MADE IN GOATSWOOD, edited by Scott David Aniolowski
SINGERS OF STRANGE SONGS, edited by Scott David Aniolowski
THE WHISPERER # 1
NEW MYTHOS LEGENDS, edited by Bruce Gehweiler
DELTA GREEN: COUNTDOWN, by Dennis Detwiller, Adam Scott Glancy, and John Tynes
BEYOND THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, by Charles and Janyce Engan, and
MISKATONIC UNIVERSITY ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION PACK by Charles Engan
THE ANNOTATED H.P. LOVECRAFT, edited and with and introduction by S.T. Joshi
|MADE IN GOATSWOOD, edited by Scott David Aniolowski. Oakland: Chaosium Books. xiii + 268 pages. $10.95. ISBN 1-56882-046-1.|
This originally appeared on the alt.horror.cthulhu newsgroup.
Cover illustration © Scott David Aniolowski.
[Reviewed by Steven Kaye]
Made in Goatswood is a tribute anthology, "a celebration of Ramsey Campbell." In general, the emphasis seems to be on taking Campbell's Mythos stories as inspiration, rather than collecting a series of Campbell pastiches. While this doesn't always work, I'd like to add a personal comment that it's this kind of storytelling which for me embodies the ideal Mythos tale.
This anthology is dedicated to Karl Edward Wagner, which is appropriate for a number of reasons. As Scott points out, he was a close friend of Campbell's. Wagner also encouraged new horror writers with his annual The Year's Best Horror Stories, and wrote several Lovecraft-inspired pieces ("Sticks," "The River of Night's Dreaming," and "I've Come To Talk With You Again").
The first story is from A.A. Attanasio, "A Priestess of Nodens." A pagan circle encounters a face from the past, who introduces them to an older form of worship. The only direct connection to Campbell's stories is the ceremony in Goatswood. From the neopagans I've known, the details seem accurate. Attanasio does a nice job of making the priestess of the title both terrifying and human. A sample:
Nodens drew close to her, and Dana entered a state of terror and love. Terror as the cold sharpened with the wind and she became her true littleness. And love as a giant of feeling began to rise out of the loam of the earth.
Darkness thickened, and she pulled off her trousers to stand naked in the Presence of her elder god and the forest. She forgot the dangers of the world. She was a sacrifice to Nodens, trusting in the Old One's meaning. Standing perfectly still in the night, she was with all that trembles, all that hides.
The next story, "Ghost Lake" by Don Burleson, is a similarly understated piece about a man investigating the legends of the Severn Valley. Except for one in-joke ("There's a popular writer, mystical sort of chap named Khem-Bei Ramses, even wrote a story about it . . ."), the atmosphere of the story is one of mounting tension. Frankly, the Mythos entity involved was one
I'd never been able to take seriously before -- Burleson does a good job of both making it something truly fearsome and explaining why the seemingly-obvious precaution wouldn't work.
Fred Behrendt does much the same with another Campbell Mythos entity in "Beauty." While Attanasio and Burleson are moderately well-known, Behrendt (if memory serves), was primarily know for his contributions to various Call of Cthulhu supplements. By the Lew Shiner Law of Cross Media Failure (based on the horror that was "Rip Hunter, Time Master," after writing works such as Frontera), this should be the weakest tale in the book. Instead, it's one of the strongest, capturing the seedy, unclean atmosphere of Brichester in a tale of love, lust, and regret. I almost caught on to the surprise of the story, due to an unfortunate choice of phrasing about midway through. That's the only complaint, and it's a minor one at best -- I only caught it because I'd read a friend's copy of The Inhabitant of the Lake. I hope to see more of Fred Behrendt's work in future anthologies -- he's someone to watch.
"Unseen," as I've commented elsewhere in this newsgroup [alt.horror.cthulhu -- ed.], is the strongest tale in the book. Penelope Love is another Chaosium alumna (although a friend pointed out that she has also written a novel, Castle of Eyes). Love does an especially good job of drawing her characters and making them more than ciphers, which makes the events of the story that much more horrifying. The author of Notes on Witchcraft in Monmouthshire, Gloucestershire, and the Berkeley Region (a tome mentioned in the story) is A.V. Sangster, presumably a reference to Jimmy Sangster who directed several Hammer Films. For those who are asking why I approve of this joke, but not Khem-Bei Ramses, all I can say is I like my humor subtler, at least when it comes to horror fiction.
