After about a year, I decided to finally finish reading S. T. Joshi’s Black Wings of Cthulhu anthology series. Partly, that’s to read some David Hambling tales in later volumes, and partly to finally finish at least one of my reading projects.
In his “Introduction” to the book, Joshi notes how several stories here rely on a sense of place. He also mentions the anthology’s one poem, Charles Lovecraft’s “Fear Lurks Atop Tempest Mount”, a retelling of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Lurking Fear”.
In Lovecraft, of course, terrors often come from the past, an idea he inherited from the gothic. Indeed, merely calling something “ancient” in Lovecraft is often used to evoke horror. For me, some of the most memorable tales here are archaeologically themed, an element in Lovecraft’s own The Shadow Out of Time.
Ann K. Schwader’s “Night of the Piper” is my first exposure to her Cassie Barret series. She’s a former anthropology student who now works on a Wyoming ranch, packs a revolver, and has two Rottweiler dogs for companions. Ranch foreman Frank, perhaps because his grandfather was a Crow “man of power”, appreciates the thinness between dreams and reality. Shortly after a flyer shows up in the mail advertising “THE PIPER WITH A PURPOSE”, a local branch of a non-profit advertising and its “Authentic Ancient Designs for a Stronger Community”, they both begin having strange dreams involving coyotes. And the Kokopelli on the flyer seems reminiscent of a sinister version Cassie has seen before. Soon, reluctantly, she gets out the journal of a vanished archaeologist who thinks that particular Kokopelli derives from a far more ancient culture.
Schwader cleverly splices the Cthulhu Mythos into the prehistory of the American Southwest. But, for me, the descriptions of Wyoming and rural poverty evoked things I’ve seen myself, and that made the story richer. Justly renowned as a poet, Schwader proves she’s also a talented fiction writer.
When three Chinese miners show up at Porter Rockwell’s saloon one night, they are in a hurry to abandon their diggings around the camp of Murderer’s Bar. One of them is dying. They want to trade a “dragon bone” and a book for a horse and wagon. They found working them their claim on the putatively haunted Scorched Devil Ridge. Rockwell trades them a cart and mule for the goods but not before the Chinese mention the Old Ones and hungry ghosts, and that, in two nights, the stars will be right.
Well, the group doesn’t get far on the trail to Sacramento. They are found dead on the trail by two sometimes comical characters – though courageous enough — Zeke and Bowles. For that matter, the night watchman at the saloon is killed too.
And they won’t be the last killings Rockwell, employee Jack, faithful hound Dawg, and the fearsome Bloody Creek Mary will have to contend with. The question is are they just the depredations of the local Mountain Hound gang or something far stranger?
This one has more the feel of the traditional western than “The Haunter of the Wheel” with Rockwell spending almost as much time battling outlaws as a menace from the past linked to Zealia Bishop’s and H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Mound”.
Of course, the mysterious Mr. Nodens shows up, always willing to provide hints to Rockwell but no actual help. Sasquatches do too.
Yep, it’s a sequel to Shoggoth, and, yes, the Elder Beings aka the Yith do play a prominent role.
It’s been a few months since the events of Shoggoth. Jason Riggs and Gwen Gilhooey have married and are expecting a child, and Jason’s nephew Noah has come to live with them. Computer genius Cac survived being shot up. Thomas Ironwood and his former housekeeper, Amy Murchison, have become lovers.
Besides Noah, there are two other major characters, a mysterious scarred man who proves his professional monster killing metal in some opening chapters, and Pemba, a psychic empath from England. (Recommended by Professor David Hambling, no less!). Ironwood wants help in investigating some strange dreams and visions the locals of Darwin are having. He thinks the vast underground complex of the Yith exerts some kind of psychic influence.
And Senator Neville Stream is still around, still determined to get his hands on Yith technology and weaponize shoggoths for political ends.
This ur-text for much of Craft’s later solo writings in the Cthulhu Mythos ranges from the last days of the Third Reich to the eve of the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive to 1980s Germany and points far beyond in time and space.
Essentially, this is a haunted house story and a haunted world story. After all, aren’t most Lovecraft stories hauntings of a sort?
Not only is this the start of the Mythos Project serie, but the Windlass device, such a central part of the Time Loopers anthology and Craft’s story in it, “The Comatose Man”, is a crucial element. Professor Ironwood of that story shows up as do the pilot demons and Tanists of Craft’s Arkham Detective series.
The book has an interesting history. It started out as a screenplay adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” that was turned into the novel The Alchemist’s Notebook which then was retitled. Evidently, according to an interview I found with Craft, the film project halted when he and his partners wouldn’t sell the script to producer Dino De Laurentis. The novel even has some reproductions of pre-production artwork by Tom Sullivan.
The book, between the foreword and afterword from Ironwood, is composed of three first person narratives: a transcript of Faren Church’s recordings, the notebook of his wife Janet, and the journal of alchemist – and Faren’s great-uncle – Heinrich Todesfall.
Yes, it’s another story where Miskatonic University has failed yet again to keep the blasphemous Necronomicon under lock and key.
Even the Arkham Detective (and, no, he doesn’t get a name in this novel either) got called in as a policeman when that freak Wilbur Whately tried to steal it as chronicled by H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror”.
