The Harbor-Master by Robert W. Chambers

“…unless this story is written now, I know I shall never have the courage to tell the truth about the matter—not from fear of ridicule, but because I myself shall soon cease to credit what I now know to be true.”

Robert W. Chambers, “The Harbor-Master”

“‘The Harbor Master gave me quite a wallop in 1926, when I read it…”

—H.P. Lovecraft to J. Vernon Shea, January 28, 1933

Robert W. Chambers’ is one of the most commonly cited author names among Lovecraft fans. His “King in Yellow/Yellow Sign” mythos has spawned almost as many stories from writers through the decades as Great Cthulhu and the Old Gent himself. In quite few cases, I like the contemporary stories it has birthed more than the original material. Prior to his untimely death, Joe Pulver Sr. was one of our greatest practitioners of the Yellow Mythos tale, and his love for this work was infectious. But Chambers wrote a lot of other work (indeed, he made his money writing romances) and I want to call some attention to it, and one story in particular. Hippocampus Press has recently released a paperback called THE HARBOR-MASTER: BEST WEIRD STORIES OF ROBERT W. CHAMBERS, and as always, I’m grateful to them for sending me a copy. The title story of this collection (part of their Classics of Gothic Horror book series) was one that, as you can see from the quote above, made quite an impact on H.P. The cover image alone (Aeron Alfrey) is enough to draw comparisons to Lovecraft’s own “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” or the Universal picture, CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (though the inspiration for that monster apparently was the Oscar statuette!). Tonight, I want to see just how much of an influence it might actually have been on Lovecraft.

Our tale follows the adventures of a young zoologist following up on a claim that a man named Halyard in the fictional town (region?) of Port-of-Waves, New York has a male and female pair of Great Auks. The Great Auk was a bird like a giant penguin that went extinct around 1850, but this person claimed to have a pair and was willing to sell them to the Zoological Society for the paltry sum of $10,000 (this story was published in 1899, so that was quite a handsome sum). Obviously, were it true, such a find would be momentous, but our zoologist isn’t hopeful. “No man in his senses would keep two such precious prizes in a pen in his backyard…and I was perfectly prepared to find anything from a puffin to a penguin in that pen.” As his boat was pulling up to the harbor, he noticed something strange atop the rocks, but chalked it up to being an otter and moved on without a second thought. He met Halyard, a detestable man, who was cared for by an attractive young nurse. Halyard stunned him by actually having the pair of auks, and to his greater surprise, they had hatched young! After much awkward social interaction over the course of a few days in a neat take on a gothic locale, the auks were packed up and readied to ship back to the Bronx. Interspersed in those awkward conversations was mention of an amphibious humanoid they called “the harbor-master” but our protagonist dismissed it as nonsense.

Art Credit: M. Grant Kellermeyer; he runs a great, classic weird fiction website you should visit.

The story is actually very predictable and you can tell from what I’ve already written where it ends up. One should not be so quick to dismiss tales of amphibious humanoids! The real question is, just how much of an influence on HPL, and particularly, “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” was this present story? I’d hazard quite a significant one, actually. Published well before Lovecraft wrote “Shadow” (1931), he commented several times to correspondents about this tale as early as 1930. In a letter to Frank Belknap Long in 1930 he simply wrote, “God! The Harbor Master!!!” There’s a number of elements in this story that make their way into “Shadow” one way or another: the amphibious people who breathe through gills, an outsider traveling to place he doesn’t belong, a swooning hero, hints of xenophobic or racist explanations for the strangeness, and even the style of the opening.

It’s fun to note, too, what doesn’t influence him. There’s a romantic sub-plot going on in “The Harbor-Master” that HPL doesn’t pick up, romance not being his strong suit. Chambers, though, worked romance into many of his weird fiction stories. Another thing Chambers did well here was include humor. There were two places where I laughed out loud, including this gem of an exchange at dinner: “As for Halyard, he was unspeakable, bundled up in his snuffy shawls, and making uncouth noises over his gruel…”Yah!” he snapped, “I’m sick of this cursed soup—and I’ll trouble you to fill my glass—”
“It is dangerous for you to touch claret,” said the pretty nurse.
“I may as well die at dinner as anywhere,” he observed.
“Certainly,” said I, cheerfully passing the decanter, but he did not appear overpleased with the attention.”