"Fortunes" is a story combining references to Lumley (Hodgson's Fun Fair) and Campbell (Brichester), written by Keith Herber. While I liked the idea of the story, one of the characters' true identity is irritatingly obvious. I also would have ended the story at the second-to-last paragraph -- no need to spell out the conclusion in detail, and it goes against the subtlety of the preceding stories.
"Cross My Heart and Hope to Die" by J. Todd Kingrea is a nasty little story about the cruelty of children -- and in at least one case what's behind it. Kingrea builds up the suspense relentlessly, as the main character, increasingly desperate, attempts to avoid his fate. I especially liked the fact that Kingrea didn't feel obliged to end the story with a pat conclusion -- it was much more terrifying for that.
"I Dream of Wires" is by the editor of the anthology, Scott David Aniolowski, and is inspired by the songs of Gary Numan. For those who are too young to remember, Gary Numan was a British pop star of the late 1970's and early 1980's, who crafted himself an affectless androgynous stage presence and wrote songs of alienation and fear of technology. His biggest hit in the States was the single, "Cars," and you might have heard an awful cover of his "Down in the Park" on Songs in the Key of X. Rather appropriate inspiration for Mythos fiction, actually. Now that I've made myself feel incredibly old, on to the story.
This is actually in some ways the closest to a Campbell story in the entire anthology (Campbell's own contribution excepted). Aniolowski uses Campbell's tricks of making the landscape seem animate and hostile: "A newspaper -- the day's Brichester Herald -- flapped along the sidewalk on inky wings, finally curling around the base of a lamppost. Christian glanced absently at the paper but the tiny black writing wriggled out of his sight." Or perhaps this would be better: "His tight jeans were battered and frayed, both knees slashed wide to the elements." It takes a while to figure out what's going on in the story, which is a good thing to my mind. My only complaint is the way Aniolowski's worked his inspiration into the story. Lyrics are dropped into characters' dialogue, without regard for how it sounds: "He struggled against the coils, kicking and writhing. 'We are glass,' he screamed. 'We are so fragile.'" At best, this serves as a guide that things aren't as they appear, and perhaps this was the author's intent. Otherwise, it seems clumsy and forced.
"The Turret" by Richard Lupoff is not only tangentially Campbell, but tangentially Mythos. Or rather, it addresses themes of Mythos fiction (a cosmic setting, history beyond that known to man). A troubleshooter is sent to Old Severnford to fix problems with the "Zeta/Zed System." In an amusing touch, we never are given a clear understanding of just what it is that the System is supposed to do. Is there a connection between "Zeta/Zed" (synonyms for "Z") and the Parker cousins? Or between the system and the narrator's strange 'dreams.'? What is the significance of Parker Lorentzen's birthmark? What are the yellow shapes glimpsed in the river? The very unfamiliarity of all these elements was refreshing. Perhaps too allusive, but when was the last time you read a Mythos story and were surprised? Uncertain of what was going to happen?
"The Second Effort" by John Tynes introduces the Mythos to the even more terrifying forces of postmodernist literary criticism, with amusing results. The story itself serves on one level as a critique of Mythos fiction (or literature in general): "The dispersal of information in the twentieth century is such that there's nothing wholly original left to a given individual. You can't write a story that hasn't been written before, in some form or another." The protagonist's exulting in his omnipotence is nicely undercut by the final line of the story. I'd like to discuss this story further on another thread [in alt.horror.cthulhu -- ed.], with appropriate spoiler warnings, actually -- it seems you can read it on several levels.
Diane Sammarco's "The Queen" is another story in this anthology that plays with questions of identity (I just noticed that in writing this review). Pretty straightforward, although I am fond of the scene with Elizabeth drawing (reminiscent of the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers).
"The Undercliffe Sentences" is a parody by Peter Cannon. I didn't care for it -- Bimbos of the Death Sun does a better and less heavy-handed job of poking fun at conventions and fandom. I've liked some of Cannon's other work (his stories in The Azathoth Cycle, for example, but after this my recommendation is that he avoid cons and lie down somewhere until he feels better.
