As the whistles and gunpowder smell of fireworks die away and we start to approach, with premature anticipation or dread, the festive season, and as the dark winter evenings that seem to call up atavistic memories of roaming wolf packs draw in, we break a long Chômu silence to bring you news of Mark Samuels, Snuggly Books and other matters.
First we present an interview with Chômu author Justin Isis, regarding the curious and remarkable Marked to Die, an anthology of fiction in tribute to the illustrious Mark Samuels, whose collection The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales we published in 2011. The anthology, edited by Justin Isis, was released earlier this year, from Snuggly Books, and is available from the publisher’s website and elsewhere.
Interview with Justin Isis Regarding the Mark Samuels Tribute Anthology
Chômu Press: What formed the initial impetus for the Marked to Die anthology?
Justin Isis: A vague desire to write Mark Samuels Real Person Fiction or fanfiction, resulting from a vague feeling that other people would eventually end up doing this, and I wanted to take the initiative and get there first. From there it was mostly a desire to rope other writers into this scheme and see what they’d come up with. The tribute anthology format is a pretty inherently boring and conservative one, from my perspective, and I wanted to see what interesting things I could do to somehow subvert or reinvent it while still fulfilling the basic obligation of honoring the subject material. Mark’s own writing is a model of stylistic focus and consistency, which made it weirdly ideal for this kind of thing—there were enough clear jumping-on points, and his own approach had been influential enough that I felt confident the writers I solicited would have a lot to work with. I think we succeeded in stretching the format pretty far at times through multiple layers of metafiction, random author insertions and the contributions of some writers who’d barely even read Mark’s work—balancing it all, of course, with stories from some of his oldest and closest friends who understand his style, influences and thematic concerns on a deep level.
Chômu Press: What would you say are the non-obvious aspects of that stylistic consistency that have ultimately fed into the anthology—the non-obvious jumping-on points, if you like?
Justin Isis: Mark’s writing is often compared to that of Thomas Ligotti, who’s an admitted influence, but when looked at closely, they don’t actually have that much in common—Ligotti’s stories are much more consistently unreal and vague about the details of place, for example, whereas Mark always seems to be coming to grips with London as it decays. The idea of some kind of psychogeography or deep engagement with setting (deep topography?) was one I hoped the contributors would seize on, and a fair number of them did: Thana Niveau’s ‘Language of the City,’ and David Rix’s monumental ‘Slag Glass Lachrimae,’ which is rooted firmly in the England of rising housing prices and persistent low-level despair. That kind of attention to setting gave the book a grounding it otherwise wouldn’t have had: even as it ranges pretty far over the globe with stories set in Russia, Japan, South America, etc., it still seems to keep one leg of the compass fixed in London. You could also pick up on the religious underpinnings of some of Mark’s stories, which of course have been the subject of some controversy. A few of the contributors chose to play them straight, while others engaged with them in fairly unexpected ways. There’s a pretty clear metaphysical thread running through the book.
Chômu Press: The anthology, of course, is called Marked to Die. Do you think there’s a morbid, or perhaps simply unhelpful prejudice, against living writers? This anthology is an attempt to celebrate a writer in his lifetime, but writers are often more celebrated in such a way (and in other ways) after their death; is this the inevitable result of the time investment necessary for reading books, so that it takes a while for the reading public to sift the good from the bad, or do you think it’s something else?
Justin Isis: Since the book has come out I’ve seen at least five or six comments along the lines of “Is Mark Samuels dead? No? Well, he probably should be if he has a tribute anthology.” There’s definitely a sense in which writers are only seen as real, as accepted, once they’re in the ground. But the intention of this book was never to be any kind of monument in the tombstone sense; neither do I think it comes close to capturing everything about Mark’s writing. I’m fully expecting him to keep changing and evolving, and if his recent work (such as the upcoming novel A Pilgrim Stranger) is anything to go by, the public impression of his writing might be completely different in another ten or twenty years. I mean, I did say that I expected there would be further tributes, further instances of him being used as a character, etc. Marked to Die gets things rolling, but it’s really just the beginning. More generally, I don’t think much time at all is needed to evaluate quality, it’s just that the cult of death is excessively prevalent. Look at how much revenue is being extracted from Kafka, Lovecraft and others who died poor and unknown. I’d rather focus on the living.
Further Intriguing News
The Samuels-related news does not end, however, with the release of the Marked to Die tribute anthology this year, or even with the enigmatic A Pilgrim Stranger mentioned in the interview above, for the next book to be released by Chômu Press will be the Mark Samuels collection Written in Darkness, previously released as a limited edition hardback by Egaeus Press. The author himself has become the latest of many to publish his works directly, and fans of Mark Samuels can now find his Glyphotech and Other Macabre Processes back in print and available for purchase at Amazon, soon to be followed by his short novel, The Face of Twilight.
