In His House, by Richard Thomas

“It’s not hard.
I just need you to listen.
And keep listening.
That part is essential.
I need you to recite a few strange words the morning sun, or the afternoon doldrums, or the long, ever-expanding night. Wherever you are, whenever you are, whoever you are.
In his house, he waits dreaming.”

—Richard Thomas, “In His House”

Is there a better way to round out the year of reviews than with the big “C” himself? I didn’t think so, either. This review also introduces us to a new anthology, and an author I’ve not reviewed before, but one with whose work I am familiar. Richard Thomas is well known in the horror fiction community not only for his fiction, but probably more as a teacher of fiction. He is the host and professor of Storyville, an online writing workshop with multiple class offerings for any experience level. In addition to that, he also teaches several classes through Lit Reactor, another online writing community. The present anthology in which Thomas finds himself published is THE NIGHTSIDE CODEX, published in 2020 by Justin Burnett and Silent Motorist Media. Featuring stories from heavyweights like Brian Evenson, Nadia Bulkin, and Stephen Graham Jones, this anthology also introduces readers to a great selection of newer and/or lesser known authors, like K.A. Opperman, Devora Gray, and S.E. Casey. THE NIGHTSIDE CODEX takes as its theme the unwritten, forbidden text. Lovecraft invented perhaps the most well known example with the Necronomicon, but Howard’s Unaussprechlichen Kulten, Clark Ashton Smith’s Liber Ivonis, and Chambers’ insanity-inducing play The King in Yellow are all familiar examples as well. THE NIGHTSIDE CODEX expands on those ideas as well as introducing new ones, and not all of them are what you might expect. Burnett promises us that “musical scores, ancient glyphs, curbside ‘religious’ pamphlets, and real medical texts,” all lurk within.

“In His House” begins with the address, “Hello my friend,” alerting the reader to the epistolary format but also gently introducing the idea that this will be a story written in the second person. Admittedly, the second person is not my favorite point of view from which to read a story (it increases the difficulty level of the willing suspension of disbelief exponentially for me), but Thomas pulls it off pretty well. We go on to discover that the letter we’re reading has been around for a while, and distributed throughout multiple media formats. It is at the same time a plea for help and a gospel of sorts. “However it got to you, thank you for taking the time to read it. My fractured soul depends on your help here, your involvement, your support.” Veteran mythos readers will immediately recognize the next line, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn,” though if this is your first foray into the Cthulhu mythos (and I doubt it) you might find yourself not only tongue-tied but a bit confused. “Translated,” it means, “In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”

R’lyeh by Deviant Artist DQuaro

Over the course of the letter, the reader encounters both a sense of calling and inevitability. You were meant for this. You didn’t find this letter, it found you and now you cannot help but read it. In the reading of it, you bind yourself to the task to which it calls you; through the inadvertent recitation of the Cthulhu cult’s chant you have drawn the sleeping old one’s eye towards you and now assist in his awakening. It is, at the same time, both a bit silly and an enormous amount of fun. Thomas wraps his cosmic dread around such gems as “I want to talk to you about our Lord and Savior—the High Priest of the Great Old Ones, The Eternal Dreamer, The Sleeper of R’lyeh.”

In some ways, I read the story as a love letter to a forgotten feeling of adventure and discovery. When I first discovered Lovecraft, I was in middle school and I didn’t get it at all, but something about it stuck with me. It was almost as if I knew there was something special there, but I was not yet ready to unlock it. So when I came back to HPL in high school, I not only read the stories but researched the concepts. Tell me you didn’t do the same? Anyone else hold their breath a little when you found a “copy” of the text of the Necronomicon? I mean, I printed mine out, hole-punched it, and clipped it into a dark blue three-ring binder on the cover of which I drew my best elder sign. I was careful to never read the words out loud. I mean, I knew it was fiction, but what if it wasn’t, right? Thomas’ story taps into that same feeling and I really enjoyed it.

HPL’s own sketch of Cthulhu, to young Robert Barlow. Safe to say future artists would capture more of the cosmic horror Lovecraft intended.

