Dagon’s Bell, by Brian Lumley

“Then I remembered something he had said. “David, you mentioned two manifestations of this—this ghostliness. What was the other one?”
“Eh?” he frowned at me, winding up his window. Then he stopped winding, “Oh, that. The bell you mean…”
“Bell?” I echoed him, the skin of my neck suddenly tingling. “Which bell?”
“A ghost bell!” he yelled as he pulled away from the kerb. “What else? It tolls underground or under the sea, usually when there’s a mist or a swell on the ocean…”

1635159[1].jpgAlongside such venerable names as Clark Ashton Smith, Lin Carter, Robert Bloch, and Frank Long, one of the other early mythos writers was Brian Lumley. He would, of course, go on to fame in his own right with his best-selling Necroscope series, but it was writing in Lovecraft’s world where he cut his teeth. He created the original character Titus Crow who, quite opposite HPL’s more academic characters, was a man of action who greeted bad guys and monsters alike with persuasive displays of force.  If you find you’re interested in a more action-oriented approach to the mythos, you might want to look up those books, but this present story, however, does not feature Crow. Dagon’s Bell, which I found not in the pictured volume, but in the “Shadows Over Innsmouth” collection edited by Stephen Jones published in 2013 by Titan Books. Originally, however, it was published in two parts in “Weirdbook,” numbers 23 and 24, in 1988.  It definitely falls more into the category of pastiche, though not totally as it picks up a bit after the Shadow Over Innsmouth left off, and in an original location. The seeds of Lumley’s own creativity and originality are here, but Dagon’s Bell relies heavily on HPL’s work. Not that that’s a bad thing at all!

f4865a24edeb1c63e3fc6e58f57ce52d[1].jpgWilliam Trafford is our protagonist who gets, with an old school chum named David Parker, caught up in a great misadventure on the north-east coast of England at a place called Kettlethorpe Farm. One of the things I really liked about this story was how it developed. It starts off fairly innocuously, building little clue by little clue towards a horrible set of realizations. In some ways, it reminded me of the pattern of discoveries made in The Call of Cthulhu. “It strikes me as funny sometimes how scraps of information—fragments of seemingly dissociated fact and half-seen or -felt fancies and intuitions, bits of local legend and immemorial myth—can suddenly connect and expand until the total is far greater than the sum of its parts, like a jigsaw puzzle.” Accordingly, it is also a bit longer than most of the other stories I’ve been reviewing here, checking in at around 42 pages. It’s organized in short chapters though and, because of the way that it builds, makes for compulsive reading.

There’s loads of mythos stuff in here for fans to enjoy, everything from deep ones to degenerate, ancient bloodlines, while introducing new elements like the eponymous bell (which, by the way, was decidedly creepy) and something called “deep kelp” which rose from the bottom of the sea at certain times of year to blight the surface waters with its noxious miasma. Those certain times tended to be around lesser known Christian holidays, like Roodmas (September 14, celebrating the alleged finding of the “true cross” by Helena, Constantine’s mother, in Jerusalem in 355). This taps successfully into the common idea that these holidays were really taken over by Christianity once it developed as a global religion, but that they already existed, for some good reason, as sacred days of certain special, and older, observances.

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CGI art by Martin Punchev
Kettlethorpe Farm, which Mr. Parker has purchased with his new wife, seems to have been built for purposes other than raising a young family, hale and hearty. It’s built in a U-shape, facing the sea like arms outstretched in embrace, and underneath it, the entrance hidden by one of the buildings on the property, lies a great series of caverns. By now you’ll be able to guess what inhabits those caverns. They call to the newly anointed Mrs. Parker and she hears them, hears them and is unable to ignore their siren sound. Her health deteriorates as she is only ever able to focus on things below and not more mundane stuff, like eating. Mrs. Parker will not leave and when Trafford asks why, her husband replies: “The place is like…like a magnet! It has a genius loci. It’s a focal point for God-only-knows-what forces. Evil? Oh, yes! An evil come down all the centuries. But I bought the place and I shall cleanse it—end it forever, whatever it is!” Here we get a glimpse of Lumley’s preference for more direct men of action, and then we’re launched into the deep delve that will see the story through to its frantic end.

Lumley’s writing is very mature, controlled, and precise. He knows what he wants to do with words and the effect he desires them to have. There are occasional moments of logophilic joy. See, “…that sluggish stream, bubbling blindly through airless fissures to the sea.” The sounds are performative; they do what the words describe. The double “G’s” in sluggish slows down the sentence, and thus describes the stream in the way he means.  Your head almost physically bobs up when pronouncing the quadrilogy of “B’s” in bubbling blindly, forcing an embodiment of the way this water moves, before gliding easily into the sibilants of the conclusion. It’s great stuff!

