|LAIRS OF THE HIDDEN GODS, VOLUME TWO: INVERTED KINGDOM, edited by Asamatsu Ken. Cover by Yamada Akihiro. Chou-ku, Fukuoka, Japan: Kurodahan Press, 2005. 357 pages. $20.00. ISBN 4-902075-12-1. NOTE: This is a partial translation of Asamatsu Ken's anthology Hishinkai, published by Tokyo Sogensha in 2002.|
Cover illustration © Kurodahan Press.
[Reviewed by James Ambuehl]
More Mythos goodness from Kurodahan Press, whose previous Night Voices, Night Journeys (Lairs, Volume One) I gave a rousing review. One thing that stood out for me in a few of these tales was the predominance of the female character, usually in a sexual and/or progenitive role, but they were present all the same. Lovecraft's fiction hardly used them, of course, and usually in the role of villains if he did.
But anyway, again, this is a highly-original, even scary anthology of very imaginative tales. And we lead off in very fine form with Ashibe Taku's short novel, "The Horror in the Kabuki Theater." In this deep, compelling story steeped in Japanese culture, real monsters are supplanting the fictional ones in picture books and plays -- and coming to life! -- and very unorthodox rituals must be brought into play to combat them! This story seems to carry echoes of "The Dunwich Horror," with its banding together of various hardy souls to combat the Mythos, and it proves once again that the pen is indeed mightier than the ... er, tentacle!
Next up is "Taste of Snake's Honey," a shocking tale -- rife with perversion and murder -- from the bad guy Yig-avatar's point of view. But it's a well-written, engaging read which is, despite its horrors, impossible to tear one's self away from. I dare say author Matsudono Rio is the Japanese equivalent of our own Douglas Clegg or Edward Lee!
Matsuo Mirai's "Inverted Kingdom" is very poetic, with lots of descriptions of flowing and bubbling black waters in the wake of a devastating Tsunami. It's very much influenced by "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," too, a tale of a lonely identity-barren girl fated to give birth to monsters! "Terror Rate" by Konaka Chiaki is another great read, very Weird Tales-ish, a tale of frightening experiments held in a house seemingly outside time and space!
Takana Fumio's "Secrets of the Abyss" seemed a little rushed, unfortunately, but the idea was interesting, at least: focusing on the healing powers of a certain strange fish found deep in caves. The ending just seemed to come out of nowhere, and would have been much less jarring had the story been a bit longer. Plus, the Mythos really seemed to me to be tacked on at the end.
Nanjo Takenori's "A Night at Yuan-Su" was also not so much Mythos centered, but definitely Lovecraftian, with echoes of "The Outsider" and "He," as well as classic Japanese ghost stories.
"Summoned by the Shadows" by Hirayama Yumeaki is a sort of Mythos version of Rosemary's Baby, and its a frightening and imaginative tale to boot!
In addition to the fine fiction displayed within, we also have an article on Lovecraftian role-playing games in Japan, and Bob Price is in especially fine, and even quite jocular form, with his Introduction, "Cults of the Ghouls," which takes a long-overdue look at the various types of Mythos cultists and dissects their seemingly mad motivations!
So, all in all, a wonderful book, especially worthwhile for the Price introduction, and the stories "The Horror in the Kabuki Theater," "Taste of Snake's Honey," and "Summoned by the Shadows." And yes, once again, I must mention the cover is a wonderful underwater vista, again by artist Yamada Akihiro, depicting a sort of grumpy looking Cthulhu -- perhaps grumpy because he's just been awakened from his aeons-old slumber! And his dark-eyed gaze seems to say to the viewer: buy this book -- or else! And who's going to argue with Cthulhu? Highly recommended! Even Cthulhu says so!
[Reviewed by John Goodrich]
Inverted Kingdom: Lairs of the Hidden Gods is the second volume of four promised volumes of translated Japanese Lovecraftian stories. As with the previous entry into this series (Night Voices, Night Journeys), this anthology has a stately grace to it that many American Mythos anthologies seem to lack. These stories are not in any rush, but instead take their time, not rushing their conclusions, understanding that in fiction, the journey is what creates the destination. As a result, the table of contents is considerably shorter than one would expect for a 357-page anthology, containing only seven stories.
The anthology's opening tale, "The Horror in the Kabuki Theater" by Ashibe Taku, is the longest story in the book, certainly of at least novella length. The story is a rich depiction of 19th Century Japanese theater, with many references to what could be actual people that I don't know. Although initially confusing to someone who is not familiar with kabuki, the well-drawn details are enough to keep the reader going as the story builds some very powerful momentum. This is an excellent, strong beginning to the anthology, reminding us that this new world that we are entering is not the familiar world of stories written for English-speaking audiences.
