Electricity And Ghosts

I’m pleased to see that British electronica pioneer John Foxx has a new artbook due soon. Electricity And Ghosts will offer a full retrospective of the art, photography and graphic design from his career.

I was a collector at one time, having at one time had all his early gatefold double-singles, as well as the early albums both with early Ultraxox and then solo. I say “was” a collector because he was in the bulk of my record collection, which was left behind when I went away to university in the late 1980s. But that collection and all those Foxx singles were later carted (unbeknown to me) to the local charity shop (‘thrift store’), by a relative who had always loathed the looks of Gary Numan and all those late-70s/early-80s electronica ‘Space Patrol cadets’.

Ah well, it’s all on .MP3 now (his early solo work is best had in one shot via the five-album The Virgin Years 1980-1985 which has the singles b-sides as a bonus). But it would certainly be nice to have all that Foxx pre-Photoshop artwork back again. The artbook is not yet on Amazon, and is currently only pre-ordering from the publisher. But I need books sent to an Amazon locker, so I’ll have to wait until it’s on Amazon. What a wasted marketing opportunity, since he’s currently front-page on the latest Electronic Sound magazine.

All those potential Amazon pre-orders from readers… and not even a way to save the book to your Amazon WishList.

Why write about a British electronica musician and singer here? Well, I always thought he must have been partly inspired by Lovecraft’s “The Outsider” and perhaps a little by the ‘ruined London’ theme in British science-fiction (with a nod to Ballard and the French flâneur tradition). His signature neo-romantic (not to be confused with the 80s synthetic popsters of the ‘New Romantics’ scene) imagery is of the ‘Grey Man’ in a suit walking through the sunset in a romantically-overgrown and abandoned London, through abandoned Georgian arcades and plazas and into gothic graveyards with oversized looming statuary. Very Lovecraft-of-the-letters. Though I don’t recall that he’s ever nodded to Lovecraft in an interview.

Weird AI

AI Weekly briefly surveys and links the new leading-edge technical papers on generative AI each week. Its next art/cover challenge is ‘Weird’. Weirder images than generative AI usually produces, I guess. Unlike most arty challenges, there’s $50 in it for you.

Talking of ‘weird’ AI, Google has a new alphabet-generator called GenType. Give it a prompt, and out pops an A-Z alphabet of snazzy type. I suggested a font based on the idea of “Cosmic tentacle-beings from the mind of H.P. Lovecraft”, but that was refused as too weird. Thus I never got to see GenType produce any type. But you may want to give it a go.

Also, in AI Weekly one learns that it’s now just-about “possible to train diffusion models using mixed-resolution image datasets”. Which brings hope for a ‘face of H.P. Lovecraft’ plug-in for Stable Diffusion. Since many of the training images would necessarily be low-res. Stable Diffusion already knows what Lovecraft looks like, more or less, though often adds in Nick Cage (starred in the Colour movie, and thus gets tagged as ‘Lovecraft’), Buster Keaton (1920s film star, somewhat similar face), etc. We still need a LORA plug-in that guides the AI back to Lovecraft’s face and head shapes.

Tolkien e Lovecraft now in Kindle ebook

There’s now a Kindle edition of the Italian Tolkien e Lovecraft: Alle origini del fantastico. The paper version can’t be sent to an Amazon locker for pick-up, so that had meant ‘no deal’ for me. Not that I can read Italian, but I could have flatbed-scanned and translated the pages and got the gist of it.

