Eldritch Prisoners

Well, Twitter has its uses. It was the first place I heard about this book which just missed showing up for my birthday. Given that it has a David Hambling story, I bought it immediately.

Normally, a story by him would get its own post, but this is a Cthulhu Mythos anthology from Crossroad Press, and they’ve become increasingly elaborate affairs whose independent stories – often parts of authors’ series – also form part of complicated suites and mosaics. Like Time Loopers, this one doesn’t even have a listed editor which leads me to believe it was entirely executed by its authors. In fact, I suspect it was conceived around the same time.

Review: Eldritch Prisoners, 2023.

Cover by Leigh Whurr

One character in this book says, “Questions are a burden, answers are a prison”.

After finishing it, making notes, skimming parts of it again, I still feel somewhat burdened and not totally imprisoned.

Whether it’s my deficiencies as a reader or because it’s a deliberately and resolutely mysterious work, I’m not sure I completely understood what happened.

However, I can unreservedly recommend three of its four stories.

Having always meant to return to David Conyers’ Harrison Peel series after reading “The Eye of Infinity”, I was pleased to see Peel show up in Conyers’ “Broken Singularity”. It’s the oddity here, broken up into four parts, starting and ending the book and in between the stories, and often casting some dim light on their events.

Peel awakens naked from a pod to join three other people. There’s a drill-instructor like voice yelling them to get into their spacesuits and get working or the oxygen privileges will end. The work is to explore an airless planetoid and bring back information. None of the four can remember how they got there. Peel may be the primitive one here since the rest are posthumans, but his military training kicks in, and he takes command while the rest dawdle. Not that the party lasts long after seeing the oddity of a Humvee on the surface. Approaching it, it morphs, launches weapons, and reduces two of the party to cubes of their constituent chemical components.

Debriefed on the mission, he meets a woman who seems familiar. Well, part of her: a disembodied head and arm. She hints that maybe he should check out the connections on the pod he emerged from.

Continue reading

“The Eye of Infinity”

Since it’s relevant to an upcoming review, here’s a retro review of mine that originally appeared on the Innsmouth Free Press website on December 1, 2011. Conyers has been busying putting out collections of his Harrison Peel stories on Kindle, so this one is, or soon will be, easily available.

By Randy Stafford

Conyers, David. The Eye of Infinity. Perilous Press (2011). 84 pp. USD $12.00. ISBN 978-0-9704000-4-8.

As Cody Goodfellow suggests in his introduction to this novella, the modern writer of Lovecraftian horror isn’t content to populate his stories with wimpy students of folklore and mathematics, hapless college professors and genealogists. The new version of the Lovecraftian hero is as comfortable wielding a Glock as reading a grimoire. Some versions are even government employees and battling cosmic horrors is in their position descriptions. They don’t wade through erudite analyses of occult tomes and abstruse dimension-rupturing mathematics. They’ve got people and supercomputers for that. Thus, we have the Lovecraftian espionage tale as most famously practiced in Charles Stross’ Laundry series. Goodfellow doesn’t see this as some sort of post-modern genre mashup but merely continuing the Weird Tales tradition of “blending genres to wring unique new surprises out of familiar pulp tropes”.

I have to admit, though, I haven’t read enough of any author’s “tradecraft meets Lovecraft” stories (to borrow Tim Powers’ description of his novel Declare) to fairly compare them with Conyers’ work in that area. I haven’t even read the prequel to this story, The Spiraling Worm co-authored by John Sunseri with Conyers.

That book introduced Harrison Peel, an Australian soldier on loan to America’s National Security Agency. In that book, Peel traveled the universe via an alien wormhole system; encountered shoggoths; partnered up with fellow spy Jack Dixon, an ex-Illinois cop; and fell in love with Nicola Mulvany during some nasty events in Nevada.

This story starts with the hideous looking corpse of a radio astronomer in New Mexico, a dead man who now has too many eyes and too many mouths. Dixon and Peel quickly discover a trail that leads to a secret U.S. government project, INFINITE EYE. It uses the wormhole network of the Pentapods, aliens that built a city in the Antarctic millions of years ago, Conyers’ obvious updating of Lovecraft’s Old Ones from At the Mountains of Madness. With a six trillion dollar budget, it’s obviously something important, so Peel goes on a jaunt, guided by an ex-mountaineer and NASA employee, across several worlds and light years to see what lies at the end of this covert network.

