Cthulhu Everlasting

Black Wings of Cthulhu: 21 Tales of Lovecraftian Horror: edited by S.T. Joshi (2011) containing:

“Pickman’s Other Model (1929)” by Caitlin R. Kiernan
“Desert Dreams” by Donald R. Burleson
“Engravings” by Joseph S. Pulver, Jr.
“Copping Squid” by Michael Shea
“Passing Spirits” by Sam Gafford
“The Broadsword” by Laird Barron
“Usurped” by William Browning Spencer
“Denker’s Book” by David J. Schow
“Inhabitants of Wraithwood” W.H. Pugmire
“The Dome” by Millie L. Burleson
“Rotterdam” by Nicholas Royle
“Tempting Providence” by Jonathan Thomas
“Howling in the Dark” by Darrell Schweitzer
“The Truth about Pickman” by Brian Stableford
“Tunnels” by Philip Haldeman
“The Correspondence of Cameron Thaddeus Nash” annotated by Ramsey Campbell
“Violence, Child of Trust” by Michael Cisco
“Lesser Demons” by Norman Partridge
“An Eldritch Matter” by Adam Niswander
“Substitution” by Michael Marshall Smith
“Susie” by Jason Van Hollander

An excellent anthology of all-new stories inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, edited by Lovecraft expert S.T. Joshi. Joshi wisely didn’t limit his writers to the Cthulhu Mythos, or even to explicit references to Lovecraft’s work. Instead, there’s a more general mandate of the weird and the cosmic (or ‘cosmicism’) at work here, though the explicitly Cthulhuesque is also welcome.

There really isn’t a bad story in the bunch, and there are a number of standouts. Laird Barron’s “The Broadsword” works within Barron’s own Children of Old Leech mythology of terrible doings behind the walls of our world. Norman Partridge serves up a monstrous invasion within a narrative that works within the hardboiled parameters of the novels of James M. Cain and Jim Thompson. Ramsey Campbell has some fun with Lovecraft’s near-obsessive letter-writing, while the protagonist of Jonathan Thomas’s “Tempting Providence” seems to meet the ghost of HPL…or is something much more cosmic and sinister going on? Oh, that three-lobed burning eye!

One of the interesting things about the collection is that three stories — “Pickman’s Other Model (1929)” by Caitlin R. Kiernan, “Inhabitants of Wraithwood” W.H. Pugmire, and “The Truth about Pickman” by Brian Stableford — all deal with Lovecraft’s transitional-phase short story “Pickman’s Model” in various ways. It’s a story that was adapted in a mediocre fashion for Night Gallery, but it’s also probably the Lovecraft story with the most-quoted final line. Hell, Joanna Russ turned that line into the title of a story!

HPL’s original story is transitional in the sense that while it looks ahead to the Cthulhu universe in which horror is all around us, waiting to be discovered, it also uses beings — Lovecraft’s version of ghouls, to be specific — which are treated in a somewhat more whimsical, less horrific fashion in Lovecraft’s Dunsanian novel The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, in which they actually aid the narrator during his voyage through the Dream Lands. These stories offer radically different takes on the original material: the authors definitely don’t think the same way about the stately ghouls of Boston.

In any case, Joshi offers a pip of an anthology here, complete with a useful introduction. At least five of these stories (by my count) have already been anthologized in various ‘Best of’ and Cthulhu compilation volumes, which is pretty good for a book that’s barely a year old. And the cover of the paperback is sweet. Highly recommended.

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