Washing the taste of "Undercliffe" out of my mouth, we turn to Gary Sumpter's "The Awakening," about a man who purchases a house with a history in run-down Brichester. No surprises here -- man discovers house's history, man ignores house's history, man does exactly the wrong thing to do.
Michael G. Szymanski's "Random Access" is better, although there are some clumsily-written passages: "Watching that vacant-eyed lump of animated flesh that was my friend, I told myself that I would find the bastards who were responsible for this if I had to tear apart the entire valley to find them." Vacant-eyed lump of animated flesh seems a bit harsh for a woman who, as far as the narrator knows, is sleepwalking. The solution for dealing with the menace is ingenious, even if the writing style is forced.
C.J. Henderson contributes "Free the Old Ones," about a world so desperate that it wants to free the Old Ones. Henderson does a great job of writing someone who's forced to believe in the reality of the Mythos. Someone should be collecting Henderson's stuff (he's contributed stories to The Dunwich Cycle, Singers of Strange Songs, and The Cthulhu Cycle, that I know of). The ending reminds me of Howard Waldrop's "Strange Monsters of the Recent Past," and that's a compliment.
Kevin Ross' "The Music of the Spheres" takes on one of Campbell's creations to great effect -- I especially liked the scene with Neal driving home, as he's listening to his tape. Cut the final two paragraphs and the story would be perfect -- like Herber's "Fortunes," it's restating the obvious.
"Growing Pains" by Richard Watts is a tale of a sexist bully who makes Sam Struitt look urbane, and how he gets his comeuppance. The reference to Struitt is intentional -- this felt very much like a raunchier "Cold Print."
"Beard of Byatis" is Robert Price's chance to put his theological knowledge to use, in a story of archaeology, textual criticism, and, well, Byatis. I like to think that Price is poking fun at bad Mythos fiction with his clueless young sidekick and the wiser older scholar with his cryptic advice.
The final story is by Ramsey Campbell, an original for this volume. Campbell definitely had fun writing this, judging from the opening paragraph:
You ask me at least to hint why I refuse to ever open a children's book. Once I made my living from such material. While the imitations of reality hawked by my colleagues in the trade grew grubbier, and the fantasies more shameful, I carried innocence from shop to shop, or so I was proud to think. Now the sight of a children's classic in a bookshop window sends me fleeing. The more apparently innocent the book, the more unspeakable the truth it may conceal, and there are books the mere thought of which revives memories I had prayed were buried forever.
Campbell goes on to parody Mythos fiction in the rest of the tale, leading up to the senses-shattering final paragraph. A knowledge of a certain English children's story might be helpful.
Overall, while some of the stories were less than successful, I enjoyed the anthology immensely. Aniolowski introduced a number of new authors, who were willing to play with the form of Mythos fiction as well as the content. Several authors (Fred Behrendt, Penelope Love, C.J. Henderson) I hope to see more from in the future. If you have to pick up one Chaosium Cthulhu Cycle Book, make it this one. Well done, Scott!
You can obtain this at , , .
|SINGERS OF STRANGE SONGS, edited by Scott David Aniolowksi. Oakland: Chaosium Books, 1997. xi + 238 pages. $12.95. ISBN 1-56882-104-2.|
This originally appeared on the alt.horror.cthulhu newsgroup.
Cover illustration © Scott David Aniolowksi.
[Reviewed by Steven Kaye]
Singers of Strange Songs is a tribute anthology, "a celebration of Brian Lumley." As opposed to Made in Goatswood, this anthology is more of a "standard" Mythos anthology, with connections to Lumley's stories and the Mythos in general more explicit. I'd be curious to find out how the solicitation for stories differed, if it did.
This anthology is dedicated to Robert Bloch, who has a Mythos fiction anthology of his own (Mysteries of the Worm). Although Bloch did not write much Mythos fiction later in life (with the exception of Strange Aeons), he was a great writer with a wicked sense of humor. I hope we don't have to see more greats die before we see another anthology from Scott.
The first entry is a poem from Lumley himself, "City Out of Time," about a dreamer who sees R'lyeh. Some of the rhymes seemed forced ("borned" and "spawned"?; "awe" and "shore"?), as did the wording ("Drowning their noble dreams in nameless mire?"). I would rather have seen a reprint of "What Dark God?" or "In the Vaults Beneath," to name two possibilities Scott brings up.
