Off the Shelf

“The Last Incantation”

By Marcus Pan

The Last IncantationClark Ashton Smith has built for himself a very well-deserved reputation in the science fiction, horror and fantasy genres. From his work with Arkham House that vaguely touches upon Necronomicon ideas(1), his sagas about Atlantis or his work with hard sci-fi and trips to Pluto and Mars, he helped define the genre that was to grow huge fifty years after he began his writing. From the beginning of the Great Depression in American history, Smith has written a huge quantity of short stories between the years of 1929 and 1938, most of which were run in the very famous Weird Tales periodical.

He wrote often about lost worlds and cultures – Atlantis, Hyperborea, Averoigne, the Orient to name a few – and wrote about characters from these realms. Fans of Clark Ashton Smith might recognize such characters as Malygris, Pharpetron, the Martian Seed, Ubbo-Sathla, all of which appeared in Weird Tales at one time or another.

The Last Incantation contains fourteen of Clark’s works that originally appeared in Weird Tales and other magazines in years spanning from 1932 to 1941. You’ll find some here from his Atlantis realm, Mars, Hyperborea and Averoigne. Favorites here include Seedling of Mars which has one of the most refreshing (even in this new millennium) ideas of Martian life I’ve discovered. The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis is an excellent tale of the diseases or creatures one may find in ancient worlds on newly discovered planets.

All of the stories in The Last Incantation are short and well written. The vocabulary Smith uses borders on high-brow and your standard fantasy or pulp fiction reader of today’s work may easily find themselves lost in the verbiage. He’ll regularly pepper his work with words from even Old English style literature and if you had trouble reading Shakespeare or Chaucer you’ll probably get lost here as well.

For fans of more modern horror, check out the California section of this book. The Devotee of Evil is a fabulous mad scientist style piece that Cthulhu lovers are sure to enjoy. This one details a man who, using various sound chimes and shaped thingamajigs (shades of Hellraiser?) feels he can channel physical and pure evil. And The Genius Loci takes us into the mind of an artist who discovers the painting scene that is to become his life’s work – and life’s end.

Clark Ashton Smtih was a definer of the modern fantasy horror and sci-fi genres, and in all of his works found here in The Last Incantation you’ll find absolutely no degradation due to the march of time. These stories are as good, as refreshing and as enjoyable as they were when they came out during the Depression and, maybe, helped at least a few people get out of the slump they were in with tales of far off worlds and stories of people who had it at least a little worse off than they did.

(1) For more on this see my review of The Disciples of Cthulhu in Legends #100.
“The Last Incantation” by Clark Ashton Smith
Introduction and Editing by Donald Sidney-Fryer
Copyright © 1930 – 1949 by The Popular Fiction Publishing Company, Gernsback Publications Inc., Teck Publications, Inc., Clark Ashton Smith, August Darleth
A Timescape Book First Printing 1982
Published by Pocket Books, a Simon & Schuster Co.
ISBN: 0-671-83543-2

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