Monday, February 14, 2011

James Blish (1937) "The Eldritch Goo"

James Blish (May 23, 1921 – July 30, 1975) left the world much too soon. For Lovecraftians, perhaps his most important work was a lengthy pseudo-play of the King in Yellow, perhaps one of the most definitive post-Chambers interpretations. (Though Chrispy holds highly Brian Keene's ss The King: In Yellow).

For Blish at the ripe age of about 16, the era of scientifiction was fast upon the world. The Weird Tales crowd (H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and protege's August Derleth, Donald Wandrei, Robert Barlow, Robert Bloch, and Frank Long) were already being "put out to pasture" by the younger crowd. (They knew it, and to Lovecraft's dismay, they began to alter their writing style).

Forest J Ackerman (in Los Angeles)tended to lead the charge, but one can see young Blish had digested the old guard enough to parody them without mercy. The title is pure Lovecraft (The Eldritch Goo) and Lovecraft's long meandering sentences are harpooned. Despite only listing the "H", it is certainly the mature Lovecraft he goes after. In the mid-1930's Clark Ashton Smith was transitioning and writing what he passed off as scientifiction, but the young guard felt it was too old guard, and not enough "ray guns and babes" so to speak. Smith probably got the worst of the treatment in the letter columns of those days.

Clearly Smith and Robert Bloch were singled out in this one, too. Smith was known for his odd space-scapes, and all three were noted for their exotic made-up place names. Perhaps the most fiendish and brutal part of the satire is mixing in gothic with the weird tale parody.

Recently, a portion of this old story surfaced, and is reproduced below. It was first publsihed on cheap mimeograph with purplish ink (it may have been more blue in its original). It is typed, although the title and "author's signature" are hand drawn in for emphasis. It is called Grotesque #1 and dated at Spring 1937 (Volume 1 and Number 1). Historians believe there was only one other issue of Grotesque dated a bit after this one.

In 1937 HPL was now 47 (though near death). Smith was about 44, and Bloch only 20.

A little background. Blish was a teen aged member looking for acceptance into scientifiction, and he chose to do this in the middle of a feud between Donald Wollheim and Sam Moskowitz. Perhaps a few dozen New Yorkers and a few in New Jersey feuded like Hatfields and McCoys - among them were Frederick Pohl. Much of it was over left-wing vs. right-wing politics, and whether some flavor of fascism was an option. From this cauldron came The Futurians, and their influence was profound. Asimov, Hannes Bok, Damon Knight, Judith Merril, and Cyril Kornbluth all were members at one time or another.

Blsh would go on to become a significant influence in science fiction, and along with folks like Asimov, an actual "scientist" giving his work of the period solid scientific basis, and moving the genre away from the slap-dash "ray-guns and babes" of the pulps.


Manuscript Found Under a Bed in the Ruins of the Bronx

The Eldritch Goo
by H. Ashton Bloke

The golden cliffs of Mneira hang over the tiny town of Arthrosep, and in the afternoon, their shadows fall on the heaving bay, and the water moans in its subterranean caves, and whispers of evil things.

Though Arthrosep has a history of only three centuries, there are queer, unspeakable things that linger in the stones and thatch. There are murmurs of an old war, waged by an ancient race against the modern usurpers of its homes. And there are many legends, lost in the dimness of antiquity. But their echoes chill the blood, and the pale rays of the sun, as they light the grim countenances of the natives, seem filtered through a veil of horror.

I climbed the crude steps cut in the jasper cliff one evening, meaning to watch the sun sink and swell, and drop behind the sea. Where the hewn trail rounded the edge of the bluff, I sat on a fallen boulder, looking out over the heaving water hundreds of feet below, out to the horizon, where the sun was lighting a silver ...

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