Cassilda’s Song (2016)


Miskatonic River Press
paperback, eBook

cover art Santiago Caruso


Have you seen the Yellow Sign?

Cassilda’s Song is a collection of weird fiction and horror stories based on the King in Yellow Mythos created by Robert W. Chambers—entirely authored by women. There are no pretenders here. The Daughters of the Yellow Sign, each a titan of unmasked fire in their own right, have parted the curtains. From Hali’s deeps and Carcosa’s gloomy balconies and Styx-black towers, come their lamentations and rage and the consequences of intrigues and follies born in Oblivion. Run into their embrace. Their carriages wait to take you from shadowed rooms and cobblestones to The Place Where the Black Stars Hang.

The 1895 release of Chambers’ best-remembered work of weird fiction was salted with nihilism and ennui, and ripe with derangement, haunting beauty, and eerie torments. Poe’s influence was present in the core tales and one could easily argue Chambers may have been influenced by the French Decadents and the disquieting transfigurations of the Symbolists. All this and more can be said of the works collected in this anthology. Carcosa, accursed and ancient, and cloud-misted Lake of Hali are here. The Hyades sing and the cloud waves break in these tales. The authority of Bierce’s cosmic horror is here. The talismantic Yellow Sign, and the titular ‘hidden’ King, and The Imperial Dynasty of America, will influence and alter you, as they have the accounts by these writers. Cassilda and other unreliable narrators, government-sponsored Lethal Chambers, and the many mysteries of the mythical Play, are boldly represented in these tributes to Chambers.

The contents of this anthology include:

  • “Black Stars on Canvas, a Reproduction in Acrylic” by Damien Angelica Walters
  • “She Will Be Raised a Queen” by E. Catherine Tobler
  • “Yella” by Nicole Cushing
  • “Yellow Bird” by Lynda E. Rucker
  • “Exposure” by Helen Marshall
  • “Just Beyond Her Dreaming” by Mercedes M. Yardley
  • “In the Quad of Project 327” by Chesya Burke
  • “Stones, Maybe” by Ursula Pflug
  • “Les Fleurs Du Mal” by Allyson Bird
  • “While The Black Stars Burn” by Lucy A. Snyder
  • “Old Tsah-Hov” by Anya Martin
  • “The Neurastheniac” by Selena Chambers
  • “Dancing The Mask” by Ann K. Schwader
  • “Family” by Maura McHugh
  • “Pro Patria!” by Nadia Bulkin
  • “Her Beginning is Her End is Her Beginning” by E. Catherine Tobler & Damien Angelica Walters
  • “Grave-Worms” by Molly Tanzer
  • “Strange is the Night” by S.P. Miskowski

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It’s Women in Horror month and there’s a lot of ongoing talk regarding the need for diversity in weird fiction, so here’s a release that celebrates both (a release that was raved about by Laird Barron in his column in “Locus” — ‘The table of contents is exceptional not for the fact that it’s composed entirely of women, but rather for the high level of quality.’, ‘…this is top shelf stuff.’) _CASSILDA’S SONG_ is a tribute to the amazingly-talented, visionary women creating important work in our field today. Please take a look, buy the book, and help spread the word. Women are critical to expanding the borders of weird fiction, make yourself a richer reader/traveler, by following the original, energetic paths they unlock for you.

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A review of Cassilda’s Song: Tales Inspired by Robert W. Chambers’ King in Yellow Mythos, edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.

By Paul StJohn Mackintosh

The Coming of the Queen

Chaosium Inc. has made an incalculable contribution to the current weird fiction renaissance – from a very strange angle. The games publisher launched one of the most celebrated franchises in RPG history with Call of Cthulhu in 1981, second only to D&D in popularity and influence. That game turbocharged the revival of interest in H.P. Lovecraft which underpins much modern weird, and secured Lovecraftian weird fiction a hugely enlarged fan base. Along the way, Chaosium became an important weird/horror publisher, working broadly within the Cthulhu Mythos cycle – and the associated King in Yellow cycle/co-Mythos created by Lovecraft precursor Robert W. Chambers. This has also risen in popularity in the wake of the Lovecraft boom, and now Chaosium has revisited it with Cassilda’s Song, “a collection of weird fiction and horror stories based on the King in Yellow Mythos created by Robert W. Chambers—entirely authored by women.”

Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., an exceptionally gifted exponent of this sub-genre, edited this collection which follows his superb 2012 anthology “A Season in Carcosa,” and has assembled a who’s who of wonderful weird women writers. The Chambers mythos, born out of 1890s aestheticism, privileges artists and creativity, and many stories here reflect this, as in Damien Angelica Walters’ opener, or S.P. Miskowski’s sardonic tale of drama critics, “Strange is the Night.” Other directions abound, though. Nadia Bulkin’s “Pro Patria” uses the King in Yellow Mythos to anatomize the post-colonial experience – appropriately, given Chambers’ creation of the Imperial Dynasty of America. Nicole Cushing’s “Yella” is an obscene redneck monster mash. Lynda E. Rucker’s “Yellow Bird” is a Southern dynasty family story. Helen Marshall’s “Exposure” updates lost Carcosa as a rundown Mediterranean tourist trap (trap: literally). Anya Martin’s “Old Tsah-Hov” actually looks at the Chambers mythos from the perspective of dogs. Inevitably, some of the re-envisionings are more successful than others, but as testament to their sheer quality, the whole collection is in the Finalists stakes for the 2016 World Fantasy Awards in the Anthology category, and Short Fiction, for “The Neurastheniac” by Selena Chambers, with its delirious, multifaceted exploration of the career of a lost Sixties poet. A completely stunning cover certainly helps.

The only – very slight – slight caveat I’d have is that Chambers won renown for weird horror. The disorienting, sanity-shattering, inscrutable nature of the King in Yellow mythos, which transfigures only to destroy, contributed much to Lovecraft’s later exploration of the same themes. Other interpretations are absolutely legitimate, but it would be nice to see more stark terror here, alongside the whimsy, teasing subversion, and quiet mystery. Lucy A. Snyder’s “While the Black Stars Burn,” with its apocalyptic dance of death, delivers all of these, but others lack that dark ingredient. Still, it’s a small quibble, and shouldn’t distract from a fascinating extension and development of a mythos that fits all too well to our insane Trumpery times.

From the Book:

What artist hasn’t dreamed of a patron’s notice? A patron who can change the shape of your life from one shitty bartending job after another, from galleries of splintered wood floors and the smell of mildew not quite concealed by the heavy aromas of patchouli and body odor, to long days spent in front of an easel with no worry that the electricity will cut off, to bright spotlights, champagne in crystal flutes, pearl necklaces, and fat checkbooks carried by those who need art for their summer houses, their mistresses’ cottages, their ski chalets.” – “Black Stars on Canvas, a Reproduction in Acrylic,” by Damien Angelica Walters

Suicide is at the forefront of Heck’s investigation and in the background of her life. The mid-ground was a struggle against the mental condition known then as neurasthenia and better understood today as bi-polar disorder. An only child born on a farm in lower Alabama, she came to New York City on a partial scholarship to Barnard College in 1955, and attempted suicide halfway into her second semester citing constant disappointment in her surroundings, whether it was in Manhattan or back home, as too daunting to believe in a future. Having failed at death, she decided that Barnard was the better bet, and took advantage of the new policy allowing women access to Columbia courses.” – “The Neurastheniac,” by Selena Chambers

He grabbed her arm and dragged her to the fireplace in the music room. She tried to pull away, pleading, promising to practice all night if he wanted her to. But he was completely impassive as he drew a long dark poker from the rack and shoved it into the hottest part of the fire. He frowned down at the iron as the flames licked the shaft, seemingly deaf to her frantic mantra of Please, no, Papa, I’ll be good I swear please.” – “While the Black Stars Burn,” by Lucy A. Snyder

Published by: Chaosium Inc., December 2015

Available Format(s): Trade Paperback and Digital Books

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[promo] CS - Chaosium - Cassilda is coming