The Gods of HP Lovecraft by Aaron J. French
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I won this on a Goodreads Giveaway. This is the second time! So, if you're curious, yes, they actually do give books away - just the luck of the draw, I guess. Of course, I fell compelled to write a review. Stupid conscience!
I remember clearly the day I was first introduced to HP Lovecraft. I was in 8th grade and a friend of mine, John Hayes, was telling me about this cool new book he was reading while we were in the school courtyard on lunch break. He pulled the book out of his jacket and showed me: Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos: Vol. 1. He then offered to let me borrow it, so long as I returned it. Of course, with a cover like that, how could I possibly resist?
In the intervening . . . many . . . years, I've read my share of Lovecraft and his contemporaries. Back in the '90s, I was taken in by the Chaosium Cthulhu fiction series, which varied greatly in quality from book to book, especially in regards to contemporary authors published therein, but overall, it was a welcome series, especially in what was a publishing wasteland of Cthulhu mythos fiction.
Since that time, several short fiction venues featuring mythos fiction have come and gone and sometimes come again. Much of the burgeoning of short mythos fiction is due to the work of two editors, Ellen Datlow, and Paula Guran, two of the sweetest and simultaneously most evil people in the writing industry. They have worked harder than any others to nurture a market for contemporary fiction centered around Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. Their effect on the field cannot be overstated.
I don't envy Aaron J. French following in their footsteps. Those are some big shoes to fill.
But regardless of history, the "proof is in the pudding," so to speak, right? The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft features twelve stories written by contemporary writers. Each story is centered around an entity from Lovecraft's repertoire and has an illustration of said monster/god/thing by one of three very talented artists: Paul Carrick, Steve Santiago, or John Coulthart. There is also an afterword to each story, written by Donald Tyson, giving an overview of the monster/god/thing in the story preceding it, ostensibly for those who are unfamiliar with Lovecraft's zoo, though one would think that the target audience for this work is composed of those already familiar with Cthulhu, Azathoth, Shub Niggurath, etc.
As with any anthology, this is a mixed bag. Some stories are very good, some not so good. At least two are spectacular. My notes are sparse, as I want to keep things spoiler-free, but honest, as always.
Call the Name by Adam LG Nevill (Cthulhu)
Don't let this discouraging start make you put the book down. Yes, 112 pages could have been cut from the beginning of the story, and the rest of it could have been given a lot of breathing room so that it didn't feel like one giant info-dump, but it wasn't horrible. Okay, maybe it was. This had the feeling that it was written in a hurry for the anthology and not carefully crafted. I know Nevill is capable of doing better than this, so I am a bit disappointed. Two stars for this one. Still, carry on! I promise, it gets better!
The Dark Gates by Martha Wells (Yog-Sothoth)
Okay, it gets better slowly. When you state that the "usual things" aren't working and your talking about Occult sorcery, that really cheapens the dialogue and guts the story of any mystery. This was written as if it was lifted directly from a Call of Cthulhu adventure. I would be very surprised if it wasn't. Call of Cthulhu roleplaying adventures are great to play (I did so just a couple of months ago), but not so great to read, at least when it's written with no subtlety, no mystery. At first, I gave this three stars, but on further reflection, I'm dropping it to two. I love roleplaying games (in fact, I'm going to be a moderator on a panel about roleplaying games and writing at Wiscon this year), but I roleplay to roleplay, and I read to read.
We Smoke the Northern Lights by Laird Barron (Azathoth)
Now, NOW things start rolling. And I wouldn't have expected anything less from Laird Barron. It's metafictional as anything I've read, and the tongue-in-cheek humor in this piece is really, really well-played. It's as "gonzo" as I've ever read Barron, and it's fantastic tale of a hedonistic pair of boys stripped straight from Archie comics, the secret machinations of a dark corporate entity, and extraterrestrials . . . maybe. Five enthusiastic stars!
Petohtairayn by Bentley Little (Nyarlathotep)
Not bad. Not particularly great. It has an interesting academic veneer to it, particularly about shared mythologies, but I was bored much of the time. This is one in which the lead character simply gives up. Just gives up. And doesn't give much of a struggle in the process. "Meh," said the story, and "Meh," says I. Three stars.
The Doors that never Close and the Doors that Are Always Open by David Liss (Shub-Niggurath)
A pedestrian plot with some klunky usage, but not too bad. Another story in which main characters simply succumb to fate in the end, but at least this guy had some fight in him. Still, not enough to earn more than three stars.
The Apotheosis of a Rodeo Clown by Brett J. Talley (Tsathoggua)
Finally, another story with VOICE (Barron's was the first). That's partly what's lacking in many of these stories, but not here. The narrator was believable, with believable feelings, actions, and interactions. And the twist ending was very, very well done. Four stars, and I'll be reading more of Talley's work, for sure.
Rattled by Douglas Wynne (Yig)
This was a solid story that will stick with you. Coming of age meets reptilian horror. I really liked the character interactions, especially the portrayal of intra-family relationships. This is a well-written story that deserves attention, even if you don't like snakes. Especially if you don't like snakes. My only problem with it was that the reveal was a bit too soon and could have been saved for better effect later on. Still, a solid four stars.
In Their Presence by Christopher Golden & James A. Moore (The Mi-Go)
I love the Mi-Go. They are probably my favorite entity among all those of the Cthulhu mythos. But I have to be honest: there is just a touch too much treacle in this story (yes, I'm being serious - treacle in a mythos story). So it's 4 stars for "In Their Presence". Still, a great story from Team Golden-Moore.
Dream a Little Dream of Me by Jonathan Maberry (Nightgaunts)
On the other hand, I hate werewolves. Just hate them. With a passion. Especially when they show their faces in a Lovecraft mythos story. Stupid werewolves. I enjoyed the noir pastiche, but . . . werewolves. No. Just no. Three stars.
In the Mad Mountains by Joe R. Lansdale (Elder Things)
Well, Mr. Lansdale, you had me until the ginormous info-dump about 3/4 of the way through. The story never recovered after that and, in fact, foundered on the rocks of triteness and hyperbole. That's really too bad, because I was really enjoying this read until that point, and the Elder Things are my second favorite mythos baddie. Three stars.
A Dying of the Light by Rachel Caine (Great Race of Yith)
This pushes ALL the right buttons! This is a Lovecraft tale worthy of the name. If all the stories were this good, it would be the greatest Lovecraft anthology of all time. Alas, it is only one story, but one that deserves a resounding five stars! So good! Definitely the best story of the anthology. Possibly one of the best contemporary Lovecraft mythos stories I've ever read - and I've read quite a few. I would love, love, love to see what she could do working with Gemma Files!
Down, Deep Down, Below the Waves by Seanan McGuire (The Deep Ones)
Not bad, not terrible. I felt like it "telegraphed" a bit too early and was a bit too eager to explain everything. Could have been more understated and it would have improved the story, which seems to be a problem with most mythos storys, nay, most of horror in general, these days. Three stars, almost four, but not quite.
So, overall, three stars for The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft. The art wasn't quite enough to push it to four stars, though it was very good art (especially Steve Santiago's "Azathoth" - wowsers!). A must for the completist, and I'd say that Caine's and Barron's stories make the book worth the price of admission. Someday, someone is going to reprint all the best non-Lovecraft Lovecraft stories in one volume, and it would be a crime if those two stories aren't in it.
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