These past couple weeks I’ve reading the first three volumes of The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith published by Night Shade Books. I’m reading the Kindle editions. It’s a series of five books collecting the short stories of Clark Ashton Smith. I’ve never really heretofore gotten into his work much. I’d been given the unwieldy impression by various people that his writing was as turgid and overly florid as H.P. Lovecraft’s writing tended to be. Three volumes into the set and I’ve found that impression to be largely incorrect. Make no mistake however Smith’s prose is quite purple. Vermillion, chartreuse, saffron, and tyrian as well; the man had a proclivity for multitudinous use of obscure color words. Smith’s prose is more enjoyable than Lovecraft’s. There’s a degree of lyricism and poetry in his words that I’ve found in neither Lovecraft nor Robert E. Howard. This is probably owing to Smith’s view of himself as more a poet and an artist than a writer. I’m inclined to agree; the man truly was a poet. The vocabulary in the stories I’ve read so far has managed to send me scurrying to Google no less than once per story. Wiktionary seems to be the best reference for obscure vocabulary currently. It’s been awhile since I’ve had this much fun reading fiction. I’m going to have to add words like mephitic and ultramundane to my own vocabulary henceforward. Not that I’d ever have much opportunity to make use of ultramundane. As a word it’s horribly outdated despite its peculiar charm. Extraterrestrial is the word we moderns would use in its place.
The stories in these books range in genre a ways. Horror, fantasy, and science fiction are well represented. A few of them even feature space travel with references to aether as the medium to be found in deep space. I’m sure this is no surprise to you; we are talking about stories written in the 1920s and 1930s. I’m not sure quite when the final nail was applied to the coffin of the luminiferous aether. I gather it was probably during the 1950s when the space program started to gain ground. At any rate, I digress. A few of his stories fall solidly in the territory of the conte cruel. Some of those were rather chilling. His horror qua horror with supernatural beasties and such I don’t find particularly scary. The stories evocative of wonderment and the adventure of discovery I particularly enjoyed though a few of those were obviously intended to invoke a sense of cosmic horror. Cosmic horror doesn’t do much for me. I’m not discomfited or perturbed by the notion that humanity is naught but a heap of maggots crawling around and around on an insignificant ball of mud in a vast, unknowable, and ultimately uncaring cosmos. This maggot would rather concern itself with figuring out how to evolve into a dragon and take to the stars.