Searchers after Horror

It’s not often that I personally get sold a book, but that’s what happened with this one. I was in Dreamhaven Books contemplating whether I should buy this shrink wrapped title or not because it had a Brian Stableford story in it. Dwayne H. Olson, shareholder in its publisher Fedogan & Bremer (and supplier of the Hannes Bok story in the anthology) talked me into it.

Low Res Scan: Searchers after Horror: New Tales of the Weird and Fantastic, ed. S. T. Joshi, 2014.

Cover by Richard Corben

After finishing this book, I contemplated writing an essay on just the bad stories in it. But, after actually making notes on the stories, I realized there actually weren’t that many bad ones. But I’ll be getting to them later and the matter of unsatisfying endings in weird fiction.

I’ve already reviewed “Et in Arcadia Ego” by Brian Stableford and “Exit Through the Gift Shop” from Nick Mamatas. I don’t think my original interpretation of the latter is correct, but it’s not a story I’m spending more time on.

First story in the book is Melanie Tem’s “Iced In”. I’ve known, professionally and personally, women like the one in this story. Poor, a hoarder, chronically and dangerously indecisive, she finds herself trapped in her house after an ice storm. Told with empathy and memorable, it’s well done.

In the town I’ve recently moved to, a frequent question is “Do you ice fish?”, so I have a fondness for Donald Tyson’s “Ice Fishing”. In it, two Camp Breton Island ice fishermen, Gump and Mickey D, going out fishing one night. There is idle talk about the disappearance of an acquaintance a couple of weeks back and puzzlement why the local Indians aren’t fishing as usual. Tyson continues to impress me with his versatility, and this one has some humor too.

While it’s not a Cassie Barrett story, I was pleased to Ann K. Schwader’s “Dark Equinox”. It’s another tale of archaeological horror, here once removed because we’re dealing with strange photomontages of archaeological artifacts. Why did the photographer lock herself up in her studio one night and torch everything? And, more importantly, why do the photos seem to change over time?

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Black Wings of Cthulhu 6

Low Res Scan: Black Wings of Cthulhu 6: Twenty-One New Tales of Loveraftian Horror, ed. S. T. Joshi, 2017, 2018

Cover by Gregory Nemec

It was perhaps for the best that this is the last of this series.

My initial negative opinions were mitigated after going back through the stories and making notes. Its weakness isn’t from one thing but a combination of “woke”, predictable, or non-weird stories.

No sorting by theme or literary aesthetic this time. I’m just going to sift the literary wheat from the chaff.

Darrell Schweitzer’s “The Girl in the Attic” was an unexpected disappointment. It’s a sequel to his earlier “The Red Witch of Chorazin” and part of a larger series centering around the very weird town of Chorazin, Pennsylvania. I wasn’t all that enthused by most of the earlier series’ installments. This one seems to involve a time loop involving the Red Witch.

The egregious designation goes to Lynne Jamneck’s “Oude Goden”, It’s a first person tale of a young lesbian in the Washington of the 1920s, and we hit all the expected cliches: violence against homosexuals, references to the Ku Klux Klan, a nonhuman entity being “intersex”, and, worst of all, the ending in which the narrator proclaims she can understand how the homosexuals of the area may have thought the world would be better under the Old Ones.

I know Joshi was very fond of the recently deceased William F. Nolan (whom I met once), but I’ve had mixed experiences to what little of his I’ve read. “Carnivorous” is well done but doesn’t go anywhere you don’t expect. A married couple takes a job tending the plants of an absent woman.  It comes with various bizarre instructions like singing to them on a schedule. There is an admonition to never go into a greenhouse. But the woman doesn’t return, supplies run low, and the husband goes in. I like sinister plant stories, but there’s nothing special here.

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Twisted in Dream

Since I mentioned Ann K. Schwader’s poetry in the last post, I thought I’d post this Retro Review that first appeared on the Innsmouth Free Press site in 2012.

Schwader, Ann K. Twisted in Dream: The Collected Weird Poetry of Ann K. Schwader. Hippocampus Press, 2011. USD $15.00. ISBN 978-1-61498-004-9.

Yes, I’m talking about poetry. Don’t roll your eyes and click on the next page.

This isn’t that kind of poetry, no odd-looking bits of text that seem to be mumbling something behind a screen of obscure language and esoteric allusions. I assure you this isn’t like that stuff your old English teacher made you read. There may be sonnets here, but it isn’t Shakespeare. The closest you’re going to get to that is “Ophelia’s Moon” and, when Schwader does Hamlet, Dad’s shade isn’t the Prince’s only ghost problem.