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“Bell” by Deviant Artist: alexandreev
If you’re a Lovecraft fan, it almost goes without saying (I’m sure there’s an oddball out there) that you’re a Shadow Over Innsmouth fan. Here, you are in luck, for there’s just a lot to like in this story. Sure, it’s pastiche, but again, you liked the original for a reason, so don’t be silly and lay off something as fun as this because it isn’t original enough. It’s plenty creative, and brilliantly plotted. And, as a bonus, there’s no long, rambling section of infodump by a drunk in the middle, written in almost nigh unreadable dialect. Though there is a nod to ole Zadok Allen, which made me smile at least. I believe most HPL fans will enjoy this one, but I guess I should say that if you’re not an HPL devotee, or not familiar with Shadow Over Innsmouth, then there’s probably not a whole lot of reason that you’d really enjoy this one, unlike some of the others I’ve reviewed. Like most things, read the original first. As a final piece of parting advice (though I suppose it should go without saying, but I’ll not bear that responsibility for the sake of brevity), when purchasing real estate by the seaside, avoid property built over buried temples from which emanate—on a quarterly basis—horrible, ghostly visages of possibly Phoenician gods to the distant sound of a discordant bell. There, now you can’t blame me.

This review was composed listening to some of the greater organ works of J.S. Bach, in minor keys.

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

Miasmic Words of tempting: “I seem to recall loading my shotgun—several times, I think—and I have vague memories of discharging it a like number of times; and, I believe that David, too, used his weapon, probably more successfully. As for our targets: it would have been difficult to miss them. There were clutching claws, and eyes bulging with hatred and lust; there was foul, alien breath in our faces, slime and blood and bespattered bodies obstructing our way where they fell…”

Devil’s Bathtub, by Lois H. Gresh

“The ice scraped the fur from his skin, and he smelled his own blood and it scared him. And that’s when his bones shattered. The dog was aware that his body was a limp sack filled with mush. He didn’t understand.”

91bbKUt-kBL[1]At the Mountains of Madness is not only one of HPL’s longest stories (it’s really a novella), but also one of his most popular. There are perennial rumors of a del Toro helmed film adaptation, and so let me add my meager voice to the mix, I desperately would love to see that. Many, many Lovecraftian stories take Mountains for their base and a lot of them are collected in a single volume (well, now two it seems) called “The Madness of Cthulhu Anthology” Volume One, collected by that inestimable Lovecraft scholar, S.T. Joshi,  published in 2014 by Titan Books.  This present story is an example of one written by a seriously heavy-weight author, and one which I just couldn’t get into, even after a re-read.  Lois Gresh, according to her blurb, is a New York Times best selling author of over twenty-five books, and sixty short stories. She’s published in tons of languages and appears in many noted anthologies. So, her writing credentials (or at least, publishing credentials) are established. And let me say up front, I don’t think it’s the writing that bothered me in this story, so much as it was the plot itself.

At the Mountains of Madness is a harrowing tale of adventure, horrific discovery, and enormous implication. It’s one of HPL’s magnum opi, along with The Shadow Out of Time, which describe humanity’s rather insignificant place in the scope of the cosmos. Both stories are told with sweeping scope against a cinematic backdrop. Perhaps that background led me into this story with similar expectations, however unfairly, of scope and setting. Devil’s Bathtub, though, has a very narrow focus, as perhaps it rightly should, but for me I found it to be one which I wasn’t overly interested in.  It tells the strange story of a father and young daughter who reside at Vostok glacier outpost in Antartica, along with a few research assistanimage[1].jpgts. (Problem numero uno for me: what’s this guy doing with his kid in Antarctica? I don’t care who you work for, that probably isn’t going to happen, correct me if I’m wrong.) They’re investigating a strange circumstance near the South Pole where there seems to be a semi-sentient black ice/slime hybrid. “The ice is four hundred years old…and deep beneath it is the lake, filled with two thousand two hundred feet of liquid and life we don’t understand yet.”  Their poor dog wanders too close to the stuff and gets incorporated into it, broken down but yet still alive. It’s a bit squishy and would be terrifying if it weren’t slightly humorous. Humor I’m sure the author didn’t intend. I get trying to use a dog to tug on the emotions, but, for me at least, I have to be emotionally invested in the animal and it’s relationship to it’s human first  for that work. You can’t just toss a dog in the story and expect me to get all Old Yeller-y immediately.

What happens to the dog foreshadows, with a stunning degree of accuracy, exactly what happens to the guy and his daughter, as this slimy stuff converts them into the building blocks, quite literally bricks, of whatever it is it’s constructing. Perhaps this is the stuff of a shoggoth, perhaps not. “She looked down. Saw bright blue eyes, he whites huge around tiny irises. Stark terror. Dad. But he wasn’t really there. Only his eyes, and they were plugged into the sides of the wall like light bulbs.” And that’s really it, my chilly reconnoiterers. I didn’t find a grander, overarching theme. I couldn’t locate a clever sense of cosmic dread. There may have been a hint of a presence of a possible Lovecraftian monster, but maybe not. antarctica-29[1].jpgFor a story that talks about drilling deep into the ice, I found this to be a very surface level skate around the mythos pond. It’s possible it’s trying to say something about humanity’s insignificance by breaking the humans down into their constituent parts and using them to make something else, but if it is, to what end? There wasn’t enough of a “so what?” factor in this story to make me care about it and none of it left me with any kind of feeling of awe or dread. I hate to say it, but this has been the weakest Lovecraftian story I’ve read so far.

