D.J. Butler, Michael R. Collings, Nathan Shumate, David J. West, Carter Reid, Brad R. Torgersen, Robert J. Defendi, and Howard Tayler
Cold Fusion Media
eBook, $5.99; paperback, $13.99
I have always thought that H.P. Lovecraft’s nihilistic vision of the universe fits very well with science fiction. Why do Lovecraftian horrors and Things Man Was Not Meant To Know lurk only inside dank basements, dusty tombs, and forbidden tombs? Aren’t the depths of space, alien vistas, and the bleak frontiers of other worlds also fair game for the kinds of horrors imagined by Lovecraft and his many imitators? The authors collected in SPACE ELDRITCH certainly think so. In addition to a Foreword by Larry Correia discussing this unholy mixture of Lovecraft and space opera, SPACE ELDRITCH contains seven novelettes and novellas. The stories are:
“Arise Thou Niarlat From Thy Rest” by D.J. Butler
“Space Opera“ by Michael R. Collings
“The Menace Under Mars” by Nathan Shumate
“Gods in Darkness” by David J. West
“The Shadows of Titan” by Carter Reid and Brad R. Torgersen
“The Fury in the Void” by Robert J. Defendi
“Flight of the Runewright” by Howard Tayler
Some mild plot spoilers follow in my reflections on each of these tales:
D. J. Butler’s “Arise Thou Niarlat From Thy Rest”: Contains a nice mix of existential Lovecraftian threat in the depths of space, along with some two-fisted pulp action, linked by one of Lovecraft’s favorite tropes, that of consciousness projection/possession from the far distant past or future. The story worked well, though presented just a little too vaguely at times.
Michael R. Collings’ “Space Opera“: A classic tale of first contact between alien species, told from the perspective of the alien conqueror rather than a human. A great depiction of a truly alien mindset and physiology, as well as a setting obviously set after Lovecraft’s “stars are right.” Perhaps the most explicitly Lovecraftian of the stories in this collection, as well as the bleakest vision of the future. Well done.
These first two stories, I should note, are really the only pieces in the collection to explicitly reference direct Lovecraftian elements. The rest of the stories still work thematically as Lovecraftian tales, it’s just that in the stories that follow, Lovecraft’s philosophy and common tropes are implicit rather than explicit, but don’t let that turn you off some good stories.
Nathan Shumate’s “The Menace Under Mars”: A genuinely engaging story about a routine exploration mission on Mars gone horribly awry. Humans have begun to settle Mars and terraform it, but, well, they aren’t alone, and their terraforming efforts (nor surprisingly) have unpredictably bad effects. Lots of action and a real page turner.
David J. West’s “Gods in Darkness”: Set during the height of the Space Race, this shows what was really going on in space when American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts encountered each other and (literally) battled it out in space. Reminds me of Charles Stross’ wonderful novelette “A Colder War” (available here: http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/stories/colderwar.htm ) – and could actually be set in that novelette’s universe – though “Gods in Darkness” lacks the creeping, unsettling doom of “A Colder War.” This is a straight-up, high stakes action-adventure story and it’s a good one.
“The Shadows of Titan” by Carter Reid and Brad R. Torgersen: Great adventure and exploration story set on, oddly enough, the moon Titan. The mission takes a dark turn when a structure is discovered there. Very reminiscent of some older adventure pulp science fiction stories, with a clever resolution.
“The Fury in the Void” by Robert J. Defendi: A fascinating tale of future war in space between two rival factions – seemingly descendants of the Greeks and the Russians – who use the remnants of advanced technologies they can no longer build or maintain and for whom religious orthodoxy is of paramount concern. It’s a great setting (and one I’d like to see more of) that was clearly inspired by the wargame settings of Warhammer 40K and Battletech. I’d have liked to be shown more of the villains’ origins and motivations, but enjoyed the story nevertheless.
“Flight of the Runewright” by Howard Tayler: Bleak story about the future use of what we would probably describe as occult means to travel faster-than-light across the depths of space. The story is told from the first-person present perspective featuring, obviously, a somewhat unreliable narrator who learns the truth of his situation along with the reader (I hesitate to say more for fear of ruining the story). I was pleasantly reminded of Stephen King’s story “The Jaunt” in some respects. Lots of fun.
All in all, this is an amazingly successful collection of stories to combine cinematic science fiction – the genre of “space opera” clearly applies in all cases – with Lovecraftian horror. As you know, it’s rare to pick up an anthology and genuinely enjoy each story it contains, but that was certainly the case here. Each of the authors knows their craft well and shows off their writing chops in SPACE ELDRITCH. The writing is uniformly better than most of the science fiction produced in the 1950s and ‘60s, but the stories themselves would not have been out of place in that era. There’s certainly room for additional related stories for most of these, so I am holding out hope for a SPACE ELDRITCH II. I also have to briefly mention that wonderful cover art by Carter Reid as well – isn’t it gorgeous? The cover contains just the right mix of creepiness, tentacles, eldritch runes, and over-the-top cinematic science fiction elements to complement the stories found here.
Unless you are true Lovecraftian purist who things that the Elder Gods should only be encountered by sanity-shaken antiquarians and librarians in the 1920s, I can virtually guarantee that you will enjoy some if not all of the stories collected here. These are all refreshing looks at familiar horror themes viewed through the new lens of space opera and science fiction. Highly recommended for those who like some horror with their science fiction – clearly two tastes that taste great together.
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Review copyright © 2013 J. Andrew Byers