P = Phil, R = Ruth, T = Tim.
R: I have called up in all my years of sorcery / P: inch by inch, with baleful terror / R: no god nor devil / T: the red moon, ominous and gibbeous / R: no demon nor lich nor shadow / T: had declined above the terraces / P: of the wormy corpses that he dug with his hands from unconsecrated graves / R: and the thing was a streaming ooze of charnal pollution / R: dreaming of conquests / T: It is verily known by few / R: and of vaster necromancies / P: there were people — mostly priests and women, it is told — whom he picked up as they fled / T: It is verily known by few, but is nevertheless an attestable fact / P: and pulled limb from limb as a child might quarter an insect / T, P, R: The Double Shadow — A Clark Ashton Smith Podcast.
T: Hello, and welcome to The Double Shadow, a podcast exploring the weird fiction of 20th-century writer Clark Ashton Smith. I’m Tim.
P: I’m Phil.
R: And I’m Ruth.
T: And this week, we’ll be covering “A Voyage to Sfanomoë.” How are we saying it? “Suh-van-uh-mo?”
R: “Sfan-uh-mo-ee,” I think?
P: I think you have to say the “e” like “Chloe.”
R: Sfanomoë, yeah.
P: Say it like you’ve been there. Sfanomoë.
T: “A Voyage to Sfanomoë.”
R: You wouldn’t have been there though.
P: Hey, look, don’t tell me my own biography, OK? [T laughs.] So this story first appeared in the August 1931 issue of Weird Tales alongside “The Whisperer in Darkness,” as well as stories by Otis Adelbert Kline, Loretta G. Burrough, Stella G. S. Perry, and others. I just noted that there are, I think, an abnormal number of women in that issue of Weird Tales. [R laughs.] I don’t know if that actually is abnormal, but it is abnormal for the ones that I’ve noted in doing the podcast, so I thought that was kind of interesting.
R: Yeah, it’s true.
P: And I have no idea what Loretta G. Burrough’s writing was like, or Stella G. S. Perry’s. And for anybody that’s keeping track, this story was published three months after the first Averoigne story, “A Rendezvous in Averoigne,” which appeared earlier in 1931.
R: “A Rendezvous in Averoigne,” or “The End of the Story?”
P: Oh, yeah! I’m wrong, actually, it would be the second Averoigne story. I think it is “Rendezvous.”
R: This is why you keep me on staff. [T laughs.]
P: It is, yeah. Because I’m constantly screwing up. [T and R laugh.]
T: I blame Wikipedia. [R laughs]
P: This wasn’t even Wikipedia though, this was me just not checking my own podcast notes. [P and T laugh.]
There are many marvellous tales, untold, unwritten, never to be recorded or remembered, lost beyond all divining and all imagining, that sleep in the double silence of far-recessive time and space. The chronicles of Saturn, the archives of the moon in its prime, the legends of Antillia and Moaria—these are full of an unsurmised or forgotten wonder. And strange are the multitudinous tales withheld by the light-years of Polaris and the Galaxy. But none is stranger, none more marvellous, than the tale of Hotar and Evidon and their voyage to the planet Sfanomoë, from the last isle of foundering Atlantis. Harken, for I alone shall tell the story, who came in a dream to the changeless center where the past and future are always contemporary with the present; and saw the veritable happening thereof; and, waking, gave it words.
P: That’s, like, the craziest frame story that I think I’ve ever encountered.
T: Yeah. Hey, I dreamt of something — [R: In real time!] — yeah, and let me tell you about it! It’s just like the chronicles of the moon in its prime.
R: I love it.
P: I just — I love how it just descends into pure poeticism. “I came in a dream to the changeless center where the past and future are always contemporary with the present,” like you might just find that on a map. [T and R laugh.] I was there. You know the changeless center? That’s where I was, and then I had this dream. It’s cool, and I mean I guess we’ll talk about it when we get to the end of this story… it’s a weird frame story.
P: And there are two terms in there that I tried to look up. One of them is Antillia, it says “the legends of Antillia and Moaria.” Antillia does have a Wikipedia — [P and T laugh] — and it’s a somewhat famous island that people thought existed to the east [sic] of Spain and Portugal in the Atlantic, but of course wasn’t there. And there are maps of it, like if you go to Wikipedia there are some fun, weird-looking maps of it. I couldn’t figure out what the Moaria reference was.
