by Clark Ashton Smith



419pp/$15.00/June 2006

Out of Space and Time
Cover by R.W. Boeche

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

"The End of the Story" is a tale of love of books between a medieval abbot and a law student, Christophe Morand.  The monk's library contains many lost and unknown volumes, which Morand delves into with abandon.  Unfortunately, it also contains an heretical book that, despite the monk's warning, the Morand finds himself drawn to.  Despite everything Brother Hilaire is able to do for Morand, it is clear that once the unknowable is examined, it gains a grip on the soul.

"A Rendezvous in Averoigne" is set in the medieval wood with a couple trying to keep an assignation when they are mysteriously swept into the unknown realm.  Although their meeting occurs, it is under circumstances that neither of them could possible anticipate, they do come together even as they confront the legendary Sieur de Malinbois.  The characters confront his evil and manage to escape in the manner so common in Clark Ashton Smith's works.

"A Night in Malnéant" externalizes the sense of grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one, especially when the survivor feels responsible for the death.  The city of Malnéant come to epitomize the narrator's guilt and grief over Mariel and postulates a world in which his grief is shared by the general populace.

"The City of the Singing Flame" is one of Clark Ashton Smith's longer tales and depicts the discovery of a interdimensional rift and the city beyond it by author Giles Angarth.  Angarth and his companion, the illustrator Felix Ebbonly disappear in their explorations, leaving behind only Angarth's diary which was sent to his fellow author, Philip Hastane, who narrates the story.  Initially convinced he is the victim of a hoax, once Ebbonly and Angarth have been gone for a year, Hastane elects to follow them in what is essentially a double travelogue, seen from both Angarth's point of view in his diary entries and Hastane's point of view as he follows Angarth and Ebbonly.

Essentially nothing happens in "The Uncharted Isle." The unnamed narrator describes his shipwrecked sojourn on an uncharted South Pacific island. On the island, he observes a strange civilization although they cannot sense him.  Smith hints that his narrator may have moved through some sort of time shift, but no explanation for the encounter (or lack thereof) is given, leaving only the idea that there is still more to learn about the universe.

Sir Uther Magbane feared death more than most in "The Second Interment." Some of his fear was natural, while the rest was the result of being buried alive at some point prior to the story. Smith details his fear of a recurrence and the steps Sir Uther has taken to assure one won't happen.  Unfortunately, while Smith's story bring a wonderful sense of dread to premature burial, Smith doesn't fully let the reader know how the story's outcome is achieved.

In his story "The Death of Malygris," Smith showed how the evil necromancer clung to power and a demi-life long after he had died. In "The Double Shadow," his influence can still be detected a generation after his death. Focusing on Malygris' student, Avyctes, and his own pupil, Pharpetron, Smith shows the continuation of Malygris' influence, long after his death, on people who empathically do not want his influence to affect them.

"The Chain of Aforgomon" begins with the spontaneous combustion death of John Milwarp.  Smith then recounts, through Milwarp's friend and the narrator's reading of Milwarp's journal, how Milwarp had experimented with a mind expanding drug that allowed him to visit former lives.  As with many of Smith's characters, Milwarp found his other life to be of more interest and intrigue. The story is also typical in that Smith's characters really have very little affect on their world but seem to be pawns of fate.

"The Dark Eidolon" is a tale of vengeance which consumes not only its target, the Prince (later King) Zotulla, but also the beggar Narthos (later magician Namirrha).  The story open by describing the time Prince Zotulla rode down a beggar named Narthos.  Outraged by the indifference of the city's residents to this assault, Narthos left the town and eventually became a powerful wizard, Namirrha, who returned and created an edifice across from King Zotulla's palace.  Smith's story details how the vengeance affects not only Zotulla, at whom it is targetted, but also Namirrha.

