Week 95 – Weekly Horror Short Story Reviews: Campbell, Webb, Pulver, Lovecraft, and Heald

Welcome to Week 95 of my horror short fiction review project! We will be finishing up with Ramsey Campbell’s Dark Feasts collection this week and replacing that with his Cold Print collection starting next week. Some interesting premises in this week’s set of stories, but my favorite by far was “The Horror in the Burying-Ground” by H. P. Lovecraft and Hazel Heald. Who doesn’t love a good “revenge from beyond the grave” tale?

Dark Feasts, by Ramsey Campbell (Robinson Publishing, 1987)

“Horror House of Blood”

A young couple allows a film crew into their home to film a low-budget horror film about a married couple in which the wife gets possessed and attacks her husband with a knife on the home’s staircase. The actual wife who lives in the home becomes increasingly frightened of her own staircase as well as the kitchen knife the crew borrowed to film the scene. The house seems to take on some of the aspects from the film’s plot, though it’s unclear how much of this is happening in the wife’s imagination. It’s not entirely clear what, if anything, is happening, which makes the story less satisfying then it otherwise might have been, but there are some interesting elements here.

The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, edited by Paula Guran (Running Press, 2016)

“The Future Eats Everything” by Don Webb

This one had an interesting premise but the prose was a little barebones. Nothing special. A man in a troubled marriage encounters some weird bugs during a Texas flood, then he finds a storefront church that worships them. As it turns out a cult has arisen that worships these things—they are aliens from both the future and another planet, locked in a war with “flying octopi,” and they can devour things or people completely, erasing them from reality. I wanted to like this one a great deal because that’s such an engaging premise, but there was just something…off, about the prose. Not bad, but not great.

The King in Yellow Tales, Volume 1, by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. (Lovecraft eZine Press, 2015)

“The Last Few Nights in a Life of Frost” (original unpublished version)

I should note at the outset that I have not read the previously published version of this story. A hitman is led on an odd quest by a mysterious woman who had hired him six years previously. She communicates her desires through appearances on a close-circuit TV channel only available at a specific motel chain and via the diaries he uncovers as she leads him around to specific locations. Or she’s not real and he’s imagining the whole thing. The narrator is profoundly disturbed and seems to be the classic unreliable narrator. I’m not sure that any of what he’s reporting is actually taking place outside his own mind. A little unsatisfying because of that, but interesting nevertheless.

Medusa’s Coil and Others: The Annotated Revisions and Collaborations of H.P. Lovecraft, Vol. 2, edited by S.T. Joshi (Arcane Wisdom, 2012)

“The Horror in the Burying-Ground” by H. P. Lovecraft and Hazel Heald

Do you like stories about being buried alive and getting revenge from beyond the grave? (Hint: any right-thinking person would answer in the affirmative.) Set in a small, rural town that is dying out, this is the story of the local undertaker (Henry Thorndike), a brother and sister (Tom and Sophie), and the local lunatic, Crazy John Dow. Henry is eccentric, unliked by the locals, and has a romantic interest in Sophie. He also experiments with embalming chemicals and seems to have perfected a chemical that can induce full paralysis and a simulation of death while leaving the victim alive and aware of his surroundings. Tom is a stifling, abusive brother who doesn’t like Henry and will never allow Sophie to be with him, and so Henry and Sophie hatch a little plot to induce simulated death in Tom and get him buried alive, thereby freeing them to be together. In the process, Henry accidentally injects himself with his own chemicals and appears to die as well. Sophie says nothing and lets this happen. Decades later, in the present, Sophie remains a shut-in and is nightly visited by the specters of Henry and Tom. Good ol’ Crazy John knows exactly what happened and tries to tell the other townsfolk, but he gets ignored and locked in a shed when he won’t shut up about it. Good stuff all around.


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Book Review: Scavenger Hunt by Michaelbrent Collings

48337923._UY2700_SS2700_Scavenger Hunt
Michaelbrent Collings

Written Insomnia Press, October 2019
Reviewed by Andrew Byers

Michaelbrent Collings has written a number of books in which a group of strangers who don’t know each are thrust into terrible circumstances by outside forces and then must struggle to survive. He’s back with a fresh take on this premise in Scavenger Hunt.

