Sunday, March 9, 2014

Review: Lovecraft's Monsters edited by Ellen Datlow

Perhaps no one knows horror better than veteran editor Ellen Datlow.  Over the years she has racked up an impressive catalog, and took in many well deserved awards. In 2009 she did her first Lovecraft-themed anthology Lovecraft Unbound, and in 2014 her second Lovecraft themed anthology, Lovecraft's Monsters is being published by Tachyon Publications. The anthologies differ in that Lovecraft Unbound played with Lovecraft's themes and ideas, while trying to avoid mentions of tentacles, Cthulhu, the Necronomicon etc. With Lovecraft's Monsters Datlow has pulled together stories involving creatures from or based on the works of Lovecraft, and manages to give readers a multi-faceted glimpse into the physical horrors birthed from this man's imagination. As an added bonus, each story features an illustration from artist John Coulthart.

The Table of Contents is as follows:

“Only the End of the World Again" by Neil Gaiman
“Bulldozer” by Laird Barron
“Red Goat Black Goat” by Nadia Bulkin
“The Same Deep Waters as You” by Brian Hodge
“A Quarter to Three” by Kim Newman
“The Dappled Thing” by William Browning Spencer
“Inelastic Collisions” by Elizabeth Bear
“Remnants” by Fred Chappell
“Love is Forbidden, We Croak & Howl” by Caitlín R. Kiernan
“The Sect of the Idiot” by Thomas Ligotti
“Jar of Salts” by Gemma Files
“Black is the Pit From Pole to Pole” by Howard Waldrop and Steven Utley
“Waiting at the Crossroads Motel” by Steve Rasnic Tem
“I’ve Come to Talk with you Again” by Karl Edward Wagner
“The Bleeding Shadow” by Joe R. Lansdale
“That of Which We Speak When We Speak of the Unspeakable” by Nick Mamatas
“Haruspicy” by Gemma Files
“Children of the Fang” by John Langan

In the Introduction, Datlow says that she had three goals in mind when putting this anthology together. She wanted to avoid pastiche, wanted to select stories that haven't been overly reprinted, and to also showcase Lovecraft stories by authors not usually known for these types of stories. Although there are a few I have encountered elsewhere, Datlow was successful in all three of her goals. 
Some Favorite stories:

"Bulldozer" by Laird Barron: This story has so much to like; a rough Western setting, a tough and jaded Pinkerton agent, a scary Circus strongman as the antagonist, and some really awesome scenes. This was one of the earlier Laird Barron stories I've read, and it never gets stale with rereads.

"Red Goat Black Goat" by Nadia Bulkin: This was my first time reading Bulkin, and it will be far from the last. The story is a blend of Indonesian folklore/myth and Lovecraft, and makes for a particularly disturbing read. I look forward to tracking down some more of this author's work.

"The Same Deep Waters as You" by Brian Hodge: One of the many stories in this anthology that draw from Lovecraft's Innsmouth, this one deals with Stockholm Syndrome. An "animal whisperer" is brought to a military prison island in an attempt to communicate with the mutated Innsmouth residents taken in the 1920's FBI raid. Hodge also makes good use of The Bloop.

"A Quarter to Three" by Kim Newman: This is one of those short stories that I've read many times, and I never get sick of it. Newman's use of language is spot-on, and sets the scene perfectly for this amusing little story.

"The Dappled Thing" by William Browning Spencer: Another light-hearted tale, this one is a pulpy steampunk yarn about an explorer and his group of men coming to the New Land in a bizarre craft to search for a Lord's daughter. The story is fun, although ends on a creepy note.

"The Sect of The Idiot" by Thomas Ligotti: A dreamlike narrative of a man in a bizarre town who stumbles "behind the curtain" so to speak. This is the kind of story Ligotti writes best.

"Black is the Pit, From Pole to Pole" by Howard Waldrop and Steven Utley: I was lukewarm to this story at first, but it won me over rather quickly. The authors blend Frankenstein's Monster with Hollow Earth Theory and Lovecraft's Mountains of Madness into a strange sort of "epic quest" story. 

"Waiting at the Crossroads Motel" by Steve Rasnic Tem: The story follows a man who is more than what he seems as he drags his family to a motel in the middle of nowhere, as he waits for something he feels is going to happen. The man is disturbing, with sociopath tendencies (not caring about his family, only pretending to) and makes for a tense story.

"I've Come to Talk With You Again" by Karl Edward Wagner: A Wagner story riffing on The King in Yellow, what's not to like?

"The Bleeding Shadow" by Joe R. Lansdale: This is a writer who can tell a story, and never disappoints. This one follows an unlicensed PI looking into a case which involves the otherworldly.

"That of Which We Speak When We Speak of the Unspeakable" by Nick Mamatas: A trio of survivors drink booze in a cave and talk, while the world around them finishes falling apart. 

"Children of the Fang" by John Langan: When asked what monsters from Lovecraft's fiction would see resurrection in modern fiction, the reptilian creatures from "The Nameless City" would most likely not make anyone's list. Langan takes this overlooked creatures and breathes life into them in this wonderful closing story, which is also the only original piece of fiction in the anthology. 

Ellen Datlow's second editorial outing into the realm of Lovecraft proves even more fruitful than the first. Focusing on Lovecraftian monsters, Datlow offers readers sixteen stories and two poems of a variety that should please any fans of the genre. 

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