Sunday, December 13, 2015

Review: New Cthluhu 2

I recently finished New Cthulhu 2: More Recent Weird, edited by Paula Guran.

As the subtitle implies, the New Cthulhu series covers more recent Lovecraftian works - I believe most/all of the stories in this anthology have been previously printed elsewhere.   This second installment contains stories written between 2010 and 2014, and is an exquisite display of the ongoing Lovecraftian renaissance.   To highlight a few examples:

"The Same Deep Waters As You", by Brian Hodge, starts the anthology on a strong note.   An "animal whisperer" is recruited by the military, in an attempt to figure out why a group of imprisoned Deep Ones, kept on an island off the West Coast since the 1929 raid on Innsmouth, have suddenly started acting up.   Excellent atmosphere and character, that doesn't shy away from the ethical issues that increasingly appear in modern portrayals of the Deep Ones - but more on that in a bit.   One of my favorites in the collection.

"Mysterium Tremendum", by Laird Barron.   A group of friends go camping in the mountains, following the advice of a strange tourist guidebook that is (of course) more then it appears.   Starts very strong, with a slow but steady build of creepiness, but is let down by an overly-gorey and unoriginal ending.

"The Transition of Elizabeth Haskings", by Caitlin Kiernan.   A character sketch of a resident of modern-day Innsmouth, trying to cope with what, over time, tends to happen to residents of Innsmouth.   Kiernan, as always, is brilliant; my only complaint is that they picked such a short tale!   Surely they could have found room for one of Kiernan's longer pieces!

"The Litany of Earth", by Ruthanna Emrys.   I want to talk about this story because I feel it exemplifies an issue I see in a lot of the better modern Lovecraftian fiction.   Given Lovecraft's, well, absolutely toxic racism, it's understandable that authors want to invert it, both because a) surprise factor and because b) fuck racism.  And some authors can write a Lovecraftian tale where that really works - Kiernan's "Transition" in this very anthology is an example.   But "Litany" is not.   Now, I'm not saying it's a bad story, because it isn't; it's quite a good story.   But it's not a Lovecraftian story.   When you make the monsters of a Lovecraft story sympathetic, you have to be very careful to avoid humanizing them - because if they're just humans with a weird religion or a scales instead of skin, then what you've got is a parable on tolerance and bigotry, not a Lovecraftian story.   Now, as I said, "Litany" is a very good parable, but I don't think it really belongs in this book, because there's no monster here, no cosmic awe, just misunderstood people struggling with the racism of 1940s America.

"The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward", by Elizabeth Moon and Sarah Monette.   Set in Moon's boojum universe, a renegade doctor signs on to an Arkhamer vessel intending to salvage a wrecked boojum-ship - but of course, there turns out to be more then there appears.   One of the weaker stories in this verse, in my view - a bit too heavy on the gore for effect, and in a universe like the boojum-verse, reanimated dead just don't pack much punch.   But even a weaker jaunt by Moon is still head and shoulders above most authors' best efforts.

"Equoid", by Charlie Stross.   Set in the Laundry Files, Bob Howard has to deal with a unicorn.   Has all the virtues and flaws of Stross's Laundry tales, which is to say it's a lot of fun, and as a Lovecraftian tale is significantly better than the average, but still doesn't quite hit on all cylinders.

Summing up, 4/5 stars.   Highly recommended.


  1. It has been a year since the last toxic star updates, do you have any plan soon? Thanks

  2. So, the reason updates have stopped is because I've been finishing my Ph.D. thesis. That's done now, but looking over what I've got and the response people have given, I've decided to move in a different direction, towards writing short stories set in the _Toxic Stars_ universe rather then a continuous narrative. The first, "The POISON GATE", is finished and has been accepted for publication, to be published this summer.