Before we go, we would like to urge all readers who have enjoyed Chômu Press publications to take a closer look at Snuggly Books, who are publishing some of the same authors as Chômu (see, for instance, the attractive reissue of Quentin S. Crisp’s long out-of-print collection, Rule Dementia!, or the forthcoming publication of Brendan Connell’s masterly fictional life of a Paraguayan actor and star of Cinecittà, Clark), and other interesting contemporary authors most deserving of the reader’s attention. For the adventurous connoisseur, Snuggly Books are also unearthing and disseminating (sometimes in new or first translation) notable works of Decadent, Symbolist, and otherwise curious or exotic literature, such as The Tarantulas’ Parlor and Other Unkind Tales, by Léon Bloy, and The Soul-Drinker and Other Decadent Fantasies, by Jean Lorrain.
2015 is drawing to a close. It’s been a while since our last release, Brendan Connell’s The Galaxy Club, and even longer since 2011’s debut from Justin Isis, I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like. But now we are ready to present the follow-up collection from Justin Isis, Welcome to the Arms Race, officially released on the 16th of December, and we believe the wait has been more than worth it.
Where I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like gave us an off-kilter, twenty-first century update of decadence set in Japan, Welcome to the Arms Race ranges across the globe and through time, taking readings for a map of human and post-human destiny with before-and-after snapshots at whose centre is the singularity. It’s science fiction, Jim, but not as we know it. Take your position at the starting line by picking up a copy here.
(Those of you who are interested in buying books as Christmas gifts, please see details below.)
Kristine Ong Muslim describes the new release as follows:
In Welcome to the Arms Race, Justin Isis, as usual, dazzles with his rendition of shattered reality where deeply damaged characters kick up their heels as they revel in their self-inflicted agonies. There’s just no letting up—from depravity involving a squid to the relentless mirroring of our deep-seated anxieties in ‘The Heart of a Man,’ from cosmic horror in ‘The Willow’ to the tortuous psychedelia in ‘M-FUNK VS THA FUTUREGIONS OF INVERSE FUNKATIVITY.’ Another terrific collection of stories from Chômu Press.
There is a brief, recent interview with Justin Isis, talking about his new collection, at the Compulsive Reader website, here. Justin Isis will also be the interviewee for our next Chômu Press e-mail interview, so, if you are not already signed up, please do subscribe in order to receive updates and exclusive interviews.
Welcome to the Arms Race is already in stock at Amazon U.S., but for those in the U.K. who wish to be more certain of receiving a copy in time for Christmas, Chômu Press will, for a very limited period, be taking orders directly. Simply make a payment for £15 (per copy) for U.K. orders by clicking the following link. (Sadly, we are unable to make this offer outside of the U.K., but if you do live in other countries and would like to enquire about special delivery options, please write to info at chomupress dot com with the subject heading “Christmas Arms Race” and we will do what we can to meet your needs.) This offer is open until 1.00 p.m (GMT) Tuesday the 15th. Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee that the books will arrive before Christmas, but they will be sent by ‘rush’ service with no charge for postage. Otherwise, for readers in the U.K., please remember that The Book Depository, who stock Chômu books here, advise that Tuesday the 15th is the last day to make orders for Christmas delivery. (The Book Depository also offers free worldwide delivery, but cannot guarantee that orders will now arrive in time for Christmas.) Welcome to the Arms Race is also stocked by Jeff’n'Joys, Cold Tonnage, Blackwell’s and other retailers to be announced.
For e-book readers, Chômu are making the following seasonal offer: The e-book of Revenants by Daniel Mills will be available free through Kindle for the whole of the 21st of December, 2015. Of Revenants, Daniel Mills’s debut novel, Booklist’s Joanne Wilkinson wrote:
Readers [of Revenants] are swept into the towering forests of colonial New England right along with the settlers as Mills calls up both the majesty of stately oaks and chestnuts and mist-laden scenes of terrified Native American women and children who were slaughtered where they stood. Otherworldly fiction from a promising new talent.
Please remember also to sign up to our e-mail list for Chômu news and exclusive author interviews delivered directly to your inbox.
Today, we bring you the second in a series of guest essays by Chômu authors. This time, ‘How to Bake a Cockatrice, and Other Gastronomic Oddities’, an essay on Renaissance cuisine by Brendan Connell. If you enjoy the essay below, you might also like Lives of Notorious Cooks by the same author.
How to Bake a Cockatrice, and Other Gastronomic Oddities
A Window on Renaissance Dining
Have you ever been struck with a sudden urge for a dish of quails farced with figs, or desired nothing so much as a plate of cockscombs on lettuce? Maybe not, but for a decadent of the Italian Renaissance, such dishes were the standard fare. In imitation of the Roman Emperor Heliogabalus, who ate such extravagant things as peas with gold-pieces, lentils with onyx or beans with amber, the Renaissance nobles were true gourmands.
Classes, however, were drastically divided. While the rich were living in sumptuous conditions, unheard of today, the common people generally suffered a great deal. Throughout the whole of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries alone there was on average a famine in Europe every eight years.
The poorer people ate, for the most part, things such as corn mush, coarse bread, stock fish and salt pork. Those of a somewhat higher standing ate beef, white bread, wine, and cheese.
