|THE H.P. LOVECRAFT INSTITUTE, by David Bischoff. Rockville, MD: Wildside, 2002. 388 pages. $34.95 ISBN 1592249620.|
Dust jacket illustration © Wildside Pre.
[Reviewed by Matthew T. Carpenter]
I read this book in a desultory fashion while en route from Pittsburgh to San Antonio. The H.P. Lovecraft Institute is by David Bischoff who is apparently widely published, although I've never read anything by him. He has written several other novels with similar titles like J.R.R. Tolkien University. This book is a publication from Wildside Press, an Alan Rogers book (so I guess he was the editor?), with a publication date of 2002. List price is an exorbitant $34.95. I forget where I got my copy, or how long ago or how much I paid for it. I can't figure out who did the cover art, a sort of picture of HPL in an octopus like body, rather drab. Page count was 386. Physically it is a handsome book but the editing was remarkably poor. Typos abounded, with misspellings, word substitutions and characters changing names in mid page. This reflects the fact that the editor should have demanded a few more rewrites. I'll be brief and will not describe the plot in detail. This may spoil it somewhat for those who care. Basically this is a case where an evil sorcerer type has used an arcane power source to prolong his life. By means of blood sacrifice, now that the stars are right, he intends to open a gate to allow Nyarlthotep access to out plane. Sounds very Lovecraftian. Didn't read that way. This novel was fraught with problems. In fact the genre as a whole seems much more suited to the short story, although recently I did enjoy Balak by Rainey and the work of Cody Goodfellow. The H.P. Lovecraft Institute read more like a Stephen King wannabe than an HPL knock off. This sorcerer type has killed his brother years before, and enslaved his niece, making her a vampire. Of course there is a disillusioned minister with a son who has nascent telepathy and telekinesis powers, an oversexed teen girl, and a brother who has been resurrected somehow as a skeleton named Mr. Bones who communicates with an innocent young girl, making his home in her closet . . . I could go on. Stock King situations and characters, unscary gore verging on the schlocky, unsexy sex verging on soft core porn, paper thin characters who do not relate to one another in a believable way, weak dialogue, a confused jumble of subgenres, less than compelling prose. Well I liked a few of the brief vignettes but mostly this was forgettable. No sense at all of the cosmicism of HPL which I really like. I also need to mention that HPL was mentioned as someone the sorcerer type had told all to, and who then wrote up this truth as fiction and who was then offed by the sorcerer. I really dislike this plot device where HPL is mentioned as having written fiction that was actually true. With everything else I guess the most unforgivable fault for me was that it was boring. I kept looking wistfully at other books in my stack, but forced myself to finish based on the price paid. If the prose had sparkle I still could have recommended this book. As it was, at the price, I suggest borrowing it from the library instead of paying (an extremely large amount of) Cthulhu bucks if you really want to read it. You miss nothing if you give it a miss. I certainly was relieved to be done with it.
You may obtain this book from Amazon.com.
|TALES OUT OF DUNWICH, edited by Robert M. Price. Cover by Philip Fuller. New York: Hippocampus Press, 2005. 302 pages. $20.00 ISBN 0-9748789-9-5.|
Cover illustration © Hippocampus Press.
[Reviewed by Matthew T. Carpenter]
Tales Out of Dunwich is a newly released book from Hippocampus Press. The story "Dunwich Dreams, Dunwich Screams" by Eddie Bertin is newly published with this book. Otherwise the remaining stories have all been released before. I have a pretty extensive library of mythos books and anthologies, but not of periodicals, and almost all of these stories were new to me. "Acute Spiritual Fear" by Robert Price was in the 2003 anthology The Disciples of Cthulhu II from Chaosium and "The Black Brat of Dunwich" was in Stanley Sargent's 2002 collection The Taint of Lovecraft from Mythos Books. Tales Out of Dunwich is a handsome trade paperback and costs $20.00. I got mine directly from Hippocampus (preordered it more than a year ago) and shipping was about $4.25. It is unavailable from Shocklines currently. Although not discounted, you can get it from Amazon where it is eligible for free shipping if you buy $25.00 worth of merchandise, but for downgraded shipping. Production qualities seem first rate. The page count is a generous 302 . . . but this includes nine pages of title page, table of contents, dedication and acknowledgements, and Robert Price's four-page introduction. Yes, the editing and introduction are by the ubiquitous Robert Price. He nicely lays out the premise of the collection, which is to build on the previous The Dunwich Cycle under the Chaosium imprint, with stories related to, inspired by or set in the environs around HPL's "The Dunwich Horror." Price being Price there is an overly erudite and, well, irrelevant discussion of the editing and authorship of the Bible. Ehhh, maybe not so irrelevant when we get to his own story he chose for this anthology. What I mean by overly erudite is that Price spends what seems to me an inordinate amount of time doing serious literary analysis on trifles. I remember in the movie The Kids Are Alright Roger Daltry telling a reporter something like, "Rock and roll can't stand up to all that inspecting and detecting. So shut up." Or more to the point, I like to paraphrase a Shoe cartoon, where Shoe is talking to the Perfessor. This is only as accurate as my foggy memory allows.
