Short Reviews – Friday the Thirteenth, Isaac Asimov

Friday the Thirteenth by Isaac Asimov appears in the January 1976 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  Will this review make more SF fans mad at me than getting linked on File 770?  Stay tuned and find out if my reviews of the January ’76 issue (with one or two exceptions, it was really bad) turns me into Requires Hate 2: Electric Boogaloo!

Asimov is frustrating; he is revered as one of the greatest authors of science fiction, but the man just can’t tell an interesting story! Or maybe it’s me. It’s probably me. But I’ve found that while he can write non-fiction that stirs the imagination, his fiction bores me to tears. Friday the Thirteenth promises us an Umberto Eco style historical mystery and instead delivers a high school mathbook word-problem masquerading as speculative fiction.

The Hellfire Club Black Widowers, Asimov’s puzzle solving supper club, have been presented a challenge by one of their members: a (fictional) socialist would-be assassin of Calvin Coolidge is obsessed with Friday the 13th, a letter discovered posthumously is used to justify his execution, though his relative who is a member of the club argues that the letter might actually clear him. “God’s mercy for the 40 year miracle that will give us no Friday the 13th next month”.

Members of the club offer up various tricks to determine when Friday the 13ths fall and solve the Friday the 13th mystery. Whoopee.

While there’s some neat puzzle solving going on and a few things with which to impress your friends, there’s just no pay-off unless you are the sort of person who feels like coming up with the answer to a word problem somehow resolves the character arc of the guy trying to figure out how many apples and oranges he has.

And yet, for as much crap as I give Asimov’s fiction, I’ve found that some of the most enjoyable stuff in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction have been Asimov’s science columns. His wonderful and concise explanation of the chemistry behind the origins of life on earth and the 3 stages of earth’s atmosphere in this issue more than makes up for a dud like Friday the Thirteenth.

Short Reviews – Horror Movie, Stuart Dybek

Horror Movie by Stuart Dybek appears in the January 1976 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  Reading this story, I realized I’ll never be able to read SF/F featuring creepy old men offering to do things to little boys from the inner city without being reminded of Samuel R Delany now. Thank god that’s not something I’ll have to worry about often.

I feel as though I missed out on a vital part of the American experience, never having gone by myself or with friends (though without an adult present) to a bad horror movie at an age when I would be genuinely frightened by men in a wolf-man suit or in mummy bandages.  Damn if Horror Movie is not evocative of that feel, or at least what I presume that feeling to be.  But more than that, it’s evocative of a fear which I am thankful to have missed out on: growing up poor in the slums of Chicago.

Horror Movie follows a young boy who is having one hell of a bad and freaky weekend. His mother has been taken to the hospital while he was out due to a complication with a pregnancy which has left the bathroom a scary bloody mess. He is terrified of his mother’s abusive boyfriend. The boy is troubled by nightmares and is a habitual bed-wetter, yet loves watching horror movies (or at least masochistically enjoys subjecting himself to them). Much of the story is vivid descriptions of the boy’s dreaming and waking nightmares -all very strange and unsettling affairs- which serve as a mirror for the uncanny and alienating nature of the rotting and hostile urban setting in which the character is forced to grow up.

Horror Movie is a parade of the grotesque; the boy’s bad dreams, his living conditions, the blaxploitation horror movie he goes to see, the pederast usher, the crimes and decay of the city, the procession of urban nightmare fuel escalates, fluctuating between the real and imagined, ultimately culminating in a fat Puerto Rican lady tied to a lamp post getting kicked in the tit so hard it smacks her in the face as she half-heartedly begs the boy for help on his sojourn from the theatre. This strange and ghoulish tale ends with the kid locking himself in his dark house, slashing about at shadows with a kitchen knife for comfort. You almost expect the story to end with him accidentally plunging the knife into the abusive boyfriend, the mamacita neighbor who’d told him his mother was taken to the hospital, or -worst of all- his mother returning home, but all is left to the imagination of the reader.

