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New Cthulhu 2: More Recent Weird, Paula Guran 26 January 2021

2015 fantasy/horror anthology on the theme of modern Lovecraftian stories, sampling stories published between 2010 and 2014.

This is definitely an improvement in production quality over New Cthulhu: far fewer typoes, and the introduction doesn't try to skate over the basic problem with Lovecraft. I think that this should be easy enough: admit the guy was a racist even by the standards of his own time (there's plenty of evidence that his contemporary friends thought he was overdoing it a bit), admit that this perfuses his work, and then you can try to enjoy it and write in the setting without being tainted by it. But all too many fans seem to want to deny the problem instead.

"The Same Deep Waters As You" (Brian Hodge) has an animal-communication specialist brought in to try to talk with the last of the Deep One survivors of Innsmouth. That's a great idea; it's a shame that the actual plot is so very straightforward.

"Mysterium Tremendum" (Laird Barron) has four friends who are also two couples on a road trip, only it turns out the three who aren't the narrator are utterly horrible people and somehow in five years of living with one of them the narrator has never noticed this. I found it hard to get past this to the story, which is OK.

"The Transition of Elizabeth Haskings" (Caitlín R. Kiernan) is a relatively plotless piece about someone who periodically shifts into an aquatic form. It's fine, but it doesn't go anywhere.

"Bloom" (John Langan) has a couple finding a transplant-organ cold box by the side of the road, with Something Mysterious inside it. It's competently written but these aren't interesting people and the course of the story is unsurprising.

"At Home With Azathoth" (John Shirley) is cyberpunk-ish with virtual realities that catch the soul… it's very 1980s though, giving the impression that Shirley hasn't really moved on from his glory days.

"The Litany of Earth" (Ruthanna Emrys) continues to be superb. (And to be freely available at tor.com.)

"Necrotic Cove" (Lois Gresh): old women come to die, and realise that they never really liked each other anyway. Unpleasant but effective.

"On Ice" (Simon Strantzas) has Strange Things happening on an expedition to an Arctic island. Effective light characterisation, though more horror than mystery, for which I can't fairly blame it.

"The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward" (Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette) is again why I picked up the anthology. I love the feel of this Cthulhu-in-space setting, and the combined writing style, and would be very happy to read more of it. In this particular case we have a dubiously-ethical doctor getting a sharp lesson in how far that can go. Shades of Event Horizon, done much better.

His locomotion wasn't perfect, but it was damn good for someone who'd probably been dead for three months.

Hester started to blaspheme, and Meredith ungently hushed her. This was not the place to be attracting that kind of attention.

"All My Love, A Fishhook" (Helen Marshall): peasant fishermen on Greek islands know not what they deal with. Also Fatherhood! Is Complicated!

"The Doom That Came to Devil Reef" (Don Webb) purports to describe the "real" inspiration behind The Shadow over Innsmouth, and the story of the woman who wrote it. It's all right as far as it goes, I suppose, but seems as though it's aimed at someone other than me.

"Momma Durtt" (Michael Shea) has toxic waste being dumped and what happens when you get too much of it. Neat ideas let down by an effectively omnipotent viewpoint character.

"They Smell of Thunder" (W. H. Pugmire) is the most coherent Pugmire I've read so far. Even then it just cuts off rather than resolve anything.

"The Song of Sighs" (Angela Slatter): a teacher in a school for orphans goes on working on her translations with a vague sense that something is missing, and then The Time comes. Pleasingly effective.

"Fishwife" (Carrie Vaughn): a devil's-bargain story but ends before the bargain can really come due, so lacks punch.

"In the House of the Hummingbirds" (Silvia Moreno-Garcia) is a ghost story, really, with little cosmicity about it. Pleasant, though.

"Who Looks Back?" (Kyla Ward) has two free-runners racing across a geyser field; I found the people more interesting than the horror trappings, but Ward gave the latter more attention.

"Equoid" (Charles Stross) is reviewed elsewhere: "this is the story where the Laundry series turns on its progenitor, painting Lovecraft's work as the gushings of a wannabe hipster that contain just enough incorrect detail to get the reader into trouble […] graphically depicts the mutilation, rape and murder of a thirteen-year-old girl just to show us that the monster is a bad thing." Naturally it won a Hugo.

"The Boy Who Followed Lovecraft" (Marc Laidlaw): O. Henry made a career out of surprise endings. He's dead. But also the central conceit here (a boy becomes a fan of Lovecraft's writing, finds out he lives nearby, tries to talk to him, is brushed off with horror because he's black) doesn't actually work unless the boy is profoundly stupid and doesn't notice all that stuff about the evils of race-mixing.

No real gems in this one except for the Bear/Monette but several decent stories.

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See also:
Equoid, Charles Stross
Winter Tide, Ruthanna Emrys
New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird, Paula Guran

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