“The Mystery of the Cursed Cottage”

With this, I think I’ve reviewed all of David Hambling’s fiction.

Review: “The Mystery of the Cursed Cottage”, David Hambling, 2017.

Cover by Gregory Nemec

In the introduction to Black Wings of Cthulhu 6, editor S. T. Joshi notes this is a rarity: a locked-room mystery in the Cthulhu Mythos. That’s not quite true, this story draws more from traditional folklore and notions of witchcraft than the Mythos. However, it is part of Hambling’s Norwood Cycle, Mythos stories set in that South London suburb.

Our narrator and protagonist is William Blake, the narrator of other tales in the cycle, “The Dulwich Horror of 1927” and “The Monsters in the Park” and a character in “Shadows Of the Witch House” and mentioned in War of the God Queen

It’s 1928, and, after helping officials with the strange case of the Dulwich Horror, Blake is asked to help the police in another strange case. One Mr. Potter, a real estate developer, has disappeared.

Also dragged along for any contributions is Miss Belhaven of the Norwood Theosophist Circle.

The cottage Potter disappeared from in a wooded Norwood area is old and of wattle-and-daub construction. There’s only one door, locked from the inside when it was opened. There is no sign of forced entry.

Continue reading ““The Mystery of the Cursed Cottage””

How Often Do the Black Wings Beat?

Essay: How Often Do the Black Wings Beat?

Cover by Gregory Nemec

There is a H. P. Lovecraft quote at the beginning of some volumes in S. T. Joshi’s anthology series Black Wings of Cthulhu:

The one test of the really weird is simply this – whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of the dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers, a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim.

So, rather than doing the usual sort of review I’ve done for this series – clumping the stories by themes and motifs or noting which ones are Lovecraftian in allusion or just tone or idea, I’m going to look at how many of the stories in Black Wings of Cthulhu 5: Twenty New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror pass Lovecraft’s test.

Continue reading “How Often Do the Black Wings Beat?”

“A Question of Blood”

And, with this entry, David Hambling gets his own separate post even when appearing in an anthology.

Review: “A Question of Blood”, David Hambling, 2016.

Cover by Gregory Nemec

This is another of Hambling’s Norwood tales set in that area of South London in the 1920s though it doesn’t, as far as I could tell, have any links to his Harry Stubbs’ stories or the stories in The Dulwich Horror and Other Stories.

Hambling often takes off on other stories, and here there is, right off the bat, a quote from H. P. Lovecraft’s “Herbert West – Reanimator”. There are also nods to Edgar Poe’s “The Purloined Letter” and Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”. And the setup is a kind of darker version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy.

Our narrator is Paul Pennywell, age 21. Upon reaching the age of majority, he got a letter from his solicitor revealing who his grandfather is: a wealthy man named Beaumont living in Norwood.

Upon entering the house, Paul sees a portrait of someone looking very much like his father, Mark Beaumont. But its subject is Matthew Beaumont, Paul’s uncle.

Led into his grandfather’s study, Paul does not find a warm reunion. His grandfather, possessing the air of an Old Testament prophet, is not happy to see Paul and did not ask to see him.

We then get some family history. Matthew was Mark’s twin, born half an hour earlier and, therefore, heir to the estate. But Matthew died without issue at the Battle of Cambrai. Beaumont questions Paul on his drinking, gambling, and sex habits and concludes he did good by sending Paul away to Canada and that, if he continues farming in a good Christian community, he will be all right. 

We then learn the letter the solicitor passed on to Paul was from his mother, long dead, and written for him. She died in a hospital for the “morally defective”. Paull is well aware that his parents were married very soon before he was born. 

Continue reading ““A Question of Blood””

Time Loopers: Four Tales from a Time War

After reading Tales of Yog-Sothoth and The Book of Yig, I decided it was time to fill in the few gaps in my David Hambling reading.

Given the title of the anthology, I was intrigued to read a non-Mythos piece of science fiction from him.

Review: Time Loopers: Four Tales from a Time War, 2020.

This is a curious anthology in several respects.

First, as you will note above, it has no listed editor.

Second, it isn’t what its listing on Amazon mostly suggests. (I couldn’t even find it on the Crystal Lake Publishing site, but it’s still for sale.)

Third, it’s actually a Cthulhu Mythos anthology.

David Hambling’s “Introduction” looks at the universal appeal of a do over in our life, approaching life like a videogame where we can cycle and cycle through one level in order to level up to the next one. The reasons for doing that are many, and the book’s stories look at several. He also mentions several films and books and their use of the idea. We get our first hint of what’s to come when H. P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Out of Time is mentioned. What if something like its Yith showed a more sinister source and motive for time looping.