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Black Wings of Cthulhu 4

After about a year, I decided to finally finish reading S. T. Joshi’s Black Wings of Cthulhu anthology series. Partly, that’s to read some David Hambling tales in later volumes, and partly to finally finish at least one of my reading projects.

Review: Black Wings of Cthulhu 4, S. T. Joshi, 2015, 2016.

Cover by Gregory Nemec

In his “Introduction” to the book, Joshi notes how several stories here rely on a sense of place. He also mentions the anthology’s one poem, Charles Lovecraft’s “Fear Lurks Atop Tempest Mount”, a retelling of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Lurking Fear”.

In Lovecraft, of course, terrors often come from the past, an idea he inherited from the gothic. Indeed, merely calling something “ancient” in Lovecraft is often used to evoke horror. For me, some of the most memorable tales here are archaeologically themed, an element in Lovecraft’s own The Shadow Out of Time.

Ann K. Schwader’s “Night of the Piper” is my first exposure to her Cassie Barret series. She’s a former anthropology student who now works on a Wyoming ranch, packs a revolver, and has two Rottweiler dogs for companions. Ranch foreman Frank, perhaps because his grandfather was a Crow “man of power”, appreciates the thinness between dreams and reality. Shortly after a flyer shows up in the mail advertising “THE PIPER WITH A PURPOSE”, a local branch of a non-profit advertising and its “Authentic Ancient Designs for a Stronger Community”, they both begin having strange dreams involving coyotes. And the Kokopelli on the flyer seems reminiscent of a sinister version Cassie has seen before. Soon, reluctantly, she gets out the journal of a vanished archaeologist who thinks that particular Kokopelli derives from a far more ancient culture.

Schwader cleverly splices the Cthulhu Mythos into the prehistory of the American Southwest. But, for me, the descriptions of Wyoming and rural poverty evoked things I’ve seen myself, and that made the story richer. Justly renowned as a poet, Schwader proves she’s also a talented fiction writer.

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Dreams of Fear

Once upon a time I wouldn’t have bothered reviewing a book of poetry.

If it’s well-done poetry with elegant and compressed language, the reviewer will either leach the power of the language out by wordy restatements of actual verse or devolve into a technical discussion of interest to poets, maybe, but not necessarily poetry readers.

But I’ve violated that principle already.

Review: Dreams of Fear: Poetry of Terror and the Supernatural, eds. S. T. Joshi and Steven J. Mariconda, 2013.Dreams of Fear

First off, some of these poems are about the subject of horror and not horrifying or terrifying

Second, some are little more than memento mori. Well done memento mori but not necessarily terrifying or involving the supernatural.

Third, all the languages represented are, understandably but unfortunately, European. Specifically, Greek, Latin, French, German, and English.

Arranged chronologically by date of the poet’s birth, the collection goes back all the way back in the Western literary tradition to Homer, and we get expected excerpts from Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hamlet, Dante’s Inferno, and one of the classic bits of supernatural verse – Satan in Hell from Milton’s Paradise Lost.

As you would expect, supernatural verse really took off with the Gothic and Romantic Movements with their love of the frission of terror and the sublime and weird ballads. Continue reading

Future Lovecraft

Future_LovecraftFuture Lovecraft 2

This is not a recycled Amazon review because, to be honest, I sort of had ethical calms about posting it there. Why? Because I was, in a minor way, a contributor to the book. (It was my first contribution, in fact, to Innsmouth Free Press.)

However, the publisher understandably wanted the collection promoted by its contributors, so I compromised and wrote this up for LibraryThing and posted it on January 20, 2012.

By the way, there’s no way Paula and Silvia would let me get away with paragraphs this long for anything accepted by them.

Review: Future Lovecraft, eds. Silvia Moreno-Gracia & Paula R. Stiles, 2012.

From France, South Africa, Nigeria, the Philippines, Mexico, Canada, and the United States, the editors have gathered 38 reasons to “fear the future”, an assemblage of poems and stories with few duds.

Before I slice and dice and categorize the works, full disclosure requires that I note I’m one of the contributors.

