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THE DEEP ONES: "Houses Under the Sea" by Caitlin R. Kiernan

The Weird Tradition

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Edited: Sep 11, 2018, 11:42am Top

Hmmmn: I notice one collection's title lifts a lyric from a favourite band of mine, The Sisters Of Mercy. "Two Worlds and In Between" is a line from the song "Lucretia My Reflection".

The song isn't Weird or horror, but the band was pigeon-holed early on as Goth, and are often quoted or referenced even when not particularly apt to do so. I wonder if Kiernan suggested the title, or an editor.

ETA The Wikipedia entry for CRK indicates she deliberately includes goth and post-punk allusions (in her earlier fiction especially), and has been active in more than one musical project. I'm inclined to think the title was Kiernan's.

It's always possible the line was selected independently, but so far as I'm aware it's not particularly well-known outside the lyric. It does sum up rather nicely Kiernan's style of story, to the extent I remember past stories.

Sep 10, 2018, 6:47am Top

>2 elenchus:

I hadn't noticed that. Could well be. I think that Kiernan, like her early-writing-days pal Poppy Brite, was quite sympathetic to goth and outsider culture. "Lucretia" was always a favorite Sisters song of mine. Like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Bauhaus, they perhaps invented and played upon the trappings of goth, while musically and lyrically moving way beyond it. I always appreciated the video for "Black Planet", featuring the Monkeemobile. Ha!

Sep 10, 2018, 9:33am Top

Agree on your characterisation of both Bauhaus and Siouxsie, along with Sisters. Each of them were creative both lyrically and musically, but of course their dress and style marked them for life.

Sep 10, 2018, 3:42pm Top

Wikipedia's handy primer (see section Ideas) on Velikofsky's main proposals was useful to me, I was vaguely familiar -- from another thread on LT, perhaps another Kiernan story?-- with his scientific reputation but nothing on the catastrophism detailed in his arguments.

Edited: Sep 11, 2018, 9:43am Top

>5 elenchus:

One of those funny coincidences - I'd never heard of Velikofsky before, but a short time after reading your post, his name popped up again in Fritz Leiber's "Spacetime for Springers, which I was reading to my daughter at bedtime.

Sep 11, 2018, 9:49am Top

It's. All. Connected.

Edited: Sep 12, 2018, 8:48am Top

This was, if memory serves, the first thing I've read of Kiernan, and I rather liked it.

I appreciated the way the Lovecraftian references were done: if you know where she's nicked Mother Hydra and Father Dagon from, it adds to the effect, if not, the names are meaningful enough in themselves. Similarly, the octopus and five-pointed star motifs are meaningful to Mythos devotees, but shouldn't leave people coming from elsewhere blank either.

(Speaking of names, "Typhaôn" is a variant of the name of the Greek mythological monster better known as Typhon. Speaking further of names and drifting further off-topic, I learn that that of Dagon has been given to a planet circling Fomalhaut. Dare we hope for a second one to be called Hydra?)

If one's first encounter with Velikovsky is in a work of weird fiction one can count oneself lucky; mine was with some of his latter-day disciples on Usenet.

Sep 12, 2018, 9:59am Top

Kiernan writes somewhere on her blog, I think, that she's uninterested in plot: "Ulysses ought to have freed authors from the necessity of plot", or something to that effect. Her atmosphere and mood are accomplished, to be sure, but I thought the plot here was quite solid and the telling of it -- not chronologically, a mixture of inner reflection & recalled conversations -- worked well.

>8 AndreasJ: I appreciated the way the Lovecraftian references were done

Yes, and Kiernan uses references well in general, I think. The whimsical nod to "Octopus's Garden" at the end, the lines from Eliot's "The Dry Salvages" near the beginning. The lines work of themselves, and those I identify (sure I don't finger them all) add another layer of appreciation.

I'm not clear on whether Jacova is supposed to have been related to the creatures, or turned in her encounter as a child in the swimming accident. The sucker scars along her spine would point to the latter, but the image from the submersible camera footage suggests she's fully marine and not mammalian.

Edited: Sep 12, 2018, 10:38am Top

Kiernan truly seems to understand Lovecraftian concepts, but she doesn't seem to have any interest in kowtowing to genre expectations. She'll use those references and symbols, sure, but I never grimace when I encounter them.

