The Amnesiac’s Lament, by Scott R. Jones

“Somewhere, in that vast array of sleeping bodies laced together in sticky pits of artificial neural tissue below me, is a dreamer who used to be a writer, or dreams she was one.”

—Scott R. Jones, “The Amnesiac’s Lament”

“One baffling thing that could be introduced is to have a modern man discover, among documents exhumed from some prehistoric buried city, a mouldering papyrus of parchment written in English, & in his own handwriting, which tells a strange tale & awakes—amidst a general haze of amazement, horror, & half-incredulity—a faint, far-off sense of familiarity which becomes more & more beckoning and challenging as the strings of semi-memory continue to vibrate…This idea has lain dormant in my commonplace-book for ages…”

—H.P. Lovecraft, to Clark Ashton Smith, November 11, 1930

71zYC53sB5L[1].jpg If asked, “in what genre did Lovecraft write?” most of us fans would probably answer in an unconsidered, if decisive, manner: “Cosmic horror.” Lovecraft himself, however, would probably have said that “cosmicism” played a large role in his writing of strange or weird tales. What we think of now as cosmic horror was a homebrew by the Old Gent, stirring in elements of mystery, science-fiction, horror, fantasy, and the strange. Some of his stories, like “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” lean pretty hard into the adventuresome thriller category, while others, like “The Shadow Out of Time,” rely heavily on sci-fi. The horror lay in the discovery of just how insignificant humanity was on the cosmic scale. Scott R. Jones‘ thrill-ride of a story, “The Amnesiac’s Lament,” found in his debut collection, SHOUT KILL REVEL REPEAT, follows Lovecraft through this particular portal. This collection was published by JournalStone’s imprint, Trepidatio Publishing (2019), last month and is ably introduced by Ross E. Lockhart of Word Horde. If this description isn’t enough to pique your interest, take note of the blurb at the top by none other than horror master Ramsey Campbell himself.

“The Amnesiac’s Lament” tells the futuristic story of Sunset Grey Theremin, a personality construct sent on a mission into an unforgiving desert landscape with partner personality construct Livid Ransom Stormcell. Right away you’re able to tell that this will be an unusual and very fun story to read, brought to you by Jones’ colossal imagination, which uses Lovecraft as a launching pad into his own unknown realm of cosmicism. Deserts in Lovecraft often mean the Yithians will be in play and here is no different. Our duo’s destination is a subterranean Yithian complex. However, before they set out, some precautions are in order. See, I mentioned this was a futuristic tale, and in this future, the Old Ones have returned and they are not messing about. 1_CPI-6ZtpYfMyV3bTt8EumQ[1].jpegThrough some seriously advanced tech Sunset and Livid cloak themselves in a “Deep Dendo” psychic shield, made up of the personalities of others, to protect themselves from the sanity blasting properties of the visitors from beyond the stars. “I don’t go outside unless I’m a hundred thousand people at once,” warns Sunset Grey Theremin. A hundred thousand people, casually sloughed off like so much dead skin.

Their adventure is thrilling, occasionally charming (“Yeah, well, hurry it up,” says Livid Ransom Stormcell. “Because it’s irritating the living fhtagn out of me.”), replete with countless Lovecraft and friends references—these, sewn into the skin of the narrative in clever ways so as not to distract the uninitiated, while paying homage to the devotee—and above all, entertaining. Like some of the best of Lovecraft, it saves its terror until close to the end, when you then sit up straight in your couch and take someone’s name in vain.

Lovecraft would finish writing “The Shadow Out of Time” in February of 1935, some four years, four months after the letter to Clark Ashton Smith referenced above. He was initially so disgusted with it that he almost ripped up all 65 pages, as he says in another letter that he had been doing a lot of lately. (Oh! Lovecraft! What hath we lost?) The ideas he sketched out in his commonplace-book (what he called his book of disassociated ideas and notes) would finally come to fruition and be published in Astounding Stories pulp magazine in 1936.

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From the highly acclaimed “Providence” comic book series by Alan Moore.  Art by: Jacen Burrows
“The Shadow Out of Time” is considered his magnum opus now by many, but I would never tell an inquiring reader to begin their Lovecraftian journey there. It’s long, and when Lovecraft gets long, he can get boring. (I know, I know, blasphemy, right? Who didn’t fall asleep reading Lovecraft at least once though?) What Jones does so well in this contemporary story is bring to the foreground the ideas Lovecraft used as the background, and spin a damned exciting yarn to read. It’s faithful and fresh all at the same time, and not one page felt boring. Few authors can do this as well as I felt like it was done here. Attempts either come off as pastiche or are too distant a cousin.