Next is "Cement Surroundings," a Lumley classic about the events befalling an African explorer and his nephew. Lumley uses the Derleth technique of including events from other stories as if they had happened, but to better effect. Where Derleth would have a character smugly rattle off a list of circumstances (with the obligatory "stories of H.P. Lovecraft" line), Sir Amery's delivery is more natural -- the horrified outburst of a man who has too late realized what he is dealing with. The scene in which the narrator realizes that the quakes are forming a trail is beautiful.
"Bad Soil," by Don D'Ammassa, uses one of Lumley's creations to good effect. The narrator, an investigator of mass panics, comes across strange circumstances in his own town. I was impressed by the naturalism of Rianne's dialogue, and the scene in which the narrator discovers a girl's body is suitably gruesome.
"The Temple of Yig" by Donald Burleson is only loosely connected with Lumley's work (it takes place in Hodgson's Fun Fair, from "The Fairground Horror"). Burleson plays up the eeriness of carnivals -- "Now the sideshows, the milling people, the tents lifting their gaunt heads to the sky, all made it difficult to maintain a sense of where he was. The tents, the awnings, the lights, everything made the place look different. What had been wide open space was now contracted, distorted, changed." I also enjoyed the way Yig was characterized -- from a minor revision story's figure, I can now easily picture Yig as one of the pitiless alien figures of the Mythos.
Benjamin Adams' "Not to Force the Rhymes" details events following on "The Horror At Oakdeene." The accents seemed accurate, as far as I could tell -- any Irish or Scottish members of the newsgroup [alt.horror.cthulhu -- ed.] care to comment? Hell ward certainly lives up to its name, as depicted by Adams, and I admired his twist on a theme in horror fiction I'd thought it impossible to do anything new with. I also liked the juxtaposition of the punks and the Teddies with the evils of the Mythos.
"In His Daughter's Darkling Womb" by Tina L. Jens is a nasty tale using a Mythos creature (I'd despised in the original Lumley story) to good effect. I'd been nervous about this story, given the reviews of Miskatonic University. With one minor objection (An assistant named "Depone" specializing in ocean ecology? Oh, come on!), an effective story.
"The Reliable Vacuum Company" by James Robert Smith is a farce involving Tcho-Tcho vacuum salesmen. It's well-written, but in an anthology advertising "Tales of Horror"? Given the Piers Anthonys, Robert Asprins, and Esther Friesners of the world (not to mention Christopher Moores), do we really need Mythos farce? Each to his own, I suppose.
John Tynes spins a tale about "The Nullity of Choice," and a single-minded protagonist (apologies for the pun). The exchanges between the police sergeant and his boss form a neat counterpoint to the murderous activities of the main character, who has to have one of the most unique motivations in horror fiction.
Lois Gresh is another author from Miskatonic University, and I can't recommend her story, "Where I Go, Mi-Go," here. The writing is laughable -- try this on for size:
Gertrude, you are the last Akeley. The child, Mirabella, is the last Wendigo. The boy, Thaddeus, is the last Derby and brings the Spawn of the Wind. N'gai, n'gha'ghaa, bugg-shoggog, y'hah; Yog-Sothoth, Yog-Sothoth. The gate, the gate, the whippoorwills, the gate. The Crawling Mist, the Dweller in Darkness, Nyarlathotep!
I almost felt compelled to cry, "Calgon, take me away!" at the end of that. But the story lashes us mercilessly onward, towards lines like "I was left with only one source of comfort: Thaddeus, the Spawn of the Wind," eye twitching mad scientists out of 50's B-movies given to Derlethian expository passages, radical redefinitions of Lovecraft's terminology, and the laughably bad (and self-contradicting) climax.
"Subway Accident" by Gregory Nicoll makes one immediately think of the Pickman painting from "Pickman's Model." That painting does play a minor role in the story, but the real horror is a Lumley original. The end is telegraphed, but the prose is workmanlike.
"The High Rollers" pairs up Benjamin Adams and James Robert Smith. Ben's stated that he wrote an outline and the elevator sequence, while James wrote most of the story based on Ben's outline. Tangential Lumley connection, but I'm pleased with the dialogue of the villains, and the payoff's a good joke.
"A Forty Share In Innsmouth" is a rare (as far as I know) C.J. Henderson story, in that private investigators aren't involved. It's an interesting exercise in what some people will do for ratings that doesn't disappoint.