Here, five people—Solomon, a reformed gangbanger; Chong, an ill-tempered man of mystery; Elena, director of an orphanage; Nicole, a young hooker; and Clint, a down-on-his-luck guy with a missing sister he still mourns—are torn out of their ordinary lives and wake up in a warehouse wearing collars and watches they can’t remove. The collars are straight out of Suicide Squad and will be remotely triggered to explode if their wearers don’t do precisely what their captor—a freaky dude in a mask who calls himself Mr. Do-Good—wants. The watches are smart watches that allow Mr. Do-Good to issue orders. And boy, does he have some strange orders for them. They are sent across town to some shady neighborhoods to perform tasks that don’t initially make much sense. It rapidly becomes apparent, however, that each of Do-Good’s tasks helps reveal a new piece of the puzzle that explains why they find themselves in the predicament they do. Assuming they complete all of Do-Good’s tasks on time and without disobeying his orders, they will be released. But we all know that a guy like Mr. Do-Good isn’t going to make it easy on them.

As it turns out, of course, each of these five people is not quite so ordinary as they might initially appear, and unsurprisingly, their pasts are linked in key ways. Most of them also aren’t quite as innocent as they might have appeared at first, but I don’t want to spoil the plot in significant ways, because this is first and foremost a horror novel that revolves around a dark secret in everyone’s past. There are small clues scattered throughout the novel about the identity of Mr. Do-Good and the reasons why these five people have been chosen.

Obviously, a story like this depends on the characters involved. Collings’ characterization of ordinary people—especially ones with a secret in their past—is used to good effect here. We come to know each of the characters well through the course of the novel, diving deep into their backstories and learning why they ended up in the worst situation of their lives. These backstories are really the heart of the novel and where we see the characters’ true depths (and the depths to which at least some of them have sunk in the past).

Comparisons with the Saw film franchise are probably unavoidable, given that in Scavenger Hunt a villainous mastermind has kidnapped a bunch of strangers and placed them in a difficult bind where they must decide between suboptimal choices, but the superficial comparison ends there—this is not an example of torture porn. I won’t give away any of the plot twists here, that’s really the fun part of the novel, but I will say that I very much enjoyed the novel’s resolution. About halfway through, I thought I knew where things were headed; I was partly right about how all of these people were connected, but didn’t anticipate all the twists and turns. A good story with great pacing and a satisfying resolution. Definitely recommended.

Week 94 – Weekly Horror Short Story Reviews: Campbell, Gavin, Pulver, Lovecraft, and Heald

Welcome to Week 94 of my horror short fiction review project! While I loved Joe Pulver’s conclusion to his “Carl Lee & Cassilda” trilogy of stories, my favorite of the week was “Out of the Aeons” by H. P. Lovecraft and Hazel Heald. I’d really love to see this one get more attention because no one ever says much about it. Very good stuff.

Dark Feasts, by Ramsey Campbell (Robinson Publishing, 1987)

“The Words That Count”

A young woman who had been preparing to become a nun is now living with her widowed father and is being (chastely) courted by a young man. She receives a odd pamphlet in the mail that is cryptic but seems harmless. Her father becomes enraged (inexplicably) when he discovers the pamphlet. It’s kind of a pointless story. But I will admit that there’s one clever element to the story that I will now spoil. Starting from the back of the story, the first word of each paragraph is a word from the Lord’s Prayer. That’s kind of interesting as a writing exercise, but several of the words are kind of forced in, ultimately leading to a tale that meanders a bit then goes nowhere.

The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, edited by Paula Guran (Running Press, 2016)

“Deep Eden” by Richard Gavin

Most of the population of a small town has abandoned their homes and moved into an abandoned mine on the outskirts of town where a strange green luminescence has been discovered. Despite that premise’s excellent potential, this story has a deeply unsatisfying ending (i.e., the story simply stops). Gavin seems to think that unexplained weirdness for weirdness’ sake is adequate. It is not.

The King in Yellow Tales, Volume 1, by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. (Lovecraft eZine Press, 2015)

“Hello Is a Yellow Kiss”

The conclusion of the “Carl Lee & Cassilda” trilogy of stories. Dr. Archer uses Susan to lure Carl Lee back to the asylum, with Susan in the role of “Cassilda,” who Carl Lee has been searching for. This naturally leads to a final confrontation with the four key figures (Carl Lee, Susan/Cassilda, Archer, and Susan’s husband Frederic).The story also introduces the idea of the Carcosa Syndrome, an interesting way of describing/conceiving of the insanity that overtakes those exposed to the infamous play. A fitting end to the trilogy.

