Dear Sweet Filthy World

Dear Sweet Filthy World

Illustration By Tran Nguyen

Dust jacket illustration by Tran Nguyen.

What exactly is the difference between a love letter and a suicide note? Is there really any difference at all? These might be the questions posed by Dear Sweet Filthy World, Caitlín R. Kiernan's fourteenth collection of short fiction, comprised of twenty-eight uncollected and impossible-to-find stories.

Treading the grim places where desire and destruction, longing and horror intersect, the author rises once again to meet the high expectations she set with such celebrated collections as Tales of Pain and Wonder, To Charles Fort, With Love, and the World Fantasy Award-winning The Ape's Wife and Other Stories. In these pages you'll meet a dragon's lover, a drowned vampire cursed always to ride the tides, a wardrobe that grants wishes, and a lunatic artist's marriage of the Black Dahlia and the Beast of Gévaudan. You'll visit a ruined post-industrial Faerie, travel back to tropical Paleozoic seas and ahead to the far-flung future, and you'll meet a desperate writer forced to sell her memories for new ideas. Here are twenty-eight tales of apocalypse and rebirth, of miraculous transformation and utter annihilation.  Here is the place where professing your undying devotion might be precisely the same thing as signing your own death warrant—or worse.

The stories in Dear Sweet Filthy World were first published in the subscription-only Sirenia Digest, run by Caitlín for her most devoted readers. This publication marks the first availability to the general public for most of these rare tales.

Limited: 600 signed numbered copies, bound in leather, with the bonus volume, The Aubergine Alphabet
Trade: Fully cloth bound hardcover edition

From Publishers Weekly:

“The 28 stories (most previously available only in her e-zine, Sirenia Digest) in Kiernan’s newest collection of dark fiction (after Beneath an Oil-Dark Sea) explore the human and inhuman conditions in all their filthy glory, and bravely wallow in the effluvia of mythology, murder, and depravity…her many fans will be overjoyed to have these works collected.”

From Kirkus Reviews:

“Horror blends with love, obsession, transformed bodies, and terrifying mysteries in this collection of stories. Kiernan's surreal and often unsettling fiction derives much of its power from the way it causes characters and readers alike to question reality via a shroud of narrative ambiguity… At their best, these stories are sinister and beguiling in equal measure, tracing the border between fear and obsession and asking powerful questions about desire along the way.”

From Locus Online:

“Although Kiernan has produced three fine novels, I think it’s safe to say that most of her fans think of her as one our finest and most productive writers of short stories. And so this new collection, her fourteenth, will certainly be received with much delight and acclaim. Containing nearly thirty tales, this handsome volume incidentally proves once again that Subterranean Press continues to be one of the most generous, savvy, elegant and creative publishers around.”

From SFRevu:

“Any fan of dark fiction should be reading Kiernan, and if you haven't discovered her yet this collection is a chance to see what you have been missing.”

Table of Contents:

  • Werewolf Smile
  • Vicaria Draconis
  • Paleozoic Annunciation
  • Charcloth, Firesteel, and Flint
  • Shipwrecks Above
  • The Dissevered Hearts
  • Exuvium
  • Drawing from Life
  • The Eighth Veil
  • Three Months, Three Scenes, With Snow
  • Workprint
  • Tempest Witch
  • Fairy Tale of the Maritime
  • – 30 –
  • The Carnival is Dead and Gone
  • Scylla for Dummies
  • Figurehead
  • Down to Gehenna
  • The Granting Cabinet
  • Evensong
  • Latitude 41°21'45.89"N, Longitude 71°29'0.62"W
  • Another Tale of two Cities
  • Blast the Human Flower
  • Cammufare
  • Here Is No Why
  • Hauplatte/Gegenplatte
  • Sanderlings
  • Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8)

Story excerpts

Shipwrecks Above

This one, she rides the tides. She has been hardly more than a shade drifting between undulating stalks of kelp, and she has worn flickering diadems of jellyfish, anemones, and brittle stars. The mackerel and tautog swap their careless yarns of her. For instance, that she was once a dryad, but then fell from Artemis’ favor. Weighted about the ankles, so was she drowned and whored out to the sea, cast down from all sylvan terrestrial spheres, from all pastures and forests that have not been drowned. But this is no more than the bitter fancies that fish whisper to one another, tales told in school, and such stories have even less substance than what has been left of her. She was never a dryad. She was only a woman, very long ago, though not so far back as the tautog and mackerel might have you suppose. The imagination of fish knows no bounds.

