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Posted February 18, 2013
A recommended read for fans of weird fiction, H.P. Lovecraft, and Victorian era science fiction and horror.
This book is a bit hard to classify: some of the last stories in the volume are almost "normal" fiction (one or two of the last couple tales are almost romance stories), but the first few stories are strange, surreal tales that dip heavily into the sort of horror territory that Lovecraft and Poe are well-known for, while also being science fiction stories that attempt to describe the history of the early 20th century decades before it happened... just enough of Chambers' predictions are close enough to reality to seem vaguely familiar, while still being far enough off that it reads almost like alternate-history fiction.
This is a collection of short stories set in an world on the edge of apocalypse, loosely connected by a feverish suppressed play which drives anyone who reads it mad and perhaps even alters reality upon reading it... H.P. Lovecraft is known to have read this collection and has noted some of the stories as a particularly unsettling example of his many weird fiction influences, and at least a little of that inspiration is easy to imagine in Lovecraft's cryptic tomes of forbidden lore, mind-shattering revelations, disturbing body-horror, suppressed and forgotten histories, and hybrid science-fiction, horror, and fantasy stories.
Chambers' collection of short stories might almost be described as what might be written if one of Lovecraft's modern imitators were to attempt to write an alternate history story while under the influence of H.G. Wells, Edgar Allen Poe, and Oscar Wilde's "Picture of Dorian Gray"... except that "The King in Yellow" was written before Lovecraft's time, and before the 20th Century it describes.
This is a nice blend of surrealism, horror, and science fiction, and the better stories in this volume are classics of weird fiction - recommended for fans of this sort of thing. (Attention RPG geeks: some variation on Chambers' alternate 20th Century might make a nice, unique alternative setting for the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game....)
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