David Hambling sent me a review copy of this one. It is, incidentally, “respectfully dedicated to Brian Stableford”.
Review: The Book of Yig: Revelations of the Serpent, eds. David Hambling and Peter Rawlik, 2021.
First off, there’s not a bad or even so-so story in this book, and I definitely recommend it.
It follows the successful formula of earlier Cthulhu Mythos releases from Crossroad Press: Tales of Al-Azif and Tales of Yog-Sothoth. They take an element of the Mythos, get stories from a bunch of contributors (often working in their own Mythos series), and present the stories chronologically with thematic, character, and plot links between the stories. Appropriately, some mysteries, but not all, are revealed at the end. (You can also throw in the earlier Crossroad Press release Time Loopers in this category, but I didn’t know that when I read this book. I’ll be reviewing Time Loopers later.)
I suspect there are two reasons this anthology works so well.
First is that it is built around a more obscure element of Lovecraft’s work, “The Curse of Yig”, which he worked on as a ghostwriter with Zealia Bishop. While I’m sure there are others, the only other Yig story I’ve read before the ones in this book was Walter C. DeBill, Jr’s “When Yidhra Walks”. That gives the authors plenty of leeway.
Second, the authors, after taking Bishop’s and Lovecraft’s story as their starting point, combined it with some of the rich symbology around serpents and other elements of Lovecraft to give us a new benchmark in Crossroad Press’ unique approach to Mythos publications.
Bishop gets a mention in David Hambling’s “The Serpent in the Garden” as does Kipling, Poe, and of course, the Bible given the title. We’re introduced to the snake-men Yig, their hidden presence among us, and their mysterious motives and nature.
This installment in the Harry Stubb series has him investigating a weird murder. His patron Arthur Renville is worried about the police presence it’s brought to the neighborhood. A man is killed, and a loaded pistol in his hand did him no good. Another oddity is what looks to be the whole skin of a man shed intact. Stubbs gets that from a neighborhood homeless vet named Slingsby whom we first met in Broken Meats. He and Harry’s fiancé Sally play crucial roles in the story. And there’s a new character, an unpleasant piece of work, the former police inspector Blaine.
As usual, Hambling works in some scientific concepts, here the idea that organisms inhabiting the same environmental niche will evolve similar morphologies. I also detected the theme of autism, or, at least, an inability to understand human emotions when Stubbs consults with a local teenage genius and has a memorable conversation with a Yig
Yes, I know I’ve been less than appreciative of Matthew Davenport in past reviews, but I liked “Andrew Doran and the Journey to the Serpent Temple”. Here the Indiana Jones-like Doran gets hired by some dubious characters, Elena Cantor and Nathan Rusch, to accompany them to India to get the Stone of Rthan, sacred to the Yig hidden there. (The connection between the Yig and India runs throughout the book.) So what does Doran get out of this? The idol of Tsathoggua which he was unable to keep from Nazi agents. The stated reasons given why Davenport is needed to get the Stone and what Cantor and Rusch intend to do with it keep changing. There’s plenty of pulp action in this one and a very nicely done confrontation with the god Yig. We learn that the Yig are definitely not a monolithic group.
With “Still Life With Death” from Mark Howard Jones, we move into the post-World War Two era, 1955 specifically. It doesn’t seem part of any series. The main character, painter Lyall Lych, is not an occult detective (though there is the hint that he may have had earlier adventures in the scene with Dr. Chin) or an academic. He’s just trying to provide some therapy his step-brother Fant has requested. Fant, you see, undergoes sudden physical transformations. Sometimes he looks like a handsome man. Other times, he looks like a snake. He thinks he can be helped by Lyall painting his portrait during those times.
Why this happens and why Fant gets kidnapped involves something the Fant’s father took from India after the death of their mother, bitten multiple times by snakes. Jones effectively does a lot of misdirection in this story regarding Lyall’s girlfriend and her family, and I was surprised by the villain’s identity. We also get more hints of the Yig’s superscience.
Peter Rawlik’s long “Revelations”, with its double agents and climax aboard an exotic structure battered by a storm, put me in mind of a favorite author of my youth, Alistair Maclean, specifically his novel Seawitch.
Our hero is Dr. Wingate Peaslee. Yes, he is a psychologist, son of the protagonist of Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Out of Time”, but he’s no soft academic. He’s a hard-bitten agent, nicknamed the Terrible Old Man, working for JACK, a covert US agency not above liquidating its own agents. (Since I haven’t read it yet, I don’t know if this is congruent with the stories in Rawlik’s The Peaslee Papers).
The story opens at the Witch Hill Hospital, May 1960. It’s not just a psychological facility to help those involved in the suppression operation at nearby Innsmouth. It’s also where the Hyrda are. They’re the seven bed-ridden men who run JACK.
Peaslee presents sort of a unified theory linking various Forteana things including Bigfoot and UFO settings. (Rawlik was clearly thinking of the famous Mothman but that is years in the future from this story set in 1960.) It’s not strictly germane to the rest of the story, but I appreciated it.
But his partner undercuts his theory – before setting off a suicide bomb that decapitates JACK’s leadership.
The story then shifts a few months into the future and moves to Florida. Peaslee and JACK’s future is uncertain. Parts of this story are almost a travelogue, albeit historical, of Rawlik’s Florida home.
There Peaslee runs into an old intelligence acquaintance, the Armenian Ophel Kulshedra. Kulshedra’s now working for the Mossad and investigating antiquities dealers connected with Nazis. A raid on one dealer, Simon Orne, has led him to believe that a member of the United States Air Force, stationed at an offshore listening post, is part of a Nazi cabal infiltrating the government.
Naturally, things aren’t that straightforward, and naturally Rawlik delivers a whole lot more information on the Yig. And, for me, the motives behind a final act behind Peaslee are mysterious.
The espionage motif continues with Hambling’s “Coda: The Return”. It details with a handoff of that Stone of Rothan to the Yigs in New Delhi. (This, incidentally, is the first piece of fiction that I’ve read that brings in COVID-19.) Our protagonist is Martinez, an agent of the American government whose usual beat is investigating X-Files type stuff in America. He’s met in his hotel room by Victoria Murray, a British agent sent to observe and help.
Since there’s also a dead Russian in the closet, probably done in by a Yig assassin, the handoff probably isn’t going to go off without incident. And, indeed, it doesn’t, when a man with a suicide bomb shows up. He wants to get the Yig on record about their infiltration of governments. It’s a bit David Ickeish, and I suspect the “Q” on the interloper’s armband stands for Q-Anon and not Quetzalcoatl.
It’s another story that ends with unresolved issues, but that’s entirely appropriate in a book on the mysterious Yig.