Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Choasium Mythos Fiction: I Surrender: The Xothic Legend by Lin Carter

I set the folder aside as weariness overcame me.
                             from "Out of the Ages"


That line from one of Lin Carter's own Mythos stories describes exactly how I've come to feel about this book. Try as I might, even though bolstered by editor Robert Price's encouraging introduction to the book and each story, I was unable to work up any real enthusiasm for this book. I've read lots of atrocious Mythos stories over the decades but Lin Carter's are possibly the worst.

Instead of trying to mimic Lovecraft's storytelling style, or even August Derleth's, Lin Carter appears to have reached the conclusion that Cthulhu Mythos stories work best when they consist of long lists of difficult to pronounce names or the titles of fictional compendiums of forbidden lore.

Whether in the Dunsany-flavored "The Red Offering" set in primeval Mu, or the tales set in 1930's California, his approach is the same: throw some names at the reader and then show how every bit of Lovecraft minutiae is connected to every other bit. It's not a winning situation for the reader.

If you're a regular reader of this site or my Black Gate reviews, you know I've been on a bit of a Lin Carter tear of late. I would never argue that he's a lamentably overlooked author, but I was starting to hope he was a better one than I remembered from early encounters with his stories, as well as the general reading public.

While my recent reading of his first two Thongor (his tribute to REH's Conan and ERB's John Carter rolled up in one) was painful, I can tell you the Thongor short stories are great fun. Kellory the Warlock and the first Zanthodon novel were also entertaining. In that light I figured how bad could it be. The answer is, really, really, really bad.

The book's title derives from Xoth, the star from which Cthulhu, his wife, Idh-yaa. Okay, maybe she's only his common-law spouse, but they do have three kids together: Ghatonothoa, Ythogtha, and Zoth-Ommog. In the past they were worshipped by the citizens of Mu, now they are imprisoned. Their interaction with humanity comes through dreams and various servitors, like the wormlike Yuggs. Between them they've got lots and lots of tentacles.

The first batch of stories are tied together in what could have been an interesting way. In "The Red Offering" Carter introduces the Muvian sorcerer, Zanthu. In "The Dweller in the Tomb", an archaeologist goes searching for Zanthu's tomb. The following stories describe the fates of those who come into contact with or followup on the knowledge gleaned from the ancient grave site. Not very original, but interesting. Well, potentially.

That said, I'm throwing in the towel on The Xothic Cycle. I can't handle finishing this book. Even with the prospect of two Robert Price stories towards the end, I just can't do it. 

Instead of telling you why I'll just show you.

From "The Horror in the Gallery"

"Yes," Dr. Armitage nodded. "We have here at the library perhaps the greatest collection of books and documents regarding the Cthulhu mythology that exists in the entire world - probably the finest and most comprehensive collection ever compiled. Beside old Alhazred, we have Prinn and von Juntzt, the Pnakotic Manuscripts, the Norman French version of the Book of Eibon, the Celaeno Fragments, Cultes des Goules, both the R'lyeh Text and the Dhol Chants, the Hsan, the Cabala of Saboth and the Egyptian Black Rites, Porta, Remigius, a manuscript copy of Winters-Hall's translation of The Sussex Manuscript, a few pages of the Invocation to Dagon, and other works as well."

That same sort of list occurs time and time again throughout the half of the book I managed to read. Even "Perchance to Dream", a fun story starring Carter's simulacrum of Seabury Quinn's Jules de Grandin, Anton Zarnak, is marred by lists of names and books:


Zarnak consulted the books in the library. First he looked into a slim, cheaply produced pamphlet which bore the title The Zanthu Tablets and read of Great Ythogtha, the Abomination in the Abyss, imprisoned by the Elder Gods in Yhe. Then he consulted von Juntz, and found the following passage of interest:
Of the Spawn of Cthulhu, only Ythogtha lies prisoned in regions contiguous to sunken R'lyeh, for Yhe was once a province of Mu, and R'lyeh, is not far off the submerged shores of that riven, drowned continent; and Yhe and R'lyeh are close nigh unto each other, along dimensions not numbered among the three we know.


