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New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird, Paula Guran 10 January 2021

2011 fantasy/horror anthology on the theme of modern Lovecraftian stories.

This feels like a cheaper anthology than the two volumes of The Book of Cthulhu, even though it has several excellent stories, because it's full of typoes and nobody's bothered to read it through. Right there in the introduction we get

Lovecraft has been mainstreamed through film, television, music, graphic arts, comics, manga, gaming, manga, and theatre

and if that were the only error I might think Guran was trying to set up a humorous emphasis, but it isn't. I don't think there's one story here without some sort of glaring error that can't have been the author's intent. (There's also a quick biography of Lovecraft that largely avoids mentioning the Racism Thing which does, one has to admit, seem to have been quite a large influence on his writing.)

"Pickman's Other Model (1929)" (Caitlín R. Kiernan) has someone who vaguely knew Pickman, tracking down the model for the lost nude studies that turned up in his effects. Splendidly atmospheric, but somehow I never found myself convinced that it was as horrifying as all that.

"Fair Exchange" (Michael Marshall Smith) is told by a semiliterate burglar, which I suppose works all right but makes it hard going. Enjoyable but not outstanding, and not especially Lovecraftian.

"Mr. Gaunt" (John Langan) mostly consists of recollection; there's one good horror gimmick, but the rest of the story feels like scaffolding to make it happen.

"The Vicar of R'lyeh" (Marc Laidlaw) is too in-jokey for my taste; the Cult of Cthulhu is everywhere, Petey Sanderson (ho ho) is its prophet, but our hero, a simulated environment designer, would much rather be working on the Jane Austen Mysteries (The Bloody Trail of Lord Darcy, Pride and Extreme Prejudice). It's all right, I suppose.

"The Crevasse" (Dale Bailey & Nathan Ballingrud) is mostly a manly survival tale, which does a good job of mixing in its cosmic elements. Suffers from lack of a proper conclusion, as many of these stories do.

"Bad Sushi" (Cherie Priest) was in The Book of Cthulhu: "has a sushi chef with flashbacks to his time as a soldier for Imperial Japan, but doesn't quite do anything with that, and ends in bathos"

"Old Virginia" (Laird Barron) has an air of Delta Green about it: a washed-up CIA special operator leads a small force on an escort mission which really isn't what it seems. It's… OK, though as with many horror stories the inevitable journey towards a non-happy ending interferes with the reader's sense of discovery.

"The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft" (Nick Mamatas & Tim Pratt) has an interesting but thoroughly impractical villainous plan. Though I feel that a story that ends "then I got away from the burning house with nothing worse than a few bad memories" rather breaks the implied promise of cosmicity.

"The Oram County Whoosit" (Steve Duffy) was in The Book of Cthulhu: "has a reporter and a photographer coming to see the latest weird thing the rurals claim to have discovered in the coal mine. But the reporter at least has some idea of what it might be. Rather good."

"The Fungal Stain" (W.H. Pugmire) is grotesquerie, much more about atmosphere than anything else.

"A Study In Emerald" (Neil Gaiman) gave rise to two editions of a boardgame by Martin Wallace (I've played the second, inferior version) but it's the first time I've read the actual story. Monsters conquered the world hundreds of years ago, and now rule it as monarchs, but somehow human society is still recognisably Victorian. If you are used to noticing the sort of deliberate deception that comes in murder mysteries, the way certain obvious things are not said, or if you're at all familiar with the Sherlock Holmes stories, I'm afraid the Big Twist will fall rather flat.

"Buried in the Sky" (John Shirley) has a creepy modern building and parallel worlds… and drops the ball a bit to work in a jump scare at the end, but is still pretty solid.

"Bringing Helena Back" (Sarah Monette) had already been collected in the fine anthology The Bone Key, but stands well on its own. Bookish man is invited by good friend to help resurrect his dead wife… it doesn't go well.

"Take Me to the River" (Paul McAuley) has a great sense of Bristol but rather less story.

"The Essayist in the Wilderness" (William Browning Spencer) has a sequence of creepy moments, some of them quite good, but fails to string them together into a plot.

"The Disciple" (David Barr Kirtley) has the nasty student trying hard to get into the nasty professor's cult study group… and succeeding. Not creepy, but effective.

"Shoggoths in Bloom" (Elizabeth Bear) was in The Book of Cthulhu: "pictures a world where the shoggoth is known only as a kind of sea organism. And the World War is coming… not much in the way of horror here but a very fine sensibility."

"Cold Water Survival" (Holly Phillips) has things going Very Wrong for a bunch of people camped on a free-floating iceberg. Atmospheric, but doesn't go anywhere.

"The Great White Bed" (Don Webb) is a story of a victim of a ritual; it's an interesting viewpoint but he's not an interesting person.

"Lesser Demons" (Norman Partridge) is pretty much survival horror with lots of shooting.

"Grinding Rock" (Cody Goodfellow) has someone lost while fighting a wildfire, and the thing he learns about. Creepy and effective.

"Details" (China Miéville) is about pareidolia: being able to see the patterns in the randomness, and what might live there. But the story wrapped round this promising idea is minimal.

"Another Fish Story" (Kim Newman) follows on slightly from "The Big Fish" in The Book of Cthulhu 2; but Newman gives in too easily to his tendency to look-at-me cleverness (in the hills near LA in 1968 I might at first wonder who Charlie is, but for the hard of thinking one of his female acolytes is called Squeaky) and film trivia.

"Head Music" (Lon Prater) has someone who hears music in his head… but we'll never know why. All too straightforward.

"Tsathoggua" (Michael Shea) is atmospheric in a way Shea does very well, but like "Old Virginia" the inevitable downhill slope robs the narrative of tension.

"Mongoose" (Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette) is the reason I read this anthology: it's the second of the Boojum stories, following Boojum itself in The Book of Cthulhu 2. Pest control is harder in a world with Lovecraftian beasties in it. Splendid.

The bandersnatch: Pseudocanis tindalosi. The old records and the indigent Arkhamers called them hounds, but of course they weren't, any more than Mongoose was a cat.

"A Colder War" (Charles Stross) was in The Book of Cthulhu: "for my money his best interaction with the Cthulhu Mythos, in part because he didn't feel any need to keep the world intact. (And he got to use Project PLUTO.)"

There's certainly some rubbish in here, but we get several good solid stories too; I'd rate this marginally over The Book of Cthulhu.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog.

See also:
The Bone Key, Sarah Monette
The Book of Cthulhu, Ross E. Lockhart
The Book of Cthulhu 2, Ross E. Lockhart

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