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audiobooks Horror Science Fiction

At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft (Story Thoughts)

I was wide awake around 3am last night and looking for something to read on my phone that was short and GrimDarkTober appropriate. Hummm.  Not that I don’t have an entire library on my phone, but I started thinking about Poe which eventually led me to At the Mountains of Madness via the Project Gutenberg website. Originally published in three parts in 1936 in Astounding Stories magazine, this is one of the first chronological stories featuring certain Lovecraftian entities.  I guess it’s also in line with my sort of consistent sci-fi on Saturday posts too.

Here’s a little synopsis from GoodReads:

Long acknowledged as a master of nightmarish vision, H.P. Lovecraft established the genuineness and dignity of his own pioneering fiction in 1931 with his quintessential work of supernatural horror, At the Mountains of Madness. The deliberately told and increasingly chilling recollection of an Antarctic expedition’s uncanny discoveries –and their encounter with an untold menace in the ruins of a lost civilization–is a milestone of macabre literature

Can’t go wrong with a little cosmic horror, right?  Well, this one was a mixed bag for me.  On one hand, I wish the novella had been a 15 page short story (it was somewhere around idk 130 pages)?  On the other hand, the weird parts are SO blessedly weird that it’s oddly endearing.

The things I think are important to know about Lovecraft are that 1) he actually was afraid of the cold and didn’t react to it well, and 2) most of his stories are connected in some way.  At the Mountains of Madness is the first of his stories in which The Old Ones are mentioned, plus he’s talking about the Cult of Cthulhu and The Necronomicon, as well as references to other stories.  I’d maybe like to re read some of the stories in order but man, ugh.

So… Ok.  It’s a great concept.  One disastrous and terrible expedition to Antarctica prompts the survivor to try to dissuade another team from going.  All things considered, the novella managed to put me to sleep because a girl can only take so much geology and archaeology in one story.  It was so slow to get to anything even remotely interesting, which I considered the discovery of the aliens.

Oh, the aliens! They’ve got heads, respiratory systems, tentacles, but they’re obviously vegetables.  They came about 100 million years ago when Antarctica was a jungle (book logic) and obviously couldn’t possibly be a threat.  It was interesting to learn about them (through statues and art because they can draw with tentacles, obviously).  Like I said, blessedly weird. The history of the Elder Ones vs the Shoggoth was probably the high point since to this day, it’s the most bizarre creation story I’ve ever read.  What gives that someone so full of such wild ideas can be such a dull writer?

“It is absolutely necessary, for the peace and safety of mankind, that some of earth’s dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be let alone; lest sleeping abnormalities wake to resurgent life, and blasphemously surviving nightmares squirm and splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests.”

Well…. Yeah obviously they should be left alone, but for the sake of the story not being three pages long, better dissect it immediately 

Towards the end when we are trying to build suspense, what the actual heck was Lovecraft’s fixation on the stupid penguins? I’m trying to learn about bodies and terror and the big bad guy in the cave, not the stupid penguins.  Also a little architecture is always cool but there was so. Much. Architecture.  Yes I get it, there are arches and cartouches (I know what this means now) in quantity, moving on. More book logic was that since they took four hours to walk into the cave, photographing and drawing everything, it would obviously take them even longer to straight backtrack in a hurry……right? Right!? I’m sorry I just can’t with this.

Unfortunately (or fortunately)? the novella would have been only 20 pages long if Lovecraft didn’t describe every angle of the sun and keep the characters pushing forward despite cosmic horror and certain death. Oh hey, the cave is too dark and obviously something tore these men and dogs apart. Nope.  Too short, have to send them forward.

Not going to lie I wouldn’t have finished it if I didn’t find an audiobook, of which I listened to the last three hours today.  I found a copy narrated by William Roberts by Naxos Audio, which was still honestly boring as hell but it sounded like a radio broadcast and fit the story well.  I would recommend that style in case anyone wants to tune out the truly droll parts.