"Taste of Snake's Honey" by Matsudono Rio, cannot help but suffer by comparison. The narrator is a thoroughly debauched Westerner who has come to Japan in pursuit of business, and his father's former partner. While competently written and translated, this story doesn't seem to break much new ground as far as Mythos fiction goes.
"Inverted Kingdom" was written by Matsuo Mirai, who wrote both the screenplay and the novelization of Insumasu no Wo Kage, an adaptation of Shadow over Innsmouth set in Japan, which spawned the Virtual Boy game Insmouse no Yakata or Innsmouth Mansion. With this for background, it wasn't difficult to assume that he had written a tale of Deep Ones. This is the story of a lost soul named Mizuki, who is drawn to Lake Saiko after a landslide devastates three villages there.
Konaka Chiaki's "Terror Rate" successfully incorporates a few Lovecraftian trappings into the very successful Japanese horror trope of the hungry ghosts, as recently popularized by the films The Ring and The Grudge. And although the story really owes more to these ghosts, touching only lightly on Lovecraft, it is the most viscerally spooky and unsettling story in the anthology.
Where most of the stories in this anthology really take their time in getting developed, Takana Fumio's "Secrets of the Abyss" seems rushed by comparison. The plot deals with a man whose wife is dying of cancer, and who seems to discover a cure for it. Of course there are complications, but there are certain leaps of intuition that the protagonist makes that do not feel warranted. This does not make the story bad or unreadable, but rather notably jarring in its transitions. I suspect that these would not be noticeable if the story were placed among English Mythos stories, but when set amid the more stately paced stories that make up this collection, it can be a bit jarring.
"A Night at Yuan-Su" by Nanjo Takenori is unusual in that it does not borrow from Lovecraft's more commonly-imitated Mythos tales, but rather from his earlier, Dunsanian works. True to these stories, "A Night at Yuan-Su" creates a dream-like atmosphere, and exhibits a longing for the past that, while not uniquely Lovecraftian, is certainly a recognizable theme from his work.
"Summoned by the Shadows" by Hirayama Yumeaki is another story that deals with 'hungry ghost' tropes. A man with a family is downsized, and move into a small house that has a small grave in the yard. Naturally, it all goes horribly awry. Despite the predictable path of the story, the journey is well worth the ride. When the strange and supernatural events begin to occur, they are not what I was expecting, given the set-up of the story.
The alienation of Japanese culture is very much on display here. In several of these stories, the narrator turns out to be 'special' to one of various Great Old Ones, if not an outright Wilbur Whateley human-other crossbreed. While this is standard Mythos fodder, the revelation of a mixed heritage is not particularly shocking, and in my opinion needs to be supported with something else.
Again, for those of you who like "Mythos" fiction, Inverted Kingdom is an interesting book to pick up, simply to witness an approach to Lovecraft from a very different culture. And if some of the stories don't tickle my fancy, I can at least say that I'm surprised by the number of stories that do, since the story-telling tradition involved is not technically from my culture. So while Inverted Kingdom may not satisfy all tastes, it will give readers a glimpse of the influence the New England Recluse has had on cultures he never dreamed he would be addressing.