She was once only a woman, as I’ve said, and a woman who had the great misfortune to attract the attentions of something that was not only a man. He loved her, or at least he named it love, knowing no other word for his desires and insatiable appetites. He loved her, and so must she not, by right, be his? After all, she was the daughter of his sister, and had he not loved his sister and shown to her all the ruthless dedication of that love, before she ungratefully fled from him? Hence, might not this fatherless Székely child – christened Eõrsebet Soffia by some mangy Calvinist priest – be reasonably considered flesh of his own flesh? Yet, when the noble boyar claimed her, his impertinent sister dared protest the allegation. So he had her killed, and István Vadas, hero of the Thirteen Years’ War and cherished ally to the Wallachian Prince Michael the Brave, did take the girl away from her village in the year 1624.

Drawing from Life

“I think you, Sir, are a selfish man,” she says, and then she waits, as if expecting me to defend myself, when she should know better by now. I can hear the way she’s watching me.

“You might well have left behind a few coins,” she says. “A morsel of food, five pebbles, maybe a spent candle nub, a handful of silver coins wrapped in silk and tucked into the stump of a fallen tree.”

I listen, and the words drop from her mouth and spiral lazily down to the floor to lie there like autumn leaves. They pile up thick in a shaft of bright afternoon sunlight slipping in through the studio’s tall windows, and I imagine all manner of beetles and earthworms and stinging red centipedes rustling busily about below the detritus of those fallen, accumulated words. I’m lying half-dressed on the army-surplus cot where I sleep (when I sleep), and I open my eyes, half expecting to see the floor blanketed from wall to wall and an inch deep with leaves and words in all the shades of a copperhead’s scales.

Fairy Tale of the Maritime

There are tales sea monsters tell their children to get them to behave. “Eat your krill, or you’ll go the way of poor old Cetus, slain by some ne’er-do-well like Perseus.” Or it might be, “Take care you never swim too near the surface, or you’ll end up like that fool merrow Coomara, his lobster pots emptied of souls by meddlesome Jack Dougherty.” The mothers of leviathans and mermaids have no shortage of cautionary tales, promising dreadful fates to unwise fingerlings who disregard their warnings. There are abyssopelagic religions, practiced in the basalt cathedrals of that midnight zone, founded upon this or that piscine or crustacean martyr who ran afoul of a vicious landlubber. “It’s all devils and fishhooks, driftnets and tartar sauce up there,” the hermaphroditic hagfish mutter as they worry at the bones and tattered blubber of sunken whales.

They’re traitors, deserters, scoundrels all, the million-times great grandchildren of the those lobe-finned Devonian heretics who turned their backs on the ancient womb of the sea and crawled out into the sun.

There’s not an honest soul among them.



I can’t recall the last time I was surprised by any of the unpleasant things that wash up on the beach. Familiarity breeds complacency, I suppose. Of course, here, when I speak of unpleasant things that wash up, I do not mean the glistening bell of a decaying jellyfish or the carcass of a cormorant, its skull crushed and neck twisted by a bad dive. I don’t mean any of the natural flotsam carried in and out by the advancing and withdrawing tides, nothing that one may fairly expect to find stranded on a New England beach. Admittedly, my sense of fairness may be irrelevant in this day and age, and in this context, but what I do mean here is the refuse that makes it impossible to ever forget the nearness of humanity, no matter how remote or lonely any given stretch of shore might seem. I mean the discarded rubbers, the empty plastic water and soda bottles, the flip-flops and other odds and ends of clothing. I mean the deadly tangles of nylon fishing line, intertwined with seaweed and rope and shattered lobster pots. I mean the disposable diapers, styrofoam cups, drinking straws, golf balls, extruded PVC can rings from six-packs of beer and Coca-Cola, the fishing lures, and fluttering polyethylene grocery bags from Cumberland Farms and Stop & Shop. I mean the occasional dead pet, or syringe, or toothbrush. These are the sorts of things I mean when I say unpleasant. It’s much, much worse in the summer; I assume that’s because of the tourists.

But these things I’ve listed, no matter how ugly or hurtful they might be, have all become ordinary, made commonplace by the regularity with which I encounter them on my walks. Three years ago, after Mary and I moved to Green Hill from Providence, I used to carry a garbage bag with me whenever I left the cottage and followed our street to the place where it dead ends in low dunes festooned with dog roses, poison ivy, and towering sea oats. Back then, it still upset me, the sight of all that trash, and there still seemed to be some point in trying to pick up as much of it as I could. But after only a few months, I began to grasp the futility, and also the naïveté, of my one-woman campaign to clean up the beaches. Maybe it was the hundredth shriveled prophylactic or the fiftieth pair of soiled Pampers, I don’t know. But there was a tipping point, and when it arrived, I just sort of stopped noticing what I didn’t want to see.


Tran Nguyen
Caitlin R. Kiernan
296 pages
United States
In Print