Saturday, August 5, 2017

Sh*t Sandwich, Cthulhu-style

The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu (2016) edited by Paula Guran, containing the following stories:  

  • “In Syllables of Elder Seas” by Lisa L. Hannett
  • “The Peddler’s Tale, or, Isobel’s Revenge” by Caitlín R. Kiernan
  • “It’s All the Same Road in the End” by Brian Hodge
  • “Caro in Carno” by Helen Marshall
  • “The Cthulhu Navy Wife” by Sandra McDonald
  • “Those Who Watch” by Ruthanna Emrys
  • “A Clutch” by Laird Barron
  • “Just Beyond the Trailer Park” by John Shirley
  • “The Sea Inside” by Amanda Downum
  • “Outside the House, Watching for the Crows” by John Langan
  • “Alexandra Lost” by Simon Strantzas
  • “Falcon-and-Sparrows” by Yoon Ha Lee
  • “A Shadow of Thine Own Design” by W. H. Pugmire
  • “Backbite” by Norman Partridge
  • “In the Ruins of Mohenjo-Daro” by Usman T. Malik
  • “Legacy of Salt” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • “I Do Not Count the Hours” by Michael Wehunt
  • “An Open Letter to Mister Edgar Allan Poe, from a Fervent Admirer” by Michael Shea
  • “I Dress My Lover in Yellow” by A. C. Wise
  • “Deep Eden” by Richard Gavin
  • “The Future Eats Everything” by Don Webb
  • “I Believe That We Will Win” by Nadia Bulkin
  • “In the Sacred Cave” by Lois H. Gresh
  • “Umbilicus” by Damien Angelica Walters
  • “Variations on Lovecraftian Themes” by Veronica Schanoes

The Mammoth Book of Occasionally Lovercraftian Horror, Occasionally Written by People Who Despise H.P. Lovecraft would have been more accurate. In her sloppy, poorly researched introduction, editor Paula Guran admits that the title is a bait-and-switch: “This anthology has little to do specifically with Cthulhu and everything to do with ‘new Lovecraftian fiction.’ ” Why call it The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu? Because Cthulhu sells, now more than ever.

There are a few stand-outs. OK, one. “Outside the House, Watching for the Crows” by John Langan is excellent, evoking fear and cosmic horror in the seemingly most mundane of situations. “In the Ruins of Mohenjo-Daro” by Usman T. Malik is also a solid piece, though it fails to stick the landing. Admittedly, HPL occasionally failed to stick the landing. But Malik may be a writer to watch.

Caitlin Kiernan, W.H. Pugmire, and Brian Hodge deliver solid work, none of it all that related to the Cthulhu Mythos (Kiernan riffs on HPL's Dunsanian period; Pugmire is, well, Pugmire, and God bless him for it; and Hodge's story is a solid one with unusual elements that goes on about five pages too long). Norman Partridge riffs on HPL's pre-Cthulhu "The Hound" to decent effect, albeit with a dud of an ending. Laird Barron seems to have had an homage to Clark Ashton Smith and Jack Vance sitting on his desk when the call for submissions came in -- or at least that's what his atypical, mildly diverting "The Clutch" reads like.

That's about it. Looking at the titles of the stories, I note that I can't remember what most of them were about. I think HPL got accused of misogyny in Paula Guran's introduction, which is actually a very difficult case to make. However, Guran doesn't give the impression of having read much about HPL in that introduction. Honestly, it's possible she's never read any HPL. That could explain how one gets an anthology with Cthulhu in the title and pretty much no Cthulhu in the stories.

The final piece, a biographical attack on HPL's racism and anti-Semitism that we're apparently supposed to believe is a story, is a hell of a way to end the anthology. It's easy to score points off HPL's racism. Writing a great story that deals with that racism -- a story like David Drake's "Than Curse the Darkness" or Elizabeth Bear's "Shoggoths in Bloom" -- requires talent, something the writer of the concluding 'story' does not seem to possess. 

It didn't help that the writer quotes a racist outburst about New York by then-Atlanta Braves reliever John Rocker near the beginning of her 'story.' The quote dates from 1999. How long was this shitty essay... sorry, 'story'... sitting in a drawer? Why resurrect the words of a now-forgotten relief pitcher in a screed... sorry, 'story'... about H.P. Lovecraft? Oh, well. Hidey ho. So it goes.

Anyway, save your money. If you're going to buy a new anthology of Lovecraftian-themed stories, look for S.T. Joshi and avoid Paula Guran. Avoid this book in particular. It's a waste of money.

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