Saturday, July 12, 2014

New story available: "With Dust Their Glittering Towers: A Fly-Leaves Story"

About two years ago, while working on a historical novel about a prominent Baconian, I began entertaining the idea of writing a cycle of short stories centered around the idea of a secret guild of women dedicated to investigating the supernatural mysteries surrounding the life of Sir Francis Bacon. This would be based--sometimes loosely and other times with as much unwavering historical accuracy as I could wrangle--on the Ladies' Guild of Francis St. Alban, a mostly forgotten but extremely fascinating society founded in London in 1905 by the devout Baconian Mrs. Henry Pott (aka Constance Mary Pott, not to be confused, as is sometime the case, with her daughter of the same name, who was a noted artist), who had also inspired the formation of the Bacon Society of London in 1886.

Mrs. Henry Pott (1836-1915)
My cycle of stories would take the premise that a secret guild, called the Fly-Leaves, formed much earlier than the real-life Ladies' Guild of Francis St. Alban, and that this secret society would plumb the stranger mysteries that were too "out there" for the more traditionalist Baconians, many of whom themselves believed that Bacon was the true author of the Shakespeare plays. The stories would be written in a modern, present-tense style that would yet strive to evoke the period in which they were set, which would span the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century.

"With Dust Their Glittering Towers"--which has just been released in The Many Tortures of Anthony Cardno, a charity anthology for the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life--is the first story I've written for the Fly-Leaves series. It features intrepid Baconian Alicia Amy Leith, whose trip to Highgate takes a turn for the weird as she explores the crumbling ruins that mark the site of Sir Francis Bacon's death. Having been inspired by an article by the real-life Alicia Leith, I spent a lot of time researching the historical details behind this one, and then a heck of a lot of time revising and polishing it. While authors are often blind to which of their works are of merit, I'm not afraid to say I think it's possible this is my best piece of fiction yet--though doubtless I have made some historical blunder somewhere, and I hope the present-day Baconians can forgive the tale's more fantastic elements. Many thanks to David Herter, one of the most brilliant authors I know, and my wife, Laura, a sharp baloney detector, for being my first readers on this story.

Sir Francis Bacon (1561-????)
I currently count ten entries in my "Story Ideas" file for potential Fly-Leaves stories, though I don't know if all of these will be written. The current plan is for there to be one long novella, titled "Strange Promus," which will be set just prior to "With Dust Their Glittering Towers," and several more short stories that I will squeeze in to my writing schedule as time permits. The hope is to eventually collect the entire Fly-Leaves cycle under one set of covers, though that's undoubtedly getting ahead of myself! For now, the first installment, "With Dust Their Glittering Towers," is out there for you to read if you feel so inclined.

Oh, yes, and an ebook edition of The Many Tortures of Anthony Cardno is coming soon. I'll post the relevant links when it goes live.

Monday, July 7, 2014

New story available: "The Goddess Equation"

My story "The Goddess Equation" is now available from Meteor House in the anthology The Worlds of Philip José Farmer 4: Voyages to Strange Days, edited by Michael Croteau and with an foreword by Robert Silverberg. "The Goddess Equation" is set in the continuity of Farmer's classic science fiction tales Night of Light, "Some Fabulous Yonder," and "Strange Compulsion," and features a twenty-third-century mystery investigated by Detective Raspold, known throughout the inhabited worlds as the galactic Sherlock Holmes.

The publisher's information for the anthology is as follows:

The Worlds of Philip José Farmer 4: Voyages to Strange Days
US$ 25.00
6×9 tpb
308 pages
of 500 copies

The first three volumes in the Worlds of Philip José Farmer series focused on different facets of Farmer’s career: Volume 1 studied his disdain for literary boundaries, those between genres and even those between fiction and reality; Volume 2 featured his interest in the softer sciences, such as, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and theology, among many others; Volume 3 played around with his love of the trickster character in fiction, and his own trickster nature.

Volume 4 focuses on perhaps a more obvious topic: Philip José Farmer the classic science fiction writer! Farmer grew up on the pulps; from the 1920s through the Golden Age, Farmer was an avid reader of many of the science fiction magazines. Although many were ground-breaking, his earliest stories used familiar tropes such as interstellar travel, alien races, parallel worlds, computers, war, scientists, etc.


