Miskatonic University

The Lovecraft series continues with some modern takeoffs on his fiction.

Raw Feed (2005): Miskatonic University, eds. Martin H. Greenberg and Robert Weinberg, 1996.Miskatonic University

A Letter from the President to Incoming Students“, Stefan Dziemianowicz — An attempt, in keeping with the theme of the anthology, to introduce newbies to the Arkham/Miskatonic references in H. P. Lovecraft’s works.

Kali Yuga Comes”, Tina L. Jens — For me, this story was not only marred by the gratuitous swipes at James Watt and the Reagan administration by the narrator but also her usually unfunny wisecracks. The mixing of Kali (complete with rather incongruous interludes of third-person narrative in the Kali-killing sections) with Lovecraft didn’t work very well. The use of conventional mythologies in his work was something Lovecraft usually tried to avoid. It weakened his “The Horror at Red Hook” and only the inclusion of alternate dimensions and higher mathematics caused it to work in his “The Dreams in the Witch-House”).

Teachers”, Mort Castle — This story is not a tribute to Lovecraft but a bittersweet tribute to Castle’s friend, Robert Bloch — not only a one time protégé and correspondent of H. P. Lovecraft’s but a comic writer on occasion. Upon his death, Bloch, here Robert Blake (the name he is known by in Lovecraft’s “The Haunter of the Dark”) has earned immortality and gets to join the faculty, including Edgar Allan Poe and Lovecraft (the other authors I didn’t recognize), in teaching man at Miskatonic University. Oddly, enough this is the second story (out of two) in the anthology which makes a contemporary political reference — here a reference to Bill Clinton lying about sex.

Her Misbegotten Son”, Alan Rodgers — Just when it looked like this was going to be a weak anthology with the first two stories not at all being in Lovecraft’s style, containing contemporary political references, and not being horrifying or engrossing, I read this one which is quite gripping and moving. Rodgers does a contemporary sequel to Lovecraft’s “The Dreams in the Witch-House”. Whereas there is little of happy family bonds or concerns in Lovecraft’s works — Charles Ward’s parents are concerned for him in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, the narrator of “The Shadow Out of Time” has a son, and the protagonist feels somewhat burdened by his wife and kids in “The Strange High House in the Mist”, this story is full of family love and desperation. Keziah Brown appears at the Arkham welfare office and drops off her son. The head of the office happens to be Dan Mazurewicz, the son of Walter Gilman’s fellow lodger in the original Lovecraft story. He knows immediately the import of what he has seen. The child is given to the foster care of a Miskatonic University professor and his wife. Brown has ominous plans for her son — either as a slave or sacrifice to Nyarlathotep. Despite the growing awareness of the danger he is in, of his natural mother’s plans for him, the son feels a natural, unwarranted affection for Brown. But, whereas the dark call of heredity is present in Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, and the marriage a sinister farce in “The Thing on the Doorstep”, love, the reciprocated love of an adopted son for his foster parents, is the theme here and it triumphs. This was an engaging story and a nicely done variation on Lovecraftian concerns. There is one odd lapse of continuity in this story. The young boy dresses in his winter clothes to walk the streets of Arkham — in the summer.

Scavenger Hunt”, Brad Linaweaver — Lame story about a student using black magic to cheat on a test. The only thing of note here is that the Necronomicon has an Apocrypha.

Black Celebration”, Jay Bonansinga — This story is an interesting contrast to the 1976 story “The Silence of Erika Zann” by James Wade. That story was a direct sequel to Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann”. This story simply features another musician whose music puts him in touch with malignant beings from another dimension who whisk him away.

To Be As They”, Stephen Mark Rainey — Like many of the stories in this anthology so far, this story simply uses the character and place names from Lovecraft stories as a key for inclusion in the anthology without really doing anything significant with Lovecraft’s themes or trying to evoke a similar atmosphere. Here an art professor at Miskatonic University has his girlfriend/student killed by a fellow student who sacrifices her and the professor to what, I assume, we are to view as Cthulhoid (the killer is from Dunwich) muses who promise to make him as they are.

