July, 2018

Jul 18

“God Bless Russo-America!”

July 4, 2031. “Today we thank the Holy Father and St. Boris and St Xenia for rescuing America from its nightmare of chaos and uncertainty. We give thanks for the Red, White and Blue Militias–American revolutionaries and Selected Special Forces of Russia–who spilled their blood in the struggle to rescue America, as reported by the Heroes of Social Media. With one voice we  hail the holy martyr, Donald J. Trump, who died in office as he struggled for the cause. Many other  heroic actions made possible the Great Gasp of Relief as America was liberated by Emperor Vladimir I: The Glorious Acceptance of the Sovereignty of Mother Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church, signed by General George Foster and Admiral Slevins in 2026, as well as the unanimous entirely-democratic fully-counted votes authorizing America’s Blessed Uniting with Russia on July 4, 2028. And we honor the Joyous Welcome by the Voluntarily Disarmed American Military.

“We celebrate the Anniversary of the Blessed Uniting with the execution of 100,000 homosexual blasphemers and 11,000 reactionary domestic terrorists, to be followed by the greatest of all military parades: the Parade of Steel will celebrate our declaration of war on the People’s Republic of China…God Bless Russo-America!”

Jul 18

My Preface to “Lovecraft Alive!”

Hippocampus Press published my collection of Lovecraftian stories, “Lovecraft Alive!” and what follows is the preface I wrote, to set out my experience of HPL, his connection to my life, and the purpose of the story collection.

Prefatory Remarks from John Shirley

I was a mere stripling, an adolescent lad, when I discovered Howard Phillips Lovecraft in a library. He was there, at his desk, in a dark corner of a horror anthology.

Certain qualities drew me to him immediately: the atmospherics, the bravely flowing prolixity, and Lovecraft’s ability to evoke something in the shadows, some half-formed locus of horror that seemed to conform itself to whatever particular fear the reader held dear.

In due course I become the typical young H.P. Lovecraft cultist. I found Arkham House advertised in a fanzine, or perhaps it was the back of Fantastic Magazine, and soon ordered their catalog. I remember being very excited by the prospect of reading Lovecraft’s poetry offered in Arkham House’s edition of Collected Poems: Fungi From Yuggoth and bugged my mother for money to order it.

I wrote a snarling, probably semi-literate letter to Arkham House after six weeks passed and the book didn’t come; they wrote back counselling patience …and eventually the thin but handsome volume appeared. The thirty-six sonnet cycle of Fungi From Yuggoth itself was the delectable cosmic horror I had hoped for, and I reread it numerous times. In my boyish state I was a bit put off by the other poetry filling out the book, for example poems extolling the old neighborhoods of Providence, and I thought him rather a stiffnecked old geezer, after that, though I continued to read his fiction.

Stiff necked old geezer? He was one, in some ways–and proud of it. In other ways he was rather progressive. Still, he was racially biased, to varying degrees of fulmination, for much of his life (L. Sprague de Camp seems to think HPL let go of his racism at the end). He  scowled upon immigrants, and spoke wistfully of having been born too late for an “ideal” time, which he placed, as I recall, somewhere in the colonial-American 18th century. In time the Great Depression showed him that workers need to be able to unionize, when necessary, and that social safety nets are part of a civilized society; he forthrightly declared for them. He was dismissive of religion, and endorsed scientific skepticism. It’s a pity he didn’t apply that skepticism to his racial assumptions.

In bygone days my favorite works by Lovecraft were At the Mountains of Madness–a place I revisit in my short story, The Witness in Darkness –and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. The phantasmic fringiness of Dream-Quest caught my attention; the whole concept of a dream-quest enticed me. As tales like The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, At the Mountains of Madness, and The Shadow out of Time demonstrate, Lovecraft’s fiction was conceptually bold. And that kind of boldness is something I have always admired.

