Saturday, November 7, 2015

Lovecraft Unbound: 20 Stories (2008): edited by Ellen Datlow.

Lovecraft Unbound: 20 Stories (2008): edited by Ellen Datlow.

I think this anthology, which consists of 16 new stories and 4 reprints, is the award-winning, veteran editor Datlow's finest anthology. It's not all killer, but there is no filler. Many of the stories that first appeared in this anthology have already been anthologized several more times since Lovecraft Unbound appeared in 2008. Highly recommended overall.

  • "The Crevasse" by Nathan Ballingrud and Dale Bailey: Antarctic setting recalls HPL's At the Mountains of Madness, but this effective and low-key (in a supernatural sense) story also riffs on "Who Goes There?," the basis for The Thing movies.
  • "The Office of Doom" by Richard Bowes: Never order the Necronomicon on an Inter-Library Loan. Just don't.
  • "Sincerely, Petrified" by Anna Tambour: Elliptical tale of fictional myths attached to... The Petrified Forest? Yes. Unusual and very enjoyable.
  • "The Din of Celestial Birds" (1997) by Brian Evenson: Interesting but a bit too murky for my tastes.
  • "The Tenderness of Jackals" by Amanda Downum: Writers really get entranced by the idea of making HPL's ghouls into a fully realized society. Not a bad story, but crippled by those tricky ghouls, who have frustrated many a writer.
  • "Sight Unseen" by Joel Lane: Moody, low-key riff on HPL's "The Shadow Out of Time."
  • "Cold Water Survival" by Holly Phillips: Very science fictiony and of-the-moment as Global Warming releases monsters. Nebulous, Swiss-Army-Knife monsters when it comes to their skill-sets, which are too vast and ill-defined to allow me to suspend disbelief beyond page 3.
  • "Come Lurk with Me and Be My Love" by William Browning Spencer: Another entry in Spencer's often serio-comic explorations of Lovecraftian themes and variations as seen in the terrific novels Resume with Monsters and Irrational Fears.
  • "Houses Under the Sea" (2006) by Caitlin R. Kiernan: A solid mix of first-person narration and pseudo-documentary collage dissipates with the big reveal, which is amazingly underwhelming.
  • "Machines of Concrete Light and Dark" by Michael Cisco: Creepy bit of philosophical horror; slight but solid.
  • "Leng" by Marc Laidlaw: Skirts the very edge of parody in its visit to Lovecraft's famous, infamous Plateau of Leng, which is not a place you want to visit. Hold the mushrooms.
  • "In the Black Mill" (1997) by Michael Chabon: Chabon's story hammers on obvious parody during its first half, which is rife with winky, coy,  obvious shout-outs to various Lovecraftian names and places (a woman named Brown-Jenkin? Really?). The spell of HPL seems to overcome Chabon in the second half, as the story suddenly plays everything straight -- but the parody undoes any ability to take the story seriously while also being obvious and awfully thudding in its humour.
  • "One Day, Soon" by Lavie Tidhar: Oblique, mysterious bit of cosmic horror involving a forbidden book.
  • "Commencement" (2001) by Joyce Carol Oates: Deceptively light-hearted narration darkens throughout in a story that feels an awful lot like Oates doing a riff on Thomas Ligotti, who does this particular sort of thing better.
  • "Vernon, Driving" by Simon Kurt Unsworth: Relationship horror with a sorrowful cosmic twist.
  • "The Recruiter" by Michael Shea: Light black comedy with serious undertones ties in to several other Shea stories involving Lovecraftian beings.
  • "Marya Nox" by Gemma Files: Files nails the documentary aspect of Lovecraftian horror while offering an interesting geopolitical setting for a tale of a buried church that should have remained buried.
  • "Mongoose" by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette: Unusual space opera plays with Lovecraftian names while being tonally and thematically so far from HPL that the story (one of a series) could probably do without its space-traevling Arkhamites and reconfigured Hounds of Tindalos (now complete with Linnaean taxonomy -- Pseudocanis tindalosi).
  • "Catch Hell" by Laird Barron: Oddly, one of Barron's least cosmic, least Lovecraftian stories. Good for Barron would be great for almost anyone else.
  • "That of Which We Speak When We Speak of the Unspeakable" by Nick Mamatas: Low-key, purposefully mundane slice-of-life from the days after the Great Old Ones rose to destroy humanity and reclaim Earth. 

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