Friday, April 22, 2011

A book report

The Yellow Sign and Other Stories: The Complete Weird Tales of Robert W. Chambers. Chaosium Inc. ISBN: 1-56882-126-3

I read Robert W. Chambers short story "The Repairer Of Reputations" in late 1994 and it immediately became one of my favorite stories. Although it was written nearly a hundred years earlier, it felt fresh and wonderfully modern. It's a dark and twisted tale of a descent into madness that was like nothing I'd ever read before. The closest thing I could compare it to was Stephen King's gloriously sick novella Apt Pupil, but they are also very different in myriad ways. However, they both managed to make slides into murderous insanity seem giddy and joyous as a spring romance. I've re-read it many times over the past 17 years and I never tire of it. That book also had another of Chambers short stories, "The Yellow Sign", which was nearly as good as "The Repairer..." was. I was determined to read more of Chambers work as soon as I could find some.

Flash forward to about ten years ago, more or less. Chaosium Inc., which had published the book I had read the two Chambers stories in, put out The Yellow Sign and Other Stories, which has nearly all of Chambers "weird" horror fiction. I eagerly snatched up a copy when I saw it in the bookstore and resolved to read it as soon as possible. For many different reasons, it turned out to be nearly ten years before I got to it, I finished reading it a couple months ago.

At this point I should explain who Robert W, Chambers was. Chambers was a very successful writer of the late 19th/early 20th century. He wrote nearly eighty books, most of them bestselling romances in the style that was popular at that time. He was able to live a very comfortable life from the money his writing brought in.

He also wrote a few stories that fell into the supernatural fantasy or "weird" genre. These stories are very highly regarded by lovers of horror fiction and they inspired H.P. Lovecraft and others in shaping their mystical worlds.

So, how does The Yellow Sign and Other Stories rank as a book? Well, I have to confess that I was a bit disappointed when I finished it. It seems Chambers never did again quite hit the heights he did with "The Repairer..." and "The Yellow Sign." Many of the stories were enjoyable enough but seemed almost infantile when compared to those first two stories. There's too much repetition of hokey romance type plot contrivances in too many of the stories. Chambers obviously had a wonderful sense of humor but not one that necessary works well in a "horror" setting. A few of the stories have great moments of "WTF" strangeness but that's about all they provide.

But there were a few gems. I loved "The Maker Of Moons"; if updated to the present it would make a wonderful low budget, direct to DVD movie. "Un Peu d'Amour" is so damn crazy you just have to embrace it for what it is. And although it's beyond mild by today's standards, his story about a race of invisible women probably made a lot of his more "Victorian" readers blush with its implications!

Overall, I'm glad I read this book, just wish there could have been a few more stone cold classics to have come out of Chambers output.

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