Shoe: Whatcha reading Perfessor? Some science fiction junk?
Perfessor (suddenly incensed): Junk?! Science fiction is not junk! These authors are highly original and imaginative! This is not junk! This is philosophy, heavy, mind-expanding philosophy!
Shoe: So what's it called?
Perfessor: The Feast of the Khroobles. It's about a giant meatloaf that eats Toledo.
What I really would have liked, but only got from Bertin, are authors' notes about the stories. The cover art, by Phillip Fuller, shows a very bosomy brunette, dressed in Goth chick dominatrix outfit, holding an ancient leather bound tome, no doubt the Necronomicon, with an ancient gabled house concealed mistily in the background. Need I say it has nothing at all to do with any of the stories? It sure isn't a picture of (deformed, albino) long suffering Lavinia Whateley. In fact it looks like the teen dream of a bespectacled loser who reads horror and fantasy, and comes uncomfortably close to the sort of picture that would have made the book fly off the shelf into my hands several decades ago. Maybe that's the point. . . . Spoilers may follow, so don't read any more if that will bother you. I will also level some harsh criticism at some of the stories, but let me say at the outset that I highly enjoyed this collection.
Harper Williams: "The Thing in the Woods." This novel (novella? What's the difference anyway?) comprises the bulk of the book. Per Price this was one of Lovecraft's direct antecedents for "The Dunwich Horror" in terms of setting, prose and the plot device of two mysterious brothers and their odd mother. As such it is of historical interest to the mythos fan but is not a mythos title at all. It is quite a find but only really necessary to the mythos completist. It fits in perfectly with Hippocampus' publication aims, which is to publish books that were in HPL's library. Visit for more details. The mysterious monster here is actually a lycanthrope, with nary a tentacle in sight. Two things stand out. First of all Williams was better at prose (but not cosmic concept) than Lovecraft, with more interesting and developed characters, and better dialogue. The story was well paced with tension well developed, even if it wasn't very scary. The second is that Williams' 1924 racism is particularly virulent and spiteful, making Lovecraft's own tendencies seem positively genteel. The politest phrase used for blacks was a racist epithet. Other more vicious epithets appear. And the depiction of the one black character is quite derisive. This was so matter of fact in the text that it was positively jarring and will no doubt make many modern readers squirm. I am including this comment in my review because it might give some readers second thoughts about buying the book.
Jack Williamson: "The Mark of the Monster." This story is from 1937, is non-mythos, is not set in Dunwich and has perhaps a tenuous connection to HPL, perhaps. Or perhaps none at all. It could have easily been deleted, as it was also the least accomplished prose in the book.
Nancy A. Collins: "The Thing from Lover's Lane." I am unfamiliar with Collins' work except "Land of the Reflected Ones" that was in The Eternal Lovecraft. This was a story tangentially related to Dunwich, set in the Misty Valley as opposed to the Miskatonic. Dunwich is mentioned in passing as a similar setting where weird things happen. Definitely this is a mythos title where a girl is impregnated by an outré being, namely an avatar of Shub-Niggurath (not the more Dunwichian Yog Sothoth). Interestingly in this story the Shub-Niggurath avatar is depicted as a male goat creature. The prose was well crafted and the story enjoyable.
Robert M. Price: "Acute Spiritual Fear." Price is well known to mythos fans. Usually I don't like Price's writing but this is perhaps his best story, with a great premise. At good ole Miskatonic University there is a cult that views Wilbur Whateley as the second coming. After all he had a supernatural father and was despised of men. The prose is quite good, the plotting deft and overall was top notch.