Thomas’ writing is very accessible, bearing none of the hallmark’s of the Old Gent’s purple prose, but neither would you expect it to coming from an instructor of letters. If there is poetry to be found here, it is in the structure of the tale and not in the words deployed. He makes liberal use of single sentence paragraphs that generally accomplish their goal of slowing you down and calling attention to the gravity of the situation. Like those short paragraphs, the story as a whole is also very brief, leaving little room for either fluff or error, and Thomas’ deftly avoids both. There is a beautiful agony in the letter as well. Its in-text author is torn between evangelistic glee and his own horror at that to which he is luring the unsuspecting reader. This liminal narrative space was my favorite aspect of the story and where I think Thomas shines the brightest as a writer because I suspect that feeling is a very difficult one to accomplish.

In the end, this was a fun jaunt into the concept of the unwritten and forbidden text. Like most mythos work, it wasn’t particularly revelatory, but neither did it need to be because of the way it played with the already established concepts. If it had been longer it would have grown tiresome, but that’s where Thomas’ mastery comes into play. He knew exactly how long a story like this should and could be and he didn’t write it one word longer. Such self-aware economy is enviable. I look forward to digging into more of the stories in this volume. The premise is extremely promising to fans of cosmic horror and printed-off Necronomicon readers everywhere.

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

The Black Stone, by Robert E. Howard

“All eyes were fixed on the top of the Stone which they seemed to be invoking. But the strangest of all was the dimness of their voices; not fifty yards from me hundreds of men and women were unmistakably lifting their voices in a wild chant, yet those voices came to me as a faint indistinguishable murmur as if from across vast leagues of Space—or time.

—Robert E. Howard, The Black Stone

“I know it’s trite, but something in it gave me a kick for all that.”

—H.P. Lovecraft to August Derleth upon Derleth criticizing Howard’s story, quoted from Essential Solitude: The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth.

Weird Tales, 1931, Vol. 18, No. 4.

It’s taken me a while, but I have finally gotten around to reading “The Black Stone,” one of Robert E. Howard’s Lovecraft homages. Along with being in multiple anthologies, it is available for free here. Together with HPL and Clark Ashton Smith, Howard completed “the big three” of storytellers published in Weird Tales, where he became much beloved for the heroic hijinks of Conan the Cimmerian and Solomon Kane, among others. Howard and Lovecraft were penpals however, so like with Clark Ashton Smith, it was only a matter of time before he dabbled in elder gods and ancient, forbidden ritual. As you can tell from the quote above, Derleth was unimpressed, but the Old Gent liked it, no doubt more than a bit flattered by it. According to Howard scholar Steve Tomkins, “E.P. Berglund in the Reader’s Guide to the Cthulhu Mythos, [said] as of 1973 “The Black Stone” was the strongest Mythos story not written by Lovecraft himself.” Tomkins would go on to add, however, that “its supremacy has since been challenged by T.E.D. Klein’s “Black Man with a Horn” and Thomas Ligotti’s “The Last Feast of Harlequin”.” (Personally, I might add a few others to that list, authored by folks like Kiernan and Barron.) There’s quite a lot to like about this story, but is it worthy of such high praise? Let’s find out.

I’ve been reading a lot of Howard recently, stomping about with Conan, Solomon Kane, Kull, Bran mak Morn, and even Sailor Steve Costigan, all of which I have tremendously enjoyed. I think I’ve gotten a feel for Howardian writing and it is definitely on display in this story, albeit much more towards the end than the beginning. As the story opens, we’re treated to a typically Lovecraftian premise of an ancient book (Nameless Cults) being discovered by the protagonist who then goes on to, through its pages, separate us from the current day and the very old history it describes. HPL did this multiple degrees of separation thing well in the likes of The Shadow Over Innsmouth and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward for example. When Lovecraft used this device, it served not to safely separate a reader from the action (as it easily could in the hands of lesser writers) but to deepen the sense of history and ancient connection involved and thus heighten the danger the protagonist, and perhaps even the reader, may be in. He shows you the terrible depths involved, and then draws you into them. Howard does this pretty well here, though not as well as Lovecraft (or indeed, even as well as himself in other stories solely of his own creation), and if the story stayed in this vein, it would have ended up nothing more than a lovely pastiche. But it does not; it transforms into a true homage. Again, courtesy of Tomkins, “Steven R. Trout in his “The Horror Fiction of Robert E. Howard” (The Dark Man #2): “Howard couldn’t write a Lovecraft story without it becoming a Howard story.”

