A Solid Collection of Stories Rooted in the Lovecraft Mythos
(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. Trigger warning for rape and animal abuse.)
Confession time: I’m not a fan of H.P. Lovecraft. I’m not not a fan, I just know very little about his work. Most of my limited knowledge comes from the recent World Fantasy Awards controversy (which, I must admit, doesn’t exactly make me want to run out and buy copy of The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft), and that one episode of Supernatural (which, as it just so happened, TNT reran this morning. Serendipity!)
I am, however, I huge Seanan McGuire fangirl, and it’s her contribution that sold me on this anthology. (Her short stories in particular are phenomenal, and “Down, Deep Down, Below the Waves” is no exception.) I’m glad, too, because The Gods of HP Lovecraft is a pretty solid collection of science fiction stories. As you can see, I rated everything a 4 or 5, which is pretty impressive; usually anthologies are more of a mixed bag for me. The individual summaries are relatively vague and un-spoilery, but please skip them if you’d rather read this book with fresh eyes.
“Call the Name” by Adam LG Nevill (Cthulhu) – The year is 2045, and humanity has awakened Cthulhu, our alien creator and one temperamental god. Responsible for mass extinction events 443 million, 200 million, and 65 million years ago, our overpopulation, warming, and general degradation of the planet will be our downfall – just not in the way most scientists predict. 4/5 stars. While I loved the environmentally-friendly message of the story (not to mention Cleo and her proud lineage of mad women scientists), the language is a little florid for my taste (though quite possibly in line with the source material).
“The Dark Gates” by Martha Wells (Yog-Sothoth) – When the Baron Mille’s stepdaughter and secretary go missing, the Baroness hires “lady detective” Reja and her team to find them. It turns out that the Baron hasn’t quite been himself since exploring a mysterious fissure in an old mine… 4/5 stars. This story has a lovely steampunk vibe to it, and I love Reja and her diverse (not always human) crew of detectives.
“We Smoke the Northern Lights” by Laird Barron (Azathoth) – A probe sent to Pluto in 1956 returns earlier than expected – perhaps after slipping through a wormhole in space? Now NCY-93’s core contains information the likes of which threatens to corrupt anyone who views it. 5/5 stars. The protagonists of this story are two precocious young geniuses/psychopaths named Mac and Dred whose training in the Himalayan mountains evokes images of Pai Mei – and whose current occupation feels like an alternate ‘verse version of the Men of Letters.
“Petohtalrayn” by Bentley Little (Nyarlathotep) – An unassuming archaeologist named Ellison is summoned to the underground prison of Nyarlathotep to lead his army of rat-people into the sun. 4/5 stars. I would love to adopt a rat with opposable thumbs!
“The Doors that Never Close and the Doors that Are Always Open” by David Liss (Shub-Niggurath) – Blessed be the bankers … by Shub-Niggurath, at least. 4/5 stars. Not quite what I expected!
“The Apotheosis of a Rodeo Clown” by Brett J. Talley (Tsathoggua) – When a mining company blasted a new shaft deep within the bowels of the Sutter’s End mine, they unleashed a terrible god (the drawing of which looks suspiciously like blob-Chet of Weird Science fame). A god embraced by the local biker gang, natch. 4/5 stars. I could do without the heroic bullfighter, okay. (Pro tip: all of the cows you torture for fun are “terrified” – not just the old, broken ones.)
“Rattled” by Douglass Wynne (Yig) – Two thirteen-year-old boys go on a vision quest to mark their passage into manhood – but only one of them comes out the other side. Seventeen years later, Nathan returns to the desert to find out what fate befell his best friend Adam.
The story is based on the Curse of Yig: “If you kill a snake on sacred ground, you become a snake, or a snakelike creature. […] Anyway, the curse, it’s like karma, right? It means that Indians valued the lowest of the low, creatures literally without a leg to stand on. And if you hurt one, you should expect to find yourself stripped of power and crawling on your belly on the ground among them, yeah?” Let’s just say that Adam is kind of a shithead who loves to kill defenseless animals and leave it at that.
5/5 stars. While the vegan in me would like to see this principle extended to all animals (and not just snakes), you learn to take the animal-friendly crumbs where you can.
