Sunday, January 15, 2012

Book 'em, Cthulhu

The Book of Cthulhu, edited by Ross E. Lockhart (2011), containing:

Caitlin R. Kiernan - Andromeda among the Stones
Ramsey Campbell - The Tugging
Charles Stross - A Colder War
Bruce Sterling - The Unthinkable
Silvia Moreno-Garcia - Flash Frame
W. H. Pugmire - Some Buried Memory
Molly Tanzer - The Infernal History of the Ivybridge Twins
Michael Shea - Fat Face
Elizabeth Bear - Shoggoths in Bloom
T. E. D. Klein - Black Man With A Horn
David Drake - Than Curse the Darkness
Charles R. Saunders - Jeroboam Henley's Debt
Thomas Ligotti - Nethescurial
Kage Baker - Calamari Curls
Edward Morris - Jihad over Innsmouth
Cherie Priest - Bad Sushi
John Hornor Jacobs - The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife
Brian McNaughton - The Doom that Came to Innsmouth
Ann K. Schwader - Lost Stars
Steve Duffy - The Oram County Whoosit
Joe R. Lansdale - The Crawling Sky
Brian Lumley - The Fairground Horror
Tim Pratt - Cinderlands
Gene Wolfe - Lord of the Land
Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. - To Live and Die in Arkham
John Langan - The Shallows
Laird Barron - The Men from Porlock

An excellent anthology of mostly reprinted Lovecraftian stories, all of them dating from 1976 onwards. The Book of Cthulhu is quite heavy on 21st-century Cthulhuiana, which is fine -- most of the stories are excellent, several are harrowing, and many come from relatively small-press magazines and anthologies I would otherwise not have encountered.

There's some thematic grouping here, noticeable from the titles of what I call the Innsmouth Dining section (starting with "Calamari Curls" and running through "The Doom that Came to Innsmouth"), but also apparent in sections devoted to shoggoths, historical Lovecraft, and invasion from space and other dimensions.

The original-to-this-anthology concluding story, Laird Barron's "The Men from Porlock" (Google the title -- it's a literary reference), is one hell of a capper; standouts from writers other than the old reliables like Ramsey Campbell, David Drake, Joe Lansdale, Caitlin Kiernan, TED Klein, and Michael Shea include "Cinderlands", "Flash Frame", "The Oram County Whoosit", "The Shallows", "Bad Sushi" and "A Colder War." Editor Ross Lockhart does a splendid job of selecting a very broad range of approaches to Lovecraftian themes and variations.

Many stories specifically reference the Cthulhu Mythos not at all, instead building upon what Ramsey Campbell has called the first principles of Lovecraft's approach to horror -- the accumulation of telling, often quasi-documentarian detail in service to an overarching concern with the sublimely horrific. Lovecraft's children include all those 'found footage' horror movies currently dominating the marketplace, and stories like "The Oram County Whoosit" present a similar approach, one that's both contemporary and emergent from similar Lovecraftian constructions like "The Colour Out of Space" or "The Whisperer in Darkness."

But we also get some brilliant new takes on familiar themes and creatures in "Shoggoths in Bloom" and "A Colder War", both of which provide a fascinating blend of the Mythos and a fairly 'hard' science fictional approach. The shoggoths in bloom become surprisingly sympathetic; the shoggoths in Michael Shea's nauseating (in a good way) "Fat Face" really aren't sympathetic at all -- but the humans may be worse. A nice juxtaposition of stories using everybody's favourite freight-train-car-sized slaves of the Great Old Ones.

I could quibble with the selection of the stories from some of the writers (I'd pick Gene Wolfe's "The Tree is my Hat" over the already-reprinted "Lord of the Land", which has a somewhat clunky exposition section towards the end; the Lumley story is too much of an early, Lovecraftian pastiche from a writer who improved remarkably over his long career). I could quibble with the selection of some of the stories, though there's really only one clunker here. I will quibble with the copy editing, which is strangely awful in a handful of stories and perfectly fine in others. Weird!!! Highly recommended.

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