|WEIRD SHADOWS OVER INNSMOUTH, edited by Stephen Jones. Cover by Bob Eggleton. Minneapolis: Fedogan & Bremer, 2005. 297 pages. $35.00 ISBN 1-878252-56-9.|
Dust jacket illustration © Bob Eggleton.
[Reviewed by John Goodrich]
Recently, I have made the acquaintance of one Steven Bissette, an artist whose work I have been in awe of for more than twenty years. Who knew that I would find him working in the hills of Vermont? Along with Alan Moore and John Totleiben, Mr. Bissette really helped to create a renaissance in comics that weren't just for kids. After decades of laboring under the stifling and arbitrary rules of the Comics Code Authority, Moore, Bissette and Totleiben's Swamp Thing provided the comics industry with definitive proof that not only was it possible to write horror comics and not get in trouble with the law, but also demonstrated that a company could make money doing so.
How, then, does this little story work into a review of the Lovecraft-derived Weird Shadows over Innsmouth? Because Lovecraft is another one of those truly original and creative thinkers; someone who creates a genre all by himself, who has so much interest and fascination packed into his stories that when we come to the end of them, the concepts have not been mined out, but instead have opened new and greater vistas in the minds of the reader. Lovecraft seldom created direct sequels to his own work, at least partially because his mind was so ferociously creative that he didn't need to rely on his previous inspirations for ideas.
As can be expected from the title, this anthology's strength is also its weakness: all the stories deal in some way with Innsmouth or Deep Ones. If you're all right with that, then the anthology is fine. More than most anthologies, this is made up of authors picking up the scraps of Lovecraft's work and making them their own.
It is good to see Fedogan & Bremer back on the job. I am a great fan of small presses, so long as they put out quality work, and with one exception, all the F&B books I've purchased have been excellent. The materials they use are high-caliber. The paper is strong and finely textured, and they still completely cover their boards with cloth -- a binding that is seldom applied even to expensive 'coffee-table' books anymore. You pay for it; the anthology is $35, and no doubt will be issued in paperback form by Del Rey in a few years. But my inner bibliophile is much more interested in this hardcover, and also the rather grotesque but beautiful illustrations by Randy Broecker, Les Edwards, and Allan Servoss. These high-quality pictures add to the overall feel of the book.
Weird Shadows over Innsmouth begins with an interesting introduction by Stephen Jones, detailing trials and tribulations of getting the previous anthology, Shadows over Innsmouth, published, and how that lead to this new anthology. Jones is an engaging writer, and the journey is interesting. Following that, we have several pages from a discarded draft of Lovecraft's "Shadows Over Innsmouth," which are fascinating. As a struggling writer, I find it comforting to learn Lovecraft's stories did not simply spring fully-formed from his head. The draft simply tosses off several of the jolting revelations of "Innsmouth" as part of expositive narration, where they have little or no impact. As a new and fairly insecure author, I am immensely comforted by this draft.
John Glasby's "Quest for Y'ha-nthlei" is a more detailed description of the military action that takes place off-stage during "Shadows Over Innsmouth." As a story, it's not quite as rich as A. Scott Glancy's "Once More, From the Top" from Armitage House's Dark Theatres, but it's a good story, and a fitting start to the anthology.
"Brackish Waters" by Richard Lupoff is set in the San Francisco Bay Area during World War Two. Although not my favorite story of the anthology, Lupoff creates a suitably weird tale with an ending that ties into a true anomaly of the period.
"Voices in the Water" by Basil Copper follows. Until this story I have not understood the attraction of Basil Copper. His "Shaft 247" appeared in both New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and Cthulhu 2000, and the story has never compelled me to seek out more of his work. "Voices in the Water," on the other hand, gives me some pause. The story is engagingly written, although a touch trite; the narrator is an author who purchases an isolated house with an unfortunate past. Despite these shortcomings, the story is well-constructed, readable and quite enjoyable.
"Another Fish Story" by Kim Newman may be the crowning glory of the collection. It is, however, a wholly remarkable tale, at least partially because it approaches the subject of the anthology in a very sideways fashion.
I greatly admire Paul McAuley's "Take Me To The River," because the author sets the story very credibly and tangibly in London during the extremely hot, dry summer of 1976. And when the main character moves through the drug-soaked counterculture of the period, he encounters some very vividly-drawn, extremely strange characters that are just fascinating.
"The Coming" by the late Hugh Cave is a strange story of a church picnic that goes horribly awry. As is usual with Cave, the story is well-written and creepy, and it's placement here, roughly in the middle of the collection works as a break from the overtly Lovecraftian stories that come before and after.
