Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Children of Gla'aki: A Tribute to Ramsey Campbell's Great Old One

The Children of Gla'aki: A Tribute to Ramsey Campbell's Great Old OneThe Children of Gla'aki: A Tribute to Ramsey Campbell's Great Old One by Brian M. Sammons
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I began this book, I took the following note: "On a bit of a Lovecraftian kick, but it will soon pass. I won't say I'm burning out on it, but I'm . . . more wary than I was in the past."

After reading this volume, maybe I'm leaning more toward the burnout stage. A few stories herein have kept me from the brink of just saying "Quatsch" to everything with the descriptor of "Lovecraftian". But there was a fair amount of dreck. On average, was it worth reading? Yes. The really great stories in here are really great. Perhaps you need the bad to highlight the good, like a diamond atop mud. But having to clean off all the muck is getting old. Perhaps I had high hopes, because I enjoyed Ramsey Campbell's The Inhabitant of the Lake & Other Unwelcome Tenants, despite his self-reproachment for the immaturity of some of the stories. Maybe that's the problem - writers taking cues from an unstable source. Some of these writers were able to fashion gems, others cheap baubles, still others, broken, useless shards.

Nick Mamatas's "Country Mouse, City Mouse" was, as I expect from Mamatas, well-written and dipped its toes in explorations of tolerance and diversity. It expands the "universe" of Campbell's work by extending its reach. But I didn't find it all that horrific, outside of the fatalism expressed at the end. Three stars to this tale.

John Goodrich's "Tribute Band" isn't the sort of story I normally like. But what should have been a hackneyed story of rock and roll gone wrong was actually really enjoyable. It's a little "cute" and somewhat predictable, but the voice is distinctive and likable. The balance between folksy structure and challenging vocabulary is excellent. I just plain found myself drawn in. Three stars. Better than I would have guessed!

Robert M. Price's "In Search of Lake Monsters" is as pulpy as they come, with all the trappings one would expect. Then again, it had all the trappings one would expect . . . Still, I enjoyed it a lot. Four stars full of guilty pleasure. Sometimes you just can't really explain why you like a story, you just do. That's the case here.

While Pete Rawlik's "The Collection of Gibson Flynn" has an intriguing twist ending, the buildup paid so much homage to Lovecraftiana that it read like one giant inside joke, a pastiche of itself, mythos masturbation. The ending saves it from the realms of hackneyed mediocrity, but only just. Three stars, barely.

Outside of the intriguing title, W. H. Pugmire's "The Secret Painting of Thomas Cartwright" was uninspired and not nearly as intriguing as the title. Two forgetful stars.

Edward Morri's"I Want to Break Free" is a lesson in tension: the push me, pull me between cosmic forces and self-will, the intestines of genius and insanity, even the fence-hopping from pop culture references to literary stylistics. This story has VOICE. Punch. Chutzpah. Up to this point, the best story in the anthology, and it's not even close. I want to read more Morris! Five stars.

I'm admittedly out of touch with the weird fiction world. So this was the first Scott R. Jones story I've ever read. I am impressed. "The Spike" is a deep exploration of the alien-ness of, not Gla'aki, but a piece of Gla'aki. It's like Roadside Picnic but with the horror turned up to eleven. The writing is sparse, punchy, yet descriptive. Five stars.

I am certain that Thana Niveau must have better work than "The Dawning of His Dreams," given her publication history. This . . . I don't know what to call it, a story, I guess, did absolutely nothing for me. It's a hot mess. As an editor, I would likely throw this thing across the room. One star, because it was written. That's the best I can do.

William Meikle's "The Lakeside Cottages" featured a narrator that was too clever and self-aware by half. It read like a Call of Cthulhu session with a narrator who seemed to possess great knowledge of the Old Ones, which might be great for a recurring character, like an occult investigator, but didn't work in this one shot. Still, okay. Three stars for the three eyes of Gla'aki.

