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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How Often Do the Black Wings Beat?

Essay: How Often Do the Black Wings Beat?

Cover by Gregory Nemec

There is a H. P. Lovecraft quote at the beginning of some volumes in S. T. Joshi’s anthology series Black Wings of Cthulhu:

The one test of the really weird is simply this – whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of the dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers, a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim.

So, rather than doing the usual sort of review I’ve done for this series – clumping the stories by themes and motifs or noting which ones are Lovecraftian in allusion or just tone or idea, I’m going to look at how many of the stories in Black Wings of Cthulhu 5: Twenty New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror pass Lovecraft’s test.

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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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Black Wings of Cthulhu 3

I’m not really sure why, back in February, I decided to read the rest of the Black Wings anthology series but started with the third installment. I suspect it was because it was one of the volumes had a Brian Stableford story in it.

Review: Black Wings of Cthulhu 3, ed. S. T. Joshi, 2014, 2015.

Cover by Jason Van Hollander

In his short “Introduction”, S. T. Joshi again reminds us that the point of his anthology series is not to present Lovecraft pastiches that just mention the gods, places, and books of the Cthulhu Mythos. It’s to explore human insignificance in a cosmos unbounded in time and space; wonder and terror in obscure locales “lashed with age”; horrors from outside infesting our mind, body, and spirit; and parallel worlds just out of sight.

He meets his goal pretty well, but, while not pastiches, a lot of these tales are retellings or follow ups to Lovecraft stories. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what a reader wants from a book with this title. There’s not a really bad story in the bunch, but a couple are slight.

As far as horrors outside the body, a minor theme running through this collection is horror inside the body. A lot of characters in these stories are cancer ridden.

Donald R. Burleson’s “Dimply Dolly Doofey” certainly almost entirely eschews Lovecraft references though it’s kind of a version of Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror”. Rather than some backwoods sorcerer, we get a very unsympathetic 17-year old methhead and her baby. It’s not a normal baby either. But you kind of expect that when the child’s paternal grandfather preaches the virtues of chemicals to prepare the blood of his son so his mate can bear a child who will open the way for the Old Ones’ return. Methhead Cindy decides she’s not really into this kind of things so swaps her inhuman child for a doll at a store. And an unfortunate family purchases it there.

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Black Wings II

Since I shortly plan to review other books in this series, I thought I’d post this review which first appeared on the Innsmouth Free Press website on August 29, 2012.

Review: Black Wings II: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror, ed. S. T. Joshi, 2011.

The triumph of Howard Phillips Lovecraft was complete when his name became an adjective, a literary compass heading for travel into zones of weirdness and horror. But it’s something of a deviant compass pointing in several directions.

Right up front, editor Joshi announces one territory we won’t be heading towards in this book: the land of the slavish Lovecraft pastiche, as thoroughly explored by Brian Lumley and August Derleth. Joshi and his authors point the reader to two other literary countries: the dark and fertile lands where Lovecraft’s blasphemous books and deities are not always present, but his “core themes and imagery” are, and the modern world haunted by the shade of the Gentleman from Providence.

The marches between those two areas are covered in the anthology’s first story, “When Death Wakes Me to Myself” by John Shirley. In this “nautilus shell recession of narrative,” a contemporary Providence psychiatrist encounters a young amnesiac whose new memories seem to be those of Lovecraft himself. Partly an affectionate look at Lovecraft and the paths his life never took, and partly cosmic menace – with unspoken love and cats and Poe thrown in, it’s humorous, paranoid, and unique.

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The Gods of H. P. Lovecraft

Review: The Gods of H. P. Lovecraft, ed. Aaron J. French, 2015.The Gods of HP Lovecraft

There are a lot of different tones and registers you can chose when picking the voices for a collection of Cthulhu Mythos stories.

But, if you’re going to pull off the promise inherent in the title The Gods of H. P. Lovecraft, that tone better be one of mystery, awe, reverence, and a de-privileging of human values and concerns.

Largely it does.

First off, it has 12 nice black and white illustrations, one for each god, done by Paul Carrick, Steve Santiago, and John Coulthart, so you might want to pick up the print edition rather than e-book. Even more singular are Donald Tyson’s pieces on each god. Together, they read like a primer you’d find in the pocket of a new acolyte in one of those dark cults of Lovecraft.

The stories …

Well, the stories mostly work in providing the promised tone and affect.

There are a couple that go astray because they are entries in series that shoehorned Lovecraft into their plots.

One is Martha Wells’ “The Dark Gates” which has Yog-Sothoth showing up in a story of detection in her Ile-Rein series. The other is from Jonathan Maberry. “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, a Sam Hunter story. He’s a vulgar, tough talking, werewolf private eye turned lose in an overstuffed narrative with an Etruscan god, the Thule Society (beloved by occult-minded Nazis), and Lovecraft’s nightgaunts. There’s a whole lot more comedic mashup than mystery, real danger, or grandeur, dark or otherwise.

There’s a couple of other stories with odd tones that still carry off the title premise. Continue reading