Foreword by Robert Silverberg
Peoria-Colored Worlds
The Case of the Curious Contradiction by Terry Bibo
Eleven Days in Springtime by François Mottier
Philip José Farmer Conquirt L’Univers Postface by Philip José Farmer
Pecon 2 Guest of Honor Speech by Philip José Farmer
Expanded Worlds
Samdroo and the Grassman by Martin Gately (The Green Odyssey)
Whiteness of the Whale by Danny Adams (The Wind-Whales of Ishmael)
Ite, Missa Est by Paul Spiteri (Father Carmody)
Antlers of Flesh by E. C. Lisic (Flesh)
The Goddess Equation by Christopher Paul Carey (Detective Raspold)
Classic Worlds
A Carmody-Raspold Chronology by Christopher Paul Carey
Letter of Discord by Philip José Farmer
For Where Your Treasure Is by Art Sippo
Moth and Rust by Philip José Farmer

Order the book now directly from Meteor House.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

"On Going Back" by H. Rider Haggard

I've been rereading a lot of H. Rider Haggard of the late, and today I ran across this essay by Haggard indicating one of the inspirations for his character Allan Quatermain. The piece itself is representative of the themes of nostalgia and mortality the run throughout Haggard's work, and since it's now in the public domain, I thought I would post it here. So without further ado...

On Going Back
H. Rider Haggard

Longman’s Magazine, No. LXI, November 1887

It happened to-day to this writer to revisit a spot that he was once intimately acquainted with, but which he had not seen since his early boyhood twenty years ago.

Twenty years!—two-thirds of the life of a human generation. It is a long time, we scarcely realise how long till once more we stand upon the half-forgotten ground formerly so familiar to our feet and find everything changed except the old houses and trees, and the unchanging countenance of the landscape.

As we draw near we begin to recognise: things come back to us like the visions of a forgotten dream recalled by its fulfilment. That lane—we remember it now—once perhaps we accompanied the clergyman down it when he went on a November afternoon to administer the last sacrament to a dying parishioner. Yes, it was ankle-deep in mud, so deep that it was necessary to walk upon the sodden bank against the hedgerow. And that grey old farmhouse—how it comes back to us—there should be an elm behind it, there it is still, and so on.

The place thus revisited is a very quiet village in the heart of England. The country round is somewhat bleak, but the village itself is hilly and well wooded, and from it one may see many charming views. There is nothing remarkable about the little straggling hamlet. It has a rather small ancient church, of which the architecture is probably Norman, a neatly built school, and a sprinkling of farmhouses. One of these, indeed, is very beautiful in its own fashion. It has a fine mediaeval gateway leading through a strip of garden to a grey and ancient house. On either side of this garden is a wonderful yew fence, the most wonderful ever seen; for the fence is full thirty feet high and thick in proportion. But yew does well on this soil; there is a good tree in the churchyard, dating presumably from the time of Henry VIII. It is past its best now, however. The upper boughs look sickly, and it is not so full and green as it used to be twenty years ago.

On reaching the village our first care is to find somewhere to put up the trap, so we go to the inn. It has no stable, but the owner comes out and says that one of his boys will hold the horse. There is something familiar in his face, and this conversation ensues:

‘We have come over to look about the village.’

‘Yes, sir; there ain’t very much to see here.’

‘No, but I used to know it well once. Do you remember the Reverend Mr. ——?’

‘Yes, of course, sir. Why, I used to sing in the choir in his time, but that’s a long while back.’

Then I remembered him. He is grey now and getting well on in middle life, but he was a young, fresh-looking man then. I used to sing in the choir with him.

‘Well, do you remember that he used to have some young gentlemen to teach—pupils?’

‘Yes, of course I do.’

‘Ah, I was one of them.’

‘Indeed, sir; well, you won’t find much change here except that they have pulled down the old vicarage, and for my part I liked it better than the new one, not but what that’s more commodious.’