The writing, as you can see, is also a lot of fun. It’s clean, crisp, and descriptive without the florid language Lovecraft would come to be known for. It’s possessed of an old style that makes me know immediately I’m reading something comfortably from the past. If I’m honest, it’s a style that warms me. But it is not unapproachable, as I thing some of his “King in Yellow” stories can be (“The Repairer of Reputations;” “The Yellow Sign,” for example). I found this very easy to read.

I had a lot of fun reading “The Harbor-Master” and really enjoyed getting some Chambers under my belt besides the Yellow Mythos stuff. I’d be very intrigued to know if the great auks here influenced HPL when he was writing “At the Mountains of Madness,” but I have no way of telling that. If you’re at all interested in the Yellow Mythos stories, or Chambers other weird fiction, this would be a book to pick up. It’s got eleven other stories in it besides this one, including the big Yellow Mythos tales. For my next review, I’ll be doing a story from the volume released alongside this one, UNDER TWIN SUNS: ALTERNATE HISTORIES OF THE YELLOW SIGN edited by James Chambers (no relation) and we’ll get a full dose of Yellow Mythos then, so if that’s what you came here for, stay tuned.

Until next time, I remain yours in the Black Litany of Nub and Yeg,
~The Bibliothecar

The Last Case of Dr. Jonah Wexley Abbott by Erik McHatton

“She looked old. Not the type of old one earns at the end of a long and fruitful life, but old like rusted metal, blighted by rot. Her wasted arms, folded across her stomach with funereal grace, were sporadically stained by deep purple bruises. Propped up by two plush pillows, her shriveled head nestled in a shock of white straw hair. Under dark lids, her closed eyes floated in pools of shadow; fleshy orbs twitching at pained dreaming. Thin lips rattled her equally thin chest with struggled wheezes, filling the aseptic air with desperate gasps.”

Erik McHatton, The Last Case of Dr. Jonah Wexley Abbott

If Prinn’s immortal work is in Latin, you ought to give the title in that language—hence my change in two places (in yr ms.) to DE VERMIS MYSTERIIS (concerning / of the worm / the mysteries). Also, since knowledge of elementary Latin is so universal, I’ve modified the statement concerning your limitations in that tongue.”

—H.P. Lovecraft to Robert Bloch, Hellish Sabbat-Night, January 25, 1935

If you’ll pardon a cross-pulp genre allusion, in the 1982 Conan the Barbarian film, the warrior Valeria famously asks Conan, “Do you want to live forever?” The implication, in both her tone of voice and supported by her next actions, is always, “no, you don’t,” or at least, “you shouldn’t.” Erik McHatton’s debut story answers that question differently, though it works out as well for Dr. Jonah Wexley Abbott as it did for Valeria, as one might expect from the title. This story can be found in Issue #11 (May 2021) of the relatively new weird fiction magazine, Cosmic Horror Monthly. It can also be read in your web browser for free here. I don’t know much about CHM, but it appears to be a to-the-point magazine, offering a brief editor’s letter and three pieces of short fiction each issue. They’re up to issue #15 now, so they’ve passed the one year mark and recently boasted tear two would be even better. Check it out if you’re looking for some budding cosmic horror fiction writers.

A lot of the fiction I review on this site does something original with the material and that is usually a very good thing. Occasionally I’ll review a story that falls more into the pastiche mode and that is fine as well. Not every story you read needs to be mind-blowingly genre bending. Some can just be fun, and that’s what we have here. McHatton took some classical elements of Lovecraftian fiction, threw them in the fun blender, hit mix and wrote what came out. Here we have an antiquarian protagonist, references to a horrific Antarctican setting, an unspeakable (though familiar) grimoire, and a theme of thirsting for eternal life. If you’re looking for a light read with fun Lovecraftian elements, then this story is a good place to come.

Dr. Jonah Wexley Abbott is a drunk. And so he is when we meet him standing in the rain on the stoop of White Manor, having been summoned at an ungodly hour by its mistress, Lady Gretchen White, to attend her. After a bit of fumbling around and sobering up, he is taken to her chamber where she lies in repose, losing her battle with cancer. Hope would be lost for all but the most desperate who’d not be opposed to dipping into the darker arts of forbidden lore.

A tale is told; a sea captain thought dead a century before is seen alive, un-aged, and displaying need for neither sustenance nor stimulus. Whatever he did, whatever he found, whatever he bargained with, Gretchen wants it and she needs Jonah’s knowledge to help her attain it. She produces a copy of De Vermis Mysteriis, the grimoire invented by Robert Bloch for his story “The Secret in the Tomb” but more famously deployed in “The Shambler from the Stars” (in which Bloch notoriously killed off his Lovecraft analogue). Not a lot about this story is unexpected, and how the “let’s read the incantation from the horrific old book” scene goes is no different. I’ll leave the exact details to your own discovery.