Steve Ransic Tem's "Eggs" offers slightly more modern and direct take on one of Lovecraft's more subtle Innsmouth themes; that of reproduction, and the problem of children. I found this story curiously effective, for all that stories involving the desire for children or children in peril seem to leave me cold.
"From Cabinet 34, Drawer 6" by Caitlin Kiernan. Ms. Kiernan is an author, like Basil Copper, whose work I have not warmed to. I have heard her praises sung by John Pelan, who was thrilled to have her story "Nor the Demons Down Under the Sea" appear in his Children of Cthulhu, but the few stories that I have read have not grabbed me. This one does, with its overtly scientific approach, clear prose and subtly building sense of otherness.
Ramsay Campbell needs no introduction, and it should be no surprise that he contributed a story. "Raised By the Moon" is influenced as much by Shirley Jackson as it is by Lovecraft, the two mixed into a wonderful melange that is familiar without being trite or dull.
"Fair Exchange" by Michael Marshall Smith is a bit of an oddity in the anthology. While the story is rich and quite wonderful in its details, which has to do with petty larceny in London, the ending is rather abrupt and doesn't feel properly developed.
"The Taint" by Brian Lumley is a well written but slightly overlong "spot the Deep One" story. As always, Lumley's prose is solid, but somehow, the story fails to soar. There is little tension in the story, and it never seems to have quite enough momentum to take off, leaving the reader with the feeling of a missed opportunity.
Stephen Jones has used stories that are very broad in their approach to Deep Ones, and that is part of the wonder of this book. This book encourages me greatly because it clearly demonstrates that in the hands of someone creative, even the old and trite can become new again. And again and again, with so many of these stories taking such wildly different approaches and having such radically different ideas in reaction to the same story. I have read several anthologies of Innsmouth and Deep One stories, and I daresay this is the most diverse. The stories in the first Shadows over Innsmouth anthology tended to concentrate more closely on Innsmouth, while these stories are much more varied approaches to that ferociously creative original story, utilizing a wide variety of interpretations and settings, yet never stray so far that the influence of Lovecraft becomes indiscernible.
[Reviewed by Matthew T. Carpenter]
In my recent review of Hardboiled Cthulhu I wrote a very churlish comment about Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth. After I did that, I began to feel guilty as I had not actually essayed more than the first few stories. And then I took another look at the author list and started over from the beginning. The short version of this review is that while Hardboiled Cthulhu is a tasty dessert, Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth is more like a really fine porterhouse served medium rare with a great cabernet, immensely satisfying. Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth was published by Fedogan and Bremer in 2005. F&B has a strong association with Arkham House and has released such venerable collections as The New Lovecraft Circle, Acolytes of Cthulhu and Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos. More to the point they also released the title Shadows Over Innsmouth in 1994. I never saw the original hardcover and only got the book when the paperback was produced by Del Ray. Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth is a follow on to Shadows Over Innsmouth, perhaps resulting from the success of the previous book. The history of the two anthologies is laid out very nicely in the very useful editor's note by Stephen Jones. Whereas Shadows Over Innsmouth was based perhaps on the history of or within decaying Innsmouth itself, Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth more follows the trail of the Deep Ones away from Massachusetts to wherever they may have gone years later. Clearly Lovecraft's masterwork, "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," maintains a grip on the imagination of fans and authors everywhere. Here is the housekeeping: I bought the limited edition hardcover, signed by all the authors. I have not seen the trade hardcover so I have to assume the cover and illustrations are the same. Mine was so expensive I don't want to think about it and I basically lied to my wife about how much I spent. It is, however, the most beautiful book in my collection. The price for the trade hardcover from Amazon is $35.00, unfortunately not discounted but available for free shipping. The price is the same at Shocklines, where shipping is also free. The quality of all the other F&B hardcovers I have is quite high. The cover art is by Bob Eggleton. It is a gorgeous picture of Cthulhu rising amidst worshipful Deep Ones, and is very reminiscent of his wonderful cover for Cthulhu 2000. The numerous interior drawings are by Randy Broeker, Les Edwards, Allan Servoss and Mr. Eggleton, and they are wonderful, adding greatly to my enjoyment of the book. Page count is a generous 297, including the excellent editor's note and the very useful authors' notes at the end. These notes are a model for such an anthology, as they not only give a minibio and bibliography of the writers, they also have descriptions of how HPL inspired a given writer, or what influenced their story in the book. Editing was flawless; I did not note any typos. One thing I liked generally about the stories was that the authors assumed the reader had read and was familiar with HPL's "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," and they didn't feel it was necessary to recount the basic chronology, biology and social/religious order of the Deep Ones and their human allies all over again. Generally. All of the stories were new to me, with nine of twelve being newly published in this anthology. I doubt most readers would have encountered them anywhere else. Among the authors, Basil Copper, Kim Newman (writing as Jack Yeovil), Michael Smith, Ramsey Campbell and Brian Lumley had stories featured previously in Shadows Over Innsmouth. Spoilers may follow so stop reading if that will bother you.
