a zoo in hell


Children of Cthulu

Children of Cthulu
Edited by John Pelan and Benjamin Adams

The stated aim of this collection was to compile Lovecraft-inspired works which had ambitions beyond homage. The introduction explains that while H.P. Lovecraft was very much a writer of his time, he was also very far ahead of time in his anticipation of the massive existential threats which surround human consciousness. Stories in this collection were chosen because they advanced the Lovecraft style into new forms and concepts. This desire to avoid a retro celebration of the mythos in favor of adapting and advancing it is an exciting one. Much of the Cthulu mythos have become cliche and common, something has to be done to restore the awesome terror they were meant to inspire.

None of the stories in the collection are completely disappointing, but many do not stray very far from the shadow of Lovecraft's canon. Despite the intentions of the editors, there are a few stories which read more as fan fiction than a serious reconsideration of cosmic horror.  I expect these stories were included because they placed the Old Ones in a new contexts, even if the characters and stories were essentially the same. These stories, a handful, were the least successful and felt artificial compared to the dread and surprise offered by a few others.

The majority of the stories offer a mix of known elements with a fresh aesthetic approach or consideration of what a Lovecraft story is about. "Details", written by China Mieville, concerns an eccentric woman who will not leave her flat and the knowledge she shares with her young helper. This story contains both an well-done horror story as well as a keen observation of the underlying anxieties of the mythos and those who read them.  "The Stuff of the Stars, Leaking", written by Tim Lebbon, is a fairly quiet story about a man who casually examines a beached leviathan, but also confronts the grief of his wife's drowning in the same ocean. "The Serenade of Starlight", written by W.H. Pugmire, Esq., follows a tranny who explores her own mysterious connection to Dagon. "The Firebrand Symphony", written by Brian Hodge, also concerns an artist who is drawn deeper into his mysterious family tree. The inclusion of "Are You Loathsome Tonight?", written by Poppy Z. Brite, (Haven't thought of her in awhile -- wonder what she thinks of the whole True Blood thing?) is an interesting choice. The obsession with Elvis' intestines, seen as Eldritch tentacles, is a broad and poetic stretch.  Not sure how successful it is, especially when read in this context.

For all the pulp and nostalgia that accompanies the mythos, there are also those who see that world as "an acceptable metaphor" for the darker stirrings and terrors of human life. Lovecraft's fiction can be seen as an existential phantasm, a more mainstream telling of Les Chants de Maldoror, or a more entertaining consideration of the themes of Being and Nothingness. Of course, Thomas Ligotti is the patron of this school. So, it should be no surprise that the capstone for this collection is a story written by Matt Cardin, a leader in the Ligotti online fan community.

"Teeth" concerns Jason, a graduate philosophy student who is pulled into the madness and obsessions of his disappeared roommate. Marcos, the vanished student, claims to have seen the barren truth at the core of reality. Before he vanished, he left his research notebook with Jason, imploring him to read and it understand. Jason reads the notebook and discovers something more immediate and threatening than the abstractions of philosophical study.

While at time the story is a little too "telling", it has a sincerity and earnest concern that echoes Ligotti's work. The story arrived in my hands as I was considering the very real teeth around my own life, and much in the story seemed drawn from my own thoughts. This connection is a rare thing in art, and perhaps an even rarer thing in genre fiction. In the end, the effect achieved the same goal as any good horror story. I was left alone in the dark, imagining the endless gulfs of void just beyond the frail comfort of my own mind.