The kid is T.S. Eliot, and the poem, "Circe's Palace," dates from his Harvard days. Though not a Siren, Circe's effect, it is clear, is most Siren-like. I don't need to tell you what those flowers "fanged and red" might be, or that sluggish python, do I?
"The Siren's Remorse," which can't be shown in a family newspaper because of clothing issues -- she isn't wearing any -- shows a mermaid staring down at the ashen face of a dead man floating in the shallows. Remorse? Her expression is hardly remorseful! Stoic is more like it -- or else her expression seems to say, "And you thought I really cared about you?"
In the accompanying text, Nigel Suckling (really) traces Achilléos' career as a creator of images for fantasy novels (his interpretations of "Lord of the Rings," for instance, and Michael Moorcock's Elric stories); for TV series (including "Dr. Who"); as well as for films (the original "Clash of the Titans," "Heavy Metal").
Achilléos, born in Cyprus in 1947 and raised in London, tells Suckling that the decade of the 1970s, particularly the years 1977 and 1978, were the "high spot of Science Fiction and Fantasy publishing, a period when anything in the genre was rushed into print . . . for an illustrator at the time it was exhilarating."
There were endless gigs, good money, plenty of opportunities to see your work on an assortment of book covers. Achilléos counts among his influences the work of Frank Frazetta, Jack Kirby, Moebius and Syd Mead. He also says he was lucky he left college to try his hand as a book-cover illustrator: If he hadn't, he might have wound up as a technical illustrator -- something he had been trained to be.
Achilléos' illustrations are compelling, unreal and oddly successful. Most often his Sirens are depicted as loners, and that seems right. In myth, when women aren't ruling goddesses or temptresses, they usually appear in clusters: There are the Muses, the Pleiaides, Maenads, the Norns, Valkyries . . . you get the idea. But a group of Sirens? That just seems wrong -- how could there ever be a group of Sirens?
How could they, judging from the haughty looks on the faces of some of Achilléos' subjects, ever tolerate the company of other women?
CLARK ASHTON SMITH: At the end of January, Cory Doctorow posted at BoingBoing about a public domain manifesto drafted by the Communia network -- a manifesto calling for guaranteed free, unrestricted use of cultural materials "without restriction, in the absence of copyright protection." The comments thread is worth checking out for what people have to say about both sides of this issue.
For the purposes of this column, though, it would have been darkly poetic if Doctorow's post had appeared on Jan. 13, not Jan. 26. The former is the birthdate of Clark Ashton Smith in 1893 -- the 117th anniversary of the writer's birth was celebrated last month by several sites, with the Cimmerian leading the charge.
At the Cimmerian, you find posts about Smith as part of a trio that also includes H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. "There are some authors who can tell a new story, and yet make it feel as if it's been told for eons," writes Al Harron in the post "Emperor of Dreams." Jeffrey Shanks, in "Collecting Clark Ashton Smith," provides an overview of the writer's publication history -- it's a post you can't really read without also looking at what Deuce Richardson says about the availability of Smith's work and at Jackson Kuhl's post, "The Obscurity of Clark Ashton Smith."
While Del Rey, Bantam and others continue to release new editions of Howard's work, Smith's has mostly languished. What you learn from the Cimmerian is that "stalemate and stagnation are the order of the day" when it comes to Smith's literary estate. When Kuhl approached the estate seeking permission to use some of Smith's stories for a collection, he writes in his post that his efforts were rebuffed. One of the problems seems to center on what work by Smith is considered under copyright and what's in the public domain -- which made me think of Doctorow's post.
It's disappointing that Smith flies so low under the radar of publishing and reading audiences when, in a variety of inexpensive editions, the writer's profile could easily be raised -- and even flourish. Is it going to take Hollywood to one day rescue Smith's work? I could see animation crews champing at the bit to create the alien city of Ydmos and some of his other fantastic scapes and interplanetary creatures. The posts on why Smith remains in obscurity are enough to give anyone who appreciates the genre a case of heartburn.
Owchar is deputy book editor of the Times. The Siren's Call appears at www.latimes.com/books.