Jones’ balance here is near flawless and would be Lovecraftian storytellers should make a note. The fast-paced, page-turning sci-fi style (calling to mind Hugh Howey’s Wool series, strangely enough) is unlike anything HPL ever even approached. His writing is accomplished and crisp, confidence spiced with just a dash of whimsy. Combined, these elements produce the story’s biggest success for me: I felt as if I was reading something completely new while simultaneously being rewarded for having a base of knowledge.

The next story in the collection will go on to play in Ramsey Campbell’s Lovecraftian backyard, with just as satisfying results. I cannot wait to find out what the collection has in store beyond that, and neither should you. This is one for the fans, but neither will it be lost on newcomers.

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

Split Through the Sky, by Lena Ng

“Instead of stars, the pinpricks of light seemed as holes where an unknown, unfathomable voyeur was spying from the other side of the nocturnal sky as through a camera obscura.”

hinnom-front-kdp[1]As a teenager, one of the many joys I took out of reading Lovecraft was the sense of mystery and other-worldliness he was able to pack into his writing. It wasn’t just his florid prose or his antediluvian monsters. It was the way he was able to hint at whole worlds, whole bodies of hidden or forbidden knowledge simply by dropping the name of some ancient tome. Most memorable, of course, was the Necronomicon—a book which for years of my youth I was convinced was real. And no one could talk me out of it (I even found a copy of the text on the internet, so there!). But he also had others, like Cultes des Goules, and the Pnakotic Manuscripts which set my imagination alight just by seeing their titles. His immediate contemporaries followed suit: Clark Ashton Smith had his Book of Eibon, Robert Howard his Unaussprechlichen Kulten, and Robert Bloch created the De Vermis Mysteriis (with HPL’s help on the final name). Brian Lumley later came up with the G’harne Fragments, and Ramsey Campbell had his Revelations of Gla’aki. Outside of the canon of HPL’s works, and the works of the named gentlemen above, I haven’t encountered too much use of this trope and that’s a shame. Then I read Split Through the Sky by Lena Ng and I was right back in my youth, my imagination on fire with possibility as words of forbidden texts and forgotten book titles crossed the page amidst beautiful, lurid, and very Lovecraftian prose.

Split Through the Sky can be found in the latest issue of Hinnom Magazine (Issue #010) published by C.P. Dunphey at Gehenna and Hinnom Books, released on May 20, 2019. G&H Books just completed a massively successful Kickstarter and so their publishing calendar for the rest of 2019 and into 2020 looks incredible! In particular, I am really looking forward to letting you all know about a story or two contained in Pete Rawlik’s forthcoming G&H collection, “Strange Company.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think Hinnom Magazine stands the best chance of being the spiritual successor to Weird Tales available in today’s market. Sure, there’s lots of other great magazines out there, but are they in print? No. Some great print magazines exist, like Black Static, but that’s over in the UK. Each issue of Hinnom consistently has great works of cosmic horror fiction, dark poetry (though that’s not really my thing), cool interviews, writing advice, and great interior illustrations. They’re not full color and glossy, yet, but I imagine that will be an achievable goal for G&H one day. I’m a big supporter of what G&H is doing and think you should be, too. If we don’t support creators like this, then, well, we’ve seen what happens. If you’re interested, check out their Patreon page.

9947739633_341b8e5040_b[1]Split Through the Sky is the haunting story of someone being called from beyond, out of their daily life, into a weird, wide world of terror and the unknowable reaches of space, at times reminiscent of Dreams in the Witch House. Our protagonist, never identified (though for some reason I imagined them to be a woman in their thirties), has trouble sleeping, and who wouldn’t: “Before I has gone to bed on the first night of torments, I had noticed a disturbing alignment of stars. Through mathematics, the stars and planets should follow a predictable elliptical path. But the planets of Versiveus, Kraelov, and Diaxon moved in enigmatic, unnerving voyages. Other stars crossed in horrendous formations, and I quaked at what such signs could mean.” Lovecraft fans should be all a-tingle just now, if you are anything like me. Ng’s writing, while calling HPL to mind, is of a style all her own, often unsettling while rewarding slow, attentive reading.