While the editors’ definition of Lovecraftian fiction doesn’t always match mine, there’s plenty here that unquestionably slithers into that category. A list of the liveliest follows. Yes, Nick Mamatas’ “Inky, Blinky, Pinky Nyarlathotep” combines Pac-Man, transhumans, and primo cosmic horror. Don Webb’s “A Comet Called Ithaqua” (one of four reprints in this anthology) puts ghouls in space with, as the title hints, echoes of Algernon Blackwood and August Derleth. Lovecraftian fiction is, of course, famous for its tomes of esoteric blasphemy, but Helen Marshall’s “Skin” looks at a different set of disturbing literature. I knew from an opening quote from Francis Thompson’s militant poem “The Hound of Heaven”, I was going to like Julio Toro San Martin “Iron Footfalls” which mixes the Hounds of Tindalos with killer robots. “Tloque Nahuaque” from Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas makes a connection between Aztec gods and Lovecraft’s. The prose-poem that is A. C. Wise’s “Venice Burning” hides some illogic and vagueness, but I’m giving it a pass for its apocalyptic images of Venice and a rising R’lyeh. Anthony Boulanger “A Day and Night in Providence” is sort of a wry commentary on fantasy literature and the opposition between the poles of Saint Tolkein and the heretical church of Lovecraft, Smith, and Howard. And, speaking of Clark Ashton Smith, Leigh Kimmel’s “The Damnable Asteroid”, with its tale of asteroid miners being menaced in space, reminded me of some of Smith’s pulp science fiction. And the Mars setting of Meddy Ligner’s “Trajectory of a Cursed Spirit”, a gulag for a revived Russian communist state, also reminded me a bit of Smith’s Martian horror stories, but I also liked its mixture of Lovecraftian horror and unpleasantly real horrors from Russian history. Smith is evoked most explicitly in Jesse Bullington’s “The Door from Earth”, sort of a wry, action-packed sequel to Smith’s “The Door to Saturn”. I loved the title of Tucker Cummings’ “Concerning the Last Days of the Colony at New Roanoke” and the story, an academic examination of 17 objects found in the lost colony, didn’t disappoint. I have a weakness for this sort of pseudo-documentary puzzle piece. Orrin Grey’s “The Labyrinth of Sleep” is not only a sure-footed, compelling riff on Lovecraft’s Randolph Carter stories, but an excellent variation on all those science fiction stories which feature dreamnauts and their sleuthing and symbolic combat in the symbolic land of dreams. “Go, Go, Go, Said the Byakhee” from Molly Tanzer is effective far future horror of cannibalism, mutants, and a lake god in Cappadocia. Continue reading

Innsmouth Free Press

Two reasons for this post.

First is to list my work for Innsmouth Free Press. It’s not all reviews of Cthulhu Mythos related material or even all fiction.

Second, apart from sheer egomania and to create a reference list of my work there, to get you to check out the great material already available there now and in the future. And by great material, I’m talking about everybody there.

I’ve  already ordered my copy of their forthcoming anthology Sword and Mythos.

And I will definitely be ordering The Nickronomicon, a collection of Mythos stories from Nick Mamatas. He already has given us “That of Which We Speak When We Speak of the Unspeakable” from the Ellen Datlow anthology Lovecraft Unbound, “Inky, Blinky, Pinky, Nyarlathotep” from Innsmouth Free Press’ own Future Lovecraft, and “Wuji” from Robin D. Laws’ anthology Shotguns v. Cthulhu. He’s a mad scientist, a literary gene splicer whose hybrids are far more vigorous than they should be.

And you can still get issues of Innsmouth Magazine there.

Review of Menial: Skilled Labor in Science Fiction, eds. Kelly Jennings and Shay Darrach.

Review of “The Hospital” and Safari (Mountain Man 2), Keith C. Blackmore.

Review of Black Wings II: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror, ed. S. T. Joshi.

Review of Twisted in Dream: The Collected Weird Poetry of Ann K. Schwader.

Article on CBS Radio Mystery Theater.

Review of Armored, ed. John Joseph Adams.

Review of Letters to James F. Morton, H. P. Lovecraft and edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi.

Review of Mountain Man, Keith C. Blackmore.

Review of Whispers in Darkness: Lovecraftian Erotica, ed. J. Blackmore.

Review of King Death, Paul Finch.

Review of The Eye of Infinity, David Conyers.

Review of Technicolor Ultra Mall, Ryan Oakley.

Review of The Wolverton Bible, ed. Monte Wolverton.

Review of Apparitions: Ghosts of Old Edo, Miyuke Miyabe.

Review of Shotguns v. Cthulhu: Double-Barrelled Action in the Horrific World of H.P. Lovecraft, ed. Robin D. Laws.

Review of The Weird Western Adventures of Haakon Jones, Aaron B. Larson.

Review of Hellifax (Mountain Man 3), Keith C. Blackmore.

Review of Cthulhu Cymraeg: Lovecraftian Tales From Wales, ed. Mark Howard Jones.

Review of Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth, ed. Stephen Jones.