For the nobles and their circles, meal time was an altogether different matter.
The Italians led Europe in virtually all things; in the art of cooking no less than that of painting, dress and conversation. While England and France were still using their hands to eat with, the Italians had developed the novelty of the fork. The Englishman Thomas Coryate, upon visiting Italy at the turn of the fifteenth century, commented that he had never in all his travels seen such a wondrous way of eating, and forthwith brought the custom back to England for the enrichment of his own civilisation. Catherine Medici had brought forks with her to France nearly seventy years earlier, but their use apparently never caught on. It is interesting to note that she is also considered responsible for first bringing liqueurs to France, an invention which caught on very well.
In Italy, those of especially high rank were sure to have a nervous venom taster near at hand, nibbling at each dish and desperately hoping that he would not successfully swallow a poisoned one. Agate cups were used to drink from, because it was thought that poison would become non-toxic in such a vessel.
There were numerous myths concerning food: Salad was considered efficacious for whitening the skin, and meat for making the muscles flexible. To overcome the fear of water, you ate the partially digested small fish found in the belly of a larger. To have strong legs you ate mountain goat. A jelly of quinces prevented ‘vapours.’
A typical meal of a well-to-do Italian of the fifteenth century might have consisted of the following: A broth of beef and barley, roasted venison or pig, minced chicken livers in paste balls, batter-fried goose breasts, and leeks parboiled and fried in oil. For dessert there would be candied prickly pears and coriander seeds steeped in marjoram vinegar and crusted with sugar.
Dessert in general has always been something that the Italians excelled at. The secrets of sherbet had been handed down from the Emperor Nero, and greatly improved by the syrups brought to Venice by Arab traders. At a pageant, the nobility liked nothing so much as a hard candy called Manis Christi, or hand of Christ, which was made of sugar, rose water and gold leaf. The ingredients were mixed together and then cast in moulds, in the shapes of flowers, birds or little beasts, medallions or ornaments, producing a candy that looked much like valuable jewellery. Gold leaf was also used to decorate other desserts, such as cookies, lozenges and marzipan. It is interesting to note that gold and pearls were once thought of as a ‘restorative’ and not uncommonly added to food and drink.
The diametric opposite of the Italians, were the Germans. In the south their eating habits were considered coarse. Coarse or not, one thing is certain: their stomachs were imperturbable. Looking over what they ate, we can only come to the conclusion that they were veritable superheroes of digestion. They ate eagles, nightingales, swallows, herons, starlings, ptarmigans and woodpeckers. Horses were common fare, as were aurochs, bears, marmots, seals, beavers, porcupines, hedgehogs and virtually any other living thing that was remotely edible.
The forests of Europe were at one time extremely rich with wildlife. It is little wonder that they no longer are.
England, like Germany, has never been known as a land dedicated to culinary excellence. When reading over books of old English recipes, one is struck with a certain hesitancy. The very names of the dishes might very well send shivers through a person with weak digestion. Boiled cony with pudding in his belly, sparrows stew, liverings of a swine – These are not the foods most of us want to have sitting on our dinner table.
Yet, it must be said, that the English food of long ago was probably not half bad, especially for those who liked piquant cooking. They used, with a free hand, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, saffron and numerous other spices. Ale and wine were used in the kitchen constantly. Toasted or stale bread was used as a thickener.
English chefs were heavily influenced by the French, and for that reason we can today trace many of our words for food preparation back to that language. When reading a cookbook from the thirteenth of fourteenth century, we find it full of strange French corruptions. We read of King Henry IV eating ‘Braun fryez’ (fried pork) and ‘Egretez’ (egret).
Sometimes the language is so terse as to leave one scratching one’s head. As an example of how obscure some of the old recipes could be, we only need to look at the following for Lampreys in Bruet, which was written by one of King Richard II’s master chefs. The recipe is set forth in its entirety:
They schulle be schaldyd and ysode and brulyd upon a greder and grynd peper and safron and do ther’to and boyle it and do the Lamprey there’yn and serve yt forth.
Of course, it must be remembered that King Henry I died from eating ‘too plentifully of lampreys’, so the previous recipe, though undoubtedly tasty and surely adored by Richard, cannot in good conscience be recommended.
Some of what we come across in the cookbooks is quite ambiguous, such as the following recipe for ‘apples of love,’ a fruit which I have been unable to place:
Take away the pilling, then cut them in slices boyle them in water, and after frie them in the flower of meale and butter or oyle and then cast upon them pepper and salt: this kind of meat is good for such men as are inclined to dallie with common dames, and short heeld huswiues.
The chefs of old had a certain cool brevity to their methods. There was no preheating the oven to 350 degrees. No bothering with weights and measures. No pinches of this or teaspoons of that. Occasionally they might refer to an ‘ana’ or an ‘assay,’ an obscure measurement equal to 4 drams plus 24 grains (if you know what those are). Generally, however, it seems they measured their ingredients more by intuition than anything else.
