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On Lovecraft: An interview with Shaun Lawton, editor of the Freezine of Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Red Emma
This is a bonus post in the series - I had intended to wrap things up nicely with an ultimate post today, Halloween, but as I read the responses Shaun wrote to my emailed questions, I knew this had to be an entry on its own.
Shaun Lawton started the Freezine of Science Fiction & Fantasy ten years ago out of sheer ardent love for the work of authors who would, through the course of the Freezine, become friends. Today, the Freezine has a devoted and ever-amassing readership and is known for delivering excellence in the genre. Having published works from established authors such as A.A. Attanasio and John Shirley alongside those of up-and-coming writers is one of the things that makes the Freezine such a compelling read. You may recognize Dactyl Hill Squad author Daniel José Older in this archived submission.
Shaun's erudite and always energetic responses stand on their own. What I thought were just a few throw-away, quick questions I might incorporate into a post turned out to be treatises on the work of Lovecraft in their own right. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I did. (And, check out the Freezine of Science Fiction & Fantasy!)
Artwork by Shasta Lawton, orginally published in the Freezine of Science Fiction & Fantasy
EMMA: How does HPL's work fit within the 'fantasy' genre?
SHAUN: Genre labels are curious things, aren't they? There's the generic definition of fantasy which would be most associated with Tolkien's spawnlings; the elves, orcs, and dragons that have become such a fixture in the mainstream. Yet 'fantasy' should more specifically denote anything not of this mundane world, and may include any number of mythical creatures from Satan, derived mostly from the imagination of poets and playwrights of centuries ago such as Dante, Goethe, and John Bunyan to name a few, to a host of make-believe beings such as the golem (popularized by the Austrian author Gustave Meyrink) to harpies and all sorts of chimerical creatures of Greek mythology to the kraken, a Norwegian-born myth most likely evolved from giant squids attacking ships.
As for H. P. Lovecraft, his extensive array of imaginary creatures and beings deserves a bestiary in its own right, and definitely may be filed under the strict sense of the word 'fantasy.' His pantheon of monsters--Dagon, the Deep Ones, Nyarlathotep, Yog-Sothoth, the Night Gaunts, the Mi-Go (otherwise known as the Fungi from Yuggoth) and the great Cthulhu, who is part octopus, part dragon, part human, remain unparalleled in the annals of fantasy and horror to this day. I daresay Lovecraft fits into the fantasy genre snugly if you consider the appeal with which his work has been met over the years, and disregard the abominable revulsion and wretched horror they might otherwise inspire among our more easily impressionable readers.
EMMA: Do you see the influence of HPL's "cosmicism" in the work of other writers and artists, and if so, whom/what?
SHAUN: Absolutely, yes, his influence remains quite extensive to this day, I'd even go so far as to suggest it's pervasive, considering the insidious nature of his mythos. It has creeped into the writing of our most popular and bestselling authors from Ray Bradbury to Stephen King and from there to a virtually endless host who seem to be replicating at an extraordinary pace, to the point they've become a horde vanishing over the event horizon in a seething mass of emulators "copping squid," as one of the most gifted practitioners of the Lovecraftian tradition put it, the late Michael Shea. One of my favorite contemporary writers, John Shirley, cut his teeth writing about semi-Lovecraftian nemeses (see his own host of spiritual predators, the Akishra, in his excellent horror novel Wetbones, for example) and eventually wrote enough straight up Lovecraftian pastiches that they were assembled into one of the best Lovecraftian anthologies published, Lovecraft Alive! A Collection of Lovecraftian Stories, published by the preeminent Lovecraftian publisher, Hippocampus Press, in 2016. That and Demiurge: The Complete Cthulhu Mythos Tales of Michael Shea, Dark Regions Press, 2017, are two of the finest such collections in print.
EMMA: Do you see HPL's influence on the writers of your Freezine?
SHAUN: Yes, of course I do. Lovecraft's influence has surpassed its own critical mass, which is my way of saying it's mutated to another level altogether. Meaning his influence is so pervasive I can virtually guarantee there are writers promulgating his influence without necessarily even being aware that they're doing it. In my opinion, that's how deep into our consciousness--our collective "neuroses of horror"--he's managed to influence since his demise eighty-one years (and seven months) ago. I'm also certain he had no idea how extensive his influence would become. I'm sure he'd sit upright in his grave with perky amazement, if only he knew.
EMMA: What would you want people to know about Lovecraft?
SHAUN: I'd mention that despite his well-earned association with writing his own brand of dark fantasy, he was first and foremost an unrecognized science fiction writer. This is what draws me to Lovecraft's stories more than anything. He was fascinated by the science of his time. Pluto was discovered with the advent of an improved telescope in 1922. This would formulate his imagining of "The Outer Dark," which doesn't take a genius to deduce was his name for what we now know as the Kuiper Belt, the largely unknown area beyond Neptune and Pluto. In one of my favorite Lovecraft stories, "The Whisperer in Darkness," he describes the Mi-Go (the Fungi from Yuggoth--Yuggoth being his code-name for the just discovered Pluto) as pinkish things with crustacean bodies and membranous wings which they presumably used to fly through outer space from their home-planet Yuggoth, or, Pluto. Other stories such as "Cool Air" published in 1928 utilized cutting edge scientific concepts of the time, in this case ammonia-based refrigeration systems to keep the human body preserved from death. In my opinion it was his academic formalism, keen interest in science, and finally his stance as an agnostic--leaning more towards provisionally being an atheist (as he informed Robert E. Howard in a letter in 1932)--that most likely has resulted in his stories having survived the test of time, well into our 21st century.