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Night Shade Weird

Night Shade Weird

Thursday 22 October 2020
In October 2020 the October Horrors continued as we presented Night Shade Weird, an ebook bundle featuring the dark fantasy fiction of Clark Ashton Smith, William Hope Hodgson, and other authors from Night Shade Books. Fans of the Cthulhu Mythos know Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961) as the creator of Tsathoggua, Ubbo-Sathla, the Plutonian Drug, and other Mythos staples; gamers may know Smith’s land of Averoigne from the early D&D module X2 Castle Amber. William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918) wrote The House on the Borderland and The Night Land, among other pioneering works of cosmic terror. This all-new collection of Kindle and ePub ebooks presented the authoritative complete editions of both Smith and Hodgson, as well as two volumes of recent Cthulhu Mythos stories by others.

One of the “big three” at Weird Tales magazine along with HP Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith spent most of his life in an isolated cabin his parents built outside Auburn, California. Having educated himself by reading the unabridged dictionary and the entire Encyclopedia Britannica (twice), Smith wrote hundreds of stories and prose poems in an ornate style that suited his exotic settings: the frigid, monster-haunted Miocene continent of Hyperborea, the fictitious medieval kingdom of Averoigne, the dying-earth landscape of Zothique, the Atlantean remnant Poseidonis, and more. In his famous essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature” Lovecraft wrote, “Of younger Americans, none strikes the note of cosmic terror so well as the California poet, artist, and fictionist Clark Ashton Smith, whose bizarre writings, drawings, paintings, and stories are the delight of a sensitive few. […] In sheer daemonic strangeness and fertility of conception, Mr. Smith is perhaps unexcelled by any other writer.”

Mostly written in the decade from 1926 to 1935, Smith’s stories are morbid (or morbidly witty), preoccupied with loss and decay, light on characterization and conflict, yet lustrously written and crackling with imagination. Read his stories online at the leading CA Smith fan site, Eldritch Dark. Start with “The City of the Singing Flame” (modern-day), “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros” (Hyperborea), “A Rendezvous in Averoigne,” or “The Dark Eidolon” (Zothique). Aside from X2 Castle Amber (authorized by the Smith estate), Smith’s impact on gaming is visible in George Hager’s free Zothique d20 System game guide (2002) and in Jeffrey Talanian’s Old-School sword-and-sorcery RPG Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.

After an early career in the merchant marine (which he hated), William Hope Hodgson ran a School of Physical Culture in Blackburn, England as “the inventor and teacher of a system that will cure indigestion.” In 1904 he started writing fiction, and within a few years found marginal success with sea adventures set in the Sargasso Sea. Though this is a real, benign region in the Western Atlantic, Hodgson popularized the idea of the Sargasso as a dangerous, seaweed-choked graveyard for ships. Many of his most famous stories, such as The Ghost Pirates, Out of the Storm, and The Boats of the “Glen Carrig,” show the author’s powerful loathing of the ocean and of sailors. He also wrote entertaining yarns about occult detective Carnacki the Ghost-Finder and the tricksy smuggler Captain Gault. In World War I Hodgson joined the Royal Artillery, and at Ypres an artillery shell blew him apart.

Hodgson’s reputation in weird fiction rests on The House on the Borderland (1908), which Lovecraft praised for its “true note of cosmic horror,” and on The Night Land (1912), which — well….

J.P. Sullivan called The Night Landscience fiction’s most forbidding classic. […] Set in a bleak far-future world where the sun has slowly dimmed into an eternal night, the book brims with psychics, power armor, eldritch horror, arcologies, and post-apocalyptic gloom. The last remaining humans live inside a gigantic pyramid, a mile high and five miles wide, surrounded by all manner of soul-devouring monstrosities that prowl a wasteland heated only by vulcanism and geothermal vents. Inside the pyramid known as the Great Redoubt, cities lie stacked one atop another, powered and protected only by the obscure vagaries of the ‘Earth-current,’ a strange motive force no longer well understood. […] Giant kaiju-esque Watchers besiege the pyramid, and dark unnamed Powers lurk between them. Only a rare few humans can send forth their psychic ‘mind-elements’ into the dark. The hero of the piece is one so gifted, and he soon discovers that another human settlement, long believed lost, yet perseveres in the night. […] When her far settlement begins to collapse, the adventure across the Night Land to rescue its people is on.”

Cool, right? The Night Land is visionary, filled with arresting imagery — but it’s 200,000 words, with almost no dialogue — and larded with repetition and sappy sentiment — and told in the most bloated, archaic, turgid prose you’ve ever read. It’s a slog. Lovecraft called it “a verbose mess.” In 2011 James Stoddard rewrote the indigestible word-pile as The Night Land, a Story Retold. Nothwithstanding its faults, Hodgson’s epic inspired editor Andy Robertson to start a Night Land fan website that published Call of Cthulhu designer Sandy Petersen’s essay “Gaming in the Night Land,” along with good Night Land maps and a timeline. A short-lived 2011 blog called The Hour-Slips offered CoC stats for the book’s creatures. And longtime CoC designer Kevin Ross adapted Hodgson’s ideas for Cthulhu Reborn’s recent Apocthulhu RPG.

For decades you could only find these Clark Ashton Smith and William Hope Hodgson works in pricey Arkham House editions or scarce used paperbacks. But in the 2010s Night Shade Books published comprehensive, meticulous multi-volume editions. This Night Shade Weird Bundle gave purchasers, at a stroke, every story by both these pioneering writers. There were three ebooks in our bargain-priced Weird Fiction Sampler (retail value $49) as DRM-free Kindle and ePub ebooks, including Volume 1 of The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith; The Ghost Pirates and Others: The Best of William Hope Hodgson; and The Book of Cthulhu I, with recent Mythos fiction by Charles Stross, Bruce Sterling, Thomas Ligotti, and many more.

Our Complete Collection added twelve more titles worth an additional $146, including the remaining four volumes of The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith (plus his Miscellaneous Writings); all five volumes of The Complete Fiction of William Hope Hodgson; and The Book of Cthulhu II, the companion anthology with stories by Neil Gaiman, Adam Scott Glancy (Delta Green), Fritz Leiber, Karl Edward Wagner, and many more. And we also included the fourth installment of Marcus Rowland’s free Victorian-era RPG of scientific romances, Forgotten Futures, with a full roleplaying treatment of Hodgson’s “Carnacki the Ghost-Finder” stories.

Ten percent of each payment (after gateway fees) went to this offer’s pandemic-related charity, Direct Relief. Direct Relief gets protective gear and critical care medications to health workers, with emergency deliveries to medical facilities across the US and to regional response agencies across the world.