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review 2020-07-08 00:47
Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1: Professor Gargoyle - Charles Gilman

For more review, check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

A few years ago I read the third book in this series (not realizing it was a series, just so captivated by that cover). I recently saw my library had the audiobooks of the previous books so I thought I'd listen to them for some quick entertainment while driving.

Overall, this was a good book. It was interesting to get the backstory on the world I was introduced to in the third book. The world-building was well-done and made the book intriguing and mysterious. The plot was a bit slow in the beginning with all of the introduction, some of which could have been sped through a bit. You know there is going to be some weird stuff going on at the school so it gets a little tedious leading up to that. But overall the book was well-written and interesting.

While the book is not necessarily very scary, there is a bit of animal cruelty, which may not be a good fit for sensitive readers. While it is not outright gory, it's pretty gross with enough details to be upsetting and is referenced multiple times. I dislike when authors fall back on cruelty to animals in order to show how evil a character is.

A good read although I could have done without the animal stuff. Interesting set up and a nice lead in to the next book.

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url 2020-02-02 07:05
Amusing game based on H.P. Lovecraft's "The Rats in the Walls"

I don't think I've ever read the story, but the game made me chuckle. You play as the rats, trying to get Delapore to enter three different places so that he'll go insane and "do the cannibalism" on Norrys.

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review 2019-07-21 00:00
Lovecraft's Monsters
Lovecraft's Monsters - John Langan,Ellen Datlow,Fred Chappell,Caitlín R. Kiernan,Laird Barron,Stefan R. Dziemianowicz,Howard Waldrop,Karl Edward Wagner,Thomas Ligotti,Steve Rasnic Tem,Elizabeth Bear,Gemma Files,Steven Utley,William Browning Spencer,Nick Mamatas,Nadia Bulkin,Jo ‘Lovecraft‘s Monsters’ is a big anthology and this much gloom is probably best taken in small doses unless you‘re from Innsmouth. The very famous Neil Gaiman opens the billing but I’m heading up the review with ‘Remnants’, a short story by Fred Chappell. Fred Chappell! I mean no disrespect to the other great talents on display here but for me, a Fred Chappell story is a thing of glory. He writes beautifully, perhaps even more beautifully than Peter S. Beagle. He is a poet and has a poet’s ear for language and the rhythm of a sentence. I was mad for his ‘Shadow’ stories in ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science-Fiction’ and intrigued to know what he would do with Lovecraft’s monsters. He doesn’t disappoint.

In the near future, Lovecraft’s Old Ones have invaded Earth, destroying most of the population with contemptuous ease, reshaping the Moon and setting about building monstrous machines for unknown cosmic purposes of their own. Remnants of humanity, small groups, hide out here and there. Vern, his mother and his autistic sister, Echo, scrape a bare living as hunter-gatherers in a wilderness area. Then Echo gets a telepathic message from somewhere but making sense of it with her limitations is difficult. She thinks in pictures, not words.

The best thing in this was the language used by the aliens, other remnants discarded by the Old Ones, who have picked up English from the libraries of relic human spaceships and don’t quite have it right. The first person narration by the alien captain, which alternates with a third person one from Vern, shows a masterful twisting of the lingo. You know what he means but he doesn’t say it how we would. Chappell is also proficient as describing the disorientating effect of the Old Ones’ machines on human senses. It’s a 45-page tale that deserves to be read in one sitting, as recommended by Poe. Wonderful.

‘That of Which We Speak When We Speak Of The Unspeakable’ by Nick Mamatas could be a prequel to Fred Chappell’s ‘Remnants’. Two men and a woman wait in a cave as the Elder Gods take over our Earth. China is already gone. I think it was Neil Gaiman who said that if Cthulhu showed up today we would nuke the bastard. Well, they tried that and it just made him glow. (Men and horses sweat, women and Cthulhu glow.) The conversation of the doomed is interesting, them being an odd trio.

Speaking of Neil Gaiman, his contribution is ‘Only The End Of The World Again’, set in Innsmouth, as are a few in this book. It seems to be a favourite venue for Lovecraft homages. Lawrence Talbot is an Adjustor and a werewolf who is trying to prevent the end of the world. The fishy folk of Innsmouth are determined to bring it on, Elder Gods swallowing the Moon and that type of thing. Gaiman writes beautifully and the atmosphere of dark menace is nicely undercut with a bit of wry humour from the protagonist.