"Shudder Wyrm" by Stephen Mark Rainey is about, well, people who've read their Lumley can guess from the title. A young boy discovers a strange creature and one of his neighbors brings it to the local university to investigate. The scene in the swimming pool was well-done, as is the scene with Bobby's attack by the "direful wirrum."
The final story is the real treat -- a rare story from Brian Lumley himself, "Spaghetti." David's dodgy friend, Andrew Carter, asks David to live in the Carter residence with him and help him find his Uncle Arthur's treasure. But David hasn't realized just how dodgy Andrew was . . . The dawning realization of the narrator of just what did happen to Andrew's Uncle Arthur is masterfully handled, and the changing relationship between the two men reminds me of the rival sorcerers in the "Calling of the Black" tales.
In the end, I'd recommend Singers of Strange Songs -- "Spaghetti" and "The Nullity of Choice" alone make it worth it; and Burleson's tale, Adams' two contributions, and Jens' "In His Daughter's Darkling Womb" are fine stories as well. My one complaint (aside from the inclusion of the Gresh story) is that a certain Lumley creation shows up in four out of the fourteen stories.
You can obtain this at , , .
|THE WHISPERER # 1. Severn Valley Press, Summer 1999. 32 pages. £3.50.|
Cover illustration © Paul Carrick
[Reviewed by Edward P. Berglund]
After Chaosium released their roleplaying game, Call of Cthulhu, scenarios for the game and essays on the playing of the game started to appear elsewhere than Chaosium's flagship publication, Different Worlds. In the United States these appeared primarily in professional and semiprofessional publications; in England, they appeared primarily in the fan press. But on neither side of the Atlantic was their a publication devoted exclusively to Call of Cthulhu ... until 1983 when Carl T. Ford, in England, published the first issue of his fanzine Dagon. It lasted until 1990, totalling 27 issues. In just a little over seven years, Ford took the fanzine from its humble beginnings to one which covered the gamut of CoC, Lovecraftian, and Mythos material. It was sad to see Ford's fanzine go the way of almost all fanzines.
But now, almost nine years later, another British fanzine has appeared on the scene. The front cover touts "for Call of Cthulhu, Mythos CCG & things Lovecraftian." It might seem kind of small at 32 pages (Ford's Dagon # 1 had only thirteen pages, counting the front and back covers), but the pages are 8" by 11 1/2" and the font is small but readable, so there is a lot of room for material therein.
Herein you will find "Ephraim Mortimor and Sons" by Andrew Bennison (a Dagon alumnus), which details some unsavory nonplayer characters that may be bumped into while running a game; Rik Kershaw-Moore's "The Psychic Powers of Investigators," an essay on psychic powers that can not only be used in a regular CoC game, but also in one using the Delta Green storyline; "A Once and Future King" by Garrie Hall (another Dagon alumnus) is a scenario (part one) that follows on the events in Pagan Publishing's The Golden Dawn; an interview with the cover artist, Paul Carrick; "The Blanford Horror" by Gary Smith, a scenario that takes place in 1926 England (but could easily be transformed to the Gaslight era); "Shadrack and Pettifogg: Solicitors and Estate Agents," some more unsavory nonplayer characters by Bennison; a review of the new Robert Bloch collection from Arkham House; and a final essay, "IT's in the Cards: So you want to be a tournament winner?" by Danny Bourne, for those interested in the Mythos CCG.
Overall The Whisperer # 1 is a well-produced fanzine. All of the material herein is well-written and has been well thought out. There's not a lot of artwork, but what there is, is nicely done. My only quibble with this first issue is the inclusion of part one (of two parts) of the scenario by Garrie Hall. There was supposed to be an issue out this Fall (which would have part two), but I don't know if it actually appeared. If it didn't appear, then we've lost the second part of Hall's scenario.
This first issue of The Whisperer is heartily recommended. You may obtain this from Severn Valley Press, 18 Loughton Road, Bradwell Village, Milton Keynes, MK13 9AA, England. The editor can be contacted by email at The Whisperer.
|NEW MYTHOS LEGENDS, edited by Bruce Gehweiler. Marietta: Marietta Publishing. 329 pages. $25.00. ISBN 1-892669-46-4.|
This originally appeared on the alt.horror.cthulhu newsgroup.
