By Randy Stafford
Jones, Salomé, ed. Cthulhu Lives! An Eldritch Tribute to H.P. Lovecraft. Ghostwoods Books: 2014. Kindle USD $3.03. Paperback USD $9.89. 272 pages. ASIN: B00MWBXP8Y. ISBN: 978-0957627147.
A collection of no-name authors … but, if they keep up this standard of work, that won’t be true for long.
Salomé Jones has put together an enjoyable collection of Lovecraftian stories. As S.T. Joshi notes in his afterword, these aren’t mechanical pastiches of the same old plots, same old gods, same old forbidden books. Oh, plenty of these stories tip a hat to Old Grandpa with a name or adjective, but, as Joshi says, many are “more searching and allusive.” Some also stretch back to Lovecraft’s weird fiction predecessors Algernon Blackwood and Robert W. Chambers.
Here, “eldritch tribute” turns out to mean inspiration and not repetition.
The setting furthest from Lovecraft is Michael Grey’s steampunkish “1884.” In a timeline already deviated enough to have the Battle of Waterloo fought with massive tanks, our policeman hero is sick of life in England. Citizens are disappearing at the hands of the Black Hoods, servants of Queen Victoria – who not-so-incidentally has tentacles writhing under her bun. So, when he gets a chance to go on a diplomatic mission to France, it seems a good time to defect.
Tone-wise, Jeremy Clymer’s “The Old Ones” is pretty far from anything Lovecraft did. In a riff on those I-was-so-inspired-and-got-so-many-valuable-life-lessons-from-that-dying-old-person memoirs, our hero goes off to visit Paul Hastur, his old philosophy professor. A Mythos rarity – a genuinely funny story that ends up delivering a lesson in confronting life not too far from Lovecraft’s stoicism. For me, it was the high point of the collection.
Another favorite story was Greg Stolze’s “Icke.” Francis Icke reminds me of those young Stephen King kids and teens who birth apocalypses small and large in Firestarter, The Stand, and especially Carrie. Bullied at school, with a drunk single mom at home and no great talents – except a freakish ability as a fisherman – Icke has a story that goes right up to … well, it’s not entirely clear what’s happens at the end. Generally, I’m not a fan of “I’ll leave it up to the reader” endings, but this one worked for me.
“On the Banks of the River Jordan” mixes English folklore, the history of the famous Mather family of Colonial Massachusetts, a certain name from Lovecraft, and one of his favorite source books, Margaret Murray’s The Witch-Cult in Western Europe. It’s all run through an updating of the epistolary frame Lovecraft used for “The Whisperer in the Darkness,” with an email exchange over a few hours between author John Reppion and another scholar. The whole thing reminded me of a Fortean Times article – not surprisingly, since Reppion has written for that magazine.
Robert W. Chamber’s Yellow Sign shows up in Gethin A. Lynes’ “The Highland Air.” A miasma of menace accretes around this story as the narrator follows his odd, sickly and disturbed son to the Australian goldfields before he packs him off to visit an uncle in Scotland. The son returns home in a coffin. Or does he?
Don’t mess with things you don’t understand – that includes rat catchers. That’s the lesson some real estate developers and government economic development people learn in Lynne Hardy’s “Scritch, Scratch.” Its menacing woods reminded me of Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows,” but Hardy’s voice is not an imitation of Blackwood.
The high tech environment of a particle accelerator is the setting for Piers Beckley’s “Universal Constants.” It’s where the legs are kicked out from underneath the heroine’s scientific certainties. The story was weakened a bit for me by the too-convenient and largely unnecessary anthropological data supplied by her boyfriend.
I didn’t see the endings coming in either Tim Dedopulos’ “Elmwood” or Joff Brown’s “Visiting Hours.” The first features a group of occult investigators on the trail of the trapezohedron from Lovecraft’s “The Haunter of the Dark.” The second has an 11-year-old boy overhearing his mom’s boyfriend order a text on the “Ritual of Severance.” Dedopulos, to my mind, didn’t quite avoid the usual problems of tone and credibility for his type of plot, but Brown’s worked for me.
Where would an anthology like this be without college students getting into trouble? We have two. The first is the architectural student who decides to investigate irregularities in the dimensions of his room in “Hobstone” from G.K. Lomax. An enjoyable working of a familiar idea. “The Thing in the Printer” is the manifestation of some very disturbing mathematical objects haunting the brain of a math major. That’s “printer” as in 3-D printer. From Peter Tupper, it was another of my favorite stories.
“Ink” by Iain Lowson does something similar but with the pen-and-ink drawings of an artist. Photographs reveal an otherworldly menace in E. Dane Anderson’s historical horror piece “Demon in Glass.” A corpse photographer finds something very disturbing in the death photos of a local doctor’s patients.
In homage to all those genealogical searches-gone-wrong in Lovecraft, we have “Scales from Balor’s Eye” by Helmar Gorman. Its narrator is sent to England on a mission from Mom to find the family roots in Maundbury – a town that turns out not to exist anymore. Creepy stuff near the beach and it doesn’t even mention Innsmouth. Aqueous horror also features in “Dark Waters” from Adam Vidler, in which a couple really does make an unfortunate choice in a camping site.
A couple of stories fall in the disturbing, if not completely understandable, explicated and rationalized category: “Of the Faceless Crowd” by Gábor Csigás and “Coding Time” by Marc Reichardt. Both have espionage elements, secret government projects, and minor Lovecraft connections. Still, weird fiction should be a mysterious at times, and I liked them, too.
A good batch of stories from writers bathed in the hard radiation of the Lovecraft tradition and now radiating their own sickly light into the 21st century.