Though they lacked our modern precision, there is no reason to think that they suffered thereby. Samuel Pepys, in his diary entry for the 26th of January 1660, says his wife prepared a very fine dinner of “a dish of marrow bones, a leg of mutton, a loin of veal, a dish of fowl, three pullets, two dozen larks all in a dish, a neat’s tongue, a dish of anchovies, a dish of prawns and cheese.” To drink, he mentions liking, amongst other things, “sack-posset, ” which consists of hot sweetened milk, spiced and then curdled with a strong Spanish wine.
Aside from imported wines, ale and mead were drunk in abundance, it even being the custom of the men to have a ‘morning draft’ before work. The ales were often seasoned with such things as marjoram, thyme, rosemary, mint, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon. Hippocras was another popular beverage and consisted of wine heavily dosed with sugar and spices. Caudell was wine mixed with eggs and, for children and teetotallers, there was furmenty, a drink which I believe is the ancestor of our present day eggnog. It was made by boiling together milk, sugar and eggs, and sometimes adding raisins or, for those in need of extra protein, venison.
When it came to feasting, no one could outdo the nobility, particularly for oddness and extravagance. Queen Elizabeth I dined almost always alone, and never on less than twenty-four dishes, though she would take but a taste from each. For the coronation of the Henry V’s wife Catherine, they ate porpoise and whale. It was a fish day. King Richard II, at the age of twelve, was entertained by the Bishop of Durham. He was served fourteen oxen lying in salt, two fresh oxen, six score sheep, twelve boars, fourteen calves, one hundred and forty pigs, three hundred marrowbones and six deer. For poultry, the good bishop did not stint. He produced fifty swans, two hundred and ten geese, fifty-eight dozen capons, sixty dozen hens. Additionally, there were four pheasants, five bitterns, two hundred conies, six kids, seventeen dozen pullets, one hundred dozen pigeons, twelve dozen partridges, eight dozen rabbits, ten dozen curlews, twelve dozen brewes, twelve cranes, six dozen gallons of milk, twelve gallons of crème, eleven gallons of curds, three bushels of apples and six thousand eggs.
The French were even more extravagant. At one royal banquet we read a menu more or less like the one mentioned above, with the addition of numerous varieties of fish and cheese and three thousand two hundred litres of wine. Kings and nobles drained their treasuries in feasting, spending millions and competing with each other in gluttony.
At the great banquets, there would be fountains spurting rose water and lawns adorned with rabbits, deer and birds all moulded from minced meat. Subtleties, or sculptures made of sugar, paste and sometimes jelly, were extremely popular and often reached epic proportions. There were hunting scenes, fully armed ships, and even grand castles. Extravagant recipes were imported from Italy to France, where the great lords would make wealthy any man with skill enough to properly prepare them.
The royal chefs were considered to be almost magicians, and would go to great lengths to impress their lords. Peacocks would be cautiously killed and stripped of their skins, then cooked and reclothed so that they would appear to be alive. Camphor soaked in aqua vita was then cast in their mouths and set alight, so the poor creatures breathed fire.
The alchemy of food preparation was taken incredibly seriously and extravagance was always applauded. A ‘rainbow of roast chickens’ was made by dying each one a different colour. For white, egg yolks and flour, for yellow, egg yolk and saffron, for green, parsley pressed through a cloth with egg. Cockatrice was made by cooking the front part of a capon and the back part of a small pig and sewing them together. A fish could be cooked three ways: The tail fried, the middle steamed, and the head roasted. Each part was then dressed with a different coloured sauce, in a manner similar to that of the chickens just mentioned.
The most awful recipe was certainly that enjoyed by the King of Arragon: A goose roasted alive and served not dead. I refrain from describing the recipe.
For the unwelcome guest, there was a recipe so that ‘flesh may look bloody and full of worms, and so be rejected.’ Rabbit’s blood was dried and cast on the meat, to make it look uncooked. Then ‘cut harp strings small, and strew them on the hot flesh, the heat will twist them, and they will move like worms.’
So, do you feel adventurous? Would you like to sink your teeth into a well garnished taste of the past? Well, for those spirited individuals who are handy in the kitchen, I have composed the following short and relatively simple Renaissance menu, along with recipes:
The First Course
The Second Course
Whyte Mortrewys of Porke
The Third Course
Peris in Syrippe
chicken gizzards, livers etc. (heads and feet optional)
bread (dark bread is best, preferably toasted)
Take faire garbage, chickens heads, feet, livers, gizzards and wash them clean. Caste them into a faire pot of fresh broth of beef. Add powder of pepper, cinnamon, cloves, mace, parsley and sage minced small. Then take bread, steep it in the same broth and then draw the broth through a strainer. Let this broth boil now. Cast therein powdered ginger, lemon juice, salt, and a little saffron, and serve it forth.