Medusa’s Coil and Others: The Annotated Revisions and Collaborations of H.P. Lovecraft, Vol. 2, edited by S.T. Joshi (Arcane Wisdom, 2012)

“Out of the Aeons” by H. P. Lovecraft and Hazel Heald

A really excellent story of several parts. We’ve got the ancient history of a high priest of sunken MU who tangled with a god and was cursed to have his body essentially mummified while his brain was perfectly preserved inside his corpse, and condemned to live on. Then we have the discovery of the priest’s corpse, which is then turned over to a small museum in the United States. A local reporter publicizes the new exhibit, and weirdos, cranks, and cultists from all over the world start showing up and attempting to either steal the mummy or perform unspeakable rituals with it. Oh and it becomes clear that the mummy is capable of some action. One night several of these ne’er-do-well cultists are killed or mummified themselves while in the museum. By this point the curator investigates further and sees the final image of the priest’s life emblazoned on his retinas(!). The mummy is autopsied, though all involved end up dying under horrifying and mysterious circumstances. This would have formed an excellent script outline for a truly wonderful black and white film in the 1930s. Perhaps the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society will one day film this one?


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Week 93 – Weekly Horror Short Story Reviews: Campbell, Wise, Pulver, Lovecraft, and Heald

Welcome to Week 93 of my horror short fiction review project! As with last week, there are some really choice stories to discuss again this week. I’m in kind of a Grand Guignol mood today, so I would say that “The Horror in the Museum” by H. P. Lovecraft and Hazel Heald was probably my favorite of the lot but Pulver and Wise’s stories are also excellent.

Dark Feasts, by Ramsey Campbell (Robinson Publishing, 1987)

“The Whining”

A man living alone in a ground-floor apartment is bedeviled by a stray dog that keeps pestering him. He tries to be kind to it, but its incessant whining angers him to the point that he eventually accidentally wounds the animal and has to finish it off. That turns out to have been a mistake because the dog’s spirit then begins to haunt him. The story might have worked better if the protagonist had been less grumpy and more likeable; as it is, the reader doesn’t really feel at all sorry for the guy.

The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, edited by Paula Guran (Running Press, 2016)

“I Dress My Lover in Yellow” by A. C. Wise

A collection of found documents is used to tell this story, or rather, to tell two interlinked stories, one contemporary and one from the 1890s. This is one of my favorite modes of storytelling, as I think there is a special artistry involved in telling an engaging and cohesive story using this kind of artifice. In the 1890s, a college administrator hired a controversial portrait artist to paint his much younger wife’s portrait. The artist made her uncomfortable and had her wear a yellow dress that seems to have had sinister properties. The artist ended up producing a very ominous portrait—which the husband later destroyed—and then both artist and wife disappeared, causing shame and social turmoil, though the reader certainly suspects something other than a young woman falling for an artist and running off with him. Fast forward to the present, in which two female roommates have disappeared, leaving behind a few notes that allude to a bungled lesbian fling and a new sinister portrait depicting one of the women wearing the same yellow dress surrounded by menacing shadows. Given the vague allusions to the King in Yellow (perhaps?), I found this story to be highly intriguing, though I would have liked to see a few more hints about exactly what was going on to really crystallize the story’s full potential.

The King in Yellow Tales, Volume 1, by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. (Lovecraft eZine Press, 2015)

“An American Tango Ending in Madness”

This is the second of Pulver’s “Carl Lee & Cassilda” Trilogy, comprised of “Carl Lee & Cassilda,” “An American Tango Ending in Madness,” and “Hello Is a Yellow Kiss.”

Susan is an unhappy woman married to wealthy and jaded Frederic, who organizes Eyes Wide Shut-style sex parties. Like her husband, Susan is deeply troubled; her father and previous mentor’s suicides still loom large in her psyche. Ultimately Susan tries and fails to kill herself and is then imprisoned under Dr. Archer’s care after she is deposited there along with a ring featuring the Yellow Sign and a copy of The King in Yellow play. Archer recognizes the significance of these objects and plans to use them somehow. This is a dark history of Susan and the tragedies in her life. Like the first story in the “Carl Lee & Cassilda” Trilogy, this is riveting.

