21 December 2007

Lugones' "The Pillar of Salt" and "Psychon"

I decided to finish the book off early, so the last two stories get bunched into one entry...

"The Pillar of Salt" is the story of a hermit who achieves spiritual transcendence and then seeks out the remains of Lot's wife. At this point, I can say that there seem to be two story types in this collection: creepy semi-parables and plot-less science fiction. This story is an example of the first and is pretty good.

"Psychon" is a pretty cool title, and the story despite being of the second, plot-less kind is pretty satisfying. This one is about a scientist who has managed to isolate a gas he believes may be the elemental representation of consciousness. The ending is just about at the right level of creepy and funny.

Lugones' "Yzur"

The first-hand account of a scientist who tries to teach his pet chimpanzee to talk. Interesting and not quite as plotless as some of the others. Some questionable evolutionary and linguistic concepts are cited, and it's idea of apes as humans evolved backwards is intriguing. Ultimately, the scientist beats the chimpanzee because he believes the chimp is hiding his ability to speak, with tragic results.

20 December 2007

Lugones' "Viola Acherontia"

OK, I have to admit the whole plotlessness of Lugones' fiction is starting to wear on me. This story may be a brilliant gem or it may simply be a lot of botany technobabble concluded with a creepy description of a very singular plant. Intriguing, but starting to feel too repetitious.

19 December 2007

Lugones' "The Horses of Abdera"

An interesting story which reads like something of a parable. The city of Abdera prides itself on its horses and spoils them until they rebel, besieging the city that has spoiled them. As with "The Firestorm" there's something creepy about the scenes of urban destruction, this time by a somewhat fantastic variation on the violence of mobs. It ends with a deus ex machina (emphasis on the deus) that had me scratching my head, making it a little less satisfying then Firestorm. It was hard to tell what the horses were meant to represent. Spoiled youths? Immigrants? The working class? (My guess would be the latter, though I'd have to know more about Lugones' politics to say definitively.)

18 December 2007

Lugones' "Origins of the Flood"

This is the most Lovecraftian of the Lugones' stories so far as Lugones' narrator reveals a prehistoric vision of life on earth that is as vast and alien as that of "At The Mountains of Madness." The narrator is unidentified at first, but near the end of the story we learn that it is a medium channeling the thoughts of one of the few proto-human survivors, a creature which is (in adding to the overall Lovecraftian vibe) half-woman/half-fish and as white as the moon. Again, there is some pretty dense pseudo-science describing the strange chemistry of prehistoric life. The science is particularly dated, as Lugones suggests elemental transformatios versus chemical (as opposed to nuclear) reactions, which we now know is impossible; but it's still sort of fascinating, an attempt to ground the fiction in theory.

17 December 2007

Lugones' "The Omega Force"

(A title which sounds like it could be a cheesy action flick.)

Sort of a companion piece to Metamusic, since both deal with an eccentric individual who creates an invention that harnesses the properties of sound in an interesting way (with ultimately disastrous results). And pretty much everything that I said about that story would apply to this one as well.

14 December 2007

Lugones' "Metamusic"

Wow, Lugones has got to be the master of early 20th Century technobabble! This is a story about an inventor who builds a machine that allows for a visual expression of sound. A man tells the story of his friend, who is a music enthusiast and an amateur scientist. One day, he gets invited to his friend's house to see the invention. Then they discuss the theoretical basis for the sound visualizer, and this takes up at least a good third of the narrative. I still found it fairly impressive, since even a century later, Lugones is exploring some interesting ideas, making this story closer to hard sci-fi.

13 December 2007

Lugones' "The Bloat Toad"

The story of a certain kind of frog that will come back to life and kill anyone who slays it. It's very short but creepy, with some atmosphere. Its spare compared to Poe, and it does feel as if it needs something else, a twist or red herring. Perhaps it's just my 21st century sensibility, but it would have been nice to see the threat drawn out a bit more.

12 December 2007

Lugones' "The Miracle of Saint Wilfred"

This is an interesting story which I'm finding difficult to describe without giving too much away. It struck me as a strange blend of Christian parable and horror story set during the Crusades. (That would make it Christian horror historical fiction?) The set-up is interesting as Lugones describes the landscape largely in terms of the historical and mythological (biblical and heathen) events associated with it. The climax seems pretty much straight out of a typical horror story of the murdered individual coming back to avenge his/her death in a rather gruesome fashion. Yet the horror seems to be framed within the tradition of saints, martyrs, relics, and reliquaries, so it's unclear whether it's really meant to play as horror. Either way, it makes for a rather curious combination.

11 December 2007

Lugones' "An Inexplicable Phenomena"

The story of a man who manages to achieve some degree of projection but ends up suffering a division of his soul. Some interesting 1900s technobabble aside, the story is reminiscent of the lesser works of pre-Lovecraft weird writers: some intriguing set up but little emotional impact. The manifestation of division appears to have been inspired by Stevenson's "Jekyll & Hyde" or Le Fanu's "Green Tea," though I don't know enough about Lugones to state the case for either definitely.

10 December 2007

Lugones a story a day: "The Firestorm"

I'm reading the short story collection "Strange Forces" by Leopoldo Lugones, which is arguably the first Argentine work of science fiction. (A distinction which does not appear to be held in high esteem by his countrymen, who consider him an "outmoded writer.") I'm trying to read one story every weekday and record my immediate reaction.

"The Firestorm" is the story of a rain of a recurrent rain of burning copper that falls on an unnamed desert city (probably North African) as related by a misanthropic (and equally nameless) narrator. It's a fairly simple yet chilling story. No explanation is ever offered for the source of the cataclysm, but it's effects are devastating as the city is slowly but utterly destroyed. This vision of urban devastation echoes with notes of Sodom and Pompeii, but also seems to suggest the urban terrors that would come in the 20th and 21st centuries, including the firebombings of WWII, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and September 11th. That it was written in 1906 makes it seem particularly prophetic.