Carter seems constitutionally unable to refrain from explaining everything. There's no room for mystery in these stories. Since he hewed as closely to the story templates created by HPL (ex. find secret lore/object and go mad or discover unknown family connection to Mythos), the conclusions to every story are pretty much clear from the first paragraph. To make this sort of story successful, by which I mean fun to read, you've got to mix it up in the middle. 

That means there needs to be atmosphere or action or creepiness to make your time investment worthwhile. Leave some room for mystery to allow the reader's brain to fill in the gaps with it's own dread fantasies. That doesn't happen. 

So, despite all my best intentions and efforts, I'm walking away from this one. But it's okay. I started Robert Bloch's Mysteries of the Worm and it's already better. Eighteen year old Robert Bloch was a better writer than adult Lin Carter. It's exhilarating to go from one to the other and I'm already feeling better for it.

I'm also going to read the rest of the series in order as Price produced it. He had clear goals and plans in mind about when he edited the books. Several of his introductions in The Xothic Legend make references to stories and ideas in earlier collections. Read out of sequence I don't think I'd get the full effect and defense of his theories that Price intended.

For what it's worth, I read the following stories from The Xothic Legend.

The Red Offering - Crypt of Cthulhu #7 - 1982
The Dweller in the Tomb - Dark Things - 1971
The Thing in the Pit - Lost Worlds - 1980
Out of the Ages - Nameless Places - 1975
The Horror in the Gallery - The Disciples of Cthulhu (as "The Terror Out of Time" - 1976
The Winfield Heritance - Weird Tales #3 - 1981
Perchance to Dream - Crypt of Cthulhu #56 - 1988
Strange Manuscript Found in Vermont Woods - Crypt of Cthulhu #54 - 1988
Something in the Moonlight - Weird Tales #2 - 1981

I did not read the poems "Dreams from R'lyeh"

Next Time: Mysteries of the Worm: Early Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos by Robert Bloch

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Merry Christmas and All That

It's Christmas time here in stately Vredenburgh Manor and my reading time has been limited. I was hoping to finish off The Xothic Legend collection tonight and that just didn't happen. Also, if you didn't catch me saying it on the facebook, it's very, very dull. Try as I might to let Robert Price's introductions whip up some modicum of enthusiasm in me for Carter's stories, it just ain't happening. To get the taste out of my mouth, I'm going to try to read one of the books Carter republished in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, The Last Unicorn.

On the other hand, I am gearing up to see Gov't Mule Tuesday night, so I got that going for me. Actually, I'm very excited. The thing about the Mule is anybody can just show up and play with them. They also do all sorts of cool covers in addition to their own bluesy power trio originals. I don't see much live music these days other than the luminous Mrs. V's various bands so this is a big deal.



So that's all I got to say for now. I hope everybody has had a great Christmas ans has a Happy New Year's Eve.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Chaosium Mythos Fiction: Have You Seen the Yellow Sign? : The Hastur Cycle, edited by Robert M. Price

Introduction:

Starting with The Hastur Cycle in 1993, Chaosium Games started printing a series of  Lovecraftian fiction anthologies. Robert M. Price seems to have been in overall charge of the project, with others editing from time to time. Most of the volumes focus on a single aspect of the Mythos, be it a location, like Innsmouth, or a deity, like Cthulhu. Several collect the Mythos fiction of notable authors such as Clark Ashton Smith or Lin Carter. There are several general anthologies in the series, including a reprint of Edward Berglund's seminal Disciples of Cthulhu. You can read the previous entry here.

I'm hoping to reread and review as many of them as possible before I lose too many SAN points. I hope you'll drop by with each new post.

Pt. 1

I love Lovecraft. I love the betentacled, squamous, squelching monsters. I love the brooding atmosphere and cosmic horror. I love the strings of adjectives. I love I share my birthday, August 20th, with him. 