The first three stories are what kind of turned me off on my first few attempts at this book. The book begins with some early draft pages of Lovecraft's masterpiece, "The Shadow Over Innsmouth." HPL's draft ultimately was not used in his final story and really only of interest to completists and those who want to know how the story evolved. It's a few small fragments and didn't really charge me at all.
"The Quest For Y'ha-nthlei" -- John Glasby -- Mr. Glasby has apparently written a number of mythos based works that I am unfamiliar with. I'll have to seek them out. This story tells about the military operation that took place after Robert Olmstead fled Innsmouth in HPL's original story. For me it was just OK, nothing too exciting. In particular, this is the second attempt I know of to describe these events and the first, "Once More From the Top" by A. Scott Glancy in the Delta Green: Dark Theaters anthology, was a much more exciting read.
"Brackish Waters" -- Richard A. Lupoff -- Mr. Lupoff has a new collection out from Elder Signs Press, Terrors, that contains a substantial number of Lovecraftian stories. They are mostly reprints so I haven't been able to force myself to review it yet. Frankly, this next story confused the heck out of me and contributed to my setting the book aside a few times until this past week. The story isn't really about what it's about. It is set in the time of WWII, and the true story of the munitions explosion of the Quinault Victory and the E.A. Bryan in Port Chicago. The racial overtones are explored briefly. It seems Mr. Lupoff really wanted to write about this event which is not well known today. Furthermore he wants to speculate it was really a test of a nuclear bomb on real live people, almost all of them black and therefore expendable in the eyes of the US government. Google Port Chicago explosion if you want to know more. This true life part is a backdrop for a university professor, 4F, gradually turning into a Deep One, not really knowing any of his own kind and not really understanding what is happening to him. Then he blows up with everyone else. Then we get an author's note explaining what Mr. Lupoff was trying to do.
"Voices in the Water" -- Basil Copper -- Mr. Copper wrote "Beyond the Reef," an enjoyable work in the previous anthology. "Voices in the Water" centers around an artist who builds a house with a studio in an old mill over a river. Something in the river starts calling to him to come join them. This was a well crafted story, with tension developed to a very taut level. I really liked it and it finally put the current book back on track for me.
"Another Fish Story" -- Kim Newman -- Mr. Newman's "The Big Fish" was a terrific hardboiled PI story in Shadows Over Innsmouth. "Another Fish Story" involves a character familiar to his fans, used in other tales, Derek Leech. I don't know if the author would agree, but for me Derek Leech is sort of like the Walkin' Dude in King's The Stand, slowly spreading devilry wherever he goes. Here Derek purposefully crosses paths with Charlie Manson. Man can this guy write! What a story!
"Take Me to the River" -- Paul McAuley -- I was unfamiliar with Mr. McAuley's work before. This was also simply a great story. A third rate rocker down on his luck has a fourth rate friend small time drug dealer who gets a new drug from a rather repulsive fishy woman. Excellent prose.
"The Coming" -- Hugh B. Cave -- Mr. Cave just died a few years ago, and is a highly respected horror writer. I wonder if he was the model for the deceased author in J.F. Gonzalez' "The Watcher from the Grave" in Hard Boiled Cthulhu. Alas, I thought this story was only OK, as strangely deformed, mutated humans attack some people on a religious retreat.
"Eggs" -- Steve Tem -- Mr. Tem has written four other Lovecraftian stories. I would love to find copies of them! The Deep Ones hybrid offspring hide within human society, trying to subvert it. Their bodies slowly transform into alien creatures. The protagonist here has a cancer that is slowly eating him away from the inside. His wife is pregnant, slowly creating new life inside herself, also altering her appearance. Strange eggs from the sea appear all around them in an almost deserted shore side community, gradually isolating them. The overtones here were quite rich, the suspense suitably horrific and the story highly enjoyable.
