What was I thinking? Seriously. I agreed to review a pair of Lovecraft anthologies, nearly back to back.
My brain has been bombarded by some twisted, disturbing tales. There were some standouts in each anthology, and I will mention these.
I’ll be writing a separate review for each anthology, highlighting what I felt were the strengths of each grouping. I will not be comparing the two to each other overmuch. They really are unique from one another–each has a distinct tone, brought about by the excellent editing skills of Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles (She Walks in Shadows from Innsmouth Free Press) and Kat Rocha (Whispers from the Abyss from 01 Publishing).
Full disclosure: I’m an H.P. Lovecraft virgin. After reading what happens to virgins in these books, I’m sort of okay with that. I hate that I haven’t read the material that inspired these tales. Sure, I’ve played some tabletop games, observed South Park’s quite obviously accurate representation of Cthulhu, and even own a shirt with Cthulhu as the greater of the evils for the 2016 election. I’ve become accustomed to the culture without reading the tales. That hasn’t changed recently, but I feel that I have a much better grasp of the mystique of the Mythos.
She Walks in Shadows
Released 10/13/2015 by Innsmouth Free Press.
This is a dark book. A dark, disturbing, terrible book. I enjoyed it immensely. Of the two publications I’m reviewing, this one is willing to dig more deeply into taboo subjects. Rape and torture frequent these tales, and left me queasy.
All of the stories, illustrations, and the cover were created by women. It was edited by women.
On the one hand, this book is a triumph for women who have been told that women just don’t do Lovecraft. According to Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles, co-editors of this work, “The first spark was the notion, among some fans of the Lovecraft Mythos, that women do not like to write in this category, that they can’t write in this category.”
On the other hand, ignoring, if you must, the gender of the writers, this is a hell of a compilation of stories.
Some of my favorites were some of the darkest. I can’t go into every story here, because I have a totally normal, non-possessed child to hug in the morning and I like to sleep, so I’ll pick a few of my favorites and pull a Reading Rainbow and tell you to go read it yourself, you rapscallion. That’s what Burton says, right?
I really enjoyed “Turn Out the Light” by Penelope Love. The pre-note states that this is “A re-imagining of the life and death of Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft.” This story finds a gentle lens for Lovecraft, despite the content matter. The disordered narrative works perfectly for the tale of Lovecraft’s childhood and his mother’s institutionalization and death. A bit of darkness, of Lovecraft’s Mythos, enters the otherwise real events.
Nadia Bulin’s “Violet is the Color of Your Energy” is not for the faint of heart. The first paragraph is a winner:
Abilgail Gardner Nee Cuzak was sitting on the bathroom floor, thinking about the relationship that mice in mazes have with death, when a many-splendored light shot down from the stars like a touch of divine Providence.
This opening line really does reflect the rest of the story in intriguing ways. This one really bothered me, which is probably a good thing. Abigail Gardner, her children, and her husband start this tale out perfectly normal, and by the end of the tale of weird corn, insanity and plenty of deaths Spoilers can be highlighted within the parentheses (if the deaths of children at the hands of their own parents bother you, as well as a dead dog, don’t touch this one) we are left with a blunt, hard ending. My heart hurt during and after this work. I had to set down the Kindle and do some story-planning to get my mind right. This story is written expertly, and I’ll keep my peepers open for other works by Bulin.
Molly Tanzer’s “Cheerleading Squad” took a delightful tone shift from the prior works in the anto. It features some Christian cheerleaders, is set during the early 1990s (I think, based on DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince reference) and featuring an H.P. Lovecraft character via the gender-bending (or is she>) Asenath who returns from summer with a whole new look and attitude. (I used Google). I felt like the story used some expectations of the genre to turn our perceptions upside down.
Whispers from the Abyss
Released 10/11/2013 by 01 Publishing.
I think I received a copy of this book because a second installment just peeked over the horizon. It certainly doesn’t hurt to remind people, “Hey, Whispers from the Abyss was pretty good, and wouldn’t you like another helping of sea monsters, demonic beings and Old Gods?” Well, yeah! Why not?
While there were a great many stories here, and the serious ones are also entertaining, My favorites in this anthology were generally humorous. The stories are often short.
“Iden-Inshi” by Greg Stolze has an intriguing voice to it. It’s dark, grows progressively darker, and ends down a deep, deep well of darkness.
“My Friend Fishfinger by Daisy, Age 7” by David Tallerman is short, but there is a fun bit of dark irony to it. Look, just don’t trust these fishy people, okay kid?
“The Decorative Water Feature of Nameless Dread” by James Brogden was humorous. I enjoyed the couple listening to a radio program in which a caller is trying to get help identifying a strange creature that has encroached upon his property. Just a little Deep One is all.
Erica Satifka’s “You Will Never be the Same” felt like a dark science fiction tale: an episode of Doctor Who, maybe, or a short, Lovecraftian version of This Alien Shore by C.S. Friedman. I wanted to know more about the world that gave birth to the events of the story. Yes, there’s the Lovecraftian Mythos, but there’s something else there, too: a ship traveling across dangerous space and the madness therein.
From Goodreads: The WHISPERS FROM THE ABYSS anthology series returns with more H.P. Lovecraft-inspired fiction created for readers on the go. Contained within are 25 spine-chilling tales by Laird Barron (The Imago Sequence), Cody Goodfellow (Spore), Greg Stolze (Delta Green), A.C. Wise (Future Lovecraft), John Palisano (Dust of the Dead), John C. Foster (Dead Men), Orrin Grey (Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts), Dennis Detwiller (Delta Green), Chad Fifer (The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast), Konstantine Paradise (Coven), and many more. Now come, begin your slow descent into madness…
This can be purchased at Amazon, and other book retailers.