The secret of quality Lovecraft inspired stories, to my personal tastes at any rate, is demonstrated by the majority of stories in this collection, edited by Hugo and Bram Stoker Award-winning editor Ellen Datlow. The challenge met by many of the pieces selected by Datlow is transferring elements of Lovecraft's work, such as mood and subtle characterization, into a setting or circumstance that, while clearly influenced by the source, extends those ideas into a new direction including culture, setting and time period. The organization of the text as a whole, including the front (Foreword by Stefan Dziemianowicz) and back matter ("Monster Index"), contributes to a high quality presentation of the stories, even if a few fall flat for this reader.
|John Coulthart provides evocative |
and creepy illustrations such
as this one that precedes "Red
Goat Black Goat.
Some stories such as "Only the End of the World Again" by Neil Gaiman and "Black As the Pit, From Pole to Pole" by the duo of Howard Waldrop and Steve Utley take a monster mash-up approach by pairing Lovecraftian creatures with more familiar ones (the Wolf Man and Frankenstein's Monster respectively). While entertaining and clever to this fan of Lawrence Talbot and the traditional horror icons, it is the more straightforward "new" tales that kept me reading. In each case, the author chooses to mix another literary genre with a dash of Lovecraft to effectively deliver compelling new takes on familiar creature. Standouts include:
- "Bulldozer" by Laird Barron, pages 33-62. Set in the Old West, this is the story of a "Pinkerton man" on a "hunting expedition to the West." (48) As a bulldozer, a colloquialism for an investigator/security, our protagonist Jonah Koenig is on the trail of a criminal. This is not just any ordinary bad guy, however, but an individual who very clearly has taken part in rituals and dark magic related to Belphagor, one of the seven princes of Hell. Employing a contemporary narrative structure to the story (translation: unusual chronology of plot points), Barron ratchets up the tension and drama. As a fan of the neo-Western, I found this one very engaging.
- "That of Which We Speak When We Speak of the Unspeakable" by Nick Mamatas, pages 303-312. Mamatas' vignette is a snapshot of a trio of revelers awaiting the end of the world, beginning of a return of the old Gods, depending on how you look at it. The characters reflect this dual anticipation in that one welcomes them, acting as a self-appointed prophet, while others fear for what is to come. The contemporary setting and familiar perspectives on the nature love in modern society help to make this a particular relatable story. While some of the stories in the anthology only suggest Lovecraft's creatures (for example "Bulldozer"),"That of Which" explicitly namedrops the shoggoths who arrive to welcome the new day (night).