Book Review: The Book of Cthulhu edited by Ross E Lockhart
Fantasy and horror author H.P. Lovecraft wasn’t a big seller during his lifetime, but the loose setting he created of the Cthulhu Mythos, where humans are only the most recent inhabitants of a cold and chaotic universe, and many of the previous inhabitants are effectively gods, has become one of the most popular sub-genres of horror literature. The twenty-seven stories in this volume are by second- and third-generation Lovecraftian writers.
There’s an encouraging variety of protagonists; professors and prostitutes, hitmen and clergymen. Some of them are from ethnic groups HPL would never have made the heroes of his stories. There’s a variety of tones as well. Of course there’s a number that are straight up creepy horror, but there’s also noir-ish crime fiction and deadpan penny dreadful humor.
The volume opens with “Andromeda Among the Stones” by Caitlín R. Kiernan. A family guards a gate off the Northern California coast; but only one of them was truly born for the job. I found the story rather slight, and one of the weaker ones in the collection.
The closing story is “The Men from Porlock” by Laird Barron. Seven lumberjacks go hunting in the Pacific Northwest. Not all of them are going to be returning. This one makes good use of escalating creepiness, culminating in a scene where a monster makes its menace particularly personal.
Oldest story honors go to Ramsey Campbell’s “The Tugging” from 1976. An art critic in a small British city is having disturbing dreams about Atlantis, which may tie into a comet with unusual gravitation behavior. I’ve read this one before, and it’s interesting as an unintentional period piece. I remember in my youth paging through great bound volumes of yellowing newsprint as the protagonist does here, instead of scrolling through microfilm, or today’s scanned files.
“Black Man with a Horn” by T.E.D. Klein is one of the editor’s favorites, according to the introduction (which is perhaps a little too generous to Lovecraft’s writing skills.) An elderly writer who was a friend of HPL in his youth meets a missionary returning from Malaysia. Over the course of time, the writer learns that at least one thing written by Lovecraft may be uncomfortably close to reality. It is a good story, told well.
I also particularly enjoyed “Lord of the Land” by Gene Wolfe. A Nebraskan teacher is collecting oral history in the Appalachian region. An old man tells him about seeing the “soul sucker”, which seems like a tall tale at first…but it’s actually a warning. This one held my attention fast.
Overall, this is a strong collection with many creepy stories and some marquee writers like Elizabeth Bear, Joe R. Lansdale and David Drake. I should mention that one story features incest and marital rape. Recommended to fans of the Lovecraftian type of horror.