Cover illustration © Marietta Publishing.
[Reviewed by Steven Kaye]
I first found out about New Mythos Legends from the panel of the same name at NecronomiCon. The participants on the panel were the publisher, Bruce Gehweiler, C.J. Henderson, and Don D'Amassa. Two things initially prompted me to get this book:
With all the authors out there, it's easy for the artists to get overlooked. New Mythos Legends has black and white illustrations by Allen Koszowski, Ronald Moore, Jeffrey Thomas, M. Wayne Miller, and Bob Fogletto. Allen Koszowski has been a favorite of mine for some time, and I look forward to seeing more of Mr. Fogletto's work.
Bruce said that he'd encouraged people not to reuse terminology from Lovecraft stories or to try and imitate Lovecraft's style. My only quibble with this is that I felt several stories had been included because of the authors' names rather than the subject matter.
For me, Lovecraftian refers primarily to a collection of thematic elements, isolated protagonists, humanity as an unimportant speck in the cosmos, atavism, the decline of civilization, a "secret history" of the world with races existing on Earth before man and in spaces outside our universe. Not all of these elements have to appear in a story, and most are not original with Lovecraft, but it's the combination of several of those elements that make a story Lovecraftian to my mind.
First up is James S. Dorr's "The Calm," with an illustration by Wayne Miller of British troops going out of their minds from fear as a tentacled thing comes out of a well. The plot is ordinary enough -- troops come to town, are warned in vague terms, are slaughtered by monster -- but I appreciated the lack of a detailed description of the creature or what it did exactly. The payoff in the last sentence is also a nice touch.
"Return of the Shroud" is a tale by Norman Partridge, as far as the front matter indicates, the only one not written for this anthology. A master criminal finds himself up against a supernatural thing, the Shroud, that promises him he will suffer and die -- and he does, but not in the way you might expect. It's a dialogue-driven story, with my favorite part being when the protagonist thinks he's found a way to beat the Shroud. The only element I found truly Lovecraftian, in terms of the style of the piece, is how little we know at the end of the story. What is the Shroud? Is it a force for good, evil, or neither?
"Psychopomp of Irem" is a Sesqua Valley story from Wilum Pugmire about a mysterious statue and its effects on a resident of the valley. Pugmire's decadent prose paints a disturbing picture of a soul that wants to be lost. A taste:
I listened to her tale in silence. She told me of the strange dreams she had experienced, dreams in which she found herself wandering the shifting sands of a City of Pillars. It was a place of exquisite death, and the wind that moaned among its thousand columns was an antique thing of hungry shadow. She had heard the summons of this nameless wind ever since finding the statuette. She whispered of her deep longing to join the wind in moaning the song of worship that called forth the avatar of the Crawling Chaos.
"These dreams, Sebastian, seem more solid than this terrestrial reality through which I stumble. This clumsy reality, it's the useless phantasm. In one of those dreams I found that figurine buried in the sand of the City of Pillars. But was it a dream? Have I not been there, in fact, and do I not belong there even now? These deposits of blurred memory confuse me, but they also give me a kind of solace. They fill me with a sense of destiny and fate."
This story was my favorite in the entire volume.
A new author, Richard Flanagan, contributes "The Revelation at Xochizlan," about expeditions from UCLA and Miskatonic investigating some ruins in the Yucatan. The illustration is by Jeffrey Thomas, and it is reminiscent of a Hannes Bok picture. It's one of the lighter illustrations in this book, with much of the artwork elsewhere being heavily inked and filled with shadows. As for the story itself, it's not especially remarkable. There are a few nice touches -- for example, the narrator notices that a member of the earlier expedition isn't sweating despite the extreme heat, then realizes that none of the members of the expedition sweat. Flanagan has an unfortunate tendency in this piece to tell us what things mean or what characters are thinking, rather than letting it come out through characters' actions or leaving parts mysterious for the reader to figure out.
Stephen Mark Rainey contributes "The Fire Dogs of Balustrade," about two criminals who pick on the wrong victim. Without giving too much away about the story, I hope, let me say that it was a pleasant surprise to see a story involving the Dreamlands. I hope we'll see more in the future. Rainey's prose imbues the characters' surroundings with a sense of menaces glimpsed out of the corner of one's eye, and I was particularly struck by his description of Ivan Luserke.