Stanley C. Sargent: "Black Brat of Dunwich." Stanley Sargent has many published mythos stories. A lot of Sargent's earliest mythos stuff seems pastiche-esque to me. This particular story, however, was very good. It was an original take on "The Dunwich Horror," casting poor old Wilbur as well meaning and misunderstood, and Armitage as a crazy evil coot, all as related years after the horror by Wilbur's now elderly tutor. As in most of Sargent's fiction there is a strong homoerotic element. Sometimes in Sargent's stories this particular theme is shoehorned unnaturally into the story, just because he wants it there in a very 80s kind of in your face gesture. But in "Black Brat of Dunwich" it is a more organic element of the story and may explain the tutor's long standing loyalty to the Whateleys. However it bugged me that this tutor was trying to get the interest of a young (maybe eleven years at the time) teen Whateley (granted seven feet tall, inhuman, alien, goat-like with extra eyes and tentacles, but the tutor seemed to think he was just human). The illustration of this scene in The Taint of Lovecraft makes it look even more explicit. This is not the first such image from Sargent. For example consider the sheriff's brief mental image in "The Paladin of Worms" from Ancient Exhumation +2, which was quite gratuitous to the story.
Brian McNaughton: The Dunwich Lodger." McNaughton wrote the excellent collection The Throne of Bones, ghoulish instead of Lovecraftian. He had an accomplished hand at prose and evocative imagery. This was a terrific little story of eldritch goings on in a seedy family in a seedy motel in Dunwich. Interested fans can find many other Lovecraftian works by the late McNaughton.
Richard A. Lupoff: "The Doom that Came to Dunwich." Lupoff is a well published author of horror and science fiction. Most of his mythos titles are reprinted in Terrors from Elder Signs Press. His story "Dingbats" in Horrors Beyond was not mythos. In this particular tale an undecayed Whateley (only a Lovecraft fan will understand the reference!) returns to Dunwich years after the horror to find that those crazy locals are still trying to draw Yog-Sothoth's attention. I really liked this story.
Don D'Ammassa: "The Dunwich Gate." Don D'Ammassa is also widely published. For example, his excellent story "Dominion" appeared in New Mythos Legends, the 1999 collection from Marietta Publishing. A traveler accidentally ends up in Dunwich, and falls into the middle of the ongoing conflict between those who want Yog-Sothoth's gate opened and those who desire to keep it closed. Another excellent story.
Gerard E. Giannattasio: "The N-Scale Horror." This is my first encounter with Gerard Giannattasio's fiction. I want him to do more mythos fiction! I have to check out his other stories, "Beneath College Hill" and "The Shunned Ship." Especially like this highly original and highly enjoyable work. A young man into model railroading makes a scale model of the Miskatonic Valley Railway. It includes a scale model of the Whateley estate . . .
Eddy C. Bertin: "Dunwich Dreams, Dunwich Screams." Eddy Bertin is a new name to me. This is his homage piece to Lovecraft, with HPL's fiction mentioned in the text explicitly as fiction (usually a plot device I don't like). It is set in the original Dunwich in England, and is a story within a story about a tourist paying homage to HPL's Dunwich's namesake village, and the fate of the original Dunwich centuries before when it fell into the sea. Some of the story is fiction centered on Dagon and some of it actually happened way back when. One of the main characters in the flashback is named Sarah Lovecraft, although it is not explicitly stated that she is an ancestor of HPL. Maybe it was just another part of the tribute. A quick check with James Ambuehl finds that Bertin has done some other worthwhile Mythos, including "Eyurid," which depicts Lovecraft's birth in Mythos terms; "Darkness, My Name Is" in The Disciples Of Cthulhu, which introduces his Old One Cyaegha, he of the tentacle-surrounded eye; "The Gibbering Walls," another Cyaegha tale; "The Waiting Dark," a Cthulhu and Deep Ones story; "Concerto for a Satin Vampire," a rock 'n' roll Mythos tale and a poem about Cthulhu, "Waiting in the Dark."
That's about it! For the mythos fan there are many good stories here, making the purchase worthwhile. However the racism by Williams (Hippocampus is trying to preserve historical influences on Lovecraft himself, and, for what it's worth, this was one of them) and brief allusion to adults and teens by Sargent may prompt some readers to pass this title by. I am interested in other opinions.
You may obtain this book from Amazon.com.
|DAGON, by Fred Chappell. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2002. 177 pages. $17.95 ISBN 0807127914.|
Cover illustration © (unknown).
