RogerBW's Blog

After the End of the World, Jonathan L. Howard 26 July 2020

2017 Lovecraftian horror. Dan Carter, ex-cop, and Emily Lovecraft, librarian with a shotgun, are trying to come to terms with their new world. But threats to reality haven't gone away.

An introductory chapter gives the point of departure for this alternate history: in June 1941, the Germans detonate an atom bomb over Moscow, decapitating the Soviet leadership and allowing Barbarossa to succeed. (And yes, that's quite an unexpected thing for them to be able to do. This is not forgotten.)

So in the now of the book, while saying "Nazi" is considered in slightly bad taste, they aren't the bywords for evil that they are in reality. Didn't they hand back the European conquests once they had Russia? Didn't they establish a Jewish homeland on Madagascar? I mean, sure, they're still killing Bolsheviks, but those are bad guys, and these are people we can do business with…

It's perhaps a little heavy-handed, but it makes for an effective tension between the very few people who remember the way the world used to be (not better in every way, but even so) and a wider society that has grown up accepting Greater Germania and Imperial Japan as neighbours.

The mysterious and probably inhuman Henry Weston continues to drive the plot, which is unfortunate; as an obvious agent of cosmic powers himself, he takes away the illusion of agency from the protagonists, and I think that Lovecraftiana works best when its characters are digging themselves into trouble rather than being pushed into it.

So Carter gets a cover job as a security guard at Miskatonic University, gathering data to support a possible accusation of scientific fraud in a joint zero-point energy extraction project run jointly with with the Reichsuniversität in Berlin. There are agents and betrayals and insanity. Meanwhile Lovecraft has to come to terms with having an actual Necronomicon in her shop. (Yes, of course she reads it. Everyone does.)

"You wouldn't destroy it?"

She looked at him as if he'd just suggested she take up practical coprophagy. "No. The sanctity of books always takes precedence over existential threats to reality. Jesus, what kind of philistine are you?"

Things continue to get strange, but there isn't a petty villain to keep them moving as there was in the first book, and in spite of some fine small moments of horror there's little sense of an urgent problem to be dealt with, until suddenly there is. Things do get a bit slow in the middle section.

Then he saw it wasn't a hairpiece at all. It was skin, but it wasn't, and the skull exposed beneath it was not a skull. Hoskin looked and then he made the mistake of seeing, and wheels spun inside his mind as gears of logic and simple causality disengaged. He couldn't be seeing what he was seeing but he was seeing it so he could not be seeing it and the gears ran rapidly and with no letup or control, spitting out sparks that were Hoskin's sanity being ground away.

It's a more thoughtful book than the first, in spite of the Nazis running around, but while the immediate story is concluded there's no resolution to the ongoing plot. (And it's been three years with no sign of another book in the series; apparently they're work-for-hire so it's up to Macmillan whether they commission another one, from Howard or from someone else.)

"Captain, both Emily Lovecraft and I know how to handle guns. I'm an ex-cop."

"And Miss Lovecraft?"

"She trained as a librarian, and she terrifies me. We'll be fine. It's the Nazis who need to look out."

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  1. Posted by JohnP at 09:35pm on 26 July 2020

    That bit about Hoskin sounds like it embodies my experience of playing CoC. Roll up a character, brief them, start investigating, go totally wibble at the first strange thing you see, roll up a replacement character & repeat.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 10:25pm on 26 July 2020

    Ah, but I think the trick of GMing it is that the character should do something useful before they wibble. It's not a power-fantasy like most RPGs, but one ought to have some sense of achievement – we held off the apocalypse for five more years – to go with the eventual doom.

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