January 19, 2014


edited by Joseph S. Pulver Sr.
292 pages, Miskatonic River Press

Review by S.P. Miskowski

It sometimes seems as if I have been writing this post for weeks, or months. Maybe I’ve been writing it all of my life. The details of my existence fade. The face I wear now is not the face I wore when I began. Or maybe it is the same face and I’ve forgotten.

My latest attempt at providing insight and perspective concerning A Season in Carcosa (edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.) has proved as futile as all the others. For the purpose of this record I resort to comparing my experience to a dream of many years ago.

Night fell as I ascended the burnished staircase to the Odd Fellows Hall. No longer a meeting place, the hall’s upstairs ballrooms were rented for ballet classes and theatrical experiments. In smaller rooms, narrow as cubbyholes, artists, performers, and practitioners of occult sciences resided as quietly as mice.

I searched every room, muttering apologies along the way. In one room a woman located a beating heart wrapped in a scarf inside a mahogany chest of drawers. In another a painter depicted a sunrise so real it was blinding and could only be approached by wearing protective goggles…

Let’s face it: Nothing I say is guaranteed to entice you to read this gorgeous anthology. But if you have reached this point in the post without grumbling or grinding your teeth, let us agree that you have unusual taste in fiction and a willingness to enter a writer’s world without reservation. This anthology, then, is for you. Layered and varied, with interlocking themes and images that shift and resonate long after you finish reading, A Season in Carcosa is for the adventurous lover of all that is strange lying just beneath the surface of life and art.

The works gathered in this volume are original. The writers are among the most imaginative artists crafting dark fantasy today: Joel Lane, Simon Strantzas, Don Webb, Daniel Mills, Gary McMahon, Ann K. Schwader, Cate Gardner, Edward Morris, Richard Gavin, Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., Kristin Prevallet, Richard A. Lupoff, Anna Tambour, Michael Kelly, Cody Goodfellow, John Langan, Pearce Hansen, Robin Spriggs, and Allyson Bird.

The prompt is The King in Yellow, a collection of weird tales by Robert W. Chambers, first published in 1895. Rife with characters on the verge of collapse, the collection reflected the fin de siecle clash between rationalism and emotionalism, positivism and decadence, while inventing a new literary mythology. A yellow sign, a king in tattered robes and a play with the power to induce madness are the icons of this mythology, and they recur throughout A Season in Carcosa.

The styles range from Bukowski bowery prose to the high-minded self-justification of an early 20th century composer. Yet they share an atmosphere of veiled sickness and ruined dreams. Most of the characters have become lost. Yet they obsessively continue their journey far beyond the loss of the object of devotion.

To decipher all of the permutations and implications of the icons and themes connecting Chambers’s stories to this anthology, you will want to read The King in Yellow. To wander in a state of dreamlike wonder from one odd room to another, discovering tantalizing literary beauty at every dark turn, simply open the pages of A Season in Carcosa.

For the purpose of writing this post I requested and received a digital reading copy of A Season in Carcosa.

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