I’m not much for gaming related fiction (though I have liked several of Fantasy Flight Games Arkham Horror novels), and this is the only such title I’ve reviewed.
A retro review from June 23, 2012 …
Review: Cthulhu’s Dark Cults, ed. David Conyers, 2010.
The flavor of most of these stories is that of a pulp adventure story, with occult overtones, rather than horror. But that’s ok. The 1920s and 1930s, the setting of all these stories, was a grand time for those kind of stories. There were plenty of unexplored corners of the world. Transportation virtually anywhere was available – but not easy or common. Communication meant finding a local radio station, telegraph office, or pay phone – not whipping out your cell phone. There was the political and human wreckage of one world war with sides being drawn up for another.
Rich enough by itself but throw in some sinister cults, extraterrestrial “gods”, blasphemous books, and strange sorcery, and you’ve got the potential for some good stories. And that potential is realized with most of the stories here even if, as I said, not all are really horror stories.
Conyers has even arranged some crossover unity in the stories which, while all standalones, sometimes reference characters and events of other stories in the collection.
Familiarity with the inspiration for the project, the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, is not necessary to enjoy any of these stories.
“The Eternal Champion” in David Conyers’ story is one Lang-Fu (I assume a recurring character from the game). He wants a magic talisman back. The narrator, a sailor handy with a knife, has been hired by his magician cousin to stop him. This was just an ok story with the main interest being one Mama Tropos who runs a club in San Francisco which is sort of neutral ground for the warring parties.
“Captains of Industry” by John Goodrich interestingly sets itself against the labor unrest of the 1920s in the United States. A couple of labor organizers infiltrate a club to get warning of the next move in a brutal campaign of union suppression by the club’s members. Of course, there is a bit more going on at the Lodge of the Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight.
David Witteveen’s “Perfect Skin” is a nice atmospheric effort set in 1922 Istanbul. A newlywed woman begins to learn all sorts of unpleasant things about the activities of her new – and now vanished – husband.
Rudolph Pearson, hero of William Jones’ The Strange Cases of Rudolph Pearson: Horripilating Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, tangles with a race of ghouls in 1923 New York City. Professor Pearson’s fight with the ghouls has an unusual – but quite Lovecraftian – ending in “Covenant of Darkness“.
The ending of Penelope Love’s “The Whisperer of Ancient Secrets” may be hurt by its vague ending but the story, the surrealistic account of a man changed by his encounter with a meteorite and the experiments he is performing in an underground facility in the Australian Outback (this collection has a group of strong Australian writers), is disturbing in its casual depravity and madness.
Told in the letters of the hero to his dead wife, Peter Worthy’s “Old Ghost” is one of those stories with a strong mystery pulp feeling except here, of course, there really is something supernatural going on. The narrator, an ex-minister, is befriended by an old sea captain. But, when the captain disappears, he begins to learn about something called the Order of the Bloated Woman and a Chinese gangster who has risen from the dead.
While Oscar Rios’ “The Nature of Faith” is set in Dunwich about the same time as Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” there is little reference to that story, and the settings of the stories do not seem to share much in detail or atmosphere. This is one of those man-wanders-into-small-town-with-a-secret stories. Here the man is a college professor who thinks Dunwich may have evidence of an ancient Celtic migration to America. And then he meets an exotic and beautiful looking girl and love seems possible.
“The Devil’s Diamonds” from Cody Goodfellow was one of my favorite stories. A British Army officer is dispatched to Kenya to investigate the mistreatment of native workers in the Lucky Kate diamond mine. Oh, they’re digging for something there, but it isn’t diamonds. And the investors in the mine are unusual too.
Continuing the trend of saving the best stories for last is Shane Jiraiya Cummings’ “Requiem for the Burning God“. Its hero is an ex-British aviator from World War One who joins a mercenary company to help New World Incorporated take back a mine from insurgents in Peru. Of course, almost nothing good is done underground in a Cthulhu Mythos story, This is also another story where the horror element was almost entirely overshadowed by a well-done action adventure plot.
Editor David Conyers references a lot of the earlier stories with his “Sister of the Sands“. Its hero, a British intelligence officer, encounters a strange, beautiful, and naked woman in the Egyptian desert. Of course, she’s not what she seems. And this story ends on an oddly hopeful and human moment for a Mythos story. Another enjoyable effort.
So, gaming considerations aside, this collection is worth a look for all Mythos fans – as long as they don’t insist on horror, cosmic or other wise, in every story.