I've pretty much given up on finding a decent copy of 'The Emperor of Dreams' at a price I can actually afford. Who knows what will happen in the future but 2013 (and probably 2014 as well) will not be the year that I spent over a hundred pounds on a book. That record currently stands at £50 by the way; going off topic here but what is the most that you have ever spent on one book?
Thanks to the awesome power of free stuff on the internet though, I can indulge in a little 'Clark Ashton Smith Weirdness' whenever I want. I totally recommend you do the same by the way. There are a lot of tales to get lost in and they are all gorgeously drawn.
Tales like 'The Abominations of Yondo' for example; the recounting of a heretic's misadventures in Yondo after being banished by the Inquisitors of Ong. I love those names by the way. They sound completely made up, whatever the first syllable was that came to Ashton-Smith's mind, but they all seem to work and sound just right. I'm digressing yet again though (sorry)... What lies on the plains of Yondo that is so terrifying it will drive our hero back to the less than tender ministrations of the Inquisitors? The simple answer is... Everything.
This blog post is coming from my phone and that's a real shame as I'm not able to give all the quotes that I want to. It's almost criminal, in fact, as Ashton-Smith's lyrical prose has to be read to get the full affect. Like I said earlier, have a look online and read the story for yourself. For now though, think of a land so close to the edge of the world that you can see ‘fallen asteroids half buried in that abysmal sand’ and ‘the hoary genii of stars abolished and decrepit demons left homeless by the destruction of antiquated hells.’ That doesn’t sound too bad when you first read it. I mean, what’s to be scared of when you’re faced with the prospect of an elderly demon? Sounds like he would much rather settle down with the paper than be of any real threat.
There’s more to it than that though. Ashton-Smith really plays on his character’s fear of the unknown and builds this up into something that resonates with a reader discovering all of this at the same time. The land itself has been bent into terrible shapes (‘the swollen, fulvous, dying and half rotten growths’) and it’s clearly somewhere that not only do you not want to be but you don’t want to hang around to see what happens next.
Our ‘hero’ does hang around though and the creatures that greet him are cleverly arranged, by Ashton-Smith, to rack up the tension; starting with the merely unsettling (the creature by the lake) and ending up with the terrifying (the ‘titanic lich’ with something even worse riding it). The weird shadow that chases our hero deserves a special mention as well, just for that gripping stand-off where no-one knows what will happen next.
And what an image to be left with at the end. Our hero running towards certain death, at the hands of the Inquisitors, with certain death following in his footsteps. A strangely downbeat ending but one that was inevitable. No-one survives Yondo unscathed and there’s no reason why it should be any different here. I’m a bit of a fan of ‘Dying/Dead World’ stories and ‘The Abominations of Yondo’ had everything that I was looking for; namely the remnants of civilisation and the creatures that exist in the ruins, all written in such a way that Yondo will stay in my mind for a while to come. Have a read if you can, it’s glorious.