Overall … I’m like ok, I definitely would stay the hell away from Antarctica if I heard this account.  That was the whole point of the story: the narrator was trying to scare off a future exploration expedition. He did succeed.  I liked it and love weird things, plus certain parts were definitely suspenseful, but it was just too long and repetitive and mostly boring for me to love At the Mountains of Madness.  I’m going with ⭐⭐⭐ but I do think sci-fi and classic fans should read this one!

Categories
Science Fiction

The Alien Stars: and Other Novellas (ARC) by Tim Pratt

Thank you so much to Angry Robot for the early digital copy of The Alien Stars: And Other Novellas! This is AR’s first novella collection, and seeing as I had recently read and enjoyed Doors of Sleep by the same author, I was definitely interested!

Pratt’s Axiom trilogy wrapped up in 2019 and there were a few side characters that he wanted to spend a little more time with, so these novellas (also readable as standalones) are a re entry into that world.

Bookish Facts:

  • Title: The Alien Stars
  • Series: Axiom (can read as standalone)
  • Author: Tim Pratt
  • Publisher & Release: Angry Robot, 4/27/21
  • Length: 237 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 for sci-fi fans!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

In this collection of previously unpublished novellas, Hugo Award-winner Tim Pratt returns to the acclaimed sci-fi universe of his Axiom trilogy.

Each of these three stories takes fans and new readers alike deeper into the rich world of the Axiom than ever before, revisiting the crewmembers of the White Raven as they strike out on new and enthralling adventures.

Delilah Mears joins the crew of the Golden Spider, as its cyborg captain Ashok leads them deep into space to investigate a mysterious cosmic anomaly, leading to an encounter with a truly unusual band of space pirates; AI (and Trans-Neptunian Alliance President) Shall receives a strange summons from a past version of himself to help defeat an existential threat to the entire universe; And intrepid alien truth-teller Lantern journeys home to confront the monsters of her past, and the deepest secrets of her heart (or the closest thing she has in her circulatory system to a heart).

I always find it really hard to talk about novellas, but I enjoyed reading these.  It is definitely not necessary to read the Axiom trilogy, although I wonder if it will provide series spoilers (who lives, who dies, who marries who, etc) to those who decide to read the books. I added them to my TBR; it’s hard not to be drawn into the world of these characters with their dynamic personalities, taste for adventure, and snarky banter.

Each novella has a clear starting point, action filled middle, and clear ending.  A good novella contains an entire story in fewer pages and Pratt definitely did that.

The AI ethics and societal implications were my favorite part. Ashok and Shall are both really interesting characters and explore my favorite sci-fi topic, Robots/AI autonomy! I didn’t like the third story as much as the others because it’s heavily character based, and I just don’t know the characters well enough to care about their background together.  

The space pirates and rebel clone in the first two novellas were great reads though, and the final novella did have some wonderfully clueless aliens going for it.

Totally recommend for fans of sci-fi, banter for days, and short fiction!


About Tim Pratt: (from Amazon)

photo: Tim Pratt from timpratt.org. He may or may not have a beard now 😂

Tim Pratt was born in Goldsboro, NC, and grew up in various places in the American South. He relocated to Northern California in 2001. His fiction has won a Hugo Award, and he’s been a finalist for Sturgeon, Stoker, World Fantasy, Mythopoeic, World Fantasy, Scribe, and Nebula Awards, among others. His other books include three short story collections; a volume of poems; contemporary fantasy novels The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl and Briarpatch; gonzo historical The Constantine Affliction under the name T. Aaron Payton; fantasy roleplaying game tie-ins; and, as T.A. Pratt, eight books (and counting) about sorcerer Marla Mason. He occasionally edits anthologies, including the Rags and Bones anthology co-edited with Melissa Marr. He works as a senior editor for Locus magazine, and lives in Berkeley, CA, with his wife Heather and their son River.