By Randy Stafford
Hodge, Brian. Whom the Gods Would Destroy. DarkFuse: 2013. Kindle USD $2.99. ASIN: B00H7KAV00.
Damien Phipps has some family problems. He has some questionable memories, too.
Did his mother really handcuff him to a steering wheel when he was four? Did he really escape to see her and his older half-brother beat a man, lashed to a tree, under a night sky ablaze with light?
A troubling memory of mystery and blood, sure, but also the start of a lifelong interest in astronomy, which Damien is pursuing as a grad student. But his life, while not bad, isn’t secure. His stripper girlfriend questions how long he’ll stay with her. Employment opportunities post-graduate school aren’t that plentiful.
What he doesn’t need, definitely doesn’t want after escaping them as a teenager, is any contact with his family – the crazy and abusive mother, his sleazy and manipulative brother Cameron, or the father he has no memory of.
But Cameron shows up, talking an unconvincing reconciliation with Damien and promising him a job in a private astrobiology project. Damien just needs to come to Portland to hear the pitch.
And so begins a cosmic horror story full of Lovecraftian trappings but with not a single Mythos name dropped. The search here isn’t through old manuscripts and library stacks. It threads through lawsuits and crime reports, and odd scientific speculations and cults. It winds through deserted farm fields and desert artist colonies and sinister warehouses.
Hodge’s novella tampers with the literary genes of Lovecraftian horror. The beast that emerges is well-suited to do what all successful literary beasts do: infest minds with lingering memories and images. He has taken away the encrustations – those books and gods and monsters – that have built up over nearly a hundred years – and spliced in a recognizable, if monstrous, family, one whose troubles are familiar in type if not degree.
The mixture of family drama and cosmic horror works well. There was only one scene where my tension broke into, I think, a small amount of, I suspect, laughter unintended by Hodge, but that was a minor problem.
Ultimately, it’s all about family, a family he only shares DNA with, not sympathy.
And it’s about the real meaning of that New Age-y slogan, “You are the universe expressing itself as a human being for a little while.”
The story was nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award this year. Hodge talks about the origins of the story on his site and calls it “Carl Sagan gene-spliced with H.P. Lovecraft.”
He’s also done something rare for an author – composed a 38-minute soundtrack to go with his novella. It can be found on DarkFuse’s channel at SoundCloud.