[Reviewed by Matthew T. Carpenter]
I received an advance copy of this book courtesy of Mr. Edward Lipsett several weeks ago. Of all the books I ever reviewed this is the only one I did not pay for myself. Sorry to say, it took me a long time to finish reading it. Oh, there were good reasons, mostly. For example my youngest son likes the cover art so it would disappear periodically for days, only to turn up under his bed. And then my wife cleaned out the living room before Christmas and it was MIA again for about a week. Also the week before Christmas I was pretty sick, as well as swamped at work and with the Christmas rush. Oh well, these are all excuses. I have other reasons I'll enumerate below. This is volume two of a planned four-volume collection of translated original short fiction by Japanese authors. These have been previously published in Japan, but are basically completely new works and completely new authors to us English-speaking westerners. I thought the first volume was brilliant, a stunning triumph. My impression is more tempered this time, but I also give this volume a resounding recommendation. We simply must have more of this Japanese fiction! I do hope Kurodahan Press, the publisher, reaps in lots of yen so they will be encouraged to keep us supplied with a steady stream of Japanese mythos fiction, not just these four volumes. Some housekeeping: The price is $20. Order from Shocklines and shipping is free (yay!). There is no discount from Amazon (boo!), but if you order more than $25 worth of stuff it ships free (yay!) for downgraded shipping (boo!). Page count was a just short of phenomenal 357, so quite a bargain really. This includes a four-page introduction by Asamatsu Ken, a ten-page introduction by Robert Price (a familiar figure to all of us), two pages for titles in front of each story, another two-page introduction by Price in front of each story, and the last 24 pages devoted to an essay on mythos role playing games and notes about the authors. No calculator available, but this left 291 pages for seven stories, an average about 42 pages each. This book is generally longer than most homegrown mythos collections and has fewer stories. Some amount to novellas. Is that the Japanese way? Are short stories less short than in the US? In any event, the authors were allowed sufficient page count that characters and plot could be developed at leisure, imagery could be lingered over. The same lotus-scented surreal atmosphere seemed to exude from this volume as from the earlier one. A special note must be made of the cover art by Yamada Akihiro. It is simply lovely, one of the most gorgeous mythos covers ever. An octopoidal thing drifts dreamily in the seaweed, but don't venture too close! The book is, I think, POD, and my copy was flawless. Alas it is already a bit beat up but it hasn't been handled too gently here. Mostly I have only grateful praise for the translators except in two instances that I will note later. I think the forward by Asamatsu Ken, "Life with Gills," set the mood for the book perfectly. This time, however, I was not enamored of Price's introduction. He was off on his pet themes regarding the mythos, now about mythos cult members. It was a trifle (or more) long winded and didn't really add to my appreciation of the subsequent stories. I did not read his individual story introductions until I had finished each one, as there were sometimes minor spoilers. Mostly I felt neutral about them. My comments about the individual stories may contain spoilers so please skip the rest of this if that will be a problem for you.
Ashibe Taku -- "The Horror in the Kabuki Theatre" -- I believe this was the longest story in the book, practically a novella. I had some heartburn with it. A group in Japan has a copy of the Necronimicon and are trying to invoke the power or presence of the Great Old Ones by inserting chants or imagery about them into performances in the Kabuki theaters near Edo in 1806. The premise that these entities can manifest into existence from thoughts or words on a page dovetails nicely with many mythos stories or themes here in the US. The spin here that was original that by writing a play about their defeat, humans, the playwrights and the players can combat the Great Old Ones using words, just as they are trying to be manifested through words. Unfortunately I found this tale somewhat dry. The back ground is a true history of Japan and Kabuki, with much discussion of the names of playwrights, actors and prop makers, and listing their work. Here is where a detailed introduction could have done real service to the uninitiated westerner. I have no context for this story historically or culturally. I think I have only ever seen a minute or two of Kabuki on TV or in movies. The same is true for Chinese opera, but in the film Farewell My Concubine the screen imagery was vivid enough that I could at least catch glimpses of what it must have been like. This text did not do the same thing for me (except the ceremony where the world was decreed), and I don't know whether the blame lies with the translator or the author (or me, for that matter). For example, as creatures manifest and swallow whole theaters full of patrons and performers there was no sense of fear or tension in the prose. The people who were there who were not swallowed up didn't evince much reaction at all. I wonder if I wrote a story for a Japanese periodical and listed the names of Shakespeare's plays, and the major actors and set designers of the period if it would read like so much word salad to my audience. I feel a bit guilty that I didn't Google Kabuki and read up on it instead of just griping about my lack of context.
Matsudono Rio -- "Taste of the Snake's Honey" -- This is a Yig story and was quite fine. A young man with tastes for ghoulish and violent kinky sex gradually achieves self realization. His detachment from the atrocities inflicted for his enjoyment ends up internally consistent and necessary to the story. I would love to read some more of Mr. Matsudono's fiction. Initially I thought there were unusual juxtapositions of present and past tense, but this was only in the first part of the story. Author or translator? I dunno.
Matsuo Mirai -- "Inverted Kingdom" -- This was a superb story of a woman living a mundane existence as a housewife who then finds her destiny is not so mundane after all. Realization comes to her and the reader gradually, at first dimly glimpsed and then more clearly. If not for "Terror Rate" it would have been my favorite in the book.
Konaka Chiaki -- "Terror Rate" -- Goodness, this was wonderful! A young lady in need of supplemental income agrees to participate in a scientific experiment where she merely has to spend the night in a house where her fear will be measured. Well plotted and deftly written, it has pride of place in this anthology.