Second Movement”, Benjamin Adams — Peculiarly this is a tribute to Philip K. Dick. It’s another story that simply uses Lovecraft motifs to set up a plot that wants to go in areas Lovecraft didn’t and aren’t particularly logical extensions/counterpoints (like Alan Rodgers’ “Her Misbegotten Son”) to his work. Here a Hastur cultist hurtles Charlie Marsh (presumably related to the Marsh family of Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, but it’s a meaningless, reflexive reference) and Jess Wilmarth (another meaningless reference to a Lovecraftian family name) into an alternate dimension. At the beginning of the story, Marsh restarts an old romance with Wilmarth since Marsh’s wife has died.  When they go into the alternate timetrack and Wilmarth needs the comfort of a familiar person who understands her situation, things are complicated by the presence of Marsh’s now alive wife. The unexplored romantic/marital entanglements are obviously Dickian territory. But they’re not Lovecraftian in the slightest nor particularly interesting — since the story just stops there.

A Dreaming of Dead Poets”, Jane Lindskold — Sort of a Tim Powers-like alternate history set in 1964 and linking the life and death of several real poets, the disappearance of the Thresher, explicit allusions to Lovecraft and his “The Call of Cthulhu”, and the fates of its two characters — one a painter, one a poet. They discover that they and fellow sensitives, like those dead poets, are being used by Cthulhu to amplify his power. Impatient for R’lyeh to raise, they plan on using the Thresher’s nukes to make the desired “configuration” and raise Cthulhu. The two main characters teleport themselves aboard the crippled sub and sacrifice themselves to prevent that. A clever secret history and modern updating of the Lovecraft source material. This is the second good story I’ve read by Lindskold in the midst of an average theme anthology.

Mandelbrot Mindrot”, Lois H. Gresh — This story brought weird, sentient artificial life forms to Arkham and described the mathematical chaos of the Witch House (as in Lovecraft’s “The Dreams in the Witch House”) through an interesting, disgustingly detailed grounds-eye view. However, it mostly reminded me of a Doctor Who episode in its use of technobabble ungrounded in any real science. What it called chaos was really just entropy. Exactly what the two artificial protagonists were or how they worked was undescribed. However, I did like the addition of Lord Mandelbrot (though why use a human scientist’s name?) as the controller of Lovecraft’s god of chaos, Azathoth.

The Smile of a Mime”, Billie Sue Mosiman — This was an ok story which didn’t overstay its welcome. Essentially, its narrator starts out as an immoral luster after occult powers, teams up with a sympathetic soul, and they call up some real gods who are so horrifying that, after the death of her confederate, the protagonist devotes her life to destroying the occult tomes she once lusted after. Lovecraft would approve of the idea of suppressing knowledge since it is a common feature of his work.

The Sothis Radiant”, Will Murray — I had high hopes for this story since Murray is a Lovecraft scholar (and also an author of pulp stories featuring Doc Savage, the Destroyer, and the Executioner), and I was not disappointed. It heavily features the science most beloved of Lovecraft — astronomy. The story details the revelation (known to the US government since the late 1890s when discovered by the astronomer Azor Sparhawk) that there is a force in the universe that extends, at an ever accelerating rate, tendrils to suns and causes them to go nova regardless of their place on the main sequence. But that’s not the end of the Lovecraftian elements. Sparhawk went mad, hearing drumming noises after staring at the tendrils too long (tendrils only discovered because he developed a unique lens to overcome chromatic aberrations). (A link is made between the Fortean events of the Taos Hum and Moodus Noises. Of course the terror in the sky is also reminiscent of Lovecraft’s “Hypnos”.) And the protagonist, unlike the government agent terrified to learn that the destruction of stars is accelerating and getting closer to Earth, exhibits an example of Lovecraft’s “cosmicism”: “We exist at the discretion of the universe, for a flicker in eternity.” At story’s end, the Alphard Tendril is identified with Azathoth and the drumming continues in the protagonist’s head. This promises to be the best story in the anthology.

The Play’s the Thing”, Christie Golden — An entertaining — if nothing special — story of a drama student performing a play involving rites described in Al Azif — rites which cause his professor to be carried off by demons a lá Abdul Alhazred.

Ghoulmaster”, Brian McNaughton — An ok story involving ghouls beneath Arkham. The protagonist was annoyingly and improbably absent minded and narrated with a somewhat annoying voice.


More reviews of Lovecraft related material are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

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3 thoughts on “Miskatonic University

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