Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Oh, That Wretched Book!

From: Mark Dillon
Newsgroups: alt.books.ghost-fiction
Subject: ***  The MEDUSA Fun-Time Quiz  ***
Date: 13 July 2001 --  20:00:41 GMT

Ahoy, shipmates! And welcome to me very own

* * *  MEDUSA Fun-Time Quiz  * * *

You are E. H. Visiak, noted authority on the life and work of John Milton. You intend to write a tale of "mystery, and ecstasy, & strange horror". Very well, then.  Do you --

1] Conjure up an atmosphere of mystery through the careful employment of verbal effects?

2] Suggest a mood of ecstasy through elaborately detailed sensual impressions?

3] Induce a strange horror in the reader by eschewing mystery, ecstasy, vivid description, local colour, suspense, spectral atmosphere and characters with character?

You are a young lad on a sea voyage into the Unknown. En route, which is your most remarkable adventurous experience?

1] You glimpse a volcano, briefly, through the distant haze.

2] You buy a parrot.

3] You study Latin.

You are the owner of a ship at sea, and your crew has sighted a monster on board!  Do you --

1] Search the ship to find the monster?

2] Question the pirate passenger who was seen many times, on land, accompanied by a monster?

3] Do *nothing* -- and tell the crew to trust in God?

You, the author, have just revealed the monster. How will you sabotage the dramatic effect of this "savage strange hideous creature"?

1] Have the monster knock on the door and... walk away.

2] Have the boatswain remark, "I see not why we should be in much dread of him...."

3] Make a joke about less-than-pretty mermaids.

4] Name the monster Jerry.

5] All of the above, dammit.

With only three chapters left before your epic anti-climax, do you, the author --

1] Hasten the action to build suspense?

2] Heighten the mood of spectral dread?

3] Halt the story to discuss the spiritual symbolism of "Psyche and Eros"?

Your protagonist is threatened by a mutant octopus!  How will you, the author, suck all the fear and wonder from this anti-climactic moment?

1] Make sure that nothing much happens.

2] Hint vaguely of a spiritual threat without bothering to convey its effects or implications.

3] Have your protagonist escape with ease after eight dull pages of twilit fumbling with a tentacle.

4] All of the above, while refusing to explore the imaginative possibilities of your half-assed novel.

Which passage quoted below best conveys the flavour of this tedious book?

1] "...One of the most truly original fantastic novels in the English language.  The prose is a joy to read, the vocabulary of Milton [sic] couched in the grammar of Stevenson [sic], while the plot is a heady amalgam of a boy's pirate adventure and metaphysical romance.  A voyage to the South Seas culminates in a rendezvous with the sunken demesne of the monstrous octopoid Medusa, last [sic] of a prehistoric race that achieved inter-dimensional travel [?].  It seems vaguely reminiscent, in this, of Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu," but is utterly unlike in spirit.  Visiak achieved [sic] the terror and wonder, the sense of awe, that Lovecraft could only grasp at."
-- R. S. Hadji, TWILIGHT ZONE MAGAZINE, August 1983

2] "I believe that I once described MEDUSA as the probable outcome of Herman Melville having written TREASURE ISLAND while tripping on LSD.  I can't add much to that, except to suggest that John Milton may have popped round on his way home from a week in an opium den to help him revise the final draft.  We're talking heavy surreal here."
      -- Karl Edward Wagner, HORROR: 100 BEST BOOKS, 1988

3] "He told me that he saw no light, but that, on a sudden, the sea was changed into a delectable land; a country of enchantment, having great tall trees, whereof the branches, with their massy broad leaves, did cast a cool delicious shade as green as emerald; and all about them, amongst bushes, bearing huge crimson blossoms, there appeared feminine and ravishing forms, all softness and delight, lifting up their alluring arms with a powerful strong enticement to come down to them.
"He said that he was exceeding fain to yield, though an old man, and though he had confidently supposed and hoped he had long ago overcome the lusts of the flesh and the seduction of the eyes, and was, indeed, in the very action of clambering over the bulwarks to cast himself incontinently down, as the rest did, into those blissful and delusory bowers, when (as he vehemently affirmed) he beheld the arm of the Almighty stretched out before him harder than granite.

"The awful spectacle took his soul with such a mighty rapture, and sense of abounding, adoring gratitude as to dispel that inordinate fleshly desire in a moment; whereupon, the airy charm dissolved and vanished away.

"These, to the best of my recollection, are his very words; and, indeed, they were lively imprinted in my mind.  I am only careful to set them down; not to comment upon them -- nor on their substance either. Let them explicate this mystery who can; I leave it to the philosopher."
-- E. H. Visiak, MEDUSA (final chapter), 1929

And there ye have it, mateys: a few short paragraphs that show, with a greater force beyond me, the pointless waste of time that luckless readers call MEDUSA.

Mark Dillon
Quebec, Canada

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