The writing here is unnoticeable, in both a positive and a negative sense. It doesn’t stand out as excellent prose, though it is functional and in a way, you sometimes want prose to disappear into the background of a story so the reader can get lost in the fiction. But then again, it’s also good to have a sentence or three that makes me, the reader, want to stand up and read it out loud in a public place. This didn’t do that. I have read other stories in this collection and they’ve been better, so I’d say the collection itself is definitely worth it if you’re considering whether to buy it or not. But I’m also saying if you do, maybe don’t start with this story.

I wish I had more to say friends, but sadly, I do not. The material didn’t provide it.

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

Limp prose about cold places and broken bones: “Her bones rattled and crunched, and oh yes, she should be dead, but here she was, a limp sack of skin filled with the debris of bones and organs and muscle. What had happened to her? What was she?”

 

Survivor Type, by Damir Salkovic

“Molly was kneeling by the window, her rifle cradled in her lap, her face lit by the red glare of the night. A strange cacophony came from outside, a wailing chant that was half screams and half laughter, accompanied by the rumble of drums and the shrill of pipes and flutes. The infernal din curdled Nick’s blood: he crept to the window and what he saw froze him in place.”

hinnom-008-cover.jpgLike many of you fellow cosmic trespassers, I have, from time to time, wondered what if Erich Zahn had broken a string; what if the strange alchemy of Armitage and Co. had failed and the powder was ineffective; what if Cthulhu rose and the armies of Y’ha-nthlei flopped ashore? In other words, what if Lovecraft’s monsters and gods won? In our last story, we saw a glimpse of that that didn’t quite meet with my expectations, enjoyable though it was to read. Tonight’s story, on the other tentacle, presents a vision that I can at least buy into. It’s a glimpse of a mythosian victory that is truly terrifying and very creative. I have to say a word about where I encountered this story. Hinnom Magazine (this issue was #008) is a relative newcomer on the horror zine scene, and I’ve only recently encountered it. When I saw what C.P. Dunphey and friends were trying to do I immediately became a subscriber. Their covers advertise the magazine as “the world’s most popular magazine of weird fiction and cosmic horror,” and while I think that’s more aspiration than truth at this point, I’m excited for that possibility and for a true successor to Weird Tales, of blasphemous memory. I’m on board and hope to see it come to pass. Do yourself a favor and check it out. Alright, on to the story.

I have to admit, when I first started reading I thought, “Oh no, here we go, another post-apocalyptic, Walking Dead type, survival story.” But by page 2, I saw how wrong I was. It is a post-apocalyptic survival story, but the reason for the apocalypse wasn’t political strife or even an errant tweet from an orange haired moron. It was the rising of what I’ll take to be an Old One that triggered the nuclear codes to be used – “…the bombers diving out of the the sun, trying to nuke the thing in Yokohama Bay.” Post-Nuclear-War-Landscape-Wallpaper-800x600[1]Apparently this happened in more places than one around the globe, and, before you can say “Geiger Counter,” everybody with nukes is slinging them around and voila!, nuclear wasteland. But the nukes were ineffective.

Nick, the protagonist of our tale, is wandering about the western USA when he finds another group of survivors (this is where I groaned about a possible Walking Dead scenario) who actually take him in after, oddly, checking him for ritual scars. My eyebrow raised. After they bed down for the night, it all goes to hell. Something comes. And while at first you may be tempted to believe, as I did, that what came was “the thing” this story was about, you’ll soon realize it is just one of many things, in a country taken over by things, on a planet now possessed by things. But this first one was definitely a cool, cosmically terrifying thing: “The creature moved like an oil slick, a huge, shapeless, ebony mass. It had already seeped over the glass front of the store and was crawling over the roof, the steel framework groaning under its bulk. Behind the horror lay a trail of devastation, asphalt and rock melted as if with acid.”

Narrowly escaping this slippery abomination, several of the survivalists accompany Nick as he flees. Later, they have an encounter that reminded me of nothing less than a scene from Turkish horror film Baskin (seriously, do not watch this unless you have a strong stomach, and in fact, the rest of the story here is only for the strong of stomach). There’s a lot of body horror over the next few pages and while that isn’t Lovecraftian, Salkovic had already established his story in a Lovecraftian setting and so the mash-up actually created something new for me. I’m sure he’s not the first person to have done it, but I enjoyed it. “Some of the horrors were composites, two or three or half a dozen cultists strung together into one shuffling, mewling whole…” I still see that when I close my eyes and think of this story. This whole scene was really effective from both a Lovecraftian and a horror point of view, and was easily my favorite part of a really good, well-written story.

Salkovic’s prose is gorgeous in its grotesqueries. He was really able to put me right in the midst of this scary, dark, lethal world where the elder gods have risen and the remnants of humanity are on their way out, whether they choose to worship or no. Check this out, “Its head was shrunken and lined, the drooling mouth wide, the eyes stitched tightly together, black, viscous tears tickling from the corners.” This is the cultist’s priest-thing for crying out loud.

