Before reading this collection of Clark Ashton Smith’s works, I would consider myself briefly exposed to, but not well versed in his contributions. So, I picked up “Miscellaneous Writings” with not a clear idea of what to expect, but I realized once I read the preface that this is actually a collection of works that were written in his adolescent years and miscellaneous drafts/incomplete offerings from him. That said, I wouldn’t say this collection is intended as an introduction to Smith’s work, because if you go into it completely blind, it’s likely to confuse or might be a bit underwhelming. Rather, I would treat it as an accompaniment to his larger collection of works, and a way of seeing into what his work was like through the years before his respective career successes. This is evidenced even in the inclusion of a draft of one of his most prolific poetic works: “The Hashish-Eater; or the Apocalypse of Evil.”
The way the book is written however, seems to provide a decent (if a bit long) introduction to the author, his life and overall works. Then, included are twenty of his various short stories, prose, and poetry for the reader to peruse. The collection has quiet a few engaging gems, which evoke tales akin to something like the “Arabian Nights” collection, including “Rajah and the Tiger” – an adventure involving a harrowing tiger hunt for the protagonist, “The Ghost of Mohammad Din,” which unveils an unsolved mystery behind an eerie specter, “The Animated Sword”, and a prose offering in “The Infernal Star” – which seemed like a promising beginning to a future work, but was (unfortunately) unfinished. There were others I was equally impressed by that lent more to his style of writing in the latter part of his career, including a six scene drama called “The Dead Will Cuckold You”, “House of the Monoceros” and “Dawn of Discord.” Some of the works read a bit rough, but there are strokes in the offerings that show very imaginative and vivid ventures into fantastical realms.
Yet where the gems in this collection were concerned, there were also several ones where the offerings could’ve amounted to much more. I’m not so sure that offerings like “Something New” and “The Perfect Woman” ever amounted to much, because neither of them (and I enjoy romantic short fiction very much) developed into a full story for me to connect with them. And the characterizations with them felt quite bland. But I reinterate that these stories were penned primarily before the author’s career best, so I may not have as much of an appreciation of them as someone who wants to look into where Smith began and developed gradually over time.
The primary audience for “Miscellaneous Writings” seems to be those who are familiar with his works, and I would think that audience would probably enjoy this collection even more than myself, but taking it for what it is, and reading it through on my own, I actually enjoyed this glimpse into the developing writer Smith became, and it pushes me enough to satiate my curiosity into the author’s larger contributions.
Overall score: 3.5/5
Note: I received this as an ARC from Netgalley, via the publisher Night Shade Books