[Reviewed by Matthew T. Carpenter]
Dagon is a short novel written by Fred Chappell, with a copyright in 1987. I have the LSU Press edition from 2002. It is a standard 5.5" x 8.5" trade paperback with 177 pages, seemingly substantial, but the font is larger than usual with trade paperbacks so it actually reads fairly quickly. Production values are high; there is a cover illustration by Dave Ross showing a half man with a scaly lower body from behind, held captive in chains in some sort of ancient temple. Evocative but no wow factor; there is no interior art (too bad, it might have relieved the tedium). List price is $15.95. This book was manufactured according to some standard on book longevity (again too bad, it will take that much longer to crumble away).
Spoilers may follow, but who cares?
I tend to buy and read almost anything mythos associated so, of course, I lapped it up. Just after the title page there is a page devoted to Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn. Very auspicious! Unfortunately that was also the highlight. I really did not like this book even a little bit and I have been trying to figure out why. Sometimes mythos books fall apart because the prose is poor, like Other Nations, or the prose, plot and characterizations are all lacking, like Island Life, or because the book has really nothing to do with the mythos and instead has to do with schlocky gross out horror, like A Darkness Inbred. This novel was living and breathing in the world of the mythos, had a clearly thought out plot and had prose that was highly polished. So what was the problem? First of all, I couldn't stand any of the characters, particularly the protagonist. I was more concerned about Thomas Covenant than Peter Leland, and I wanted Thomas Covenant to meet an unseemly early end. Second, it was dull, tedious, boring, a chore to read. There was precious little forward momentum here. Finally, although highly crafted, the prose was almost entirely devoted to Peter's tortuous and disinteresting introspection. Also there was no awesomeness of a mythos entity or any sense of terror at all. He was mostly pathetic and worth only the reader's disdain. In a typical (mercifully 10-15 page only) mythos story in the sort, a protagonist goes to an ancient mansion/estate/farm and falls under the influence of some evil dabbler in mythos books or is done in by their own dabbling in mythos books. They then lose control over their free will and get used for or come to unseemly ends. The reader mainly sees it as either their journal entries or from a birds-eye third person viewpoint. This novel rather originally places you in the mind of the victim protagonist who doesn't have any understanding of what is going on, who knows nothing of the mythos and who only catches glimpses but does not understand them or what the evil sorcerer type is doing. The mythos happenings are never made explicitly clear. This could have been so cool. So Peter gradually loses his will and his life to the vaguely fihsoid-appearing Mina, with his wife an innocent bystander victim along the way. Nice premise, a slow disappointing slog to drag yourself through. Not recommended to anyone at all anywhere anytime. Go reread Balak or something good instead.
You may obtain this book from Amazon.com.
|HARDBOILED CTHULHU, edited by James Ambuehl. Cover by Dave Senecal. Lake Orion, MI: Dimensions Books, 2006. 330 pages. $17.95 ISBN 0-9759229-7-1.|
Dust jacket illustration © Dave Senecal.
[Reviewed by Matthew T. Carpenter]
Hardboiled Cthulhu is the latest jewel in Elder Sign Press' splendored crown. I wish there was an editor's introduction explaining the history of this title, who thought of it, how the stories were selected and the publication history, because this book is fabulous. So many mythos collections have workman-like slogs through common mythos tropes that are really burdensome to read. I bought a very expensive copy of Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth and I am still working my way through it months later. Working is the operative word. I devoured Hardboiled Cthulhu in two sleep deprived evenings, chortling to myself the whole time. Dang it, this collection was just plain fun to read! In just about every title I can almost feel the author's sheer enjoyment writing their story, how much they relished the concept and how they probably typed with break neck enthusiasm. Although most of the critters, creatures and books are tried and true for the mythos, these authors are all confident and brimming with talent; the stories are marvelously original. Some housekeeping: The book is a handsome trade paperback, well up to Elder Sign Press' usual excellent standards. No autographed collector edition signed by the authors, more's the pity! The wonderfully evocative cover art is by David Senecal and is perfectly in tune with the collection's theme: world weary private eyes and HPL's mythos, kind of Raymond Chandler and extradimensional tentacles. Price is $11.67 at Amazon, with 'free' shipping available if you buy at least $25 worth of stuff. It costs $17.95 at Shocklines with free shipping on all orders (man, I love Shocklines!), while at Elder Signs it is full price plus shipping. Page count is a generous 330, just about all devoted to the stories and counting a few pages of mini-bios of the authors at the end. Production qualities are high; I can't recall any typos. Only five of the stories were published in any forum prior to this book, mostly obscure mythos magazines that only the most assiduous collector would have. There are two exceptions that I know about. Jeffery Thomas' Pazuzu's Children was just released in Unholy Dimensions by Mythos Books. Heck, it was a great story in that book and it's still a great story. Although "Eldritch Fellas" is listed as a first publication, it actually saw the light of print in the obscure Hastur Pussycat, Kill! Kill! Much kudos to James Ambuehl, the editor. I think this was his first solo editing effort and it is a smashing triumph. OK, so there are a few things that did not win me over, but they were all minor!