‘Is William Quatermain still alive?’

‘William Quatermain. Him as jobbed pigs. Why no, he’s dead this eleven years, and his wife too: he died of a cancer or something of that sort—something on his lip.’

This was a blow, for William Quatermain and his wife had been kind friends to the writer. Many a time have I gone with him to feed his pigs. In his meadow was a big walnut-tree that bore the largest walnuts I ever saw; he used to give them to me and I made boats out of their shells. He was a fine handsome man of about fifty, with grey hair and aristocratic features, that came to him probably enough with his Norman blood, and he always wore a beautiful smock-frock. His wife, too, was a kindly, genial-hearted dame, and often have I drunk unlimited milk at her expense. Well, they have gone the way of all flesh, and are scarcely remembered in the village where they spent their lives. So soon does forgetfulness overtake us! But there is, at any rate, one who remembers them and always will remember them.

Then taking the upper road we go on to the vicarage, and here a fresh blow falls.

The old vicarage is gone. In its own way it was both beautiful and unique. Formerly—more than three centuries ago—it had been the plague-house of an Oxford college. That is to say, it had been built as an asylum for the members of the college when the plague raged in Oxford. It was long, and low, and grey, and there was one room in it, the drawing-room, that was perfectly charming. Such rooms are still to be seen in colleges, and it looked upon a lawn with a big elm growing on it. There was a great square pigeon-house in the garden, where we used to go at night to catch the pigeons, which we afterwards ate in pies. Now it has been remorselessly pulled down—not one stone of it or of the pigeon-house has been left upon another. In its place a ghastly and ‘commodious’ nineteenth-century vicarage affronts the sky. But everything has not been destroyed, although the place, as a place, has been utterly ruined. There still remains a part of the old garden wall with the famous Jargonelle pear-tree on it. One wonders if it yet bears such Jargonelles as it formerly did. There, too, is the meadow with the apple-trees in it. Some of them have fallen or been cut down, but some are yet with us. One in particular. Well does the writer remember that tree. A pony was once brought up for him to ride in the field. The pony was skittish and ran wildly away. It ran under the apple-tree, and its rider’s head was brought in violent collision with a very considerable bough. But the head was the harder, the bough ‘carried away,’ and the rider lives to tell the tale. Another thing also remains. Just in the field beyond stands the shell of a most magnificent old elm. How old that tree is none can say; it may date back to the Normans. It is many, I am afraid to say how many, feet in circumference, and quite hollow; nothing indeed remains but a skin of bark, at the crown of which some vigorous boughs grow freely. Inside this skin is ample room to sit, and on it grow curious knobs, which once upon a time it was my delight to knock off and preserve. I tried to knock off one to-day, but could not manage it with an umbrella. Here we used to sit, and here this writer and a little fair-haired girl once taught each other the rudiments of flirtation. It was pleasant to see, from various evident indications, that although a rubbish heap has been accumulated round its ancient trunk, children still sit within its hollow round. Perhaps they too teach each other those immortal principles therein. That old tree must have seen many flirtations.

From the vicarage to the church is but a little way. Leaving the small house where William Quatermain once lived to the right—by the way, the walnut-tree still stands, but it does not look as big as it used to be—one passes through the lych-gate, a comparatively modern erection, and down the churchyard path, bordered by shrubs of the cypress genus. The church is quite the same. Churches in this country do not change. There is the old tomb with the inscription—

How vain are all encomiums o’er the dead!