"From Cabinet 34, Drawer 10" -- Caitlyn Kiernan -- Goodness me, can Caitlyn Kiernan write! Her prose is fabulous, her descriptions vivid. Her characters jump off the page and become alive. Ms. Kiernan is an archaeologist/paleontologist who has explored the Massachusetts coast searching for the setting of Innsmouth. I view this story as something of a companion piece to "Valentia" in To Charles Fort, With Love. "From Cabinet 34, Drawer 10" describes how a hard working paleontologist uncovers a fossil in a museum collection that has radical implications for vertebrate development. Wonderful stuff! "Raised by the Moon" -- Ramsey Campbell -- Mr. Campbell has immense prestige and impeccable Lovecraftian credentials. I am glad to see the Old Gent still has appeal to such a fine author. Just hope your car doesn't break down near some (unfortunately not so) deserted sea wall.
"Fair Exchange" -- Michael Smith -- Mr. Smith wrote the wonderful, ghostly "To See the Sea" in Shadows Over Innsmouth. "Fair Exchange" just blew me away! It crackled with vitality. The main protagonist simply came to life under the author's pen. I bet he was chuckling to himself the whole time as he wrote this marvelous story about a thief on the job who comes across some very odd New England jewelry of an unusual alloy. Alas, thieves are greedy.
"The Taint" -- Brian Lumley -- Mr. Lumley also has a lot of fame in the horror industry, and also has time honored Lovecraftian credentials. "The Taint" was terrific, about some individuals who may have antecedents in a certain Massachusetts town but don't know it.
So in summary, almost all of these stories are inspired successes. I don't know if Mr. Jones will repeat his previous triumph but he deserves to. This book belongs on the shelves of all fans of HPL's mythos. Maybe if it sells enough copies Del Ray will print a paperback, and if that sells well enough, Stephen Jones may compile another anthology for us!
You may obtain this book from Amazon.com.
|ELDRITCH BLUE: LOVE & SEX IN THE CTHULHU MYTHOS, edited by Kevin L. O'Brien. Cover by Susan McAdam. Aurora, CO: Cairnsford Tome Books, 2004. 219 pages. $21.00 ISBN 0-9740297-5-0.|
Cover illustration © Susan McAdam.
[Reviewed by Matthew T. Carpenter]
Eldritch Blue is a 2004 title from Lindisfarne Press. Kevin O'Brien and Lindisfarne had an ambitious plan for publishing many mythos titles, but they ran out of dough and almost went belly up. Fortunately they are still hanging on by their fingernails, and hope to resume publishing soon. That's good for us, as this book will attest! My overall impression is quite favorable. The production qualities are very high. It is a good quality trade paperback that should be very durable and provide many years of rereading pleasure. It is somewhat pricier than a comparable Chaosium anthology, currently at $21.00 on Amazon (but perhaps discounted to $14.00 on the Lindisfarne website), but then it has more good stories than the typical Chaosium offering. In some respects, it is a better concept than the Chaosium cycle series, as there is no attempt made to offer a comprehensive picture of the historical development of a particular aspect of the Cthulhu mythos. This leads to the inclusion of really poorly written drivel in the Chaosium anthologies, just because they may be hypothetically important in getting a picture of the larger concept. (The dreadful goat leg stories in The Shub Niggurath Cycle spring to mind). Eldritch Blue is more concerned with gathering together a selection of stories exploring the issues of love and sex in Lovecraftian fiction. I can't recall the page number in Eldritch Blue but for the money it was a generous sampling of stories. The other thing to note is the overall quality of the stories was better than a typical Chaosium cycle anthology, if not as high as Dead But Dreaming or Cthulhu 2000. The artwork was by Susan McAdam. The cover was a very striking work, and I think very much emphasized the theme of sex and horror quite well. The interior artwork was enjoyable, although not all as successful. I particularly liked the illustrations for "Mail Order Bride," "Seduced" and "The Obsession of Percival Carstairs." Overall the art matched the mood of the story and enhanced the experience, adding to the enjoyability of the book. It should be noted that Ms. McAdam is also an author, with some fine Yellow Sign stories to her credit. For the most part the editing was good, with only a few annoying typos. One was particularly glaring to the rheumatologist in me, in "Stacked Actors," but I don't know if it was the editor or the author responsible for misspelling Raynaud's disease. And mislabeling it, when what was meant was Raynaud's phenomenon. Oh, well, no one else would notice. Do I have several gripes? You bet! First of all, Bob Price always finds a way to drive me crazy! The silly title of his introduction did not sit well with me. I also found the editor's notes after each story to be damn near excruciating. They show what I think is a basic wrong headed view of what Lovecraftian fiction is all about. I'll give an example later. On the other hand, they appear after each work so they are not spoilers, and you can easily skip them. The biographical notes at the end were good. I think instead of modeling after Price, maybe O'Brien should model after other editors in other anthologies, and not make any comments after his initial preface. For example, in Dead But Dreaming no one felt compelled to write a note after each story and I did not miss them at all. And as usual, some of these stories are in other anthologies in my collection and some I have read online, leading to needless duplication. Editors really should consult me before decoding to include a story or not. . . .