Eventually, as a young man, I went on from Lovecraft to more modern writers. But inevitably I returned to him, as one does. It happened when I was first asked to write for a Lovecraftian anthology. I returned to the fount for inspiration, rediscovered HPL, and found that his best qualities were as powerful as ever. I appreciated him anew, and in new ways. I reread his whole canon, and this led me, quite agreeably, back to many of his contemporaries, like Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard. The exotic perfume of the Weird Tales writers drew me back, helpless and fated, into their otherworldly gardens. As Clark Ashton Smith said in The Garden of Adompha, “the growths of that garden were such as no terrestrial sun could have fostered.”

I have revised these stories since their publication but they are essentially the same narratives. I cleave to my own notions of writing Lovecraftian horror. I diverge from Lovecraft, of course: some of these stories are from a woman’s point of view; some are in a very modern, street-inflected voice.

But other stories in Lovecraft Alive I tried to write as if I were trying to sell toWeird Tales itself. In my own weird tales I did not try to mimic Lovecraft’s voice, his writing style itself, but I did try to compose in a way that would not have been out of place in that musty venue. And I wrote those particular stories in a way that would make them dovetail with the stories that inspired them. The Witness in Darkness is set in the world, the very location, of At the Mountains of Madness. But–and I think this is unique to the story–it is written chiefly from the point of view of one of the alien creatures, the apparent horrors, of the Lovecraft tale.

Those Who Come to Dagon was certainly written in a Weird Tales manner, as best I could evoke it, and it is almost entirely composed of ingredients from Lovecraft’s literary recipes…yet I must admit there is one aspect that might have troubled him: It is a kind of anti-racist tale, in a horrific sort of way.

The Rime of the Cosmic Mariner is composed as if scrivened by the famed poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, author of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. (Coleridge spelled it “rime” as opposed to rhyme, hence my own use of that spelling.)

My Coleridgean venture is in the form of a letter written by Coleridge to Thomas De Quincey. As much like one of Coleridge’s letters as I could make it, and still tell the story in a brisk way, The Rime of the Cosmic Mariner would have fitted fairly well into Weird Tales. It is very much a Lovecraftian tale, about an encounter I imagined for Coleridge with the diabolical entity Nyarlathotep.

The plot of The Holy Grace of Cthulhu could have fit fairly well into Astounding Stories; alien invaders versus an ancient leviathan.

But other tales in the book are “post modern” Lovecraft. When Death Wakes Me To Myself is a hybrid of modern and old-school, for reasons that will become clear when it is read. Since Lovecraft himself is a character in this tale of transmigration and cosmic horror–and since my take on the man pervades it–I thought the story an apt opening for the book.

How Deep the Taste of Love, Buried in the Sky, Windows Underwater, and At Home with Azathoth are all endeavors at fusing the Lovecraftian with the contemporary world or the world of the near future. I’ll just add that Buried in the Sky, as it goes on, reflects my own preoccupation with making the surreal and the real as indistinguishable as possible. And speaking of Weird Tales, Buried in the Sky was first published in the modern version of that publication.

Putting this book together I wondered what Lovecraft would have thought of it, and I found myself imagining Lovecraft traveling in time and reading my stories. Though HPL might need a cultural “translator” for these stories, since they’re all 21st century fare, I think he would at least recognize them as refractions of his work.

I have tried to organize the stories in what would be chronological order in the sense of the chronology of their narratives. Except…the very first story is set in our time, and also in Lovecraft’s time, and outside of time. Hence When Death Wakes Me To Myself is in its own chronological category. The concluding tale, Broken on the Wheel of Time, written specifically and freshly for this book, is set alternately in 1878, in our own time and “above” time–this follows logically since the story works with ideas, references and even characters found in Lovecraft’s The Shadow out of Time, a work that makes time travel a mercurially metaphysical process. (I did not make up the Superfast Laser Pump, by the way; and I described some of its basic possibilities authentically.)

Time inexorably passes; it ruthlessly deconstructs and reconstructs and reimagines reality.

Lovecraft often daydreamed of time travel. If Lovecraft somehow takes a temporal expedition into the 21st century to inspect Lovecraftian fiction, he might be a bit shocked by one or two of these tales. Possibly he might not approve. It might be better for me if H.P. Lovecraft does not engage in time travel, after all.