Through a series of disturbing events the protagonist discovers she (?) is not who she thought she was, and in fact was adopted from the particularly creepy sounding Gentrocide Orphanage. 2974d6bced8cb89094d8cfdfa770b708[1].jpgFrom there, “after much consultation through incantations and incense, oratory and arguments,” her journey of self-discovery takes her to the ruins of an ancient temple, seemingly still presided over by a high priestess. After an arduous journey, she is met by the monks who keep watch over the place, who escort her to the chambers of the high priestess, where not all is as you might expect it to be, no matter or not that you might have been expecting the worst. Clues to her genesis are given, and she is off again to the next nightmarish locale, still in the company of said sepulchral monastics. There she will finally learn the truth, horrible though it may be.

As I said above, most Lovecraft fans will find quite a lot here to satisfy their abyssal cravings. We’ve got nightmares and monks, ruined temples and orphanages, incantations and lost tomes and astrology. It’s all very, very good stuff. But Ng raises it to the next level with her writing, which is erudite (though bordering on stuffy at points where some will think a thesaurus was overused) and evocative. I rejoiced each time I saw another fantastic descriptor deployed —”lachrymosal,” “abattoirial,” “octrine,” “vomitus,”, and “mucosal,” were among my favorites. Somewhere, the Old Gent’s skull is grinning, too. It wasn’t just her vocab, either, that enhanced her writing, but an unusual flow and rhythm that sometimes stretched standard grammatical practices.  monsters in the skyThis sprinkled her prose with spice and flavor in quite delicious ways. For example, “Back in my studio, page after page I flung to the floor as I drew diagrams, scribbled equations, created derivatives and reductions of the movements of the stars, knowing the patterns of the celestial formation must be a part of a grander design.” See how she constructs that sentence to lead you into the emotion and immediacy of the moment, worrying more about what it feels like that what it looks like on a page? The whole story is written in this way and it was both refreshing and fun, without falling into aping HPL or others. Lena Ng, with several publications already to her name and with her fresh voice and clear command of the genre, is definitely an author to watch.

This issue of Hinnom Magazine comes with two other good pieces of fiction. Its Eyes Are Open, by Ben Thomas is a creature feature. As such, it is a lot of fun, and pretty creepy at times, but honestly I kept wanting it to develop in an unexpected way and it just kept on keeping on in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get style. Nothing wrong with that, but nothing special either.  Samantha Bryant’s story, Margaret Lets Her Self Go, on the other hand is very unexpected, creative, and scary. I almost reviewed it but then I read Ng’s story and knew I had to tell you about it instead.

Until next time, my lachrymosal friends, I remain yours in the Black Litany of Nug and Yeb,
~The Bibliothecar

Show Your Work at the Bottom of the Page: “Not the math of this world but the math of the parallel: non-Newtonian geometry, Fortunado’s topology, octrine trigonometry. Not even the black calculus of Crucerbus could decipher the malevolent pattern.”

The Church in High Street, by Ramsey Campbell

“…do you know that rites can still be used at the proper season to open the gates and let through those from the other side? It’s true. I’ve stood in that church myself and watched the gates open in the centre of empty air to show visions that made me shriek in horror. I’ve take part in acts of worship that would drive the uninitiated insane.”

32709[1]Welcome to the first post of the Miskatonic Review, an online literary review of individual Lovecratian stories by authors writing in his vein!  We begin this loathsome quest with a look at the past.  I’m glad you’re with me.  Every Warren needs his Carter!  In 1961, fifteen year old Ramsey Campbell, having recently discovered the fiction of HPL, sent a few of stories (only at the encouragement of his friends) to August Derleth at Arkham House.  Derleth knew he liked the kid’s writing, but he sent the stories back with some suggestions for edits.  While working on those edits, Campbell received another missive from Derleth, requesting a submission for a forthcoming anthology.  Quickly, Campbell sent him back an edited version of a story he called “The Tomb-Herd,” which Derleth accepted provided the title could be changed and a few further edits could be made.  In February of 1962, Ramsey Campbell had his first professional published story included in Derleth’s anthology Dark Mind, Dark Heart, where it was entitled “The Church in High Street.” shadowsoverinnsmouth[1]I picked up the story in Stephen Jones’ anthology, Shadows Over Innsmouth, first published in 1994 by Titan Books.