R: I just think of the Mines of Moria, and I get lost.
P: I do, but this predates it.
R: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I think it predates.
P: Yeah, I think it does too.
T: It might be something that he just made up.
P: Yeah, that’s true.
R: I think this is one of the best opening sentences, possibly in all of Clark Ashton Smith-dom. I would have to re-read some of the stories, but just the idea that there are these “marvellous tales, untold, unwritten, never to be recorded or remembered, lost beyond all divining and all imagining.” Like, it’s so poetic and it makes you think about how incredibly big the universe is, and how we totally wouldn’t know — well, maybe now —
P: Hey guys.
P: What do you think the moon was like in its prime?
R: I think it was a bustling urban center.
T: I think it was a Moon of Skulls. [P and R laugh.]
P: I think it probably wasn’t, but then everybody died and it became a moon of skulls.
R: That’s why it’s white!
T: So he mentions Hotar and Evidon in this. [R: Yes.] [P: Yep.] Who are those? Who are they? What are they?
P: [laughing] “Who are those?” [P, T, and R laugh.] So Hotar and Evidon are brothers in science as well as “consanguinity.” [P and T laugh.]
T: Which is an awesome word for blood brothers.
P: They live on Poseidonis, which we learn in this story is the last remaining isle of soon-to-be-entirely-sunken Atlantis.
T: Yeah. So they’re science guys.
P: They’re science dudes. They’re really good at science. Like, they’re maybe the best scientists on Poseidonis. And I think it’s kind of interesting that we have in these two stories two kind of completely different versions of what the source of power on Poseidonis is. [T: Yeah.] [R: Mm-hm.] In the last story, of course, it was magic, and in this story it’s quite clearly Atlantean science.
T: Well he does mention that they learned the “arcanic secrets of geology, of chemistry, of biology, and astronomy.” So even science is kind of arcane here in…
P: And it’s talked about — there’s this passage, too, that they had “subverted the elements, had constrained the sea, the sun, the air, and the force of gravitation, compelling them to serve the uses of man; and lastly they had found a way to release the typhonic power of the atom, to destroy, transmute, and reconstruct the molecules of matter at will.” Which is cool in general, but amazing that he’s talking about nuclear power!
R: Exactly! It would be cool anyway, but the fact that they invented nuclear power and the fact that he published this in 1931… guys, I have a conspiracy now. [T laughs.] He was on the Manhattan Project. He saw the Manhattan Project when he voyaged and dreamed outside of time and space where the future, the past, and the present all come together.
P: Yeah, I think when he dreamed that, he wasn’t actually at the changeless center, he was just south of the changeless center. [T and R laugh.]
T: There was a little bit of change.
P: [laughing] It’s very slow though. [T: Yeah.] And we learn here also that we’re in a very specific moment of Poseidonis. That the people of Poseidonis know that when this generation — that’s what it says, right? That when this generation dies out, Poseidonis will be gone, basically.
R: Yeah, they’ve been able to predict it.
P: Which is kind of like, I don’t know… that prediction feels strangely magical to me. Like it’s directly tied to the last of this generation dying, but given the context of this story, its probably just that they’re like “oh, it’ll be 50 years and our island will be gone” or something.
T: Right. But it’s also because they harnessed the power of nature that doomed them: “However, by that irony which attends all the triumphs and achievements of man, the progress of this mastering of natural law was coincidental with the profound geologic changes…” Oh, so maybe — [R: It’s coincidental.] — maybe not because of, but it is coincidental.
R: But it is sad.
P: Yeah. And so these super science brothers, the Super Bros of Science, they worked (the story tells us) for a long time, very hard, to try to stop Poseidonis from sinking. And the people of the island really do view them to be, like… they’re kind of like their science saviors. But we also learn that secretly, relatively recently they have in fact abandoned all hope of saving the island. They’re basically like “this is done, we can’t do anything.”
T: Yeah, once they reach middle age, they realize that they can’t solve it. No matter what they do, they don’t know how to stop it.
R: I’ll bring up my problem with all of this later.
T: Yeah, oh, we all have problems. [laughs] So…
P: I have no problems.