Artist: Paul Lehr. 1979.

The second half of the story is where Howard really shines. Our protagonist has arrived in the storied village of Stregoicavar nestled within the mountains of Hungary. A lot of the imagery reminded me a lot of the opening scenes of the Lugosi Dracula film, to be honest. “…a three days ride in a jouncing coach brought me to the little village which lay in a fertile valley high up in the fir-clad mountains.” (In the very next sentence, a Count is even mentioned.) Once the necessary history has been dispatched, and this takes a while, that which you came for begins to unfold. The protagonist, against all advice, seeks out the titular black stone, a monolith about sixteen feet high and a foot and a half or so in diameter. And wouldn’t you know it, but it just happens to be Midsummer’s Eve, “the very time that the legends linked with grisly implications to the Black Stone.” A dream-like state comes upon him and he witnesses some truly horrifying things in gruesome detail. Howard hits his stride in this section, deploying a brutality akin to what we find in some of his sword and sorcery tales, and one which Lovecraft never touched. This is when it becomes his story.

Howard’s writing is a lot more direct that Lovecraft’s and even though it isn’t devoid of description, it is not marked by the purple prose of the Old Gent of Providence. There is an immediacy to his writing, a real focus on seeing and experience rather than abstraction and contemplation. Howard repeats the phrase, “I opened my eyes,” a number of times, and constantly emphasizes the visceralness of what is before the character, demonstrating that what is going on is real. It may drive you insane, yes, but you are not insane yet. When the character does experience a hallucination, he shakes it off and continues with a Conan-like determination. I almost said to myself, “this is no fainting Lovecraftian antiquarian,” until, of course, he fainted, eliciting a chuckle from me and, I’d like to think, from Lovecraft himself. Howard also tips his hat to his friend with choice words like “cyclopean,” and Lovecraftian tropes like keys, among others.

Artist: Greg Staples. Weird Tales, 1931.

If Howard’s style is present in his writing, it is also present in his preconceptions. There is quite a lot in this story about racial superiority and inferiority, which comes as no surprise, but is regretful all the same. Over the short years they exchanged letters, HPL and REH sent each other some of the most vitriolic and xenophobic passages ever committed pen to paper. It saddens me to know that they thought this way; while it shows up in their stories in various and sundry ways that can often be overlooked by a casual reader, in their letters it’s plainly spelled out. This story contains a bit more explicit racism than others of Howard’s, yet, in a surprising turn, it also has words of praise lavished upon Muslims, who feature into the falling action somewhat. Probably Lovecraft and Howard’s relationship to race was more complicated than we can ever know, but it doesn’t excuse hateful writing.

Artist: Tim White. Cover art for “H.P. Lovecraft and Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos,” ed. August Derleth. 1988.

I had a lot of fun with this tale, even if it did take little bit to get going. The respect for Lovecraft’s writing is evident, even as Howard turns his story into one unreservedly his own. That being said, this is not one of the best examples of Howard’s storytelling (there’s no way this out does his Conan tales, for example, or even other of his horror stories all of his own determination), but I don’t see how it could be anything else. He was playing in someone else’s sandbox, after all, even emulating HPL’s old country airs at times. Is it one of the best Lovecraftian tales not authored by Lovecraft? I want to answer that in two ways. First, if I put myself in mind of someone reading this straight out of Weird Tales in 1931, I think I can unequivocally answer yes. So many of the tropes deployed here were so much fresher then, that, when combined with Howard’s skill with words and his ability to instill a sense of immediacy and action, he’s created something new, familiar, and well-written. Second, reading this 89 years after it was first published I find it is pleasantly worn down, like a favorite pair of old jeans. The tropes are recognizable and anticipated; the racism is expected, if regretful; the skill and craftsmanship are on display. And, it’s still a perfectly delightful romp, perhaps even more so from our perspective of knowing the full legacy both Howard and Lovecraft would leave behind.

That about does it for this one, friends. I hope you enjoy this tale from the past as much as you enjoy more contemporary Lovecraftian stories.

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

The Horn of the World’s Ending, by John Langan

“Where the man’s table was, the room was noticeably darker—almost more so than it should have been—and the man seemed dim, of a piece with the shadows gathered there. It was as if, the young officer thought, the darkness behind the man was casting him forward, and not the other way around.”