Next is Don D'Ammassa's "Dominion." The plot is straightforward enough -- idiot asserts that man is the master of the universe, and it's demonstrated to him how wrong he is. It reminds me of Brian Lumley's "What Dark God?," which has a similarly-unsympathetic protagonist who stumbles upon something he's clearly overmatched by. I've enjoyed some of Don's past work,
Lovecraftian and otherwise -- "Bad Soil" in Singers of Strange Songs, for example, but this failed to rise above the routine for me -- nothing exceptional in plot, characterization, or prose style.
C.J. Henderson offers up two Anton Zarnak stories, commissioned by Robert Price as executor of Lin Carter's estate. "Admission of Weakness" is the story of Anton Zarnak's first case, and how he acquired the mask of the Lemurian fire-god Yamath. Two points of interest -- first, this is a tale of Anton Zarnak before he becomes the confident master of mystic arts in Carter's tales. In addition, Henderson introduces the notion that Ram Singh, in Carter's fiction a sort of cross between Mandrake's servant Lothar and Richard Wentworth's associate, also named Ram Singh, in the Spider pulps, is in reality a proud seeker after occult knowledge who has been placed in servitude to Zarnak in order to teach Ram Singh humility. Both Zarnak and Ram Singh are fleshed out more as characters, and I look forward to the continuing adventures of Dr. Anton Zarnak.
"To Cast Out Fear" brings together Inspector LeGrasse (whom Henderson has already used as a character in a story in Chaosium's The Cthulhu Cycle) and Zarnak to combat the Great Old Ones. I liked the notion that humanity's thought processes were so different from those of the Great Old Ones that this could be used against them, though it was marred somewhat by the
rather human comments of the Great Old Ones ("Guicet dead . . . a good start. Soon you shall join him." and similar lines).
Henderson has a fairly-optimistic view in terms of humanity's ability to combat the Mythos, but the vigor of his prose and willingness to inflict horrific body counts or to psychologically scar his characters appeases the nihilist in me. The last line of "To Cast Out Fear" is especially satisfying
in this regard.
"Cellar Gods," by Jeffrey Thomas, is a love story, about the love of a Massachusetts doctor and a mysterious Oriental woman. Thomas does an excellent job of not explaining too much -- where Ng and her people came from, the mysterious statues, like those found on Easter Island. The calm rational tone of the narrator's prose belies the horror he experiences, as his love grows sicker and sicker -- I was reminded of some of Ken Wisman's chapbooks, such as Weird Family Tales. I know that Marietta Publishing has at least one other collection of Thomas' work, which I look forward to purchasing.
Del Stone Jr., whose collection of short stories The Language of Fear was issued in mass-market paperback a few years back, offers up "Feeders," a tale of fear and self-loathing reminiscent of Marc Laidlaw's The 37th Mandala in some respects. Stone's prose evokes the main character Vince's view of the world as a place filled with constant pain and sickness:
The pounding in his head escalated to sledgehammer blows, as if a metal stake were being driven through his skull. Vince gasped as he reached out to a shelf packed with candy bars to steady himself. The world spun on a different axis for a moment, then wrenched itself back to a metronomic thudding. The stark glare of the fluorescents overhead dimmed and brightened in epileptic contractions -- even the lurid optic pinks and oranges of the candy bar wrappers seemed to pulse faintly in rhythm with the migraine. Vince blinked to clear a gluey residue that had formed behind his eyelids, then sucked in a deep breath and expelled it slowly, training his thoughts on the memory of a single image: the clerk, glancing over his shoulder as he slipped into the men's room and flipped on the light and closed the door.
There's an intensity and raw emotion to Thomas' prose that is like Skipp and Spector at their best. The creatures of the title are pleasantly gruesome, and Vince's final victory is an ambiguous one.