Quite similar in style is ‘The Bleeding Shadow’ by Joe R. Lansdale, another good piece with a pervading atmosphere of menace and dark deeds that Lovecraft would have liked. Lansdale is much better at snappy dialogue and smart similes than the old master and, as with so many stories from the man who gave us ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’, there’s a strong sense of place – Texas! Both these tales could have been written by H.P. Chandler or Raymond Lovecraft. Not as far out an idea as it seems because Chandler would have preferred to write fantasy stories but thought they wouldn’t make a ’thin worn dime.’

The purest homage to Lovecraft, with not a taint of any other author detectable, is delivered by Thomas Ligotti. The first person narrator of ‘The Sect Of The Idiot’ won’t give his name or the name of the old town in which he sits in a high room looking through diamond-paned windows at its seemingly unending strangeness. Solitary, he enters into fantastic states of mind and has dreams that may be more than dreams. This is the most Lovecraftian piece in prose, tone and mood in the book and could have been written by the old master himself as part of his dream cycle. A masterpiece of homage and quite different from the other stories herein.

In ‘The Same Deep Waters As You’, Kerry Larimer, an animal whisperer, is recruited by Homeland Security and taken to a remote island prison. There are sixty-three prisoners who have been held there since 1928, a fact unknown to most of the last fifteen presidents, she is told, because ‘There are security levels above the office of President. Politicians come and go. Career military and intelligence, we stick around.’ That certainly has the ring of truth. Larimer’s task is to communicate with the prisoners, a fishy bunch who like it damp. This is one of the best stories in the book thanks to Brian Hodge’s clear writing and a good plot with a great ending.

‘The Dappled Thing’ by William Browning Spencer has a team of adventurers searching the African jungles for Lord Addison’s missing daughter in Her Glory of Empire, a spherical kind of steampunk tank with tentacles. The author pastiches Victorian prose beautifully and the Lovecraftian theme comes in near the end. I was a bit dubious about this at first but liked it a lot by the time the last page was reached.

A similar Victorian style adventure is ‘Black As The Pit, From Pole To Pole’ by Howard Waldrop and Steven Utley, a long story about Frankenstein’s monster journeying to the centre of the Earth. It opens with information about John Cleves Symmes and his hollow Earth theories and is interspersed with paragraphs about Mary Shelley and the writing of Frankenstein. So its metafiction, playing with the fact that we know this is a story. Usually, this kind of thing is not to my liking and, in the beginning, I thought it was a bit boring. By the end, I was fond of the piece. It’s well written and, as far as I can tell, the authors have a good knowledge of the background material. I read ‘Frankenstein’ once because a friend told me it was impossible. It wasn’t easy, but neither is Lovecraft.

‘Bulldozer’ by Laird Barron is about a Pinkerton man on the trail of a bad guy called Hicks who was a circus strongman. I would like to quote a whole chapter: ‘Chapter 19. Maggots.’ ’Bulldozer’ is not quite ruined by having twenty-six chapters in twenty-eight pages because it’s a good yarn. To be fair, short stories are the place for stylistic experiments but this one didn’t really work for me. On the other hand, what’s good for an author might work for a reviewer, too.

The following brief paragraphs cover the shorter stories in Lovecraft’s Monsters.

‘I’ve Come To Talk With You Again’ by Karl Edward Wagner features a horror writer meeting some fans in an English pub. All is not what it seems.

‘Red Goat, Black Goat’ is that rare thing, a horror story about goats. Aided by the exotic setting, Nadia Bulkin manages to make it scary.

‘Inelastic Collisions’ by Elizabeth Bear is about creatures from a different plane trapped in human form. Bear writes stylishly but often leaves me puzzled, as here. I don’t know what actually happened at the end but getting there was okay, I guess.

‘A Quarter To Three’ by Kim Newman is just one scene really, about a young man working the graveyard shift at a 24-hour diner in Innsmouth when a heavily pregnant woman comes in. No real surprises but an excellent sense of atmosphere, lively writing (It’s H.P. Chandler again) and a jukebox that’s almost a character in itself. Very good.