While Horror Movie is an excellent example of modernist grotesque, it would be a stretch to call it speculative fiction. Not a criticism, merely an observation.  Dybek’s story is a masterfully put together tale of existential urban terror, but it’s not something one could call fantasy or science fiction or even horror in a conventional sense. There is no supernatural horror; the only horrors present are those in the young boy’s dreams and those in his environment. Things kids face growing up in the inner city are more terrifying and horrible than anything in a scary movie. Horror Movie is by far the best thing I’ve read so far in the January 1976 issue, which isn’t saying anything by itself, so I’ll also point out that it’s better than a lot of the stuff that I liked from the June 1977 issue.  But man is it an unpleasant read…

Short Reviews – The Exiled, The Hunted, George Guthridge

The Exiled, The Hunted by George Guthridge appeared in the June 1977 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

The Exiled, The Hunted is one of those Jungle-Planet-with-Cat-People sword and planet type stories. Only the Cat People aren’t native to the Jungle Planet and they don’t use swords. And they’re not really Cat People. But given that they’re primitive tribal mammalians with tails, they fall enough into Cat People trope that it works well enough as shorthand.

Guthridge’s story involves an environmental mystery, an inter-species love triangle, giant mudbeasts and cat people (sorry for the reductive term, George, but that’s what I’m sticking with) who hunt them, all set against the tragic background of the native lost cause (but in space!). Viewed as a simple planet adventure with naked cat girls and telepathic monsters, it’s a fun enough read, but looked at as some kind of social commentary on science vs conservatism, it will make you squint your eyes and say “I see what you did there.”

Nassam is the chief of the tribe of cat people who have been exiled to a planet of swamps, mud and tasty tasty mudbeasts. Speaking of tasty, he’s in love with Leeani, a huntress of his tribe. The problem is, he’s married to Chola, a human woman who had joined up with Nassam and his people during the war that eventually led to their exile. The main reason Nassam married Chola is that the cat people share a mystical empathetic bond with their family, and humans are more adaptable and innovative than cat people, so Nassam thought it would be awesome to have human kitty kids, but that didn’t pan out.

Nassam is faced with the problem that his tribe is dying out, suffering sickness, and he is falling under the strain of both leadership and the mysterious illness that’s afflicting the kitty folk. He is ultimately forced to put his faith into his wife, who has always had faith in him, and move the tribe because holy cow, the planet they were exiled to is radioactive as crap! They end up having to make multiple moves, because while things get a bit better now and then, the problems don’t go away. The tribe begins to doubt their chief and resent his ailing human wife.

In addition to being tasty, the mudbeasts are telepathic. Nassam gets the drop on an exceptionally large mudbeast who promises to reveal the secrets of the swamp and how to survive the planet’s radiation if he’ll spare its life. Nassam promises to spare the creature and order his tribe to stop hunting the mudbeasts in exchange for the knowledge it imparts, but just having told him how he can save the tribe, the beast is killed by Leeani. Nassam getting all contemplative while Leeani complains that he let her kill sink into the endless muck kicks off the epilogue in which the sadder and wiser chief will guide his people, love his wife, and make do on the crappy mudball planet, and the dying beast ominously contemplates the future of the cat people who might someday become mud monsters as well to survive, or something.

There is a lot going on in The Exiled, The Hunted. It deals with race, generational issues, scientific acceptance (or perhaps even faith in science) and the potentially disastrous consequences of conservative reactionary objection.

Generational issues are only briefly touched on, so I’ll knock those out first. The cat people’s empathic ability is sort of the reverse of the typical mystic indian trope; instead of connecting with ancestors, elders connect with youth, vicariously enjoying the thrills of the young in their old age. Unfortunately, the young cat people have radical notions of privacy and don’t want grampa empathically watching them all the time.

Race is one of the biggest issues, and is at the forefront because of the inter-species love triangle. While Nassam is kinda meh about humans and kinda meh about his wife, Leeani actually hates them, so she double hates Chola for being a human and being the chieftain’s wife. I don’t remember if it explicitly says it, but I think that humans were the ones who drove the cat people off their planet in the first place. Chola is one of those exoticists, a gone native type, who for various reasons has decided that she identifies so much with the “other” that she joins up with them and wants to be one of them and even marries herself a chief! Needless to say, a lot of the catfolk besides just Leeani resent the whole ‘gone native’ thing, but what struck me was that while we’re shown the anti-human racism of the catfolk in a negative light, Chola’s fetishization of the exotic, noble and primitive cat warriors is presented uncritically. And her human (white) know how is what ultimately saves the tribe!

