The Exact Moment That I Stopped Bothering With Trying To Hateread Necroscope For Your Entertainment

Far and away the most significant work in Brian Lumley’s bibliography is his epic Necroscope series. The title refers to the main character, one Harry Keogh, who has a knack for conversing with the dead. Thanks to this talent he is recruited into E-Branch, a top secret, underfunded UK government spy agency specialising in what it punningly calls ESPionage – intelligence work utilising psychic powers. In the first novel, it becomes apparent that the Soviets have their own Necroscope – the cruel Boris Dragosani, who extracts secrets from the dead through torture and degradation in contrast to Harry’s vastly kinder methods. Dragosani, for his part, is being drawn into the web of Baron Ferenczy – one of the Wamphyri, a type of vampire unique to this series. The Wamphyri are powerful psychics and resemble less a person than a disease which infects people, the quasi-fungal substance of their offspring infiltrating the human body and expressing itself, when wanted, as bizarre transformations. (This is pretty much what the Tzimisce clan in Vampire: the Masquerade were a riff on.)

It all culminates in a big showdown in which Keogh and Dragosani must fight it out using the powers both have gathered over time – Dragosani through his new Wamphyri nature, Keogh through various secrets the dead have taught him over the years. Subsequent books involve return engagements between Keogh and the Wamphyri and related forces (including the Cthulhu Mythos – a certain Baron Ferenczy having played a significant role in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward), Keogh becoming more and more boringly overpowered until at the end of the fifth novel Lumley had to find a loophole to write him out of the cosmos. (The sequel series takes place on the Wamphyri home planet and is basically a very sanguinary take on sword and sorcery. It is imaginatively entitled Vampire World.)

Continue reading “The Exact Moment That I Stopped Bothering With Trying To Hateread Necroscope For Your Entertainment”

Disciplined Anthologies

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

In the heaped masses of Cthulhu Mythos-themed short story anthologies that have been published over the years, The Disciples of Cthulhu from 1976 (originally published by DAW books, reprinted in the 1990s by Chaosium) occupies a special place. It might not quite be the first such anthology to come out independently of Arkham House (in the sense of not either being published directly by Arkham House or being a reprint of an Arkham House release); Ballantine’s Adult Fantasy line had released The Spawn of Cthulhu in 1971, edited by the line’s mastermind Lin Carter. That said, Carter was not exactly a stranger to Arkham House, and Spawn entirely consisted of reprints, the majority of which were decades-old tales from Lovecraft’s peers and influences.

However, there’s every reason to believe the claim of Edward P. Berglund, editor of The Disciples of Cthulhu, that it was the first professional collection of all-original Mythos stories. Moreover, I would add something to that: it’s one of the first major expressions of the post-Derlethian Cthulhu Mythos. Coming out as it did five years after Derleth died, it’s a collection produced by someone who consequently had absolutely no need to keep Derleth happy, and features a set of authors that Derleth was in no position to veto the involvement of (what with him being dead and all). Whereas Derleth had previously acted as a gatekeeper for the Mythos playground, Disciples found a range of new voices invading it and making it their own.

Let me get the Boy’s Club assessment out of the way first: every single one of those voices was male, and that’s annoying. It’s especially annoying when in 2003 Chaosium had Berglund do a sequel volume and he almost-but-not-quite turned in another woman-free collection (I’ll dig into that point a bit deeper later). Taking a certain level of sexism as read, does Berglund at least show taste in the stories he picks? Let’s have a see.

Continue reading “Disciplined Anthologies”

Starry Wisdom, Vapid Songs

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

So, a while back it was suggested that I should cover Alan Moore’s various Cthulhu Mythos works, Moore having gotten deep into the Lovecraft tribute business right about the time I was doing my epic Lovecraft review and its various followups. To tell that story, though, I have to go back a little and tell the story of The Starry Wisdom, a curious little volume issued by Creation Books in 1994. Creation Books, back in the day, was a publisher that was vaguely associated with Creation Records and specialising in cult and underground books; edited by D.M. Mitchell, The Starry Wisdom has gained a reputation as perhaps the weirdest and most out-there Cthulhu Mythos anthology you can find, incorporating as it does texts from other authors (such as William Burroughs or J.G. Ballard) who, whilst not writing directly in the Lovecraft tradition, seem to conceptually butt up against it here and there, as well as contributions from the world of comics (both in terms of comics authors turning their hands to prose and some of the stories being presented in graphic novel format) and industrial music (Michael Gira of Swans has got a rant in here, for instance).