T: Oh really?
R: Well I don’t have a problem with them deciding they can’t save it and to abandon it, but…
P: So Tim, what do they do when they decide to abandon it?
T: Well, they move to their jungle laboratory — [P and R laugh] — and they decide to abandon all efforts to salvage the world, and decide to build a spaceship. To go to Venus. [laughs]
R: Totally the most logical thing, when you can split the atom and whatnot. You’re like yeah, I’m gonna build me a spaceship.
P: I mean, maybe at the time, Atlantis was the only continent — by the logic of this story, Atlantis was the only continent they could have gone to —
R: Nope. [P laughs.] ‘Cause when they get out of atmosphere later, they totally see all of the continents! And so, like, dudes, you could have flown to any other continent. You could have evacuated the people, like, you’re a seafaring race, you seem to have ports and boats and crap…
P: Let’s talk about why they choose Sfanomoë.
R: Because of its name. Because they were trying to screw us up for this podcast. [P laughs.] Or, what do you think? Why?
P: They say they pick it because — like, they’ve viewed all of the heavenly bodies, and they’ve decided based on their scientific measurements that Venus is the closest to Earth, and that therefore — not closest physically, but closest in terms of, like, oxygen and gravity and stuff — as their best bet to go and live there. I guess… which is cool. I love how science-focused this story is. I just think of Barsoom, basically. I just think of how weird it is that Edgar Rice Burroughs came up with this alternate name for Mars, and then — clearly not just Clark Ashton Smith, but I think everybody just kind of ripped that, and was like oh, we’re gonna rename all these planets to like, weird nonsense names. And so we have Sfanomoë. And so they’re gonna go to Venus, and to do that they need to build themselves a vehicle — a rocket ship, basically, more or less — to get themselves to Venus.
Day by day the brothers toiled to perfect their invention; and night by night, through the ranging seasons, they peered at the lustrous orb of their speculations as it hung in the emerald evening of Poseidonis, or above the violet-shrouded heights that would soon take the saffron footprints of the dawn. And ever they gave themselves to bolder imaginings, to stranger and more perilous projects.
The vehicle they were building was designed with complete foreknowledge of all the problems to be faced… Various types of air-vessels had been used in Atlantis for epochs; but they knew that none of these would be suitable for their purpose even in a modified form. The vehicle they finally devised… was a perfect sphere like a miniature moon; since, as they argued, all bodies travelling through etheric space were of this shape. It was made with double walls of a metallic alloy whose secret they themselves had discovered—an alloy that was both light and tough beyond any substance classified by chemistry or mineralogy. There were a dozen small round windows lined with an unbreakable glass, and a door of the same alloy as the walls, that could be shut with hermetic tightness. The explosion of atoms in sealed cylinders was to furnish the propulsive and levitative power and would also serve to heat the sphere’s interior against the absolute cold of space. Solidified air was to be carried in electrum containers and vaporized at the rate which would maintain a respirable atmosphere. And foreseeing that the gravitational influence of the Earth would lessen and cease as they went further and further away from it, they had established in the floor of the sphere a magnetic zone that would simulate the effect of gravity and thus obviate any bodily danger or discomfort to which they might otherwise be liable.
R: I just refuse to believe this was printed in 1931.
P: I know, it’s crazy! But I guess, like… I don’t even know what to say about it. It’s so strange to me that this — like, it’s almost like a weird burst of hard sci-fi in the middle of this crazy story about a dying Atlantis written by the same man who — we just read ten stories set in a completely ridiculous version of medieval France. It’s so, um… varied. I can’t even really wrap my head around it. Especially that it even talks about magnetic boots just to be like gravity, it’s amazing.
T: Yeah, and solidified air in canisters. It’s crazy!
R: And the atomic power works both for heat and for force.
T: Yeah, it’s well thought out.
P: All right, so let’s just go back to how Clark Ashton Smith invented NASA. [T: Yes.] Which is my summation of that passage.
T: He totally did. Did he know Jack Parsons at all?
R: I was just thinking that!
P: That’s a really good question.
R: I do not know… because if he did… this is something we should research or at least ask. Listeners! Do any of you know? Did Clark Ashton Smith know Jack Parsons? We need to know for science.
