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.

Continue reading

Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Vol.2

This one got read as something of a fool’s errand to see if I could learn anything about Kathe Koja’s ideas about what constituted “weird fiction”.

Well, “the weird” means different things to different people. That’s the whole idea behind getting a guest editor for each volume of this series, now in its third installment.

Is it the best weird fiction of the year? How would I know? And if I did, there really wouldn’t be much point in me reading this.

Series editor Michael Kelly read about 2,800 stories and passed the best to Koja for the final decision on whether or not to include them.

Koja’s ideas of weird fiction and mine don’t match much. On the other hand, I have no idea what she had to work with for 2014.

Still, the book had enough good stories in it for me to recommend, and I will read other volumes in the series.

However, I read it almost four months ago, and I’m only covering the stories that stuck in my mind, weird or not. That’s why this is a . . .

Low Res Scan: Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Volume 2, eds. Kathe Koja and Michael Kelly, 2015.years-best-weird-2

For me, the only weird story in the book was its oldest: Jean Muno’s “The Ghoul”. First published in 1979, it got its first English translation, from Edward Gauvin, in 2014. Beautiful in imagery, it has a man walking a foggy beach. He encounters a woman in a submerged wheelchair. The mixing of time, a jump back to 20 years earlier in the man’s life, and language that may be realistic, may be metaphorical, was beautiful and memorable.

Nathan Ballingrud’s “The Atlas of Hell” is an occult take on a hard-bitten crime story. Narrator Jack runs a bookstore in New Orleans (with the really good and profitable stuff in back). Jack’s old employer, crime boss Eugene, coerces him into another job. Jack’s to take a thug with him and find Tobias who has not only ripped off some gambling proceeds but somehow gotten, from Hell no less, the thighbone of Eugene’s dead son. It’s off to the bayou and some weird stuff, and that atlas turns out to be something unexpected.

Siobhan Caroll’s “Wendigo Nights” has a setup similar to John Carpenter’s The Thing: a canister (from the doomed Franklin Expedition, no less – Caroll has done academic work on polar exploration) is retrieved from the thawing tundra. Mayhem ensues involving the wendigo – monster or really bad cabin fever that turns men into cannibal killers depending on whether you go with folklore or psychology. Continue reading

Lovecraft Unbound

I’m off polishing up work for other outlets, so you get this retro review from April 26, 2010.

Out of curiosity I added up how many anthologies Ellen Datlow has done since her career started in 1981. It’s eighty-nine by my rough count. A fair number are famous titles — at least as far as anthology titles go.

Review: Lovecraft Unbound, ed. Ellen Datlow, 2009.Lovecraft Unbound

Unlike Datlow’s earlier tribute anthology, Poe: 19 New Tales Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, where many of the stories, removed from authors’ notes and the context of the book, didn’t seem to have much to do with Edgar Poe, almost all these stories have an obvious Lovecraft connection. It usually isn’t a listing of the blasphemous tomes and extraterrestrial entities created by the master. Datlow wisely avoided that, for the most part, along with Lovecraft pastiches.

It isn’t an entirely new anthology. Four of the stories are reprints. But virtually all the stories are enjoyable and work as either modern examples of cosmic horror, horrific nihilism, or interesting takeoffs on Lovecraftian themes and premises.

The one exception is one of those reprints and, surprisingly, from the biggest name here. Possessing no discernable Lovecraftian theme, image, or plot element, Joyce Carol Oates “Commencement” also fails even in its internal logic. The plot concerns the allegorical cast of the Poet, the Educator, the Scientist, and the Dean and a fate they really should have seen coming at a future graduation ceremony. 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.