Ghoulish Grab-bag

Nameless Places: edited by Gerald W. Page, containing the following stories: Glimpses by A. A. Attanasio; The Night of the Unicorn by Thomas Burnett Swann; The Warlord of Kul Satu by Brian N. Ball; More Things by G. N. Gabbard; The Real Road to the Church by Robert Aickman; The Gods of Earth by Gary Myers; Walls of Yellow Clay by Robert E. Gilbert; Businessman’s Lament by Scott Edelstein; Dark Vintage by Joseph F. Pumilia; Simaitha by David A. English; In the Land of Angra Mainyu by Stephen Goldin; Worldsong by Gerald W. Page; What Dark God? by Brian Lumley; The Stuff of Heroes by Bob Maurus; Forringer’s Fortune by Joseph Payne Brennan; Before the Event by Denys Val Baker; In ‘Ygiroth by Walter C. DeBill, Jr.; The Last Hand by Ramsey Campbell; Out of the Ages by Lin Carter; Awakening by David Drake; In the Vale of Pnath by Lin Carter; Chameleon Town by Carl Jacobi; Botch by Scott Edelstein; Black Iron by David Drake; Selene by E. Hoffmann Price; The Christmas Present by Ramsey Campbell; and Lifeguard by Arthur Byron Cover (1975).

Some of this classic (and never-reprinted) Arkham House anthology from the demon-haunted 1970’s consists of stories submitted to Arkham co-founder August Derleth before his death in 1971. Overall, there’s no real theme to the anthology, as editor Gerald Page notes in his introduction. It’s simply a large collection of often very-short stories of horror, dark fantasy, and the supernatural.

This being an Arkham House release, and Arkham having been originally founded to get the stories of H.P. Lovecraft into permanent hardcover editions, there’s more than a soupcon of Lovecraftian shenanigans at work here. Lin Carter and a few others pastiche for all they’re worth, both Cthulhu Mythos-era HPL and earlier Dunsanian HPL.  Joseph Payne Brennan refers to Lovecraft in his story, though the style and content of “Forringer’s Fortune” remain much in line with Brennan’s other work, written in a much more demotic plain style than anything Lovecraft assayed.

It’s interesting to me that two horror writers who began as Lovecraft pastiche writers, Brian Lumley and Ramsey Campbell, both give us tales of non-Lovecraftian supernatural horror set on trains. Both tales are effective, though Campbell’s “The Last Hand” is the more effective simply because he doesn’t try to explain outright the true identities of the three passengers his protagonist must engage in a poker game with.

Several stories herein have been much anthologized, including Campbell’s Christmas-short “The Christmas Present.” We also get Arthur Byron Cover’s poignant story of small-town inertia, a couple of stories from a young David Drake, and an extraordinarily good riff on Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos that I’ve never seen anthologized elsewhere — A. A. Attanasio’s “Glimpses.” The quality of the stories is mostly high, and the relatively large number of very short stories means that dissatisfaction with one story may quickly be soothed by another story. Highly recommended.

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