Whyte Mortrewys of Porke
oil or lard
Take lean pork and boil it. Remove it when done. Blanche almonds and grind them and mix them up with the broth of the pork and stir in flower of rice and let boil together. Grind the pork small now and mix in minced almonds fried in fresh grease. Then lay this up all flat in a dish. Throw thereto now sugar and salt. Pour on the dressing (the broth) and then strew thereon powdered ginger and almonds.
bread (toasted or dried)
Take faire cabbages and cut them, and wash them clean. Parboil them in faire water, and then press them on a faire board. Chop them, and caste them in a faire pot with good fresh broth, and with marrowbones, and let it boil. Then grate faire bread and caste thereto, and caste thereto saffron and salt. And when thou servest it, knock the marrow out of the bones, and lay two or three gobbets of the marrow in each dish, as seemeth best, and serve it forth.
Peris in Syrippe
Take pears and cast them in a faire pot of water. Boil them till they be tender and then take them up and pare them in two or in three. Then take powder of cinnamon, a good quantity, and cast it in good red wine, and cast sugar thereto, and put it in an earthen pot and let it boil. Then cast the pears thereto, and let them boil together awhile. Take powder of ginger, and a little saffron to colour it with.
Meteorologically speaking, spring has begun, but astronomically speaking, we still have to wait until the 20th of this month. However, at Chômu, we’re not waiting until the 20th to bring you a little spring bulletin. Soon, we shall be posting on this website the second in our series of essays by Chômu authors, but, for now, a round up of recent Chômu-related news:
Chômu Press are very gratified to report the existence of an independently founded ‘Friends of Chômu Press’ group at Goodreads. The message boards include those dedicated to discussion of individual Chômu authors, to the discussion of quarterly group-reads, and so on, all hosted by the friendly but enigmatic batrachian known only as ‘Axolotl’. We urge you to pay a visit to the group’s home page, explore, and, if you feel inclined, to join.
There have also been a number of reviews of books from Chômu authors recently, mainly for works from other publishers. Mark Samuels’s latest collection, Written in Darkness, published by Egaeus Press, has been reviewed by Timothy Jarvis at Weird Fiction Review. Defeated Dogs, written by Quentin S. Crisp and published by Eibonvale Press, has been reviewed by The British Fantasy Society, and by Darkling Tales. And finally, Brendan Connell has had two different books reviewed: The Galaxy Club (Chômu Press), reviewed at The British Fantasy Society, and The Metanatural Adventures of Dr. Black (PS Publishing) reviewed at I Just Read About That…
Our final item on this brief bulletin: Jottings from a Far-Away Place and Blue on Blue, previously unpublished works by Chômu authors Brendan Connell and Quentin S. Crisp respectively, are expected from Snuggly Books, the release date to be confirmed.
Please look out for our next guest essay, from Brendan Connell, coming soon.
(Below, please find an essay by Chômu author Justin Isis that originally appeared on the website Patchwork Earth. We hope this will be the first of a number of essays from Chômu authors to appear on the site. – QSC.)
On July 3, 2008, one month before killing himself, Thomas M. Disch wrote a poem in which he referenced 19th century French author Jules Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly. Disch introduces him as “the Walter Scott of Normandy” and mentions how “in his old age, he drew about him in his poor Paris lodgings the best of the young generation which has since made his fame secure.” Disch’s mention is intended as ironic; Barbey d’Aurevilly is all but unknown in the Anglosphere today.
Who was Barbey d’Aurevilly? Geoffrey Wall’s introduction to the Penguin edition of Flaubert’s L’Éducation sentimentale states:
“Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly, the mischievous high-Catholic dandy, declared that the whole thing was disagreeably ‘dry’ and overdone. Flaubert, so he argued, ‘stays on the surface, knows no feeling, no passion, no enthusiasm, no ideal, no insight, no reflections, no depth.’ Maliciously perceptive, Barbey d’Aurevilly mocked Flaubert’s cult of perfectionism, inviting his readers to imagine a crowd that ‘goes down on its knees – like the three kings at the crib of the Infant Jesus – before the box that contains Flaubert’s manuscript.’”
“Beloved of fin-de-siècle decadents, Barbey d’Aurevilly is a classic example of what lengths the Romantics were capable of; his writings make it plain why the genre fell into discredit among later Victorians. He held extreme Catholic views, yet wrote on the most risqué subjects (a contradiction the English apparently found more disturbing than the French; Voltairianism would have been something else); he gave himself aristocratic airs and hinted at a mysterious past, though his parentage was entirely respectable and his youth humdrum and innocent.”
Barbey d’Aurevilly also reviewed À rebours, “the breviary of the decadence,” upon its release. J.-K. Huysmans states that “in the midst of all this hurly-burly, a single writer alone saw clear, Barbey d’Aurevilly, who, be it said, had no personal acquaintance with me.” Huysmans is referring to the ultimatum Barbey d’Aurevilly offered him in the review: “After such a book, it only remains for the author to choose between the muzzle of a pistol and the foot of the cross.” Huysmans, like Barbey d’Aurevilly, would eventually choose the latter.