it begins, and then follows a very long ‘encomium,’ whatever that may be. There are, however, a good many new gravestones; among them, two erected to the memory of William Quatermain and his ‘beloved wife.’ Someone has planted a bush of sweet-brier on the graves, and I was sentimental enough to pluck a sprig of it. Certain of the old tombs also which used to be well kept are now neglected; presumably those who looked after them are dead. This is especially the case with one, the grave of a former vicar, of which the inscription is now filled up with mossy growths. Just by the yew is a little gate opening on to a sloping meadow, which is separated from another larger field by a stile formed of a single slab of stone set up on edge. Suddenly I remember that I used to drive an iron hoop down that path. If driven with sufficient force and skill it would run across the little bridge that spans the ditch, and, striking the step at the foot of the stone, would spring three feet or more into the air, clear the stile, and continue its course down the hill on the further side. I doubt if one could make it do so now, but if a hoop had been at hand it would have been satisfactory to try. Just to the right of this stile, in a damp little hollow, grew a pollarded willow-tree, almost smothered in ivy that bore the biggest and blackest berries possible. We used to cut them for the Christmas decorations. The pollard is still there, and so is the ivy, but at this season of the year it has no berries on it. Before entering the church—for it is Whit Sunday, and service is going on—we stop to look at it, and as we do so a vision of the past rises up in my mind. I seem to see it once again on a dreary December afternoon standing out against the angry red of the setting light. Dark misty clouds hang about it, the grass is pale and sodden, and the moisture is shaken by a chill wind from the solemn yew and cypress trees. Beneath the lych-gate stands the clergyman in white and fluttering robes, while down the path, followed by the black-robed mourners, comes the slow procession of the dead. ‘I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.’ So says the priest. I can almost hear his voice across the wide expanse of years; and the funeral train turns and with heavy steps vanishes once more into the dim silence of the past.

We enter the little church, to the great interest of the rustic congregation, which seems—but perhaps this is fancy—somewhat thinner than it used to be. I cannot recognise any of the faces. One or two of them, however, strike the mind as familiar. That worn, middle-aged woman may have been the pretty girl of the village twenty years ago; and the child there—probably he is the son of another child who used once to sit where he sits. Otherwise everything is the same; it is only the people who have changed. A screen of glass has indeed been put up over the entrance to the belfry, to keep away the draught which one remembers was severe in the winter months, and some swinging lamps have been hung—that is all. On the other hand, the damp has been allowed to soak through the north wall. For the rest it is quite identical. There is the little chancel door through which on one hot summer afternoon the donkey put his head and inopportunely brayed. There are the choir benches on which I used to sit and sing, or rather shout, till at last I was, to my intense and bitter mortification, removed, as being really too weak in the qualities necessary to vocal music. The choir is just what it used to be, neither better nor worse, but it struck me that the harmonium is showing signs of wear, and so do the old red curtains with the fleur-de-lis pattern. For the rest a couple of decades do not make much impression on oak and stone, and the puffy angels along the bed planks of the roof still play their musical instruments with the accustomed vigour.

But as one sits and listens to the well-remembered service everything comes back. How vividly one recalls the hopes and fears, the joys and sorrows, the doubts and the fervid piety of boyhood! How keenly one felt in those days, much more keenly than now! Between then and now stretches a long period of twenty years—twenty years of struggling, active life, of strenuous endeavour, crowned now with failure and now with triumph, of rough adventure, of voyaging by sea and land. Twenty years of experience also of that inner life of a kind which keeps pace with and even outruns the physical life. Look back upon them and think—none can do so without sorrow. Think of the crowd of faces of men and women that one has learnt to know between this day and those days that were. Some of them are already dead, some are estranged, some are ageing at our side. And then reflect that before all of this you were even as you are. The same thoughts animated your mind, though perhaps in a somewhat cruder form, you were shaken by the same hopes and fears that shake you now. The same dark mystery hung over you; alas! it only grows the darker with the growing years. Think of it through the sound of the familiar prayers, and marvel at the wonder of identity, and realise the utter loneliness of man. All these things that have been ‘felt, inflicted, past, and proved,’ have no more touched that identity or lessened that loneliness, than acids can touch or lessen the substance of pure gold. They may paint a pattern on its surface, but the brush of time can efface what it has drawn. Be a boy again and look forward to the days of manhood, or be a man and look on to the hour of old age, and then from old age back again to childhood, and still you shall be the same, like no other thing created, apart from every other thing created, and as incapable of losing that lonely identity as you are of losing your own shadow before the appointed coming of the night.

Well, we left the church with the little congregation and drove away whence we came. Probably one will not see the place again. ‘Going back’ is not without its pleasures, but on the whole it does not tend to promote cheerfulness of mind.

H. Rider Haggard.