THE DEEP ONES: "The Truth About Pickman" by Brian Stableford

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THE DEEP ONES: "The Truth About Pickman" by Brian Stableford

juny 8, 2020, 11:13am

Editat: juny 10, 2020, 5:32pm

Well, I nominated this story, so I'll comment on it first.

I nominated it because I was curious whether the group would think it was really a horror or weird tale despite being a follow up to Lovecraft's "Pickman's Model".

I thought it a fine piece of science fiction with Lovecraft's story given a nice, realistic biological rationale. I'm a Stableford fan -- both of his fiction and non-fiction, and I've liked his other Mythos stories I've read.

For me, though, it seemed little more, with its final line, than a cruel academic joke. It provoked no feelings of horror or cosmic dread in me. While the idea of genes influencing both artistic talent and audience response (presumably through inherited personality traits) is not implausible, I didn't find it, as expressed here, a very fruitful idea in producing additional speculations along those lines.

At least, that's my response after reading this story twice. I'm curious what others will think.

On the artistic level, I did appreciate that Eliot made it clear from the beginning he was hiding things and Stableford's wry asides (as a retired university professor himself) on the intellectual one upmanship that so often is present in academics as well as the quote dropping and dueling questions.

juny 10, 2020, 4:58pm

In his introduction to Black Wings, Joshi remarks that "Pickman's Model" "has only the most remote connection to the 'Cthulhu Mythos' as conventionally conceived." I mean, I get that Arkham ghouls are very distant cousins to "Godzilla with a tentacle moustache" (Andrew Looney), but they are certainly not at any significant remove from a wider "mythos" that includes Dreamlands, Machen-ish survivals and and atavisms, and New England shadow-life.

I like how Eliot and Thurber were on opposing teams: the cunning men versus the medical scientists, but Thurber doesn't even know that there are teams, as part of the mounting dramatic irony of the tale. And Stableford artfully puts most of the exposition in the voice of the less knowledgeable of the two characters.

juny 11, 2020, 6:43pm

I’m a Brian Stableford fan as well. I discovered and enjoyed his “Hooded Swan” Science Fiction series when I was about 13 or 14, and when my interests came around to Weird fiction a decade or so ago I found his writings on 19th century fantasy and decadence. I also picked up some nice books when he made a big donation to the local branch of Oxfam. So I feel a connection there.

Also, and this is starting to feel strange, this is another story where the setting is somewhere I’ve been! Family holidays to the Isle of Wight in the ‘70s.

I did enjoy this one, and a scientific explanation for people turning into ghouls is certainly not in conflict with HPL’s writing. As we are all aware, broadly speaking the magical elements got squeezed out of his stories in favour of science fiction, over his writing career.

The biological angle even seems to fit with the recent taste for using Victorian scientific drawings of weird micro-organisms as cover artwork for HPLs works (as in the not-much-loved-around-here Oxford collection edited by Roger Luckhurst).

This is a fairly superficial impression just on a first reading, but I got the feel - maybe because it’s a two-hander between clever professional/middle class (ostensibly) characters - of a Roald Dahl style well-told-tale-with-a-nasty-twist-in-the-end.