Saturday, May 19, 2012

Robert Aickman

There is a very highly regarded weird fiction writer named Robert Aickman (he called his tales "strange stories"). He published 48 during his lifetime, and although many fellow writers and weird fiction aficionados rank him among the absolute best weird fiction writers of the 20th Century, his books are very hard to find. Even buying them online means prices starting at $100.

I have seen Aickman referenced time and time again, but figured I'd probably never read him.

Then it hit me...might the New York Public Library possess a few copies?

Sure enough, they have some of his books available to read on the premises.

So I went...

The first book I requested...had been mysteriously moved off the premises. How appropriate.

The second one...was there.

As soon as I started reading his tale "The School Friend",  I knew I'd found a man who was absolutely his own writer; a writer in the same league as Poe or Lovecraft. His stories are unlike most weird or supernatural stories. They have very little action. Instead, their effect is more cumulative. Every sentence has some unsettling detail, like a reference to a bed that looked like the sleeper had been awakened very suddenly, which slowly taps the amygdala.

Aickman created atmosphere through meticulous, unconventional detail. It is like with each story he was building a Jenga tower little by little. Then suddenly there is a moment where things first begin to really feel wrong, where one of those Jenga pieces is yanked out. Like the moment in "Never Visit Venice" where the women says offhandedly that they're headed to where "the real danger" is. That's when the Jenga tower first loses one of its pieces.

But unlike most weird fiction, when a piece or pieces is removed from an Aickman tower, the tower doesn't collapse like you'd expect. Instead, Aickman's towers just wobble and wobble, leaving you to wonder what the hell is keeping it up...

It is refreshing when an artist lives up to the hype. If you care about this sort of thing and have access to Aickman's work, he is worth checking out.

Here is an radio adaptation of one of his most famous stories:

It is episode 17, "Ringing the Changes".

No comments: