Nightscapes -- Where the dark of night meets the reality of day


THE CTHULHU MYTHOS, by August Derleth

THE INNSMOUTH CYCLE, edited by Robert M. Price

MISKATONIC UNIVERSITY, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Robert Weinberg

ENCYCLOPEDIA CTHULHIANA, by Daniel Harms (2nd ed)



THE CTHULHU MYTHOS, by August Derleth. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1997. 448 pp. $9.98. ISBN 0-7607-0253-5. (Note: Mr. Kaye paid $7.98 for his copy. -- Ed.)

[Reviewed by Steven Kaye]
This was originally posted in the alt.horror.cthulhu newsgroup.

The stories included in this volume are all the "noncollaborative" tales -- those looking for "Lair of the Star-Spawn," "Lurker on the Threshold," etc. should look elsewhere.

The first section, titled THE DERLETH MYTHOS, includes "The Dweller in Darkness," "Beyond the Threshold," "The Thing That Walked on the Wind," "Ithaqua," "The Passing of Eric Holm," and "Something From Out There."

"Dweller" explicitly mentions the elemental theory (each of the Old Ones being associated with a certain element -- Cthulhu with water, Hastur with air, etc.). I'm not sure if this is the first instance -- Derleth scholars care to comment? Two friends go to Rick's Lake to investigate the disappearance of their friend, and come upon Things Man Was Not Meant to Know.

Derleth sprinkles the story liberally with pastiches of Lovecraft (compare the opening sentence with that of "The Dunwich Horror"). There is also a near-quote from Supernatural Horror in Literature and a transcript reminiscent of "The Whisperer in Darkness." Jack is written as a bit of a dunce, in order for Laird Dorgan to deliver the exposition. There is also the signature "let's explain the events of the story in the final paragraph in excruciating detail, all in italics, just in case the reader wasn't paying attention." The plot of the story is compelling, if derivative of "Whisperer," but Derleth's reluctant to stand on his own.

"Beyond the Threshold" occurs before the events of "Dweller" and after "The Thing That Walked on the Wind." Once again, the story revolves around two friends. This time, they are concerned over the strange behavior of Professor Josiah Alwyn, the grandfather of one of the two men. I found the scene where the wind howls about the house though none of the trees are moving to be quite effective. Overall, however, I found the story disappointing. It's obvious from the point we find out that there's a threshold that must not be crossed, that it will be crossed, and what will happen as a result is equally telegraphed. There is no suspense in this story to provide additional interest.

"The Thing that Walked on the Wind" is the first story to mention Derleth's creation Ithaqua. The story largely consists of the final report of a constable who has mysteriously disappeared in Manitoba, with a framing device of his superior's report. This is possibly the strongest story in the book -- Derleth steps out from the shadow of Lovecraft to invent his own mythology, to great effect. There is a minimum of italics, and the story moves along rapidly.

"Ithaqua" suffers from being a retread of "The Thing That Walked on the Wind." Again, a constable disappears, after investigating strange events involving the worship of a being called, well, read the title. A well-told tale, but again nothing new. The end is quite reminiscent of the ending of Lovecraft's "The Horror at Red Hook."

"The Passing of Eric Holm" is cast as a jury investigation of a mysterious death. It's a gimmick story -- like the classic one-page Frederic Brown story about the student who summons a demon. The narrator is an irritating twit, and I am not sure I approve of Derleth's interpretation of the creature (shouldn't it be more awe-inspiring, given its origin?), but otherwise well-done -- I liked the twist which led to Eric Holm's "passing."

"Something From Out There" involves the same creature from "The Passing of Eric Holm." It reads like an M.R. James story in its reticence, particular in the cryptic note from St. Augustine ("Something from out there returned to these shores, and I have attended to it."). The character of Vernon is a bit unflappable for my tastes, and I'd dearly love to know what the narrator is getting at with "I suppose that at the end we were no longer human in our battle . . .," but the conclusion is pleasingly foreboding.

The next section consists of the introduction and stories from Derleth's The Mask of Cthulhu -- "The Return of Hastur," "The Whippoorwills in the Hills," "Something in Wood," "The Sandwin Compact," "The House in the Valley," and "The Seal of R'lyeh."

"The Return of Hastur" deals with the consequences of not following a will, and is perhaps one of Derleth's best-known stories (also anthologized in Chaosium's The Hastur Cycle, logically enough). Paul Tuttle is entirely too calm for most of the story -- certainly if I read cryptic allusions to bargains and heard the sound of enormous footprints, I would be out of the house immediately. This is one of those horror stories in which the action is predicated on everyone involved being complete idiots (the "idiot plot") too slow to catch on. The conclusion of the story is also extremely unsatisfying, and reminiscent of that of "Lair of the Star-Spawn."

"The Whippoorwills in the Hills" again has a character dealing with the disappearance of an acquaintance, in this case his cousin Abel. The story drags on far too long, with the connivance of taciturn locals who spout endless variations of "You'd better leave if you know what's good for you." Characters, setting, and dialect are all drawn from "The Dunwich Horror," except for the final few paragraphs, which are recognizably patterned after another Lovecraft story. This has the effect of reminding the reader that he could have read that infinitely better tale.

"Something in Wood" is a story for anyone who hates critics, with an amusing payoff only slightly marred by Derleth's propensity for explaining the payoff to the reader in excruciating detail, entirely in italics.

"The Sandwin Compact" is like "Beyond the Threshold" in the summoning of the narrator to deal with a relative's odd behavior. In fact, it's so very like "Beyond the Threshold" that one wonders why Derleth bothered to write a new story. The relative with strange antecedents and the two cousins who are incredibly dense return, with the sound of mysterious footsteps from "The Return of Hastur," making an appearance. The strange relative having explained what is to happen (with the idiot narrator repeating this shortly afterwards, in case the reader had dozed off), all that remains is the promised conclusion. Well, there is a conclusion, for which we must all be profoundly grateful. It's in italics, of course.

"The House in the Valley" is framed as a deposition by the narrator, who has been convicted of murder. Derleth attempts to show the transition of the narrator's personality from rational outsider to insane worshipper of the Old Ones. This is an interesting departure from Derleth's other work, but the transition comes too suddenly to be credible, and the narrator's phrasing gives away a crucial plot point (although it could be guessed earlier in the story). The ending again is a pastiche of a Lovecraft story -- in fact, the same one as "The Whippoorwills in the Hills." Ultimately flawed, but an interesting attempt.

"The Seal of R'lyeh" is frustrating, in that the first sentence gives away the entire story. It's also frustrating to find R'lyeh arbitrarily shifting between the Atlantic and Pacific, although I suppose Derleth could have been trying for something like the bilocation of Leng or Kadath. Too little new of interest -- the same references to Lovecraft stories, overused plot elements, etc.

The final section is The Trail of Cthulhu - "The House on Curwen Street," "The Watcher from the Sky," "The Gorge Beyond Salapunco," "The Keeper of the Key," and "The Black Island." Unlike The Mask of Cthulhu (which was a collection of unrelated stories), Trail is actually a series of linked stories about Dr. Laban Shrewsbury and his attempts to rid the world of the threat of Cthulhu. As such, I'll review the stories as a whole.

Plot summary: Thick young man knowing nothing of the Mythos encounters Dr. Shrewsbury (or one of his assistants), they encounter a Mythos threat, massive explosions ensue, something comes after the thick young man and . . . well, that would be telling. Rinse. Lather. Repeat. There are some interesting elements -- the identification of figures from mythology that seem to correspond to Cthulhu, the catalog of artifacts in "The Gorge Beyond Salapunco" (which Lin Carter copied for his "Xothic Legend Cycle" stories), the revelation of the "true" fate of the Mad Arab, but again not enough new -- "The Gorge Beyond Salapunco" is practically "The Call of Cthulhu" with the serial numbers filed off, as witness the opening lines ("It is singularly fortunate that the ability of the human mind to correlate and assimilate facts is limited in relation to the potential knowledge of the universe. . . .").

Given the near-omnipotence of Dr. Shrewsbury, one wonders why he even has assistants -- his interviews with witnesses serve to confirm what he already knows (witness his interview with Timoto Fernandez), and the actions of Clairborne Boyd seem as though they could easily be done by the good Doctor himself. Were your reviewer not a generous soul, he might suspect Dr. Shrewsbury of getting assistants to be able to throw them to the wolves (or Deep Ones, as the case may be). "The Black Island" is the most interesting of the stories, among other reasons for its postulation of WHY the Deep Ones seek to breed with humans. The narrator is competent, and the narrative is more complex than Derleth's other fiction in this collection. The conclusion is telegraphed early on, and everyone reacts too calmly to the climax of the story, but as a stand-alone, "The Black Island" almost works.

In summation, the stories in which Derleth blazed his own trail stand out, as opposed to those where he sought to slavishly imitate Lovecraft. If you do not already have The Mask of Cthulhu, or you don't plan to pick up Chaosium's forthcoming The Ithaqua Cycle, by all means get this book. Otherwise, even $7.98 seems a bit much.

Comments? Outraged denunciations?


THE INNSMOUTH CYCLE, edited by Robert M. Price. Cover illustration by H.E. Fassl. Oakland: Chaosium Books, 1998. 223 pp. $12.95. ISBN 1-56882-113-1.

Cover illustration © Chaosium Inc.

[Reviewed by Steven Kaye]
This was originally posted in the alt.horror.cthulhu newsgroup.

The opening essay by Robert Price discusses "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" in terms of initiations and rites of passage. It's a satisfying essay, drawing on Price's vast knowledge of theology, without the asides to defend the Derleth Mythos which seemed forced or out-of-place in the introductions to several other anthologies. Someone should really be collecting Price's essays from Chaosium's Cthulhu Mythos fiction line and publishing them as a single volume. Even when I disagree with his conclusions, Price engages me and forces me to think about why, for example, I dislike much of Derleth's Mythos fiction.

The first story is a one-pager, "Of Yoharneth-Lahai" by Lord Dunsany. Price includes it because he feels this is the origin of the name of the Deep One city Y'ha-nthlei. A nice short piece -- it's actually more like a few paragraphs, which is why I have little to say about it. Aside from the name, not much connection with Innsmouth or Deep Ones.

Next up is Robert Chambers' "The Harbor-Master," a curious blend of horror and comedy. A skeptical young man goes to the town of Black Harbor to investigate claims that great auks (believed extinct) are alive and well, and meets the title character. Well-written and amusing -- Price in the introduction points out that Lovecraft had read this story in 1926, and again in late 1930. Naming one of the characters Professor Farrago is perhaps a bit much, but I enjoyed it for what it was -- a light piece.

Irvin S. Cobb's classic supernatural revenge story "Fishhead" is a story about the title character, a deformed Indian-Negro crossbreed (Price makes much of this in light of Lovecraft's racism) who's murdered by two racists (something Price doesn't mention), but gets a posthumous revenge. I've been fond of this story ever since I first read it in Alfred Hitchcock's Stories That Scared Even Me. Vivid description and fast pacing make this story one of the best in this collection.

HPL's own "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" is next. While "The Rats in the Walls" is probably my favorite HPL story, "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" is a close second. Lovecraft does a wonderful job of ratcheting up the tension throughout the story, as the narrator (unnamed in the story, but named Robert Olmstead in one of Lovecraft's letters) discovers the truth of what happened to Innsmouth. The chase scene, with dozens of the creatures hopping and running in the moonlight is impressive, as is Zadok's recollection of the night of the "plague," and his recounting of the sights he saw from the cupola as a young boy:

"Mebbe you'd like to a ben me in them days, when I seed things at night about to sea from the cupalo top o' my haouse. Oh, I kin tell ye' little pitchers hev big ears, an' I wa'n't missin' nothin' o' what was gossiped abaout Cap'n Obed an' the folks about the reef! Heh, heh, heh! Haow about the night I took my pa's ship's glass up to the cupalo an' seed the reef a bristlin' thick with shapes that dove off quick soon's the moon riz? Obed an the folks was in a dory, but them shapes dove off the far side into the deep water an' never come up . . . Haow'd ye like to be a little shaver alone up in a cupalo a-watchin' shapes as wa'n't human shapes? . . ."

James Wade's "The Deep Ones" is to my mind the most successful of Wade's Mythos fiction. Too often, his stories seem dated (the psychedelia of "The Silence of Erika Zann," for instance). One of the revelations of the story seems a bit telegraphed, but overall Wade does a nice job of gradual revelation, and I'm rather fond of the Timothy Leary-inspired Alonzo Waite from Miskatonic University.

Unfortunately, Price also included Wade's "A Darker Shadow Over Innsmouth," a pastiche which finds cleverness in naming characters Nella Kodaz (read it backwards) and breathless narrators using mock Lovecraftian language (a sample: "'Tell me, Nella,' I queried, 'I know there is more in Innsmouth than meets the eye. How can I arrange to see the forbidden things secreted in those dilapidated warehouses and hidden away in the ancient boarded-up dwellings here?'). Wade's attempting to show that mankind is vastly better at destroying itself than even the forces of the Mythos could ever be, but the tone of the story blunts the message.

Franklyn Searight's "The Innsmouth Head" is the tale of a fisherman and his unusual catch. I found the idea that two fishermen were a match for a Deep One something of a stretch, but was willing to accept it to see where the story was taking me. Searight doesn't go in the direction I expected with this story. I half-expected to read about the narrator being hypnotized into drowning himself or somesuch, and the twist Searight took at that point was novel. The end is somewhat of a groaner -- much like those attempts at levity at the end of Star Trek episodes with everyone laughing on the bridge. Overall, I recommend it.

"Innsmouth Gold" by Henry J. Vester III (not to be confused with the Dave Sutton story from Shadows Over Innsmouth) was a (mostly) well written, but ultimately disappointing story. I didn't care for the writing of the Deep Ones, who resemble Fu Manchu in their taunts of the helpless captive ("'Mr. Hess, how kind of you to join us,' he said jeeringly. 'I hope that you are not too greatly inconvenienced, but your participation in our -- activities here this morning will be deeply appreciated by all. On that you have my solemn word!'"). Stefan Dziemianowicz criticized it briefly in Crypt of Cthulhu # 40 according to Price, because it lacked cosmic vision and concentrated on physical revulsion. While I sometimes think Dziemianowicz can be too conservative in his reviews, in this I'm forced to agree with him. Alien beings should not talk or act like melodramatic pulp villains from a Sax Rohmer novel. I also question the wisdom of naming a water monster with a name similar to a Derlethian fire monster. Excellent prose at times, poor characterization and lacking the true "Lovecraft spirit."

"Custos Sanctorum" by Roger Johnson explores the Deep One mindset, and is written as a letter by a hybrid to an acquaintance in another town. It details the initiation of a visiting hybrid and the consequences thereof. The story works amazingly well, as the mysterious (and unquestioning) servitude of the Deep Ones is examined. I especially appreciated the fact that the events of the story were neither explained, nor questioned by the narrator.

Stephen Mark Rainey contributes yet another story for Chaosium's fiction line, "The Black Rapture." An unusual record store with even more unusual clientele. I'm a bit uncomfortable with the moralistic tone of the story -- Maria uses men, so what happens to her is justified? That's what the story seemed to suggest, at any rate. I don't enjoy misogyny in horror films, and that's what this seems like. Mixed success, overall -- the prose is descriptive, but the plot is repulsive.

I first read "Live Bait" by Stanley Sargent at the Mythos Online site (apparently, it first appeared in Cthulhu Codex # 9). It's a gleefully nasty tale about what happened to Innsmouth AFTER the raid, as a businessman is sent to find out whether the fishery at Innsmouth is still a viable concern. Competent prose, fast pacing, and an amusing variation on the "country hick shows up city slicker" idea. I also like Sargent's idea about what happened to Olmstead. Immortality has its downside.

"Devil Reef" is one of John Glasby's weaker efforts -- I much prefer his other stories, such as "Ring of the Hyades" or "The Black Mirror." Ornate prose can't disguise the fact that this is a humdrum "jerk gets his comeuppance" supernatural revenge story. Not that there's a problem with that -- after all, even Lovecraft wrote "In the Vault," but it seems opposed to the uncaring cosmos of HPL's Mythos fiction.

Lewis Theobald III's "The Transition of Zadok Allen" reveals what happened after Zadok disappeared. Very reminiscent of "Celephais" (as Price points out, set in the village of Innsmouth) -- I prefer a darker interpretation of the ending of "Transition" than that suggested by the similarity to another HPL story. Amusing -- not exceptional, and I think the Deep Ones aren't nearly as forgiving as Price and Theobald III would have it.

The volume concludes with three poems -- "Shadow Over Innsmouth" by Virginia Anderson, "Innsmouth -- Dread City by the Sea" by R. Flavie Carson, and "After Innsmouth" by Ann K. Schwader. Schwader's poem is the best, for all that it recapitulates HPL's story. The style is very much patterned on the Yuggoth sonnet-cycle. Anderson's language fails to inspire, with the exception of the last lines about doubling back on evolution's track, which are undeniably clever. Carson's poem seems to suggest a variant explanation for Innsmouth's changes. The weakest of the three is Anderson's poem -- the language just doesn't grab me the way it does in the other two poems, and in certain lines is downright awkward -- rhyming "citizen" with "thin"? Terror bleating forth?

Overall, a recommended purchase. Price plans to come out with a companion volume, Tales of Innsmouth, consisting entirely of more recent stories.

Comments, questions, angry rebuttals?

You may obtain this book at Buy the Book Today! Buy the Book Today! Buy the Book Today!


MISKATONIC UNIVERSITY, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Robert Weinberg. Cover illustration by Jim Warren. New York: DAW Books, 1996. 352 pp. $5.99. ISBN 0-88677-722-4.

Cover illustration © Tek-no Books and Robert Weinberg.

[Reviewed by Donovan K. Loucks]
This was originally posted in the alt.horror.cthulhu newsgroup.

I consider the only good tales in this collection to be (no spoilers):

Stefan Dziemianowicz' "A Letter from the President to Incoming Students" -- Actually the introduction to the book, it treats Lovecraft's fictional university with respect, is written well, and is remarkably thorough and scholarly -- for fiction!

Mort Castle's "Teachers" -- A sentimental homage to Robert Bloch which isn't really horror and thus doesn't really belong here. I found Castle's habit of referring to Bloch as the deceased Robert Blake (who died in "The Haunter of the Dark") to be a bit paradoxical. I really only include it in this list because it wasn't awful.

Stephen Mark Rainey's "To Be As They" -- A creepy little tale that tells enough to give you the willies, but not so much that you understand everything that goes on. One of the more impressive points is when one of the characters encounters something horrific and immediately knows what's going on. I've grown tired of characters that don't know that which is clear to the reader.

Benjamin Adams' "Second Movement" -- What impressed me most about this story was not the horrific aspects of it, but the poignancy of the ending. You come to sympathize with the main character and feel his anguish at the conclusion of the story. Rough stuff.

Will Murray's "The Sothis Radiant" -- A fairly atmospheric story about the government-sealed Sparhawk Observatory at M.U. -- which repeatedly made me think of the Ladd Observatory at Brown University, right down to the floorplan. The opposive philosophies of the two main characters is well done, and there's even some of that "cosmic horror."

Brian McNaughton's "Ghoulmaster" -- Another clever ghoul story from the author of "Meryphillia," this is easily the best tale in the book. Brian's style is fantastic and a real joy to read. I look forward to more stories set in his "Ghoul Mythos", which is more his creation than it is Lovecraft's. His expansion on the lore of the ghoul is refreshingly original.

Hell, as long as I'm giving brief reviews of the good ones, here are the bad ones as well (nothin' but spoilers):

Tina L. Jens' "Kali Yuga Comes" -- A female member of the Society to Oversee and Prevent Negative Oracle Scenarios, a branch of the CIA, accidentally conjures up the Indian goddess Kali when she gets drunk on red wine and reads the Unaussprechlichen Kulten. Need I say more? Have I already said too much?

Alan Rodgers' "Her Misbegotten Son" -- The first 5 pages of this story seemed promising -- but then it went on for 66 more boring pages. The main character, a nine-year-old kid, is nearly killed by Nyarlathotep (but is saved by a timely GSW to the Dark Man's head), is strangled to death by Keziah Mason (but turns out to just have passed out), is nearly set upon by monstrous sentinels (but trips at the right time, accidentally covering them in Holy Water), faces Nyarlathotep again (but has some Holy Water left!), is nearly knifed by Keziah Mason (but his dead mother arrives in time), and then finishes Keziah off with the remaining Holy Water! SHEESH!

Brad Linaweaver's "Scavenger Hunt" -- A student uses a page from the Apocrypha of the Necronomicon to get a better English grade! The names in this story (Akeley, Wilmarth, and Willett) gave me the impression that the author had only read Lovecraft's "The Whisperer in Darkness" and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.

Jay Bonansinga's "Black Celebration" -- The main character, Parker Pivok, reminisces on having been brutally sodomized by his father, who returns to life through Parker's guitar amp speakers and then pulls Parker into those same speakers. This is an unpleasant and pointless little story.

Jane M. Lindskold's "Dreaming of Dead Poets" -- Two M.U. students have the same visions, one a writer, one a painter. They discover that the latter's paintings can be used as a portal to the location that they picture. The two step through one picture and sacrifice themselves -- to destroy the nuclear submarine, the Thresher, which has been stolen by Deep Ones . . .

Lois H. Gresh's "Mandelbrot Moldrot" -- Two "Quantum Life-Forms" escape from a lab at M.U. and strike out in search of "chaos", which they find at the Witch-House in the form of an entity greater than Azathoth, named after Benoit Mandelbrot. Some might enjoy this if they like a blend of fantasy and science-fiction, but like many other stories here, there's no horror.

Billie Sue Mosiman's "The Smile of a Mime" -- A student meets another who is able to read her mind, and the two of them set out to discover secrets Man was not meant to know. The second is killed and the first learns a little lesson. Pretty bland.

Christie Golden's "The Play's the Thing" -- A theatre student adapts a spell from Al Azif as a one-act play for class and his teacher is killed in full sight of everyone, a la Abdul Alhazred. There's the obligatory girlfriend who opposes the student's wishes to adapt something so gol' durn creepy.

If it weren't for Brian McNaughton's "Ghoulmaster," Stephen Mark Rainey's "To Be As They," and Will Murray's "The Sothis Radiant," I simply couldn't recommend this book. Because of the high crap-to-cream ratio, I'm not even sure if I can recommend it.


THE ENCYCLOPEDIA CTHULHIANA (Second Edition), by Daniel Harms. Cover illustration by H.E. Fassl, interior art by Dave Carson, and new symbols by M. Wayne Miller. Oakland: Chaosium Books, 1998. xix + 423 pp. $14.95/$21.95. ISBN 1-56882-119-0.

Cover illustration © Daniel Harms.

[Reviewed by Edward P. Berglund]

Daniel Harms has expanded and updated his ENCYCLOPEDIA CTHULHIANA, originally published in 1994. There are an additional 63 pages overall, with 110 additional pages in the encyclopedia proper. Although the type style is noticeably larger, there probably isn't any reduction in the wordage, due to the smaller right and left margins. Added to the upper margin on the left-hand pages is indication of the article starting on that page and the last article starting on the facing page, making it easier to find particular articles.

(Incidentally, Chaosium didn't put the full title on the cover, but they did put it on the contents page: "Encyclopedia Cthulhiana, Being an Investigation Into the Myth-Patterns of the Xothic and Commoriom Legend-Cycles With Notes on the Alhazredic Demonology, or A Compendium of Lore Relating to Those Beings Who Once Ruled the Universe and Those Who Have Revered and Renounced Them, as Expressed Through the Mythology of All Cultures and Explained in the Works of H.P. Lovecraft and Others in a Manner Thought to Be Fictional by the Uninitiated and Rational.")

Overall, the ascetics of this edition are heads above the previous edition. Especially noticeable is the addition of the spiffy cover by H.E. Fassl, showing Mythos artifacts on haphazardly arranged on shelves. I believe that the Fassl covers for the Chaosium fiction books has become a standard in which his work makes a Chaosium Book immediately recognizable as such.

With the three appendices -- "History of the Necronomicon," "Locations of the Necronomicon," and "Contents of the Necronomicon" -- from the first edition, has been added "Timeline of the Mythos" by Shannon Appel, a welcome addition to the encyclopedia so that perusers can get a feel of how everything fits together, time-wise.

A welcome addition to the bibliography -- and thus influencing some of the articles and adding some new ones -- are items that originally appeared in the fanzines, items by the likes of James Ambuehl, E.P. Berglund, Crispin Burnham, L.M. Cabos, Robert C. Culp, Michael Fantina, Alan D. Gullette, Tani Jantsang, Edward M. Kane, Richard Landwehr, Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire, Philip and G. Arthur Rahman, and James W. Shoffner. These writers were mining the Mythos lode in the 70's and 80's and some of whom are still at it.

The only drawback to the bibliography is the fact that Harms only gives us the author, title of the work and its year of publication. He does refer us to Chris Jarocha-Ernst's "Bibliography of the Cthulhu Mythos," which originally appeared in 1992. This doesn't help to find out where something was actually published, if it was published after 1992. An updated version is due for publication soon by Armitage House (Pagan Publishing). Unfortunately, the Jarocha-Ernst bibliography doesn't include anything but fiction, poetry, and some nonfiction items. For gaming materials, Harms refers us to the alt.horror.cthulhu FAQ (an online reference) and the 5th edition of the Call of Cthulhu rulesbook. Unfortunately, both of these items only give the titles of the scenarios and you have to look for them. Maybe this problem will go away once Brent Heustess publishes his "A World Bibliography of Call of Cthulhu Materials."

Still, I envy Harms getting this second edition published, but not the work involved. Back in the early 70's I had started working on an encyclopedia of the Mythos elements for my own edification and so that I could use those elements conscientiously in my own stories. And then I got involved in research for the 2nd edition of Reader's Guide to the Cthulhu Mythos, which was published in 1974. (Hm . . . over twenty years before the next edition?!?)