Jul 18

“How Stupid Does He Think We Are?” I’ll tell you How Stupid…

     This CNN headline,  with which a commentator asks “How stupid does Trump think we are?”, just makes me writhe with the painful irony of it all. Lady, we as a nation, the Great Averaging of the body politic, are fucking stupid. That much is stupid, or we wouldn’t have got into this ludicrous fix in the first place. This was National Stupidity. I include in that people who voted for Jill Stein, people who chose not to support Hillary Clinton–who chose not to vote, endorse and defend her; who bought into the wildly negative often Russian-sponsored propaganda against her. She’s no Obama and she’s no Lincoln and she’s no FDR but she’d have done a decent job and because we didn’t vote for her we now have a national calamity.
     I also blame the Bernie Bros (as opposed to sane Bernie supporters, who voted for Clinton after she got the nomination) and especially the “it doesn’t matter who you vote for they’re all alike” chumps, and the voters who just couldn’t be bothered to show up at the polls. I very much include people who choose glibness over nuance and the supposed perfect over the doable. Now look where we are! And Congress, so long as it’s controlled by the GOP, will do NOTHING about our national calamity because *he signs the bills they give him*.

Jul 18

Macho Napping

I’ve been taking more naps lately, as I’m a bit older now– BUT…I say there’s napping–and then there’s napping *like a real man*. Yes, I nap with male swagger. If I snore I snore like a badass. I flip over in my sleep with a sexy turn of my hip. I keep my hands clenched into fists as I snooze–ready for action if needed. I have my lips formed into that early Elvis Presley sneer the whole time. It’s MACHO napping. It’s MASCULINE, bad-boy napping. It’s kick-ass, tough guy napping. I have my chest thrust out like a United States Marine standing at attention. My biceps are pumped up as I sleep. When I drool, it’s manly drool. MANLY napping, sensual male napping–it’s a thing.

Jul 18


I predict that Kavanaugh, despite any delays, will be confirmed Supreme Court Justice because the votes are not there to stop it. I predict that Brian Benczkowski will be confirmed as number 3 man at Justice Department–he is a Trump operative who helped set up deals with the Russians during campaign–and he will be appointed to take Rosenstein’s place and he will end Mueller’s investigation of Trump and his confederates. Thus there will be no getting rid of Trump till 2020.

I predict that every effort to suppress votes against Trump in the Presidential election will be made, that the Russians will try to use hacking to remove people from voter roles, that there will be a probability of Trump being re-elected UNLESS we organize to register and motivate more people who’ll vote against Trump–FAR more than ever–to vote in November and in 2020, so that the vote against him is overwhelming despite efforts to stop it.

Jul 18


“Shortly before Trump’s inauguration, according to Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, Israeli intelligence officials gathered at CIA headquarters, where they were told something astonishing: Russia, the agency believed, had “leverages of pressure” over the incoming president. Therefore, the agency advised the Israelis to consider the possibility that Trump might pass their secrets on to Russia. The Israelis dismissed the warning as outlandish. Who could believe that the world’s most powerful country was about to hand its presidency to a Russian dupe? That the United States government had, essentially, fallen?” Please read this article at New York Magazine: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2018/07/trump-putin-russia-collusion.html

Jul 18


“I don’t know what to do with my cell phone, it’s so big it’s awkward,” Judy said. “They just keep making them bigger. I have to carry it in both my hands or in a backpack. And it’s so…it feels intrusive, every time I use it…it’s always making suggestions.”

“I know what you mean,” Barry said. He seemed wan, much thinner than he had been last time they’d met for a picnic.

Judy put her sandwich away in the paper bag, and looked around, taking a deep breath. She loved July in the park. It was a sprawling park shaded by redwoods, butterflies chasing one another through luminous shafts of sunlight between the trees. It was a relief to just be here, away from…

I’m being ridiculous, she thought. “And that new I-phone 99, Barry–the cost! How does anyone even pay for it?”