What it does, in short, is mash up extreme stories by traditional Mythos authors, Mythos-adjacent stories from extreme authors, and generally go broad as broad as you can in terms of what can constitute a Cthulhu Mythos story without losing sight of Lovecraftian cosmic horror altogether, and by and large it’s a great little ride. Heck, they’re even able to get a half-decent story out of Robert M. Price: his contribution, A Thousand Young, is an intensely sexualised story about a Shub-Niggurath cult posing as a society of modern-day Sadean libertines. The cod-Lovecraftian prose that Price seems to like to write in, when applied to this subject matter, actually seems weirdly apt for its confessional format. Here, supernatural horror is largely incidental to the horror of what narrator does in pursuit of his purported spiritual goals – Price once again scraping his way to a good story by engaging with his theological and philosophical interests in an imaginative manner.

Continue reading “Starry Wisdom, Vapid Songs”

Shadows Over the Anthology

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Stephen Jones’ Shadows Over Innsmouth series of anthologies takes an approach to compiling themed Mythos anthologies which represents a similar but different approach to Price’s ”Cycle” books – whereas Price’s Cycles take in stories which influenced or dealt with particular entities or concepts in Lovecraft’s fiction, Shadows Over Innsmouth compiles stories written in response to one specific Lovecraft story – namely, The Shadow Over Innsmouth. This is a concept which unfortunately gets tired out before the first anthology, Shadows Over Innsmouth, is even done – let alone when you get to the followup anthologies.

Jones starts the first collection out with the obvious-yet-redundant choice of Lovecraft’s own The Shadow Over Innsmouth – it’s obvious because it’s the story that inspired the collection, but redundant because there’s no fucking way anyone who went out of their way to buy this thing doesn’t already own it. Our first dose of original material is Basil Copper’s Beyond the Reef, which sets the tone for the rest of the book by being an amateurish pastiche. Copper makes a token attempt at a Lovecraftian prose style, but it’s inconsistently applied and rather poor and wooden. Mere imitation cannot reproduce the long effort Lovecraft put into finding his voice, and slipping into and out of that voice over the course of the story just exposes Copper’s poor grip on it. In addition, he commits the basic error of having a framing story which establishes the main narrative as being a particular character’s witness statement, but has them talking about themselves in the third person and recounting conversations in detail despite the fact that they weren’t actually present. I couldn’t finish it.

Continue reading “Shadows Over the Anthology”

Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and Its Imitators, Part 5

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The story so far: Arkham House’s major multi-author state-of-the Mythos anthologies – Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, and Cthulhu 2000 – held a special position in Cthulhu Mythos fandom, but come the 1990s this was challenged by other sources.

One of those was Robert M. Price’s two-part alternate take on the original Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, the first half of which – Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos – dredged up some diamonds but was also hampered by some utter dross, included more out of historical interest than out of any actual quality involved.

The New Lovecraft Circle

The second half of Price’s attempted riposte to Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos follows the lead of the second half of that tome, focusing on authors who had not been in correspondence with Lovecraft in his lifetime. The title is a nod to Lin Carter, a friend of Price whose work Price has tried to keep in the public eye even when the results aren’t actually that flattering to Carter and who had identified a set of new authors such as Ramsey Campbell and Brian Lumley as constituting a sort of “New Lovecraft Circle”, though I am not sure there is sufficient social glue between these writers (beyond that which naturally exists between writers working in the same genre for the same general audience, feeding from the same trough as it were) to really compare to the circle of friends around Lovecraft.