Spoilers may follow so stop reading now if that bothers you*******
"Sleeping with the Fishes" (poem) -- James Ambuehl -- You know, I just never much enjoy mythos poetry. I think really fine poetry is incredibly difficult to write.
"The Pisces Club" -- James Ambuehl -- Mr. Ambuehl's writing career is a long love letter to HPL, so thoroughly does he delight in the mythos and his own contributions to it. Much of his stories are pastiches in the best sense. "The Pisces Club" is his highest achievement and his best prose. It is savory detective story laced equally with horror and humor. The name Professor Phil Craft is probably a tip of the hat to the master. I kept laughing out loud as I read it.
"A Change of Life" -- William Jones -- William Jones is a bigwig at Elder Signs Press, where his editorial skills are very much in evidence. This prose shows a deft touch also. The Great Race? Bah! The Noir Race!
"Ache" -- David Witteveen -- This is my first encounter with Mr. Witteveen, another writer in a wave of Australian talent cresting on our shores. This hardbitten tale features a mob enforcer who brushes up against the wearer of the Pallid Mask.
"A Dangerous High" -- E.P. Berglund -- Mr. Berglund has done many great things for the mythos as an editor, a compiler and an author. Alas, out of all the stories in this book, "A Dangerous High" was the one that did not really grab me. I don't know why. I like Berglund's style and it was a good concept of illicit narcotics associated with the Hounds of Tindalos tracked down by a PI. Maybe it was just the prose. Maybe it was just me.
"A Little Job in Arkham" -- John Sunseri -- I don't recall reading anything by Mr. Sunseri before, other than "The Hades Project" from Horrors Beyond. I hope he is writing more mythos stories. If you want to steal an ancient tome from good ole Miskatonic U, hire a pack of thieves.
"Day of Iniquity" -- Steven L. Shrewbury -- Mr. Shrewbury (who should change his middle name to Laban . . .) is becoming more overtly active on the mythos writing scene, which is our good fortune. The thing is, this story, while a great read, seemed out of place. It was like a good sword and sorcery yarn, not really a detective type story. Maybe it was meant for Eldritch Steel? A barbarian follower of Wotan leads his tribe to achieve vengeance on a dark cult.
"Eldritch Fellas" -- Tim Curran -- Tim Curran is a terrific writer, widely published. His most recent book was Hive from Elder Signs Press. This story was a hoot! I think diet coke came out of my nose while I was trying to read it. The title says it all.
"Outside Looking In" -- David Conyers -- I have sung the praises of Mr. Conyers, another gifted Aussie, before. This story was great! Like in "Dark City," the world is not what it seems. Do you really want to know the truth?
"Pazuzu's Children" -- Jeffrey Thomas -- Not really a noir story, but a terrific read. A pilot in Desert Storm is captured after a bombing run by followers of an unspeakable cult.
"The Devil In You" -- Eric J. Millar -- A no good drunk in a bar tries to do a good deed by helping a pretty girl in a gin joint. Complications ensue. Mr. Millar is a young author, new to me and he can write a mean mythos tale. I hope to see more of his stories in the future.
"The Mouth" -- William Meikle -- Willie Meikle established his noir credentials in The Midnight Eye Files. Alas this is not a new Derek Adams story. No matter, this is a tightly written page turner about a cop who employs a medium to track a vicious murderer.
"The Questioning of the Azathonthian Priest" -- C.J. Henderson -- You can't have a noir mythos collection about hardened PIs without having a C.J. Henderson story! This one is an all new great Anton Zarnak yarn.
"Some Thought on the Problem of Order" -- Simon Bucher-Jones -- Mr. Bucher-Jones is famous for his Dr. Who work. Can we have some more mythos please? Gosh, this was a nifty story, turning things around sort of like Gaimen in "A Study In Emerald."