“The Church in High Street” tells the story, in the narrator’s own voice, of the actions and ultimate fate of one Richard Dodd, a very classic Lovecraftian narrator.  Our pauperish protagonist gathers his few belongings, borrows a friend’s sports car (nice friend!) and heads off to the English town of Temphill, in search of his friend Albert Young.  Young had sent him a series if increasingly paranoid missives, concluding with one demanding Dodd’s immediate aid.  Dodd arrives in the tenebrous town of Temphill and encounters the pretty creepy John Clothier, who appears for all intents and purposes to be an homage to Lovecraft himself.  Just read to how he’s described, “He wore a frayed tweed suit. But his most startling attribute was a singular air of antiquity, giving him the impression of having been left behind by some past age.”  Lovecraft himself would blush in embarrassed pride to be described so! Clothier shares some disturbing details about the town and it’s history and sends our hero packing with a dire warning, that became my favorite line in the story.

Dodd finds his way to the eponymous church and, after minimal exploration, discovers a dark stairwell down into the noisome depths, fillethe tomb-herdd with “bloated, dappled fungi” and poor architecture.  He witnesses something horrific down there, which for me was the highlight of the story, and this terrible, otherworldly spectacle is soon overshadowed by things which sound tome an awful lot like overgrown alien maggots attack our narrator. And he FAINTS!  Yes, fans!  How much more Lovecraftian can you get?  (Lovecraft’s heroes are famous fainters.) The story ends in a way that calls to mind the end of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” which may be partially why it’s included in this collection.

By the end (heck by the middle), it is clear that this is pure pastiche.  The young Campbell is to be commended though for putting something together so convincingly Lovecraftian that were you not to tell me this was not Lovecraft, I might not know. There’s cosmic landscapes and horror, alien baddies, a bookish protagonist, and a bleak ending. There are no new ideas here, but it’s a lot of fun nonetheless. The writing is strong in some areas and it succeeds at conveying a sense of oppressive, ancient atmosphere, like here, “Piles of yellowed hymnals squatted against a pillar like grotesque huddled shapes…”  I love that image of the aged and decaying hymnals piling up.

There are two parts that do bring this story down a bit for me, though.  One, I’ve already mentioned.  When he is down in the undercroft area and encounters the alien landscape through some sort of portal, it’s pretty cool, but the flopping things that make up the tomb-herd, while gross and frightening in their persistence in pursuing him, took away, for me, from the true horror that’s being discovered.  Namely that classic cosmic Lovecraftian sense of other worlds beyond our ken.  Sure, those worlds might be populated by awful beings, like flopping white maggots of gelatinous constitution, but for me this felt a bit like the author needing a monster to round out his story.  I don’t know, what did you think?

The second place that detracted from my enjoyment for a bit came before Dodd makes his descent. He is reading Young’s notes and observes that young was “attempting to unify and correlate various cycles of legend with one central cycle.”  This is common among Lovecraft fans, I think, to try to bring together in one literary universe all of Lovecraft’s eldritch imaginings.  But I don’t believe that Lovecraft created or wrote that way.  The various ways he makes use of the Necronomicon, for example, point to opposing ideas he was exploring.  Is is a text warning against exploring the mysteries of the cosmos? Or is it a manual describing exactly how to do that?   I know that Lovecraft fans the orld over have wished and worked towards that grand Mythos idea, but if I’m being honest, I’m not sure that’s what Lovecraft had in mind originally.  With this statement, it seems Campbell is at once aware of that temptation while participating in it.  I’d love to  hear your thoughts on this.

Well, there you have it fellow Lovecraftians, the first post.  I’m sure the format will change and mature as time goes on, but if you’ve ideas, please share them!  I would dearly love to hear from you in the comments.  Tell me if you’ve read this sinister tale, and what you thought about it, or if you haven’t read it yet, do you think you will now?  Tell me, if you would, what your favorite Lovecraftian story is and why, and hopefully I’ll get it up on here, the Miskatonic Review!

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

Favorite Line: “I wouldn’t go into that house for any reason whatever,” confessed Clothier. “Nor would anyone else. That house has become theirs now.”