Tanaka Fumio -- "Secrets of the Abyss" -- In this nifty story a man in search of a cure for his gravely ill wife comes across an unusual fish in a nearby flooded quarry, after observing a dog eating something from the old mine. The flesh from this creature has perhaps less than salutary effects on her and him. It was a very agreeable read.
Nanjo Takenori -- "A Night at Yuan-Su" -- A man wanders one night through the streets of Yuan-Su in search of who knows what. Who is real? What is real? Is anything real? You might wish to reread "He" by HPL before reading this story. It was dreamlike and well crafted, another fine addition to the mythos. I really liked it.
Hirayama Yumeaki -- "Summoned by the Shadows" -- A family settles into a house where the rent is unexpectedly low just because there's a grave in the back yard. Complications ensue. Not a bad premise, not a bad story, it just did not knock my socks off the way some of the others did.
Yasuda Hitoshi -- "The Cthulhu Mythos in Gaming" -- This essay was diverting enough, but seemed rather generic to me. I would have been interested in more complete or detailed description of homegrown Japanese mythos gaming or of the gaming community.
That's about it! I was not as completely won over as I was for Night Voices, Night Journeys. In particular I think "The Horror in the Kabuki Theatre" was too long and too dry, and, well, too obscure for me. On the other hand I would not part with my copy. Four of the stories were superb gems, rating with the best of modern Lovecraftian fiction. One was very good and one was OK. I think everyone should have this book on their shelves. It is indispensable reading for serious mythos fans. Heck you can't beat the value for the money so go for it! I await other opinions with interest. Even more so, I impatiently await volume three!
You may obtain this book from Amazon.com.
|THE TSATHOGGUA CYCLE, edited by Robert M. Price. Cover by Mark Achilles White. Oakland: Chaosium Books, 2005. 221 pages. $14.95. ISBN 1-56882-131-X.|
Cover illustration © Mark Achilles White.
[Reviewed by James Ambuehl]
Despite all of the 'noxious demon-spawns' and 'black abominations' thrown out almost by rote in the Mythos stories, let's face it: Tsathoggua is one of the few Great Old Ones whose appearance belies his temperament (a fuzzy bat-toad-sloth-ape-thing with a wide mouth, rubbery lips and sleepy eyes ... aw, how cute!). He seems somewhat sardonic, of course, but also kind of mirthful. And whereas someone like Nyarlathotep is indeed faceless, in more ways than one, Tsathoggua seems to be simply bubbling and frothing with personality! Hmm ... I just noticed a certain resemblance to: Furrbies! And now that I think upon it, the Gremlin movies too: Ia Gizmo, Noxious (but cute) Spawn of Tsathoggua! Ah, but I begin to digress.
That said, make no mistake: The Tsathoggua Cycle does not consist of furry animal tales! After a very intriguing introduction by Robert M. Price, and pseudofactual and genealogical data on the little furry guy by Clark Ashton Smith himself, we start out the book in fine form with a veritable monster-fest, Smith's "The Seven Geases." Atlach-Nacha, Abhoth the Unclean, the Voormis-folk, and of course Tsathoggua himself, all raise their heads here. A tale of a hunting expedition gone horribly wrong, this tale is not without its sardonic humor.
"The Testament of Athhammaus," again by Smith, is a much more frightening tale, starring an amorphous Demi-Spawn of Tsathoggua, the fearsome and seemingly unkillable Kyngathin Zhaum. Chilling stuff.
Next come the Satampra Zeiros tales, "The Tale of Satampra Zerios," "The Theft of the Thirty-Nine Girdles," and my own "The Shadow of the Sleeping God." These stories, along with a fourth Satampra tale, again by myself, and entitled "The Court of the Crystal Flame" and which can be found in Rainfall Books' Lost Worlds of Space and Time (Volume One), are more on the order of Robert E. Howard's Conan or Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Mouser adventures than Smith's usual sardonic folk tales. Truly, great fun!
And, of course, with my "Sleeping God" we are into the realm of stories not by Smith himself, but inspired by his works. Loay Hall's and Terry Dale's "The Curse of the Toad" posits a cult in Africa dedicated to the god, and consisting of the dreaded Tcho-Tchos. A witch doctor's revenge tale, this plot would have been right at home in those classic EC Comics! Great story!
James Amderson's "Dark Swamp" is based around Lovecraft's and C.M. Eddy's exploits concerning an ill-fated expedition to find a rumored swamp in the back fields of Chepachet, Rhode Island -- ill-fated that is, because they were unable to locate it; but this eerie tale hints at just what they might have found, had they indeed stumbled upon it!