A potential buyer can now get a free 10% sample of the ebook. I had this sent through, and as a result I find that a Kindle Fire tablet will permit screenshots of books being displayed in the Amazon reader app (nice, I didn’t know that). These screenshots can then be opened on the desktop PC, OCR’d by Abbyy Screenshot Reader, copied out to a Word .DOCX then auto-translated. The contents of the new book are then…

Premise [of the book].
1. Distant biographies [between the two writers]…
2. …but not too much.
3. Shared readings.
4. William Morris and George MacDonald.
5. Edgar Allan Poe.
6. Herbert George Wells and William Hope Hodgson.
7. Algernon Blackwood and Montague Rhodes Tames.
8. Eric Rucker [E.R.] Eddison.
9. Lord Dunsany and Edgar Rice Burroughs.
10. Tolkien’s gothic and Lovecraft’s fantasy: the beauty of Perilous Realms.
Parallel biographies: John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and Howard Phillips Lovecraft.

And here is the English translation for the one-page “Premise [of the book]”, clarified for sense and fluency in English:

‘In their mastery of the narrative of the imaginary, a mastery never again attainable, it is commonly supposed that John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and Howard Phillips Lovecraft are polar opposites. Even now this is still the view, after these writers have over many decades achieved deep worldwide resonance with scholars and readers. When they have both strongly contributed to the modern re-foundation of a mode of storytelling whose ancestral roots are lost in ancient epics and the very beginnings of man’s literary adventure. When they have both laid the foundations of a real philosophy of the ontological sustainability of alternative worlds born from the creative imagination. Yet on the surface, one has to admit that there does seem an evident and apparently unbridgeable difference between these two master-artisans of the fantastic. Tolkien with his luminous living fairy tale of Arda, crafted with all the slow rigour of the world’s leading philologist combined with the aesthetic wisdom of a medieval amanuensis. The dark, pre-human cosmic horrors of the dreamer of Providence, tempered only by his occasional ventures into the fabulous and otherworldly ‘dreamlands’. Of course, these two writers seem two extremes of what critics would like to deem an irreconcilable dichotomy. One ‘light’ and the other ‘shadow’. Yet does not this seeming dualism assure us of the vast range of the narrative territory which they have mapped? They have shown us new worlds alternately capable of arousing enduring hope or sudden terror, visions of divine providence or blindly impersonal cosmogonies. In these wide gaps, where on earth might one find points of significant contact? The aim of this work is to at least shorten the distances — perhaps inevitably only via my circumstantial inferences — firstly by showing their common literary reading and their appreciation of earlier or contemporary authors. Then by discussing some subtle similarities in artistic and aesthetic sensitivity. I hope these twin approaches will make their paths to the fantastic seem less antithetical than some might have been led to believe.’

Turns out the full £10 ebook runs to only 98 pages, which works out in a Word document at 24,000 words for the body-text minus the biographies at the back. Regrettably these biogs do not run side-by-side by-date for quick comparison.

Via the screenshots for the whole book, and via Abbyy Finereader, I got a Word .DOCX file. This then went through Google Translate. Who knew auto-translating short Kindle ebooks was so easy?

Return to the Boat House

This week on ‘Picture Postals’, two new pictures of the boat house on the Seekonk. This was near to Lovecraft’s then home (from his roof “One can see the glint of the Seekonk through the foliage of Blackstone Park”) in Providence. The boat house is the most likely point at which the young teenage Lovecraft would have hired a rowing-boat for an afternoon. Yes, Lovecraft in a boat! He would at times land on the river’s Twin Islands, which are not on all maps but are on some.

I used to row considerably on the Seekonk … Often I would land on one or both of the Twin Islands — for islands (associated with remote secrets, pirate treasure, and all that) always fascinated me.” — Lovecraft in a letter to Rimel, April 1934.

This newly found-on-eBay view shows the Boat Club side-on, and is a view of it I’ve not seen before. Regrettably I can’t get the picture at a larger size.

And here is a very tiny view from the year of Lovecraft’s death, in which we see the jetty from the water as if Lovecraft were rowing away from it.

Compare with the first appearance of “Dagon” with a similar rowing-boat…

It is possible sails were provided with the rowing-boats in Lovecraft’s time, as the Seekonk could be a dangerous river.

