Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Review: The Book of Cthulhu II edited by Ross E. Lockhart

In 2011, Ross E. Lockhart, managing editor at Night Shade Books, put together an amazing anthology of Lovecraft inspired stories titled The Book of Cthulhu. Weighing in at five hundred pages, this tome managed to collect some of the best Lovecraftian stories to be found, and even included a couple original tales. I’ll most likely be doing a review at some point, but if I may cut to the chase now it’s safe to say that it’s a brilliant anthology that should have a place in every Lovecraft fan’s library.

The Book of Cthulhu met with enough success to warrant a sequel volume which was published in September, The Book of Cthulhu II. Lockhart has chosen more of the finest tales, as well as giving readers four original tales this time around. The book is a tad bit shorter, at four hundred and forty pages, but should easily satisfy any fan of the first.

The main problem with Lovecraft-inspired fiction is that there is so much of it out there. In a sense, for fanboys like me, this is also a good thing, although it means there is also a ton of not-so-good pastiches. Lockhart has found some of the standout stories over the years, some of which I was already very familiar with and others that I myself have not read.

The tales themselves vary in tone. Some of the stories are horrific, and others are light-hearted and even silly. Thematically, there are stories chosen that represent different aspects of Lovecraft’s writing. The vast majority are Cthulhu-Mythos related, or play on those ideas, however there is a tale that explores Lovecraft’s dream cycle. Overall, the vast majority of stories are great reads, and the book is a must have for any fan of the Gentleman of Providence.

Some individual story notes:

The anthology opens with Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar by Neil Gaiman, which is one of the light-hearted, silly offerings. Gaiman’s storytelling skills are evident, and it’s a fun little opener for the anthology.

Next up is Caitlin Kiernan’s Nor The Demons Down Under The Sea (1957). The story is a sequel to Andromeda Among The Stones (a brilliant story that is the opener for The Book of Cthulhu). Kiernan’s language is beautiful as she paints a picture of strained relationship which leads to a “house with secrets”. 

John Fultz brings the apocalypse with This Is How The World Ends, and it’s not a pretty one. Cthulhu rises, monsters of all types begin spreading, while some people fight to survive in an increasingly hostile world.

In the first original story, The Drowning at Lake Henpin, author Paul Tobin pens a fun tale with all the right Mythos elements. He’s a new author to me, and I look forward to read more of his works.

The Ocean and All It’s Devices by William Browning Spencer is a well-written story about a creepy family who visits a hotel by the beach every year. There is obviously more going on, and plenty of play with the creepy kid trope. 

Livia Llewellyn weaves a depressing tale about a transformed Earth and sacrifice. Take Your Daughters To Work is a beautifully written story and really showcases this author’s vast talent.

Big Fish was originally published under a pseudonym by author Kim Newman. It’s a fun, pulpy, hardboiled detective story.

Cody Goodfellow is another author that I am growing to love. Every story I’ve read by him I’ve loved. Rapture of the Deep is no exception, and is a great story of psychics and the Mythos.

Readers of the first Book of Cthulhu will be hard pressed to forget Molly Tanzer’s The Infernal History of the Ivybridge Twins, a story that manages to be creepy and funny at the same time. Tanzer brings us another Calipash tale (and an original to this anthology) with The Hour of the Tortoise. The story is delightfully perverse, funny, twisted and disturbing in only a way that she could pull off.

Ann K. Schwader, known especially for her dark poetry, hits a homerun with Objects From The Gilman-Waite Collection. Schwader pumps up the anxiety in a man’s trip to an art exhibit that is a little bit out of this world.

A Gentleman From Mexico showcases Mark Samuels’ easy style of writing. The story moves along at a nice pace, and touches on a few Lovecraftian themes, such as dark cults, evil gods, and the transference of consciousness.  I enjoyed the story to quite an extent, and have ordered one of his story collections.

Another author who always delivers a solid tale is W.H. Pugmire. The Hands That Reek and Smoke is a haunting tale about Nyarlathotep. As usual with Pugmire’s tales, this one has beautiful, poetic prose. 

Matt Wallace writes an eerie science fiction story titled Akropolis about something that falls from the sky but becomes a city, gifting farmboys with unbelievable powers. These God-like beings then proceed to take over the world in this wonderfully dark story.

Fritz Leiber’s classic, The Terror From The Depths, has some cool ideas, but is also a bit overlong. References many of Lovecraft’s tales.

Black Hills by Orrin Grey is a creepy tale about oil. I loved the ending and the language used in the story.

Michael Chabon’s The God of Dark Laughter is a very literate, and very short story about the murder of a clown. The story explores an eerie mythology, and really makes me wish Chabon wrote more Lovecraftian tales.

Karl Edward Wagner pens one of the best Lovecraftian tales ever written in Sticks. This story remains one of the most classic stories of its kind, and holds up well with rereads. 

Lockhart’s closing author of choice is once again Laird Barron. Barron’s story Hand of Glory retains some of the usual Barron trappings (a macho protagonist, a noir-ish feel) but stands out in that it isn’t really a horrific story. There do exist some horrifying moments, but for the most part it stands as a fun tale of a gangster who gets mixed up into the Occult. There are also tons of references to his other stories, which serves to furthermore weave them all together into Barron’s own web of Northwestern Mythos horror.

There are several other good stories in the book as well. Stanley C. Sargent puts his own spin on The Dunwich Horror, A. Scott Glancy serves readers a Delta Green story about the government raid on Innsmouth, Christopher Reynaga offers a short re-telling of Moby Dick, Elizabeth Bear teams with Sarah Monette for a tale set on board a living spaceship, Jonathan Wood delivers a sequel to his novel No Hero, and Gord Sellar hits on the dream cycle with a visit to Ulthar.  

All in all, any fan of Lovecraft can’t afford to miss out on this one. If you’re a fanboy like I am, you most likely have a good amount of these stories in other books, but even if you do the originals are worth the buy. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing if Lockhart plans to continue the series. With his two for two track record, this blogger is hoping he does.


  1. I just picked up the first Book of Cthulhu, last week. Can't wait to dig in. I'll be getting Book II next week. (As an aside, I just ordered Frontier Cthulhu, High Seas Cthulhu, and Hard-boiled Cthulhu, as well.)
    (And, if I may jump over from an earlier post, I also ordered the Concrete Grove Trilogy [book one was great] and The Faceless [one of my favorite books this year].)

  2. Rad!!! I have every book you just mentioned, but I have yet to start the Concrete Grove, although I am looking forward to it!!!! The Book of Cthulhu's are both great! Barron's Men From Porlock is really awesome in the first Book of Cthulhu, it's sort of a "prequel" to his story Mysterium Tremendum, and they both (along with his story The Broadsword) tie in heavily to his novel The Croning.