The understandable debate around the appropriateness of using the Gahan Wilson bust of HPL for the World Fantasy Award doesn't change the centrality of his work to weird fiction. He wasn't alone in introducing cosmic weirdness or non-supernatural evil into horror fiction, but I'd argue he's the most important person to have done so. If vampires and werewolves were proving less frightening in an age of growing secularism and scientific progress, he he shows you how the universe is still a harrowing, psyche shredding place. In his best, scariest stories, man is a speck 


I started reading Lovecraft when I was almost eleven years. The very first story I read was "The Festival." It was the night of the 1977 NYC Blackout and I read it out loud to my friend, Jesse B. who was sleeping over while his parents were out of town. It didn't really scare us but it was creepy enough to make me read the rest of the book, The Shadow Over Innsmouth and Other Stories of Horror published by Scholastic Books( !). 

As an introduction to HPL's work, it was a pretty alright place to star. While it includes weaker stories like "The Transition of Juan Romero" and "Imprisoned With the Pharaohs", it also has the monumental "The Colour Out of Space" and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth." That book made me a fan for life. 


Pt. II

The Hastur Cycle, edited by Robert M. Price, is a good book with some dull stories in it.  That isn't as contradictory as it sounds. For each gem there's a snoozer only worth reading for its place in the development of the Lovecraft Mythos. Price, one of the major contemporary Lovecraftian, scholars lays a marker down in his forward about what he hoped to accomplish in this volume and I believe he makes a pretty good case for himself.

Price makes the claim that Lovecraft's mythos is part of a larger body of work that includes stories that predate his own. The HPL tentpole story in the book is "The Whisperer in Darkness." There are works that inspired Lovecraft by Ambrose Bierce, Robert Chambers, and Arthur Machen. Then there are stories that followed in HPL's wake by the likes of Karl Edward Wagner, August Derleth, and James Blish,

August Derleth wrote to Lovecraft that he should call the emerging shared world of stories The Hastur Mythos. While Price thinks Derleth just wanted to use the name of the god that was starting to loom large in his own stories, it evinces a brief moment of insight on the young author's part. The shared world of tales shouldn't be named after HPL's own creation but one that indicated the Mythos extended before HPL and would continue to beyond him into the future. 

The first two stories, "Haïta the Shepherd" (1891) and "An Inhabitant of Carcosa" (1886) by Ambrose Bierce, introduce some of the names that will become part of the central invented lore concerning the figure of Hastur. In the first, Hastur is a the god worshipped by the titular character. The second is a presented as the transcription of a spirit speaking through a medium. This is where the ruined city of Carcosa is mentioned and Hastur's eventual home, the star Aldebaran, first appears.

I don't have anything to say about the two (very short) tales. Their importance lies in helping inspire the next two stories, Robert W. Chambers' nutzoid "The Repairer of Reputations" (1895) and "The Yellow Sign (1895)." Chambers took character and place names from Bierce and added The King In Yellow, a fictional, decadent play apt to drive its readers mad. Mixing these elements together, there's a hint of reality that only heightens the more disturbing parts of his stories.


"Repairer" is a story told by a man manipulating his way to ruling an alternate 1895 America, replete with state sponsored suicide chambers along Washington Square Park and a German invasion of New Jersey. Or it's mad man with head trauma spinning his delusions into a web of paranoia and murder. 

Whichever it is, that dangerous book, The King in Yellow that sits at the heart of the narrator's tale. This startled the heck out of me when I first read it twenty years ago and it still does today.

"The King in Yellow" is a more straigh forward frightener. A louche artist (and reader of The King in Yellow) living near Washington Square Park, sees a strange man working at a nearby church. Soon his dreams are invaded and things start to go terribly wrong. His relationship with his virginal model starts to go wrong and soon all sorts of unpleasantness occurs.

Chamber's invented book clearly points in the direction of Lovecraft's own tome, the Necronomicon and all the various invented volumes evil lore that followed. Only the barest hints of the contents of the The King in Yellow are given which of course lets the reader's imagination run wild. Just where is Lake Hali and what is the Pallid Mask? What is the Yellow Sign that the narrator is asked if he's fouind? This is a magniicent story that still disturbs more than a century after it was written.


Stealing a line from "Over at the Frankenstein Place" from Rocky Horror, "The River of Night's Dreaming" (first published in Whispers III, 1981), by Karl Edward Wagner, is an excursion into madness, again triggered by The King in Yellow. An escapee from a psychiatric hospital finds herself involved in dark, decadent doings in a old mansion in an abandoned and decaying town. Again, is it real or madness?  I'm a big fan of Wagner's but I never particularly cared for this story. Rereading it in the context Price has created I liked it much more. The descent into despair or madness the protagonist suffers is well portrayed and quite unnerving.