Though it seems to be in a position of honor and even of adoration, it’s not a glorified image at all, not an image of one who has been somehow rewarded for faithfulness despite the end times.

I truly appreciated the combination, which was fresh for at least me, of typical Lovecraftian tropes (insane fluting cultists, tentacles, an Azathoth sighting I think, visions of cosmic enormity) and evocative, bloody, body horror. He excels at causing you to think about the words on the page and then you can’t help but shudder at the sheer awfulness of it. Like I said at the beginning, it’s a vision of the Lovecraftian Mythos victory that resonates with me a whole lot. And one in which I’d like exactly no part. In the midst of all that, the writing even manages to squeeze out a bit of emotion, like when he says, “They would believe him, the small, wiry woman and the man with the burned face. They needed to believe something.

If I take exception with any part of this wonderful story, it’s that the ending was not what I expected and not totally in a good way. I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I’ll just say this: how it concluded was not, in my opinion, sufficiently foreshadowed. Now before you say, well now wait just a second, if you totally foreshadow the ending it’s not a surprise! True, true. But here—and again, this is purely my opinion—parts of the story do not set up the ending to be plausible. If you get a chance to read it, I’d be fascinated to hear in the comments what you think about this: if this ending is true, then why does Nick respond the way he does in certain other, previous, situations?

I don’t want to make too much out of that because it’s a subjective observation. This is a wonderful story with impressive and affecting prose, memorable scenes, and a fascinating and believable vision of an end in which the mythos does what we all fear it might do. If you like the sound of that then let me encourage you to check out what the good folks over at Gehenna and Hinnom are doing, not only with Hinnom magazine, with but anthologies as well.  Send them a few bucks, because if you, like me, want another Weird Tales-like zine in true print form, we have to support it.

This review was composed listening to the sanity cracking monophony of “Azathoth” by Cryo Chamber.

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

A Study in Emerald, by Neil Gaiman

“My dear Lestrade. Please give me some credit for having a brain. The corpse is obviously not that of a man—the color of his blood, the number of limbs, the eyes, the position of the face—all these things bespeak the blood royal. While I cannot say which royal line, I would hazard that he is an heir, perhaps—no, second to the throne—in one of the German principalities.”

511NAV28TQL[1]Some of the works I’ve been reviewing here have come from collections put together by their authors, while others have been edited according to a theme. Sometimes that’s been a more general theme and at other times they’ve zeroed in on a particular HPL story. The collection today’s story comes from is closer to the latter, but with a twist. We’re combining universes in a proton-smashing literary fusion event! As the dusk jacket asks, “what would happen if Conan Doyle’s peerless detective and his allies were to find themselves faced with mysteries whose solutions lay not only beyond the grasp of logic, but of sanity itself?” In some of the forums I look at from time to time and on some of the Lovecraftian podcasts out there I’ve heard a lot of folks asking the same question, “Is this collection worth while?” I admit, I was skeptical at first as I felt my purist blood rising, but then I thought, quite simply, “why not?”  While I have read only two stories in the collection so far, I have enjoyed them a lot. I do have to admit though that I am only a Holmes fan in theory. I’ve never read a single Sherlock Holmes story. I’ve seen a variety of TV shows and films, and listened to a bunch of stories on tape an age ago when I was a child, but I’ve not once read the stories out of a book, nor do I have a grasp on Holmesian canon. I suspect that if I did, I’d enjoy this collection a lot more. Great care seems to have been taken to present the stories in chronological order according to Holmesian canon, but that care and detail is largely lost on me.  I’m here for the Lovecraft.

The opening story in the collection is a fun one, if a bit of an odd ball. Its author, Neil Gaiman, is likely no stranger to most of you, so he doesn’t need much introduction. And, if you’re a Conan Doyle devotee, the story itself will, strangely, not need much of an introduction either.  “A Study in Emerald” is a riff on the first Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel that introduced Holmes and Watson back in 1887 called “A Study in Scarlet.” Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes on the British TV series Sherlock engages this case in that show’s first episode, though there it is called “A Study in Pink.” Our story opens with Holmes meeting Watson for the first time, just as the original story does. sherlock[1].jpgEverything you could want out of a Sherlock Holmes story is present in Gaiman’s offering: the insanely insightful Holmes, the ascerbic Dr. Watson, quick witted banter, mystery, murder, and baffling clues. One of the parts of this story that I loved the most was its window dressing. Prior to each chapter opening, there was a little advertisement that gave a hint that things were not all as they ought to be in typical Sherlock adventure.  Everything from a drama troupe advertising a play entitled “The Great Old Ones Come,” to (my favorite) an ad for a professional ex-sanguinator from Romania named V. Tepes to help with your arthritis! If you don’t know, this is the Romanian name of Vlad the Impaler, as in, Dracula! I thought that these ads were a really fun inclusion and they reminded me of the ads present in the stories from the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s “Dark Adventure Radio Theater” productions. However, as I said, this was just a bit of clever window dressing and didn’t do enough to really indicate we were in a Mythos story. So, how exactly is this a cross over story that begins an entire collection of cross over stories?

