Best Spoken Underwater

New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird: edited by Paula Guran (2012) containing the following stories:

“The Crevasse”, Dale Bailey & Nathan Ballingrud; “Old Virginia”, Laird Barron; “Shoggoths in Bloom”, Elizabeth Bear; “Mongoose”, Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette; “The Oram County Whoosit”, Steve Duffy; “A Study in Emerald”, Neil Gaiman; “Grinding Rock”, Cody Goodfellow; “Pickman’s Other Model (1929)”, Caitlin Kiernan; “The Disciple”, David Barr Kirtley; “The Vicar of R’lyeh”, Marc Laidlaw; “Mr. Gaunt”, John Langan; “Take Me to the River”, Paul McAuley; “The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft”, Nick Mamatas & Tim Pratt; “Details”, China Mieville; “Bringing Helena Back”, Sarah Monette; “Another Fish Story”, Kim Newman; “Lesser Demons”, Norm Partridge; “Cold Water Survival”, Holly Phillips; “Head Music”, Lon Prater; “Bad Sushi”, Cherie Priest; “The Fungal Stain”, W.H. Pugmire; “Tsathoggua”, Michael Shea; “Buried in the Sky”, John Shirley; “Fair Exchange”, Michael Marshall Smith; “The Essayist in the Wilderness”, William Browning Spencer; “A Colder War”, Charles Stross; “The Great White Bed”, Don Webb.

Editor Paula Guran’s mandate here is focused — the best Lovecraftian stories of the first 11 years or so of the new millennium. If there’s a disappointment here, it lies in something that’s only going to be immediately apparent to a reader who buys a lot of Lovecraft-influenced anthologies and collections.

However, as I imagine a high percentage of people who read this sort of thing do just that, I’ll note the disappointment: too many stories taken from the same original anthologies (eight of the stories herein appear in just three other original anthologies) and a fairly significant overlap (four stories) with the 2011 anthology The Book of Cthulhu, the mandate of which was to collect Lovecraft-influenced stories from the last thirty years or so.

In a pinch, I’d suggest going with The Book of Cthulhu. Its overall quality is higher, though that’s obviously a factor of a longer span of time to choose from. Furthermore, choosing a lot of stories from other anthologies strikes me as somewhat problematic — I’ve got several of these stories in three anthologies already, a pretty heavy load for a story published in, say, 2008 to be carrying. This may indicate taste rather than laziness, but it feels like laziness. And a couple of the multiple stories from other anthologies really sort of stink. Others are a stretch for the anthology, especially for one with a big picture of Cthulhu on the cover.

Nonetheless, there are some corkers here, both too often repeated (“The Oram County Whoosit” is a terrific tale — so terrific I’ve now seen it in three different anthologies) and relatively new to this anthology (the offerings from old pros Michael Shea and John Shirley are especially gratifying). Shirley’s almost reads like a Cthulhu Mythos story semi-sarcastically supercollided with a Young Adult novel. Shea’s story about Clark Ashton Smith’s blobby toad-god addition to the Lovecraft pantheon (subsequently described by HPL in At the Mountains of Madness) is squishy and, thankfully, not the over-anthologized, excellent “Fat Face”.

Neil Gaiman impresses with a Sherlock Holmes/Cthulhu Mythos crossover, but not only was it in a fairly high print-run anthology, the story also appeared on Gaiman’s website free of charge for several years. China Mieville’s terrific “Details” also appeared in an anthology that, ten years later, remains in print.

There’s a problem of overfishing the same ponds over and over again. Ponds filled with the Deep Ones. What is it with all the stories about people who identify with Lovecraft’s Deep Ones? Yeuch. Alan Moore was on to something with Neonomicon. Lightly recommended.

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