—John Langan, “The Horn of the World’s Ending”

“The year must have been in the late republic, for the province was still ruled by a senatorial proconsul instead of a prætorian legate of Augustus, and the day was the first before the Kalends of November. The hills rose scarlet and gold to the north of the little town, and the westering sun shone ruddily and mystically on the crude new stone and plaster buildings of the dusty forum and the wooden walls of the circus some distance to the east.”

—H.P. Lovecraft, to Donald Wandrei, November 3, 1927

H.P. Lovecraft was a classicist. This comes as no surprise to anyone with even a passing interest in the Old Gent, but what you may not know is he buried a short story (later entitled “The Very Old Folk”) set in the late Republic period of the Roman Empire in a letter to his friend and supporter, Donald Wandrei. You might know as well that it was Donald Wandrei, with August Derleth, who did the lion’s share work of preserving HPL’s works after his death through the publishing house they founded for that purpose, Arkham House. The story is fascinating and can be read in it’s entirety here, but for our purposes, I hope that it illustrates HPL’s admiration for the Roman period. It is also important to note that the story is presented as a recollection of a dream (some recall!) within a letter, but more on nesting stories in a bit.

cfog_cover_sm-518x800-1[1]Our present story is set around a century after that. “The Horn of the World’s Ending,” by short horror fiction master John Langan, is found in his latest collection, CHILDREN OF THE FANG AND OTHER GENEALOGIES  published by Word Horde. I am grateful to Ross Lockhart at Word Horde for providing me with a gratis e-copy of this collection in exchange for an honest review. Likely this review will be a bit longer than normal as there is much that I want to explore and unpack in this marvelous story, so pour a dram and settle in. In fact, if it isn’t too much of a spoiler about what I might say, while you’re settling in, go ahead and pre-order a copy of this book now (it drops in August). The story was originally published in THAT IS NOT DEAD: TALES OF THE CTHULHU MYTHOS THROUGH THE CENTURIES, edited by Darrell Schweitzer, and was published by PS Publishing in 2015.

The tale begins when an unnamed young Roman officer steps into a tavern in Judea (ever a Roman backwater) looking for a drink, trouble, or possibly both. Much like Frodo’s gaze was pulled towards Aragorn in his darkened corner of The Prancing Pony, our officer spies a strange man sitting swathed in darkness and is compelled to visit him. The older man, also a Roman officer, inquires after the younger man’s legion. 322318937a2cb48d5a05fac47d7be0a8[1]He informs him he is from the Ninth, the Hispana, the famed lost legion of Rome. If you didn’t know it already just from picking up a Langan story, you know it now: you’re in for a hell of a ride. Once trust is established, the older officer shows the younger an artifact he acquired in his years of service, “a short, black horn, such as might have ornamented the skull of a not-especially-large goat.” Strange symbols had been carved into it, “The writing seemed to shift as he studied it: whatever his gaze fixed on held steady, but he had the overwhelming impression that the symbols at the edges of his vision were moving, turning like carvings to show themselves from a slightly different angle.” He tells the younger officer that it came into his possession in Britannia, and claims it is a relic of Lost Atlantis. Then he invites the younger man to sit back and listen to his tale.

This story is presented in three chapters and like most Langan stories it is both longish and concatenated. The above action takes place in the first chapter and the second chapter is the older officer’s story. The final chapter returns us to the present and the young officer. This is classic Langan, nesting one story within another, creating layers that play on each other. This kind of structure allows Langan to add depth without losing the reader’s interest amid the greater detail. It also creates a feeling of the weight of time that lends credulity to the tale. 9781939905215_p0_v1_s1200x630[1]It’s a brilliant and time-honored strategy, and it is certainly a calling card of this author (see, THE FISHERMAN, for a novel length example).

Langan’s other calling card is his erudition. He does not write thin, quick, or ultra-accessible fiction. History, religion, culture, art, and literature are all subjects one needs to have under their belt to fully appreciate his work, and I know that I always finish a Langan story and ask myself, “Ok, what did I miss?” But neither is he above playful call-outs to his own friends, as here, recalling Laird Barron’s symbol of the cult of Old Leech, “The lid bore a mark that I had not seen, a circle broken about two-thirds of the way around.” In this story, there are several themes at work that merit exploration: light and darkness, Judeo-Christian concepts of deity, and (from the title of the collection) his own literary genealogy.