This time around the Detective isn’t professionally obligated to get involved. He’s a private eye now, but he agrees to look into the theft of the book and murder of a janitor as a favor to Detective Bell, the man who took his place as head of the Arkham Police Department’s Mythos Division.
There’s been plenty of changes in the Detective’s life in the three months since the events of Death on the Arkham Express. His family has grown again, so he needs a bigger house.
I had the suspicion that Byron Craft’s story “The Comatose Man” in Time Loopers was connected to some of his other work, and his website confirmed that. So, this is the start of a look at most of his work related to the Cthulhu Mythos.
This collects the first four Arkham Detective stories. They are probably novelettes or novellas in length.
The Arkham Detective, a police lieutenant, investigates crimes on the mean streets and in the slums of Arkham in the midst of the Great Depression
Carrying a Colt 1911, an heirloom from his policeman dad, the Detective’s methods can be brutal and illegal and that bothers him but not as much as the idea of letting the evil he comes across carry the day.
He’s the Arkham Detective because Craft delights in never giving him a name though he narrates the four stories.
This Arkham is full of places and names familiar from Lovecraft, and Craft adds some of his own. One of the nice things invents some nice place names.
There is plenty of action, and the Detective knows the score about the weirdness around Arkham so no time is wasted in him having to accept the existence of the various monsters, magic, and dimensional travel he comes across. Before he was a detective, the narrator was one of the policeman called to look at Wilbur Whately’s body in H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror”. Miskatonic University and its faculty also have a prominent place.
Cthulhu’s Minions starts with the Detective finding an old partner of his dead in an alley with his face chewed off. Soon weird creatures, pilot demons, begin to show up around Arkham. As their name implies, they accompany an even more dangerous entity.
This story was ok, but the series improves with each installment.
I’m always up for a trip to that crumbling seaside town of Innsmouth, and, in The Innsmouth Look, the trail of a man who murdered a woman and kidnapped her child leads the Detective there. But the Detective finds out he’s not the only party interested in what the Esoteric Order of Dagon is up to. Craft gives us some nice descriptions of Innsmouth and, good naturedly, put some dialogue from Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” into another character’s mouth.
For most of The Devil Came to Arkham, we don’t seem to be dealing with a menace from Lovecraft. The Detective has a bad feeling about Corvus Astaroth, a recent arrival in town. And, when Arkham gets hotter and Corvus gathers a cult of women about him who seem to be getting unhealthily thin, that trepidation is justified. And, when an ex-cop shows up with a dossier on the man named – here at least – Corvus, the Detective starts to get a notion of what he’s dealing with.
The Dunwich Dungeon brings back a character from The Innsmouth Look. A traveler in the Dreamlands, he now finds himself imprisoned underground and left to starve. Somehow, he has to get the Detective’s help. Meanwhile, in Arkham, a stray dog hanging about the police station leads the Detective to an abandoned mansion with strange markings on the wall. With references to the Windlass device and Otto Meldinger, this story definitely links to Craft’s “The Comatose Man”.
These are enjoyable stories. While you can jump into this series at any point, I liked how Craft presented a story arc for the Detective as his life changes from story to story.
While I’m willing to go with the advanced research projects at Miskatonic U, Craft unfortunately mars some of his stories with what are probably unnecessary anachronisms involving Xerox machines and the term “serial killer” which is actually a term invented in 1974. He probably could have found a workaround for another anachronism involving the OSS too. On the other hand, Craft’s website says Cthulhu’s Minions is set in an “alternate universe somewhat like the 1930s”, so maybe that’s the justification and not carelessness.
Still, I liked this omnibus enough that I read the rest of the series, and I’ll be reviewing them shortly. The fusion of the Mythos with the detective story – which, of course, Lovecraft himself did with “The Call of Cthulhu” – is a popular one, and Craft’s stories are a worthy example.
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.
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-Azifand 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.
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.
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.
This week’s weird fiction tale being discussed over at LibraryThing.
Review: “The Warder of Knowledge”, Richard F. Searight, 1992.
This story has a plus and a minus.
The minus is that it falls in the trap of telling us the experience of its protagonist, Gordon Whitney with no real way, just from his writings, for the narrator, a friend of Whiteny’s, to know these details. Even H. P. Lovecraft’s “Dagon”, with its narrator hurriedly writing his experiences down as the monsters close in, doesn’t go this far.
On the plus side, Whitney emotionally acts like an amateur undertaking a dangerous occult experiment.
Robert M. Price’s introduction to Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos notes that, though this story was first published in that book, Lovecraft saw the story when Searight sent it to him. Lovecraft liked it and noted Searight’s use of the Eltdown Shards as different than Lovecraft’s own in the round-robin story Lovecraft had participated in, “The Challenge from Beyond”. Lovecraft optimistically noted that Searight’s use would end up being better known than that story. Of course, things worked out completely the opposite.
The story opens in a standard Lovecraftian vein.
We hear about how the “neatly typed manuscript” found in Whitney’s desk drawer caused his academic comrades to regard it as the delusions of a mentally unbalanced organic chemist who dabbled in the occult. The writer says that impression would have been heightened if they had his personal journal. Searight throws a bit of novelty in by briefly mentioning the psychic impressions perceived by Professor Turkoff, a psychologist, in Whitney’s bedroom.