This book is structured something like a musical suite – if each movement was composed by a separate party. I’m going to go spare on the plot synopsis because these stories are also linked – linked in fact by the literary DNA of Lovecraft but also of one of the contributors, Byron Craft. That became obvious after I read some of his other works after finishing this book. I also don’t want to spoil many of enjoyable moments of revelation.

And, of course, time travel stories tend to have intricate plots with paradoxes. Not every mystery posed by these stories is solved. Not every ending has a resolved chord. But that’s alright. Mystery has its place in fantastic fiction and is a pleasing feature however much it comes across as mere incompetence in less skilled writers. And a puzzled reader, here, matches the frequently puzzled protagonists.

Continue reading “Time Loopers: Four Tales from a Time War”

The Book of Yig

David Hambling sent me a review copy of this one. It is, incidentally, “respectfully dedicated to Brian Stableford”.

Review: The Book of Yig: Revelations of the Serpent, eds. David Hambling and Peter Rawlik, 2021.

First off, there’s not a bad or even so-so story in this book, and I definitely recommend it.

It follows the successful formula of earlier Cthulhu Mythos releases from Crossroad Press: Tales of Al-Azif and Tales of Yog-Sothoth. They take an element of the Mythos, get stories from a bunch of contributors (often working in their own Mythos series), and present the stories chronologically with thematic, character, and plot links between the stories. Appropriately, some mysteries, but not all, are revealed at the end. (You can also throw in the earlier Crossroad Press release Time Loopers in this category, but I didn’t know that when I read this book. I’ll be reviewing Time Loopers later.)

I suspect there are two reasons this anthology works so well.

First is that it is built around a more obscure element of Lovecraft’s work, “The Curse of Yig”, which he worked on as a ghostwriter with Zealia Bishop. While I’m sure there are others, the only other Yig story I’ve read before the ones in this book was Walter C. DeBill, Jr’s “When Yidhra Walks”. That gives the authors plenty of leeway.

Second, the authors, after taking Bishop’s and Lovecraft’s story as their starting point, combined it with some of the rich symbology around serpents and other elements of Lovecraft to give us a new benchmark in Crossroad Press’ unique approach to Mythos publications.

Bishop gets a mention in David Hambling’s “The Serpent in the Garden” as does Kipling, Poe, and of course, the Bible given the title. We’re introduced to the snake-men Yig, their hidden presence among us, and their mysterious motives and nature.

Continue reading “The Book of Yig”

Tales of Yog-Sothoth

I’m moving out of reading sequence here because David Hambling was kind enough to send me a copy of this and another book, The Book of Yig, which I’ll be reviewing next post. It promised to be just thing with not only another Harry Stubbs tale from Hambling but a weird western story in the book from David J. West.

Review: Tales of Yog-Sothoth, ed. C. T. Phipps, 2021.

Cover by Steve Smith

As Phipps notes in his “Foreword”, H. P. Lovecraft didn’t call his related set of stories the “Cthulhu Mythos”. He called them “Yog-Sothery”. Phipps likes Yog-Sothoth and regards that god, with his ability to open dimensional doorways and mate with humans, the key entity of the Lovecraft universe which has spawned who knows how many stories since.

The organizing structure is the same as Phipps’ successful anthology Tales of the Al-Azif: a set of stories from diverse authors, often working in their own Lovecraftian series, presented in chronological order with some links between the stories. I suppose, if you’re the sort of person obsessed by continuity and consistency, you may balk at that. I’m not and I don’t. I think of the Mythos as a bit like the Arthurian cycle of stories: a set of characters and their relationships which are reworked and elaborated by a variety of authors for their own ends. [Update: Matthew Davenport co-edited Tales of the Al-Azif.]

Or think of it as a literary equivalent of an AK-47: a bit loose in the way the parts fit together but reliable enough for rapid fire which usually hits the target.

However, I didn’t think this book worked as well that earlier book of Phipps.

It starts out well though.

Phipps’ own “The True Name of God” was excellent. I’ll admit my interest in the Crusades may have played a part in my enthusiasm. Set in Akka (aka Acre) occupied by the Crusaders, it follows Ali ad Fariq, an accomplished member of the Order of Assassins as he takes a strange job for an unexpected client. Rabbi Yosef ben Yosef wants him to hunt down something that’s killing Jewish women in the city. The victims include his own daughter.

Continue reading “Tales of Yog-Sothoth”

“Bells of Oceana”

Still catching up on recent Deep Ones discussions over at LibraryThing.

This one is in H.P. Lovecraft’s Favorite Weird Tales. Now, you might think that a tale of a menace lurking under the vast realms of the Pacific Ocean may have influenced Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu”. However, the latter story was written in the summer of 1926 according to S. T. Joshi’s Nightmare Countries: The Master of Cosmic Horror, and Burke’s story appeared in the December 1927 issue of Weird Tales.

Review: “Bells of Oceana”, Arthur J. Burks, 1927.

