“Herbert West in Love”

This week’s weird fiction selection.

Review: “Herbert West in Love”, Molly Tanzer, 2012.

Cover by Victor Manuel Leza Moreno.

Not only is this one not very good. It’s annoying.

Editor Pete Rawlik notes in the introduction to Legacy of the Reanimator that this is a “subversive prequel” to H. P. Lovecraft’s “Herbert West: Reanimator”.

I’m going to be kind and assume that’s not true.

After all, surely subversion would involve something less puerile than giving a character created almost a 100 years ago a new “sexual identity”. Retroconning the sexual persona of an old character is not very groundbreaking.

Here West is a homosexual who becomes involved (though it never goes beyond a kiss) with Tristan Langbroek, a chaplain student attending a medical ethics course at Miskatonic University with West.

West gets himself kicked out of the class by arguing with Professor Quinley. West snidely notes that he knows the expected answers on the upcoming tests; he just doesn’t think that Quinley has rationally responded to his arguments that a doctor’s will is supreme to his uneducated patient.

A scheme is concocted to smuggle West into Miskatonic University’s Christmas party (Professors Armitage and Wilmarth make cameo appearances). Tristan works as a waiter for the catering company servicing the event, and West unsuccessfully tries to get his class failure reversed by confronting Quinley.

His collusion with Tristan is uncovered in the street by Quinley. He also sees the two kissing.

West trips Quinley who is severely injured in the fall. He then talks Tristan into taking the professor back to his dorm room to experiment on him – the first human trial of his reanimation formula.

It sort of works. Quinley revives and mortally injures Tristan after attacking West.

The story ends with Tristan on West’s table and waiting for a recalibrated dose of the reanimating formula.

Tanzer unsuccessfully tries for laughs with Tristan’s internal monologue.

The story also has two annoying anachronisms because we know that “Herbert West: Reanimator” the story should take place before World War One, ca 1906 to be exact.

First, when West verbally spars with his enemy and fellow medical student Reginald Gurganus he says “your sort never tires of date-rapping coeds”. I very much doubt the term “date rape” was known before World War One.

Second, Gurganus accuses West of being “too busy jerking it to pictures of Erroll Flynn”. Flynn’s first movie was in 1933. Even if Tanzer has moved the timeline of West’s life further into the future, “date rape” is still an anachronism.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

4 thoughts on ““Herbert West in Love”

  1. EG June 4, 2019 / 11:02 am

    That artwork is certainly none too subtle. It seems like it would be more at home on the cover of a comic book.

    And one thing I’ve never understood about roving bands of mindless zombies in search of flesh to eat: why don’t they ever eat each other? I mean, it’s not as though you’d expect a zombie to have high culinary standards to begin with.

    • marzaat June 4, 2019 / 5:59 pm

      Yes, they obviously went for the lurid movie poster look with Herbert West looking Jeffrey Combs. Besides Tanzer, the only story I’ve read in the book is Lovecraft’s original. Perhaps zombies show up in other stories.

  2. tomi June 6, 2019 / 8:05 am

    Funny thing, the only overt Lovecraft “subversion” that I can think of that was actually memorable and non-cringey was David Drake’s excellent & bleak “Than Curse the Darkness”. I say funny, because I’d wager that folks who nowadays write and read these wouldn’t be too enamored of Drake in general, for more than one reason.
    Anyway, this whole industry of Lovecraft subversions makes me thankful for the notorious over-protectiveness of Tolkien estate. And that is no small accomplishment.

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