Shoggoth’s don’t live forever, you know. They are built specifically for tasks that have timebombs programmed into them, meaning: every shoggoth has an expiration date, and if you thought they they were bad to be around on a normal day, I promise you, you don’t want to be there when they expire.
I was fortunate enough to be advanced a copy of this book prior to publication. And I mean fortunate. This book is destined to generate strong sales, firstly on the strength of the names involved (Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell), and then on the strength of the poem and stories included. Stephanie M. Wytovich leads off with an effective piece of verse, which leads into what I think is the best story in the book: Brian Kirk’s “Picking Splinters From a Sex Slave.” That story illustrates what lengths a person might go to to accomodate a loved one, in exquisite detail. The actual tableau is revolting, but the internal logic is inescapable. The tone is perfect. “Splinters” is followed by Lisa Mannetti and then Neil Gaiman. Both stories are good — not pedestrian, but are overshadowed by the excellence of Kirk’s piece. Christopher Cooke’s “Dominion” levels up one from those and leads into a tetralogy of really effective horror tales by Mercedes M. Yardley, Paul Tremblay, Damien Angelica Walters, and Richard Thomas, before Clive Barker takes center stage with his “Coming To Grief”. I’m not going to say that this story is as good as “classic Barker” pieces like “In the Hills, the Cities”, but it is a Barker story, and has a certain resonance. The second-best story, John F.D. Taff’s “Cards for His Spokes, Coins for His Fare”, which has distinct Kingian undertones, is set in the early 70s of my own childhood and morphs into a fairly classic ghost yarn. Cheers for the setting and characters. Amanda Gowin contributes a decent piece, “Cellar’s Dog”, with a good portrait of po’ white trash, and Kevin Lucia adds “When We All Met at the Ofrenda”, which again hits me especially, as I live in the Southwest and am familiar with the lore that contributes to the setting and setup. That’s followed by good pieces from Maria Alexander and Josh Malerman, before the capstone, Ramsey Campbell’s “The Place of Revelation”, which does not disappoint. Strong, strong, strong. Pieces that find beauty in grotesquerie, love amid the ruins, that entice you with beauty and magic and then hang you on a meathook, still wanting more. Gutted will have out your liver and lights in an instant, after you give your heart willingly. An easy five stars.
Lovecraftian anthologies tend to be uneven, especially earlier ones, where the stable of writers was fuller. This is a later and smoother version, albeit with the work of some older and/or completely unexpected scribes. The level of craftsmanship is very high, and everyone clearly knows the material, which is another common issue. I enjoyed it. Caitlin Kiernan’s story was the best, I thought (and think).
Terrance Blake is the best man in his world and would be a good man in most worlds. Rudolf is a mutant villain without a shred of decency, but still disciplined and purposeful. They are on a collision course, and don’t know it. Jane and Marlon Teagarden are only the twin rails that the story rolls along on, and only one of them is Riding the Centipede. I get the sense that a lot of the actual journey was cut. The scenes of experience don’t seem as protracted as they might be. And that may be for the best. The setting and denouement are determinedly Burroughsian, though there’s not as much of the old up and out and more of the Burgessian ultraviolence as Chernobyl performs his version of art. Though Jane Teagarden could use a little more fleshing-out of character, that would probably detract from the hold-your-breath movement of the narrative, which comes to an explosive climax. Background-5;plotting-5;characters-4;style-5. Round up to 5. Highly recommended.
If nothing else is said about it, I’ll say that this book is exhaustively researched. It doesn’t seem that a stone is unturned or an avenue unwalked in this exploration of Howard Philips Lovecraft’s love and sex life and how they may have affected his fiction, and by extension, that of many others who have followed in his footsteps.
The tone is dry, scholarly. It can be offputting if you’re used to the jauntiness of professional fiction. It took me a while to get used to it, and to dig deeply into the book. That’s not a knock-it is what it is.
This is a sober discussion of the subject(s) at hand, and the tone is the right tone.
Citations and quotations from members of the “Lovecraft Circle” and others who knew him well jostle for space with opinions from people outside the circle but in the know, and information from other professionals fleshes put the lot.
