling him back into what she had first created him from -- but now she is alone, unable to disassemble or kill herself, and doomed to live in the knowledge of her own hideousness until the end of time.

Another story, Jessica Amanda Salmonson's "Hode of the High Place," only tied in peripherally to Zothique, has a much more gothic, Gormenghast-like setting, though perfectly in keeping with the theme of slow degeneration of both the people and infrastructure common to many Zothique stories.

Other stories like t. Winter Damon's "Blue Roses, Red Red Wine" and Edward Lee and John Pelan's "The Scarlet Succubus" inject the element of sex that, given the time he wrote, was only hinted at in Smith's Zothique. This element is woven nicely into these new stories, nothing very graphic, but plenty to lead the wicked down the path to perdition. The Last Continent also includes, in the regular edition, four black and white full page illustrations, two by Fredrik King, and two by Allen Koslowski. These are certainly nice enhancements to the book and one could only wish that more fantasy publishers took the time to commission artwork for their publications.

With these 19 excellent new stories of Zothique, editor John Pelan has chosen well, and any aficionado of Clark Ashton Smith (or Lord Dunsany) will be well pleased, hoping that similar volumes set in Smith's other fabulous lands will come along soon. For those of you bred on today's horror of straight-forward prose, and horror grounded in real-life (vs. fantasy) situations, you might actually find this a chance to widen your horizons. Either way, be careful where you tread in Zothique, for while there may be great rewards, there are also many pitfalls, many temptations, but ever so few ways of escaping one's doom...

Table of Contents (alphabetically by author)
Love & Death at the End of the World Mark Chadbourn
The Connoisseur of Corpses Dan Clore
Jolerarymi's Rose Geoff Cooper
The Judgement of Tsaran Polygala Fine
To Wake the Dead in Nypholos Gerard Houarner
The Decibel Circus Rhys Hughes
The Leper King Charlee Jacob
The Triumph of the Worm Henrik Johnsson
The Scarlet Succubus Edward Lee and John Pelan
The Vainglorous Simulacrum of Mungha SorcyllamiaMark McLaughlin
The Benevolent Emperor Brian McNaughton
Hode of the High Place Jessica Amanda Salmonson
Introduction: Grim News From the Far Future Donald Sidney-Fryer
Where the Past Lay Buried David B. Silva
The Light of Achernar Brian Stableford
Ashes of Longing, Ashes of Lust Lucy Taylor
Serenade at the End of Time Don Webb
Temple of the Captured Gods David Niall Wilson
Blue Roses, Red, Red Wine t. Winter-Damon
A Traveller in Desert Lands Gene Wolfe

Copyright © 1999 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.

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