Well, what we find out before too long, intrepid reader, is that in this version of Sherlock’s London, the Great Old Ones have come and conquered seven hundred years before!  No one is left out, “…the Queen of Albion herself, and the Black One of Egypt…followed by the Ancient Goat, Parent to a Thousand, Emperor of all China, and the Czar Unanswerable, and He Who Presides over the New World, and the White Lady of the Antarctic Fastness, and the others.” 

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“…the Ancient Goat, Parent to a Thousand…”
But, are you ready for this, they (or at least the British Old One) seem to be largely benevolent rulers! I don’t know about you, but this was the part that really threw me off and for this sole reason I don’t know that I would have chosen it to lead off the collection. I get that you want a powerhouse author to kick off your book, but in my humble opinion, I wanted something a bit more true to Lovecraftian form. None of this is to say that this is not a creative, fun, or interesting story. It is all of that and more – truly, this was a joy to read, even as a Sherlock novice. Gaiman’s a consummate writer and he puts you right there in the story quite easily, no matter how familiar it might be to you. But I just couldn’t wrap my unmalleable mind around a beneficent Old One! For crying out loud, she heals Watson’s war wound! “Then the limb uncoiled and extended, and she touched my shoulder. There was a moment, but only a moment, of pain deeper and more profound than anything I have ever experienced, and then it was replaced by a pervasive sense of well-being. I could feel the muscles in my shoulder relax, and for the first time since Afghanistan, I was free from pain.” At least, I suppose, her limb uncoiled rather than reached out. All that being said, it does have this going for it: I didn’t see it coming! If you’ve read this story, I’d love to know what your reaction to this odd turn of events was, so please leave a comment.

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“A Study in Emerald” by Deviant Artist: kelseyleah
If you’re at all nervous about this anthology and the whole cross over idea, don’t be. It’s fun. At the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about? I do have to say the other story I read in this collection (“The Weeping Masks”) was a lot creepier, though less overtly Lovecraftian. You can almost never go wrong with Neil Gaiman (except for Good Omens – and I know I’m in the vast minority here, but that book did nothing for me) so I get why they chose him for the lead story. However, I am hoping the remainder of the anthology is a lot more like “The Weeping Masks” than this one. I really look forward to seeing the deerstalker capped one take on the Mythos in a more traditional form. How will his unbreakable logic hold up to the mind-shattering knowledge of the cosmos? Will he be able to name the Unnameable? We shall find out, and I hope you’ll join me.

This review was composed by listening to my sick child laboring to breathe. Perhaps it was the croup, or perhaps it was her gills breaking open.

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

Logical fallacies of an incomparable mind:  “…there are those who do not believe that the coming of the Old Ones was the fine thing we all know it to be. Anarchists to a man, they would see the old ways restored—mankind in control of its own destiny, if you will.”

 

 

Howling in the Dark, by Darrell Schweitzer

“I am certain only that we came to a high, dark place beneath brilliant stars and perched at the edge of a precarious precipice, so that with the slightest tumble, not to mention an intentional leap, we could have hurled ourselves off into the black sea of infinity forever.”

Well, I have to confess (I feel comfortable doing that with you, my fellow cultists, and pray that trust is not misplaced) that when I looked in my notes and saw the title of this next story that was up for review I had a brief moment of panic because I didn’t remember the first thing about it.  I thought, ‘Have I gotten too far ahead in my reading that I’m beginning to not be able to recall the ones I’ve finished?’ But then I looked at my list, and no, I remembered each other one that was on the list. So, I’m afraid the first thing I have to say about this story tonight is that for me, it was not very memorable. Even when I went back and looked at it again, I have to say that not only was it not very memorable, but I wasn’t all that interested in it. So, that’s my confession to you, and you’ll have to decide for yourselves whether my feeble brain is just too addled from blasphemous texts and forgotten rites, or whether this story just doesn’t cut the mustard. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

b69062dd20873d040269e11d4f7f7b43[1]It’s a tough call to make, I assure you, as our author is not only a well respected and very prolific author in the field of weird fiction, but he was, from 1988 to 2007 the editor of a little magazine you may have heard about called Weird Tales. I came across the story in Black Wings of Cthulhu, Vol. 1, edited by none other than the estimable S.T. Joshi, the preeminent Lovecraft scholar, and published by Titan Books in 2012. Since then, this venerable series of Lovecraftian anthologies is up to volume six, so it’s only natural that not all stories will resonate with all readers.  This one tells the tale of Joseph (who goes unnamed until the end) in the first person, who lives a somewhat tragic life and is taken on noctural journeys through time and space by a spooky “stone man whose eyes do not really glow.” You get the sense that perhaps he is really going on these weird trips, but perhaps he is not; perhaps he is just wandering around outside, silently suffering some sort of mental break from reality on account of his circumstances.  His mother hints at this possibility when, after she catches him wet and cold from being outside, she asks, “Are you crazy? You’ll catch your death of cold!” But when the narrator could provide no explanation, “Mom began to talk about doctors and psychiatrists.”