Another newly-found image of the boat house is this engraving, possibly done ‘on the spot’ by the look of it, showing the approach to the building along the Blackstone Park shoreline road in winter. The artist is Robert H. Nisbet, who taught at RISD in Providence.

And here we see the same approach in winter with photographic detail, which being somewhat elevated shows the tidal nature of the river.

The Seekonk’s occasional flood-surge was liable to spill over the road, as seen here, and Lovecraft tells us the water was still “salty” that close to the sea. Indeed at one point in the letters he states that the Seekonk was really a bay or inlet, rather than a river at that point. He had nightmares about the draining of the Seekonk here (“the river-bed was fully exposed — only the deep channel filled with water like a serpentine stream of death flowing through a pestilential plain in Tartarus”).

Just a little on and around the corner was and still is York Pond, where in summer Lovecraft liked to sit and write on the wooded bluff above the pond.

New article by Timo Airaksinen

New from Timo Airaksinen (The Philosophy of H.P. Lovecraft), a 2023 article on “The Idea of Lost Identity in Fantasy Fiction: Stevenson, Stoker, and Lovecraft”. Released June 2024, and freely available for download.

Also, if you’re interested in delving deep into Lovecraft’s apparently more-than-passing interest in the British philosopher Bishop Berkeley, I see that Timo Airaksinen edited a book on Berkeley’s Lasting Legacy: 300 Years Later (2011).

    “Another outland pilgrimage is to the Bishop Berkeley country, some four miles beyond Newport beach on the road to Middletown.” (Lovecraft, Selected Letters II)

    “the rocks and surf on which we looked down from our exalted perch — a perch which 200 years ago [1728-32] was a favourite of Dean (later Bishop) Berkeley as he composed his famous Aleiphron or, The Minute Philosopher. (Lovecraft, Selected Letters IV)

    “discussed the cosmos with Dean Berkeley’s shade [i.e. ‘ghost’]” (Lovecraft)

Berkeley believed, among other things, that “reality isn’t separate from perception” and was a deep thinker on language who was later compared to Wittgenstein. Both of which might have interested Lovecraft, as well as his long-ago presence in nearby Newport. Apparently, according the blurb for Airaksinen’s book, by the 20th century Berkeley had been forgotten for all but his early writing on reality/perception. But one wonders what Lovecraft picked up of Berkeley in his deep reading of the 18th century texts in his grandfather’s attic library, and also by reading Berkeley direct (there was also a 1929 sampler). Note also “George Berkeley and the Alchemical Tradition” which “examines the presence of alchemical tradition in Siris, the last published book of George [Bishop] Berkeley”. This is a chapter in The Other Bishop Berkeley: An Exercise in Reenchantment (2007).

A useful new scholarly tool

Grabbing editable text from screenshots is useful for scholars, especially those who often use Google Books or perhaps academic article services that don’t allow copy-paste from their free samples (e.g. Project Muse). I used to use the free Microsoft OneNote (handles tiny footnotes well, but is bad on comic-book lettering). But more recently I found the £9 ABBYY Screenshot Reader, which uses the well-tried and trusted Abbyy OCR. Tentaclii readers may already have this, actually, as I think it comes free with most copies of Abbyy Finereader scanning + OCR software. Or it used to. Often, this was given away free when you purchased a flatbed scanner. The software does just as well, and in some cases better, than OneNote.

But now there’s another contender for offline OCR on a desktop PC, the popular and wholly free IrfanView, which is used by millions. If that appeals then get IrfanView v4.67 and also its plugin pack installer. After install of both you’ll see that IrfanView has a new OCR option, though it’ll need to be enabled in the plug-ins menu and then require the free open source Tesseract OCR as its local OCR engine. Lots of language support in Tesseract (if was formerly Google’s tool), and there’s even a special version trained on mediaeval / blackletter texts. Just the thing for OCR-ing and translating ye olde arcane tomes, perhaps. Though note that OCR of German blackletter has now been overtaken in quality by (paid) online AI.