John Glasby's "The Old One" seems to be, on its surface, about a wholly different god than our little bat-toad-sloth-ape -- but editor Price's introduction to the tale seems to satisfactorily explain away some of these inconsistencies (though it doesn't explain his tomb being underwater!). Neverttheles, it's a fine, gripping tale by a vastly underrated author.
Like Richard L. Tierney's excellent Simon of Gitta series, Ron Hilger's "The Oracle of Sadoqua" envisions the Old Ones in the ancient Roman Empire, and its a likewise gripping tale.
Being already a master of the Dreamlands mileu, Gary Myer's "Horror Show" is one of his more recent contemporary tales. And this frightening tale of a rock club taken over by the influence of Tsathoggua suggests he'll soon master this style as well!
Stanley C. Sargent's Mythos work has rightly been highly-praised, and "The Tale of Toad Loop" shows why. An excellent, atmospheric tale strongly rooted in the Lovecraftian tradition.
Rod Heather's "The Crawling Kingdom" inspired one of my own tales, a favorite -- "The Terror of Toad Lake," in Nightscapes # 1 and my own collection Correlated Contents, soon to appear in a new, expanded edition! -- back when I first read it in Midnight Shambler magazine, and re-reading it indeed brought the same pleasure I experienced the first time. Another excellent tale by an author who really should have written more, but whom seemingly disappeared off the face of the Earth like some Lovecraftian fictional protagonist!
The same goes for Henry J. Vester III, whose work appeared fairly frequently in Fungoid Press's stable of publications, but then he just seemed to fall off the ends of the Earth! In fact, several of the authors in this book seem to be MIA! Uh-oh. At any rate, the Toad-God's Curse aside, Vester's tale is well worth reading, and as I look over this review once more I can see that in my opinion this is one of the greatest Chaosium anthologies yet! The little furry Toad-God seems to bring out the best in people, and in my book, that's a rather -- er, cute -- trick! Very highly recommended!
[Reviewed by Matthew T. Carpenter]
Man, oh man, it's finally here. The saga of The Tsathoggua Cycle is very familiar to those of us who haunt alt.horror.cthulhu regularly. This book was compiled in the late 1990s for a 1998 release when certain unfortunate financial realities kicked in for Chaosium. At last things turned around for the small press icon and after a lengthy delay we have the finished product. And it was actually finished back in 1997-1998; this is not an anthology of stories new in the last five years. List price is $14.95 but Amazon's price is $10.17, and eligible for free shipping if you buy $25 worth of stuff. I couldn't find it on Shocklines but I'm sure you can get it directly from Chaosium. It is a standard trade paperback with 220 pages. This does not include a six page introduction by Robert Price but it does include an introduction to each story. Production qualities are reasonable. The cover art however, continues the dreadful, shameful tradition of the Chaosium cycle books, which have notably poor artwork. The picture looks like pitiful claymation of a dinosaur. After stunning artwork in modern mythos books like Hive, Horrors Beyond and Night Voices, Night Journeys, this effort by Mark Achilles White leads me to wonder how much he got paid and that maybe I could become an artist too. The introduction by Robert Price (the workhorse of the Chaosium cycle series) was actually very useful. It laid out the entire history of the creation of Tsathoggua by Clark Ashton Smith and also discussed various pronunciations. Best of all, there was a photo of a sculpture of Tsathoggua by CAS! This would have been a great cover! In fact more CAS artwork throughout the book would have been most welcome. I also think the individual story introductions, also by Price, were mostly good, although not as good as the book introduction. My advice, however, is to read them after each story as they do contain minor to major spoilers. I also get fatigued by Price's constant comparisons and allusions of mythos stories to Biblical authorship. Give it a rest for at least one book! Possible minor spoilers may follow, so don't read any more if that bothers you. I will say from the outset that I think CAS was a unique American prose master. I acquired his Hyperborea and Zothique from Ballantine many years ago, edited by Lin Carter. My favorite compilation is A Rendezvous in Averoigne from Arkham House. I urge everyone to acquire this title. I am eagerly awaiting the complete stories from Nightshade Books (yes I couldn't help preordering it). Rereading the Smith tales enclosed herein was like encountering old friends after a long separation. CAS had a gift for language, scene painting and shading horror with humor. But I must also voice a complaint. Any HPL collector likely already has A Rendezvous in Averoigne. I can understand the desire to get all the Tsathoggua stories in one volume but this was really needless duplication. On the other hand, except for Sargent's contribution the rest of the stories here were new to me. As for commentary on "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros" and "The Theft of the Thirty-Nine Girdles," I simply must direct you to Dan Clore's brilliant discussion of timeline inconsistencies: Satampra "Lefty" Zeiros. I will note that "The Seven Geases" made an indelible impression on me when I was a teen, first discovery of CAS and HPL, with the fate of the protagonist giving me quite a shock, after all the happy ending fantasy I had been reading. Finally, I must also contradict myself. For me "From the Parchment of Pnom" was just about unreadable. I don't think CAS ever intended it for print. I'm sure Kevin O'Brien will just eat this up, but I really can't stand mythos genealogies. They don't ring true for me; at least I don't enjoy them at all.