The craft of this story is a little tricky to evaluate because it’s almost a tale of two stories. The beginning is rough, there’s no way around it. It’s flowery, overwritten, and distracting. This is perhaps in a misguided attempt to pay homage to Lovecraft’s style, or perhaps the result of a relatively new writer flexing his thesaurial muscles. The number of adjectives and adverbs in the first paragraph alone was almost overwhelming. However, about ten (iPad) pages into it, things settled down. It’s like he found a groove and didn’t have to struggle so hard anymore. I wish he would have gone back over the beginning while feeling that same groove, but at that point it was water under the bridge. I found myself enjoying the story by then and wasn’t glancing around the room instead of reading near as much.

The atmosphere McHatton creates in this story is fair. You get a clear sense of where you are, and your literary familiarity with such surroundings suffices to fill in the missing details. Old manor house. Older inhabitant in it. These are known haunts. The characters, too, lack originality. Somehow these walking tropes get the job done nonetheless and I was comfortable reading about their errors and exploits. There was a wonderful moment that I did not see coming and enjoyed immensely, in large part due to the understated way in which McHatton pulled it off. Glimpses like that make me very happy indeed when reading the first story someone has had published. But perhaps nothing could make me as happy as did this gem of a line: “Nothing can get you killed easier than arrogance coupled with inartful Latin.” Hands down, best line in the story.

“Nothing can get you killed easier than arrogance coupled with inartful Latin.”

The Last Case of Dr. Jonah Wexley Abbott, by Erik McHatton

Here’s the thing – a well done pastiche can be a perfectly splendid way to spend some time in the evening. None lesser than Ramsey Campbell himself was first published with a Lovecraft pastiche. And, as a friend is fond of saying, not every piece of fiction has to be thought provoking or genre breaking. Sometimes it’s a good thing to just have fun, and that is what McHatton has largely provided here.

That wraps it up for this time, friends. I hope you make some time for fun in your life this week. I plan on it.

Until next time, I remain yours in the Black Litany of Nub and Yeg,
~The Bibliothecar

Mr. Cannyharme, by Michael Shea

“He walks and walks. Everywhere he notes the homeless, his new countrymen, and searches their eyes. Many are burnouts, their eyes mere emptiness. Many are smug, have beaten the game because they’re warmed for the moment by Night Train or pills. But more are mad-eyed, and glare like fanatics when you ‘front them. Not insanity, no. It’s a fierce, futile insistence they exist, that they are here in spite of owning not one square foot of concrete, one square foot of floor, or wall, or roof.”

Michael Shea, MR. CANNYHARME

“From one of the crumbling gravestones—dated 1747—I chipped a small piece to carry away. It lies before me as I write—and ought to suggest some sort of a horror-story. I might some night place it beneath my pillow as I sleep…who can say what thing might not come out of the centuried earth to exact vengeance for his descrated [sic] tomb.”

—H.P. Lovecraft to Lillian Phillips Clark, September 29, 1922

In September 1922, around the time he was writing to his aunt about a bit of minor grave desecration he and Reinhardt Kleiner had performed in the churchyard of the Dutch Reformed Church of Brooklyn, H.P. Lovecraft penned “The Hound.” It’s one of his more conventional horror stories and for my money is actually scary. It tells the story of two friends who rob a grave while acquiring macabre keepsakes for a forbidden museum collection. It seems real life was all the inspiration Mr. Lovecraft needed for this one. The story goes on to describe the horrific vengeance the owner of the grave reaps, a vampiric resurrection at the expense of those two hapless fellows. In 1981, thirty-three years before his untimely death and one year before he would publish his seminal fantasy work NIFFT THE LEAN, Michael Shea wrote MR. CANNYHARME, an homage to HPL’s “The Hound,” set in San Francisco’s Haight in the waning years of the 1960’s.

It was never published.

Until now. I am grateful to my friends at Hippocampus Press for providing me with a gratis advanced reading copy for the purposes of this review. It will be available to general public on August 20, 2021 and will feature this gorgeous cover design by Dan Sauer and art by Tom Brown. You should definitely pick this one up. This monumental publishing event represents the first novel I have ever reviewed on this website otherwise reserved for short stories.

