The recently released anthology – a massive, 500+ page collection of H.P. Lovecraft-inspired stories – is, shockingly, the very first anthology edited by Lockhart, who has been San Francisco-based Night Shade Books’ managing editor since 2007. I’m a huge fan of Night Shade Books – I proudly wore my “Night Shade Books has a posse” t-shirt until it rotted off my body – and after reviewing more than two dozen of their titles over the years, I have yet to read a book from them that hasn’t been extraordinary in some way: Jon Armstrong’s Grey, Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, the Wastelands and By Blood We Live anthologies by John Joseph Adams, Stina Leicht’s Of Blood and Honey, Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh, Thomas S. Roche’s The Panama Laugh, No Hero by Jonathan Wood, to name just a few.
So when I heard that Night Shade was releasing a Cthulhu anthology including 27 nightmarish tales (a mix of previously published horror gems and never-before-published stories) – and that Lockhart himself was editing it! – I literally could not wait to get my hands on what I hoped would be a gloriously dreadful compilation.
Not only did this anthology meet my expectations, it far exceeded them. To say that this anthology is a “must read” for fans of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos would be an understatement of the highest order – The Book of Cthulhu should be prominently displayed on the shelves of anyone and everyone who claims to be a fan of H.P. Lovecraft. This is an anthology that could – and should – be read again and again.
In The Book of Cthulhu’s introduction, Lockhart wrote:
“Lovecraft’s impeccable storytelling – often filtered through his collaborators and ‘disciples’ – has inspired many to pen their own Mythos tales, and the Cthulhu Mythos story cycle has taken on a convoluted, cyclopean life of its own, as further posthumous collaborations continue to expand the scope, scale, and ultimate interpretation of what is perhaps the most diverse shared fictional universe ever created.”
And he fittingly described The Book of Cthulhu as a “hand-picked selection representing the best post-Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos literature, all in one place.”
I’ll take it one step farther – it’s the ultimate post-Lovecraft Cthulhu anthology. The laundry list of luminaries who contributed to this compilation is just jaw-dropping – Brian Lumley, Cherie Priest, Kage Baker, Laird Barron, Ramsey Campbell, Bruce Sterling, Joe R. Lansdale, John Langan, Gene Wolfe, Elizabeth Bear, Caitlín R. Kiernan, David Drake, Charles Stross, the list goes on and on…
But it’s all about the quality of stories – and this anthology is just filled with dark little masterworks. My personal favorites were Barron’s “The Men from Porlock” and Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Flash Frame.” Barron’s story was easily the most terrifying of the collection. Set in 1923, the story takes places in the foothills of Mystery Mountain – a largely unexplored region of the Olympic Range that is richly historied in horrific legends and folklore – and follows a group of loggers as a hunting trip goes terribly astray. After witnessing a total solar eclipse, the woodsmen stumble across an isolated village in which its residents “venerate the Great Dark.” Unknowingly interrupting the villagers’ holiest of holy days, the group of loggers pay a gruesome price for their trespass…
“The cavern was rank and humid and dark as pitch. He floated over crags and canyons and forests of clabbered flesh and fungus, his body carried upon the updrafts of a warm, gelatinous sea. At the center of this sea a mountain range shuddered and stirred. The colossus writhed and uncoiled with satanic majesty, aroused by the whine of flea wings. It whispered to him…”
If this story doesn’t freak you out, you’re not human.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s impressive “Flash Frame” was about a freelance journalist in 1982 Mexico City who is researching a story about a strange cult that rents out a decrepit porno theatre every week. Her investigation, however, reveals something utterly unworldly that pushes her to the brink of insanity. The various ways Moreno-Garcia utilized the color yellow to deepen her narrative was just brilliant:
“The sound was yellow. A bright, noxious yellow.
Festering yellow. The sound of withered teeth scraping against flesh. Of pustules bursting open. Diseased. Hungry.
The voice, yellow, speaking to the audience. Telling it things. asking for things. Yellow limbs and yellow lips, and the yellow maw, the voracious voice that should never have spoken at all.”
Other remarkable entries included T.E.D. Klein’s darkly stylish “Black Man with a Horn,” a story that follows a 77-year old writer – and Lovecraft “disciple” – who, after meeting a strange missionary on a plane, tries to unravel a mystery surrounding a Malaysian tribe that worships a demonic boogeyman known as Shoo Goron. His search leads him to some extremely unpleasant revelations. Priest’s “Bad Sushi” pits an elderly Japanese sushi chef and veteran of the Guadalcanal Campaign against a tentacled deity and its fish-eyed minions; and Kiernan’s hauntingly lyrical “Andromeda Among the Stones” is an intensely atmospheric – and heart-wrenching – story about the ultimate sacrifice.
There are no weak stories here – every single one of the 27 entries is a potential standout reading experience. The Book of Cthulhu is nothing short of pure Lovecraftian gold. If fans of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos don’t seek out and read this anthology, they’re not really fans – it’s that simple.
When a group of scholars from Miskatonic University travel to the Antarctic on a geological expedition, they stumble across the discovery of the century: Hidden by a towering mountain range and buried beneath the icy wasteland are the remains of a vast, alien city hundreds of millions of years old. After unearthing strange bodies that appear to be both plant and animal, most of the men and sledge dogs are brutally and mysteriously eviscerated. The two remaining researchers decide to forge ahead and explore the subterranean city before departing. What they find deep in the worming catacombs will forever change their view of humankind's place in the cosmos...
Lovecraft writes in his essay on horror in literature: "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." That all-paralyzing, insanity-inducing fear of the unfamiliar is no better exemplified than in his classic story about the ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic. At the Mountains of Madness is a must-read if there ever was one – by an author whose work Clive Barker describes as "one of the cornerstones of modern horror." – Paul Goat Allen
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
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