Books Read: Clark Ashton Smith’s Out of Space and Time

Clark Ashton Smith
Out of Space and Time
Original Edition: Arkham House, 1942
Current Edition: Free online at The Eldritch Dark

Believe it or not, there are a few important SF/F/H first editions I don’t own (yet), and Clark Ashton Smith’s Out of Space and Time (the third book published by Arkham House) is one of them. But since all of the stories in it are available online at The Eldritch Dark (a site dedicated to Smith’s work), I’ve been reading them one at a time between other things. This collection both confirms why I love Smith (either you like Smith’s ultraviolet prose style, or you don’t), and illustrates why you can’t really make a steady diet of him (a certain sameness of tone, overly passive protagonists, and very similar plots and outcomes (if you’re the protagonist in a CAS story, your chances of not being consumed by something horrible are pretty slim)). The best stories in here are extremely good. “The City of the Singing Flame” provides a great sense of wonder with its transport to an alien city centered around the mysterious singing flame of the title. “The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis” is a very effective story of an archeological expedition on Mars gone wrong. And the Averoigne stories, which I already read in A Rendezvous in Averoigne, are all quite good.

But not everything in here is great. For example, “The Monster of Prophecy” is a deeply tedious story of a man transported to another world to act as a pawn in fulfilling an ancient prophecy; far too much time is spent on the setup and transition.

But overall Smith is still great fun to read, and I doubt he ever gave a moment’s thought to the possibility of “going too far” to establish a mood. Just look at the full-bore mood piece of ”From the Crypts of Memory”, with its final line “We knew the years as a passing of shadows, and death itself as the yielding of twilight unto night.”

If you like H. P. Lovecraft, Jack Vance, or Michael Shea (to name three obvious points of comparison), you should probably give Clark Ashton Smith a try.

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