Moving on to individual stories (****spoilers may follow****):
"Promethes: Where Walks Istasha" by James Ambuehl -- well, I'm not a big fan of mythos poetry. . . .
"The Tale of Toad Loop" by Stanley C. Sargent -- When I read this back in 2004 I found it an OK work of mythos fiction, nothing special but not out of place and worth the read, if not a reread. Well, two years later I did re-read it for The Tsathoggua Cycle and it had grown on me.
"Goat-Mother" by Pierre Comtois -- I found this story to be one of the jewels of the anthology. It was well written, tightly plotted, refreshingly different and had excellent horror elements. I look forward to more stories by Mr. Comtois! Now this is where I had some heartburn with the editor's notes. First of all, I would rate this story as one of the three best centering around the Tcho Tcho people I have ever read. The other two were "Black Man With a Horn" by T.E.D. Klein, and a novella by Arinn Dembo in the Delta Green: Dark Theatres anthology. All three are marvelous stories. All three works have completely different takes on the Tcho Tcho. And that's OK! Nothing about Yog-Sothothery has to be internally consistent. I guess I use the term Mythos out of convenience because it is shorter to type, but it is not really a unified mythos cycle, where there are rigid rules of interpretation. Vagueness, lack of precision, whatever you call it, allows enormous room for creative authors to develop new ideas on familiar themes for us fans. And for pity's sake, Lovecraftian fiction has no need whatever to correspond with the scientific strictures of our natural world. Who cares about the details of reproduction of these noxious creatures that Pierre Comtois created, and where they fit in with earth biology phylogenetically? The scenes were delightfully creepy and allowed the reader's imagination to run wild. My only word of caution to Mr. Comtois is that there was no need for an italicized ending. The horror was self evident and did not need the emphasis. Bravo!
"Beast of Love" by Tracy and James Ambuehl -- Now if anyone knows how to dispose of a mythos protagonist it is James Ambuehl! This was a typically fun Ambuehl read, and I look forward to his upcoming new stories in the Lindisfarne collection.
Back to my views of the stories (****(spoilers may follow*****):
"The Spawn of Y'lagh" by Randall Larson -- This didn't do much for me. It was a very conventional mythos tale, not particularly well written, of the sort that has appeared countless times. On the other hand it wasn't dreadfully bad, and it did not detract from the anthology.
"Mail Order Bride" by Ann K. Schwader -- This is a brilliant story, about intermarriage with the Deep Ones from an entirely original angle. The prose and characterizations were acute. Any gripe? Well this story is already in Strange Stars and Alien Shadows, so it commits the sin of duplication, but in a tale this fine, we'll consider it venial instead of mortal. I wish Ms. Schwader would hurry up and write some more new mythos stories.
"Family Recipe" by Charles Garofalo -- A tightly written story, again about the Deep Ones intermingling with humans, with another original twist. It was a very fun read, although I like other stories here better. Mr. Garofalo has also written the highly regarded "Lord of the Empty Houses," "Baked Naked" and "The Sending."
"Cat's-Paw" by E.P. Berglund -- An excellent Shub-Niggurath story, with well-drawn characters and enjoyable prose. It held up the high standards of the anthology.
"The Faces at Pine Dunes" by Ramsey Campbell -- Ramsay Campbell -- what can I say -- it was a wonderful story. I just wish Mr. Campbell would write some new mythos stuff. Also, it is reprinted from other anthologies . . .
"Dagon's Mistress" by Neil Riebe -- This story was only fair, with a conventional mythos plot that had an unusually upbeat turn. Mainly the prose didn't grab me, and the ending didn't ring true for a mythos collection.
"The Thing on the Doorstep" by H.P. Lovecraft -- Of course, one of HPL's best, so marvelous. However, I counted and I have 6.23 zillion other copies in collections I already own. Reduplicate duplication doubled.
"The Prodigies of Monkfield Cabot" by Michael Minnis -- An interesting take on "The Thing on the Doorstep," being a prequel rather than a sequel. It was good, although the plot twists and prose did not sparkle as much as the best stories in here. Nonetheless, not out of place, and better than many stories in Chaosium anthologies. I will certainly get all the collections Lindisfarne publishes of Mr. Minnis' work.
"Seduced" by Ronald Shiflet -- Brilliant. Just brilliant. Plot, prose, characterization, all superb. One of the very best Shub-Niggurath stories I have ever read. Bravo, Mr. Shiflet. I will run, not walk, to buy his collections under this imprint.
