A few weeks back, I was asked if I'd be interested in reviewing a new Cthlulhu Mythos anthology. My own failed attempt to plow thru a shelf full of Mythos stories last winter inclined me to say no, but then I learned it was a themed collection: all the stories were set after the victory of the monsters. So I said yes.
It's called Apotheosis: Stories of Human Survival After The Rise of The Elder Gods and is edited by Jason Andrew. The book is from Simian Publishing and is available in paperback and e-book forms.
In all my years of (which is exactly 38 years, 3 months, and 17 days - The first HPL story I read was "The Festival" on the night of the NYC Blackout of 1977), I've come across only a few that dared to look at a world under the thumb of the Old Ones and their minions. In fact, the only one that leaps to mind is Basil Cooper's "Shaft Number 247" and it's over thirty years old.
Too often, Mythos stories fall into familiar patterns involving all too familiar props. We all know them: things no man should know, Byakhees, inbred families, evil tomes, etc. There's only so many variations on those things even the best writers can do, so Apotheosis intrigued me even before I cracked the cover.
Between the two covers of this collection of grimmer than the grimmest Warhammer Space Marine, are eighteen tales by authors I am mostly unfamiliar with. On finishing it, I found a few writers I'll keep a weather eye open for in the future and one or two I'll probably pass on.
Apotheosis kicks off with one of the best Mythos stories I have read in a very long time: "The Smiling People" by Andrew Peregrine. In a city surrounded by a high wall built of rubble and bodies, the narrator and his fellow humans live under the constant attention of the titular Smiling People.
They always stand perfectly still, and move quickly when you aren't paying any attention. The most unnerving thing about them though is their faces. They are all the same, blank white ovals, broken only by a huge smiling mouth of sharpened teeth
In "The Pestilence of Pandora Peaslee" by Peter Rawlik, pro-human partisans attempt to overthrow the Yithians. Even though they've turned the Earth into a paradise of clean energy and halted global warming. Its lengthy historical exposition is a little too lengthy, but it doesn't hamper the story too much.
"Daily Grind" posits the place of a psychiatrist under the Old Ones' dominion. The madness of the protagonist's patients loops in and out of her own as she struggles to stay on the right side of her masters. Perhaps one of the blackest tales in the book as instead of tired old monsters it looks at how a person's soul is twisted in a time when the stars are right and all the angles wrong.
L. K. Whyte's "What Songs We Sing" holds out the slenderest reed of hope against the Old Ones, as a woman manages to escape to the countryside.
Adrian Simmons, editor extraordinaire of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly (and a friend), brings on the mayhem with "Dilution Solution." The surviving remnants of humanity live in deep underground warrens. Soldiers augmented with cybernetic enhancements lead raids into the world above. In this tale, one of them sidelined by a failed psych eval is itching to get back into the fray. Unlike the previous tale, this one holds out no hope, only madness.
"Earth Worms" by Cody Goodfellow, editor of last year's Deepest, Darkest Eden, a collection of Clark Ashton Smith-inspired stories, posits the real purpose of humanity: preparing planets for the cockroaches.
A mutated girl, tries to escape the control of Empress Tsan-Chan, in Joshua Reynold's "Eliza." I won't claim to understand exactly what happened in this, but I like the mad mix of cloned Whateleys, magic, and the appearance of the Hounds of Tindalos.
June Violette introduces a Dunsanian tone in "Footprints in the Snow." A young girl promises a new land free of terror to the children of a small town.
"To the Letter" by Jeffrey Fowler is about what a man and his family do when he's drafted by the Fungi from Yuggoth for immortality. Short with a double dosed nasty ending.
Madness, mad gods, and drugs make set the stage for Steve Berman's Namimbian-set "The Balm of Sperrgebiet is the Krokodil." A little vague and hazy for my tastes, but reflective of the narrator's mental predicament.
"Of the Fittest" by Evan Dicken (whom I've reviewed at Black Gate) is another military themed story. In this one, a veteran of Hastur's armies returns from his enlistment to find his friends and neighbors ready to draft him into the resistance. This is another existentially bleak story. Only those able to balance the coldest of equations stand a chance to survive in a world of endless insanity and misery.
"Overcome" by Jason Vanhee makes clear there's as little hope for Christians as anybody else in an Old One run world.
Escape is illusory in "Paradise 2.0" by Glynn Owen Barrass. Again, there is no hope whatever you might think you see or believe.
Madness provides a sort of shield against the advent of the Old Ones to a patient at the Arizona State Mental Hospital in Jeff C. Carter's "The Divine Proportion." Just not enough to survive.
In "The Resistance and the Damned" by Gustavo Bondoni (whom I've also reviewed at Black Gate), the Old Ones taunt a man who has tried to thwart them with murder and insanity.
Jonathan Woodrow's "Twilight of the Gods" assumes the worst of some people and to what depths they will sink to survive under the Old Ones. People can sell other people to the gods who now rule the world from office suites. While I like the idea that the seller gets more money based on much the loss of the particular person they sell costs them, the basic setup feels very out of place in a Mythos setting.
The closing story is "Venice Burning" by A. C. Wise. The first line, "When R'lyeh rose, it rose everywhere, everywhen." is a curiosity piquing one that is never satisfied with a story that is diffuse and unclear.
For a Mythos story to be successful, for me, it must find a new way to approach material that's been mined for eighty years now. If it can catch the mood, the atmosphere of Lovecraft's not just juggling the bits of timeworn stagecraft around for the umpteenth time. Enough stories in Apotheosis manage that difficult task that I can recommend it to Mythos readers.
For those not already fans of Lovecraftian stories, be prepared for darkness. There are no happy endings, no room for sentiment, nor relief. Not that it's a genre given to those things, but the despair that fills this particular volume is so dense not the least bit of light can escape its pages.