Monday, January 9, 2012

Pulp Fantasy Library: A Voyage to Sfanomoë

In addition to his more well-known tales of Hyperborea, Averoigne, and Zothique, Clark Ashton Smith also wrote a number of short stories set in the last vestige of Atlantis. Known as Poseidonis, Smith wrote only four tales set in this civilization teetering on the brink of (literal) collapse, the second of which, "A Voyage to Sfanomoë," appeared in the July 1931 issue of Weird Tales. I'll admit that neither Poseidonis nor this particular story are among my favorites in Smith's canon. However, I have a fondness for "A Voyage to Sfanomoë" in large part due to its mixing of fantasy and science fiction. That's a common enough element of many pulp fantasies, but it seems particularly appropriate to a story dealing with Atlantis, whose legend, going back to Plato at least, has included the suggestion that the Atlanteans had access to science and technology unlike that of any human civilization before or since.

Favorite of mine or note, "A Voyage to Sfanomoë" nevertheless opens in a typically Smithian fashion:

There are many marvellous tales, untold, unwritten, never to be recorded or remembered, lost beyond all divining and all imagining, that sleep in the double silence of far-recessive time and space. The chronicles of Saturn, the archives of the moon in its prime, the legends of Antillia and Moaria—these are full of an unsurmised or forgotten wonder. And strange are the multitudinous tales withheld by the light-years of Polaris and the Galaxy. But none is stranger, none more marvellous, than the tale of Hotar and Evidon and their voyage to the planet Sfanomoë, from the last isle of foundering Atlantis. Harken, for I alone shall tell the story, who came in a dream to the changeless center where the past and future are always contemporary with the present; and saw the veritable happening thereof; and, waking, gave it words:
Hotar and Evidon were brothers in science as well as by consanguinity. They were the last representatives of a long line of illustrious inventors and investigators, all of whom had contributed more or less to the knowledge, wisdom, and scientific resources of a lofty civilization matured through cycles. One by one they and their fellow-savants had learned the arcanic secrets of geology, of chemistry, of biology, of astronomy; they had subverted the elements, had constrained the sea, the sun, the air, and the force of gravitation, compelling them to serve the uses of man; and lastly they had found a way to release the typhonic power of the atom, to destroy, transmute, and reconstruct the molecules of matter at will.
However, by that irony which attends all the triumphs and achievements of man, the progress of this mastering of natural law was coincidental with the profound geologic changes and upheavals which caused the gradual sinking of Atlantis. Age by age, aeon by aeon, the process had gone on: huge peninsulas, whole sea-boards, high mountain-ranges, citied plains and plateaus, all went down in turn beneath the diluvial waves. With the advance of science, the time and location of future cataclysms was more accurately predictable; but nothing could be done to avert them.
These three paragraphs set the scene rather nicely, in addition to preparing readers for what is to come. Brothers Hotar and Evidon decide that neither magic nor science can ultimately save Poseidonis and so resolve that, rather than try, they will instead escape it by traveling to another world -- the Sfanomoë of the title. I don't think I'm giving anything away by revealing that, this being a Smith tale, there can be no escaping the inevitability of oblivion, though Hotar and Evidon's efforts to do so possess a charmingly melancholy appeal. Perhaps it speaks to my advancing age that I find stories such as this so attractive to me, I don't know, but I genuinely like "A Voyage to Sfanomoë" and recommend it if only for its science fantasy portrayal of Atlantis (though it holds other appeals as well).

2 comments:

  1. While I like "A Voyage to Sfanomoë" well enough, I prefer Smith's other 'Poseidonis' tales to it, especially "The Double Shadow", which is one of my favourite CAS tales of all time.

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  2. I have never met a Smith piece I didn't like, but this one does stand out. It is fun in a way. And I agree with Akrasia, The Double Shadow is awesome.

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