Continue reading “Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and Its Imitators, Part 5”

Lumley Makes a Psychomess of It

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Richard Garrison is a British Army military police officer serving in Northern Ireland in 1972, during one of the most dangerous phases of the Troubles. Thomas Schroeder is a former SS officer turned industrialist – a wealthy man, but also a ruthless one. After the IRA make an ill-advised attempt to strongarm Schroeder into not building a factory in a majority-Protestant area, Schroeder and his similarly tough bodyguard Willy Koenig make their objections known through brutal violence; when the IRA reprisals come down Garrison happens to be on the scene, and rescues Schroeder’s wife and son.

The incident is not without a severe cost, however. A bomb injures Schroeder and leaves him weakened and ailing, with only months left to live; it robs Garrison of his sight. Schroeder at this point takes an interest in Garrison – an interest motivated by more than just gratitude for his sacrifice. For Schroeder is an esotericist who believes that it may be possible for him to survive death, returning after a span of time to become spiritually and psychologically joined with a suitably receptive individual, in effect becoming a passenger in their psyche lending his power and personality to theirs. He had planned to attempt this with his son, but the boy is too young and Schroeder’s time is too short – but he feels a certain connection to Garrison, a hunch justified by the discovery of extensive ESP potential on Garrison’s part. A pact is made: Garrison will inherit Schroeder’s empire, and in return he will help enable Schroeder’s return from beyond the veil of death.

Continue reading “Lumley Makes a Psychomess of It”

Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and Its Imitators, Part 1

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Despite the fact that even during Lovecraft’s own lifetime the Cthulhu Mythos was well-established as a multi-author shared world type of affair, and despite the fact that the various contributions to it tended to be in the short story format, it took a surprisingly long time for a fully Mythos-themed short story anthology to appear. In the first few decades of Mythos fandom, when August Derleth exerted a lot of influence over the field and Arkham House as close to being the de facto “official” publisher of such material as anyone could claim to be, Arkham didn’t really put out any all-Mythos multi-author anthologies, unless you count books put out under H.P. Lovecraft’s byline that included falsified collaborations by August Derleth or essays by Lovecraft Circle members. Instead, Mythos stories were sprinkled among other material in Arkham House’s genre anthologies.

That changed in 1969 with Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos; this inspired a trickle of other all-Mythos multi-author anthologies, like the Lin Carter-edited Ballantine Adult Fantasy series entry The Spawn of Cthulhu from 1971 (an anthology now largely redundant due to the material mostly being reprinted in other, more easily-available sources), or the DAW Books release The Disciples of Cthulhu from 1976, to Arkham House’s own New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos from 1980. In the 1990s, the pace of such publications picked up, in part because of figures from fandom like Robert M. Price gaining prominence as anthologists and in part because of Chaosium starting up their own fiction line as a tie-in with the Call of Cthulhu RPG.

The anthologies I am going to review in this article series will cover Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and subsequent Arkham House releases that can be seen as sequels to it, as well as two series of anthologies that can be seen as attempts by prominent Lovecraft critics to craft their own take on Tales – one anthology grouping is by Robert M. Price, whilst the other is by S.T. Joshi.

Continue reading “Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and Its Imitators, Part 1”

Lumley’s Little Bites

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Having previously decided that I’d given Brian Lumley a bit of a raw deal, I thought the time had come to have a broader look at his short stories, beyond just the Cthulhu Mythos-related ones. Various collections of his work have come out over the years, but perhaps the easiest and most economical to find – and certainly the ones I remember most fondly from my teenage Lumley phase – are his collections from the 1990s, gathered together when he was at the peak of his commercial and critical success. Aside from the Cthulhu Mythos-specific anthologies which I covered in the previous article, you’re looking at Fruiting Bodies and Other Fungi, Dagon’s Bell and Other Discords, The Second Wish and Other Exhaltations, and A Coven of Vampires. Each contain some 13 stories from Lumley’s back catalogue, with the first three constituting a “best of” series with no overlap between them and the fourth being a thematic collection which does have some overlap with the earlier collections.

