O, Secret History

Tim Powers’ The Stress of Her Regard was recently re-issued by Tachyon Press in an shiny new edition with a respectable cover. It wasn’t until I got home with this version–all the while wondering how in the hell I missed a book about the secret history of Bryon, Shelley, and Keats–that I realized I already owned this book. Have you seen the old cover?

Yeah, it’s no wonder I had never cracked it either, and it is a sad thing that I hadn’t because when this first came out, I was deep into the Romantics. Oh, I could quote more of “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” than a young college graduate who hadn’t written a thesis on Byronic allegory should be allowed. Powers is very good at finding the cracks in history and filling them with all sorts of magical possibilities, and with The Stress of Her Regard, he manages to imbue the entire Romantic ethos with an archaic bloodthirstiness that is both Faustian and Lovecraftian. It’s the sort of synthesis that the best secret histories derive their continued existence from, because they make an unholy sort of sense.

(See? Isn’t this one much nicer?)

It was on Jeff’s recommendation, actually, that I went and picked up Dan Simmons’ The Terror. I had been burned on a few of Simmons’ crime novels and had sworn off, but The Terror was, at its heart, a secret history. One that, the more you got sucked in to it, made sense of what happened to Captain Franklin on his ill-fated search for the Northwest Passage. A history that, as you found yourself agreeing to, was contingent on the acceptance that Here Be Monsters wasn’t just decoration on the old maps, but an actual warning sign for the unwary. It was a book that, in the end, I wanted it to be the True and Accurate Record of Events because that would mean that the world was, indeed, a much richer and stranger place than we are led to believe. (And I’m keen to see what Simmons has in mind for Drood).

Also, Barth Anderson’s The Magician and the Fool. I’m a little partial to this one, as there’s some hidden meta that links it to [The Potemkin Mosaic]. In addition to being a tight little tale wherein nothing is quite as it seems, Barth has come up with a unique twist to the origin of the tarot that is both quite revolutionary and very defensible. The best sort of hidden truth—the one that doesn’t take much to stand on its own.

And, finally, here’s a quickie that you will only find online. Jason Erik Lundberg’s “Jimi and the Djinn” (go read it; it’s a shortie), where Jason reveals the real reason Jimi Hendrix lit his guitar on fire on stage.

This is why we keep telling stories, isn’t it? Imagining something is halfway to making it real. Wordsworth may have cast us all in a bad light when he said that “we murder to create,” but I believe he’s just being a Glass Half Full kind of guy. The other way to look at it is that we liberate to create.

I wrote an article on World Weirding for Membra Disjecta earlier this year where I invented a few things, hiding them within the trappings of a non-fiction op-ed piece. No one called me on it, and it’s too late now. They’re out there, making their way in the world. Fly, little thoughts, fly. Come back when you’re full grown. (Or, rather, be there when I need you. This web of lies will only hold if I can ground it with enough reference points far away from the center. )


  1. says

    Thanks for the shout-out, dude.

    I haven’t picked up The Stress of Her Regard yet, but you’re right, Powers is the master of filling in those historical gaps, and connecting events in unexpected ways. I also liked The Crying of Lot 49 quite a bit, but was supremely annoyed that the title had nothing to do with the book except the last five words.

  2. GabrielM says

    Yeah, I have the Powers novel with the original cover and have never read the book, and after seeing the new cover I’ve been tempted to trade up.

    THE TERROR was one of my favorite novels of last year, and prior to that I had never been much of a Simmons fan. Am now very much looking forward to DROOD next year.