T: OK, so these brothers, the Science Brothers, have built their spherical spaceship.
P: But they didn’t build it alone, did they Tim?
T: No, they have — wait, I want to get this right, so give me a second — “these labors were carried on with no other assistance than that of a few slaves, members of an aboriginal race of Atlantis, who had no conception of the purpose for which the vessel was being built; and who, to ensure their complete discretion, were deaf-mutes.” [P laughs.] They’ve got a passell of deaf-mute aborigenes who are helping them build this.
P: I firmly believe that they muted and deafed those slaves themselves.
R: See, I think it’s possible that they bought them at a slave market where this had been done to them — “here, buy your discreet slaves today!” — but I’m hoping that there’s just like a special market for people who happen to be… whatever it is, it’s not good.
P: I like that you hope for a more specialized and diversified slave market on Atlantis. [All laugh.] Not necessarily a kinder, gentler, more just one. [Laughter continues.] You just want — if you’re shopping for a slave, you want to know where to go. I stick by the idea that these brothers are kind of [bleeped]holes.
T: They are.
R: Well, they’re hiding it from the population.
T: Yeah, number one, they decide to build an escape project on their own without telling everybody else that yeah, your land is doomed, and number two, slave labor. So… [R: Yeah.] But they’re cold scientists — [R: This is true.] — they’ve never pretended to be anything else. [P laughs.]
R: Which makes slavery totally OK. Also, they never bothered to get married or anything, so they really aren’t attached to anyone, except probably each other.
T: Yeah, they knew that this was gonna happen so they made sure to disassociate from humanity.
R: And all the people on Poseidonis are just happy thinking “oh, they’re out doing intensive research.” I mean they’re not exactly happy, but you know. They feel confident.
P: So after years of work — it takes them almost until they’re old men, right? To finish it?
T: I think that they’re middle aged when they finish it, then they become old men during the travel.
P: Oh yeah, it says they “were now men of middle years.”
R: So after they’ve built the sphere, they have to stock it. So they make it full of books and art and food and general supplies, and I do love this idea that they filled it full of books and stuff, so they can read and look at art, and… and so they’re ready for the journey.
P: How big do you think this thing is? ‘Cause when I originally read the description of the ship, I thought it was, like, basically the size of a modern-era deep sea submersible.
T: Right, like one room.
P: Yeah, and it sounds like it’s maybe the size of a house or something.
R: I would hope it would be house-sized.
T: Yeah, like it’s got levels and floors, like a nice study in one section.
R: I mean they have to live in it for lustrums. And then decades.
T: I looked “lustrums” up. It’s five years.
R: Yeah, I did too. I was like “lustrums?” OK… five years.
P: So, I like this passage that comes right after they’ve loaded their ship up. It says the brothers “mourned the inevitable passing of their civilization, with all its epoch-garnered lore, its material and artistic wealth, its consummate refinement. But they had learned the universality of the laws whose operation was plunging Atlantis beneath the wave—the laws of change, of increase and decay; and they had schooled themselves to a philosophic resignation—a resignation which, mayhap, was not untempered by a foresight of the singular glory and novel, unique experiences that would be entailed by their flight upon hitherto-untravelled space.” So they’re like, kind of sad, but then they’re also totally [bleeped].
T: “Man, everything we know is gonna be destroyed… but we’re going to Venus!” [R laughs.] Then they high-five and get on their ship.
P: I love that, like, the idea of the “singular glory” is fascinating to me because it’s not… it’s just a glory between bros! They’re just gonna get up there and high-five, which, P.S., is kind of what they do. [R and T laugh.] They’re not doing it for any — because their civilization’s gonna be gone, there’s no, like, they’re not gonna be superstars. [T: Right.] [R: I know!] They’re just gonna go up there and feel the glory.
T: They’re not bringing a woman or women up.
T: They’re just gonna go up to Venus to die.
R: Which is so weird too. Like they didn’t say “OK, we’re gonna start a new colony,” even. [T: No.] Even kidnap a bunch of people. I can’t quite blame them, and going to space is kind of awesome. And they have windows, I love that they have these windows.
T: These might be the two weirdest characters of Clark Ashton Smith. [P and R laugh.] They’re just so strange! So they blast off, and it takes them years of travel to get to Venus. And they watch as they lift off, they watch as Poseidonis sinks.
