mark monday's Reviews > Colour Out of Time

Colour Out of Time by Michael   Shea
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Oct 26, 12

bookshelves: horrortime

'tis the season...

13 TALES OF TERROR: BOOK 8

three erudite, whiskey-lovin' old-timers versus a lake in which some hideous alien presence has nested and transformed. hideous alien presence sucks the life out of everything from trees to moths to humans, and then fills them with a bloated sort of anti-life. hideous alien presence is not just from out of space... as far as these brave seniors are concerned, it is out of time. its number is up and it is goin' down! i love that this novel features three aged intellectuals as its heroes. what a treat! maybe, if i'm lucky, i can combat alien terrors in my twilight years.

the horror is rather old-fashioned and i like that. however the description of what happens to the various victims is rather modern in how grisly and sickening (but not overly detailed) these deaths and un-deaths turn out to be. at one point the alien being mocks our heroes by dangling a barely-living gent in front of them, making the poor victim dance like a puppet held up by tentacles. shudders!

Michael Shea is perhaps known as a sort of modern day August Derleth. he is Derleth to Jack Vance's Lovecraft. he has skills and he is an often restrained, classy, and witty writer - but what i've read by him so far has not been notable for originality (although i have yet to read In Yana, which is supposed to be All Shea All The Time). best known for his sequels to Vance's The Dying Earth series, he also had an interesting sideline in horror. although the writing in The Color Out of Time is more akin to Vance than Lovecraft (despite a few Lovecraftian flourishes here and there, purple prose is really not his style), this is definitely a Lovecraft pastiche.

well, it is a bit more than that. the novel is actually a sequel to the classice Lovecraft story "The Color Out of Space" - with a twist. the novel has Lovecraft himself as a background character (the sweet and sensitive and apparently not-revoltingly-racist author mentored one of the seniors when she was a young lady) and the tale in question is a the-names-have-been-changed-to-protect-the-innocent True Alien Crime Story. it gets surprisingly meta at times. my favorite bit is actually a very minor part where the characters discuss the style and the value of the Lovecraft story itself:
"Not long after we had set to our task, myattitude to the work had struck a teasing balance between exasperation and enthralment. On the exasperating side fell all the author's obvious artistic strategies. As literary diversion, these were often highly successful. He combined a Ciceronian amplitude of style, a sonorous gentility of phrase, with an almost incantatory use of repetition and adumbration, which endowed the prose with a menacing, echosome quality. But precisely this excellence of artistry and effect disqualified the work as a source of the vital empirical data that we urgently needed for our counter-assault on our vague, unspeakable enemy. And as for the tales' substantial actions, they involved a pantheon of malign entities which had a similarly 'invented' quality, their names clearly chosen for a threatening dissonance, or in an effort to produce a phonetic facsimile of certain names in established mythology.

But on the side of enthralment was something both far more vague, and at the same time far more persuasive, than these considerations. For, as a pointillist's technical strategy aims at an unreal idiom which, seen from the right distance, conveys new realities of light, so did Lovecraft's narratives reveal, through an artificial idiom of fantasy, the true quality and meaning of the horror we had encountered. The precise psychological posture of that unique kind of dread, where awareness cringes from the first exploring touch, the first tenderly probing palpation of alien Entity, alien hunger - this was Lovecraft's special preserve..."
huh... 'a Ciceronian amplitude of style'! that's a first.

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