Medusa’s Coil and Others: The Annotated Revisions and Collaborations of H.P. Lovecraft, Vol. 2, edited by S.T. Joshi (Arcane Wisdom, 2012)

“The Horror in the Museum” by H. P. Lovecraft and Hazel Heald

Excellent story. Would have provided the perfect narrative for a classic Vincent Price film. Why has no one adapted this tale for the screen? The narrator is cynical, jaded, and interested in the macabre. He finds it in a new wax museum of horrors that is opened in London. He makes the acquaintance of Rogers, the proprietor, though he doesn’t truly believe Rogers’ stories about his encounters with the occult. Rogers, as it turned out, has found a monstrous entity from another dimension that had been frozen in an ancient temple in northern Alaska. The narrator takes Rogers up on his offer to spend the night in the wax museum—that turns out to be a mistake, though the narrator does narrowly manage to turn the tables on Rogers, who meets a grisly end and is ultimately made part of a new display in the museum. Some truly gruesome elements in this story—very satisfying. Grand Guignol at its finest.


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Week 92 – Weekly Horror Short Story Reviews: Campbell, Shea, Pulver, Lovecraft, and Heald

Welcome to Week 92 of my horror short fiction review project! We have a new collection that we’re beginning to review this week: Ramsey Campbell’s Dark Feasts. Please note that almost the entire corpus of stories of Dark Feasts has been made available in the later collection Alone with the Horrors, which I have just finished reviewing on this blog. For the sake of completeness, I will be reviewing the four stories that are not found in the later collection, starting with “The Room in the Castle.” I am leaving the link to purchase Campbell’s Alone with the Horrors because Dark Feasts is long out of print and very expensive.

We have some really great stories this week. I would say that Joe Pulver’s “Carl Lee & Cassilda” nudges Campbell’s and Lovecraft’s stories out by a hair because “Carl Lee & Cassilda” is the start of a really nice linked trilogy of stories that I enjoy but they’re all very much worth your time.

Dark Feasts, by Ramsey Campbell (Robinson Publishing, 1987)

“The Room in the Castle”

The story we know as “The Room in the Castle” began life as “The Box in the Priory” in 1960 — when Ramsey Campbell was only fourteen years old — and was his first effort to expand on various Mythos references (in this case, some of Robert Bloch’s work).[1] It was completed in November 1961. The story is an obvious attempt to ape Lovecraft’s writing style and certainly benefits from Derleth’s editing (the original draft as “The Box in the Priory” is reprinted in full in PS Publishing’s The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Unwelcome Tenants (2011).

Our narrator Parry (we never learn his first name) is a scholar doing research in the British Museum for a friend who runs across a series of legends describing a general avoidance of a certain hill outside the town of Brichester. Though the legends are mixed in with a great deal of the traditional kind of folklore one might find in any long-inhabited rural area, it becomes clear to Parry that a being called Byatis is at the heart of the problem.[2] Stories about Byatis go back to the Roman occupation of Britain (tying in with the overall Roman origins of Campbell’s Severn Valley setting), when Roman soldiers were said to have released Byatis from behind an ancient stone door in the hill where Byatis had been imprisoned by some unnamed people in antiquity, suggesting an indeterminate but ancient origin for Byatis. There are other stories about Byatis through the ages, but at some point in the 1700s, Sir Gilbert Morley, a local aristocrat who owned a local castle of Norman origin, began dabbling in the sorcerous arts and found a way to imprison and control Byatis, who had inhabited the area for centuries. Morley lured travelers to their doom and sacrificed them to Byatis, who fed on them, growing in size while remaining imprisoned in Morley’s cellar. Eventually Morley disappeared; his fate is unknown, though consumption by Byatis seems likely. Being the naturally curious sort, Parry decides to investigate further. Fortunately, while Parry is a proper Lovecraftian scholar, he is also a man of action, almost in a Howardian fashion, and decides to do something about Byatis.

Campbell name-drops a number of Lovecraftian elements — the Necronomicon, Cthulhu, Shub-Niggurath, Dagon, and Daoloth (and Campbell’s original creation Glaaki, but more on that being in later stories) — but these are mostly just mentioned in passing. One of the main sources of information for Parry is the eldritch tome De Vermis Mysteriis.[3] One legend described Byatis as having “but one Eye like the Cyclops, and had Claws like unto a Crab…[and] a Nose like the Elephants…and great Serpent-like Growths which hung from its Face like a Beard, in the Fashion of some Sea Monster.” Ultimately, when Parry does finally encounter Byatis, he glimpses only part of one of these facial tentacles, suggesting a truly vast size for the beast as a whole.