It’s the story of Jack and Brittany, DeeAnn and Razz, the Hyperion Hotel and its most baleful resident, Mr. Cannyharme. More than that though, it’s a snapshot of the Haight in 1960’s San Francisco, of hopeless fraternity, of drugs and sex, homelessness and chosen family. It’s a vision of place I simultaneously found myself wishing I could see through Shea’s eyes and yet would never visit. And that, of course, is without mentioning the grave darkness befalling our characters.

Jack is the night clerk at the Hyperion, a dank hotel housing drug addicts, prostitutes, and homeless denizens of Haight-Ashbury when they can scrape together enough for a night’s stay, hot shower, and semi-clean sheets. There seems to be more than a bit of Shea himself in Jack’s character; he’s an author banging out a romance novel on an Olympia typewriter between buzzing in residents. He’s trying to get out of there, but it’s the only thing he knows. Brittany is a drug addict and prostitute who lives in the Hyperion, paying Jack for her rent with her body, an arrangement Jack feels lukewarm about but still accepts. DeeAnn is an enthusiastic prostitute running her business out of the Hyperion and Razz is her pimp, a man who desperately wants to be more dangerous than he is. And Chester is the creepy, bent-over, old Dutch guy who is one of the Hyperion’s longest tenured residents. He shuffles about, passing out strange tracts to the other characters that seem to be invitations of a sort, oddly personalized. They evoke ill feelings, dark visions, and thoughtless curiosity. Whatever they are, one thing is becoming clear to Jack and Brittany: there is a growing, nameless darkness in “the noble old Hyperion” and maybe this creepy old guy knows something about it.

Art Credit: Montserrat Bofi

Shea’s writing is direct, revealing, and gorgeous. He lifts the veil on San Francisco’s drug, sex trade, and street culture in an almost reverential way. It’s as if he is saying: here, you can take a peek, but in the midst of your revulsion, remember these are people, too. He writes, “Down the street outside the Hyperion, Jack just stands there for a moment, taking in the early evening. The candy-colored neons are coming on, the signals blaze, all the tail-lights and headlights river and roar, and above it all a first shy star or two gleams in the purple sky. The sidewalks throng, the working stiffs—many Latins and Easterners— threading through the lowlifes. And even these drinkers and druggers, these hookers and hardcores, move briskly with a Happy Hour air, as the Mission turns to jewels all around them.” There’s a dirty beauty there that’s almost enough to make me weep. I am hesitant to assign significance to it for myself because this is so clearly their world, not mine, and I can’t steal what joy they can find. But, I am grateful for this glimpse. Yesterday I passed a homeless couple on the street and I greeted them with a smile Shea inspired. I wanted to say, in some wordless way, I see you. They smiled back. Shea does that on every page and it’s never sentimental or saccharine. It’s real, stained, unwashed. In the midst of all that grime, he accepts the inherent worthiness of miserable human beings without dressing it up. He writes them with unvarnished dignity.

His love for the city of San Francisco isn’t limited to the people who inhabit its alleys and alcoves. Its life, its arteries, its architecture all hold a special place for Shea that is so evident in his writing. “He is calm and watches the beautiful turmoil of the city’s rush-hour. The rain tapers down, sunset bleeds through a narrow seam in the west, and the cloud-wrack is underlit, a wild and wooly upside-down landscape hustling along on the wind. The traffic, like scoured gems, rivers between walls of windows flashing orange and gold.” I can’t think of a time when I’ve ever wanted to be in rush hour traffic, but that description almost makes me want to bear witness. This was his world, in all its broken glory, and he loved it. He loves it on every page.

All this wondrous description and loving characterization comes at a cost to the pacing of the novel, though, especially in the early going. There were stretches where not much was going on to advance the plot and I felt myself drifting as I read through them. Other readers may love getting lost in those wildernesses but I felt like some of it could’ve been edited out. S.T. Joshi, who boldly proclaims himself editor of this novel on the cover, wrote in the introduction that two versions of the book existed, a longer and a shorter. He chose the longer because of the more rich characterizations at the expense of plot progression. I definitely feel that and probably would have made the opposite choice. I wonder, too, if such a decision might not have been different were Mr. Shea still alive; is there a bit of hero worship going on here? Laird Barron assures me it’s “vintage Shea,” and I have no reason to disagree. However, I’ve come to Michael Shea’s body of work quite late and so I don’t have that same sense of matured admiration that has grown in others over decades. That’s not to say that I don’t admire his writing. I adore it, but from a different vantage point than others.

