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.

“…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:



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!)

“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?”