"Shadow of the Sleeping God" (James Ambuehl) -- You may know of James Ambuehl's other story in the Satampra Zeiros canon, "In the Court of the Crystal Flame" found in Lost Worlds of Space and Time, Vol I. It was very enjoyable. Alas I find this 1998 effort to be lacking. I just didn't care for it. This story is a direct sequel to "The Theft of the Thirty-Nine Girdles." I don't like it when the story bludgeons you over the head with the fact that it is mythos, and that there is a mythos, instead of the mythos entities/trappings being props for the story. Also there is no way the avatar of Tsathoggua would not have consumed all the protagonists. In the intervening years Mr. Ambuehl's prose has become much more polished. Check out "The Pisces Club," for example.
"The Curse of the Toad" (Loay Hall and Terry Dale) -- The premise of this story was pretty good, with a disdainful great white hunter cursed by a shaman of Gua (Tsathoggua for short . . .). Unfortunately the execution was not so hot. Writing a sentence in upper case does not give it more weight any more then the old trope of the italicized ending. The prose here was fair at best, but I'll admit to enjoying the denouement, nicely concealed by indirection.
"Dark Swamp" (James Anderson) -- In this tale, HPL makes an appearance as himself. Or at least one of his experiences does; the setting is a place where HPL actually spent an afternoon looking, unsuccessfully perhaps, for Dark Swamp. Price's introduction was particularly useful spelling all this out for those of us unfamiliar with all the details of HPL's life. Years later the protagonist wants to walk in HPL's footsteps and to his chagrin manages to find the swamp. He then wonders if HPL had actually seen the denizens of the swamp and if this inspired his fiction. I really find the appearance of HPL and his fiction inside mythos stories to be a tiresome plot device, particularly when the implication is that his fiction wasn't really fiction. The prose was OK, the denouement was OK, none of it jazzed me. And I'll have to reread it to try to find out just where Tsathoggua makes an appearance and how the story fits in this anthology . . .
"The Old One" (John Glasby) -- Oh well, another typical HPL pastiche type introduction about a scientist/archeologist warning us all about the veil of reality and how he wished he never peeked behind it, yadayadayada. In this case the ancient city Yuth is discovered on the ocean floor near Bimini, and so is a temple of Tsathoggua. Some intrepid (or mostly trepid . . .) scientists investigate, including one who knows the awful truth . . . You know, this was a perfectly agreeable story with perfectly agreeable writing. I mostly enjoyed it. It just wasn't very original.
"The Oracle of Sadoqua" (Ron Hilger) -- I really like Roman times mythos stories. Others I can think of offhand include the novel The Gardens of Lucullus (used copies available on the internet) and "The Golden Keeper" by Ian R. MacLeod (available in the collection Eternal Lovecraft from Golden Gryphon). The friend of a Roman lieutenant stationed in Gaul disappears. Suspicions run high against the druids who are the guardians of the Oracle of Sadoqua. I actually enjoyed the use of different names/spellings for Tsathoggua in this book; it nicely dovetails with the uncertainty, blurred distinctions, contradictions and human inability to completely perceive these Lovecraftian type entities that characterizes my favorite mythos fiction. I liked the construction of the story, the setting and the prose. Keep up the good work, Mr. Hilger.
"The Horror Show" (Gary Myers) -- I am unfamiliar with Gary Myers, but I have to fix that. I have a copy of The House of the Worm languishing unread on my shelves, and it has been so long since I read some of my anthologies I am sure I am forgetting some of his work. "The Horror Show" was a gem, clearly my favorite in the anthology (of course, not including the CAS stories). Great prose, well developed tension, great plot. A chance encounter in a pretentious and contrived Goth club causes a young lady to accept the persuasions of a young man to see a real horror show . . .