Ignorance of Science (and radiation) will destroy the tribe and only science (mystic mudbeast knowledge + Chola’s human know-how & reasoning) can save them. Leeani embodies conservatism in the story: she has regressive ideas about race (hates all humans), has regressive ideas about science (doubts the human with her plans to escape the radiation), and figuratively kills knowledge and progress when she kills the mudbeast that had just given Nassam the secrets of the swamp. Shame on Leeani! Shame on the doubters and racists!

The Exiled, The Hunted is not a bad story. In fact, it’s probably one of the best in the issue in terms of writing and storytelling. It’s just that if one looks just below the surface, the messaging is so strangely off-the-wall that you find yourself wondering just what Guthridge was really trying to say here. Probably symptomatic of being written in the mid-70s before mainstream progressivism went totally insane, but read today this story is one that seems like it wants to have both a progressive social and pro-science message while coming across as a story about how at least one catman came to understand the white (wo)man’s burden from his wife who helped him save his tribe. “Look, guys, we have to do what this human lady says, she knows more than us about things, so let’s take her word for it.” Sure, she was right, but still…

The Exiled, The Hunted is one of Guthridge’s earliest published works; noting that, the skill with which he writes is impressive, so if he only got better, he’s worth checking out.

This is the last of the stories from the June 1977 issue of F&SF; there is a fascinating essay by Asimov on the nature of and means of observing and detecting black holes which I do not feel qualified to comment on save that I find the Dr’s non-fiction far more enjoyable than his fiction.  Later this week, I’ll be picking up with more from the January 1976 issue.

Short Reviews – The Final Close, J.P. Dixon

The Final Close appeared in the June 1977 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and was totally not made up by me.

The Final Close is the 3rd ‘Scary Injun’ story in the June 1977 issue. Nina was of the “monsters might be indistinguishable from indigenous people/indigenous people might be monsters” variety; The Horse Lord was of the “indigenous people know more about the scary stuff you should stay away from” variety; The Final Close is of the “indigenous people are gonna get ya, whitey, cuz they’re indigenous” variety. Racist? Sure, why not? But it’s like the short fiction version of a dime-store Indian; The Final Close captures a nuanced bit of Americana that can’t just be written off by saying it plays to stereotypes.

One of those door-to-door men that most folks only remember from old Looney Tunes -the kind who’d brag about selling refrigerators to Eskimos- and his young protege are making their way across the country selling folks headstones. If that doesn’t gob-smack you with foreshadowing of impending doom, I don’t know what would.

The ‘hero’ of the story is the young sales apprentice who thinks he’s on the verge of making it rich. He thinks he’s fancy stuff in his suit and tie, so doesn’t realize what a rube he is. Hitting on the counter girl at the burger & fries joint elicits a response of smiling contempt. Watch out for Old Pretty Mouth. The duo makes their way into Chickasaw City to find that the town’s name is only half-accurate. An angry lady and her neighbors end up chasing the “goddamn tourists” with a rifle and various implements straight into the maw of Old Pretty Mouth, a giant bass/serpent/crocogator/monster/something, and probably have a big larff about it after.

The Final Close, while not executed with quite the mastery of craft possessed by Bloch or playing with the depths of fear that The Horse Lord did, is a serviceable piece of disposable horror worthy of inclusion in a Creepshow-like showcase. The first one, not the second one. Like Nina, there’s the aspect of white fear at play, but more of the sort that makes you snicker as the unwitting dopes fall straight into whatever indigenous-peoples-related-doom awaits them.

One of the most striking aspects of the Final Close is the close attention to detail; if you only focus on the silly story of white guys chased by ‘injuns’ then ate by monster, you’ll miss the impressive amount of descriptive work put into making everything seem real and true to life. I’d not only believe that Dixon had driven through Chickasaw City, I’d believe that he ate at that burger & fries joint and had the counter girl snark at him. The last punch is with Old Pretty Mouth itself; after all of the details and descriptions, all we get of OPM is the kid’s dying thought that “Old Pretty Mouth looked just the way the kid had imagined him all along, and there was no escape.”

The best I can say about The Final Close is that this is how The Death of Bunny Munro should have ended.

Short Reviews – The Holdouts, Kit Reed

Kit Reed’s The Holdouts appeared in the June 1977 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

The Holdouts is comprised of three separately told parallel stories, the theme of which are -you guessed it- hold outs. Other than this theme of ‘holding out’, nothing ties the stories together in a meaningful way (or at least one that I can remember), and therein is one of the major weaknesses of this story. The other major weakness is that only one of the stories was interesting. For some reason, I’d completely forgotten what the B-story was, despite it having been more interesting at the time than the C-story.

