By Josh Storey
Hambling, David. The Elder Ice. Lulu.com (August 8, 2014). USD $6.58, paperback; USD $1.99, ebook. ISBN 9781291969863.
Those of us in the Lovecraft fandom have certain expectations when we sit down with a new Mythos story, certain signposts that let us know if we’re in for a new Weird horror story or something a little more classic. (For example, at least once use the word “squamulose.”)
When you crack open David Hambling’s The Elder Ice, you think you know what you’re in for, but you’re wrong, and that’s why the story is so good.
Lovecraft’s narrators tended towards the educated: professors, scholars and men of letters who stumble into tentacled horrors. Likewise, Hambling’s first person narration is told through the eyes of Harry Stubbs, who speaks with an obvious eloquence that belies his rougher origins. Stubbs, you see, is the son of a butcher, a former boxer, and an acquaintance of (shall we say) less-than-savory individuals.
But Stubbs wishes to better himself. He’s taken a job at a local law firm and now he puts his previous experience as a leg breaker for the mob to more legal use by tracking down debtors.
This one-time thug takes great pride in knowing his employers trust him with delicate legal matters and he plans on working his way up in the firm. It’s pretty clear from the start that Stubbs is smarter than his bulk would suggest, but the combination of brains and brawn makes for a very interesting perspective as we travel further into the unknowable.
Stubb’s employers have set him on a case revolving around the death of a rather eccentric arctic explorer by the name of Sir Ernest Shackleton. As such, the allusions to Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness are numerous.
However, Hambling makes the Mythos his own instead of simply dovetailing Lovecraft. There’s a healthy mix of Middle Eastern mythology and modern biological science, combined with Old Ones and Elder Gods in a way that manages to stay both fresh and familiar at the same time.
The Elder Ice also features one of the creepiest descriptions of mundane chemical reactions I’ve ever encountered in written form.
Deranged cultists are another staple of Lovecraftian horror stories. Once again, Hamling twists the trope just enough to make it his own. Without ruining too much, let me just say that the fanatics Stubbs encounters in his investigation are driven, determined and deranged, but they’re also much more logical than your typical gibbering Lovecraftian cultist. In fact, they may even sway you to their way of thinking.
All in all, David Hambling’s novella is crisply plotted and clearly written. There wasn’t quite as much Arctic exploration as I was expecting given the title, but our first outing with Harry Stubbs seems to be all about subverting our expectations in surprising and delightful ways.
Bio: In his life, Josh has ever only wanted to be three things: an astronaut, Superman and a writer. Since he’s no good at math and (as far as his parents are willing to admit) not from Krypton, he’s going with the third option. He spams his Twitter followers with Goodreads recommendations @soless.