Harms states in his introduction (to which he has also added a brief history of the Cthulhu Mythos), "I have cut many of the entries from the first edition which referred to elements which occurred only in one work." The main failing of this decision is that we the writers and readers do not have a complete encyclopedia of what has been done in the Cthulhu Mythos since its inception. There are probably exceptions to his "elements having to appear in more than one story" rule, most noticeably my own Laniqua Lua'huan, which appeared in "The Sand Castle" -- unless Harms knows of another story that refers to them? I know that a writer has asked permission to use their leader, Tsur'lhn, but as far as I know, this story hasn't been completed yet. But even still there are numerous stories out there with elements created for one story and never used again. As a writer, I would like to know what has been done already, so that I don't duplicate it. Or if I want to use an established element, how has it been used already? We're talking about the old bug-a-boo of trying to be "original," being inventive by taking into consideration what has gone before.

But this is in no way to be construed as denigrating the efforts of Daniel Harms. Like I said before, I envy the result, but not the work that went into it. And now I don't have to do my own research. But that doesn't mean that a writer shouldn't read the original material to get an actual feel of how it was being used in the story. And Harms tells us where each item originally appeared and whether there were subsequent stories, etc., which expanded on the element.

This book is highly recommended, whether you are a reader and just want to find out more information about a particular Mythos element, or you are a writer and want to do the same. And if you are a writer, I would recommend reading it from cover to cover. If you can't afford to buy all of these out of print stories, you'll at least know what has gone before -- and then you can try and be original in your own writing.

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PROFESSOR CHALLENGER IN SECRETS OF THE DREAMLANDS, by Ralph E. Vaughan. Cover and interior artwork by Earl Geier. Brooklyn: Gryphon Books, 1997. 63 pp. $9.95. ISBN 0-936071-66-4.

[Reviewed by Edward P. Berglund]

If you are a Sherlock Holmes fan, you have probably run across Ralph Vaughan's Sherlock Holmes in the Adventure of the Ancient Gods (published in 1990 by Gryphon Books), wherein Sherlock visits America and meets a professor from Miskatonic University, or Sherlock Holmes in the Dreaming Detective (published in 1992 by Gryphon Books, containing "The Adventure of the Dreaming Detective" and "The Adventure of the Laughing Moonbeast"), wherein Sherlock visits the Dreamlands.

Now Vaughan has tackled that other great character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Professor Challenger, who discovered The Lost World (1912), The Poison Belt (1913), and The Land of Mist (1926). Apparently unable to find a region of this Earth which needs to be explored (by himself, of course), Challenger enters the Dreamlands, whose vistas were created by H.P. Lovecraft. But what is Challenger doing in the Dreamlands? Why he wants to explore the River Skai to its headwaters, which includes innumerable adventures along the way.

Ralph Vaughan is someone who had decided that there have been enough Lovecraftian pastiches, but still wanted to write in the Cthulhu Mythos. So he does so by including the Mythos in pastiches of Doyle. Now there have probably been at least a thousand Sherlock Holmes stories written by writers whose last name is not Doyle, but have many stories can you think of that have written about Professor Challenger?

I think Vaughan has done a rather admirable job in not only capturing the character of Professor Challenger, but in capturing the style of the fiction published in the first years of this century. This story is not great literature, but if you are looking for something to occupy your time and imagination for an hour or so, you couldn't go wrong with reading this one.

What character will Vaughan resurrect next? Possibly Professor Maracot from The Maracot Deep (1929)? Professor Maracot Visits R'lyeh?

And I must say here that I think the illustrations that Geier has done for this booklet are better than the ones he was doing for Chaosium Books' early titles. Keep up the good work, Earl.

This booklet can be obtained from Gryphon Publications, Post Office Box 209, Brooklyn, NY 11228-0209. And if you haven't read them, you might want to ask Gary Lovisi to see if Ancient Gods ($5.95) and Dreaming Detective ($6.95) are still available.


FROM BETWEEN THE STAR-SPACES, by James Ambuehl. Cover and interior artwork by Daniel Alan Ross. Scarborough, Ontario: Imelod Publications, 1998. 49 pp. $3.75 (US)/$5.00 (CAN).

Cover illustration © Daniel Alan Ross.

[Reviewed by Edward P. Berglund]

Herein you will find ten stories and one poem. Of these, five (plus the poem) have appeared on the Internet, four of which were reprinted from the print media, with a sixth story from the print media. This leaves us four original stories and the illustrations by Daniel Ross (a few of which have appeared on the Internet).