R: And I wonder if their atomic reaction kind of pushed it under. I don’t know that it did — oh, but there was a really good line as they’re flying over Poseidonis, how they couldn’t hear the “revels” and the “strident merrymaking.” And it describes how “nightly revels were held and the very fountains ran with wine that people might forget the predicted doom.”
P: So that’s awesome.
R: Such a fantastic depiction right there.
T: I wonder what vintage that wine was.
P: Dun-dun-DUUUUN, dun dun dun DUUUUUN. [T and R laugh.] This has been Foreshadowing, with Tim Mucci. [T and R laugh.] So yeah, years. Takes ’em a long time.
T: As they’re blasting off, and as they’re looking down at the Earth, they’re pointing out and naming, “oh, that’s where Atlantis used to be. Oh, this is that other continent. Oh, this is where that other continent is. This is where all the other land on this planet is.” [P and R laugh.]
R: Brings me back to my point!
T: Yeah, I know, yeah! So go ahead…
P: I think I should make this point that you are making. Let’s just lay it out.
R: Go ahead. Make the point, Ruth.
R: It’s needlessly complicated, and there are clearly lots and lots of other continents which they could evacuate to. In fact, they could evacuate all of Poseidonis, at least by the time they figure out “yeah, this is totally a lost cause. Let’s build a bunch of smaller airships that don’t have to deal with space, and get everybody off. Or let’s build boats.”
T: They even say they’ve had airship technology for epochs.
T: And they can’t go to another continent? My only way to reason this out is that… I guess I can only call it “national pride” is so strong that they can’t even conceive of living on another body of land because that’s not them. Poseidonians live in Poseidonis. They don’t live in these other continents.
R: Well then maybe they should become Averoignians.
T: Yeah. Well…
P: I’d love to try to ferret out a character logic that ties it back to them being quite egotistical about their own abilities, but I don’t know… I feel like I would be stretching to find that in the text. Because it would be equally egotistical to save all of Poseidonis, like proving their science worth by levitating everybody to nearby America or Europe or something, you know?
T: I guess I don’t just fault them though, because I’m assuming that — and maybe it’s a faulty assumption — but I’m assuming that everybody on Poseidonis knows that there’s other continents out there.
R: And they come from generations of scientists, so…
T: Yeah! Or that they could build cities under the sea. I don’t know. [laughs] Let’s go on with the story.
P: There’s a lot of options that were not taken.
T: That they don’t choose.
R: So they land. Or… well.
P: No, they don’t land. They arrive —
R: Excuse me, they “arrive.”
P: This is a very important point for me to make. [laughs]
T: Oh yeah, this is very important. Ease yourself into it, Phil. Don’t rush it.
P: So, years — [laughs] sorry, you’re making me laugh — years they travel to Sfanomoë, a.k.a. Venus, and they finally reach the Venusian orbit. And then there’s this passage that says: “though they were childishly eager to set foot on the new planet, they sagely decided to continue their journey on a horizontal level till they could study its topography with some measure of care and precision.” I just want to point this out, that this story was written in 1930, 1931-ish, and that moment is much truer to how a scientist would think and act than anything in the movie Prometheus, which I hated, and therefore Clark Ashton Smith, as if we needed more proof, is a much better writer than Damon Lindelof.
R: I really do like this, that they are good scientists.
P: They’re not, you know, they didn’t get up there to just instantly die — [whispers] foreshadowing [T and R laugh].
R: Yeah, he proves he’s a sci-fi writer as well as a fantasy… an effed up fantasy writer, but also pretty good at sci-fi.
At length they made up their minds to descend. Though they were old, old men, with five-foot ermine beards, they brought the moon-shaped vessel down with all the skill of which they had been capable in their prime; and opening the door that had been sealed for decades, they emerged in turn—Hotar preceding Evidon, since he was a little the elder.
