When Tourists Visit Goatswood…

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.

Made In Goatswood, published by Chaosium in 1995 and edited by Scott David Aniolowski, is much like Aniolowski’s later collection Singers of Strange Songs. Like that volume, it’s a tribute anthology of short stories by various authors honouring a significant figure in recent Lovecraftian writing; whereas Singers was a tribute to the highly hit-or-miss-prone Brian Lumley, Made In Goatswood is dedicated to the outright excellent Ramsey Campbell, and was compiled to celebrate his Guest of Honour Appearance at NecronomiCon 1995.

In some respects, Campbell made it a bit easier than Lumley for later hands to produce an anthology that hangs together thematically. Like Lumley, he’d invented his own swathe of Lovecraft-inspired horrors, but in addition to that he’d also invented his own geography of horror – a fictional region of the Severn Valley around the imaginary city of Brichester, a place similar enough to his Liverpool stamping grounds that he could write about it vividly but distant enough from reality to allow him to invent local histories of Roman occupation and ancient cults to suit the needs of his stories. Thus, all the stories here are set within the Severn Valley setting, which instantly offers a range of ties to Campbell’s body of Lovecraftian work as summed up in Cold Print.

Continue reading “When Tourists Visit Goatswood…”

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”

Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and Its Imitators, Part 2

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: in 1969 August Derleth’s Arkham House publishing company put out Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos; though in subsequent years it would be revised by Jim Turner, this was mostly am embellishment on the original outline of the anthology set up by Derleth.

A few years later, August Derleth died. Whilst no one individual would replace him as self-appointed Pope of the Cthulhu Mythos fandom, Arkham House continued as a company under the auspices of his heirs and continued to make Mythos material a significant component of their catalogue. And that meant that sooner or later, an attempt at a sequel anthology was made…

New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos

Coming nearly a decade after Derleth’s death, Arkham House decided to put out in 1980 this anthology of all-original Mythos stories with an intent of representing where the state of the art stood, much as the original stories in Tales represented the state of the art in 1969. The anthology was edited by Ramsey Campbell, who even at this early stage of his career could justifiably be seen as perhaps the biggest new talent in horror out of the crop of new writers showcased in Tales.

In his introduction, Campbell broke from the old Derlethian party line by noting that there is no settled “canon” for the Mythos, and that it’s better to emulate Lovecraft’s command of atmosphere, originality, and masterful command of story structure than it is to blindly follow his prose style or rehash his plots. These days, all of that is well-known and well-understood, but it was decidedly worth saying at the time, especially in an Arkham House release – and the fact that Arkham House were willing to put out such an introduction says something about how they had emerged from Derleth’s shadow in the intervening years.

Continue reading “Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and Its Imitators, Part 2”

Reading Canary: The Radix Tetrad

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 , 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 Radix Tetrad

The Radix Tetrad is an interesting case for the Reading Canary to follow. All four of the books are essentially independent from each other – while concepts from all three of the earliest books appear in the final volume, The Last Legends of Earth, reading the previous books is honestly not necessary to enjoy that one. There are, however, recurring themes throughout the books which are handled with a varying degree of success. Attanasio’s own summary of the idea behind the books, from his postscript to The Last Legends of Earth, is as follows:

My intention has been to thematically structure each novel around one of the four cardinal directions that define us and our world: height, depth, width, and time.

Radix, a novel about stature, employs heightened language to define standing tall, our chief physical distinction among the apes. In Other Worlds concerns depth and uses deepening language to plumb the interiority of experience. With Arc of the Dream the narrative focus spans the breadth of society in an effort to circumscribe the limits of culture, where the group refracts into individuals, Finally, here, in The Last Legends of Earth, language and individual character flatten before the inexorable mystery of change we call time.

Attanasio, as you may have guessed, can be somewhat pretentious, and I’m not convinced his work ever meets the standards set by him, but about half the volumes of the Tetrad are worthwhile. The other half are terrible.

This is precisely the sort of minefield the Canary was made for…

Continue reading “Reading Canary: The Radix Tetrad”