The story is filled with a blend of traditional legends, peasant superstition (Parry’s friend’s housekeeper gives him a “star-stone” emblazoned with the Elder Sign and referenced again in “The Horror from the Bridge, see below), and references to Christianity, making Parry’s job of sorting out the true nature of Byatis and how it might be stopped all the more difficult. Despite the Christian references, Mythos elements seem to be far older, with Christian elements and symbols apparently having no effect in confrontations with Byatis. Like Cthulhu and some of the other Mythos beings though, Byatis can be harmed — at least for a time — by something as simple as gasoline, which Parry uses to good effect when he decides to act (alone) against Byatis. In that sense, “The Room in the Castle” has a happy ending in that Byatis is at least temporarily stopped, though it is clear that a being so enormous cannot easily be permanently slain. Parry must live with his new-found knowledge that Byatis — and perhaps other “folkloric” creatures — are not simply tales repeated by superstitious peasants.

[1] Ramsey Campbell, “Afterword,” in The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Unwelcome Tenants (PS Publishing, 2011).

[2] Note that the serpent-headed deity Byatis was invented neither by Campbell nor Lovecraft; it was first mentioned in Robert Bloch’s story “The Shambler from the Stars” (Weird Tales, September 1935), though Campbell developed Byatis to a far greater extent than did Bloch.

[3] Like Byatis itself, De Vermis Mysteriis (translated as Mysteries of the Worm) was created by Robert Bloch and appeared in “The Shambler from the Stars,” said to have been written by the necromancer and alchemist Ludwig Prinn. The tome has appeared almost ubiquitously in Mythos fiction, later appearing in stories by Lovecraft himself, who corresponded with Bloch; August Derleth; Robert M. Price; Brian Lumley; and Stephen King, among many others.

Note that this review originally appeared HERE.

The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, edited by Paula Guran (Running Press, 2016)

“An Open Letter to Mister Edgar Allan Poe, from a Fervent Admirer” by Michael Shea

I didn’t get very much out of this one. It’s a brief letter from someone calling himself “Cannyharme” to Edgar Allan Poe. Short, and filled with long passages of verse (doggerel?). It brings in a few elements from H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Hound,” but not in an especially engaging way. What to make of this? I really have no idea, except to say that on doing a little research on Shea, I came across a reference to an unpublished novel entitled Mr. Cannyharme, who may be a ghoul, and who may have been involved in the events depicted in “The Hound.” Not sufficiently coherent for me unfortunately.

The King in Yellow Tales, Volume 1, by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. (Lovecraft eZine Press, 2015)

“Carl Lee & Cassilda”

This is the first of Pulver’s “Carl Lee & Cassilda” Trilogy, comprised of “Carl Lee & Cassilda,” “An American Tango Ending in Madness,” and “Hello Is a Yellow Kiss.”

An extremely dangerous lunatic named Carl Lee escapes from an asylum run by Dr. Archer (this name will be familiar to you from Robert W. Chambers’ “The Repairer of Reputations,” though this Archer—if we can believe Carl Lee—seems to be more of a Mengele character). Carl Lee travels across the country, killing all the while, in search of a mysterious woman named Cassilda. Carl is a fascinating character intimately connected with the King in Yellow Mythos; not only does he have a tattoo of the Yellow Sign emblazoned on his chest, but he is (or fancies himself to be) a kind of avatar of the Phantom of Truth—he believes that he is showing his victims The Truth as he kills them. Not only are the characters and plot fascinating, but this is a wonderful exploration of the seedy side of America (rundown bars, truck stops, and roadside motels). No one does serial killers on the run and seediness galore like Joe Pulver can.

