Friday, October 7, 2016

I Am Providence

I Am Providence is the love child of Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb and H.P. Lovecraft.  My sincerest apologies to Ms. McCrumb for putting you in that compromising situation.

This pastiche by Nick Mamatas gently pokes fun at modern fandom--especially fringe fandom--and isn't afraid to confront the problematic aspects of Lovecraft head-on.  You know, the anti-Semitism, the pro-Nazism, the volcanic bigotry, and what he named his cat.  I Am Providence is a darkly hilarious tale of murder, obsession, and tentacles.



Caveat: If you haven't read anything by Lovecraft, I'm not sure how much of this novel you'll get.  It's not an elitist statemtent; it's a simple fact.  If this sounds intriguing to you but you've not yet entered the Cthulhu Mythos, go snag a compilation from your local library or indie bookstore, marvel at Lovecraft's apparent inability to locate a thesaurus, and come back to I Am Providence later.

Okay, ready for the eldritch horrors?

It's the Summer Tentacular in Providence, Rhode Island, where Lovecraftians gather to sell their books, "network," and do really weird things like try and dig up Lovecraft's offensively-named cat.  Colleen Danzig s a first-time attendee, and although she knows that Lovecraft aficionados are ... well, weird, it's still a shock to watch some of the more idiosyncratic attendees comport themselves at the con.  It's not every day that you can wander into the opening ceremonies of an event and be privy to a man in homemade Cthulhu tentacles ranting about Jesus.

Then there's our narrator and Colleen's roommate, the maligned author Panos Panos Panossian.  He goes by Panossian for short.  After achieving mild fame with his mashup novel The Catcher in R'lyeh, Panossian shows up at events to needle literally everyone there.  He's a talent for arguing, and nobody much likes him.

But did someone hate him enough to murder him and cut off his face?

Panossian himself muses on this question, since he's the narrator of this quirky tome.  Yep, he's dead, and he's narrating the book.  Turns out that all those theories of what happens when we die weren't entirely accurate.  Panossian is trapped inside his brain, waiting for the last vestiges of bioelectical activity to fade to black.  Hopefully, then he will find peace in oblivion.  Or, you know, the scourging whip of the Elder Ones as he's transported to some non-Euclidean plane of existence.  One never knows!

But while he's still sort-of alive, Panossian tries to solve his own murder.  Tricky business when you're in a coroner's fridge.  Thankfully, Panossian's roommate Colleen is doing some investigation of her own, and things get far more bizarre than you'd ever think.

In between dodging desperate authors trying to sell her their spiral-bound copies of totally crappy  wannabe Lovecraftian novels, Colleen tries to figure out who would want to kill Panossian, and why.  And then she realizes that it's all about Arkham.

No, not Arkham in Batman, or Lovecraft's Arkham, but Arkham, the famed, practically-mythical quarto made entirely of human skin.  Panossian was trying to sell a copy that he obtained ... somehow.  Now his face and the book are missing.

It seems to be all about Panossian, until another con attendee, Charles Cudmore, also turns up dead.  Cudmore's claim to fame was that his head looked exactly like the top of a stalk of asparagus.  That would be an awkward thing to put on one's gravestone.  At least Lovecraft's "I Am Providence," while grandiose (and also the inspiration for the book's title, obviously), does not recall vegetables.  Can Colleen figure out who really killed Panossian and Cudmore?  Will she escape being the victim of a witch-hunt?  Is participating in a summoning ritual of Cthulhu, complete with chanting and sizzurp, a good idea?  Where is the copy of Arkham?  Will they ever find the corpse of Lovecraft's offensively-named cat?

And the real question: does any of it really matter, in the end?

I believe the ending of the book is what's throwing a lot of readers.  Humor me, for a moment.  Cast your minds back to what you've read in Lovecraft.  Did he ever write a story with a happy ending?  Let's amend that: did he ever write a story with a totally air-tight, wrapped-in-a-bow, ta-da ending?

Hold that thought.  Now, what better way to end a novel about Lovecraftiana by invoking the same loose, oh-crap-I-have-to-explain-it-all??? ending.  Dénouement was not a word in Lovecraft's repertoire.  He probably thought it was too Jewish or something.  Racist.

Evidently, the con attendees are all versions or amalgams of real figures in fandom.  Since I am fandom-lite™ of the Star Wars persuasion, I'm not really deep into fandom or fan culture.  I've never made or read a zine.  I was into Pride and Prejudice fanfic when I was about 12.  However, if you're active in the geek community, you may see flickers of people you know or of whom you've heard.
Like Sharyn McCrumb before him, Mamatos pokes fun at the fan community while still being part of it and showing affection for it.  He's not malicious--he's just searingly funny.

Recommended for:

  • fans who don't take themselves too seriously
  • people fascinated by Lovecraft's stories
  • people who hate Lovecraft as a person
  • those who would bow down to our betentacled overlords
  • fans of non-Euclidean geometry and/or Cyclopean structures





2 comments:

  1. Still reading it. I wouldn't recognise the fans in the book anyway, being on the other side of the world. I've only read a little Lovecraft, but I do recognise types. Fandom is fandom. We don't have media conventions here any more since the big U.S. type cons arrived, and those were the closet thing to the con in the novel, but it's recognisable.

    I was very much a reader of fanzines in my time, a writer of fan fiction, and edited a few zines myself - fan fiction zines, though. Star Trek, Blake's 7, Robin Of Sherwood. There were some awful ones like the ones described in this novel and some that were almost professional. And many fan writers who went on to pro status.

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  2. I remember you telling me about Blake's 7--I have to see if I can get that here!

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