Lovecraft and Felis

A new, human reading on YouTube, of two short Christmas poems by Lovecraft.

Christmas Greetings to Felis (Frank Belknap Long’s cat)

Little Tiger, burning bright
With a subtle Blakeish light,
Tell what visions have their home
In those eyes of flame and chrome!
Children vex thee — thoughtless, gay —
Holding when thou wouldst away:
What dark lore is that which thou,
Spitting, mixest with thy meow?

   (“Blakeish” = William Blake, the ‘Tiger, Tiger’ poet).

Egyptian Christmas

Haughty Sphinx, whose amber eyes
Hold the secrets of the skies,
As thou ripplest in thy grace,
Round the chairs and chimney-place,
Scorn on thy patrician face:
Rise not harsh, nor use thy claws
On the hand that gives applause —
Good-will only doth abide
In these lines at Christmastide!

And here is the tiger-striped Felis, being held by Lovecraft…

The Thing: Remastered

John Carpenter’s well-known movie The Thing (1982), had a single-player horror-shooter videogame sequel in 2002. Antarctica. Expeditions. Horrid Alien Life. Paranoia. All very familiar to Lovecraft readers. The game was popular and sold over a million copies.

Now it’s “soon” to be The Thing: Remastered (not to be confused with the remastered movie), offering an overhaul of that glorious olde Millennium-Vision look, and what sounds like some UI and other enhancements. Undated as yet, but it now has a page and trailer on GoG.

I found a detailed “Making of” interview with the makers, about the original 2002 game…

‘Thing’ creatures often have random eyeballs in strange places; that almost plant-like opening-up of structures and there being tentacles inside it; the spindly-leg stuff that pops out of things and parts of the body being able to tear away from other parts of the body and spawn more creatures […] ‘Thing’ creatures rarely look demonic [in the clichéd way].

Hold the Fort

Hot on the heels of my recent long blog post on “Lovecraft and Charles Fort” comes a new book. My post could only recommend the book The Fortean Influence on Science Fiction (2020). But the latest Reason magazine (ever alert to the forces of unreason) reviews Think to New Worlds: The Cultural History of Charles Fort and his Followers (University of Chicago Press) and thus alerted me to another one. The new book is set for release on the 3rd of July 2024.

The book’s 394-pages survey not only the influence on imaginative writers, paranormal research and crypto-zoology (‘Bigfoot’ etc), but also what the Reason review calls “the libertarian-leaning strains of Fort’s following, from the San Francisco Renaissance to the Discordians”. These are left unexplained by the reviewer and may be unknown outside of a West Coast crowd of a certain age. So I should perhaps explain that the former references the 1950s/60s Beat generation writers (Ginsberg, Burroughs et al), and the latter a prank religion perhaps best known to science-fiction readers via mentions its primary text Principia Discordia in the infamous Illuminatus! Trilogy of the mid 1970s.

On searching the Google Books version of Think to New Worlds (already online), “Lovecraft” gets 17 hits. So his posthumous intertwingling with Fort is not ignored.

1925 NYC map

This week on ‘Picture Postals’, another map and also a departure from the Providence theme. New York City’s subway and ‘elevated’ railway system in 1925, drawn by E.R. Trott and given away to customers by a large hotel. In Red Hook Lovecraft was living in the bottom-right corner of the map. See “CLINTON” written in capitals at an angle, and then find “Atlantic” and intersect the two… and you’re about there.

2988 pixels on the longest side, and thus readable if downloaded at full size. A very useful map if reading Lovecraft’s 1925 Diary and letters from New York, since it also has many of the street names, parks, ferry lines, museums, libraries, and even the dock numbers. All for 1925.

And to bring the map somewhat to life, here we glimpse a typical subway entrance with news-stand, at Columbus Circle in October 1925. On one of the southern corners of Central Park…

Note the news vendor’s baseball bat, ready to hand. Hoodlums got what was coming to them, in those days!