It’s been a little while since I’ve posted my thoughts on any Clark Ashton Smith tales so I figured that today was as good a day as any to put that right. Before we kick off though, have a look at what was waiting for me when I got home last night…
The search is well and truly over, thanks to my Mum who is a lot better at finding books online than I am (and at a fraction of the price that I could find on Amazon) Proof then, I think, that Mum’s do know best. As you can probably tell, I’m pretty happy; I was prepared for it to take a lot longer to find a copy and now I can just settle down and enjoy the read instead (not having to squint at my phone). As before, I’ll be picking out the odd story here and there rather than reading/reviewing the whole book all at once. Some things are worth savouring I’m sure you will agree.
I’ve had a little look at Ashton Smith’s continent of Zothique so figured that this time I’d stay a little closer to home, albeit hundreds of years in the past and a fictional counterpart to a French region (but you know what I mean…). Averoigne it is then and the tale a baleful red comet and the terror that it brings…
‘The skies are haunted by that which it were madness to know; and strange abominations pass evermore between earth and moon and athwart the galaxies. Unnamable things have come to us in alien horror and will come again. And the evil of the stars is not as the evil of earth.’
While I wouldn’t say I’m that widely read in speculative fiction (I keep trying though!) I have read a fair bit of the stuff and I’ve never come across a ‘medieval horror sci-fi’ story until now. While the ‘twist’ in the tale is signposted a little too clearly to be an actual twist, Ashton Smith does everything else right and gives his readers a pretty damn chilling tale of a monster from beyond the stars prowling the medieval countryside and dark woods of Averoigne. It’s almost like the payoff is so well signposted (written as a magazine story, maybe it had to be?) that Ashton Smith decided to ramp up the atmosphere instead; it’s an approach that works as I could do nothing but watch with growing fear as the monster preys upon the unwitting. The death of Brother Gerome in particular is terrifying as it illustrates the stealthy evil of the creature (dropping some pretty big clues at the same time) along with just what it takes from its prey.
Luc le Chaudronnier, sometime astrologer and sorcerer, is the only man who can defeat this menace and it’s a measure of the grim and dark nature of Ashton Smith’s setting that he can only do by loosing a potentially greater evil on the world. Sometimes you can only fight evil with evil it would seem and the perils of a demon bound only by its promise are made clear here.
This is a world then where good men can be easily corrupted, a world where cosmic evil can cause havoc without really even realising. An uncaring world then, just the right setting for a tale like this. I’ll be spending a lot more time in Averoigne I think, just very glad that I don’t live there.