Medusa’s Coil and Others: The Annotated Revisions and Collaborations of H.P. Lovecraft, Vol. 2, edited by S.T. Joshi (Arcane Wisdom, 2012)

“Winged Death” by H. P. Lovecraft and Hazel Heald

Great pulp suspense adventure. We’ve got some great elements here: two rival white physicians in sub-Saharan Africa, African folklore that turns out to be true, and a tale of revenge from beyond the grave. What more could you want? One doctor destroys the other’s reputation and career, so the one who feels himself wronged send the others a package of flies that have been infected with a deadly plague. Straightforward enough, but there is a piece of folklore about this particular type of fly: it is said to steal the soul of a human it bites, with the person condemned to have his soul enter and inhabit the fly’s body. That’s exactly what happens here. The doctor now trapped in the fly torments his murderer for five days as a fly, dipping his wings in ink and writing threatening messages on the ceiling for him to find. While I won’t spoil all the twists and turns, I will simply say that the fly manages to kill his murderer before committing suicide. Other a brief mention of some African deities who are likely avatars of some of Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones, this story, like many of the others that HPL ghostwrote, is pretty free-wheeling and very much in keeping with the pulp sensibilities of the day. Thoroughly enjoyable.


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Week 91 – Weekly Horror Short Story Reviews: Campbell, Wehunt, Pulver, Lovecraft, and Heald

Welcome to Week 91 of my horror short fiction review project! This is our last week going through Ramsey Campbell’s Alone with the Horrors. Next week we’ll start on Campbell’s Dark Feasts, just covering those stories we haven’t covered in previous Campbell collections. Picking my favorite story of the week was easy: it’s Joe Pulver’s Choosing. Man, I wish Joe had written a novel expanding on this story’s post-apocalyptic setting.

Alone with the Horrors, by Ramsey Campbell (Tor, 2004)

“End of the Line”

Roger Speke is a telemarketer who starts having some weird problems with language—seems to be a kind of aphasia, perhaps—which causes him to speak or interpret ordinary words as nonsensical ones. He also seems to be growing gradually more and more insane (another theme Ramsey Campbell used regularly in his short fiction) and has some guilt about the death of his ex-wife. There’s no real payoff for what should have been a pretty interesting premise. It’s just not clear what’s going on, other a random guy slowly going nuts, or why the reader should be interested.

The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, edited by Paula Guran (Running Press, 2016)

“I Do Not Count the Hours” by Michael Wehunt

Ada is a viola player who comes from a very sheltered upbringing, having been raised by her grandmother. She has married Luke, a filmmaker, though recently he began behaving erratically and told her he wants a divorce. She believes that he has somehow become involved with a cult he was researching for a film project. As it turns out, Luke has become involved with the cult, which seems to be led by three (noncorporeal? Otherworldly?) beings that wear humans like skins or suits and play music that has some sort of cosmic significance (there is a throwaway line to the music of Erich Zann). Ada becomes the fourth member of their quartet, though the precise nature of these beings or what they hoped to achieve eludes me—I don’t quite understand what happens in the story’s climax, though it was evocative, and I’m hoping that the story rewards a re-reading with greater understanding of the significance of it all. Interesting, though that muddy climax left me feeling unsatisfied.

The King in Yellow Tales, Volume 1, by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. (Lovecraft eZine Press, 2015)

“Choosing”

We find that human civilization is in ruins, having been destroyed by the rise of the Great Old Ones, with survivors cowering in caves and tunnels. They must periodically offer a woman to a priest of Hastur, presumably as a sacrifice; one can only imagine the unspeakable acts these women would be subjected to. Lily, the wife of the unnamed narrator, is selected as the group’s next sacrifice to Hastur. While he is powerless to prevent her from being taken, he plots revenge and plans to travel to Carcosa to rescue or avenge her. I think we all understand that this plan will not end well. This is really good stuff and a great prose opening to the collection. To the best of my knowledge Pulver never wrote a follow-up to this one, but I’d love to see what he could do with it—would be a great opportunity to illustrate Hastur’s particular Hell on Earth.

Medusa’s Coil and Others: The Annotated Revisions and Collaborations of H.P. Lovecraft, Vol. 2, edited by S.T. Joshi (Arcane Wisdom, 2012)

“The Man of Stone” by H. P. Lovecraft and Hazel Heald

Two men venture into an isolated part of the Adirondacks after hearing a story about two unusual stone statues—of a prone man and a standing dog—found in a cave. I think most readers automatically assume that unusually detailed stone statues found in stories like this are actually petrified people, and that’s the case here. They poke around a bit more and happen upon some strange sorcerous or alchemical workings and an evil Lovecraftian wizard. The story is okay as far as it goes, but it’s a bit too low-key, since literally all the interesting events and conflicts have already occurred and been resolved by the outset of the story (everyone involved is already dead and petrified). Still, pretty interesting nevertheless.