HP Lovecraft's Favorite Weird Tales
Cover by Daniel Govar

This is an engaging weird fiction sea story. (I wonder, on reading this the second time, if David Hambling might have read it and been inspired to write his “The Devils in the Deep Blue Sea”.)

Our narrator is Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps and is on a troop ship bound for China. (Presumably, though this is unstated, this was for service in the American naval forces in China in the interwar period. Burks, incidentally, served in the Corps in both world wars.) The ship is taking an unusual route west, traveling between the usual sea lanes.

One night, around midnight, after making the inspection of the onboard sentries, he retires to his stateroom. He’s gripped by a sense of unease. He thinks someone has been in his stateroom.

He knows he has the only key to the room. He even opens the porthole window and looks, but he sees nothing. But he still is uneasy and keeps an eye on the porthole.

Then, after undressing, he sees a strange, “dead-white” face with a “thin and ironic smile”, for a moment, at the porthole. Continue reading ““Bells of Oceana””

War of the God Queen

David Hambling kindly informed me of his latest book, so I went out and bought it. I even read it. (I met an author once who told me, when I said I didn’t know when I’d have time to read his new book, “I don’t care if you read it. Just buy it.”)

Review: War of the God Queen, David Hambling, 2020.War of the God Queen

David Hambling’s newest Cthulhu Mythos story is a radical departure for him. His previous Mythos stories have been in contemporary settings or in the London of the 1920s.

This one takes place in the Bronze Age in an area approximating Iran.

Jessica Morton, whom we last saw falling through the floor in Hambling’s “The Dulwich Horror of 1927”, ends up there.

The story opens with two old school chums of William Blake, the narrator of that story, showing up at Blake’s home. They’ve got a remarkable set of photographs: a carved-in-stone account by Jessica about her life in the past.

As pluck and luck would have it, Jessica plummets down some kind of dimensional wormhole and into a compound where Cthulhu spawn (known to the locals as Tulu) are keeping a bunch of slave women to breed with, but she falls in with a band of semi-nomads. Fortunately, the leader of that band is Amir, a relatively gentle warrior who mostly wants revenge on Tulu monsters. Amir regards Jessica as a goddess sent to help him in his revenge. Continue reading “War of the God Queen”

Tales of the Al-Azif; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Right now I’m reading David Hambling’s new novel, War of the God Queen, which gave me a good reason to read this book which I bought a few months ago when I was in the midst of reading William Hope Hodgson and various Scottish writers.

Reviewer parallax on this one is provided by The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Reviewer. I would have completely missed this title if he hadn’t mentioned it.

Review: Tales of the Al-Azif, eds. Matthew Davenport & C.T. Phipps, 2019.Tales of the Al Azif

Editors Davenport and Phipps have called up something impressively different here. They ensorcelled their contributors to give over their worlds and characters to serve a larger narrative, the story of something that is feebly and inadequately called a book.

If the language of their spells is a bit obscure at times or crafted to combine that which was separate and hide discontinuities, their vision and direction is to be applauded. They have created worlds from a throwaway title in a monograph from the Great God Lovecraft.

In six stories (one being broken into the opening and closing framing sections), we get the history of the Al-Azif, sometimes known as The Book of the Insect. Maybe the Mad Arab Abdul Al-Hazred used it as the source for the Necronomicon. And, maybe, he was torn apart by invisible demons in a day-lit market square. One thing is certain, though: Al-Azif is not just a static text. It shifts in meaning, is a power unto itself, a power often affiliated with those strange members of the Class Insecta we share Earth with. And the Al-Azif seduces with promises of wishes fulfilled. Continue reading “Tales of the Al-Azif; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax”

Eyes in the Sky

This one makes a nice companion to the last post on David Hambling’s Swarm Troopers though it’s not as tightly written.

Review: Eyes in the Sky: The Secret Rise of Gorgon Stare and How It Will Watch Us All, Arthur Holland Michel, 2019.51zYpraxPqL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

Imagine above you is a camera. It can survey tens of miles at a time yet take in enough detail to read license plates and distinguish faces. It records all it sees. It’s a spy TiVo.

If you’re a terrorist, it knows where you are, where you’ve been, whom you’ve met.

If you’re a politician with an embarrassing secret, bribes or some sexual picadillo, it knows where you’ve been and whom you met.

If you shot a drug dealer on a street corner, it saw you and the past movements of the dealer.

If you’re a plumber not paying your taxes, it can track your service calls in real time and perhaps the tax authorities can serve a levy on your customers or do an audit.

If you’re a child snatched and put in a van, it knows the license plate number of your abductor.

If you’re on a rooftop after a hurricane, it can help rescue you.

If you eschew electronic communication with your fellow political dissidents, it can follow you to an in-person meeting with them.

You don’t have to imagine this camera. It exists already. It’s been built and used for some of the above purposes. It could be used for all of them. Continue reading “Eyes in the Sky”