Her scientific background, perhaps, brings a kind of tightness and precision to her stories. At the very least the reader is provided with wonderful detail:

The sky was painfully blue, the blue of nausea, with only very high cirrus clouds to spoil that suffocating pastel heaven. There were no other cars parked along the street, and no living things that I noticed. There were a couple of garbage dumpsters, a stop sign, and a great pile of cardboard boxes that had been soaked by rain enough times it was difficult to tell exactly where one ended and another began. There was a hubcap.

Edited: Sep 12, 2018, 11:08am Top

>9 elenchus:

The WP page linked above has a longer quote about her disinterest in plot:

{A}nyone can come up with the artifice/conceit of a 'good story.' Story bores me. Which is why critics complain it's the weakest aspect of my work. Because that's essentially purposeful. I have no real interest in plot. Atmosphere, mood, language, character, theme, etc., that's the stuff that fascinates me. Ulysses should have freed writers from plot.

Sep 12, 2018, 10:39am Top

Prior to this, the Kiernan I'd most recently read was the short novel Agents of Dreamland. (I now see it has a sequel: Black Helicopters.) Like "Houses," Agents is about a California suicide cult (desert rather than sea, fungi from Yuggoth rather than Deep Ones). I thought the journalist viewpoint-character in "Houses" was more effective than the spooks in Agents, but Agents also included some very effective passages written from a perspective inside the cult.

Sep 12, 2018, 10:53am Top

>12 paradoxosalpha:

Funnily enough, when our narrator first talked about having been in Islamabad ferreting out connections between various shady actors, I initially thought he was a spook.

(And if I'm allowed to harp on about names, while I've forgotten more Spanish than I ever learnt, oughtn't the place be called Monterrey with a double 'r'?)

Sep 12, 2018, 10:53am Top

The "author spotlight" (interview) with Kiernan at http://www.nightmare-magazine.com/nonfiction/author-spotlight-caitlin-r-kiernan/ is worth a read. An excerpt:
By the way, Lovecraft wrote virtually nothing about Mother Hydra, which is one reason I’ve used that deity repeatedly. She’s really nothing more than a shadow in his work, a force he hints at. Makes her a lot more interesting to me than, say, Cthulhu. Also, it’s an opportunity to feminize the Weird. “Houses Under the Sea” is a tale of goddess cult gone . . . maybe gone wrong. Maybe gone exactly right. Probably, the story could have ended no way except the mass drowning. Willing sacrifice to that which is vastly greater than humanity.

Sep 12, 2018, 10:56am Top

I love the proper name of the story's cult: The Open Door of Night.

Edited: Sep 12, 2018, 11:07am Top

>12 paradoxosalpha:

I normally read your reviews (even when you review stuff I'd never consider reading myself), but I'd missed that of Agents of Dreamland; omission rectified.

Sep 12, 2018, 11:10am Top

>15 paradoxosalpha:
Agreed, I even did a quick online search wondering if it was an historical or literary reference. Frankly, my first thought was that it would fit in perfectly with Blue Öyster Cult's discography.

Sep 12, 2018, 11:16am Top

>13 AndreasJ:

American culture doesn't simply forget what is learned. It masticates, dessicates, rehydrates, and reshapes all it has ingested, only to extrude it in another, blasphemous form.

See the Wikipedia entry under Toponymy: it once was Monterrey, but is no longer.

Sep 12, 2018, 11:19am Top

“Houses Under the Sea” is a tale of goddess cult

It's interesting that Jacova refers to her goddess as a "whore" and "concubine" - epithets suggesting that however much above humans, she's not exactly at the apex of the metaphysical pecking order.

(OK, strictly speaking it's the narrator that uses those terms, but he seems to be citing or channeling Jacova.)

Sep 12, 2018, 11:24am Top

Kiernan has a bit more to say about the cult and its followers in the Nightmare Magazine interview cited by >14 paradoxosalpha:.

Edited: Sep 12, 2018, 11:30am Top

These two references are interesting:

"If, as William Burroughs wrote, “Language is a virus from outer space,” then what the holy hell were you supposed to be, Jacova?"

“When I become death, death is the seed from which I grow.” Burroughs said that, too. Jacova, you will be an orchard. You will be a swaying kelp forest. There’s a log in the hole in the bottom of the sea with your name on it.

The latter is especially amusing when taken in context.

Sep 12, 2018, 12:04pm Top

>19 AndreasJ: It's interesting that Jacova refers to her goddess as a "whore" and "concubine" - epithets suggesting that however much above humans, she's not exactly at the apex of the metaphysical pecking order.