"Stacked Actors" by Peter A. Worthy -- Now this story gave me a bit of heartburn. I am a fan of Stross and of Delta Green, so I like the subgenre, but this just didn't do it for me. Per the author summaries I know Mr. Worthy is living in Scotland, but I don't know where he is originally from. However, there was no reason to believe this as a story occurring in England. None of the idiom rang true for me; it all seemed very American. Furthermore, the story was way too in medias res. It seemed over half the story was filling us in on background, instead of giving us exposition of the current plot. It also had a very lifted-from-an RPG-scenario feel in a way the best Delta Green does not. Maybe there was too much risk of DG overlap if set in the US? At any rate, if we visit these characters again I hope the emphasis is on the current story, with more attention to plotting and characterization than to setting the stage.
"Have You Found Him" by Jean Ann Donnel -- A well-written fragment, but too short to really grab me.
"The Violet Princess" by Stephen Mark Rainey -- A wonderful story by Mr. Rainey, as we all expect. The prose just captured the isolation and frustrated longing of the protagonist beautifully. And I loved the ending.
"What Sort of Man" by Walter C. DeBill, Jr. -- Another excellent story in an excellent collection, about a man whose family trades with aliens from Carcosa to acquire unusual antiques for their business. Anything I write might give away the plot, so I'll just say I thoroughly enjoyed it.
"The Obsession of Percival Cairstairs" by Charles Black -- OK conventional mythos story, predictable but not unenjoyable. Commits the sin of the italicized ending trying to add punch where better prose would have helped more. Not a bad story, certainly would have found a place in a Chaosium anthology.
"A Mate for the Mutilator" by Robert M. Price -- Price's fiction doesn't really grab me. I liked the plot idea, but the characters were not well developed, and the prose didn't match the best in the anthology. OK, not bad, just not the best I have ever read.
"To Cast Out Fear" C.J. Henderson -- An OK Anton Zardak story -- not my favorite subgenre, but written about the level of Lin Carter, so a plus for fans.
"The Surrogate" by Kevin L. O'Brien -- Well, I wished I liked it better. Mr. O'Brien knows how to compile an anthology but his writing does not move me. First of all the prose wasn't that great. For example, would any prostitute, even in the Mile High City, ever refer to herself as a doxy? The characters were bland and undeveloped, so it was hard to care what happened to them. I also could not for the life of me figure out why the mother or the prostitute liked her son at all. There was no patina of horror to shade the whole story as is usually required for good mythos fiction, and there was nothing stated or implied that would show if the creature was controlling their minds to make them do its bidding. The prostitute at least should have been utterly numb with fear. And, frankly, Jim Ambuehl would have had her get eaten in a respectable mythos story ending creepfest.
So, I had a highly favorable impression of Eldritch Blue. A handsome production packed with new stories, for the most part extremely well written, with the best soaring to the highest heights of mythos fiction. Any fan would be well advised to spend their hard earned Cthulhu bucks on it.
You may obtain this book from Amazon.com.
|THE AMULET (The Midnight Eye Files), by William Meikle. KHP Publisher, 2005. 200 pages. $15.00 ISBN 0976791463.|
Cover illustration © KHP Publisher.
[Reviewed by Matthew T. Carpenter]
The Midnight Eye Files: The Amulet is a newly published book by Willie Meikle. Fortunately for us, it looks like the start of a new series. The publisher is Black Death Books. It is a standard sized trade soft cover, 197 pages that's all story, no introduction or author's notes. The cover art is by KHP studios, with no specific photographer credited. It shows a world weary gumshoe, cigarette in hand, with a femme fatale in the background. My favorite touch was the Elder Sign ring. Production qualities are good with maybe one typo. There may have been a few Glasgow references or language that I missed, but the prose was both accomplished and accessible. In fact, Mr. Meikle's knowledge and characterizations of Glasgow made the book spring to life. At Shocklines it is only $15.00 with free shipping. The price is the same at Amazon and you get free shipping if you order $25 worth of stuff. All in all well worth the money! I must admit I approached this book with a bit of trepidation. I really was not won over by Island Life, a title by Mr. Meikle from a few years ago. I actually gave my copy away. I need not have worried. The Amulet was a triumph and I hope the beginning of a beautiful friendship with private eye Derek Adams. Maybe I was a sucker for it because my all-time favorite movie is The Maltese Falcon, hands down. I just love all those old Bogart flicks. Schizophrenically, I've never read a Raymond Chandler, even after reading reams of Doc Savage, Tarzan, Ludlum, Clancy and other potboilers. Maybe I'll mosey to the bookstore and give them a gander, as Chandler is treated reverentially by Meikle. To explain how the mythos fits in I have to include some mild spoilers, so stop now if that is going to bother you.