Whenever evil is present in this story, as in many, it is accompanied or preceded by darkness. But Langan toys with readers here, teasing out thought and inviting us to wonder. Here it is never outright darkness, but always a seeming dimming of the light. It’s never an actual thing, only a removed tilting of the head. “The man seemed dim…” and, “The campfire seemed to dim.” This made me pause and consider the nature of evil and good. Is evil so powerful that it causes even the light to dim? Or is good so strong that even in the full presence of evil it is only dimmed?

Black Goat
Goat Demon by Vassilios Bayiokos.  Digital illustration, 2018. Used with permission. More of his work found here.

It’s a matter of perspective and how you think about that changes how you read a story like this. The biblical Gospel of John put it this way, “The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:5).”

Setting a story in Judea that begins with a line like, “When he imagined himself encountering a god…” and shortly thereafter including a reference to “this inn outside Bethlehem,” cannot help but evoke concepts of Judeo-Christian deity. Not unsurprisingly, direct references to YHWH, the god of the biblical Israelites, or to Jesus of Nazareth (born, according to the Gospel of Luke, in the stable of an inn in Bethlehem) are absent here. Since we’re dealing with the Cthulhu mythos (and we are), we’re automatically thinking of altogether different sorts of gods. But the setting alone begs us consider those of the Judeo-Christian traditions. What is a god? What is their power? Does that power have limits? Does their power corrupt their adherents? At the very least, there is a suggestion here that proximity to deity generates an allure for divine power. Langan goes to some interesting places that I don’t want to spoil, but a religious tack on this story is far from inappropriate.

The third theme I’d like to examine is Langan’s own literary pedigree. The subtitle of the collection refers to genealogies and in the “Story Notes” found at the back, he states that most of the stories in this collection were “written in response to invitations to anthologies devoted to a single author,” and how those influences to which he was responding “constituted a (rough, imprecise, incomplete) genealogy.” 91GryENlywL[1](As an aside, I love collections that include Story Notes, and firmly believe all collections and anthologies benefit from their presence.) Even before I read the story notes for this tale, I knew that it was paying homage not only to Lovecraft, but also to Robert E. Howard and to Arthur Machen, a contemporary of HPL’s and one of HPL’s greatest influences. The relic coming from Lost Atlantis where it was once involved in a fight with lizardmen hearkens back to Robert E. Howard’s proto-Conan character, King Kull of Atlantis. A more brooding, thoughtful, philosopher-King character, he never achieved the recognition of the more action-oriented Conan, but is still a great character in his own right. (And, readers of Howard’s Conan stories, rather than just his movie followers, will be quick to point out that Conan was way more of a thinker than ole Arnie portrayed him to be.) Shortly after this allusion, Langan writes, “The children of the gods, he said, had come to the king’s aid. Which children? I asked. Of which gods…Did he mean Pan?” This calls our attention to one of the greatest influences on HPL (and subsequently, on Langan) Arthur Machen, whose literary credits include the enormously influential novella, THE GREAT GOD PAN. 517V3hglbBL[1]These two, combined with fairly direct references to HPL’s Black Goat of the Woods serve to pay homage to some the greatest pulp and weird fiction writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In many ways, this entire website is dedicated to these genealogies, but Langan has somehow managed to masterfully wrap a short story around that.

Lastly, a brief word on Langan’s writing. I’ve written about it elsewhere, but in short, it’s brilliant. He’s a first class writer at the top of his game. He is, however, going to make you work. He builds tension slowly, methodically, but carefully and intentionally. Everything matters, including and especially his structure. He leaves you with no easy answers. His diction and syntax are elevated. For example, a character in this story does not simply die, he “completed his journey out of this life.” Now, I know that won’t be for everyone. Some will level the charge of pretension at John Langan. I think they’re wrong, but that doesn’t change the fact that the thought will be there in the minds of some readers. Some might say that Emily Brontë or Jane Austen are pretentious, but that doesn’t change the fact they’re both brilliant, classic writers whose stories will live on forever. In a hundred years, when folks are digging up the history of weird fiction writers in the early 21st century, I suspect John Langan (with Caitlín R. Kiernan and Laird Barron) will be a name they already know, much as we know H.P Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith and Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood today. He’s that good.