Their first impressions were of a torrid heat, of dazzling color and overwhelming perfume. There seemed to be a million odors in the heavy, strange, unstirring air—odors that were almost visible in the form of wreathing vapors—perfumes that were like elixirs and opiates, that conferred at the same time a blissful drowsiness and a divine exhilaration. Then they saw that there were flowers everywhere—that they had descended in a wilderness of blossoms. They were all of unearthly form… with scrolls and volutes of petals many-hued, that seemed to curl and twist with a more than vegetable animation or sentiency. They grew from a ground that their overlapping stems and calyxes had utterly concealed; they hung from the boles and fronds of palm-like trees … they thronged the water of still pools; they poised on the jungle-tops like living creatures winged for flight… And even as the brothers watched, the flowers grew and faded with a thaumaturgic swiftness, they fell and replaced each other as if by some legerdemain of natural law.
Hotar and Evidon were delighted, they called out to each other like children, they pointed at each new floral marvel that was more exquisite and curious than the rest.
P: I like to imagine that that first high-five on Venus just echoed for miles.
P: Like “yeah bro, we made it. High five!”
T: And the ocean of flowers rippled as their hands clasped together.
R: I love this thought of them just bounding through the meadows, and frolicking.
P: The story goes on to, like… it does describe them as giggling, right? [R: Mm-hmm.] They become drunk with their accomplishment, which is one thing to note about this stuff. The other thing is just to note how weird this desciption of Venus is.
R: It is like the idea of Venus being under a bunch of clouds, and possibly being a very humid and plant-like planet. [P: Yeah.] Other people had written about Venus being very plant-like because we couldn’t see it, and we could assume maybe it was precipitation and moisture in the air.
P: And they get so excited at what they’ve done that they forget — and the story makes a point of saying that they forget their journey, they forget Poseidonis, they forget Atlantis, they’re really into what they’re doing. Which is kind of like… this moment actually reminds me a little bit of stuff that happens in Averoigne, where characters enter a new area for them, and they become in some sense intoxicated by it and begin to forget where they came from and those kind of things. It feels like an Averoignian beat — although he probably hadn’t written most of the Averoigne stories at this point — but there’s a similar idea there, that you enter a magical, strange realm, and it affects your mind in some intoxicating way. [R: Mm-hmm.] So they… they don’t really roll in the flower pollen — [R laughs] — but it gets everywhere. The pollen from these things gets in their beards, and in their hair, and everywhere.
T: And there’s even animals there. There’s a — where is it — [R: A giraffe.] — I don’t know what it is! I pictured it as kind of like some weird cow thing.
P: You want to read the passage where it describes the animal?
T: Yeah… “they laughed at the unexampled bizarrerie of the sight, when they perceived certain animals new to zoology, who were trotting about on more than the usual number of legs, with orchidaceous blossoms springing from their rumps.” [R laughs.] So it’s like animals with plants growing off of them, flowers growing off of them, orchid-like blooms growing off of them. And the plants are all growing and dying, the flowers are all growing and dying and growing and dying.
P: Where do you think — I mean I don’t know my genre history well enough — where do you think the precedent for this imagery for other planets is?
R: It makes me think of a funky Eden. Eden being full of flowers and life and growth, but it’s weird. Eden gone weird.
T: There might be something that I’m just not familiar with. Maybe like, you mentioned Barsoom, Edgar Rice Burroughs, maybe there was a whole — and I know there were other stories of Earth people visiting planets within our solar system. I think Michael Kane of Mars was an earlier one? I don’t know. But there might be a whole series of books that we’re just not aware of, of this kind of stuff. So who knows? Or it could just be his own crazy little Auburn, Californian brain. [laughs]
P: Yeah, I know, and that’s sort of my question. What was, or did he have, a jumping-off point for envisioning it this way?
T: Yeah. ‘Cause he’s not like Lovecraft, who really studied the science behind things. He was the poet.
R: Although clearly he had some idea of what was going on, but yeah.