Derek Adams is a down on his luck £250-per-day-plus-expenses gumshoe in Glasgow, what little time he isn't chain smoking he spends getting drunk. Or at least drinking really hard. Man if I had 10% of what he downed in this book I would be completely incapacitated for weeks! In walks a knock-out dame with a case and it is trouble (it always is, isn't it?)! It seems there is an amulet from ancient Ur, of the image of a terrible tentacled demon. It was unearthed in an archeological dig decades earlier, perhaps under nefarious circumstances, under the influence of a mysterious ancient Arab. The amulet has been stolen from its current owners under suspicious circumstances, with a mysterious ancient Arab sighted around the fringes. What follows is a well paced story of Derek first doing some basic PI work, and some flashbacks to the dig at Ur. Mutilated bodies start piling up, the local police start hassling Derek and it becomes obvious some supernatural agency is involved. After the mystery is largely solved, the book's last 50 or so pages turn into a sorcerous confrontation between the amulet's owners, a scholar and Wiccan witch, and those who want to use its power to open the gates of reality to awaken Great C'thulhu. The demon of the amulet is not a specific mythos entity but is a creation of Mr. Meikle, called the Gatekeeper (unless I missed that somehow it is an avatar of Yog-Sothoth). A creature with starfish like tentacles on the top of its head seems like one of our old friends, and there may be an oblique reference to Azathoth, what with all the piping going on. The climactic confrontation takes place in the depths of a forbidding place called Arkham House. How much more mythos can it be? Of course, however, it is not really a mythos story except maybe the last bit. It's really more a detective novel. Naaah, not a detective novel. A gumshoe novel.
So here, in stream of consciousness format, are things I liked and my one quibble. I really liked the first half of the book. This isn't C.J. Henderson-type stuff, at least not at first. This is more like James Ambuehl's "The Pisces Club" with break-neck action and humor intermingled. There is a real patina of gritty Glaswegian reality, lending richness and depth. I loved the stock PI novel characters. But I was distressed when so many of them ended up among the victims! I liked that Derek was not a superman, not even a real tough guy type. But he pursued this case like a bulldog. And existentialist mythos fans will be quite pleased by the way the good guys put up a fight with ultimate evil. I also liked the events at the end leading up to the confrontation if not quite so much as the first part of the book. I know Derek rethinks his end of book decision to give up the PI business, because his second book is in the works, Sirens, also from Black Death Books. No mythos but perhaps shape changers, Fisher cults and more prodigious drinking feats. I guess I'll just have to wait and see where Mr. Meikle takes us. Probably more mythos lurks in Glaswegian alleyways. Now my one quibble, such a tiny thing, but it always puts me off in a mythos book. HPL is mentioned as an author of fiction, and yet his mythos is the backdrop for the horror elements of this story. HPL writing reality passed off as fiction is a plot device I just don't like. This was one tiny part of a short sentence. It didn't detract in any way from my enjoyment of the novel. I just couldn't help noticing it. I don't know when Derek Adams will cross paths with minions of the Great Old Ones again, or if his further adventures will be along other arcane avenues. Whatever he does, I'll be along for the ride and you should too. I also want to explore some of Mr. Meikle's other books too, particularly his Watchers series. The Amulet is recommended to mythos fans, gumshoe fans, Meikle fans and fans of a good yarn.
You may obtain this book from Amazon.com.
|HORROR BETWEEN THE SHEETS, edited by Michael Amorel, Oliver Baer, and Benjamin X. Wretlind. Cover by Michael Amorel. Two Backed Books, 2005. 163 pages. $12.95 ISBN 1933293012.|
Cover illustration © (unknown).