The A-story is about a trio of WW2 Japanese soldiers abandoned on Pacific Island, holding desperately onto the order demanded by their rank and culture to keep going in hopes that someday they would be able to return home victorious to Japan.

The B-story is some kind of Sunset Blvd. type yarn, wherein an aging actress endlessly rewatches reels of her incomplete film opposite a hunky Hollywood guy who’d left her. Her daughter is kept virtually a prisoner of her obsession, and the guilt of her own pregnancy and birth (which caused the film to stop production, never to be resumed) leads the daughter to acquiesce to the mother’s madness.

The C-story is… I think some guy has a farm? Or something. Doesn’t want to sell it but maybe has to?

C-story resolves with the guy selling the farm to hippies for a knock-off Woodstock, I think.

B-story resolves with the daughter meeting an attractive guy; mom thinks she can use him to finish the film, for herself, if nothing else, and give up on the Hollywood hunk who left her years ago. The guy likes the girl enough that maybe he’ll help out mom.

A-story resolves with an American Astronaut washing up on shore, telling the stranded Japanese that the war is over, it’s a new day! The nearly naked, half-dead, three-quarters-starved, seven-eighths-mad Japanese draw their swords, shout “Banzai!” and hack him to pieces.

I did enjoy story A and story B on their own terms, even if I was unable to engage the triptych of The Holdouts as had Reed had intended. Story A was especially moving, with the Private who longed for human contact but was restricted by hierarchy from opening up to his companions, the Captain, who felt the same way as the Private, but needed to maintain order by his rank to keep them alive, both ultimately separated by the Lieutenant who was caught in between, motivated by self-preservation and a desire for power and advancement that could never be realized in their current straits. Story B, like story A, had very human characters who you could at least pity, if not always sympathize with. Story C had a farmer.

Um… I guess you could say that the Japanese held out to the very end? I’m not looking deep enough into this story to draw the meaning that I’m sure is there and I’m sure that Kit Reed wanted me to get, but I don’t want to work that hard for something appearing in a book with a space whale flying into a supernova on its cover.

Short Reviews – My Boat, Joanna Russ

My Boat was published in the January 1976 issue of Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  I know I haven’t finished all of the stuff from June 1977 yet, but this was fresh in my mind and I wanted it to follow my previous review of The Horse Lord.  I do plan on finishing reviews of June 1977 issue this week.

While Lisa Tuttle’s The Horse Lord captures everything that is right and good and wonderful about Lovecraftian Weird Horror, Joanna Russ’s My Boat embodies everything I can’t stand about ::fingerquotes:: “Lovecraftian Weird Horror”.

My Boat turns a fictionalized account of the Central High Integration* into a magical negro story with a bunch of Lovecraft titles and places name dropped to show some Lovecraft cred. The story is told in one of those annoying first person one-sided conversation perspectives, with the narrator recounting his tale in between pitches to his agent for a new series.

The narrator, in that “tell me I ain’t crazy!” voice recalls those days at Central High where he and a buddy (obsessed with HP Lovecraft, natch) befriended one of the young black girls who was part of the integration. The girl’s mother is an ultra conservative and restrictive christian while her father was killed in front of her by angry white men; shy and quiet, and seems always afraid, though she is an absolutely brilliant and natural actor, and *gasp* has extensive knowledge about the history of the east Mediterranean, including “correct” pronunciations! Despite her quirks the girl becomes close with the narrator and his nerdy friend.

One day, she invites them out to the lake to go on her boat which she has christened “My Boat”. What follows is a flight of fancy as the boat progressively becomes more fancy, as does the magic black girl, who turns into a resplendent princess. A lot of Lovecraftian locations get name-dropped (Celephais, Kadath, etc.), and they’re going to set sail and visit the Queen of Sheba (properly pronounced “Saba”, our magic black girl reminds us). Oh, we’re going to places wonderful and terrible just like out of the pulp rags your friend reads! Off to Atlantis! The narrator gets a sudden case of the scared-white-boys, hesitates for a moment when a “redneck” cop shows up and is all ‘whachudoin, boy?”, and turns around to find the boat is gone!