Thank you if you stuck with me to the end, but there was a lot to say (and even more could have been explored). I loved this story and sat and thought about it a long time after I completed reading it. John Langan is so in touch with the history of the period about which he is writing that it moved me. It wasn’t particularly frightening on its surface, but when you ponder the significance of the questions it raises, it taps into some the oldest anxieties we have as a human race. I hope you buy this collection and if you haven’t yet, do also read through his back catalogue. THE FISHERMAN, specifically, is already a classic of 21st century weird fiction and one of the best pieces of cosmic horror I have ever read. Encourage your local public library to obtain a copy if they don’t have one already. Stay safe out there, friends.

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



Dark Lantern of the Spirit, by Max Beaven

“The mass in the darkness seethed and churned and with a sudden furious motion…shed a part of itself. Now, in the small concavity that sat just a short distance from faint light that entered through the enlarged crevasse, a second writhing mass began agitated movements.”

51SBpwmEnGL[1]With a cover that looked like the lovechild of Red Dead Redemption and Bloodborne and a description boasting an adventure in the style of Robert E. Howard draped in the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft, I was all set to love this self-published story from new author Max Beaven, who graciously sent me a copy in exchange for an honest review. DARK LANTERN OF THE SPIRIT: AN ARTHUR C. WILSON & BENJAMIN HATHORNE NOVELLA advertises itself as having a “late Victorian era frontier western setting” and when combined with the Mythos, this sounded right up my alley. So, it was with a certain amount of excitement that I turned the first page.

There I discovered the story of Arthur, a sheriff’s deputy originally hailing from New England but now finding himself in the Cheyenne territory of Casper, Wyoming. Truly, a tough place to be a law man. Through a whiskey haze he begins to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a well known and experienced trapper called Miles. A brief chapter later we are taken cross country to Salem, MA to meet Benjamin, a wealthy and typically bookish Lovecraftian protagonist, who is excitedly opening a newly delivered package. It turns out to be a bonafide copy of the Liber Ivonis, otherwise known to HPL fans as the Book of Eibon. This artifact makes its canonical appearance in “Dreams in the Witch-House,” “The Haunter in the Dark,” and “The Shadow Out of Time,” and then among some of the more familiar pastiches like ‘Ubbo-Sathla” by Clark Ashton Smith. After a few more chapters, primarily bouncing back and forth between these two characters, we are treated to an Interlude focused on some Lovecraftian style beastie from beyond the stars, and with that, the stage is set.

I wanted to try and get the plot description down in as positive a way as I can, because I do think there is a seed of a fun story buried within. Unfortunately, however, there are serious flaws with this book and I have to address those. Almost from page one there are numerous grammar and spelling errors. I’m usually forgiving when it comes to this stuff, but in this case they were so numerous that they quickly became difficult to overlook. Other errors abounded as well, like ignoring the conventions around dialog tags and the sudden deployment of a fifty-cent word betraying the obvious usage of a thesaurus. I can appreciate the desire to sound antiquated and erudite, but it must also be authentic. The vast majority of these missteps could have been fixed by an editor, which this book sorely needs. There are several things, though, I’m not sure an editor could have fixed. For example, each character’s voice sounds like the others to the point that it’s hard to distinguish who is who. Why does the Shoshone scout sound like the educated New Englander? Finally, while I can appreciate the author’s father passed on to him an encyclopedic knowledge of early firearms (so noted in the acknowledgements), the level of detail provided in both the prose and dialogue is often out of place to the point of being distracting. Like this, from a letter to Benjamin written by his friend Thomas, “I have taken to carrying an Enfield revolver with me at all times.” Would not “gun” have been crisper?

Unfortunately, this was a DNF for me, as by the half way point I had become entirely too frustrated to continue. I wanted this to be a fun Lovecraft pastiche in a wild west setting. I really wanted to enjoy this book, and I stand by what I said earlier – there are some enjoyable plot and character ideas here. The execution of them needed a lot more work before publication, however, and certainly needed the services of an editor. I hope Mr. Beaven continues to write and hone his craft. His passion for the Lovecraft mythos and the adventure stories of Howard is clear, and his enthusiasm for writing the tale he wanted to read, which he saw missing from the market, is evident. But, there’s still some work to do before I can recommend it.

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.”