"The White Mountains" -- Jonathan Sharp -- This is Mr. Sharp's first published story. Great! Keep 'em coming. If you can help it, never help someone go buy bootleg moonshine. If you go to buy bootleg moonshine, do not make eyes at the misshapen entrepreneur's wife.
"The Terror Came" -- Patrick Thomas -- Eldritch detectives detect better when they are eldritch themselves.
"The Prying Investigations of Edwin M. Lillibridge" -- Robert M. Price -- I confess it. I am not a Price fan. Usually his prose is leaden and derivative. But this was a nice conventional mythos story about a nosy reporter trying to solve some kidnappings.
"The Roaches in the Walls" -- James Chambers -- I previously read "The Tale of the Spanish Prisoner" by Mr. Chambers in Warfear. It was OK. This one blew me away! It was brilliant. What a concept! What an ending! Man those Elder Gods are crafty.
"To Skin a Dead Man" -- Cody Goodfellow -- Whatever else Mr. Goodfellow does I will be forever in his debt for his novel Radiant Dawn, an absolute bravura performance. This ghoulish story of love and betrayal and zombies and stuff defies ready description. I loved it!
"Unfinished Business" -- Ron Shiflet -- Mr. Shiflet moves from strength to strength as a mythos writer. Pickman's ghouls are, um, alive and, um, well. You can hire a big mook to guard your highly collectible art, but art groupies live in a dog eat dog world. Nicely done, Mr. Shiflet!
"The Watcher from the Grave" -- J. F. Gonzalez -- I never read anything by Mr. Gonzalez before. I will have to remedy that soon! Literary estate executor is not a healthy profession in a Lovecraftian collection.
"Dreams.biz" -- Richard A. Lupoff -- And finally, hats off to the accomplished Mr. Lupoff. I wish he would write more mythos. This is a cross between Total Recall and Netflix. Gosh it was good!
So in summary, a masterful collection. Bargain priced, bristling with vitality, most of the big names in mythos fiction. What else do you need? Urgently recommend!
You may obtain this book from Amazon.com.
|ARKHAM TALES: NEW TERRORS THREATEN ARKHAM, edited by William Jones. Cover by Steven Gilberts. Oakland, CA: Chaosium Books, 2006. 288 pages. $15.95 ISBN 1-56882-185-9.|
Cover illustration © Steven Gilberts.
[Reviewed by Matthew T. Carpenter]
Arkham Tales is perhaps the beginning of a new venture for Chaosium, all original fiction set in the world of their roleplaying game, Call of Cthulhu. Back in the day, before the internet, I was unaware of the small and (semi) thriving small press mythos magazines. The only access to modern Lovecraftian fiction I knew about was through the cycle books, trade paperbacks by Chaosium. Generally, these books featured reprinted stories gleaned and selected, usually by Robert Price, from these various magazines (Cthulhu Codex, Crypt of Cthulhu, Midnight Shambler, etc). These were a definite mixed bag, with the books often containing a few winners, much mediocrity and a fair number of dogs. Alas, this was all that was available, except for an occasional fine quality hardback like Cthulhu 2000. And even that had reprints. Lately, with improved online connections and facilitation of book production by small presses, the amount of books containing almost all new published mythos fiction has sky rocketed. Also, maybe it's only my imagination but this new generation of authors (not that the last one has moved off the scene) (maybe the 4th or 5th Lovecraft Circle?) is immensely talented so most of these collections have highly superior fiction. I always say we are in a golden age of mythos fiction, and point to books like Dead But Dreaming, Hardboiled Cthulhu, Horrors Beyond and the Delta Green books. And there is so much more in the pipeline, it is almost an embarrassment of riches. G.W. Thomas is set to release Cthulhu Express soon, and Rainfall Books has some titles in the offing, while Pagan Publishing has a new trade paperback collection of DG chapbooks planned. Elder Signs Press has stayed very, very busy (can't wait for High Seas Cthulhu!), while Kevin O' Brien and Lindisfarne Press are getting back on their feet. Edward Lipsett has opened our eyes to Japanese mythos fiction via Kurodahan Press, John Pelan plans to issue The Cthulhian Singularity and Charlie Stross' The Jennifer Morgue is coming from Golden Gryphon. This is the golden age! Even so, we must admit our debt to Chaosium and Robert Price for keeping the eldritch fires burning. And we also owe a debt to Chaosium for their role playing game, Call of Cthulhu. I admit I never played it; back when I had time for such leisure pursuits I was a D&D fan (but you gotta love a game where