The literary world is inundated with Lovecraftian anthologies. They range from mediocre collections of fan fiction to high-quality compilations of tales that contribute to the expansion of the Lovecraftian universe with good, original stories. However, outstanding anthologies that truly pay homage to Lovecraft’s style and influence and are absolute must-reads are rare. The Book of Cthulhu, edited by Ross E. Lockhart, is epic both in scale and quality. With more than 500 pages full of Lovecraftian narratives by some of the biggest names in horror, The Book of Cthulhu is easily one of the finest homages to H.P. Lovecraft and a testament to Lockhart’s impeccable taste.
To get an idea of how good the stories are, scrolling through the table of contents should be more than enough. Some of the best voices in dark fiction are here. Laird Barron, Joe R. Lansdale, Thomas Ligotti, Ramsey Campbell, Joseph Pulver, John Hornor Jacobs, T.E.D. Kline, Caitlín R. Kiernan and W.H. Pugmire, undoubtedly one of the most exquisite voices in Lovecraftian fiction today, are only a few of the authors in the anthology. With so many writers contributing, offering a review of each story would be a daunting task as well as a ridiculously long review. Instead of doing that, I’ll highlight a handful of favorites.
– Brian McNaughton’s The Doom that Came to Innsmouth starts with a long quote from John F. Kennedy’s Commencement Address to the Class of 1959 at Miskatonic University that truly makes the imagination fly. The narrative mixes the history of the town and the old family names from The Shadow Over Innsmouth with a modern twist that includes the government and a finale that’s full of hope.
– Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Flash Frame is a noir-esque tale about a film that’s more than celluloid. The narrative takes place in Mexico City in the early 1980s and the narrator, a freelance writer, takes readers down a very dark road of research and discovery that leads to a very destructive end. The tight prose and rich descriptions mix with the gritty atmosphere of the story to create a tale that’s hard to forget. It also makes one think this is what it would be like if Paco Ignacio Taibo II tackled Lovecraft.
– Elizabeth Bear’s Shoggoths in Bloom is an engrossing read that’s chock-full of a scientific/biological/academic discourse that truly brings the story to live. Here shoggoths are studied and gazed upon as a special animal, but as the narration spirals into much gloomier territory, the classic sinister feel that comes with the creatures floats to the surface. Good Lovecraftian fiction often resembles philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s work in that “becoming” is a very important element. In that aspect, this story is a perfect example of the genre.
– Thomas Ligotti’s Nethescurial is an eloquent narrative about a found manuscript. Elegant descriptions and a dash of dreams, that ever-present Lovecraftian element, make this one of the most graceful stories in the collection.
– Cherie Priest’s Bad Sushi was a surprise for me. With its straightforward prose, sustained tension, and heavy dose of violence and gore, this story will satisfy all those that enjoy a bit of tentacled mayhem.
– W.H. Pugmire’s Some Buried Memory is a story about pedigree, but the author created an entire world to use as the stage. Pugmire’s poetic, articulate prose shines in this one. As a bonus, the tale contains an Oscar Wilde-esque atmosphere that at one point gives a humorous line that I consider the best one in the book: “You are certainly criminally grotesque; but ugliness is a crime of nature, not a felon of choice.”
While those are some favorites of mine, there are no throwaways in The Book of Cthulhu. Considering the anthology contains 27 stories, that’s saying a lot. As often happens when Cthulhu mythos fiction is involved, different readers will feel more strongly about different stories and might even ask why a particular tale they love is not here. Although this is inevitable, true fans of Lovecraftian literature will find more than enough here to please them.
So why am I not calling this the best Lovecraftian anthology ever? Because Lockhart has done it again. The Book of Cthulhu II is now available and, with Lockhart once again behind the wheel, chances are it’s just as good as this one. Do yourself a favor and pick both of them up today.
(This review by Gabino Iglesias.)