"The Tale of Toad Loop" (Stanley C. Sargent) -- Ancient Exhumations was originally published by Mythos Books in 1999; the new edition, Ancient Exhumations +2 (with a real cool cover!) was published by Elder Signs Press in 2004. This is where "The Tale of Toad Loop" made its first anthology appearance. It was subsequently printed in Eldritch Blue. This is my third copy! I guess that is not dead which you can eternal buy. The basic plot is very familiar mythos territory. A sorcerer or dabbler in sorcery opens a gate to allow an outr being to impregnate his wife (as usual for very obscure reasons), Toadaggwa in this case. Sargent spins a fine yarn with this common premise, with deft plotting, nifty prose and an unexpected ending.
"The Crawling Kingdom" (Rod Heather) -- Another well written story cleverly plotted. A professor studying toads in the woods inadvertently observes a rite of worship of Tsathoggua. A nosy college reporter uncovers what the consequences were to the professor, and maybe to himself from that unhappy chance.
"The Resurrection of Kzadool-Ra" (Henry J. Vester III) -- More CAS-like than HPL-like, this story was set in Zothique, where an acolyte inadvertently discovers an altar dedicated to Zathogwa. He decides to resurrect worship to the dread god . . . A very agreeable read.
So what is the mythos fan to do? As usual in the Chaosium cycle books this was a mixed bag. Some reprints everyone probably has, some stories that were not so hot (although no really complete dogs), some minor gems and one that knocked my socks off. It is inexpensive, compiles almost all the Tsathoggua stories in one place and will keep your cycle book collection complete. Go for it!
You may obtain this book from Amazon.com.
|HIVE, by Tim Curran. Cover by Dave Carson. Lake Orion, MI: Elder Signs Press, 2005. 271 pages. $15.95. ISBN 0-9759229-4-7.|
Cover illustration © Dave Carson
[Reviewed by Edward P. Berglund]
The publisher has stated on the back cover of this novel that it is "a sequel over 70 years in the making." I surely hope that Tim Currant hasn't been working on this novel for over 70 years! And here I thought he was a relatively young man. And going along with the publisher's horn blowing, we could say the same about Lovecraft's story being a sequel almost 100 years in the making, since it is based somewhat on Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, published in 1838.
Hive is a sequel to H.P. Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness." Although it is a sequel to Lovecraft's story, it is also inspired by "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell and John Carpenter's movie adaptation of Campbell's story, The Thing.
The novel starts with Jimmy Hayes landing in Antartica for the winter at Kharkov Station. Something seems wrong and novel is a whirlwind to the very end. The plot is fairly straight forward with part paralleling Lovecraft's story and parts paralleling Carpenter's movie, with a lot of extrapolation from Curran. Extrapolation, you say? Yes, extrapolation. For, like Lovecraft's story, this novel is a science fiction horror story. For instance, I've seen on the Internet where someone said that Curran blew it when he has the Old Ones inhabiting a city in a lake beneath the ice cap. Did this individual forget that Lovecraft said that they had arrived on Earth by "flying" through space? If the Old Ones can survive the vacuum of space, they can survive anywhere, for the substance they are made of is not the same substance we are made of. And whereas Lovecraft's Old Ones were more important to his story than the humans, Curran 's emphasis is on the humans, although he doesn't shortshift the Old Ones. Of course, Jimmy Hayes is well characterized, as is Dr. Sharkey, his love interest. Curran's description of the Old Ones' city is truly alien in keeping with the Campbell and Carpenter items mentioned above.
This novel is the best Mythos novel I have read in years and, as such, I highly recommend it for your reading pleasure.
[Reviewed by Matthew T. Carpenter]
Hive is a new publication by Elder Signs Press, just released a few months ago. The author is Tim Curran. Even though we are unpacking, as usual most of my mythos books are in a box somewhere and I can't say how many stories by Mr. Curran I may have read. I never read his other novel, Skin Medicine. He has written two short stories I saw recently, "The Eyes of Howard Curlix" (from Horrors Beyond) and "The Chattering of Tiny Teeth" (from Warfear). Both were well crafted and enjoyable. The limited edition hardcover of Hive is sold out (I was lucky enough to get a copy) but the trade paperback is available for only $10.85, and eligible for free shipping if the total order is more than $25 from Amazon. My copy was rather more expensive, but it is a high quality hardback that upholds the high standards set by Elder Signs, and I imagine the paperback is good quality as well. Page count was 269. I must mention that the cover art by Dave Carson is phenomenally gorgeous, a shoggoth-like creature arising from the icy depths in an ancient ruined city. However I would contend whether it represented any actual scene from the book or was more just a terrific Lovecraftian painting. Editing was tight with minimal typos (especially compared to the disastrous The H.P. Lovecraft Institute). This book is billed as a sequel to "At the Mountains of Madness."