While primairly a science-fiction writer (Cities in Flight, A Case of Conscience) and critic, James Blish, like so many others, was a youthful correspondent with the Old Gent from Providence on matters of horror. Part of a real letter he wrote to Lovecraft, asking if he ever intended to write a complete version of the Necronomicon, forms part of Blish story "More Light (first in Alchemy and Academe, 1970)." It posits that Chambers actually sat down and wrote out The King in Yellow and Lovecraft came into possession of it. A writer named William Atheling (Blish's own real-world pen name) has come into possession of it and he wants his friend to read it.

The contemporary portion of the story is good enough, but, sadly, by attempting what Chambers and Lovecraft never did, in creating large chunks of text for The King in Yellow, the story falls flat. It's neither chilling or disturbing. But I don't think that matters. I don't think it's possible for anyone, even a writer as talented as Blish, to create a play that's able to generate madness.

Arthur Machen's "The Novel of the Black Seal" (1895) seems to have introduced the idea of a race of semi-human beings who live under the earth and are the truth behind stories of the little people and changelings. Machen drew on Margaret Murray's silly theories of pastoral, goddess-worshipping humans who retreated into the the wild spaces of England. Price believes that Machen's story informed Lovecraft's own stories of strange creatures living and lurking behind the legends.

The story is a part of Machen's novel of interwoven tales, The Three Impostors. A young woman, destitute and on the verge of giving up, encounters an eminent scientist. He hires her as his children's governess thereby saving her from despair but also bringing her in to contact with the primal terrors lurking under England's green and pleasant hills. I love this one and it's borne up well after multiple rereadings.

Finally we come to Lovecraft's own "The Whisperer in Darkness (first in Weird Tales, 1931)." It's linked to Bierce's stories by the use of Hastur, though clearly he's no longer a shepherd's god. There are also mentions of the Yellow Sign, the Lake of Hali, and Dunsany's Bethmoora for good measure.

For those who haven't read it, well, you should. It's one of Lovecraft's big ones. While less subtle than I remembered, it still does a great job at creating a feeling of impending isolation and doom as the mysterious being hiding in the Vermont hills take action to prevent their discovery. The ending might seem cliched at this point but the first time I read it I was suitably creeped out.

A professor from Miskatonic University is caught up in a debate over whether strange bodies found in the wake of the Great Flood of 1927 are simply bloated animals or strange beings said to live on isolated hilltops. He is skeptical of any claims of boogie men hiding in the woods. Soon after his argument graces the pages of the newspapers he begins he is receiving letters, and later phonograph records, from a retired academic in Vermont that begin to make him change his mind.

Price makes a strong case, based on the general theme of a hidden race, as well as numerous little tips of the hat to Machen, that Lovecraft's story is "essentially a rewriting, a new version of Machen's."

Reading them back to back, I can see his point. Instead of human throwbacks hiding behinds stories of goblins, it's aether-riding aliens (winged, fungus-crab things from beyond our solar system if you must know) obscured by stories of the Yeti and strange figures moving above the Vermont treetops by night. This (and Robert Bloch's "Notebook Found in a Deserted House") made me more than a little uneasy during my first drive through the Vermont woods decades ago.


Robert Lupoff's "Documents in the Case of Elizabeth Akeley" (first in F&SF, 1982) is a sequel to Lovecraft's "Whisperer." It takes claims made by the antagonists in the earlier story seriously and spins out what might have happened next. It's an interesting spin on things but I found it dull. Dull to the point I had to keep forcing myself to pick the book back up and finish the story. Ultimately, it's pretty much a body-swap love-story mashup that I could've done without.

"The Mine on Yuggoth" is one of Ramsey Campbell's earliest stories, first seeing print in The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants (1964) which was published when he was still a teenager. It's not great, but it's not terrible either. There's a verve that I've rarely found in stories by those other pasticheurs, August Derleth and Lin Carter. More of a science-fantasy story than horror, there are still a few very good bits that make it more than worth the fifteen minutes or so it takes to read.