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Week 90 – Weekly Horror Short Story Reviews: Campbell, Moreno-Garcia, Lai, Pulver, Lovecraft, and Whitehead

Welcome to Week 90 of my horror short fiction review project! This week we have a new collection that we will work through: Joe Pulver’s The King in Yellow Tales, Volume 1 (sadly Joe has not followed this up with a second collection yer but I’m not giving up hope). The winner of best story of the week award was clear: “The Trap” by H. P. Lovecraft and Henry S. Whitehead. Just a genuinely creepy little story set in an early twentieth-century boarding school over Christmas break, and it’s one of about fifteen stories about an occult investigator named Gerald Canevin–I will be locating the rest….

Alone with the Horrors, by Ramsey Campbell (Tor, 2004)

“Another World”

A Christian religious zealot who has been raised in almost total isolation from the outside world by his deranged father (who seems to now be dead or dying) ventures into the outside world. Needless to say, he views everything he encounters through a very twisted lens and doesn’t like what he finds. It’s an interesting one; I enjoyed it because by looking at such an extreme case as this—it doesn’t seem that the protagonist has ever left his home, and he’s now in his thirties—we can see how warped religious extremism and indoctrination can make people.

The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, edited by Paula Guran (Running Press, 2016)

“Legacy of Salt” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Set in rural Mexico in the 1960s rather than Innsmouth, Massachusetts in the 1920s, this is a quiet, almost cozy story about a young man who is a scion of an ancient family of Lovecraftian Deep One hybrids. His father sent him to live and be educated in Mexico City, and he’s made a life for himself there, with a job as an architect and a fiancée; he doesn’t even believe in the supernatural, and thinks some members of his family just have a rare genetic condition and kill themselves when it develops. He’s wrong, of course, and learns a bit more about his family when he returns home at the behest of his “dying” uncle. He is offered the possibility of assuming leadership of his family, but must renounce his modern life and marry his seductive cousin. It’s poignant and well done as far as it goes, but very little actually happens and the story breaks no new ground. Given the importance of religion in Mexico, I’m surprised that the family’s undoubtedly “odd” religious beliefs were never even mentioned—how could he have been raised as a traditional Catholic in this family?—that’s a major gap, so I suppose the story doesn’t hold up all that well on further reflection.

The King in Yellow Tales, Volume 1, by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. (Lovecraft eZine Press, 2015)

Introduction by Rick Lai

Lai presents an excellent genealogy of Carcosa, the King in Yellow, and Hastur, from Bierce to Chambers to Lovecraft to Derleth and then to Pulver and True Detective after him. Lai’s prose is straightforward and clear, and though short, the definitive guide for anyone who wonders what this whole King in Yellow is all about. He doesn’t really touch on the themes evoked by these entities and concepts—you’ll have to read the actual stories for that—but in terms of figuring out the origins of all these ideas, there’s no better guide. Provides good context for what Pulver is trying to do in this collection, and with many of the stories it contains; I know that I’ll be referring back to this piece the deeper I go into the collection.

“A Line of Questions”

A brief, one-page poem. Frequent readers will note that I don’t judge myself competent to assess poetry—it just isn’t my thing—so I will simply note that this one is about a man encountering a stranger who reveals wonders to him. Evocative and interesting.

Medusa’s Coil and Others: The Annotated Revisions and Collaborations of H.P. Lovecraft, Vol. 2, edited by S.T. Joshi (Arcane Wisdom, 2012)

“The Trap” by H. P. Lovecraft and Henry S. Whitehead

This was a really excellent, low-key story about a kind of magic mirror that entraps a schoolboy at a boarding school. One of the boy’s tutors, Mr. Canevin, must figure out what has happened and then effect a rescue. As it turns out the mirror was crafted by a nefarious Dutch sorcerer in the seventeenth century and the boy was not the first to be trapped in an otherworldly pocket dimension that can only be accessed by the mirror. I don’t detect much of HPL’s influence here, but it was an unusually good tale. On doing a little research on the story and Whitehead, I learned that this is actually one of fifteen(!) stories featuring Gerald Canevin, who is a kind of occult investigator; apparently many of the other stories have a Caribbean or Voodoo influence—none of that here, this is purely a New England story set over a Christmas holiday.


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Buy the book on Amazon


Buy the book on Amazon


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