The Gnostic deity Sophia-Achamoth had the title Prunikos ("whore"), and Simon Magus was supposed to have redeemed his partner Helena from a brothel. So there's some real precedent for metaphysical veneration of whoredom even in early Christianity. (This notion is perpetuated in the Scarlet Woman of contemporary Thelemites.) There is, in fact, considerable anthropological and psychological literature concerning The Sacred Prostitute. The trope has been taken up in some modern Goddess religions as a deliberate reclaiming of female sexual power and abrogation of patriarchal propriety.

Sep 12, 2018, 12:51pm Top

I knew we had read one Kiernan story before. I checked the list, and it was "Nor the Demons Down Under the Sea." The commonality of the phrase "Under the Sea" has given me that Disney calypso tune from The Little Mermaid as an earworm.

Sep 12, 2018, 1:15pm Top

I thought we had read more than just the one: I looked up the thread and recalled I couldn't read the full story (no online version). Still think I read something else, but haven't been able to identify it -- maybe something outside of DEEP ONES.

Edited: Sep 12, 2018, 1:21pm Top

We looked at Kiernan's "Pickman's Other Model" as a "supplementary" discussion.

Sep 12, 2018, 1:22pm Top

I had at one point mis-remembered Elizabeth Bear's "Shoggoths in Bloom" as a Kiernan tale.

Sep 12, 2018, 1:45pm Top

>27 KentonSem:

The "supplement" appears to be missing from our master list, I think it would be helpful to be included. As note to the entry for "Pickman's Model" or as its own entry?

Sep 12, 2018, 2:04pm Top

>28 elenchus:

I added it to the Summer 2014 section on the master list, noting that it was a "Deep Ones Supplement".

Sep 13, 2018, 12:53am Top

>22 paradoxosalpha:

I'm aware of most of what you mention, but I still can't read the lines in question as placing Hydra at the top. In particular, "concubine" is AFAIK never used of someone who's superior to their partner; rarely if ever even of someone who is their equal.

Sep 13, 2018, 7:56am Top

Second time I've read this story, and my admiration for it increased even more.

I like the asides on how narratives are put together -- the broken chronology, the importance of what's left out.

The only place I think it falters a tiny bit is the section quoting the novels of Jacova's father. They are a bit long and break up the tone and voice of the narrator. On the other hand, I'm not sure they could have been mixed more in the text since Kiernan uses them to intimate the strangeness of Jacova's background at a particular point in the story.

A bit of unexplained weirdness I missed the first time: the "drowning" of the workers at the hospital where they take the young Jacova. Are we to infer some dimensional gateway opened up and they were dragged to the sea from the hospital? Did the marked Jacova somehow have the power to induce drowning on dry land? Did Mother Hydra somehow appear in the hospital?

Sep 13, 2018, 8:01am Top

>19 AndreasJ:, >33 not exactly at the apex ... at the top

So, not the ultimate, but still "vastly greater than humanity," which is perfectly suitable for worship under many theological conditions.

Sep 13, 2018, 8:02am Top

>31 RandyStafford: Are we to infer some dimensional gateway opened up and they were dragged to the sea from the hospital? Did the marked Jacova somehow have the power to induce drowning on dry land? Did Mother Hydra somehow appear in the hospital?

Given Kiernan's explicit contempt for "plot," I would guess the answer is: sure, any of those.

Sep 13, 2018, 9:21am Top

>33 paradoxosalpha: sure, any of those.

Usually such open-endedness regarding a key aspect of a story bothers me. A journalistic account doesn't have to be given, but there needs to be attention paid to it! Somehow that's unnecessary for me here, though. It does seem fitting they drowned and inexplicably on land. Clearly it's related to Mother Hydra in some fashion. The specifics would not add anything to the unnaturalness of it all, and what is clear is that, in no way did something natural happen (like Jacova drowning them in the Bay and then depositing their bodies in the closet later, as might happen in a noir story).

Sep 13, 2018, 9:51am Top

>32 paradoxosalpha:

Oh, I'm not suggesting it's weird or particularly unusual to worship a second (or lower) tier deity. Even in nominally monotheistic religions, something suspiciously like it goes on in the form of the veneration of saints and the like. The remarkableness, if any, is literary rather than theological; that a writer concerned with "feminiz{ing} the weird" chooses to present her female deity as subordinated to a male one.

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