James Wade's "Planetfall on Yuggoth" (HPL, 1972) is about a space mission to Pluto. Lovecraft's fiction exists in the story but it soon becomes clear it was more than just storytelling. Then we discover Ramsey Campbell's stories are more than fiction as well. It's slight, a bit of a goof, and perfectly enjoyable.

Then we get smacked in the face by August Derleth's terrible "The Return of Hastur (Weird Tales, 1939)." It's one of his early Mythos stories and I can't say anything about it except it's awful. Price's introduction includes a letter from Clark Ashton Smith to Derleth advising him how to fix the story. Every bit of advice was rejected and the story suffers for it.

Aside from the whole elemental take on the Mythos he would become infamous stinking up the story, Derleth's characters are never believable. There's barely a moment of suspicion or incredulity about the spooky goings on. Within a few pages people are glibly talking about strange fish-men from Innsmouth and gods and demons. And none of it's scary, or fun, or even very interesting.

It feels like Derleth wanted to fit the disparate bits and pieces of Lovecraft's stories and make it all make sense. Price states that Lovecraft explicitly didn't want everything to make sense: "Lovecraft always explained to correspondents that he did not achieve perfect consistency in his various stories, say, in what each said about Cthulhu or the Necronomicon, for the very good reason that he wanted his shuddery allusions to these eldritch items to reflect the inconsistencies, duplications, and redundancies of actual ancient myth cycles, where, e.g., we find two of three origin tales for the same goddess or shrine."

Things pick up considerably with "The Feaster from Afar" by Joseph Payne Brennan. It was first published in the original Disciples of Cthulhu (1976) but rights issues meant it didn't make Chaosium's reprint. Price was able to snag it for the 2nd edition of The Hastur Cycle.

Again it's set in the "real" world, where Lovecraft exists and is a writer strange stories that turn out to be real. I don't love that conceit, never finding it to work very well. How did HPL write what he did without getting killed right away? Nobody except the narrator or some inbred yokel knows he was telling the truth? Nope, it just doesn't work for me.

On the other hand, the story itself is pretty alright. A successful writer of mid-list historical fiction makes the mistake of going to Lovecraft country to find some peace and quiet so he can work on his next novel. Try to guess what happens to him. Despite it's lack of an original plot, Brennan does a good job with it and the feeling of swiftly encroaching doom is well done.

The Hastur Cycle concludes with a series of poems by Lin Carter. Inspired by Bierce, Chambers, and James Blish's work in "More Light." They're a mess and Price says so as well. Carter was driven by the need to make all the pieces fit together and make sense even more than Derleth. As much as I'm looking forward to reading The Xothic Cycle, Carter's collected Mythos stories, these poems made me dread it a little bit as well.


Pt. III

There are better books in this series than The Hastur Cycle but not many that make Price's case as well as this one. Each step of the way you can see how each story sort of moves on to the next one: Lovecraft builds on Machen and on Chambers who built on Bierce. Wagner looks back to Chambers and Wade looks to Lovecraft and Campbell. The book makes as good a case as possible that the Cthlhu Mythos is something greater and more inclusive than just the stories of HPL.

From the forward:

"In the same way, it seems to me highly misleading to take Lovecraft's stories and myth-concepts as the definitive version and to view Chambers and the others as leading up to it, Derleth and the others as representing a declension from it. Each has its own integrity, its own priority. Lovecraft has his moment upon the stage, but then he is replaced by a new teller of a new version."

When this volume first came out, many of these stories were not familiar to me at all. "Repairer of Reputations" blew me away and still does. It's the same for "The Novel of the Black Seal." I don't totally agree with Price's thesis, but I know he comes back to it again in later volumes. As much as Lovecraft drew on earlier authors I think he was doing something entirely different than them. I also see too many of the later authors as too more concerned with mimicking HPL instead of trying to contribute to a larger, inclusive Mythos. Still, after finishing The Hastur Cycle I admit I'm looking forward to see if I can be swayed to Price's side.