Conyers’ story works as a spy thriller – with Peel and even his NSA superiors locked out of the secrets of INFINITE EYE and somebody suborning or murdering members of the project – and as Lovecraftian horror justified by quantum physics and sudden, violent assaults on Peel and others. Indeed, it becomes clear INFINITE EYE may threaten humanity.

Peel isn’t a supersoldier physically or emotionally, and I liked that. He’s beginning to feel the erosion of his psyche from all the horrors he’s seen, and Nicola has given him an ultimatum: either quit after his next mission, marry her and start a family or let her join him and use her training as an ex-counter intelligence agent with the FBI.

There were some problems, though. Yes, Agent Peel, modern ammunition will, in fact, fire in a vacuum. The gunpowder has its own oxidizers. That technical error took me out of the story and wasn’t even justified as being crucial to Conyers’ plot. The dialogue between Peel and Nicola was sometimes flat and sounded like bald character exposition mixed with some training script for police crisis counselors. Conyers’ avoids falling into some logic potholes only by sheer speed of narration.

Still, though, I liked the story enough that I’m going to pick up The Spiraling Worm and will follow Peel’s future adventures.

And, lest you think $12 is a mite steep for a novella, this one comes with some nice black and white drawings by Nickolas Gucker. His work nicely illustrates dramatic points of the story – whether they’re alien landscapes or sudden and gruesome deaths.

Cthulhu’s Dark Cults

I’m not much for gaming related fiction (though I have liked several of Fantasy Flight Games Arkham Horror novels), and this is the only such title I’ve reviewed.

A retro review from June 23, 2012 …

Review: Cthulhu’s Dark Cults, ed. David Conyers, 2010.Cthulhu's Dark Cults

The flavor of most of these stories is that of a pulp adventure story, with occult overtones, rather than horror. But that’s ok. The 1920s and 1930s, the setting of all these stories, was a grand time for those kind of stories. There were plenty of unexplored corners of the world. Transportation virtually anywhere was available – but not easy or common. Communication meant finding a local radio station, telegraph office, or pay phone – not whipping out your cell phone. There was the political and human wreckage of one world war with sides being drawn up for another.

Rich enough by itself but throw in some sinister cults, extraterrestrial “gods”, blasphemous books, and strange sorcery, and you’ve got the potential for some good stories. And that potential is realized with most of the stories here even if, as I said, not all are really horror stories.

Conyers has even arranged some crossover unity in the stories which, while all standalones, sometimes reference characters and events of other stories in the collection. Continue reading

Hardboiled Cthulhu

A retro review from March 10, 2009.

Review: Hardboiled Cthulhu: Two-Fisted Tales of Tentacled Terror, ed. James Ambuehl, 2006.Hardboiled Cthulhu

Down and out PIs, double-crossing dames, and wiseguys mix surprisingly well with the Cthulhu Mythos.

Some of those wiseguys are “Eldritch-Fellas“. Tim Curran’s tale of that name mixes said fellas trying to avoid an indictment by the Elder Gods with several hat tips to famous scenes from modern gangster movies and tv shows. Cthulhu, here, is, in the words of his bosses, “getting out of hand”. Funny, something of a tour de force, and one of the best stories in the book. The mob hitman narrating William Jones’ “A Change of Life” happens to be temporarily possessed by a member of the Great Race of Yith. The unusual perspective of the story, and the reason he involves himself with a singer fleeing Dutch Schulz, make this another highlight.

The mob enforcer of David Witteveen’s “Ache” has unexpected sympathy for his quarry, a youngster studying the Yellow Book and on the run for stealing mob money. E. P. Berglund’s “A Dangerous High” puts an ex-military policeman on the trail of a gang dealing in Tind’losi Liao, the drug from Frank Belknap Long’s classic mythos story “The Hounds of Tindalos”. Continue reading

Eldritch Chrome

My review is up at Innsmouth Free Press.Eldritch Chrome

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.