Sunday, January 29, 2006

S. T. Joshi: A Critical Treasure

How many of you genre lovers get rankled by pretentious dilettantes that dismiss genre fiction out of hand? We have a burgeoning amateur writing scene around here, but the only genre that gets much love is that chestnut, the mystery novel. The Smart Set loves to diss the SF/F/H arena.

If only these would-be aesthetes would read the right selections from Straub, Oates, early King, even M. P. Shiel or Clark Ashton Smith. They'd (hopefully) gain a little pause and be shamed into seeing the error of their ways. Heck, the same applies to the erstatz highbrow who looks down at comic books. Okay, fine, just show me you can write prose on the level of Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman.

This is my cantankerous way of introducing a salient fact: while there is a variety of literary weird fiction from which to choose (although not enough), there is far less literary criticism of weird fiction. I really enjoy critical writing, often to an extent beyond reading original works of fiction or non-fiction, which is why I treasure S.T. Joshi. Through his editing prowess and meticulous critiquing he lends (in a hyperbolic mood I might say, "almost single-handedly") legitimacy to the sub-genre of weird fiction. I don't think it is a coincidence that H. P. Lovecraft's current recognition as a classic American author (his work can now be read under the Penguin Classics imprint--take that, ye doubters!) dovetailed with Joshi's unrelenting scholarship in this area. He is the pre-eminent Lovercraft authority, but I think his work in elevating lesser known (but great) contemporary authors such as T.E.D Klein and Thomas Ligotti just as important, and his critical evaluation of semi-obscure late nineteenth and early twentieth century authors invaluable. Joshi is discerning, he's a snob, which makes him a great signpost for those who want to broaden their weird fiction horizons. He doesn't give five star reviews to everything in sight. You can trust him.

Joshi's prolific as an author, too. Just check out his entry at He's also a key contributor to the massive (and, at 300 bucks, pricey) three-volume reference, Supernatural Literature of the World: An Encyclopedia.

Anybody looking down their nose at weird fiction should take even a cursory look at the sample essays on Joshi's website. They are spectacularly literate and (for me) more than a little intimidating. I'm reading one of his scholarly works right now, The Evolution of Weird Fiction, and it's awesome. I also picked up a collection he edited, Great Tales of Terror and it's a joy, as well, full of those late nineteenth/early twentieth century authors I referred to earlier. It even includes a story by the not-so-unkown Rudyard Kipling.

Not that I lay down and die for Joshi on every subject. He's a militant atheist with a habit of calling those who believe in God "stupid". Hey, everybody's entitled to an opinion, but I don't think C.S. Lewis or Flannery O'Connor or Einstein are particularly lacking in wit. Hell, I'm no genius, but my I.Q. clocks in at 143 and I believe there's a higher power, inscrutable as It may be.

But I digress. Check Joshi out. He'll make you see weird fiction in a whole new way. (Be forewarned: he's not light reading.) And if you get hold of him via correspondence, please let him know that I'd like to interview him for the FWOMP website. I made a request through the e-mail link posted on his website a few weeks ago, but so far no response. He's a busy guy. We'll see what happens.

And now for something completely different...


A man, in the wake of an undefined traumatic event or series of events, sets out on a road trip to an undisclosed destination, from an undisclosed departure point, somewhere in America. Along the way he looks back on what may have transpired and looks forward to what might be, sometimes simultaneously. What happened has had a psychologically wrenching effect on him. He is prone to making comments like "God will not perform here anymore" and "I go and come back like bad dreams and symptoms." Does he recover? Find redemption? Does it even matter?

No, it's not the plot of an L. P. Davies novel, although it may sound like it. Rather it's the storyline of Echolyn's marvelous 2002 release, "Mei". A CD consisting of 49 minutes of music weaved together into a single composition, this is a slice of American progressive rock that demands exposure. Simultaneously conjuring up introspection and raw emotion, the piece is beautiful and evocative and powerful all at once. The recurring musical themes that are reworked and reshaped throughout remain with you after three or four listens. Layered, intricate vocals compliment top-notch musicianship. The whole thing is great, with the first eleven minutes being among the best that popular music has to offer. Echolyn remain one of our most literate and accomplished bands. Like S.T. Joshi, they are an American treasure. Check out the review at Ground and Sky, the most literate (and reliable) progressive rock review site on the Web. (And when you visit, say "Hi," to Brandon for me.)


Blogger "The Fanatic" said...

That "Great Tales of Terror" cover is absolutely freakish! Sent shivers up my spine (excuse the cliche)!

3:29 PM  
Blogger Chris Kemp said...

The credit on the cover states, "Adapated from The Plague, Theodore Kittelson, 1898/9." Just adds to the mystique.

6:49 PM  

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