Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Zombies From the Pulps!: The Empire of the Necromancers - Clark Ashton Smith

Of the Big Three authors from WEIRD TALES, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith, Howard is the only one whose work I've read extensively. So the next story in ZOMBIES FROM THE PULPS!, Smith's "The Empire of the Necromancers" (from the September 1932 issue of WEIRD TALES), was new to me. It's one of Smith's Zothique tales, set on a decadent, far future Earth where science has disappeared and magic has risen again. Two evil sorcerers are booted out of the city where they've been causing trouble, and while wandering in the desert they come upon the bones of a warrior and the man's horse. So what do they do? Raise both warrior and horse from the dead and press them into service as they travel on to a lost city that's been wiped out by plague, giving them many, many more bodies to reanimate. They set themselves up as emperors of this kingdom of the dead, but you know that sooner or later this is not going to end well.

This story shares several of the things that bother me about much of Lovecraft's work: long-windedness, a slow pace, and very little dialogue, which leads to a lot of telling and not much showing. But man, it's creepy and full of vividly grotesque imagery like one of the sorcerers riding that skeleton horse while the skeleton warrior shuffles along behind. Not to mention lurid plot elements such as necrophilia and murder. I'm a pretty tough sell when it comes to stories like this, but "The Empire of the Necromancers" won me over and I wound up liking it quite a bit, enough so that I'll probably read more of Smith's work one of these days.


Walker Martin said...

I like Clark Ashton Smith's horror stories, especially the Zothique series, all of which I found to be excellent. His style is certainly different and the creepy atmosphere of horror in a world where magic works is outstanding.

A couple months ago, a major publisher released a paperback collection of some of his best work, so Smith is still undergoing a revival that keeps him a member of WEIRD TALES big three.

Tracey Berry said...

I'm re-reading the Zothique stories right now and enjoying them more than the first time through.
He is wordy, but unlike Lovecraft, who always sounds more like a 20th century version of Machen, Chambers, or Bierce, Smith always sounds like a translation of Homer from the original Greek, or Gilgamesh read straight from a cuneiform tablet or something...he has the unique abilitiy to make words you're not even familiar enough with to be able to pronounce sound hauntingly familiar.
CAS is a totally different kind of a thing from Howard or C.L. Moore or Jack Williamson, but in a good way...makes my brain all tingly!

Walker Martin said...

The recent collection of Smith's work that I mentioned in my comment above, is THE DARK EIDOLON AND OTHER FANTASIES. Believe or not, the collection is a Penquin Classic, which shows the respect that Smith is getting nowadays.

It is around 400 pages and has notes and comments about his fiction and poetry. has it discounted at only $12.32. A must buy for lovers of the bizarre and unusual and even though I have the stories in my SF and WEIRD TALES collections, I also have ordered THE DARK EIDOLON.

Charles Gramlich said...

I recently reread some Smith. Very interesting stuff. Not as high octane as Howard, which makes him not so enjoyable to me, but incredible vocabulary and description.

Anonymous said...

Hey James, I'd suggest, if I could, that you seek out Smith's short story, The Charnel God.

It's a really ripping yarn that first showed up in the March, 1934issue of Weird Tales. It's got enough dark action that I can easily imagine REH reading it with approval.

John Hocking

Chap O'Keefe said...

CAS is one of my favorites among the WT writers, too. I do agree that his style tends to "show not tell." When I wrote my semi-pastiche Black Art in Vyones, I had to consciously depart from what I considered a reflection of CAS's times to introduce more dialogue, more action and a little more pace in the storytelling. The collection in which my story appears, Witchery: A Duo of Weird Tales, seemed to satisfy Amazon Kindle customers!

Victorian Barbarian said...

I started reading CAS back in the old Ballantine Adult Fantasy paperback collections, some of them bought, I think, from Linda Saunders at Readers World in Denton in the early 1970's.

James Reasoner said...

Thanks for the comments, guys. Walker, I ordered THE DARK EIDOLON, too, but I got the Kindle edition. John, I think "The Charnel God" is in that collection, so I'll be reading it. Chap, I thought WITCHERY was excellent. Victorian Barbarian, I miss the days when you could go into stores like Readers World and find so much great stuff. By the way, I saw your comment on the earlier post and meant to respond. We may well have been buying books in Readers World at the same time and never knew it!