Cthulhu’s Reign

Retro Review (2012): Cthulhu’s Reign, ed. Darrell Schweitzer, 2010.

This anthology’s theme is grim and simple. As predicted — and prevented in many of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos stories, Cthulhu and the Old Ones once again dominate Earth.

Rape, transformation, and religion are themes that show up in several stories.

On a metaphorical level, a sort of intellectual rape – the forcible introduction of unwelcome, devastating knowledge into the mind – occurs in many a Mythos story. But, in two stories, Cthulhu commits a literal rape. A group of survivors find themselves trapped and experimentally winnowed down in an Italian necropolis after Cthulhu’s return in Ian Watson’s chilling, first person narrated “The Walker in the Cemetery“. In John R. Fultz’s “This Is How the World Ends“, an Iraqi War veteran finds himself holed up in a mine as a horrible transformation is wrecked on the world outside.

Not exactly rape, but a gathering of horrible knowledge anyway, is the theme in Brian Stableford’s “The Holocaust of Ecstasy“. In this story, full of imagery that owes more to Clark Ashton Smith than Lovecraft, a biology professor from Miskatonic University, finds himself reincarnated into an alien ecosystem. Of course, Cthulhu’s return is a time of transformation, and many stories take up that theme. In Jay Lake’s “Such Bright and Risen Madness“, a resistance movement secretly meets on a blighted, chilling Earth to hear of a new weapon which may free them from their masters, the Old Ones. Slowly transforming from “Innsmouth Syndrome”, the narrator feels the almost forgotten stirrings of sexual desire when he meets the plan’s architect. But he also encounters a figure from his past in a brilliant tale of despair and resolve. The hero of Mike Allen’s “Her Acres of Pastoral Playground” inhabits a zone relatively safe from the Cthulhian horrors outside, but cosmic chaos still intrudes in unwelcome changes to his wife’s body.

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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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Poe: 19 New Tales of Terror Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe

The Poe celebration continues with a retro review from March 13, 2009.

Review: Poe: 19 New Tales of Terror Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Ellen Datlow,  2009.Poe

So what does a Poe fan get in this anthology of dark fantasy, suspense, and horror?

“Inspired by” covers a lot of ground here. Sometimes the Poe reference is so dilute, an allusion to a Poe character or story or setting or even a color that it is only the author’s afterword that makes the connection clear. Sometimes Poe just triggers an associational nostalgia in the author, and the story has more to do with the author’s youth than Poe. Sometimes the stories are a not very thinly veiled retelling of Poe stories. Sometimes the author grapples directly with the meaning or implications of Poe themes and images. Sometimes, despite the stated editorial prohibition against it, Poe shows up as a character.

The first story, Kim Newman’s “Illimitable Domain“, sort of stands apart from everything else in the book. Newman’s knowledge of films and love of Poe gives us sort of a funny and, in the end, horrific alternate history in which those Roger Corman adaptations of Poe are just the beginning of Poe’s encroachment into modern popular culture. This isn’t the first time Newman has used Poe in his fiction, but those other examples have been Poe as a character. Here Poe the writer ultimately scripts reality itself. Continue reading