P: Definitely. So they get this flower pollen substance all over them…
Suddenly, Hotar cried out with a new wonder, and laughed with a more boisterous mirth than before. He had seen that an oddly folded leaf was starting from the back of his shrunken right hand. The leaf unfurled as it grew, it disclosed a flower-bud; and lo! the bud opened and became a triple-chaliced blossom of unearthly hues… Then, on his left hand, another blossom appeared in like manner; and then leaves and petals were burgeoning from his wrinkled face and brow, were growing… from his limbs and body, were mingling their hair-like tendrils and tongue-shaped pistils with his beard. He felt no pain, only an infantile surprise and bewilderment…
Now from the hands and limbs of Evidon, the blossoms also began to spring. And soon the two old men… were hardly to be distinguished from the garland-laden trees about them. And they died with no agony, as if they were already part of the teeming floral life of Sfanomoë, with such perceptions and sensations as were appropriate to their new mode of existence. And before long… every fiber of their bodies had undergone a dissolution into flowers. And the vessel in which they had made their voyage was embowered from sight in an ever-climbing mass of plants and blossoms.
Such was the fate of Hotar and Evidon, the last of the Atlanteans, and the first (if not also the last) of human visitors to Sfanomoë.
R: Dun-dun-dunnn. I kind of like that ending. I like the idea that if I were an old person and had fulfilled my missions and stuff in life, that I would happily turn into a flower. Somehow I’m really OK with that.
P: That’s what I think is really weird about this story, is that it like… my question is, like, what genre do you even call this story? It’s almost completely untamed by notion of a genre. We might call it science fiction, but it’s not. We might call it fantasy or historicla fantasy, but it’s really not. And then it’s also like — and this ending is just so weird. If this story were written today, in our modern views of genre, that ending feels to me like a horror ending — [R: Mm-hmm.] [T: Totally.] — but this description of it is specifically not a horror ending. And I don’t…
T: I think even if other writers at the time wrote it, like if Lovecraft tackled something like this — [R: Oh yeah.] — it would have been strictly horror.
P: What do you call it? Like, with this ending—
R: It’s pre-genre.
T: I don’t know. It’s Weird Fiction.
R: Yeah, it is definitely Weird.
T: They’re totally into it. They’re like, laughing as they’re turning into plants. And we don’t know if it’s because they’re just excited at their accomplishment, or maybe they’re drugged from the pollen, maybe this is the defense mechanism of the planet, like any biological things that come here think it’s awesome to turn into plants. [P: Mm-hmm.] But yeah, they have a great time, and then specifically it says they die.
R: Yeah. And every fiber of them gets turned into flowers. I love it.
P: What a totally out-of-the-blue way for an entire race to die. [T: Yeah.] [R: Mm-hmm.] Like, those are the last two Atlanteans that ever lived, and they turned into flowers on Venus.
R: On Venus
T: [laughs] It’s pretty great.
P: I think this is maybe the first — and in a previous episode we talked a little bit about how aggressively anti-realist Clark Ashton Smith gets — but I feel like this is probably our first example of him just refusing to ground the story. [R: Yeah.] [T: Totally.] He’s just like “uh, screw you, they turn into flowers and they laugh while they do it. The End. CAS out.” [All laugh.]
T: He drops his pen.
P: [laughs] Goes outside, lies under the stars, carves some dinosaur bones. Amazing.
R: Well, the frame story thing.
P: So I had other questions that were actually about the story… oh, just that it doesn’t close. And that the narrator is, I mean once again, like it’s kind of like that same Averoigne question, like is this actually a dream that Clark Ashton Smith had? Is that narrator Clark Ashton Smith? Because —
R: Like turning into flowers?
P: Because some of this stuff does legitimately feel weird enough to have just been ripped from a dream he actually had from the changeless place in the middle of the circle. And I don’t know, it’s just… it’s weird that the frame narrator doesn’t come back.
R: I like the little hint that… it said “if not also the last.” OK, are they the last? Were they the last? What happened next? Is this a warning not to go to Venus? Is this like At the Mountains of Madness, where he’s only telling the story because “guys, you can’t go back down to Antarctica, fine, I’ll tell you the story.” Like “dudes, this is what happens when you go to Venus, so keep an eye out.”
T: He could have easily started it just, you know, “this is a tale of Atlantis that has never been told.”
P: That’s what I was gonna say. Like, you don’t even… nothing about it, I think really requires that it begin with this incredibly poetic frame device. [T: Yeah.] I mean I love that it’s there, but it’s so… the story could very easily have just started.
T: Maybe it’s to prepare us for just how strange it’s going to be. Like Ruth and I were saying, we had huge problems with why they couldn’t just pick up and move to another continent, or use their science to save them in another way. This beginning kind of says “don’t expect a lot of logic out of it. This is a dream story.”