Although Lumley’s novel career was, back in the day, the section of his work which got the most spotlight – if only because the sheer amount of space the Necroscope bricks took up on bookshop shelves – he has always kept up his short story writing and regularly appears in genre anthologies. In fact, in recent years he has retired from writing novels altogether (apparently having finally decided that the Necroscope series had run its course), taking to short stories and novellas as his main mode of creative expression. In these collections, we find the full breadth of Lumley’s skills as a writer, revealing a talent not entirely limited to vampire stories and Mythos pastiche. In short, it is the closest we’re likely to come to a complete, rounded picture of Lumley as a writer.

To round things off, I’m also going to cover Singers of Strange Songs, an anthology of Cthulhu Mythos stories by various hands released in honour of Lumley’s Guest of Honour appearance at NecronomiCon in 1997.

Continue reading “Lumley’s Little Bites”

Lumley Revisited

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

There’s numerous potential criticisms you can make of August Derleth’s role in shepherding the Cthulhu Mythos following the death of H.P. Lovecraft, but he did at least eventually use his position as an editor, anthologist, and publisher to aid younger authors, much as Lovecraft had provided budding writers with support and advice in his own day. Granted, he wasn’t always so keen to cultivate new talent – he leaned on C. Hall Thompson to stop writing Lovecraftian fiction back in the 1940s, rather shamefully. But in his last decade he seemed to have something of a change of heart, letting new talent board the Mythos bus and benefit from Arkham House’s support. This included Ramsey Campbell, perhaps Britain’s best author of literary horror, and Brian Lumley, a writer about whom my thoughts are, let’s say, a bit mixed.

Very early on in Ferretbrain’s life I wrote a rant about how I thought Lumley was a terrible writer and represented everything that was wrong with the horror genre. I no longer think the article is accurate or appropriate and I’ve consequently binned it. My reaction, though harsh, was by no means unique to myself, because Lumley has suffered something of a critical backlash over the years. There was a time, back in the 1990s, when he was one of the really major figures in British horror writing, his tomes taking up ample shelf space on bookshop shelves.

His era of maximum commercial visibility has, however, seemed to pass, and critically his work has regularly taken a mauling. Part of this, I suspect, is simple snobbery – outside of his earlier Lovecraft pastiches, which like much work in that vein suffers from slightly stiff attempts to emulate Lovecraft’s prose style, Lumley tends to write in a brisk, easy style which is nicely readable but doesn’t have many literary aspirations of the sort that would impress the critics. Another part comes from sheer weariness; his magnum opus is found in the long-running Necroscope series of brick-sized vampire-busting novels, and despite the dizzily escalating stakes (pun intended) in the series it’s hard to retain any reader’s interest for quite that long.

Continue reading “Lumley Revisited”

An Anthology Series So Good Even Stephen Jones Can’t Ruin It

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The Reading Canary: A Reminder

Series of novels – especially in fantasy and SF fiction, but distressingly frequently on other genres as well – have a nasty tendency to turn sour partway through. The Reading Canary is your guide to precisely how far into a particular sequence you should read, and which side-passages you should explore, before the noxious gases become too much and you should turn back.

The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror: Wait, There’s Good New Horror?

Almost since the birth of Ferretbrain I have walked its nighttime corridors like a phantom, rattling my chains and bewailing the damnation of the horror genre. How, I asked myself, is anyone supposed to find the jewels from the dross any more, in the absence of a “Horror Masterworks” series?

Well, perhaps I have been looking in the wrong places. Surely one of the major annual horror anthology series will be able to point me in the right direction? I mean, it’s edited by Stephen Jones, who I dislike chiefly for his poor handling of several Fantasy Masterworks compilations, but can it succeed despite him? I certainly hope so. Having found the two latest volumes in Oxfam, at a price I couldn’t well refuse, I snatched them up eagerly. Maybe this will be the roadmap I am looking for!

Continue reading “An Anthology Series So Good Even Stephen Jones Can’t Ruin It”