"Of Darkness I Acknowledge Mine" by Tom Piccirilli tells the story of a plague that is killing the familiars of a town of witches, and the town outcast's attempts to find out what is going on. As the title, taken from Prospero's description of Caliban, suggests, our hero has a connection with the plague, though not the one we are led to suspect. Allen Koszowski's illustration of this story is one of my favorites in the book, from the anguished and expectant look of the king of the witches to the maddened expression of his bull familiar. There's a grotesque scene of one of the witches trying to resurrect his wife and not having enough power to do so fully, and I liked the idea of Manning, the king of the witches, binding the spirits of Torquemada and Matthew Hopkins to his boot heels. Possibly my favorite episode is the seraphim and demons free to war upon each other:
Hysteria among angels is a liberating sight to behold: thrashing and pleas to the divine, the stone knives dripping with the fluids of God, they knew more of lust and servitude than even Asmodeus, Aztoreth, Beli'Yaal or the rest of Hell's minions. Wings everywhere, and lips, and tails, with cloven hooves and dainty feet on the windowsill, and joyous smiles that lit rooms and threw shadows against the walls, opening dimensions. Curls spun over their ears, fangs and talons tore into muscle. Skin like cream, flesh covered with scales, they embraced, they loved, they hated.
Not especially Lovecraftian in tone or subject matter, but an excellent story nevertheless.
Hugh B. Cave's voodoo tale, "The Govi," is a straightforward tale of supernatural vengeance. Again, not Lovecraftian, or Mythos for that matter. I've yet to read his collection The Door Below, so I can't really speak to whether this is typical Cave or not. It is interesting to note how many of the stories in New Mythos Legends have happy, or at least not completely tragic, endings -- is this a carryover from the days of Dell's Abyss horror line, or is it part of a recent preference for asserting that, pace Lovecraft, humanity does matter? Also of note is the strong reference to Christianity throughout the collection, from the source of C.J. Henderson's title "To Cast Out Fear" to invocations of Milton's Paradise Lost at the beginning of "On the Case of Denis McLachlan: An Update."
Richard Flanagan's second story in this book, "On the Case of Denis McLachlan: An Update," is a more traditional Mythos tale. In 1811, Jeremiah Feller's wife Beatrice dies of yellow fever in New Orleans. An act of kindness in his past gives him the possibility of restoring her . . . This is more polished that Flanagan's earlier story, and the reader's awareness of what is going on
(not shared by Jeremiah at first) works with Flanagan's simple prose to heighten the tension once Feller reaches his destination. The only quibble I have is that in part of the story Feller's name is given as Feller, while in other parts it appears as Fuller.
James Shimkus' "Noonday Devil" is a variant on the tale of the gunslinger who has made a deal with the devil. This story and "Psychopomp of Irem" are illustrated by Ronald Moore in a different style from most of the other illustrations in the book -- figures are drawn in very thin lines with lots of crosshatching, and oddly distorted. The story itself is a curious blend of humor and horror, as the following excerpt demonstrates:
Red straightened his cheap suit. Willis figured this apparition was part of the particularly bad and strange luck that seemed to follow him like a loyal, rabid dog. Maybe death had sobered Red up and made him mean again. Maybe Willis had a reputation among the dead, and Red had come back with that knowledge, unable to resist the temptation.
Mankind comes out the winner in this tale as well, with both Heaven and Hell coming in for some bashing. The laconic style suits the story well.
"Worm in a Bottle" by Stephen Antczak is another supernatural revenge story, though with an interesting twist similar to Harlan Ellison's classic "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs":
"The city is the new god," he whispered. "And you sinned against it when you let our poor brother walk away. Mercy. . . ." he turned his head and spat, foamy blood, onto the concrete, "weakness."
Antczak has some great lines as the racist protagonist discovers just how screwed he is, although there are a few howlers (". . . the laughter gripped Charlie's heart like a pitbull with iced jaws," or the notion that Boston's Combat Zone is worth being afraid of nowadays).
The final story is explicitly a religious one. "Baptism of Fire," illustrated by Bob Fogletto in a style similar to the detailed linework of Michael Kaluta, is the story of a man who's given the power to fight evil head-to-head, in this case the demon king Nagas, and his crisis of faith. He falls -- or does he?
Overall, I was pleased with this anthology, despite feeling it had been marketed somewhat deceptively as a collection of Mythos fiction. I look forward to reading more works by these authors, and hope for the success of Marietta Publishing going forward.
Comments, questions, peasants with torches?
You can obtain this from Marietta Publishing, 1000 Arbor Forest Way, Marietta, Georgia 30064. You can get a catalog of their other works by writing to Marietta Publishing at P.O. Box 3485, Marietta, GA, 30061-3485.
Created: December 5, 1999; Updated: August 9, 2004