Under Twin Suns: Edited By James Chambers
Reviewed By Ben Walker
Whenever I think of the King in Yellow mythos, I think of all the fantastic fiction that’s come about as a result of Robert W. Chambers’ original stories. For me, the gold standard in terms of Chambers-inspired anthologies will always be Cassilda’s Song, so I have to say that I approached Under Twin Suns nervously, hoping that my adoration for that other work didn’t sour my opinion unfairly.
This is obviously a passion project, as the lengthy introduction suggests with its potted history of Chambers, as well as its explanation of how and why the anthology came into being. There are plenty of pull quotes from the stories which inspired the authors too, so it’s made very clear that everyone’s done their homework. After this, you can settle into 23 stories & poems – sometimes poems within stories – from a decent range of writers.
This is very much a sit back and savour kind of anthology, not the kind to burn through in one sitting. Many of the stories linger on their plots and the finer details of the worlds they present, taking their time to dish out the creepiness. The majority are set firmly in the past, or some twisted version of it, dispensing nostalgia as well as uncertainty as their characters navigate places both familiar and otherwise. Atmospheric and effective as these settings are, I did find myself wishing for a bit more risk-taking, or at least a change in mood by a third of the way in, as everything up to that point began to feel a little samey. This is why I’d say this is one to enjoy at a leisurely pace, as this caught me in something of an impatient mood, to the point where I began craving more modern interpretations of the theme. Those do come, eventually, but not until just before the halfway mark, and they’re still few and far between.
What I enjoyed most about the book were the poems by Linda D. Addison and Ann K. Schwader, all of which evoke an eerie mood and serving as headers for each third of the book. If anything they made me want more poetry involving Carcosa and the like; seeing as the mythos involves art driving people mad, it would seem like a good fit.
So can I say with any confidence that this blew Cassilda’s Song out of the water? Not for my tastes. Many of these stories run quite long, or feel a little too reliant on Chambers’ own words rather than spinning something truly original from them. A handful went down some less-travelled paths, like Lisa Morton’s opening story which suggests Chambers had a closer involvement with the text of his book than he ever admitted, or Joseph S Pulver Sr’s sprawling closing piece which is like a fever dream slapped down onto the page against its will.
Ultimately, this is an often fascinating and occasionally compelling look at how different writers interpret the ideas behind the Yellow King, but perhaps more of interest to completionists than the casual reader.
Under Twin Suns
In this anthology of weird fiction, twenty-two authors who found the Yellow Sign share their harrowing visions of worlds shaped by its influence in stories and poems inspired by Robert W. Chambers’s foundational works of weird horror. From the personal to the historic, from the macabre to the fantastic, the stories and poems gathered here illuminate new, unexpected realities shaped by the King in Yellow, under the sway of the Yellow Sign, or in the grip of madnesses inspired by their power.
Robert W. Chambers’s classic work of weird fiction, The King in Yellow (1895), contained two stories that have exercised wide influence in the genre. “The Repairer of Reputations” introduced the world to The King in Yellow, a play in two acts, banned for its reputed power to drive mad anyone who reads its complete text. Another story, “The Yellow Sign,” used the experiences of an artist and his model to elaborate on the mythos of the Yellow King, the Yellow Sign, and their danger to all who encounter them. In those tales Chambers crafted fascinating glimpses of a cosmos populated by conspiracies, government-sanctioned suicide chambers, haunted artists, premonitions of death, unreliable narrators—and dark, enigmatic occurrences tainted by the alien world of Carcosa, where the King rules in his tattered yellow mantle. In Carcosa, black stars rise and Cassilda and Camilla speak and sing. In Carcosa, eyes peer from within pallid masks to gaze across Lake Hali at the setting of twin suns.
Ben got a taste for terror after sneaking downstairs to watch The Thing from behind the sofa at age 9. He’s a big fan of extreme & bizarre horror and well as more psychological frights, and most things in between. When he’s not reading, he’s writing, and when he’s not writing he’s on Twitter @BensNotWriting or reviewing books on his YouTube channel, BLURB.