At present, few books seem available in English. One is a manual on Dandyism with a preface by Quentin Crisp (not [Chomu co-founder] Quentin S. Crisp); another is Les Diaboliques, a collection of stories dealing with the common theme of murderesses, which is available for free, online, in French. I used online translation for the preface, and from it the following phrases were generated:
“Real stories of this civilized time and if divine that, when one warns to write them, it seems that it is the Devil which dictated… The Devil is like God. Manicheism which is the stock of all the great heresies of The Middle Ages, the Manicheism is not so stupid! Malebranche said that God recognized himself with the use OF the MEANS MORE. Devil too.”
“One wanted to make a small Museum of these Ladies, while waiting for the Museum, even smaller is made, ladies which make them during and contrasts in the company, because all things are double. Art has two lobes, like the brain. Nature resembles these women who have a blue eye and an eye black.”
My own interest in Barbey d’Aurevilly stems from his embodying two seemingly contradictory ideas: religious conservatism and avant-garde fashion. This tendency, symptomatic of a certain stratum of 19th century French literature, can be seen also in Huysmans’s movement from Naturalism to religious themes. This combination is difficult to imagine in English literature; although a kind of spirituality exists in the work of Dickens, Eliot, and Hardy, it remains at the level of a vague ideal. Few Victorian writers seem capable of summoning the satanic ecstasies of Huysmans’s La-Bas; even Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray comes off as derivative when held up to the standard of À rebours.
Where does this tendency come from? It might help to examine the seminal works of Flaubert, a writer typically credited with creating the modern form of literary Realism. As of 2008, Flaubert’s style in Madame Bovary and L’Éducation sentimentale is still used as a primer for Realist techniques – see critic James Wood’s recent How Fiction Works for an excellent analysis. But a closer inspection reveals that Flaubert, who claimed to detest Realism, more often wrote in a fantastic mode. His earliest work, La Tentation de Saint Antoine, is a near-Surrealist drama. His shorter works collected in Trois Contes have the atmosphere of fairy tales and medieval legends, and their concomitant violence – consider the flatly mystical ending of “Saint Julien l’hospitalier,” in which a horribly rotting leper is transfigured into Christ, or the grotesque death of John the Baptist in “Herodias,” a story which evokes its Oriental setting with all the vividness of a Gustave Moreau painting. Then there’s the historical novel Salammbô, with its flesh-eating idol, Moloch. And this dialogue from the early story “The Dance of Death,” which seems to prefigure H.P. Lovecraft rather than Henry James:
“When God’s work of creation has ceased; when the heavens have disappeared and the stars are quenched; when spirits rise from their retreats and wander in the depths with sighs and groans; then, what unpicturable delight for thee! Then shalt thou sit on the eternal thrones of heaven and of hell–shalt overthrow the planets, stars, and worlds–shalt loose thy steed in fields of emeralds and diamonds–shalt make his litter of the wings torn from the angels,–shalt cover him with the robe of righteousness! Thy saddle shall be broidered with the stars of the empyrean,–and then thou wilt destroy it! After thou hast annihilated everything, –when naught remains but empty space,–thy coffin shattered and thine arrows broken, then make thyself a crown of stone from heaven’s highest mount, and cast thyself into the abyss of oblivion. Thy fall may last a million aeons, but thou shalt die at last. Because the world must end; all, all must die,–except Satan! Immortal more than God! I live to bring chaos into other worlds!”
Examined in this light, Flaubert’s Realist works can be seen as exceptions rather than the rule, and so it seems strange that he’s still known primarily to English readers for a novel of provincial adultery. But the fact that the casual reader is familiar only with Madame Bovary is perhaps not surprising, given the Anglosphere’s Realist bias (to be fair, the other side of the coin is the long tradition of the English ghost story). And if most of Flaubert’s work goes unread, what hope does Barbey d’Aurevilly have? Disch’s poem and its mention of his “secure fame” seem painful to me. Oscar Wilde’s attempt to import Symbolist decadence into English had some influence on Modernism, but for the most part has had little mainstream effect: in the Anglosphere, at least, the fantastic/mystical tradition seems not just dead but forgotten. Instead we’re flooded with, on the one hand, tedious “magic realism” and empty formalism, and on the other, derivative “Realism” of the kind Flaubert would have disdained – Flaubert, who famously chose the theme of Madame Bovary not because of any especial interest, but because it was deliberately banal.
Why doesn’t the English-speaking world get the joke?
Today marks the occasion of the release of the first Chômu hardback.
Crandolin, by Anna Tambour, shortlisted for the 2013 World Fantasy Award in the novel category, has been described by Paul Di Filippo thus:
Tambour deftly deploys a variety of tones and strategies in this book, which she manages to unite gracefully into an organic wholeness and distinctive voice. We have bits of erudite lost history, in the manner of Umberto Eco. We have surreal and absurdist moments such as we might find in the work of Stepan Chapman or Rhys Hughes. Haruki Murakami’s melancholy aloneness and perverseness of existence figure into Tambour’s style, as does Rikki Ducornet’s jeweled oneiric prose. Of course there’s a heavy dose of the Arabian Nights in the tale. And when the Muse and the Omniscient assume human form and interact with the Russians, I was reminded of nothing so much as Thorne Smith’s The Night Life of the Gods.