Lovecraft’s “The Hound” is the inspiration for this tale, but Shea takes it, molds it, makes it his own. If I hadn’t been told of it’s influence, I may have been hard-pressed to see “The Hound” lurking behind these pages without some luck. I’d of had to recognize the Dutch connection maybe, or somehow tie the two revenants together. That’s how much his own this story is. Some readers will be drawn in by the cover’s proclamation “A Novel of Lovecraftian Terror,” and then be left wondering at the end, how exactly? Here there is no Cthulhu, no Azathoth, no Nyarlathotep (maybe). There are no Deep Ones or Yithians, neither mind transfer nor dream quests nor mountains of madness. So, I’d encourage you to read “The Hound” first; it’s quick and quite fun. Then take up MR. CANNYHARME, just don’t expect pastiche or a simple modernization. MR. CANNYHARME is a complicated adulation born of an abiding knowledge of Lovecraft, his work, and his direction.

Towards the end of the novel Jack makes a series of decisions about his future. Even though Shea wrote it three full decades before his death, I couldn’t help but read it as a beautiful coda on his life. He said, “He chooses to grab his manuscript, his Olympia, pick up his wonderfully portable career and take it elsewhere. So many beautiful Elsewheres in this big beautiful world! Elsewhere, drugs—however exotic—will wear out of his system. Elsewhere, this indelible nightmare will shrink into…a story. Elsewhere, it will become an ordinary stack of typed pages.” As you sit to read this story in a few weeks, perhaps it will warm you, as it did me, to think of those Elsewheres Shea inhabits now, those beautiful vistas of this wide universe, those endless seas of glass. “He’s got a party to go to. The wind feels full of danger, and of promise.”

“But after three nights I heard the baying again…”

H.P. Lovecraft, “The Hound”

Until next time, I remain yours in the Black Litany of Nub and Yeg,
~The Bibiothecar

Echoes, by Jess Landry

Lucy brought her fists up, ready to pound again, but stopped herself when her eyes fell upon the outside world.
Or, where the outside world should’ve been.
There were no lights, no trees, no streets. It looked as though someone had plastered the windows in tar, allowing absolutely nothing to penetrate the obsidian darkness that looked back at her.
The outside world was gone.

Jess Landry, “Echoes,” THE MOTHER WOUND

A persistent feeling I’ve had over the last fifteen months was that I was going in circles. Without a customary structure to my day, with the kids trying to do school from home, with us not being able to go anywhere, it all felt like an eerie sameness. All my striving was a chasing after some former self, an elusive remnant of normality. Jess Landry captures that feeling in her story “Echoes” which appears in her debut collection, THE MOTHER WOUND, published by Independent Legions Publishing. I am grateful to Jess for providing me with a free e-ARC in exchange for this honest review.

“Echoes” begins with a thump. That is not only the sound at the beginning, but the literal first word of the story. And it’s more important than you think. This is a very tough story to review with any justice without going into spoilers (even from a craft perspective), so at some point I will insert a “read more” break for those who wish to avoid spoilers. If that’s you, I understand, so here’s the tl;dr — this is a brilliantly crafted ghost story that, while it treads haunted ground we’ve all trod before, it does so in a fresh way that sets up and then shatters readers’ expectations. Lovecraftian elements are non-existent (I was told about that in advance), but there is a cosmic sense about the story particularly as it relates to the setting.

Photo credit: Daniel Olson

Because I need to go at this in a slightly backward way, let’s talk a bit about the writing first. Landry shows herself to be a évocateur extraordinaire. Her lush descriptions of a haunted Victorian mansion are so precisely composed that I didn’t just feel like I was in this house. I closed my eyes and I was in this house with “…her light step barely creaking against the carpeted wood underneath. The sconces cast their sickly yellow hue on everything on this floor as well, nearly making it seem like an unnatural daylight had pierced the walls and was shining through.” I’ve lived in a home like that, with long, runner carpets accenting hard wood floors and wall sconces (sadly in my case electric not gas) flickering that yellow hue every time the AC kicked on. For a moment, I was back there. But Landry wasn’t done and next we went to a room I likewise had no trouble picturing: “a bedroom with a four-post bed, long undisturbed given the yellow-stained sheets, a large wardrobe that reminded her of the doorway to Aslan’s world, and a desk tucked away in the corner with an old typewriter resting on top, a single sheet of paper sprouting from its mouth.” I love the way she so richly transported me into this house. It made me forget that I was reading and that is real skill. The writing is accessible, too, neither laden with florid flourishes, nor so spare as to leave you guessing what the feel of the place might be. This made it particularly jarring though when there was a turn of phrase or a sentence constructed so that it took me right out of the story. At one point, for example, the main character, Lucy, “squatted herself.” Perhaps it’s just me, but I felt like there had to be a better way to convey that idea. There were a few other times when it happened as well. It’s odd, in a story otherwise so expertly crafted, to encounter constructions that rip me from the pages.