no matter how good you are, you eventually go insane or get eaten . . .). So here is my bias for the review: I do not know the source materials other than the stories by HPL and his legion of followers. And here is my assessment: you do not need to know their source material! Just like you don't need to know any of the Delta Green sources to really enjoy their books. William Jones commented somewhere that some things in the stories might have double meanings or secrets for the really savvy CoC fan; if so, you have to clue me. I didn't think I was missing anything but it sounds fun! Frankly, it's a wonder it took so long for Chaosium to elicit fiction based on their game world. After all there are tons of D&D based books. Delta Green, a version of CoC set in the modern era rife with secret government agencies and conspiracies has been generating GREAT fiction for years now. Maybe the idea was germinating for a while but Chaosium was too broke to act on it, I dunno. Although set in or about Arkham, authors had free reign about all other content and setting, so there is no sense of repetition at all. Someone will have to fill me in on the authors' reimbursement, but I think it was peanuts plus two copies of the book, so truly these stories are a labor of love. What I really like is there was a solicitation of stories and a culling process by the highly respected William Jones, from Elder Signs Press. This means the stories are notches above the cycle books. List price is $15.95 but it is discounted on Amazon to $10.37, and available for free shipping if you buy $25 worth of stuff (like Hardboiled Cthulhu!). There is no discount at Chaosium, plus shipping charges attach. I could not find it listed at Shocklines. The book itself is a good quality trade paperback, like all the cycle books. Page count is 288, not counting the editor's note, so very generous! The editor's note by William Jones is quite useful and details the setting for the anthology in Chaosium's world. Unfortunately there are no bios on the authors. Cover art is by Steven Gilberts. It shows a grizzled one eyed grounds keeper at Miskatonic University, shadowed by various critters. I believe Mr. Gilberts did the artwork for some CoC game scenarios so this is very appropriate. This brings me to the biggest flaw in the book: there were at least a half dozen careless typos. I did not jot them down as I was reading but, for example, p160 "fowl odors." Unless everything was supposed to smell like chickens, I think someone relied too much on a spell checker. Also, in the story "Burnt Tea" by Michael Dziesinski, busted was used as a descriptive adjective, "busted body." OK, I'll accept that a woman has a bust, or a narc conducts a bust, or you sculpt a bust. I'll buy that if you are writing colloquially in dialogue, or representing someone's thoughts, to say something was busted is appropriate, but in removed narrative with otherwise meticulous use of language it reads like the mistake of an ignoramus. Why not broken body? I saw this same mistaken usage twice in another story somewhere recently, maybe a chapbook, and I was equally put off by it. I won't say it killed the story, but goodness gracious it peeved me. I'll admit to having greatly enjoyed Eats, Shoots, & Leaves by Lynne Truss, so consider this my panda paw print.
Spoilers may follow so stop now if that bothers you *********
"Mysterious Dan's Legacy" Matthew Baugh This is a new author to me. In 1873 a Kansas cowboy (that was frontier territory right after the Civil War) comes to Arkham to collect an inheritance, which brings unwelcome knowledge, responsibilities and enemies. This was a very likeable story; I wonder if the protagonist, Daniel Hawkins, will become a regular character in Mr. Baugh's stories.
"Vaughn's Diary" Robert Vaughn Here is one story where my knowledge of the source material wasn't up to scratch and I couldn't remember if there was an antecedent story by HPL or someone else, so I don't recognize the name Timothy Erasmus Vaughn. As veteran mythos fans know well, you should never ever read the diary of a deceased relative who was an occultist in Arkham. Never! I hadn't read anything by Mr. Vaughn before, but this was a good read and I hope he is writing more mythos fiction.
"The Orb" Tony Campbell Tony Campbell wrote "After the War" which appeared in Horrors Beyond. I liked that story well enough, but it didn't knock my socks off. That impression is confirmed in "The Orb," which is also OK, but doesn't stand up to the best in this anthology. A Miskatonic Unversity librarian's father has to match wits with the Hounds of Tindalos and Nyalathotep.
