Review: The Gods of H. P. Lovecraft, ed. Aaron J. French, 2015.
There are a lot of different tones and registers you can chose when picking the voices for a collection of Cthulhu Mythos stories.
But, if you’re going to pull off the promise inherent in the title The Gods of H. P. Lovecraft, that tone better be one of mystery, awe, reverence, and a de-privileging of human values and concerns.
Largely it does.
First off, it has 12 nice black and white illustrations, one for each god, done by Paul Carrick, Steve Santiago, and John Coulthart, so you might want to pick up the print edition rather than e-book. Even more singular are Donald Tyson’s pieces on each god. Together, they read like a primer you’d find in the pocket of a new acolyte in one of those dark cults of Lovecraft.
The stories …
Well, the stories mostly work in providing the promised tone and affect.
There are a couple that go astray because they are entries in series that shoehorned Lovecraft into their plots.
One is Martha Wells’ “The Dark Gates” which has Yog-Sothoth showing up in a story of detection in her Ile-Rein series. The other is from Jonathan Maberry. “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, a Sam Hunter story. He’s a vulgar, tough talking, werewolf private eye turned lose in an overstuffed narrative with an Etruscan god, the Thule Society (beloved by occult-minded Nazis), and Lovecraft’s nightgaunts. There’s a whole lot more comedic mashup than mystery, real danger, or grandeur, dark or otherwise.
There’s a couple of other stories with odd tones that still carry off the title premise.
“We Smoke the Northern Lights” from Laird Barron, the self-contained first half of his short novel X’s for Eyes, has a twisted Hardy Boys-Renaissance Florence-Doc Savage-Tom Swift vibe going on – in a devil’s key since it’s the tale of Macbeth and Drederick, the 14 and 12 year old scions, respectively, of the thoroughly unpleasant Tooms family, arms merchants and defense contractors extraordinaire. They have to deal with the return to Earth of one of their secret space probes (in June 1956, no less) – before it’s been launched.
Human sacrifice, a bad biker gang, and an abandoned mining town are the set up for “The Apotheosis of a Rodeo Clown” from Brett J. Talley. Its narrator speaks in one those faux folksy western hero drawls (which I’ve never actually heard any one speak in the rural west of America), but the surprise ending makes up for that defect.
The rest of the stories all work in a straight-up, unwatered down, dreadful awe sort of way.
“Petohtalrayn” from Bentley Little mostly follows a familiar template. A scholar, here an archaeologist, finds traces of the Dark Man, a figure associated with doom, in widely dispersed and dead civilizations. But the ending is definitely not something Lovecraft ever did.
“The Doors that Never Close and the Doors that Are Always Open” from David Liss takes the current heightened hostility towards bankers and combines it with that Lovecraftian template of a scholar, horrible correlations of scholarly knowledge, and the ramification of specific bloodlines. In it, a graduate student of America’s Second Awakening in the 19th Century gets a strange job (with disquieting perks and restrictions) with CapitalBank.
Another story brings in topicality, “Rattled” by Douglas Wynne, though its narrator’s involvement with Occupy Wall Street is mostly a background detail to him discovering the truth about a strange and deadly camping trip of his youth.
Lovecraft’s Mi-Go, as depicted in his “The Whisperer in Darkness”, are both sinister and enviable in their ability to wing their way between planets. Christopher Golden and James A. Moore’s “In Their Presence” heightens that rapturous terror with a story set on a marine salvage ship in the North Atlantic.
Editor French certainly follows the wise anthologist’s creed to begin and end a collection on strong stories.
Adam LG Nevill’s “Call the Name” opens the book in the hellish world of 2055. The Sixth Great Extinction is under way. Hordes from Africa cross the Mediterranean. The Opening Eye cult is strong in England, and our heroine, a 75 year old marine biologist, dementia lapping at her mind, contemplates the failing world and the peculiar history of her maternal line of scientists and the revelations from deep time they uncovered.
Dementia is also present in Rachel Caine’s “A Dying of the Light” with its decidedly unLovecraftian heroine who works as an attendant in an Arkham nursing home. Not only is it another story contemporary in its feel with its underclass narrator but a logical and, to my knowledge, novel variation on the conscious swapping Great Race of Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Out of Time”.
Joe R. Lansdale is an author that I have not warmed to in my brief encounters with him. (Out of disgust, I even sold my limited edition hardbound copy of his Zeppelins West after reading it years ago.) But his “In the Mad Mountains” may be the most memorable story here. Opening right after a shipwreck in polar waters, it follows its amnesiac and lifeboated survivors through a landscape and plot that echoes not only the Antarctica of Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” but John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Dante with a final, awe-full and awful ending.
As scientists are to lab rats, we are to the gods in Seanan McGuire’s “Deep, Deep Down, Below the Waters”. The narrator, a poor Harvard graduate student in cancer research is unable to continue her studies and wants to reward her colleagues with a stay in her parents’ seaside inn before bidding them good bye. It’s an Innsmouth inn, so you know there’s way more to the story. The collection’s concluding story, it’s also one of the best.
A strong collection whose effect is a dissipated in parts with the contributions of Barron, Wells, Mayberry, and Talley but still worth a look especially with the internal artwork.