RogerBW's Blog

The Book of Cthulhu 2, Ross E. Lockhart 08 January 2021

2012 fantasy/horror anthology, consisting of more stories inspired by Lovecraft.

It's a bit of a standard problem, really: having produced an anthology of the best stories, how do you make the sequel look like anything but the second-best stories? What's more, when you have a bunch of them together, how do you stop it feeling like a guess-the-ending contest? Is this protagonist going to come to a sticky end, or shoot the monsters until they stop twitching? Was Lovecraft's description of this beastie all right, all wrong, or just a misunderstanding? Is this going to be another working-out of an existing monster, is it going to be generic horror with tentacles pasted on, or is it actually going to be inventive in the Lovecraftian style? And why do you put all the water-themed stories in a clump together?

The introduction, pointing out that Lovecraft even more than other writers of the 1920s and 1930s encouraged other people to use his inventions and enlarge the mythos, is particularly ironic given the endless legal fights that have carried on since his death over the rights to do just that, first among Barlow, Derleth, Wandrei and others, and latterly by post-takeover Chaosium.

"Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar" (Neil Gaiman) is remarkably straightforward, lacking a twist to make it interesting: tourist goes into a pub, has a weird conversation, town turns out not to have existed, the end.

"Nor the Demons Down Under the Sea (1957)" (Caitlín R. Kiernan) has a lovely setup but doesn't go anywhere.

"This Is How the World Ends" (John R. Fultz) does indeed deal with the end of the world, though it all seems even more futile than usual.

"The Drowning at Lake Henpin" (Paul Tobin) is the first really solid story, with an old house by the lake and the Things that it signifies. Decently cosmic and with a personal angle.

"The Ocean and All Its Devices" (William Browning Spencer) has an intriguing situation, but to my mind distances itself too far, even if it finally remembers to involve its viewpoint character right at the end.

"Take Your Daughters to Work" (Livia Llewellyn) is too obvious to be fun. It's short enough, but with a bit more development could have had more to it than a simple A, B, C progression.

"The Big Fish" (Kim Newman) is hardboiled pastiche set shortly after Pearl Harbor. Newman pastiches very well, and plays a good trick using fear of Japanese submarines off Los Angeles as a reason to shut down the gambling boats. But there are other things in the sea. Not profound but enjoyable.

"Rapture of the Deep" (Cody Goodfellow) feels as though it's trying too hard: let's put in some more gore, it might distract from the linear plot. Maybe it's me; I know people who would love this.

"Once More from the Top" (A. Scott Glancy) is a story of the Innsmouth Raid, wrapped in a frame story about Delta Green that frankly doesn't seem to add much.

"The Hour of the Tortoise" (Molly Tanzer) is in the collection A Pretty Mouth. A writer visits Ivybridge and comes to a Bad End. Splendid stuff.

"I Only Am Escaped Alone to Tell Thee" (Christopher Reynaga): it wasn't a whale that took Ahab's leg. Too short to do more than that, really.

"Objects from the Gilman-Waite Collection" (Ann K. Schwader) has a lovely framing of someone looking at exhibits in an obscure museum, but it turns out that this was a trap set just for him which seems rather less fun.

"Of Melei, of Ulthar" (Gord Sellar) is mildly phantasmagorical but goes nowhere.

"A Gentleman from Mexico" (Mark Samuels) has the publisher introduced to someone who thinks he might be the reincarnation of Lovecraft… but it's all tawdry and even the existential threat seems tired.

"The Hands that Reek and Smoke" (W. H. Pugmire) has good imagery but does nothing with it.

"Akropolis" (Matt Wallace) is a mildly interesting story of alien invasion that seems to have got lost and ended up here.

"Boojum" (Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette) is Lovecraft-in-space done right, using the Lovecraftian ideas for inspiration rather than as a template. There are two more stories set in this universe, but I'll need to go and dig for the anthologies in which they appear.

"The Nyarlathotep Event" (Jonathan Wood) is the operation report from an attempt to suppress a cultic outbreak. Good, but too much of its interest comes from the reordering of events.

"The Black Brat of Dunwich" (Stanley C. Sargent) is the story of what really happened to get reported as The Dunwich Horror. It's clearly a labour of love, picking at the inconsistencies in the original; but perhaps the bones are too close to the surface.

"The Terror from the Depths" (Fritz Leiber) namechecks most of the Lovecraft stories, but in spite of that does a decent job of building up an air of dread. Then drops it flat at the end.

"Black Hill" (Orrin Grey) has cosmic shenanigans among the oilfields. Pretty decent, though the pattern of "I tried to find out more, I lost consciousness, and I woke up later with a new phobia" is getting a bit old by this point in the book.

"The God of Dark Laughter" (Michael Chabon) starts with the death of a clown but goes astray with its too-obviously-tortured protagonist.

"Sticks" (Karl Edward Wagner) works rather well: the crude rural stick constructions are a pointer to something more, but just what that something more is is not entirely obvious. Makes good use of the passage of time, too.

"Hand of Glory" (Laird Barron) is rather too keen on the first-person viewpoint of its sentimental thug protagonist, but manages eventually to get down to some Mythosiness in the odd history of Eadweard Muybridge.

A rather lower rate of good stories than last time, though I think that if I'd read more of them in isolation they'd each have done better.

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See also:
A Pretty Mouth, Molly Tanzer


  1. Posted by DP at 07:21am on 09 January 2021

    Good review. I bought the trade paperback some years ago. The ones I still remember were Boomjum (I read one of the other two, which was enjoyable), Sticks, and the Ivybridge story, though I think I'd also encountered Sticks in a collection of Wagner's other short fiction, some of which were pretty good.

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