The stone man takes him on trips through the blackness of night with increasingly regularity, seemingly coinciding with the progressively horrid conditions of his life.  He was beaten regularly, his parents screamed at each other, his sister gained obscene amounts of weight without end. 5078971[1].jpgFurther and further afield he is taken, but perhaps it is just further and further down into a severely depressed psyche. “If we are to achieve our place in the whirling darkness beyond the stars, he explained to me, inside my head without words, we must become nihil, nothing.” Eventually two of his family members suicide and the flying demons of his night jaunts close in. He is institutionalized, spends time with doctors for whom he doesn’t have much respect, and is finally released. He must have achieved some sort of equilibrium as he marries, has a daughter, and moves away. But the stone man and all the inhabitants of the darkness, his darkness, follow him.  More tragedy strikes, and finally, the descent into madness, or to the lost plateau of Leng, is near complete.

Like I said, this one really didn’t do a whole lot for me, nor can I really recommend it with any force. It’s well written, I’ll give it that. Schweitzer knows his craft. It just left me cold in the end, and not in a particularly Lovecraftian way. (Lovecraft’s stories actually never leave me cold. I always end up feeling something: awe, wonder, fear, and so on.) Perhaps, though, that is the point of this, to be an exposition on numbness, that particular demon of depression.

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“…we hurled through infinities without number until we came at last to a flat and frozen plain, beneath two black suns, and we knelt down and abased ourselves…”
I’ve never suffered from it, thank the dim star of Carcosa, but I know many who have and do, and it’s no joke. If that was Schweitzer’s goal, I’ll hand him credit where credit is due, he succeeded in writing a story about depression that left me numb, cold, and unfeeling. And I didn’t like it. Again, though, maybe that was the point. Beyond that, it’s not particularly Lovecraftian, nor is it startingly scary in any way. But it might be a good story, despite not fitting in this genre in my modest opinion. I suppose you could argue that the Lovecraftian nature of it comes in the expansive visions of the cosmos to which the narrator is exposed: “Now the stars swirl around us in a vast whirlpool, and then there are more dark dust clouds whirling, obscuring the light, and we pass through, borne by our captors, for I believe that is what they are, the ones to whom we have surrendered ourselves.” It’s beautiful, evocative imagery, but for some reason, it just doesn’t scream HPL at me.  Put another way, were this story not in this book, I’d likely never associate it with Lovecraft.

That about does it for this review, but before I go, let me say this again. Depression is no joke. If you’re suffering from it, you do not have to do so alone. Reach out. Tell someone you trust. Leave a comment for me if all else fails, for heaven’s sake. There is help. If you’re thinking of harming yourself, that is not the answer. This is National Suicide Awareness Week, and so for my part, I urge you, if you’re having thoughts of suicide, call this number:

1-800-273-8255

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This review was composed listening to Maurice Ravel’s “Miroirs,” “Pavane pour une infante défunte,” and my personal favorite, “Gaspard de la nuit,” which is an insanity all of its own.

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

Shiva, Open Your Eye, by Laird Barron

“Mr. Connell thought like an animal, unfortunately; he was trapped in the electrochemical web of cognition, wherein curiosity leads into temptation, temptation leads into fear, and fear is considered an impulse to be mastered. He came into the barn against the muffled imprecations of his lizard brain. Curiosity did not kill the cat all by itself.”

9700e0bd051e375cb21ee9cafd07ffa5[1]I had to return to Laird Barron sooner rather than later, and for some reason, I’m wanting to read his collection in order. So, today I turn to the second story in The Imago Sequence and Other Stories, published by Night Shade Books in 2007. In case you don’t already know, and you ought to as I am considerably late to the party, Mr. Barron is the real deal. His work breathes originality into the Lovecraftian scene, where it oozes masculinity as the vastness of the cosmos he calls upon seeps through your defenses and blends the mostly real with the not possible on the grim palette of your imagination. This story immediately felt like a lot of Lovecraft’s shorter works, where character and plot play second and third fiddle to atmosphere.  I forget who said this, and I’m not even sure I’m getting the paraphrase right here, but someone smarter than me once posited that one of the great achievements of the old gent from Providence was his ability to cause you to feel the dread thundering in the distance, that there was true world-ending danger out there, imminent, though not yet. It would make you shudder outright, if only it were slightly more perceptible. As it is, you are left wondering why you have goose bumps.  This story by Barron accomplishes that feeling pretty perfectly.

It opens fairly pragmatically on a scene in Eastern Washington state, a geography I’m sadly not very familiar with myself, but I’m told is beautiful in a way you might not immediately associate with the state of Washington. (I tend to think of Seattle, forgetting there’s anything else to the state.) An elderly man answers a knock at his door to find a burly sort of fellow standing on his stoop by the name of Murphy Connell, though no introduction is forthcoming. For our senior citizen we are also given no name, but by the end of the story one is neither needed nor would one really fit. Mr. Connell claims to be a state property inspector, but our man sees through this thin, alibiing concoction and calls our attention as the reader to what he really is, an investigator of some sort.  Seems there’s been some disappearances recently. Disappearances that seem random, but which have one thing in common: they’ve all happened around this general area, and the only thing in this general area is this man’s farm. Mr. Connell would like a look around.

