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Whispers from the Abyss, Kat Rocha 27 August 2018

2013 horror anthology, 33 very short Lovecraft-inspired stories.

The Lovecraftian inspiration is sometimes very clear, and sometimes nearly non-existent. These stories are all, though, unambiguously horror: the point is to make the reader feel a shiver up the spine, not to explore cosmic awe or even the insignificance of humanity. This means they're mostly about working up to the Big Revelation, and they tend to finish immediately afterwards, rather than providing any resolution; I find that disappointing, even if the resolution would rather often just be some variant on "crunch crunch burp".

  • Iden-Inshi (Greg Stolze) has a scientist kidnapped to clone a dying dictator (probably), and a new biological tool (from where?) that has side effects.

  • Pushing Back (JC Hemphill) has no particular Lovecraftian elements; it's just a scene of "you should listen to me, oh no too late".

  • Nation of Disease: The Rise & Fall of a Canadian Legend (Jonathan Sharp) is a series of news reports: one band member killed another, on stage, and it's gradually hinted as to why.

  • When We Change (Mason Ian Bundschuh) has some Lovecraftian paint but is mostly a tiny character study of people who've done horrible things.

  • Nutmeat (Martin Hill Ortiz) has Something growing on a farm.

  • The Last Tweet (Charles Black) is a pleasantly amusing updating of the Lovecraftian narrative tic of trailing off into shouts of "The window! The window!".

  • Secrets in Storage (Tim Pratt & Greg van Eekhout) has someone buying an abandoned storage locker in hopes of finding something saleable, and finding something Nasty. It's oddly disjointed: the storage-locker is an interesting way of getting the thing into the narrator's hands, but had it started "I inherited it from my uncle" or "it just showed up on my doorstep" the investigative part of the story wouldn't have been any different. I prefer more integration.

  • The Well (Tim Jeffreys) is a very conventional horror trick: protagonist is stuck with Horrible Things and trying to be quiet so as not to wake them, rescuers come in making lots of noise.

  • The Neon Morgue (Nathan Wunner) approximates science fiction, with a pleasingly brief summing-up of the world:

That's the name we gave them; Automatons. The replacement for the human race; a being designed to withstand the passage of time better than our bodies of flesh are able. We meant to inject our consciousness into them and use their bodies to become immortal.

They didn't like that idea.

But there's nothing to it; supposedly surviving humans can deal with the Automatons, but they appear to cheat our narrator for no reason at all.

  • The Deep (Corissa Baker) is a short development of madness, against the background of apocalypse; for so few paragraphs it does an excellent job of setting scene and atmosphere.

  • Fear and Loathing in Innsmouth: Richard Nixon's Revenge (Jason Andrew) is what you'd expect from the title:

The Esoteric Order of Dagon sent out one of their brides to Yorba Linda, California. Her name was Almira Milhous.

But Jason Andrew is no Hunter S. Thompson, though he does his best.

  • My Friend Fishfinger By Daisy, Age 7 (David Tallerman) is a young girl's journal with carefully-placed warning signs that the reader can spot and the writer can't. It feels just a little too carefuly crafted to work for me.

  • Chasing Sunset (A.C. Wise) is mostly about the gruesome imagery, but with some pleasing cosmology too. If it were longer it would be trying to be American Gods.

  • The Thing With Onyx Eyes (Stephen Brown) is a short atmosphere piece on obsession over a statue.

  • I Do The Work Of the Bone Queen (John R. Fultz) has a ghost discovering there are things worse than death… but again it's more about the imagery than about plot.

  • Suck It Up, Get It Done (Brandon Barrows) has a new sewer worker realising that there's more to the job than he'd thought.

  • The Substance In the Sound (W.B. Stickel) starts off leisurely and finishes fast; at this word count I think the start is too slow, but perhaps that's because I'd rather have read a longer story that took the idea in a different direction.

  • Stone City, Old As Immeasurable Time (Kelda Crich) has a traveller visiting a temple, and just why (and why not) that might be a bad idea. It's strangely effective.

  • Hideous Interview With Brief Man (Nick Mamatas) is rambling nonsense (with footnotes).

  • The Sea, like Glass Unbroken (Silvia Moreno-Garcia) is told by the sacrificial victim who isn't chosen; most effective.

  • The Decorative Water Feature of Nameless Dread (James Brogden) juxtaposes Lovecraftian beastliness with Gardener's Question Time; that's quite well done, but a framing story of someone listening to the radio tries to have a twist in the tail and blows it.

  • Henry (Lance Axt) tries to show us an occult killer being formed by playground bullying, but doesn't quite catch.

  • My Stalk (Aaron J. French) could have been Jack and the Eldritch Beanstalk (which might have been quite fun), but instead doesn't go anywhere.

  • Give Me That Old Time Religion (Lee Finney) has cinematically degenerate Southerners being degenerate.

  • Afraid Of Dobermans (Chad Fifer) relies too hard on its sting in the tail.

  • Leviathan (Nicholas Almand) has an amateurish monster hunter, and a hint of an organisation that seems even less competent than these things usually are.

  • Horrorscope (Charles Black) has a lovely opening:

Aries.

March 21 - April 20.

This will be the dawning of a new age, and the future you have been dreaming of is nigh.

At long last the stars are right, and the sacrifices you make now will ensure that what you have been waiting for will come to pass.

…but doesn't do anything with it.

  • The Jar Of Aten-Hor (Kat Rocha) has an archaeologist obsessed with, then possessed by, an artefact. The imagery is good but the psychology works less well than in The Thing With Onyx Eyes.

  • The Floor (Jeff Provine) has something discovering something Nasty in a house he's bought to do up and resell… and then the last couple of paragraphs try for a twist, and like so many of these stories fumble it.

  • Waiting (Dennis Detwiller) has someone who claims to know the future… but who lies about it. Meh.

  • Other People's Houses (Sarena Ulibarri) has someone breaking into a house just for fun, and coming to a bad end; since the first half doesn't hang together, neither does the second.

  • You Will Never Be the Same (Erica Satifka) relies on the reader knowing The Burning of the Brain (Cordwainer Smith)… but alas, that's a much better story than this one.

  • Death Wore Greasepaint (Josh Finney) has the manager of a small-town TV station realising, far too late, that his loser brother-in-law may be starting something really dangerous. It's heavy-handed but works reasonably well.

In fact heavy-handedness is the major problem in this collection: perhaps because the stories are so short, they have to be blatant to get their points across. The ones which give up plot are better at atmosphere, the ones which give up character are better at plot, and I think it may take a truly great writer to cram all these things into a couple of pages. It's an interesting experiment, but for me has rather more misses than hits.

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See also:
Cthulhusattva, Scott R. Jones

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