I want to turn now to the plot and the craft of Landry’s structure but I can’t do that effectively without spoiling plot, so if you do not wish to have this creepy little treat spoiled, DON’T FOLLOW HER!

Continue reading “Echoes, by Jess Landry”

Night Drive Drifter in a Bad Dream by Rebecca Gransden

It all started on the night I got fired from Henry’s Chicken House.

—Rebecca Gransden, “Night Drive Drifter in a Bad Dream”

Have you ever had a day that started out bad and kept getting worse? Have you ever heard the expression, ‘things have gotta get worse before they get better”? What if they didn’t get better? What if they just kept getting worse? That’s the thrust behind Rebecca Gransden’s story, “Night Drive Drifter in a Bad Dream,” which is found in her latest self-published collection, CREEPY SHEEN (2021). I am grateful to the author for sending me a free e-copy in exchange for this honest review.

The story opens with it’s protagonist, Emilio, hurtling down the road ten years after the horrific event covered by the rest of the story. He’s on the run, and very quickly you get the sense that it’s a perpetual attempt at escape. There is no rest for the weary, not if they want to stay ahead and stay alive. Ten years ago, fired from his dead end job for stealing inventory, Emilio accepted a fetch quest from a dubious acquaintance named Dexter. It was extremely high paying, so much so that Emilio at first assumed it had to do with drugs, but this would have been a bigger payday than even that might provide. Right from the start, though, things go bad. Having followed arcane instructions to a clandestine location, Emilio locates the object of his assignment: a creepy wind-up toy with fuzzy legs that won’t turn off. It was buried in a hole that seemed to go on forever and when he removed it, strange lightning lit up the night sky. And the lightning followed him. As we gathered from the opening, it haunts him still.

When this story was sent to me, I accepted it on the premise that it was a cosmic horror story, however, I don’t really get those vibes from it at all. Really it’s more of a monster/demon story than anything. Emilio released the demon which was somehow tied to the buried toy, but then instead of possessing him, he thwarted it (and at the same time thwarted some larger, undefinable plan of the fellow who sent him on this hunt) and managed to escape. He found a few answers when he went looking but not many. For me, the story is too personally centered on Emilio to truly be a cosmic horror story. There’s just not a whole lot that’s cosmic about it. I enjoyed some of the ideas here but honestly, I kept wanting more. It didn’t work for me, perhaps in part because of that unfulfilled expectation.

The other reason the story didn’t land with me is because the writing is in need of a few coats of polish. There are some grammar issues throughout that were jarring but more than that there were internal inconsistencies that drove me nuts. Toward the beginning a bag of dinner rolls is described as “soft and fresh” in one sentence, and in the very next sentence they’re described as “stale.” Well, it’s got to be one or the other, but that is relatively minor. Later on though, and this is directly connected to the development of the plot, Emilio confronts Dexter about why he was sent on this mission. Dexter tells him, “You just came along at the wrong time. Would you believe me if I said it’s nothing personal?” Fair enough, seems believable. But then, one page later Dexter tells Emilio, “…you were the chosen vessel.” Again, it’s got to be one or the other. Finally, aside from the creepy image of the toy that would not stop moving, there was never a successful enough build-up of dread for me. In any successful cosmic horror story there has to be a sense of inevitability, of enormous consequence, of uncaring and even non-directed hostility. I’m afraid I got none of that from this tale.

I’d like to end on a positive note of a few things I thought did work well. First of all, I love the title and the feelings it evoked. Secondly, the author was going for an 80’s vibe and I thought she accomplished that better than most. The trend in these waning days of 80’s nostalgia is to hit you over the head with references so that you can’t help but know you’re in the 80’s. Gransden accomplished this with a much more subtle touch. I also liked the idea behind this story—in fact, in some ways, it reminded me a fair bit of F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack series—a demon that haunts the power grid could serve as an unique comment on our dependency on electrical power. With no lights to turn on at the flick of a switch, it gets very dark when the sun goes down. We lose our control over the night, and with that loss comes a certain universal fear of the dark. This story did not go in that direction though and so, in my opinion, lost some of its creative potential as a horror story. That about does it for this one, friends, so—

Until next time, I remain yours in the Black Litany of Nub and Yeg,
~The Bibliothecar