This turns out to be a bad idea for Mr. Connell, as there is far, far more to the elderly gent of the farm than even just a potential mass kidnapper/murderer. But he is so old, so innocent seeming, that surely he couldn’t be the perp, right? There has to be someone else.  Connell is careful as he explores. Eventually he uncovers something which I take to be some sort of mythosian artwork, comprised at least in part by the body parts of the missing. It’s an overwhelming visage, indescribable, and horrific. And it’s the last thing Connell sees before he becomes a part of it.  Whatever it was, Barron attempts to describe it briefly, and deploys one of the coolest words I’ve come across in recent memory, a word that was singularly difficult to look up: obliquangular. It means obliquely angled but at least to my ears it carries a wet, biological sound that reminded me of the word “coagulate” and left me uncomfortable. It’s total free association I know, but there you have it. (Later, he busts out with “pyrgoidal,” which I also had to look up: it means tower-shaped.  But “obliquangular” still takes the prize.)

1-GDeichmann-India-Ajanta-Ellora00607[1]Now, the story could have stopped there but this really only marked the halfway point. The rest of it, which I don’t want to share too much about, takes us on an aeons long journey through time and space and things get really weird—and really cool—really quick, driving forcefully towards an ending sentence that rings like the last solemn toll of a gong, after which nothing else may be.  I told you, Barron’s the real deal.

In At the Mountains of Madness, and The Shadow Out of Time, and others, HPL apprised his readers of the dismaying news that not only were we human beings not alone in the universe, but that we were unimportant, insignificant, a recent blip on the radar screen of the Old Ones. In fact, in AtMoM, he describes how humans were created as a joke by the Old Ones. A joke! Not only are we cosmically small and insignificant, not only is there no order to the universe, no loving God, but that we were created by the only things we might call gods as an afternoon’s amusement. In the latter half of this tale, Barron taps into that wellspring of despair and brings it to the fore for us readers in a fresh way. We read about time before man, and we hear whispers of time before time, and of how we have no place there. “The oceans have been decimated several times in the last billion years. Sterile water in a clay bowl. Life returned unbidden on each occasion. The world slumbers, twitches and transforms. From the jelly, lizards crawled around the fetid swamps eating one another and dying, and being replaced by something else. Again, again, again…”

This one, as you can see, is really a tale in two parts, two separate stories almost, both good in their own right. I do wonder at their connection, though. (This’ll be the most microscopic of criticisms, as this story is amazing!)

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“Mouth of God” by Deviant Art user: carpet-crawler
It feels almost as if the first half was like the first paragraph you put down so you don’t have a blank screen anymore. Now, it’s awesome and portentous reading, but I get the sense that the second half is really what it’s all about. Well, it is, from my perspective. So, why the overly long introduction to get there? Perhaps so we had an actual story instead of a fragment like HPL’s “Azathoth,” for example.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it works, but I almost wish the tendons holding them together were stronger, though I don’t want to make too much of this molehill. Have you read it? If so, let me know what you think about this in the comments (or anything else you’d like to say).

This review was composed whilst relaxing to the soothing sounds of “Red Soul Burning: Wood Flute Music” by Kevin Doberstein.

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

Blasphemous utterances of the Mouth: “Everyone is looking for the answer. They do not want to find the answer, trust me. Unfortunately, the answer will find them. Life—it’s like one of those unpleasant nature documentaries. To be the cameraman instead of the subjects, eh?”

 

Trick…or the Other Thing, by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.

“Nearly 11 o’clock. Insistent bell again.
“Fuck.” Atticus opened the door. Glower, takedown power pushing the same energy that shotgun projectiles deliver at impact.
“Trick…
or the other thing?”
Christ. Wasn’t even a kid. Guy. Over seven feet by any measure. Old old guy, goddamn senior by the look of him. Black as Miles Davis poured liquid smooth from the coffinBLACK that lies between the stars.”

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Nyarlathotep often appears as a very black man, darker than night, and sometimes as an avatar of the Devil, as in HPL’s “Dreams in the Witch House.” You may freely read into this HPL’s noted racism, or not, as you prefer.
In 1921 HP had a dream which he described to his friend in a letter in this way: it was “the most realistic and horrible [nightmare] I have experienced since the age of ten.” In the dream he was enjoined by another friend “Don’t fail to see Nyarlathotep if he comes to Providence. He is horrible—horrible beyond anything you can imagine—but wonderful. He haunts one for hours afterwards. I am still shuddering at what he showed.” And this became the basis for one of Lovecraft’s most enduring creations and a mythos pantheon regular, Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos, the Man of a Thousand Faces, who takes center stage in our story today. He’s also appeared in a variety of ways in several HPL tales, and I’ll try to show you some artist depictions of those throughout this entry. He’s been a big part of the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, into which sadly I’ve never delved, as well as many stories by other authors.

