THE DEEP ONES: "The Essayist in the Wilderness" by William Browning Spencer
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Discussion begins on March 11, 2020.
First published in the May 2002 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine.
No online versions found to date.
SELECTED PRINT VERSIONS
The Ocean and All Its Devices
New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird
I don't know if it was the comic tone or something more fundamental that made me feel like the story was a little hollow, though. All of the phenomena were recognizably weird, but they didn't seem to add up into symptoms of a greater strangeness. I had trouble detecting an alien logic or even the succinct violation of human reason.
On reflection, Audrey's parting note did sound as if she were clued-in somehow. Certainly she believed she was. Could the gnosis she shared with Dr. and Mrs. Bath have been transmitted by the glowing venom, communicated from one of the smaller "crayfish"? These were no doubt the agents of Bob's demise.
On a second reading (and with the benefit of the excellent interview linked in the miscellany n >1 KentonSem:, I believe I was able to approach it more on its own terms and without those distracting Anglocentric echoes.
I still, on this second reading, enjoyed it a lot. Ruefully, I saw a lot of myself in the narrator - although he has a better turn of phrase than I do.
I would say the story is a comedy because of the way the plot is structured, rather than being humorous solely due to the narrative voice, or the narrator's foolish, self-absorbed, or ill-judged actions alone. And that's despite the fact that it apparently describes the beginning of the end of the world/an alien invasion/ the return of the Great Old Ones. The plot turns, of course, on Ackermann being prevented from providing sufficient information about real crayfish before being forced to terminate the phone call. Bad luck + character flaws = comedy.
I thought there were intentional parallels between Audrey's writing and the observed behaviour of the "crayfish". I thought there were enough clues hinting at an alien reproductive cycle and dissolution of the individual into a gestalt or hive mind. And I took it as read that she had been infected by the aliens.
The fact that the unearthly nature of the infection and the "crayfish" was cleverly lampshaded, I thought. Not just by the narrator's bookishness but his statement that "I expect this ritual has been observed by countless generations of country boys who give it no more thought than they might give to the birth of a calf"... It's true, there's a lot of perfectly normal nature that can puzzle or even alarm the unwary city-dweller or townie.
>4 KentonSem: Yes that was one of my favorite moments too.
The Baths interest me. Their diction is strange for having such an Anglo-Saxon last name. (I also liked the humor of them making a fast back by selling the paperback of Annie Dillard essays.