Valancourt Books, 2021
I have to be honest here and say that when I first heard about this book, I was a wee bit iffy as to whether I'd be reading it, since a) my interest in paleontology has generally been limited to the nonfictional side of things and b) I'm not much of a creature-involved story kind of reader. But because it is from Valancourt and they haven't yet steered me wrong, I took a chance and it paid off. Even before finishing, I was so impressed that I started looking online everywhere for more of this sort of thing, resulting in a few novels written in the general time frame as the selections here in Creatures of Another Age, noted in the introduction as being
"between the 1830s, when the popularity of geology and paleontology skyrocketed, up to the end of the First World War, when cinema began to offer its own primordial prospects."
The authors included in this collection, as the editor also states, "took geoscientific research to original and creative places," resulting in "necromantic fantasies, time-travel narratives, political poetry, weird ffin-de-siècle short stories, and even pseudo-Elizabethan verse drama." Not only does this book make for hours of fun reading, but it also opens a window or two into scientific and social concerns of the time, both in the UK and here in the US.
Not uncommon for me, my favorite stories were those written by authors I knew absolutely nothing about and whose work I didn't even know existed. Hands down the strangest, most off-the-charts different (and in my mind for those reasons the best) of these is the work of an obscure writer by the name of Wardon Allan Curtis, whose "The Monster of Lake LaMetrie"
reveals much about evolutionary anxieties (and so much more) of the time. I am not at all going into any detail here, and I'm even offering a caveat
to anyone interested in reading this story against reading anything about it at all beforehand. Set in the state of Wyoming, it first appeared in Pearsons Magazine,
September 1899, and Fallon reveals in his brief introduction that in this tale the author "melds Wyoming's prehistoric associations" with the hollow-earth theory
proposed by John Cleves Symmes in 1818. What I will divulge is that it has awesome shock value in a weird/sci-fi sort of way, and it gave me a serious case of the willies once I considered the implications. Another top-notch offering is "The Dragon of St. Paul
, by Reginald Bacchus and Cyril Ranger Gull (1899). Fleming, the editor of a daily newspaper in London, holds the presses after hearing an incredible story so that journalist Tom Trant can write an article for a "special" that should boost sales into the hundreds of thousands. Back at home, Tom relates a story that to him, his fiancée and her brother seems to be "gaudy nonsense," "simply laughable" and "absurd" about a strange discovery solidly encased in ice found on the return voyage of a two-year Arctic scientific expedition headed by the now-deceased Professor Glazebrook. Just hours before reaching the Channel, everything was going as planned up until the moment the professor decided to melt the ice containing his spectacular find, which turns out to have been a rash decision indeed. As has been repeatedly revealed in old sci-films, sometimes what's been stuck in polar ice for eons should probably just be left alone. "The Last of the Vampires,
" published in 1893 and penned by another unknown-to-me writer, Phil Robinson
(1847-1902), is also on my list of favorites. As with the previous two stories I've mentioned here, it involves humans pitted against "eerie creatures previously thought extinct," as Richard Fallon notes, so familiar to readers of popular periodicals during the Victorian fin-de-siècle.
This story is more atmospheric than the previous two, and starts out with a legend familiar to the Zaporo Indians of Peru. As the legend goes, "Very long ago ...
there were many vampires in Peru, but they were swallowed up in the year of the Great Earthquake when the Andes were lifted up, and there was left behind only one 'Arinchi' who lived where the Amazon joins the Marañnon, and he would not eat dead bodies, only live ones, from which the blood would flow."
Local superstition also said that when a sacrificial victim was offered to "the Vampire," he would be "bound in a canoe," and after some time on the river, the canoe would stop in "banks of slimy mud" to a creek through which a "very slow current flowed," taking anything in the water there to a cave. Into this milieu comes a University professor and "mighty hunter of beetles" from Germany who decides to explore the cave for himself, his fate recorded in journal entries over the ensuing months.
Worthy of honorable mention is "Our Phantom Ship on An Antediluvian Cruise," by Henry Morley, part of a series making its appearance in Household Words in which the phantom ship took the periodical's readers on "informative trips around the world." In this installment the ship leaves London to go back "into the depths of time."
Another fine Valancourt publication, Creatures of Another Age is neither limited to short stories nor obscure writers. There are poems, essays, and even a short play, as well as selections by more familiar authors such as George Sand, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Jack London, Arthur Conan Doyle and Thomas Hardy. While not all of the entries included here worked for me personally (as is always the case), in putting this collection together editor Richard Fallon hopes that readers will "see the distant past in a strange new light," and that's exactly what happened to me here. Very much recommended. What a great idea for a book!!
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