This is probably the most varied collection yet to emanate from Golden Gryphon Press. Richard A Lupoff is an unusually versatile writer, a rover of genres and highly fluent appropriator of literary voices; like Kim Newman, Howard Waldrop, and Paul Di Filippo, he wears his many masks with style and wit, and Claremont Tales is a fair reflection of this facility.
It's from behind the simulated or updated features of HP Lovecraft that Lupoff performs with especial flair. "Documents in the Case of Elizabeth Akeley" and "Discovery of the Ghooric Zone" are direct additions to the corpus of Cthulhu Mythos tales, faithful and affectionate as tributes but perfectly prepared to innovate. Thus, "Documents" is a sequel to Lovecraft's "The Whisperer in Darkness", and quite accurately conveys elements of the original's grotesquerie and eerie narrative distance; but additions are made of the eroticism and goofy crackpot cultism of a later era, to acutely humorous revisionist effect. However, revisionist homage to Lovecraft is delivered with greater brilliance still in "Discovery of the Ghooric Zone", a rare tour de force of future-historical speculation, in which our much-adapted descendants find out just how right old Lovecraft really was. Humanity may shift in shape, but Horror lives forever...
Lupoff's particular handiness with the darkly exotic emerges strongly in two further tales with no particular Lovecraftian ascription. "Lux Was Dead Right" is part anecdote of the fierce pedantic foolishness of some antiquarian booksellers and part tongue-in-cheek space opera concerning galactic warfare; the dovetailing of the two threads is superbly and mordantly handled. "The Child's Story" is a sort of elegy to Old Earth, the object of a far-future pilgrimage by beings far removed from us in time but still recognisably human; although girded about with at times annoying prose poetry, this tale is an effective take on the end of the familiar. But the familiar and its subtler estrangements are the concern of the remaining stories in the book...
Consider "Black Mist". Here the setting is the Martian moon Phobos, its near-zero gravity environment quite remote from ordinary experience; the characters are all Japanese, their cultural complexes portrayed with due attention to their alienating (for most Western readers) foreignness. But familiarity is quickly established: a crime has been committed; the well-worn protocols of the murder mystery are quite precisely followed; the mystery of the Face on Mars is subordinated to the resolution of criminal purposes integral to human nature since the dawn of civilisation. We soon know where we stand. Maybe. "The Second Drug" may involve the imagery of vampirism and the inscrutable motivations of an Hungarian actor in turn unfathomably murdered behind the doors of a locked room; but a stock hypercivilised and ultrarational amateur sleuth investigates, and all will be well. Probably.
The so-prescriptive authoritativeness of the mystery plot, which ordains that orthodox logic must triumph at least formally, is not always present to afford its consolations. In "At Vega's Taqueria", an ordinary man drifts alarmingly from his moorings, and strangeness obtrudes on the mundane with a sort of garish glee. Highly disconcerting. "I Don't Tell Lies" offers a suspension of ordinary mortality, but this might be a placebo. Which is more worrying, breaches of natural laws or the laws themselves? The nostalgia of "Mr Greene and the Monster" and "The Monster and Mr Greene" is reassuring for genre readers and writers, but a quasi-immortal Hugo Gernsback has distinctly worrying overtones. "The Tootsie Roll Factor" permits a gambler release from his financial obligations, and very entertainingly too; but is this really a good idea, did it ever cure any moral failing? And similarly, when the protagonist of "The Adventures of Mr. Tindle" flees obdurate actuality for the infantile repose of virtual reality, how long can he remain comforted? There is no doubt that Lupoff conveys with genuine insight the unease of the here and now and of the fantasies we enact to evade it.
For all that, the best entries in Claremont Tales are certainly its visions of far times and places. Lupoff's more contemporary stories are prone to a certain predictability; their author wears his masks competently, but with a lesser flourish. Lupoff is pre-eminently an artist of the imagination; if his wings are often borrowed, they still carry him to lofty altitudes when he wills them to. In Claremont Tales II, let's see much more of the Ghooric Zone.
(Order from: Golden Gryphon Press, 3002 Perkins Road, Urbana, IL 61802, USA, or visit www.goldengryphon.com)
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© Nick Gevers 21 April 2001