"The Nether Collection" -- Cody Goodfellow -- After the absorbing "Cahokia" in Horrors Beyond and the unreasonably entertaining "To Skin a Dead Man" in Hardboiled Cthulhu, and his sensational novels Radiant Dawn and Ravenous Dusk, Mr. Goodfellow can basically do no wrong. This was a change of pace, being a story of Harry Houdini and Lovecraftian ghouls. What can I say, I really liked it.
"Worms" -- Pat Harrigan -- This was a fascinating story by an author I never encountered before. It chronicles the rise of a man from office drone to fanatical rabble rouser, with terrific Lovecraftian touches scattered throughout. I loved those more subtle touches as opposed to the usual rub your face in the fact that there's a mythos out there.
"They Thrive in Darkness" -- Ron Shiflet -- With "Unfinished Business" in Hardboiled Cthulhu, Mr. Shiflet now has two tales of Pickman and his ghouls in print (at least that I know of). While I enjoyed the story, I confess to liking "Unfinished Business" better.
"What Sorrows May Come" -- Lee Clark Zumpe -- Mr. Zumpe wrote "The Breach," a terrific story in Horrors Beyond, and has a few stories in mythos magazines. This effort was OK, sort of a reanimation tale with a protective ghost thrown in. I liked the prose but the story left me flat; I didn't dislike it, there was just better stuff here.
"Arkham Pets" -- James Ambuehl -- This very brief story by the ubiquitous Mr. Ambuehl concerned a boy who finds some crawly things in an Arkham swamp and decides to bring them home. Complications ensue. I found this amusing and diverting.
"Small Ghost" -- Michael Minnis -- Mr. Minnis is very productive. Recently we've had "A Little Color in Your Cheeks" in Horrors Beyond (mostly good), "The Prodigies of Monkfield Cabot" in Eldritch Blue (OK), "Salt Air" in Dead But Dreaming (superb) and "The Butcher of Vyones" in Lost Worlds of Space and Time Vol 1 (great). "Small Ghost" was terrific, maybe the highlight of Arkham Tales. It was about Brown Jenkin, the rat like witch's familiar and someone with the health department. Those not in the know can first read "The Dreams in the Witch House" by HPL.
"Burnt Tea" -- Michael Dziesinski -- I already mentioned my problem with the typos. Otherwise this was a very nifty work by an author I never encountered before, about the Hounds of Tindalos and Japanese tea ceremonies in the 1920s.
"Arkham Rain" -- John Goodrich -- Mr. Goodrich is active on the mythos scene, but I don't recall seeing his work before. I'll have to remedy that! "Arkham Rain" was a terrific story about the Innsmouth taint visiting an unwitting family. An old mythos trope? You bet! But this was a wonderfully original take.
"Regrowth" -- David Conyers -- I'm a big David Conyers fan. He is becoming well published in almost all the newer mythos anthologies. This story has some thematic similarity to "False Containment" in Horrors Beyond, and deals with unnatural melding of disparate species. Being a Conyers yarn it was a good read, although I've liked other stories by him better.
"The Idea of Fear" -- C.J. Henderson -- We, of course, did need a hard boiled PI story in this book! Who better to do it than the masterful C.J. Henderson? But this story was refreshingly different; the ending will catch you by surprise, as a PI and a medium try to find a ghost.
"Disconnected" -- Brian Sammons -- Mr. Sammons can also do no wrong, especially after "One Way Conversation" in Horrors Beyond. This is another winner. It is about the Mi-Go and Yuggoth, and a PI tracking down a missing relative. But like everything else by Brian Sammons, do not expect the usual mythos conventions or story format.
"The Lady in the Grove" -- Scott Lette -- Yet another new author to me and yet another auspicious introduction! An Irish enforcer is sent to Arkham to provide a little muscle for an MU professor.
"On Leave in Arkham" -- Bill Bilstad -- Ditto the above. This story has a complex construction with rapidly switching time frames and viewpoints, about a WWI veteran/murderer. Very worthwhile read.
"Geometry of the Soul" -- Jason Andrew -- Also a new author to me, Mr. Andrew's story was only OK, about a MU expedition that goes horribly awry. The initial few pages in the Arkham sanitarium were much better for me than the last few pages.
So in summary, this is a terrific book of all brand new fiction. Even the stories that weren't the best were pretty good, and the best stories were first rate. The price is low and the page count is generous. Don't try to choose between it and Hard Boiled Cthulhu; order both of them discounted from Amazon! Together they are still less than Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth. Mythos fans should not hesitate.
You may obtain this book from Amazon.com.
Created: October 28, 2006