[Reviewed by Matthew T. Carpenter]
Well I could not resist the allure of a collection of stories from Cthulhu Sex magazine. Mainly based on the title. I mean, there had to be at least a few mythos stories in there, right? And when I got Cthulhu and the Coeds, it had a bunch of dogs, but one fine gem, "The Scrimshaw Museum," which made me happy, so the same had to hold true for Horror Between the Sheets, right? Wrooooongggggg!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I really should have listened to the alt.horror.cthulhu denizens who were cautionary. I guess I don't get the premise of Cthulhu Sex at all. Crappy, gory schlock that's allegedly funny and erotic? This book was $12.95. Shipping is free from Shocklines. Alas I got mine from Amazon marketplace, another kick in the teeth when considering the worth of the collection. Honest to goodness I do not know why I order from anywhere else besides Shocklines. Page count was 163, a little less than, for example, Lost Worlds of Space and Time, but then the cost is a few dollars less. Production qualities are about the same as other trade paperbacks, meaning I am concerned that it won't hold up well compared to paperbacks of yore. I was wondering if there was some way to tell if it was print-on-demand (POD). Eldritch Blue was POD; it is fine quality. Lost Worlds of Space and Time, however, seems a cut lower. Horror Between the Sheets may be a click lower still. If I am right, these are POD type books. The cover art by Michael Amorel was OK, showing some tentacles reaching through some sea weedy depths, in crimson light. OK, I liked it well enough, no wow factor like Cthulhu 2000 or Horrors Beyond. The editors were Michael Amorel, Oliver Baer and Benjamin Wretlind, three persons I never heard of and won't be seeking out fiction by. Right from the get go I have to say that I was terribly disappointed. Why the hell do they call the rag Cthulhu Sex when it has nothing to do with Lovecraft except if you contort tangential associations enormously? Also the writing was generally mediocre compared to that seen in recent mythos anthologies like Dreaming in R'lyeh, Eldritch Blue, Lost Worlds of Space and Time or Horrors Beyond. The table of contents seems to show a generous sampling of items, but just about every other work was a dreadful poem, which were even less readable than the prose. A lot of the stories were made worse by the arch, too hip for words, you have to be in on the joke kind of (feeble attempt at) humor that pervaded the anthology from the introduction onward. I will describe the stories that may spoil them for those of you who are big enough saps to get this anthology. The poems are best left to your imagination.
"Noseeums" is actually a pretty good conventional story, maybe the best in the book, about a man in an asylum who sees entities that eat the souls of humans when they die, and so is hiding out. His wife doesn't believe him, but he gives her a taste of what he sees. This would not have been out of place in Horrors Beyond.
"Erato's Sister" was by David Annandale. This is distressing because Mr. Annandale wrote what may be the finest mythos tale of the modern era, "Final Draft" in Dead But Dreaming. I find that story has astonishing prose and power. And now he comes up with this crap gory ghouly sex bilge fest.
"Go Team" by Kenneth Brady had some non-mythos tentacles. Story still stunk. A teenager cheerleader gives her all to save the world from demons.
"Beyond" by Brian Knight and Durant Haire was actually OK, a private eye and a grizzled cop investigate a cult that is occult, having a malevolent thing leader from another world/dimension. Some hard-boiled stuff. Not great, but in comparison it actually was readable.
"A Slice of Life" by Arthur Cullipher was a twisted retelling of Hansel and Gretel. The thing had tentacles on its face. Non-mythos tentacles.
"Romancing the Worm" by Sue D'Nimm could not decide if it was weird western fiction or humor. I think one or the other would have been better. The very modern prose idiom didn't help with the confusion. An Indian on the verge of manhood has to sleep with the tribal medicine woman and discovers a dark secret of the tribe. I both liked and disliked this story. Really, it was one of the more entertaining efforts in the book, especially when compared with "Go Team" or "Two Loves." Maybe if all the lousy poems hadn't put me in a bad mood I would be more favorably inclined toward it.
"Skin" by Joi A. Brozek was crap, teen slasher piercing rebellion, boring and tedious.
"The Reaching Wall" by Christine Morgan is about a popular teen who goes off her rocker and imagines the bathroom wallpaper vines are trying to get her. Conventional horror. OK but forgettable.
"The Masterpiece" by Jenn Mann was short (thank goodness); a sculptor creates a statue that eats her boyfriend's essence. There have been many similar mythos stories. This effort was pedestrian and predictable but readable.
"The Phone Company" showed some predictable plotting as some geek types discover something unpleasant about the real workings of the phone company. If this had been written as a straight up horror story it could have worked. The humor part fell flat.
"He" by Abigail Parsley was drivel, nothing like the HPL story.
"Two Loves" by Adam Falik and Robert Wheeler was schizophrenic, with some conventional suspense in the first part and a virtually unreadable morass in the second part.
"The Pear" by Matthew Howe was an S&M story. Interesting slant about the bureaucratization of torture. Really quite predictable, however.
So in summary, nothing to interest the HPL fan who is looking for mythos related or inspired fiction. There are so many better ways to spend your Cthulhu bucks it isn't funny: Lost Worlds of Space and Time; Night Journeys, Night Voices; Horrors Beyond; Eldritch Blue; Lovecratft's Legacy; Cthulhu 2000; The Atrocity Archive; etc. etc. Based on these "best of" stories from Cthulhu Sex I will not be seeking out this magazine, say, ever.
You may obtain this book from Amazon.com.
Created: October 28, 2006