The later, post-HPL stories are a decidedly mixed bag of tentacles and pincers. Several are very early examples of Mythos fiction. Sadly, Derleth's is a perfect example of the bad path taken by many other writers. Explain everything, don't bother to build any sort of atmosphere, then explain everything a second time. It's not good.

Still, if you want to see how this great blobby mass that is the Cthlhu Mythos was influenced and grew, this is a good place to start. The less well known stories were hard to come by in 1993. By pulling them together with several important (and great) ones Price did a great service for Mythos readers. Price's essays are major bits of Mythos scholarship, well worth reading. Definitely get the 2nd edition with "The Feaster from Afar" in it.


Next Time: The Xothic Cycle, The Complete Mythos Fiction of Lin Carter, edited by Robert M. Price.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Mail Bag

It's been a while since I've mentioned new books bought. So here goes.

This was on sale and I wanted a digital version of Ramsey Campbell's "The Tugging." And there's a Charles Saunder's story in there to boot.


Reading a lot of hardboiled over the past month prompted me to finally get a copy of this



I only recently learned of Kersh and the terrific title story. For $1.99 you can't go wrong.


This I borrowed for free from Amazon. I like the Christopher Lee movie based on it, and loved his first novel, A Scent of New-Mown Hay


'Cause why not? Great so far.


This just popped up on radar last night. For $.99 how could I not buy it even without the gorgeous Josh Kirby covers.

Between this omnibus, the rest of the Thongor books, and the upcoming Xothic Cycle, it looks like I'm going to be having a very Lin Cartery New Year.

Finally, I should have the first Chaosium Mythos Fiction review up this week. The Hastur Cycle, despite some weak stories, has really rekindled hpl, my interest in Mythos stories. This site's gonna become very Cthulhuly for the next few months.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Have You Read the Book Bound in Pale Leather? - P.C. Hodgell

One of the original goals of blogging here and at Black Gate was to promote books that have fallen under the larger fantasy readership's radar. Be it due to age, lousy marketing, or simple bad luck, they haven't garnered the attention they deserve.

P.C. Hodgell's Kencyrath series is definitely a treasure too many people seemed to have missed. Don't get me wrong, I think there's a fair amount of critical appreciation of the books, and, going by her site (http://tagmeth.livejournal.com/), she's got a pretty hardcore and involved group of fans. But when your read lists of important fantasy books you don't see Hodgell's name.

 In  a day when there's increasing clamor for female action heroes you'd think cat-clawed Jame would be just what folks want. I consider it pretty criminal that these books are not as commercially as successful as many much less worthy books.

God Stalk was the fifth review I did for Black Gate. It's still one of my favorite books and I never saw much about it so I knew I had to tell folks about it. I think I was pretty successful and I hope that continues as I work my way through the rest of the series.

Since then I've reviewed the first two sequels; Dark of the Moon over the summer, and Seeker's Mask just today. In the next few months I hope to get to the rest of the series, none of which I've read before.

I haven't read them because Hodgell writes books dense with plots and characters and she doesn't make it easy to follow along at times. Every time a new book's come out I felt I need to go back to the beginning and get back up to speed. Well, that never happened. Until now.

Chaosium Mythos Update - Real life intruded and I'm a little behind finishing off The Hastur Cycle. I'm hoping to get it done next week. I've got Thongor books to read and a presentation on Stapleton, my Staten Island hometown, to deliver (and I don't love public speaking, so that's got me a little freaked out.) Oh, and Thanksgiving.  So soon, but not this week.

I'm also not sure if I'll write about the Mythos books in order. For some reason #13,The Xothic Legend Cycle by Lin Carter is plaintively crying out to me. Maybe it's my fate this year to rouse a little interest in the late ultimate fan.

So that's all for now. Have a happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Charles Saunders' Abengoni Gets Reviewed

My review of Charles "Father of Swords & Soul" Saunders Abengoni: First Calling went up this morning at Black Gate. It's his first effort at writing epic fantasy instead of his more usual S&S. He's succeeded brilliantly.

Abengoni features a larger cast and number of narrative lines than anything else I've read by Saunders before. There's even a glossary of people, places, and things in the back.