P: Yeah, there is a kind of dream logic to exactly those kind of logical inconsistencies. That they just go feels very dream-like.
T: It’s phantastic, with a “ph.”
P: How do you guys envision, now that we’re two Atlantis stories in, and there’s only five total, how do you envision Atlantis? Like, this version of Atlantis. How does it feel to you, Tim, emotionally?
T: [laughs] Um, it feels very… I don’t know, it doesn’t feel as fantastic as I’d like it to be? Even though there’s a lot of crazy stuff going on… but just the fact that…
R: Yeah, it feels like a very settled place. It’s not like Averoigne, where random stuff is just happening all the time.
T: It feels like a city. Like, they have ports, and they have airships, and… it’s very schizophrenic, I guess, or… I want to say “dichotic,” but I don’t know if that’s a word. There’s a dichotomy because you’ve got the wizard Malygris who lives up in his cone tower, and then you have the Science Brothers, who are researching ways to save the planet, and then everybody’s drinking and there are port cities and people are selling slaves, and there’s domed cities, and… it’s an interesting place, and it’ll be interesting to learn more about it as we go.
P: Yeah, I feel the same way. I feel almost — I mean it’ll be easier to make these grander cases about Poseidonis when we’ve been through all the stories — but even in these first two it feels a little bit like he doesn’t — “he” being Clark Ashton Smith — doesn’t quite know how to use it. [T and R: Yeah.] Which, if you then try to, like, make the stories into a coherent whole, I think makes them feel very interesting because they sort of feel… like, it’s really weird that, specifically, Malygris and Hotar and Evidon live, not even on the same continent, like, I don’t think Poseidonis is that big, they live — [T: Yeah, yeah, no, it’s not.] — in the same neighborhood of what was Atlantis, is very strange.
T: We should actually post — because there’s a map — we should post the map on the website so you can see just how close Susran, where Malygris’ tower is, and um…
R: Lephara. They’d retired from Lephara to a private observatory, but they were working in Lephara.
P: It also feels a little bit — and again, it’ll be easier to make this case later — like these Poseidonis stories are very much a proto-Zothique. Like, he hadn’t quite — like, he’s obviously obsessed with the idea of a dying land, but he hadn’t quite made the logical jump to, like, a dying Earth. [T and R: Yeah.] So he’s like just sort of working in this weird proto-Zothique. That being said, I loved both of these first Poseidonis stories. They’re great, and I love the idea of thinking of them happening in the same place, it’s kind of amazing.
R: Yes… I would say Hyperborea…
T: But ther’es also, he also mentions Hyperborea here. [P: Oh yeah, he does.] Mainly noting that Hyperborea comes before so as we go to Hyperborea, we’re going — we’re pre-dating Poseidonis.
R: Yes, definitely.
P: I don’t know if I have anything else to say about this story. Do you guys have anything else to say?
T: Did you enoy it?
P: Yeah, I did.
T: Yeah, so did I. Despite its logical weirdness, it had a — [R: It’s poetic.] — a very interesting playfulness about it — [R: Mm-hmm.] — that makes it really hard to dislike. It’s so well-written. I think that’s why.
P: Hopefully everybody will have read it before going through this, but I really can’t describe how strange it is to stumble on, like, specifically nuclear power and nuclear engines in this story. Like, it just kind of comes totally out of the blue. I guess not out of the blue in the sense that it is a story about scientists, but out of the blue given what I would expect in a 1930s story to have in it about science. Like, I was not expecting it to go nuclear at all.
T: [laughs] Well, especially after reading all the Averoigne stuff and then “Last Incantation,” which… there was no science to be found in any of those.
P: Only the science of regret.
R: Next week, we’ll be doing the episode you’ve all been waiting for. [T: Take it, Ruth.] The Double Shadow does… “The Double Shadow.” [squees.] I’m doing a little dance in my chair.
T: Oh, I can’t wait! [laughs]
R: Also, I think that they would be the higher-priced slaves. I mean, in some ways, because you’d be “the gentleman looking for discretion.” They’ll never tell your wife about the woman you brought home last night, unless, you know, they can write, or generally make signs like, you know, gesticulate boobs and thrusting, and…