The narrator tells us how he is unable to convince the black girl’s mother that his friend didn’t abduct and rape her daughter, and is messed up about the whole thing. Twenty years later, he runs into his old friend again, who hasn’t aged a day. ‘Oh, I’m just on my way to my house, I have to pick up the Necronomicon before I get back.’ But it’s not the Necronomicon, but the Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath! Moogahboogahlovecraftwasright! And the friend disappears, and the house disappears and the neighborhood disappears and the freeway goes through where it all ways now, and was it real or not or is he crazy?

When I talk about terrible Lovecraft fan-wankery being the reason why I don’t read a lot of modern weird fiction and am wary of any writers who cite Lovecraft as an influence, this is the kind of story I’m talking about. If you actually like this kind of thing, you’d probably like this. Me? I hate it.

Lovecraft was immensely influenced by Lord Dunsany, particularly his dark quasi-arabian mythology established in Gods of Pegana. But I can guarandamntee you that we wouldn’t even be talking about Lovecraft today if he’d written The Doom that Came to Yun-Ilara, The Call of Trogool, or The Dream Quest of Unknown Aradec. Come up with your own damn dream worlds and stop name dropping Ulthar, Celephais, and Kadath. Or if you’re going to name drop Lovecraft stuff, be subtle about it. Use a sniper rifle, not a gatling gun. Best Lovecraft drop in a book ever? Foucault’s Pendulum has six hundred pages of historical, philosophical, and theological conspiracy theories being bandied about both in jest and in all seriousness, but when the Rosicrucian obsessed occultists, free masons, new agers and Thelemites kidnap one of the characters, right before the climactic bloodbath, someone shouts “Ia, Cthulhu!” Perfect cherry on top for a story about people who are obsessed with occultism and can no longer tell the difference between occult history and fiction.

Less is more, none is best, My Boat is full of leaks.

*The National Guard are not present, no state is mentioned, and it is 5 black students instead of 9, but as it does take place in the south in the 1950s, “Central High” and “Integration” are a dog-whistle to any Arkansan.

Short Reviews – The Horse Lord, Lisa Tuttle

Lisa Tuttle’s short horror story The Horse Lord appears, like everything I’ve done a Short Review of so far, in the June 1977 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.  It maybe bears mentioning that the “Short” in “Short Review” refers to the length of the subject matter rather than the review itself.  I retcon this claim to be true.

I love Lovecraft’s weird fiction. Not just his mythos stuff, but his ‘weird New England’ stuff, where the oldness of the land and the mystery about what took place where nothing but oral traditions passed down the stories of spirits that inhabit the land. A lot of writers try to emulate Lovecraft by simply throwing together a monster with an unpronounceable name, toss in the boilerplate about “unknowable horror” and “unspeakable cosmic” whatnot, but those folks are missing the real magic. Lisa Tuttle does not. She understands how to weave a story of suspense and terror.

First, you establish a sense of dread with tone and setting. Then, you provide the underlying justification for that feeling of dread by providing just enough background to confirm in the reader’s mind that something terrible is going to happen and hint at the possible nature of that something. You let the dread build, raising the blade of the guillotine, until the very end when you let the rope go. This is what Lisa Tuttle does in the Horse Lord with enough skill and nuance that one can’t say that she’s emulating Lovecraft’s weird horror but rather she is improving upon it.

The Horse Lord takes place in a grim and desolate patch of land in upstate New York where a family has just moved. The protagonist is a fairly recently married woman, Marilyn, who wanted children someday but now suddenly has several: a step-daughter and four recently orphaned nieces & nephews. Unable to afford space for such a brood in New York City, the family moved to an old home that had been in her husband Derek’s family for years relatively unused. After quickly painting Marilyn’s situation, her character and the rural isolation of the bleak homestead and nearby barn (locked and boarded up, naturally), Tuttle gives us our underlying justification: a gruesome and inexplicable unnatural death nearly a century ago. We learn from Derek that his “Old Uncle Martin” had been torn apart and eaten by his own horses in that barn. The land was cursed and local Indian warnings had gone ignored.

The story goes on to juxtapose Marilyn reading and finding out more and more about the supposed “curse”, the local Indians, the grisly death of Uncle Martin (a kind man, who’d been good to his horses), and nightmares about bones being snapped by the giant teeth of angry equines with the children’s eerie determination to fix up the old barn and catch the horse that must certainly be running wild on the property (what else could be making that terrifying screaming sound in the hills at night?). Never has the old adage of “every little girl wants a pony” been so frightening. We know (because it is a horror story) that Marilyn and Derek are doomed, and we slowly learn why and can eventually make some decent guesses as to how, but nothing quite prepares you (except for a spoileriffic review like this!) for that moment when they are eaten alive by their own children.