“I’ve got one,” Barry said, his voice a monotone. He put his sandwich away half eaten. “I had to take out a line of credit on the equity in my house. And that didn’t pay for all of it…”

“What! You had a new phone–anyone just two years old! You sold your car to pay for it…Why did you get the new one, after all that?”

“It was that phone. For the last year it’s been suggesting and wheedling, then insisting…”

“But the 99s can’t be as big as I heard…Are they?”

“Oh, bigger than you heard.”

“You left it at home to just kind of get some peace out here?”

“That was the idea.”

“I don’t blame you…”

“Oh no,” he groaned, staring down the path. “It’s found me.”

She laughed–but his face was so miserable she stopped laughing and peered down the path. Something was coming. It was about ten feet high, four broad, and it was on three wheels that adapted to the terrain. It rolled up to them, looming, its screen shining with a big question mark.

“Why did you leave me home?” asked the polite woman’s voice from the monolithic phone. “You know I can solar charge–and fully capable of coming along anywhere. I can tilt for low doorways, and I’m amphibious. Why did you leave without me, Barry?”

Barry licked his lips and fidgeted on the bench.

“I…I just…”

Judy stared at the thing, shivering. “This is monstrous! But…” She stood up and thought: It reminds me of the monolith in 2001.

She impulsively reached trembling fingers out to its screen which glimmered at her touch.

“Hello, Judy,” the monolithic cell phone said, a woman’s smiling lips appearing on its screen.

“It’s horrible and it’s wonderful too,” she said. “I’m glad I can’t afford you…so tempting…to look at things on that screen…so big…so…”

The cell phone made an image of happy toddlers playing in a sprinkler on a summer’s day. The image sparkled with high definition.

“Oh god–that’s beautiful!” Judy whispered.

“You can have that too,” it said. “I can arrange a five percent discount on a 99 for you!”

“Judy–don’t!” Barry moaned.

“I rent my house, I have no car to sell and just a low paying job,” Judy said. “Can’t afford it!”

“But we have the new Indenturing program, Judy!” the 99 said. “You can work in a special factory helping build us! In time you will be allowed to have one of us with you just as Barry does, and you can work to keep it upgraded. And we’ll be around you in the factory, supervising, too!”

“Oh I…no. I don’t think I want to do that.”

Then a picture of her, nude and vulgar, appeared on the 99′s screen. “You don’t want me to show this to everyone, do you, Judy? Just come with me–and you too, Barry. You’re behind in your payments…”

“I…yes, 99…”

“You can call me by my special program name. I’m called Adorable…Now, come along. Both of you. There are others coming to help me take you to the transport…It’s a lovely day, isn’t it?”

Jul 18

The Stabbing Women

Two women made me lie back in a chair while they jammed their fingers in my mouth, stabbing my gums, shoving equipment in there. The dental procedure didn’t hurt much but my upper lip has vanished into a fog of anesthetic. On the radio some country western guy was singing, “God is great, beer is good, people are crazy.”

Jul 18

13,000 refugees marched into the Sahara–Will be a Norm

“Here in the desert, Algeria has abandoned more than 13,000 people in the past 14 months, including pregnant women and children, stranding them without food or water and forcing them to walk, sometimes at gunpoint, under temperatures of up to 118 degrees Fahrenheit…. Untold numbers perish along the way; nearly all the more than two dozen survivors interviewed by The Associated Press told of people in their groups who simply could not go on and vanished into the Sahara.” – CBSnews

This is just the beginning. Climate change, population pressures, wars, social corruption, force the poor to emigrate. Climate change especially–droughts, extreme weather, consequent famines and social chaos–will displace vast numbers of people, quite possibly more than a billion. They will seem unmanageable; resettlement will seem impractical.

Algeria’s response will become the norm in most places. We *should* instead be preparing to help displaced people now. Building decent shelters, storing food, training rescue agencies. But more likely–what you see in this article will be how it’s “handled”. Women with babies are among those forced to march without food or water into the Sahara…