Like the last entry, this story is found in Mike Davis’ edited anthology, Autumn Cthulhu, published by Lovecraft Ezine Press in 2016. I wasn’t going to read two in a row from the same anthology, but when I saw the byline for this story, I just kept on reading because I’d heard so much about Joseph Pulver and had been wanting to read one of his stories. He works a lot with the King in Yellow cycle, which isn’t a Lovecraft creation but has been adopted into the mythos by many owing to its kissin’ cuzzin status.  I hadn’t read Pulver yet because I’m still making my way through the original The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers. But here was a Pulver story in the anthology that was in my hands, so why not just keep reading, right?

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Nyarlathotep is described in “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” by HPL, as looking like an Egyptian Pharaoh.

I mentioned last entry, too, that I wasn’t as big a fan of the next story and I have to say a lot of that distaste stems from Pulver’s distinctive writing style. You get a taste of it above in our lead quote. He writes with almost a free verse poetical style, inventing words, mashing words together, and in this story at least, sometimes just putting in song titles instead of describing a mood or something.  It’s…interesting.  Immediately, I did not care for it. However, I felt like it lightened up a bit as the story went on. Funny thing though, when I went back to look at it again prior to writing this, I saw that it didn’t, so perhaps I just had gotten used to it.   Needless to say, it’s not going to be for everyone.  I’d be willing to give it another try, though, now that I know what I’m getting into, but going in cold, I was turned off a bit.  Purely subjective analysis. Take it for what’s it worth – just about nothing.

the_haunter_of_the_dark_by_marcsimonetti[1].jpg“Trick…or the Other Thing” is a basic revenge story when you get to the heart of it, decorated for Halloween and tossing in Nyarlathotep for a mythos flavor.  I have to say, I really like the title. It made me chuckle and shudder in quick succession.  We’ve got a washed up, drug addled rock musician named Atticus and his cheated on and emotionally abused girlfriend Marilyn calling it quits, and Nyarlathotep makes visits to both of them, in different forms of course. To Atticus he appears as a costumed Tutankhamen trick-or-treater (not so much a costume, but what does Atticus know), while to Marilyn he shows up as a grandfatherly gentlemen accoutered in a black wool Armani sweater. Sadly, to neither of them does he show up as the hideous bat-winged thing from “The Haunter of the Dark”.  See left. Marilyn’s encounter goes exactly as she hopes, though she may not have realized it at first, may not even realized that she had such dark hopes.  But she trusts the elderly, besweatered man, and opens up to him.  Or rather, she is opened up by him. One, an outcome of being vulnerable with a caring stranger, the other a violation from beyond the stars.  In response to the dusky gent’s titular question, Marilyn replies, “Treat, please. I really could use one.” Pulver elaborates, “Fast, almost excited. Generally she’s a listener, a good one, but if she warms-up to the person she’d dive into conversation. Marilyn’s shocked how easy that slipped out. Feels like she’s been unlocked or unwittingly pried open.” Yep. That’s creepy.

Nyarlathotep, of all of Lovecraft’s mythos gods, plays the most with the world and the puny, insignificant humans who walk the earth. We don’t know why. Perhaps he enjoys a perverse pleasure in control, in bringing suffering, or just in kicking the ant pile. Sometimes, he even gets out his magnifying glass after he’s kicked the ant pile of humanity and focuses the energy of the distant, dark suns of Carcosa into an incinerating beam of malevolence. As he does here. It does not go well for humans in this story, and perhaps the most Lovecraftian thing about it, aside from the Crawling Chaos of course, is how easy it is for this visitor from beyond to mess with us, to stir us up, to interact with us, and ultimately to ruin us. We don’t matter. We are below the threshold of caring.

It’s hard for me to wholeheartedly recommend this one to all of you cultists out there, and the only reason is the style of Pulver’s writing is going to present an obstacle. Like I said, I didn’t like it at first, although I enjoyed the story. It wasn’t a mind blowing story. It wasn’t an original story. It didn’t go in new or interesting directions. However, all that said, it was a fun plot, and at the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s about? I’ll be willing to give Pulver another try and whether you want to give him a try at all is up to you. But go into it forewarned as I was not. If you’ve read Pulver before, what do you think of his style? Is it a boon or a bane to you?  Pulver himself is undergoing some serious health crises and so we do wish him well and hope he recovers fully soon.

This new site is starting to get some followers, which is great, and site traffic is doing moderately well.  So, would you do me a favor, friends?  If you like what you’re reading here, give the post a like, maybe give the blog a follow? Better yet, tell your fellow Lovecraftian friends about it and share links to reviews you’re interested in.  Of course, I still hope to get some comments going and see where some discussion might lead us. At the end of the day, even if all you do is read the post, know that I very much appreciate you and your taking the time to visit this non-Euclidean corner of the internet.

This review was composed while listening to the Spotify playlist, “Ancient Egyptian Music” compiled by user eradiel.  I wonder how they know what that kind of music is, but it worked for me.

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

Incontrovertible testimonies of the Mi-Go: “After balancing the scales of a slight disaster involving Mindless Jaws and Things in the Water, Nyarlathotep turned to face a deranging corruption gnawing on the hearts of mortal rivers. As the mortal things departed their worldly-shells, he remembered his conversation with Marilyn about Atticus.”

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Probably my favorite interpretation of Nyarlathotep. Artist: saltibalzane (Deviant Art)