‘Love Is Forbidden, We Croak And Howl’ by Caitlín R. Kiernan is an amusing tale about a ghoul who falls for one of the fishy daughters of Innsmouth. Not quite ‘Romeo And Juliet’ but the narrator admits that. Nice descriptions of the daily life of monsters and enjoyable dark humour.

‘Waiting At The Crossroads Motel’ by Steve Rasnic Tem has Walker doing what it says in the title. His wife and two kids are waiting with him but he doesn’t have the usual feelings about them. In fact, he’s a very unusual man. An air of real menace makes this uncomfortable reading, which is the point, I guess.

‘Jar Of Salts’ And ‘Haruspicy’ are poems by Gemma Files that are successfully Lovecraftian in mood.

The last tale in the book is a novelette, ‘Children Of The Fang’ by John Langan about Rachel and Josh and their family. Grandad lives on the top floor of the house and keeps something locked in a freezer in the basement. Rachel and Josh find tape recordings of Grandad telling their Uncle Jim, now vanished, about a lost cave city in the deserts of the Middle East with strange writings on the walls. This has all the classic ingredients of pulp horror fiction (The thing in the basement! The lost city!) so a brief description makes it sound like corny old rubbish. It certainly is not. The family saga is rich with realistic details and there’s a neat twist at the end. A fitting conclusion to a quality collection.

Eamonn Murphy
This review first appeared at https://www.sfcrowsnest.info/
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review 2019-06-19 00:00
The Curious Case of H. P. Lovecraft
The Curious Case of H. P. Lovecraft - Paul Roland ‘The Curious Case Of H.P. Lovecraft’ is both a biography and a literary analysis of the famous horror writer and his works. The facts of his life are shown and so are the plots of the stories, complete with commentary on the language used, the human characters and the non-human creatures. Writer Paul Roland also gives some idea of a tale’s success, both commercially and as art. Poor old H.P. had little commercial success in his lifetime but is well regarded as an artist posthumously.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born on 20th August 1890 into a reasonably wealthy family in Providence, Rhode Island, on the east coast of the United States. A spoilt childhood meant that he grew up believing he was entitled to the leisurely life of a gentleman. Unfortunately, his father died young and bad investments were made with the family fortune, which came from his mother’s side anyway. It dwindled slowly enough that he could just about survive on it and his meagre literary earnings helped a little. Luckily, he didn’t drink alcohol or take drugs and ate hardly anything.

His mother was of a nervous disposition and mollycoddled him. At the same time, she convinced him he was ugly. Lovecraft was very intelligent but inclined to be solitary as he found the raucous behaviour of other children strange. He read voraciously in his grandfather’s extensive library and learned to love Greek legends, ‘The Arabian Nights’ and the works of Lord Dunsany. He spent a lot of time on the Poe. Arthur Machen and M.R. James were significant influences. Perhaps it was his tastes in literature that led to his wild dreams of ‘night gaunts’ with flapping black wings that carried him over ancient, deserted cities abandoned by old gods or maybe he would have had them anyway. At any rate, he was not your average Joe.

A woman married him. I put it that way because he was not especially interested in ladies and she chased him, all the way to the altar in the end. Sonia Haft-Greene (1883-1972) was successful in the fashion industry, earning $10,000 dollars a year and was happy to keep Lovecraft in the style to which he was accustomed or better, while his talent flourished. Sonia loved him and believed he was a genius who would one day be recognised. She loved him even though she was a Jew and he was openly anti-Semitic. A remarkable woman and very attractive, too, by all accounts. Unfortunately, she fell on hard times and he could not get a job. When she had to move to Chicago to work, he stayed in New York for a while but soon enough moved back to Providence to live with his aunts. The separation became permanent. He didn’t seem to mind much. A strange character, possibly manic-depressive and almost certainly autistic. Yet he was a good friend to many, generous with his time and talent and even with his limited funds. He was also a gifted writer, as the many extracts herein demonstrate. I was pleased to read that my favourite Lovecraft story, ‘The Colour Out Of Space’, was also his favourite Lovecraft story. Clearly, he had good taste.