The book starts out exploring Lovecraft himself and then moves on to his fiction, that of others, and the influence of both on the “current state of weird fiction”, if there is such a thing.
If you’re into juicy, there’s enough information there to choke a Gug. Definitely worth the read if you’re interested in the world behind the Cthulhu Mythos, and interesting as a research subject even if not.
Buzzing. Buzzing and creaking and hissing, a conversation whispered in darkness. Nat was a fly on the wall, having gotten curious after a half-hour or so of intense colloquoy.
“I saw red,” Brown Jenkin said simply. “When the Zoog-weasels attacked me for no reason whatsoever, I retaliated.”
The man in black nodded. “And so it was necessary to kill them all. I see.” He templed his fingers, put them to his mouth thoughtfully.
“You realize that this kind of behavior is why I didn’t keep you on, yes?”
“I do. But I am who I am.” Jenkin scuffed at the ground with his left foot.
“Pity, that.” A chuckle came from the darkness under his hood. “You can be useful. So, since you’ve managed to be persona non grata in yet another place, what do we do with you now?”
“Promote me. Make me governor. You have kingdoms to spare. Why not me?”
Brown Jenkin crept silently down the seven hundred stairs to the bottom. He could be really, really quiet when he wanted to, and this was one of those occasions.
It wouldn’t do to create any commotion. Not yet, at least.
Night-gaunts didn’t hear him coming. The Gugs didn’t feel the stairs vibrating. Jenkin stepped onto the grassy sward unmolested, the sun glinting off the silver key he wore around his neck.
He carried a small bag in his right hand. In it were several cans of sardines and a package of steaks.
These were his offerings.
(note-some of the events in this series refer to the story “Pnakotic Reaction”, from the anthology “The Fall of Cthulhu“, published by Horrified Press. Therefore the author recommends the purchase of same 🙂
Some of the material was inspired by the moderators and denizens of the online community Lovecraft Eternal. )
Lovecraft Ezine Press. Afterword by Jeffrey Thomas.
Zounds! I’ve had this slim novel for quite some time (referring to the Kindle edition). It has languished in my to-read queue for an unconscionable period…but at long last I’ve given it a couple of reads, two weeks apart, and have survived to tell the story.
Reading, I was minded so much of Wells that I hd to keep checking the authorship. The Crystal Egg and the Time Machine came repeatedly to mind-the former because of the style and the latter because of a quaintly Victorian device that figures in the narrative. But Wells didn’t go in so much for the supernatural.
MR James, Walter de la Mare, those would be perhaps more suitable names to conjure with, trying to encapsulate or compare the style and subject matter of this most singular work.
Not that comparison comes anywhere close to capturing the essence of the piece, but I feel compelled to try.
There is that of the ghostly(Fractured Harry himself and several other apparitions appear), and that of the steampunk (the general Victorian air and appurtenances), and that of the strictly naturalistic, all bundled together loosely and interdependent upon one another to form the whole of the structure, like one of Clive Barker’s Cities in the Hills, or a Wicker Man.
The work deserves every accolade that comes to it. I’ve seldom beheld such a work of the imagination in a long career of reading fantastical fiction.
I just bought a copy of the Sea of Flesh and the Sea of Ash, to have the original work(s) together.
Five stars plus.
Shadows Over Main Street, edited by Doug Murano and D. Alexander Ward.
This anthology proceeds from the premise of Lovecraftian horror taking place in smalltown America and goes on from there. Lovecraft himself set many of his tales in that kind of environment, so it’s a viable concept.
It is mostly successful-stories from experienced hands Nick Mamatas, Mary SanGiovanni and Gary Braunbeck are particularly effective.
A couple of the pieces don’t fare as well. One of the stories conflates Nyarlathotep with Cthulhu, using the famous invented-language couplet from The Call of Cthulhu to invoke the Crawling Chaos. No matter what you think of canon, Nyarlathotep doesn’t sleep in R’lyeh, except perhaps on vacation. Continue reading »