Friday, November 10, 2017

At the Mountains of Madness (a book review post)

Yes, I'm still working my way through Lovecraft. No, I wouldn't recommend him to anyone else, not in general. There are a few, just a few, stories I'd suggest for anyone wanting to try him out. This is not one of them. Especially not at its length.

Funnily enough, when Lovecraft wrote this story, it was considered a novella but, by today's standards, it's novel length. It's more than 12,000 words longer than his next longest story and, I'm pretty sure, he could have cut all of them out. All of them. No, Lovecraft is not an author who gets better with length; he just gets more repetitive. I mean, it's possible that all 12,000 of those words are instances of "cyclopean" (one of Lovecraft's favorite words) and "decadent" (a new favorite for this story (seriously, if I ever again hear the term "decadent statue," it will be too soon (What even is a "decadent statue"? Lovecraft never says. He just tosses in the descriptor at some point to differentiate between the earlier statues))).

I did have hopes for this story when it started out. For one thing, it has a new setting. A new setting for Lovecraft, at any rate, though it's not really a common setting: the Antarctic. And it starts out well enough as Lovecraft goes into the scientific mission of the team and setting up the base camp and all of that but, of course, there's an unexpected discovery and everything goes horribly wrong.

Also, of course, the narrator isn't present for any of the action. That's how Lovecraft do. But what that does is forces the author to only tell you what happened, never to show it. It just gets boring after a while. Even when Lovecraft puts the narrator into the action, it ends up being passive. The narrator gets scared and runs away and never even sees what he's running from. His companion does, but that thing, whatever it was, is never revealed. You just have to trust that it's something really scary. So scary that the narrator's companion can't speak of it, another trick of Lovecraft's: the nameless terror.

It's so old, Man! Get a new trick.
Oh, no, wait, this is one of Lovecraft's last pieces, so it's not likely that he's going to find any new tricks.

The real problem with the story, though, is a thing a lot (maybe most?) of sci-fi authors have a problem with: I came up with a really cool idea and I want to tell you all about it even though it has nothing to do with the story and my character has no reason to know anything about it. Like a Joe Shmoe explaining how warp drive works or something. Of course, Lovecraft has to surpass everyone else and spend half of his book explaining something that his character shouldn't know, the back story of an alien race.

Sure, Lovecraft tries to make it plausible for his protagonist (I use that term loosely since the character does nothing more than walk around then run away) to know what he knows, but it's a ridiculous supposition, and you have to have severe cognitive dissonance to believe that his character could decipher and read the entire history of this race in the short amount of time allotted to him to do so by Lovecraft. It hurt my head, actually, trying to pretend that I could go along with the idea long enough to finish this "book."

14 comments:

  1. Lovecraft seems like one of those authors that you either love or hate. I'm not a fan, either. I can't recall which, but I did try to read some of his work before and wasn't into it. Also, I mean, he IS the guy that wrote this gem, so... that doesn't help his case.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ABftS: I'm not sure how anyone could read his body of prose and still be a fan. It's not that there haven't been some good pieces scattered through, but he had almost no variation to what he wrote, making it a slog.

      I haven't gotten to his poetry, but the racism in his prose is usually a bit more subtle than that poem you linked.

      Delete
  2. I actually liked that one, although...I don't know. It's hard to describe. It's such a slog through. I guess you could say I enjoyed the feeling the story gave off even though it's pretty tedious. Honestly I think I have a high tolerance for boring, repetitive things so I was able to derive some enjoyment out of it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jeanne: I can do boring and repetitive, but Lovecraft... I suppose I've learned to tolerate that kind of stuff less as I've gotten older. I just don't have time for it.

      Delete
  3. Eeek. I've never read any Lovecraft. I probably shouldn't admit that, but then again, I'm not all that well-read. I'll skip this, for sure.

    ReplyDelete
  4. The only Lovecraft I've read is The Dreamquest for Unknown Kadath. I didn't find it a wholly satisfying book as I recall, but I loved the beginning. That part was magical.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. mshatch: Another one that went on too long. I reviewed that earlier. I think. I read it, at any rate.

      Delete
  5. I almost want to read it just for endurance kudos. This review made me chuckle, no endurance required there :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lisa: It's always a plus when I can review a bad thing to get a chuckle.

      Delete
  6. I feel like you dive on all the literary grenades. Thanks for taking this one for the teeming hordes who still don't know who HP Lovecraft is.
    V :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Veronica: Yeah, curse my desire to know things!

      Delete
  7. I haven't read any Lovecraft! I've always thought I should, but who knows when... Might end up adding them to my "did not finish" GoodReads shelf, but at least I can give it a crack. ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Trisha: At this point, I can't say that I would recommend Lovecraft to anyone. Maybe one or two stories, though the one I think that is probably his best isn't understandable unless you've read a significant portion of his work.

      Delete