May the Fourth and All That : John Jackson Miller – “Lost Tribe of the Sith”

Taking place after “Dawn of the Jedi”, but feeling even more genuinely mythological, John Jackson Miller’s “Lost Tribe of the Sith” is further evidence that almost everyone in the Galaxy has given more though to Star Wars mythology than George Lucas. Now no longer “canon” and relegated to the “legends” designation, this is a nice collection of 9 novellas: “Precipice,” “Skyborn,” “Paragon,” “Savior,” “Purgatory,” “Sentinel,” “Pantheon,” “Secrets,” “Pandemonium.” (Notice a certain pattern?) After the Sith Starship “Omen” crashlands on Kersh, 5000 years or so before the Battle of Yavin, the Dark-Forced castaways made themselves a new home by conquering the Keshiri with incisive, genocidal glee over millennia. Their biggest challenge, though? Their inability to co-operate:  a civilization of sheer evil doesn’t last long because its leaders turn to political cannibalism. How the Sith of Kesh manage to make it all work is an interesting tale, although necessarily fragmented and rushed (you try covering two millennia of Lost Tribe history: even Gabriel Garcia Marquez stuck to 100 years of solitude.)

Jackson Miller, (who also wrote the “Knights of the Old Republic” series) would return to the Lost Tribe with “Spiral,” a 5-issue graphic novel for Dark Horse Comics. This follows the collected stories, and is set two thousand years or so before “A New Hope,” or, as normal people call it, “the first Star Wars movie, the one that didn’t have that Jar Jar Binks fella.” Continuing with the idea of strangers in strange lands, “Spiral” is about two discontent Sith who wind up in Kesh’s supposedly uninhabited version of the South Pole, only to find “The Doomed”: descendants of Fallen Jedi.

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There is a particularly dumb moment in “Episode III : Revenge of the Sith” when Annakin says something to Obi-Wan Kenobi like (and I paraphrase because dialogue this bad shouldn’t be committed to memory): “If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy,” to which Obi Boy replies all like: “Only a Sith would think like that. THEREFORE YOU’RE NOT WITH ME AND YOU ARE MY ENEMY AND I MUST KILL YOU AND I DON’T SEE THE IRONY IN ANY OF THIS!”

The much smarter (and better-written) Doomed, instead, have  realized that there IS a possible middle ground between the Dark Force and the Light Force. This is a concept so apparently beyond the subtleties of Hollywood cinema that so far it hasn’t even been considered in 7 “Star Wars” movies- and a spinoff. To find out how they make it work, of course, look up the comics.

RATING: GOOD ENOUGH, clearly best for SW fans.

Fairy Tale Endings : Emily Carroll – “Through the Woods”

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Horror is learned early. I can’t think of many fairy tales that aren’t horrifying in premise, if not in effect. The world is presented to children as an open jaw. Emily Carroll’s “Through the Woods” collects five fairy tales of gothic peril that are beautifully painted and colored. Included are “His Face All Red,” “Our Neighbor’s House,” “A Lady’s Hands are Cold,” “My Friend Janna,” and “The Nesting Place.”

RATING: COOL!

Cientifico! : Various – “Ciencia Ficcion Bruguera”

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During the 70s, Spanish publishing giant Bruguera put out some 40 volumes in the “Ciencia Ficcion Bruguera” collection. The stories are, for the most part, translated reprints of the novelets in what was then known as “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction,” now more colloquially known as “F & SF.” The quality of the stories varies, as is typical of this type of grab-bag, but in the three volumes I’ve read so far, plenty of room is made for all-time greats like Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. Leguin, Robert Heinlein, and Thomas M. Disch.

RATING: Depends.

“The Year’s Best Horror Stories 4”

In Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series, druid circles are conveniently used as time portals. They perform the same service In “Forever Stand the Stones,” by Joe Pumilla, an ambitious historical link-a-thon in which blood sacrifice somehow ties Catullus, Dracula, and Jack the Ripper. “Forever Stands the Stones” depicts an eternal, horrifying Romanesque London that would have pleased Arthur Machen. It’s a lovely artifact to stumble across as I skip through the series of “Year’s Best Horror Stories”, (Volume 4 is from 1976) Giants of the era Rampsey Campbell and Brian Lumley provide fine entries, but the little dark comic triumph of craft here is  Avram Davidson’s darkly hilarious “And Don’t Forget the One Red Rose.” An essay trying to bridge subjective characterization in differing biographies of H. P. Lovecraft is oddly included, but it does provide some food for though as to how we insist on turning human beings other than ourselves into static monoliths for ease of classification . (“Lovecraft was mean to me!” Says W. “Lovecraft was the nicest to me!” Says X. “I saw Lovecraft at a party once, hardly drank, kept to himself, very quiet man.” Says Y. “I saw Lovecraft at a party once, got so drunk, life of the party!” Says Z.)  It always amazes me how people believe that mundane interactions give them access to someone else’s intimate complexities.

RATING : MIXED, like the majority of anthologies; COOL! overall.

Arthur Machen – “The White People and Other Weird Tales”

ABOVE: Damned white people, always being demonic and stuff.

Guillermo del Toro‘s influences are varied enough that it doesn’t feel odd for him to be a big fan of Arthur Machen ; he provides an introduction to Penguin Classics’ selection of Machen’s stories, “The White People and Other Weird Stories.” The intro is a fairly standard contextual history of “weird fiction,” with some cool bio bits: Did you know Machen was the celebrated, (though badly renumerated) translator of Casanova’s memoirs and Marguerite de Navarre’s “Heptameron”? That Machen’s wholly made up story about angels aiding British soldiers during the Battle of Mons in 1914 got mistaken by the gullible for a factual account that had been “covered up by the government”? (Much to Machen’s bemusement.)

“The White People” contains Machen’s best stories: the titular one, “The Inmost Light,””The Novel of the White Powder,” “The Novel of the Black Seal” (as in Apocalyptic seal, not as in the barking pinniped). They’re all fine trips by themselves, but potential ODs when taken in bulk. That’s because their rigid structure rarely varies: some gentlemen meet; they discuss odd events from newspapers or documents; some mysterious item from a sinister culture is produced; then some final, ambigous, indescribable thing happens. And by indescribable I mean that Machen demurs in his story-telling obligations. Evidence from this volume: “I heard bursting from his lips the secrets of the underworld, and the word of dread, “Ishakshar,” the signification of which I must be excused from giving.” Sure, you’re excused, no need to tell us THE COOL PART!

Machen incurs in all of the sins from “The Great God Pan” over and over again. Add to them truly overwrought diction: “I have seen once or twice a laden ’bus bound thitherwards.” Machen is not from the 1700s; “Bound thitherwards” should have made his eyebrows temporarily migrate in a northerly direction. Or enjoy this other line:

“You interest me intensely,” said Phillipps. “Would you mind continuing your story? The circumstance you have mentioned seems to me of the most inexplicable character, and I thirst for an elucidation.”

That’s a howler. But take this moment:

“I will not weary you with a description of the savage desolation of that tract of country, a tract of utterest loneliness, of bare green hills dotted over with grey limestone boulders, worn by the ravages of time into fantastic semblances of men and beasts.” It’s a perfect summary of Machen’s syle, its flaws and triumphs in one sentence. He begins with that stiff, overly polite narration – then he can’t help but give us the very description we have JUST been told we weren’t going to get – and yet in the end he achieves enough evocative eeriness to disturb us anyway.

RATING: GOOD ENOUGH for me, COOL! for Guillermo del Toro.

ABOVE: Don’t look now, Guillermo, but the white people are photobombing you.