"The Last Heiroglyph" shows an astrologer who finds a strange portent in his own horoscope.  Rather than ignore it, even knowing that his predictions are often false, Nushain follows up on the oddity and finds himself face to face with the god Vergama.  Nushain's fate is sealed by this meeting, but he keeps working to try to figure out what the strange vision meant.

In "Sadastor," a short tale of galactic exploration, Smith hammers home the point that no matter how bad a person (or in this case a lamia) feels about their situation, there is always someone worse off.

"The Death of Ilalotha" is an interesting look at a love triangle between Thulos, Queen Xantlicha, and Thulos' former lover, Ilalotha. What makes the story so intriguing is that Ilalotha is dead throughout the story, which therefore raises interesting questions about love, loyalty, and fidelity. Unfortunately, in his zeal to turn out pulp prose, Smith ignored these concerns in favor of a sort of vampire story. 

Many are the stories of vengeance in the weird tales genre, and "The Return of the Sorcerer" is one of them.  Told by the amanuensis of John Carnby who was newly hired to replace Carnby's traveling brother Helman, there is clearly something strange and wrong in the household, although the narrator is unclear of what is causing his unease.  His desperate need for money, however, and the rapidity with which events unfold, leave him to discover more than he wishes to.

"The Testament of Athammaus" relates the doom that befell the city of Commoriom and the multiple deaths of the bandit chieftain Knygathin Zhaum.  Told from the point of view of the headsman who killed Knygathin Zhaum each time, Smith shows the horror that built upon the city of Commoriom as the continued presence of the bandit preyed on the citizens' minds.

"The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan" opens with a beggar cursing, or rather prophesizing, the fate of the title character, an avaricious money-lender. Once that act is out of the way, Smith jumps ahead to allow Avoosl Wuthoqquan to get his comeuppance as foretold, apparently setting up a story in which greed is repaid with an horrific fate.  However, in this case, Smith indicates that it isn't the greed itself that caused Avoosl Wuthoqquan to suffer, but rather his lack of honesty.

As with many of the weird tales of the 1930s, there is a distinct sense that there are things of which man was not meant to know in "Ubbo-Sathla." While these stories are often anti-science in nature, "Ubba-Sathla" is a warning against delving into the arcance and as such forms a counterpoint, in many ways, to Smith's story "The Beast of Averoigne," which appears in Lost Worlds.

"The Monsters of the Prophecy" takes a traditional story of prophecy and moves it to a distant world around Antares where the inhabitants arrange for their prophecies to come true in order to make their own lives better.  When a prophecy calls for a pale creature with only two arms and two legs to appear, the sorcerer Vizaphmal kidnaps the human Theophilus Alvor to ensure Vizaphmal would become emperor.  Of course, prophecies have a tendency to find their own way and neither Vizaphmal's nor Alvor's fate is not necessarily what Vizaphmal envisioned.

The exploration of long lost tombs is a common theme in Smith's writing, and the tombs in "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis" are on the planet Mars.  The reader is allowed to see the violence that befalls the archaeologists as the delve into the 40,000 year old vaults, only to have the story questioned in the end with the suggestion that the narrator is actually a murderer and inflicted his wounds on himself, possibly a stronger and more disturbing tale when not surrounded by other stories by Smith.

"From the Crypt of Memories" is a dark piece which contrasts the lifespan of not just one individual, but an entire race to the cosmic span of time in the life of the stars.

"The Shadows" is an unremitting, if short, look at the futility of human existence as an unnamed philosopher cogitates in an ancient castle's ruins, although Smith is less interested in his purpose than in whether or not his purpose matters.

The End of the Story Sadastor
A Rendezvous in Averoigne The Death of Ilalotha
A Night in Malnéant The Return of the Sorcerer
The City of the Singing Flame The Testament of Athammaus
The Uncharted Isle The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan
The Second Interment Ubbo-Sathla
The Double Shadow The Monsters of the Prophecy
The Chain of Aforgomon The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis
The Dark Eidolon From the Crypts of Memory
The Last Heiroglyph The Shadows

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