Unlike they typical fantasy doorstopper, A:FC comes in at under 400 pages unlike Erikson's bazillion page long Malazan tomes. Saunders doesn't wast time and wordage, instead keeping things on target.

The sideplots he does include never lose sight of what they're doing; introducing characters and exploring things not readily important but that will be. Too many epics get lost in jungles of extraneous matters that make you pine for the them to get back to telling the main story. A: FC doesn't do that at all.

I was surprised when a commenter over at Black Gate said he had never heard of Saunders. That he isn't a much more well known writer is one of those things that just makes me scratch his head. Imaro was groundbreaking as well as great S&S. It's one of the first times African themes were used as the basis for a fantasy world, eschewing the typical European tropes of Fantasyland.

But I get it. I only became aware of Saunders in 2001. At that point he'd fallen silent for a decade an a half and his novels were long out of print. I tracked them down in used book stores but it wasn't easy. Getting my hands on The Trail of Bohu, the third and final book in the series (At that point. A fourth has, The Naama War, has since been published), was extremely satisfying.

Now the man is on a roll. He's cranking out books, getting them published come Hell or highwater. He's working with Milton Davis editing anthologies. Which is great for me as a reader.

Last week I learned the Muffs, one of my favorite bands, have a new album out. It's their first in ten years. When I wrote this past weekend I listed to all their albums.





Sunday, November 9, 2014

Chaosium's Mythos Fiction

   Way back in October 1993, Chaosium, publisher of the Call of Cthulhu RPG, started publishing what was to become a long line of short story anthologies centered around various elements of Lovecraft's fiction. From the very first book, The Hastur Cycle, edited by Robert M. Price, it was clear this was going to be an intriguing series. Not only was it going to include Lovercraft's own stories and those of authors inspired by him, it was also going to include other writers who had served as influences on him. This meant Bierce, Dunsanay, Machen and Chambers were going to get a chance to be read alongside the Lovercraft stories they helped inspire.


   I've managed to get my hands on the most of the series. I bought most of them in the  NYC Compleat Strategist as they were published. They looked more like game supplements than fiction anthologies and were stacked on the shelf right next to the CoC rules and supplements. Later ones I picked up via Amazon. 


In certain cases I didn't pick up second editions (The Book of Eibon) when they became available, while in others I did (The Hastur Cycle, and Encyclopedia Cthulhiana). I only bought the new editions when they had something extra to offer. The Hastur Cycle wasn't able to get the rights to Joseph Payne Brennan's "The Feaster from Afar" the first time around.

Maybe the book collecting gods think that's sacrilegious but I've always been more interested in the contents of a book than the cover. The Tindalos Cycle, published not by Chaosium but by Hippocampus Press, I'm only finally getting while typing this. I also never bought The Klarkash-Ton Cycle: Clark Ashton Smith's Cthulhu Mythos Fiction as I already owned the magnificent Night Shade Books omnibuses and I can't justify the replication. Again, those book collecting gods must be looking to toss a lightning bolt or two my way.


 It's an amazing series. Price is one of the leading authorities on HPL's fiction and weird fiction in general. He's not the sole editor of the series but he seems to have been the driving force behind it. He brings a fan's love of the stories and some often pretty serious literary theorizing to his essays in each collection that lacks (mostly) the often arrogant style of S. T. Joshi, the other great HPL authority. I sometimes think Joshi dislikes pulp fiction and want to elevate HPL above his origins while Price seems to revel in the good, pulpiness of many of the original Mythos stories. That said, the volumes of Robert W. Chambers and Arthur Machen's fiction are edited by Joshi.


   The stories, mostly reprints, are a great amount to one the greatest surveys of Mythos fiction. Stories by Chambers are contained in the same volume as ones by Karl Edward Wagner, Richard Lupoff, Lin Carter, and Lovecraft himself. Several of the volumes are reprints of earlier significant volumes of Mythos stories. If you want to see how this sub-genre of weird fiction was born and evolved over the decades this is one of the greatest ways to do it. 