1. Something that follows; a continuation.
2. A literary, dramatic, or cinematic work whose narrative continues that of a preexisting work.
3. A result or consequence.
In the sense that it is set in the same environment of the Pabodie expedition, it is a sequel . . . relying on definition # 1. But I would dispute the aptness of definition # 2. I'll come back to that. Be advised that some spoilers may follow. The plot is set in the modern era at a scientific research station in Antarctica. The cast is a collection of scientists, technicians and other misfits who are spending the Antarctic winter doing research, basically cut off from the rest of the world and living in a small oasis in the midst of a harsh and unforgiving landscape. Some of them are investigating areas previously searched by the Pabodie expedition in ATMOM and they unearth some frozen/mummified Old One cadavers . . . or are they really cadavers?
I really really wanted to like this book. And I did like the basic conception of the plot and how it was carried out. Otherwise I had some difficulties with it. This may read a little like stream of consciousness, alas. First of all, although Curran used the same setting as ATMOM, and the machinations of the Old Ones were central to the story, it wasn't really a sequel. I haven't read ATMOM in a few years, but as I recall were not the shoggoths ascendant in the ruins of the Old Ones' city? Shoggoths did not make an appearance in the book. But that's OK. I think we would all rather an author followed his own muse and not just slap together another Lovecraftian pastiche. Part of my indelible response to any Antarctic horror story is informed by John Carpenter's The Thing (no, he's not a relative, the John Carpenter I'm related to is a commercial artist). I think this movie is brilliant: frightening, creepy, hysterically funny in parts, with great acting performances and very very Lovecraftian sensibility. I view it as the best ever Lovecraftian film. And so I can't help but look for similarities, and I can't help but find them. Curran himself makes a tributary mention of The Thing near the end of his text. Having seen this and Alien, I must say there were no highly original plot twists in Hive to sustain tension. But on the other hand, as it is set in the same frame of reference as ATMOM we already know about the bogeymen, so I wasn't put off by this either. And now we come to my greatest issue with Hive, the writing itself. The prose just did not knock my socks off. I should note that the idiom made no effort to mimic HPL's prose (which is not a bad thing!). ATMOM is one of my all time favorite HPL works and it was only about a hundred pages or so. Word count in ATMOM runs about 41,000 and we know that HPL did not use the most economical prose. Hive was just too long. For the most part I think the mythos has been best served by the short story. The mythos type novels that have really grabbed me have been few: Radiant Dawn and Ravenous Dusk by Goodfellow, Rules of Engagement by Tynes and Balak by Rainey. Most of the others have not been as good for whatever reason. In Hive I often felt the whole book should have been edited down to novella length to remove excess verbiage. For example, there were often, for me, excessive adjectives in oddly structured usage. I shamefacedly admit that back when I was a teen I actually read about five or six John Norman Gor novels, you know, the ones before he degenerated into soft core bondage porn, and he would structure sentences like 'and too, to me it seemed bold' instead of the more direct 'it seemed bold to me.' Of course Yoda type sentence structure (beautifully lampooned in George Lucas in Love) is even more annoying. I'm getting off track, there was nothing that bad here, but if something is red, blue and green I'd rather say that, than say it was red and blue and green. Doing so once is for effect, more is for affectation. And bloody vexing when it goes on page after page. Using four to six adjectives to describe things in the same sentence also just bogs things down. Also I think the author just tried a little too hard. The descriptions are arduous, effortful, and for me did not evoke the intended horror, otherness, whatever. I found the characters lacked life and were frankly not distinctive enough for me to try to keep them straight, or care about their fates. And the dialogue just didn't ring true, profanity for effect, but just sort of falling flat like, well, profanity for effect. When I compare that to Radiant Dawn where the characters jump off the page, develop and become people I cared about, and where the dialogue bristles, sparkles, keeping me reading at a break neck pace . . . Hive suffers by comparison. I set it down a few times and read some other books in between attempts at finishing it. On the other hand I did not punt on it like I did Nightmare's Disciple and A Darkness Inbred. So a mixed bag here. The book in paperback is very reasonable priced, eligible for free shipping. And it was a noble effort. I did care about the plot and wanted to see where Curran ended the story, and I did think the ending was satisfying (if anticipated by The Thing again). I'll give it three stars. I await other opinions with interest. I certainly will not shy away from Curran's future mythos offerings. In fact, I preordered Dead Sea from Elder Signs Press.
You may obtain this book from Amazon.com.
Created: October 28, 2006