So why would you want to obtain this booklet, when the majority of it has already seen print? Besides the four original stories, is the fact that all of the stories are collected in one place. You won't have to worry about finding them on the Internet, especially if the addresses has changed.

When Ambuehl first started writing (under the pseudonym "Lew Cthew"), it was thought that his work was by Lew Cabos, another Mythos writer of the late 70's/early 80's. But looking closely at these early stories, it was obvious that they were not by Cabos. Where were all the weapons? And where was the style patterned after Robert E. Howard? No, they weren't by Cabos.

Ambuehl continued to write and eventually revealed to his readers what his real name was. By then it obvious that he was under the effect of August Derleth's and Lin Carter's writings, with a smidgen of Brian Lumley thrown in.

The stories in this collection range from one page long to four and a half pages long. Ambuehl's stories are entertaining reading, nonetheless, but one wishes that they had more substance. He gets an idea for a story -- possibly the ending -- and writes only so much of a story that will get him to the ending. The shortness of his stories seems to be a cross between what has appeared on the Internet and the jewels of W.H. Pugmire. (But only Pugmire can write them that short and get away with it!)

Ambuehl's stories are not just rehashes of what someone else has written about the various elements of the Cthulhu Mythos. He does try to be somewhat original in his ideas, such as in "Reign of Fire" and "Finding God(s)." He does fail at times, such as in "The Star-Seed," which was written for Scott David Aniolowski's Made In Goatswood, but was not accepted. It might have been written in honor of Ramsey Campbell, but it seems that Lin Carter crept into the writing of it.

Most of these stories are written in an easily read style (even if influenced by other writers), but it seems that Ambuehl's writing shines when his serious stories are about a situation that would otherwise be humorous, such as "Finding God(s)" and "Episode in an Arkham Pool Hall."

After reading the previous stories in this collection, the change in style in "Lord of Lizards" seems jarring. This "translation" from the Whispers of Altuas seems to be influenced by the style of Clark Ashton Smith. Not even Lin Carter was successful at imitating Smith's style. Trying to write this story in Smith's style seems somewhat awkward, because it isn't Ambuehl's style and it shows that he is not comfortable in using it.

And then there is "From Between the Star-Spaces." It would seem that when Ambuehl writes a Mythos story with a science fiction background, his own voice comes to the fore. Or maybe we should refer to it as a "science fantasy background," for there is some magic in this story. And if the style is influenced by another writer, it is not readily apparent.

It is to be hoped that James will continue to develop his craft as a writer, adding more substance to his work, such as more intricate plotting, deeper characterizations, and letting his own voice carry his work. Once Ambuehl had developed his own style, the style of the writing in a particular story will not be as noticable, thus allowing the reader to read the story as a story. He should also keep in mind that once he starts a story and established his characters, he should let the characters run with the story. He may be surprised at the results.

None of the above is meant to denigrate the writings of James Ambuehl. His stories are interesting and entertaining and, even if they don't grab you in the first paragraph (which we would hope they do), they're short enough that you should at least give them the benefit of the doubt. No deus ex machina endings here -- there are hints aplenty before hand.

The artwork by Daniel Ross ranges from mediocre to very nice. Of course one has to wonder from what media the artwork was reproduced from. It seems that the artwork might have been sent over the Internet and printed out. The illustration for "An Episode in an Arkham Pool Hall" seemed much clearer when it appeared in Mythos Online. The cover illustration and the one for "The Tower of Madness," although dark, are very sharp and clear. The rest of the illustrations seem to be "muddy" compared to these. If the quality of these illustration are because they were sent over the Internet, they I apologize in advance for the "mediocre" comment.

So here we have ten entertaining short stories of the Cthulhu Mythos, easily read in a couple of hours. The price is very reasonable, comparing the size of the booklet with others that have come out recently. My only real complaint about the production of this booklet is the using of a different font style for the title of each story, but that's a minor quibble and a subjective one at that.

This booklet can be obtained from Todd Fischer, 406-1540 Victoria Pk. Ave., Scarborough, Ontario, M1L 4S1, Canada. A sample can be found at "The Star-Seed".



© 1998 Edward P. Berglund
All reviews: © 1998 by their respective writers. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1998 Erebus Graphic Design. All rights reserved. Email to: James V. Kracht.

Created: October 5, 1998; Current Update: August 9, 2004