The hardback edition might take a couple of weeks (from the time of writing this) to arrive at Amazon at a reasonable price, but is already available at The Book Depository, with free delivery worldwide. Please also look out for new fiction from Anna Tambour at Tor.com this month. [Note: The story, 'The Walking-Stick Forest', is, in fact, to appear at Tor.com on the 4th of June.]
Chris Conn Askew's marvellous cover for Crandolin, by Anna Tambour.
Yesterday saw the end of the month-long collaboration between Chômu and Schlock Magazine, featuring not only an interview with Chômu, but reviews of the debut collections of Justin Isis and Luke Geddes in the Pop Culture Destruction section, and new fiction from both the above-named authors in the April Issue, which also includes fiction from T.R. Healy, Elsa Fiott and Ken Liu.
Finally, we are beginning to see reviews of our February release, The Galaxy Club, by Brendan Connell, appearing here and there online.
Spring has arrived and Chômu Press has, for the month of April, entered into a temporary partnership with Schlock Magazine. An interview with Chômu is already up on their website, and may be read here. Please also look out, on the Schlock website, for new fiction from Luke Geddes and Justin Isis and for reviews of books by the two authors, forthcoming at the time of writing.
Justin Isis and levitationalist celebrate the coming of spring
In further news, we are very pleased to announce the imminent release of Chômu’s first hardback, the World Fantasy Award finalist Crandolin, by Anna Tambour. This hardback edition is due for publication on the 1st of May.
Finally, the winner of February’s prize draw, for a personalised copy of The Galaxy Club, is Martin Hayes, of County Wicklow, Ireland. The customised copy of The Galaxy Club is now winging its way across the Atlantic.
Please watch this space (and/or sign up here to our mailing list) for further Chômu updates.
2014 has begun, and after the come-down and hangover of the New Year, a tonic is necessary to fortify us for the year ahead – maybe even hair of the cynosure. And so we continue the astronomical theme with which we brought 2013 to a close, and start 2014 with the release of The Galaxy Club, by Brendan Connell. Set in seventies New Mexico, this is a booze-soaked stranger-comes-to-town tale with the cosmic picaresque vision of Wu Cheng’en and the grit of Jim Thompson. Buried treasure, dragons, and naturally plenty of car chases, are leavened with beat poetry and hard-boiled in a bed of noir, to bring the reading world the Great New Mexican Novel it never knew it was waiting for. Join the club by picking up a copy here.
Details of the prize draw may be found at the bottom of the announcement. Readers in London, please also remember that Jeremy Reed, author of Chômu books, Nothing But a Star and Here Comes the Nice, will be performing live with The Ginger Light at The National Portrait Gallery in two days time (on Valentine’s Day) at 18.30, admission free.
Prize Draw for an inscribed copy of The Galaxy Club
The results of the Nothing But a Star prize draw are as follows: ADW, of Lancashire, England, is the winner of a specially inscribed copy of Jeremy Reed’s Nothing But a Star, which should be on its way to him soon.
For this month’s prize draw, we are offering a specially inscribed copy of Brendan Connell’s The Galaxy Club. For all those unfamiliar with them, here are the rules: To be entered for this draw, please sign up here to our mailing list (or using the ‘Free updates’ widget on our home page) and send an e-mail with the subject heading ‘We are stardust’ to info at chomupress dot com. If you are already on our mailing list, of course there is no need to sign up again – simply send an e-mail with the ‘We are stardust’ subject heading to the address mentioned. Only one entry allowed per person. Deadline for draw, the 28th of February, 2014.
Please remember also to sign up to our e-mail list for Chômu news and exclusive author interviews delivered directly to your inbox.
The year 2013 draws moodily and mistily to its close, but if there is one bright spot in the nighted firmament, it is the advent of our 25th book. That’s right, with Nothing But a Star, by Jeremy Reed (cover photo by Gregory Hesse-Wagner), we have reached the quarter century in the number of volumes we have published. Jeremy Reed’s stellar novel, Here Comes the Nice, received a starred review at Publishers Weekly when we released it in November 2011. This time we are releasing an eclectic collection of his poetry, essays, lyrics and more besides. We may be shivering at the foggy fag-end of the year and of civilisation, but let us warm our hearts by the starlight of poetry.
Glamorous, autumnal, visionary, distilling the future from the present moment, glittering with pop spontaneity and smooth with velvet melancholy, capturing the dread and tingle of the moods of London, and spinning out from the light-polluted urban night across the universe, Nothing But a Star is the perfect book to bring a decadent, empurpled twinkle to the long, cold nights of December. Part intimate scrapbook, part jeweller’s tray, Nothing But a Star contains, as well as poetry, an essay on the suicides of Hart Crane and Harry Crosby, a playscript for a version of The Picture of Dorian Gray set in the 21st century, a pop libretto written for Marc Almond and based on J-K Huysmans’ À rebours, and other specimens of dopamine in literary form. Catch a falling star by picking up a copy here. There now follows the testimony of other stargazers:
Jeremy Reed’s talent is almost extraterrestrial in its brilliance. He is Rimbaud reconfigured as the Man who fell to Earth, a visitor from deep space whose time machine was designed by Lautréamont and de Sade, and powered by the most exotic fuels the imagination has ever devised.