“In Their Presence” by Christopher Golden & James A. Moore (The Mi-Go) – The crew of the Burleson travels the Arctic in search of the remains of the Eleanor Lockley, lost at sea some 80 years before – but her cargo may be more valuable than any of them realize. 4/5 stars.
“Dream a Little Dream of Me” by Jonathan Maberry (Nightgaunts) – Set in Maberry’s Sam Hunter universe, this is a pulpy story starring a hard-bitten, shape-shifting PI. A weirdo hires Sam to protect a precious artifact from the Thule Society; but the job goes sideways when Sam learns that his idea of being a “champion” differs greatly from his employer’s. 4/5 stars. It feels a little more contemporary and stylistically different from the other stories, but in a good way.
“In the Mad Mountains” by Joe R. Lansdale (Elder Things) – The survivors of a shipwreck – who remember nothing of the trip they were on – find themselves stranded on barren sheet of ice, along with the detritus of other wayward travelers. And they aren’t alone. 5/5 stars.
“A Dying of the Light” by Rachel Caine (Great Race of Yith) – Based on “The Shadow Out of Time,” as well as the author’s own experiences caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s, “Dying” tells the story of an elderly Alzheimer’s patient who makes a miraculous recovery. Only the woman who reclaims Acanthus Porter’s body may not be Mrs. Porter after all. 5/5 stars.
“Down, Deep Down, Below the Waves” by Seanan McGuire (The Deep Ones) – Despite the apparent lack of lesbians, Seanan McGuire’s story is one of my favorites. I don’t want to reveal too much, but suffice it to say that thar be mermaids here…or at least mermaid-like creatures who enjoy experimenting on humans. But said humans torture mice for a living, so karma. 5/5 stars.
Though the stories are inspired by Lovecraft’s twelve principal deities, you don’t have to be a fan to enjoy them; they all pretty much stand on their own. But. Those who are familiar with Lovecraft will likely get more out of them. For example, I spotted a number of recurring elements (the scientist known as Ellison; Miskatonic University) that I didn’t know quite what to do with. I suspect that there were even more Easter eggs that I didn’t pick up on.
Finally, a note on the formatting: Usually I prefer ebooks to print books, at least when it comes to books that don’t have many graphic elements (comic books; crafty, “found footage” novels like Illuminae and The Dead House). I decided to go with a print copy of The Gods of HP Lovecraft because of the illustrations – which are lovely, by the way. But there are only twelve of them, and the type’s a little on the small side, and even harder to read when italicized, as it occasionally is in large chunks (e.g., Cleo’s letter to Yolanda in “Call the Name”). Or maybe the adjustable font on my Kindle has just spoiled me. Either way, I wish I’d opted for the ebook instead. The print book is indeed handsome, but at what cost? (Eyestrain, that’s what.)
Comments (May contain spoilers!)
Diversity: A little. Broken down by story:
“Call the Name” by Adam LG Nevill – Cleo is suffering from dementia, and also has a long line of mental illness in her matrilineal line (possibly due to the women’s connection to Cthulhu). Cleo’s mom killed herself while institutionalized. Cleo’s caregiver Yolanda is a refugee from Portugal.
“The Dark Gates” by Martha Wells – Reja, “lady detective,” is brown-skinned with braids in her hair. Her colleague Tamith is gay. Fletcher thinks sex with humans is gross, but he’s half fey.
“We Smoke the Northern Lights” by Laird Barron – Mac and Dred Tooms are Egyptian on their mom’s side.
“Rattled” by Douglass Wynne – Danny Wormbone, the shaman who takes Adam and Nathan on a vision quest, is Native American; he lived on the Moapa Paiute reservation north of Las Vegas at the time.
“Dream a Little Dream of Me” by Jonathan Maberry – Oliver Boots is black (or wears a black skin), as are (do) his fellow Nightgaunts.
“A Dying of the Light” by Rachel Caine – Rose works in a senior home, often with those who suffer Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Acanthus Porter is one of her patients. The nursing manager Cristophe is Jamaican, but his is a bit part.
Animal-friendly elements: A few. See my review for details.