This is a wonderful book. The writing is informative and elegant and it’s obvious that Paul Roland is a huge fan. The appendices are nearly as good as the main text and include Lovecraft’s thoughts on how to write weird fiction and an essay about her time with him by his wife, Sonia. There is also an excellent section on Lovecraft adaptations in film, games and graphic novels with the best of each genre recommended by Roland. Chasing them all up might get expensive but I certainly intend to check out some. That said, the original stories are the best of Lovecraft and happily, I have them all.

When I finished this biography, I started reading one about Heinlein, a competent, confident successful man of his time, at the top of his chosen field of fiction for decades. One can hardly imagine two personalities more different than Heinlein and Lovecraft but I suspect that in a hundred years time Robert A. will be largely forgotten and H.P. will still be in print. Hell, he might even be on the school curriculum.

Eamonn Murphy
This review first appeared at https://www.sfcrowsnest.info/
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review 2019-06-15 10:20
Creature/cosmic horror, a great protagonist, and a fascinating historical setting
The Resurrectionists (The Salem Hawley Series) - Michael Patrick Hicks

Wow! I read and reviewed another novella by Michael Patrick Hicks not so long ago (or at least it remains very fresh in my mind), and I’d read great reviews for this novella as well, so I knew it would be good. In this novella, like in the previous one, the author manages to pack great (and pretty scary) action scenes, to create characters we care for, and to bring depth into the proceedings, with a great deal of sharp social commentary, all in a small number of pages.

This novella also combines elements from a large number of genres, and it does it well. Yes, it is horror (and “cosmic” horror fits it well) but that’s only the beginning. We have historical fiction (the 1788 Doctor’s riot, which took place in New York as a result of the actions of a number of medical students and their professors, known as Ressurrectionists [hence the title), who robbed graves to get bodies for study and experimentation, disproportionately those of African-Americans, was the inspiration for the whole series, as the author explains in the back matter); elements of gothic horror (fans of Frankenstein should check this novella out); some of the experiments brought to mind steam-punk, there are monsters and creatures (Lovecraftians will definitely have a field day); a grimoire written in an ancient  language with fragments of translations that brings the occult into the story (and yes, secret societies as well)… All this in the historical background of the years following the American War of Independence, characters traumatised by what they had lived through, and an African-American protagonist, Salem Hawley, who has to deal with the added trauma of past slavery on top of everything else.

The story is narrated in the third person, mostly from Hawley’s point-of-view, although we also get to see things from the perspective of some of the less savoury characters (not that anybody is whiter than snow here, and that ambiguity makes them all the more real), and it is a page turner, with set action pieces and scenes difficult to forget. The rhythm of the language helps ramp up the tension and the frenzy of some of the most memorable battle scenes (we have memories of real battles and also battles against… oh, you’ll have to read it to see), which will be very satisfying to readers who love creature/monster horror. There are also some metaphysical and contemplative moments, but those do not slow down the action, providing only a brief breather and helping us connect with the characters and motivations at a deeper level.

I guess it’s evident from what I’ve said, but just in case, I must warn readers that there is plenty of violence, extreme violence, gore, and scary scenes (especially for people how are afraid of monsters and strange creatures), but the monsters aren’t the only scary beings in the story (there is a scene centred on one of the students —the cruellest one, based on a real historical character— that made my skin crawl, and I think it’s unlikely to leave anybody feeling indifferent). Also, this is the first novella in a series, and although the particular episode of the riot reaches a conclusion, there are things we don’t know, mysteries to be solved, and intrigue aplenty as the novella ends (oh, and there’s a female character I’m very intrigued by), so people who like a neat conclusion with all the loose end tied, won’t find it here.

I have also mentioned the author’s note at the end of the book, explaining where the idea for the series came from, offering insights and links into some of the research he used, and also accounting for the historical liberties he took with some of the facts (I must confess I had wondered about that, and, as a doctor, there were scenes that stretched the suspension of disbelief. Fans of historical fiction might take issue with the factual inaccuracies if they are sticklers for details. Perhaps a brief warning at the beginning of the book might put them at ease, because I think that moving the note to the beginning could detract from the element of surprise and enjoyment). I was fascinated by this historical episode (I was more familiar with the body snatchers exploits in the UK), and I’ll be sure to read more about it.

A thrilling story, well-written, packed with action, creature and cosmic horror, a great protagonist and a fascinating historical background. I can’t wait for part 2!

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me an ARC copy of this novella that I freely chose to review.

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