- J.G. Ballard
The most beautiful, outrageously brilliant poetry in the world.
The man is light worlds apart from his contemporaries in poetry.
- Andrew Loog Oldham
Jeremy Reed may be heard reciting one of his poems as part of the act The Ginger Light in the inset clip below:
As usual, there is a prize draw, details of which may be found at the bottom of the announcement. Please also remember, if you require books for Christmas, and they appear to be temporarily out of stock at Amazon, that The Book Depository delivers worldwide at no extra cost. And for those anticipating the coming year, please look out for Brendan Connell’s The Galaxy Club, which continues our astronomical theme. And finally, in other news, the collaborative novel by Chômu authors Brendan Connell, Justin Isis and Quentin S. Crisp, The Cutest Girl in Class, a less-than-simple tale of “boy meets inanimate object” (Joe Simpson Walker) was released last month from Snuggly Books.
Prize Draw for an inscribed copy of Nothing But a Star
The results of the Member prize draw are as follows: Caleb Wilson, of Illinois, was the winner of a specially inscribed copy of Michael Cisco’s Member, which should be on its way to him, or has perhaps already arrived.
This month’s prize draw, of course, is for a specially inscribed copy of Jeremy Reed’s Nothing But a Star. For anyone unfamiliar with them, please allow me to repeat the unchanging rules: To be entered for this draw, please sign up here to our mailing list (or using the ‘Free updates’ widget on our home page) and send an e-mail with the subject heading ‘But some of us are looking at the stars’ to info at chomupress dot com. If you are already on our mailing list, of course there is no need to sign up again – simply send an e-mail with the ‘But some of us are looking at the stars’ subject heading to the address mentioned. Only one entry allowed per person. Deadline for draw, the 3rd of January, 2014.
Those on our mailing list can also expect exclusive interviews from Chômu authors. The next interview is still to be with P.F. Jeffery.
After our summer hiatus, we return triumphantly with Member, our third novel from the incomparable Michael Cisco, the first writer to have a Chômu publishing hat-trick. (Incidentally, Cisco is interviewed at Weird Fiction Review at this link, where he talks about Member, Franz Kafka and other things.) Officially released today, and with alluring cover artwork from Sergio Membrillas, Member is a sustained tracking shot, from the inside, following one person’s exploration of the cosmic stitching behind the tapestry of the everyday. It is the tale of the hapless spiritual seeker, Thanks, determined to go beyond the human by constant application of his ‘practice’, but who nonetheless accidentally recruits himself into:
Chorncendantra — the current phase of the cosmic game originating on the artificial planetary system; the game is played by two arbitrarily determined teams across many planets. Chorncendantra is the universal systemmechanism. It is the human game.
You may non-accidentally recruit yourself by picking up a copy here.
No less a literary light than Brian Evenson describes Member as:
A rivetingly strange novel in which Cisco mixes game theory, serious philosophy, SF, and dark fantasy into something at once unreal and really entrancing. Kind of like what might happen if Wyndham Lewis decided to write like M. John Harrison and had Martin Heidegger as his editor.
Below, you will find details on how to enter the Member prize draw, to win a copy of the book specially inscribed by the author. Before that, some general news. November 2012’s Chômu release, Crandolin, by Anna Tambour, has been shortlisted in the Novel category of the World Fantasy Awards. Read a sample of the novel at this link. If you are attending the World Fantasy Convention this year, please look out for us in the dealers’ room, as we expect to be there. The Cutest Girl in Class, a collaboration by Chômu authors Justin Isis, Brendan Connell and Quentin S. Crisp, details of which can be found in the post at this link, is now at the printers and set for a November release. It is still, of course, available for pre-order by writing to evans_lichamleas[at]yahoo[dot]com, though please note that health problems at Snuggly Books might cause delayed responses to e-mails. Finally, if you enjoyed the Chômu Radio Archive interview with John Elliott, then you may enjoy Joe Campbell and Quentin S. Crisp’s audio diary of their Hythe Adventure.
Prize Draw for an inscribed copy of Member
And now for the details, as promised above, of this month’s prize draw. For the October prize draw we are, of course, giving away a uniquely inscribed copy of Member. For anyone unfamiliar with them, here are the oft-repeated rules : To be entered for this draw, please sign up here to our mailing list (or using the ‘Free updates’ widget on our home page) and send an e-mail with the subject heading ‘The game is called “Find Your Adversary”’ to info at chomupress dot com. If you are already on our mailing list, of course there is no need to sign up again – simply send an e-mail with the ‘The game is called “Find Your Adversary”’ subject heading to the address mentioned. Only one entry allowed per person. Deadline for draw, the 31st of October, 2013.
Those on our mailing list can also expect exclusive interviews from Chômu authors. The next interview is still to be with P.F. Jeffery.