I have high expectations for Orrin Grey's fiction, and "Invaders of Glaaki" didn't disappoint. Yes, I'm a sucker for '80s nostalgia, and this story is full of it. But it takes things in a horrific direction. Imagine The Last Starfighter meets cosmic horror. I am not a big fan of second-person viewpoint, but it kind of worked for the story. I enjoyed this. Four stars.

Sorry, but Tom Lynch's "Scion of Chaahk" is a Campbell pastiche while Campbell is pastiching Lovecraft. I . . . just . . . can't . . . Maybe I'm just done with pulpy mythos fiction? Two stars.

Konstantine Paradias' "Cult of Panacea" is everything that Niveau's earlier story could have been. Yes, it's a history, but its presentation in the context of the story makes sense and forms a bleak, resigned picture of what it means to be a cultist of Gla'aki in the far-future wake of Earth's decrepitude and demise. It's rare to find a science fiction horror piece like this. It held my interest well. Four stars.

I think it's time to admit to myself that I do NOT like mythos pastiches, especially those that are trying to be funny, but are not very funny. Josh Reynolds' "Squatters Rights" just hit all the wrong buttons for me. I'm becoming leery of these Cosmic Horror Mythos-inspired anthologies. I'll finish this one. There have been some great stories here. But not this one. Two stars and my tastes are a-changin'.

Lee Clark Zumpe shows considerable writing skill through most of "Beneath Cayuga's Churning Waves," then ends flat. The ending was a disappointing deus-ex-machina, which could have been the ending to just about any detective thriller. It was as generic an ending as I could think of, like something right out of a "You Too Can Write Detective Stories" formula book. The story is still worthy of four stars, but the ending felt so tacked on that it doesn't deserve a fifth.

Despite a number of poor stories in here, some shine. Tim Waggoner's "Nature of Water" is one such. Simultaneously flipping the horror on its head and embracing it, this is a tale of horrific redemption. What could have easily been revenge schlock, Waggoner turns into an emotionally meaningful, yet terrifying end, deftly avoiding the obvious. Wonderfully written and full of pathos, I loved this story. Five stars.

That's three reality-show stories now. I'm tired of them. This one, "Night of the Hopfrog" by Tim Curran, claims to be the raw transcript of video for a ghost-hunter style show. But then where is all the parenthetical notation coming from? Who wrote these notes? The story would be more effective without them actually. Even then, with proper editing, I would only give it two stars. I never liked reality TV anyway.

The fiction ends on a strong note with John Langan's "Mirror Fishing," which subsumes Gla'aki in folk tradition that blooms into cosmic horror. The characters are wonderfully complex, from the young Pat to his tutor in the ways of Auld Glaikit, Lisa. The descent into the depths of Gla'aki's fractal-dimensional realm is amazing, and the folksy conceit refreshing. I enjoy those tales where human folk conception maps onto true cosmic horror in a sort of cargo-cult worship of those things that we cannot understand. This is a story that will stick with me for a while. Five stars.

Mathematically, I'm coming in at an average just above three stars. I'm rounding down to an even three, which seems about right. On average, The Children of Gla'aki is . . . average (despite the high praise Campbell heaps on ALL the stories in his afterword). The heights are really high: There are a few truly amazing stories in here. But the depths . . . well, Gla'aki himself will be well fed by some of these stories sinking to the bottom of the lake. I suppose some of the danger in editing such an anthology is that, in order to fill a word count and get readers, you might take a few pedestrian stories from "name" writers. I've never hewed to that philosophy myself, when editing. I only take the stories I love. If they happen to be "name" authors, that's helpful. But I also love giving the underdogs a chance. You have to start somewhere, right? Maybe at the bottom of the lake.

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  1. Wait, there's another Campbell tribute anthology? Jesus Christing fuck.

  2. Why am I always tempted by tribute anthologies? Seasons in Carcosa looks good to me, too. Is it any good?