Lovecraft’s typical protagonist is a boring asexual scholarly type who winds up in some horrible predicament that ends with him going crazy or being torn to pieces. The horror lies primarily in the situation itself with little empathetic fear, as we don’t necessarily relate or connect to the typical Lovecraftian protagonist (though friendless, family-less archivists and librarians might, I don’t know). Tuttle’s hero here is in a Lovecraftian situation, but we can relate to her and her real life fears about safety of her family, fear for her children, fear of failing as a parent in addition to the unknowable horrors. And then to be killed by that which you loved, feared for and wanted so desperately to protect? It is the unheimlich all over the place!

Short Reviews – Not With a Bang But a Bleep, Gary Jennings

Another story featured in the July June 1977 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Mixing religious satire with science fiction is always an iffy prospect. There were times I wanted to be annoyed with the out and out silliness of Gary Jennings’ story and his refugee from Mad-Magazine protagonist, but I can’t tell you how many times it made me laugh out loud.

The premise is ridiculous: thought moves faster than the speed of light, so NASA decides to test this by strapping a “SoPrim (Southern Primitive) Protestant” minister to a wall in a rocketship. He accidentally prays them straight past Mars and into heaven.

The narrative is the minister compiling his report on the matter, explaining the full situation to whomever ends up debriefing them. The “Bleep” in the title refers not to any sort of computer or robot but the minister’s penchant to censor the speech of those around him in his official report.
He recalls how he was approached for the mission, the near miss with Mars, going off course and straight into a black hole in the middle of the Horsehead Nebula, and their strange encounter with a multiversal heaven created by a quasi-gnostic God, a tour of which is given by THE Dr. Livingston.

The snark and silliness that would otherwise be insurmountably aggravating had it been poorly executed is forgiven in no small part because of just how funny Jennings’ prose is.

“But the ravens brought Elijah bread and flesh. The Book of Kings says so. That one brought you a matzo and a worm!”
“Well, what other sort of bread would a good Tishbite Jew like Elijah consent to eat? And what other kind of flesh would a raven know?”

and

“Won’t I have Chaplain duties besides?”
“I daresay the rest of the crew will be too busy to require much spiritual counciling. And we know from the Viking robots that you won’t have to baptize or bury any Martians.”

are a couple of my favorites, as well as a series of out-of-context Bible verses used as thought-navigation while the crew scrambles and panics around the protagonist too long to really include in excerpt here. You certainly wouldn’t want your telekinetic navigator meditating on thoughts of “All we like sheep have gone astray” and “These are wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever”.

I’m kind of surprised that Mel Brooks never made an adaptation of this, simply rewriting the minister as a rabbi.  The thing would make a great radio play.

Of interest to this year’s Hugo readers, the space ship is the Corrigan.  That name keeps coming up EVERYWHERE.

Short Reviews – Nina, Robert Bloch

Continuing my series of short reviews of short fiction from Fantasy and Science Fiction.  This Robert Bloch story appears in the June 1977 issue.

Nina is one of those little horror stories that couldn’t be written today without everyone complaining about how racist it was and how it could only come out of white imperialism. But it’s one of those nice little pieces that plays on those white imperialist fears. The protagonist is up-river, and while his family is safely at home in civilization, he’s having an affair with a mysterious ‘native’ woman whom he refers to as Nina (she doesn’t speak but he has to call her something).

Before his time overseeing the plantation is up, his wife and new-born child come to visit him. The local plantation “mama” volunteers to help watch after the child, but warns him about the snake people who live up in the mountains and tells him he needs to break things off with that strange woman as soon as he can. He does and it goes about as well as you’d expect in a story such as this.

For one of those stories in the “scary stuff happening to white people because of mysterious and monstrous brown people” genre, this one was pretty gross and creepy; not just in an “oh, that’s racist” gross and “what a creeper” creepy way, but in the genuinely gross and creepy weird horror sort of way that it was aiming for. It ended on a pretty good 2-3 layered fridge horror joke.  Much better than the twist ending to Medusa’s Coil, which was about as close as Lovecraft ever came to putting “LOL NIGGERS!” in one of his stories.