Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961) is one of those authors that I’ve been aware of for decades, but whose works, beyond the odd short story tucked away in an anthology, I’ve never gotten around to reading. This despite the fact that he was a close personal friend to H.P Lovecraft, and member of the Lovecraft circle, a regular contributor to the Weird Tales magazine.
Whether my neglect of Smith’s works stems mostly from the fact that he wrote mostly short stories, I don’t know, but now that I’ve dipped my toe in the water, I can say with certainty that’ll be going out of my way to find and read more of his work.
So, The Dark Eidolon and other Fantasies is a collection of short stories and poetry, Smith did write a couple of longer form stories in his teens, which still survive to this day, but as an adult his preferred format was the short story, so the longer works are not included in this volume.
I, Satampra Zeiros, shall write this with my left hand, since I no longer have any other…
That said, many of Smith’s short stories are still quite long by modern standards, coming it closer to fifteen thousand words than to five, though there are some shorter pieces included as well. This makes this particular volume of Smith’s works absolutely ideal for dipping into and out of, as the mood takes you, and is ideally suited to bedtime reading.
As for the nature of Smith’s writing, that is altogether more difficult to describe, especially to any reader or more modern fantasy and speculative fiction, which by definition relies far more on established tropes within the genre, tropes which, back in Smith’s day had yet to be invented, let alone to become commonplace.
What this means for the modern reader, is that Smith’s works are surprisingly fresh and free, with fascinating and enticing new worlds or universes being created with apparent ease for each and every story.
A powerful imagination and love of language are evident from the very outset…
This powerful use of imagination is enhanced further by the authors incredible mastery and use of language. The first story in this book ‘The Tale of Satampra Zeiros’, is in many ways typical,
‘I, Satampra Zeiros of Uzuldaroun, shall write this with my left hand, since I no longer have any other…’
Now, for readers of Lovecraft, Blackwood , Bierce or Dunsany, the rich and evocative use of language used by Smith will be immediately familiar, While for those readers less familiar with the earlier works of modern fantasy, then perhaps the following example would illustrate what to expect:
The plain seemed to end in a wall of impenetrable, golden-brownish mist, that rose with phantom pinnacles to dissolve on a sky of luminescent amber in which there was no sun.The City of the Singing Flame – Clark Ashton Smith
In the foreground of this amazing scene, not more than two or three miles away, there loomed a city whose massive towers and mountainous ramparts of red stone were such as the Anakim of undiscovered worlds might build. Wall on beetling wall, and spire on giant spire…
For readers of Lovecraft, Blackwood, Derleth and the other ancestors of modern fantasy and weird fiction… the rich gothic language will be immediately familiar.
So, who will this book appeal to?
It may sound strange to phrase it this way, but to me, Smith’s works will appeal to readers who embody in their reading the adventurous spirit that they so often like to read about in their fiction.
Yes, Smith’s works are out there at the imaginative extremes, but he somehow makes them feel lived in and realistic, but to really enjoy them you do have to try and put aside the tropes and stereotypes that you may be familiar with, and allow the rich descriptive detail to really fire your own imagination.
If you’re up for that kind of a challenge, then I’m confident that your first step into the many worlds and times captured in the works of Clark Ashton Smith won’t be your last.
REVIEWED BY PETER KNYTE
Peter is the author of the Flames of Time archaeological adventure trilogy, and the Glass Darkly Dieselpunk series amongst other works.
Africa keeps its secrets well,
and its ancient secrets best of all.
Untouched by the stock market crash of 1929, Kenya is the glamorous retreat for many seeking to escape the privations of the western world.
After being drawn into a strange shamanic ritual, an ages old secret is revealed, which puts a group of friends onto a path they cannot help but follow.
But along the way after recovering a number of ancient artefacts, their search attracts the attention of those for whom keeping such secrets buried is a solemn duty.
Above a world so like their own,
but not their own…
As lightning flashes between the tall buildings of Manhattan island, a strange craft of huge proportions suddenly appears, a metallic airship bristling with weapons.
But the ship is clearly damaged, with large holes that reveal a dark and lifeless interior.
Despite its appearance, the captain and some of the crew cling to life… along with the enemy has nearly destroyed them.