1816: The Year Without Summer

This is one of the rare books I got through a Kickstarter offering.

Review: 1816: The Year Without Summer, ed. Dickon Springate, 2019.

Cover by Mihail Bila

No, it’s not a non-fiction book about the climatic, political, social, and economic effects of Mount Tambora exploding in 1815. It’s something more unique. While there have certainly been other historically themed Lovecraftian horror anthologies, none have been this tightly focused. There’s one story set in each month of 1816. (The cover is incorrect. There are actually 13 stories here.)

There are a few things to note. First, not all of these stories are Cthulhu Mythos stories. Second, not every story strikes me as even Lovecraftian. Third, while there aren’t any bad stories here, the anthology does get off to a slow start.

David Southwell’s “Foreword” tells us how the book came to be and seems to see this as a collection of alternate histories about the hidden role of Lovecraftian entities in altering history’s trajectory.. I’d argue they are more secret histories.

Editor Springate’s “Prologue” sets up the book’s conceit that the events leading to Tambora’s eruption actually started about a 1,000 years ago in Newfoundland.,

And Newfoundland is where G. Groff’s “The Sepulchred Conflagration” takes us. In the wake of a Viking raid on the local skraelings, we meet a shaman who failed to stop their desecration of a local shrine to Katkannalu (seemingly the local name for Cthulhu). We then shift over to Tambora and then St. Johns, Newfoundland and get an explanation for that town’s long history of devastating fires. While the opening was certainly unusual for a Mythos story, the story struck me as a bit awkward because of its bridging the story’s opening premise and the year 1816.

The anthology settles into to its rhythm with C. K. Meeder’s “Documentation of Varied Scientific Endeavours”, and chemist Sir Humphrey Davy is the first of many historical figures we’ll come across in the book. It’s January 1816, and his journal relates how he visited a coal mine in the north of England to test out his new safety lamp. But he’ll find something weird and disturbing there.

The Queen and the Stranger” from R. Poyton isn’t even a Lovecraftian story but a King in Yellow story about a choreographer in Venice hired to work on a production centered on a book. But the book is a forbidden book stolen from a local museum, and the Inquisition has shown up in town very keen to get the book back.

While the preceding stories are alright, they are not particularly memorable, but the anthology kicks things up a notch starting with K. T. Katzman’s “Unkosher Meals”. Rabbi Wynberg is being shaken down by a local group of ghouls. Either support the opening of a new Jewish cemetery in Munich – which will provide meals for the ghouls – or the ghouls will just start taking living Jews. The Rabbi comes up with a solution, but his faith will suffer. For me, this was one of the highlights of the book.

Lord Byron is at the center of “A Roving in England, No More” from Brett J. Talley. We learn something of the real reason he’s not returning to England, why his father was known as “Mad Jack”, and about a family curse going back to the days of Queen Elizabeth.

Another of my favorites was G. K. Lomax’s “George and the Dragon”. Captain George Methuen looks back 30 years to the dismal May of 1816 and bread riots in the town of Ely, Cambridgeshire. But the local Chief Magistrate Edward Christian (brother of the famous mutineer Fletcher) tells him there’s more going on. A local apocalyptic cult is stirring things up in nearby Littleport. The rhetoric of its leader, Old Sindall — rumored to be more than a 100 years old, may sound like something out of the Book of Revelations, but he’s talking about a different Beast entirely.

S. Dooks’ “Sacrament” takes us to Manitoba, Canada in the wake of the Battle of Seven Oaks, part of an actual war between two competing fur companies: the Hudson Bay Company and the North West Company. Metis Cuthbert Grant and his men come across an abandoned Hudson Bay settlement. Well, abandoned by everyone except its ex-governor Semple MacDonnell. He’s raving about some menace to Grant’s company and has covered himself with sigils. He also has a copy of von Junzt’s Unaussprechlichen Kulten, but that book isn’t going to do much good for Grant’s men. Grant himself will survive but at a horrible price. Given the hint of much more in Grant’s future, I would certainly be interested if Dooks decides to expand on Grant’s story.

Jean-Sébastian Fanchard is a devoted Republican fleeing France after the Bourbon restoration, but it’s a different “Restoration” he’ll encounter in this tale from C. Miller. His journal, found washed up on the coasts of Senegal, tells of his encounter with the Esoteric Order of Dagon and the real events behind the famous painting The Raft of the Medusa.

It’s August 1816 on the very remote mid-Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha in M. J. Sellars’ “The Empty Thing”, and British soldier Hastings finds himself there with a ragtag group of soldiers. Supposedly, they are there to foil a French plot using the island as a staging area to rescue Napoleon from St. Helena. But that island is 1,200 miles away. And why is the expedition under the command of a clergyman? Why does the place feel so wrong and the dreams are so disturbing there? I’m not sure if it’s a Mythos story, but I’m usually up for some fungal horror, and it’s an effective tale.

Jonathan Oliver’s “Turner’s Apprentice” gives us another famous person, painter Joseph William Turner. His new apprentice is one Alexander Pickman. The story is told through letters from Turner, his father Bill, an art critic, and Pickman himself who is writing to a “Dear Fellow Traveler”. Turner finds Pickman a good apprentice and manager of the studio even if Pickman’s own work is ghastly in its subject if not skill. But Pickman has ideas about turning Turner into his own acolyte. Things are set right from an unexpected quarter, and I appreciated the intimations of Pickman’s eventual fate.

I’m not really sure if Dickon Springate’s “Dreams of Tierra Caliente” is a Mythos tale though you could argue it is thematically tied to Lovecraft’s and Zealia Bishop’s Yig stories. In any case, it certainly is unusual in its setting and use of early 19th century Mexican politics. Mexico’s second president, Vincente Ramon Guerrero, is languishing in jail and remembers the worse month of his life, October 1816. It was then he came across an unfamiliar legend about the founding of Tenochtilan and how it was first ruled by Mayan Snake Kings. And, it turns out, he is descended from them.

The “Journal of Able Seaman Garrick” from K. C. Danniel relates the strange downfall of a sailor named Wilson. Maybe he shouldn’t have stolen letters intended for Reverend Latrobe, a passenger on the ship and returning from Africa. They are from the Reverend’s African flock. It seems the Yith have a settlement in the area and are making their presence known. And it also seems like some giant sea creature is stalking the Zebra.

C. P. Dunphey’s “Esoteric Tides” is an effectively creepy story of a British merchant ship grounded on a trip back from Java where it took on board the crazed Ambrose who was affiliated with a “Polynesian cult”. Ambrose claims, before he dies, that a creature lurks below, and asks that his body be lowered on an anchor to it. Captain Read, hoping to prove nothing lurks below, honors the request. But, it turns out, Ambrose maybe wasn’t crazy, and mutiny, murder, and the possession of almost the entire crew follow. 

This book is still available for sale from the usual suspects, and, if you like Cthulhu Mythos anthologies, this one is worth picking up for its unique concept and some good, memorable stories.

2 thoughts on “1816: The Year Without Summer

  1. Carl Rosenberg March 12, 2023 / 7:25 pm

    Many thanks for this feature! This anthology looks great. I believe Mary Shelley’s sojourn in Geneva which led her to write Frankenstein took place just before the summer that wasn’t a summer. Knowing this adds to the aura of the book itself.

    • marzaat March 12, 2023 / 8:39 pm

      Only Mary and John Polidori followed through on the commitment of that famous night and produced works of fiction. Byron and Shelley didn’t though I seem to recall Shelley wrote some work piece of poetry that was sort of in line with the group challenge.

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