1. The Hastur Cycle, ed. Robert M. Price
2. Mysteries of the Worm by Robert Bloch
3. Cthulhu's Heirs, ed. Thomas M. K. Stratman
4. The Shub-Niggurath Cycle: Tales of the Black Goat With a Thousand Young, ed. Robert M. Price
5. Encylopedia Cthulhiana by Daniel Harms
6. The Azathoth Cycle: Tales of the Blind Idiot God, ed. Robert M. Price
7. The Book of Iod by Henry Kuttner
8. Made in Goatswood: New Tales of Horror in the Severn Valley, ed.  Scott David Aniolowski
9. The Dunwich Cycle: Where the Old Gods Wait, ed. Robert M. Price
10. The Disciples of Cthulhu: 2nd Revised Edition, ed. Ed Berglund
11. The Cthulhu Cycle: Thirteen Tentacles of Terror, ed. Robert M. Price
12. The Necronomicon: Selected Stories and Essays Concerning the Blasphemous Tome of the Mad Arab, ed. Robert M. Price
13. The Xothic Legend Cycle: The Complete Mythos Fiction of Lin Carter, ed. Robert M. Price
14. The Nyarlathotep Cycle: The God of a Thousand Forms, ed. Robert M. Price
15. Singer of Strange Songs: A Celebration of Brian Lumley, ed. Scott  David Aniolowski
16. The Scroll of Thoth: Tales of Simon Magus and the Great Old Ones by Richard L. Tierney
17. The Complete Pegāna: All the Tales Pertaining to the Fabulous Realm of Pegāna, ed. S. T. Joshi
18. The Innsmouth Cycle: The Taint of the Deep Ones, ed. Robert M. Price
19. The Ithaqua Cycle: The Wind-Walker of the Icy Wastes, ed. Robert M. Price
20. The Antarktos Cycle, ed. Robert M. Price
21. Tales Out of Innsmouth: New Tales of the Children of Dagon, ed. Robert M. Price
22. The Book of Dzyan by Madame Blavatsky
23. The Yellow Sign and Other Tales: The Complete Weird Tales of         Robert W. Chambers, ed. S. T. Joshi
24. The Three Impostors and Other Stories: Machen 1, ed. S. T. Joshi
25. Song of Cthulhu: Tales of the Spheres Beyond Sound, ed. Stephen       Mark Rainey
26. Nameless Cults: The Cthulhu Mythos Fiction of Robert E. Howard, ed. Robert M. Price
27. The Book of Eibon, ed. Robert M. Price
28. The Disciples of Cthulhu II, ed. Ed Berglund
29. The White People and Other Stories: Machen 2, ed. S. T. Joshi
30. The Terror and Other Stories: Machen 3, ed. S. T. Joshi
31. The Tsathoggua Cycle: Terror Tales of the Toad God, ed. Robert M. Price
32. The Yith Cycle: Lovecraftian Tales of the Great Race and Time Travel, ed. Robert M. Price
33. The Tindalos Cycle ed. Robert M. Price

Those are the books I have and the ones I consider the real series started all those years ago with The Hastur Cycle. Chaosium published a few novels under the series banner but I've dismissed them. They don't serve as part of the massive survey of Mythos short fiction. All are otiginal, contemporary works and haven't had any time to play in the development of this massive body of communal work that goes back over eighty years.

There are also a few anthologies that have been produced without the guiding hands of Robert Price. They also don't look as good as the ones he oversaw. For both those reasons I haven't bothered buying them.

Keith West's review of Lin Carter's The Spawn of Cthulhu got me thinking about "The Whisperer in the Darkness", one of my favorite HPL stories. That in turn got me thinking about this series. It's on the top shelf so I don't pull any of its volumes down that often. Considering the time and effort I spent acquiring the books that seemed a little sad. 


So I'm going to start rereading them and reviewing them. I'd love to read one a week but I know that's not going to happen. I'm too slack and I don't want to fall behind in my other reviewing plans and obligations.


I'm also not sure if I'll review all of them. Some, like The Book of Eibon and The Book of Dzyan are really collections of "esoteric wisdom", explicitly fictional in the first and purportedly true but obviously nonsense in the second. I'm probably not going to do more than skim them. I've already read and reviewed Richard Tierney's The Scroll of Thoth several years ago (didn't like it), so I'm not going to do it again.

However this works out, it's going to be a fun project and I hope folks find it interesting.