Within The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, masterfully edited by Paula Guran, you will find a plethora of bewitching stories. Plenty of brilliant writers who contributed their talents incorporate Lovecraft’s universe into their tales. Others invent their own worlds and wink at the Godfather of weird literature.
One went so far as to sum Lovecraft up in a biography. In her piece “Variations on Lovecraftian Themes,” Veronica Schanoes shines an unforgiving light on Lovecraft’s racism and Anti-Semitism. That’s not to say Lovecraft has no redeeming qualities. Schanoes notes, for example. how he nurtured countless young writers through letters.
Contradictions abounded in Lovecraft’s life, and no one understands this more than Schanoes. Having thoroughly educated herself on her topic, her research delivers a punch to the gut. It makes you wonder if you can go on loving a writer knowing they valued hate.
On the subject of loving writers, you could say “A Shadow of Thine Own Design” by W.H. Pugmire is a love letter to Lovecraft. The story begins in the infamous city of Arkham. A young man named Malcolm Elioth meets an old woman named Edith Gnome. Ms. Gnome possesses a piece of artwork by the notorious Richard Upton Pinkman. Once the painting appears in the story, Lovecraft’s shadow looms over the stage. Yet, Pugmire makes the world his own by amplifying the grotesque power of the painting. The stunning description of Ms. Gnome’s baroque hell house shimmers off the page. Though Lovecraft’s beloved city and legendary painter play important roles in the tale, Pugmire constructs his own universe around them. And that’s what makes this tale so enjoyable.
Look no further than “Legacy of Salt” by Silvia Garcia-Moreno for an equally enjoyable piece. When Eduardo reunites with his relatives, who live in what seems like a time capsule, he desperately yearns to return to his lover in Mexico City. But Imelda, his enchanting and backward cousin, stabs a hook into his flesh. Their sordid waltz around their attraction is only one part of the story. The ancient rituals of Eduardo’s relatives, dating back to the time of the Aztecs, sear themselves into your memory. It’s not easy breaking away from a spiritual bond as strong as this one. Moreno-Garcia knows this well. This story haunts you.
Of course, all of the contributions in this brilliant collection are sure to haunt. But none will do so in quite the same way as “Alexandra Lost” by Simon Strantzas. On a trip to the ocean with her boyfriend, Alexandra begins to unravel. The way in which her body goes to war with itself begs the question; does she belong below depths? Strantzas’ approach to Alexandra’s self-discovery hypnotizes the reader. His empathy and his understanding that the ocean might be bigger than life on Earth sucks you into a whirlpool. By the time you learn of Alexandra’s fate, you’ll be gasping for air and wanting to dive beneath the waves again. I thought of Cthulhu while reading this story. It made me wonder whether Strantzas’ intention was to show that Alexandra was a child of the one and only.
The child of the writer is to whom an equally hypnotizing tale is addressed. In “Outside the House, Watching for Crows” by John Langan, the writer of a long letter describes his journey to his son. A girlfriend he had when he was a teenager named Lorrie introduces him to her friends, whereupon he meets Jude. When Jude lends him a CD of a band called The Subterraneans, the writer responds to the Call of their music. He never quite resurfaces from the murky depths of the songs.
This chilling story brings Cthulhu to mind in large part because of the undercurrent lodged in The Subterranean’s music. That and ominous characters of Lovecraft’s creation appear at one point, their presence just as tantalizing as you might expect. The eerie connection the music shares with unfathomable darkness of the ocean forces you to dive into the story. Langan takes the epistolary form and wrangles it into a splendid form of horror. You’ll love this one.
The same applies to” In the Ruins of Mohenjo-Daro” by Usman T. Malik. When Noor, a young Muslim teacher, takes her class of teenage cadets to a museum full of ancient spiritual artifacts, they end up stranded on their way home. Their place of rest ends up being a terrifying desert filled with unearthly ruins. When a fellow teacher’s memories prey on her sanity, Noor tries her best to survive in the only way she knows how. Malik’s writing soars from the page in the accomplished style of a writer who adores their genre. Diving into the folklore of his native Pakistan, Malik elaborates on the Lovecraftian elements of the stories he grew up with. Thus the horror chills you enough to make you consider retreating from the world for a bit. Noor’s struggle, combined with the horrific urgency the additional characters possess to carry out their frightening mission, propel you to keep reading. This story will captivate you while also making you want to hide under your covers.
Who am I kidding? Every story in this fabulous collection has the potential to get you shivering. But you’ll endure it because of your love of Lovecraftian literature. Or maybe you’re a first time reader and want to see what he’s all about? I recommend this collection to both diehard fans and newcomers to Lovecraft’s body of work.
You’ll both find something you’re looking for. As for me, I’m going to stick to the more magical side of Science Fiction and Fantasy for a while.
Here’s the complete Table of Contents:
“In Syllables of Elder Seas” by Lisa L. Hannett
“The Peddler’s Tale, or, Isobel’s Revenge” by Caitlín R. Kiernan
“It’s All the Same Road in the End” by Brian Hodge
“Caro in Carno” by Helen Marshall
“The Cthulhu Navy Wife” by Sandra McDonald
“Those Who Watch” by Ruthanna Emrys
“A Clutch” by Laird Barron
“Just Beyond the Trailer Park” by John Shirley
“The Sea Inside” by Amanda Downum
“Outside the House, Watching for the Crows” by John Langan
“Alexandra Lost” by Simon Strantzas
“Falcon-and-Sparrows” by Yoon Ha Lee
“A Shadow of Thine Own Design” by W. H. Pugmire
“Backbite” by Norman Partridge
“In the Ruins of Mohenjo-Daro” by Usman T. Malik
“Legacy of Salt” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
“I Do Not Count the Hours” by Michael Wehunt
“An Open Letter to Mister Edgar Allan Poe, from a Fervent Admirer” by Michael Shea
“I Dress My Lover in Yellow” by A. C. Wise
“Deep Eden” by Richard Gavin
“The Future Eats Everything” by Don Webb
“I Believe That We Will Win” by Nadia Bulkin
“In the Sacred Cave” by Lois H. Gresh
“Umbilicus” by Damien Angelica Walters
“Variations on Lovecraftian Themes” by Veronica Schanoes
The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu was published by Robinson/Running Press on May 24, 2016. It is 476 pages, priced at $14.95 in trade paperback and just $5.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Tim McDonagh.
Zeta Moore’s last review for us was Eva L. Elasigue’s Bones of Starlight: Fire on All Sides. She is exploring work in care for individuals on the autism spectrum, and nerding out when she can.