Things that never were

A book recommendation for pretty much anyone who stumbles across this blog : Things that never were : Fantasies, lunacies & entertaining lies / by Matthew Rossi.

ISBN 1932265058

I can’t think of anything else I’ve read which is quite like this book. There are shades of Charles Fort (bizarre & unexplained phenomena) & Colin Wilson (defending various pseudo-scientists like Sheldrake). The author also proudly mentions his interest in pulp literature (H.P. Lovecraft, R.E. Howard, and E.E. “Doc” Smith being prominent themes), role-playing games, and even brags that much of what he is writing is foolish nonsense. All in all Rossi very much delivers what the subtitle promises. I really enjoyed most of the essays. It’s worth a look.

Having said that, Rossi tends to make a lot of vague allusions to historical, mythological, occult, and literary figures, and I think he is trying a little too hard to show the reader just how erudite he is. But often the allusions backfire. For example, he frequently cites the Dogon tribe’s allegedly anomalous knowledge of Sirius (effectively debunked in the 1970s & 1980s), and he frequently refers to the Necronomicon as a real document (although to be fair, a number of occultists and internet trolls still insist it is a real book). It is not clear whether Rossi is putting the reader on, or is winking, or seriously believes in some of these things. Likewise a number of essays dwell on Rupert Sheldrake’s bizarre and pseudoscientific theories.

Of course Rossi admits that his essays are mostly wild speculation but the suspension of disbelief is only going to work if the author makes an honest effort to make his speculation tenable. Otherwise the reader is putting in more effort than the writer.

Still, the sheer fecundity and variety of his imagination makes this a great read. The chapter speculating about R.E. Howard, Ambrose Bierce, and H.P. Lovecraft faking their deaths/disappearances to find and battle Deros is awesome.

(This post was edited from my review of the book on goodreads.com. I’ll probably do this with a few more reviews at some point. )

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Published in: on March 22, 2010 at 12:41 pm  Comments (5)  
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Mike, nice book review. I am inspired to seek it out.
    The one thing i have to take exception to (wink) is your saying the Necronomicon is not a real book. (If it weren’t real, would I have made up a set of catalog cards for it back in the day when I was a catalogger for Phoenix Public Library (that would have been about 1977)? (Well, yes I would. I love a good prank.) But, I have personally had copies of the Necronomicon in my hands–they just weren’t Abdul Alhazred’s book. Probably the most impressive was H. R. Giger’s Necronomicon–a fantastic piece of art. A quick search of Amazon.com will show you just how easily obtainable and extensive Necronomicons are in today’s occult-obsessed culture.

    (Changing ponies in mid-stream I would argue also that things that have a widespread cultural belief behind them, especially mythic things, like Santa Claus, Cthulhu, Wonderland, Conan, the Necronomicon, etc. have a sort of hyper-real existence that transcends mere physical presence in the world.)

    So, yes, Virginia, there is a Necronomicon.

    –Ken

    • Troll. 😛

      I’ve seen some hilariously stupid “Necronomicons” actually, but have never had a chance to see Gigers’. That sounds pretty cool. Yes, I should have said, he refers to the mad Arab’s work as a real document. It is absolutely stunning that there are people though that who insist HPL was just pretending it is not a real book…Rossi is probably just tongue in cheek but I remember seeing “serious” arguments about this on various online forums back in the late 1990s. Probably there is a Facebook page for people who believe in Cthulhu for reals. 🙂

  2. […] Monaco takes time out from his expansive miniature collection to grace us with a simple and wonderful book review. Many thanks, Mr. […]

  3. […] Attention whore that I am (why else would anyone start a blog?) I am proud to notice Ken St. Andre’s comment on an earlier post and I am reminded by it of Meinong’s jungle. (If you are too lazy to follow the link, the […]

  4. You know, most of the allusions were intended in more of a “yeah, this is nuts, but what if” sort of mindset. If I did these essays today I’d probably throttle back some, but at the time they were written, it was mostly a labor of love.

    My style started changing around the time I wrote – http://www.fantasticmetropolis.com/c/encyclopedia-of-heresies/ so if you want to see what the essays were like with less allusions and more of an attempt to stay coherent, that might be worth looking at. I no longer write much, sadly. Well, maybe not for everyone else, right?


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