Welcome to Week 88 of my horror short fiction review project! This week herald’s the end of my reviews of the works from The Crawling Chaos and Others: The Annotated Revisions and Collaborations of H.P. Lovecraft, Vol. 1; we will be picking up with the second volume, Medusa’s Coil, next week. While I enjoyed most of this week’s stories, my favorite was Ramsey Campbell’s “Where the Heart Is” because, well, it’s extremely creepy. “Backbite” by Norman Partridge is also definitely worth a read.
Alone with the Horrors, by Ramsey Campbell (Tor, 2004)
“Where the Heart Is”
This story is essentially a long letter (spoiler alert: a suicide note, in fact) from a widower to the couple who bought his home from him. His wife died in the house, he sold it, the new couple begins extensive renovations, and the widower is deeply unhappy about that. He comes to believe that the wife’s spirit is still inside the house and he has decided to kill himself in the house so that they can be reunited there. This is a wonderfully creepy premise, needless to say, and was an excellent story. Thoroughly enjoyable.
The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, edited by Paula Guran (Running Press, 2016)
“Backbite” by Norman Partridge
Picks up where H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Hound” leaves off. Two brothers are on the run in Depression-era California: the unnamed narrator and his brother Russell, who experienced some trauma during WWI and lost an eye there (and, it later becomes apparent, got involved in some occult shenanigans during his time on the Continent). Russell, it seems, ran afoul of the eponymous Hound, and is being pursued by the beast. Disaster and peril ensue as the brothers try to escape a bad fate. Also, very nice use of the reanimated dead. Astute readers will also detect some nice, subtle references to Clark Ashton Smith and Miskatonic University. Melancholic, but in a nice, moody sort of way that I appreciated.
The Hastur Cycle, Second Edition, edited by Robert M. Price (Chaosium, 1997)
“The Feaster From Afar” by Joseph Payne Brennan
A simple story I didn’t care for much. A writer rents an isolated cabin to get some writing done and ends up getting attacked by a flying monster (an avatar of Hastur?), which sucks his brain out of his skull (I will grant that this is a rather cool way of killing someone). There’s a ham-handed attempt to fit this into the Cthulhu Mythos by having a local mention that the Whateleys from “The Dunwich Horror” lived nearby, and as he’s being attached the writer calls out to Hastur (why?). The entirely unsympathetic writer is also contemptuous of Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos; it’s always a pet peeve of mine when the Mythos is dragged by name into a story. This one was mostly just crudely and poorly done.
The Crawling Chaos and Others: The Annotated Revisions and Collaborations of H.P. Lovecraft, Vol. 1, edited by S.T. Joshi (Arcane Wisdom, 2012)
“The Automatic Executioner” by Gustav Adolphe Danziger
Danziger’s original, shorter version of “The Electric Executioner,” which Lovecraft modified and improved, though the story is essentially the same as the later version. Danziger’s exposition briefly sets the stage—it gets to the action in the train car faster—then there is a much barer bones plot: a man is trapped in a train car alone with a psychopath, who demands that the man serve as a test subject for an execution machine. The madman seems dumber here than in the later version, and because the plot moves quicker, some of the menace and the long, slow, agonizing attempt to bargain for time goes by much faster here, thereby causing the story to end less satisfyingly. The minor element of astral projection found in “The Electric Executioner” is only briefly alluded to in the final paragraph here, which makes it seem much more tacked on; better to have eliminated that element altogether, or expanded it, as Lovecraft chose.