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Black Static

New Horror Fiction BLACK STATIC 82/83 OUT NOW

The Late Review: Children of Lovecraft

2nd Nov, 2023

Author: Peter Tennant

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Published by Dark Horse in 2016, Children of Lovecraft is award winning editor Ellen Datlow's third anthology of fiction inspired by the work of H. P. Lovecraft and the challenge this time around for contributors is to write a story where HPL's influence is clear, but which doesn't name drop either him or any of his creations.

First up for the challenge is Siobhan Carroll with "Nesters", which takes the ideas behind "The Colour Out of Space" and transplants them to the infertile soil of the American Dustbowl. Told from the viewpoint of a young girl, the daughter of a dirt poor farming family, it tells of how a nearby farm was infested with strange life after the fall of a meteor. All the Lovecraftian essentials are there, and taken at face value this is a compelling story of an alien incursion, but in the greater context it is a tale of human suffering for which, really, we have nothing to blame except our own greed and short-sightedness, with people forced to desperate acts. In "Little Ease" by Gemma Files a pest exterminator finds herself between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand there are her slum landlord employers, who would be happy if an accident were to reduce their property to ashes, and on the other is a rogue scientist committing horrific experiments. Files captures perfectly the feeling of the unnatural set within our ordinary, workaday world, with imagery that is repellent, a catchy narrative voice, and the revelation of the true evil of human beings.

With echoes of "The Shadow Out of Time", there's an almost phantasmagorical feel to "Eternal Troutland" by Stephen Graham Jones, a tale that combines mystery elements and twisted psychology with the concept of time travelling creatures who feed on human beings. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, though I'm not sure I completely understood what I was reading, the story more impressionistic in feel than most here. John Langan's "The Supplement" is written in a convivial, eminently agreeable style and tells of a woman who falls victim to one of those cursed books, so beloved by HPL and his disciples. The nature of the curse is compellingly original, making the reader wonder if he too would succumb, but what elevates the story to one of the best in the book is the winning narrative voice, the little touches of detail and quirks of characterisation that make it all seem so real.

"Mortensen's Muse" by Orrin Grey is clearly a revamp of "Pickman's Model", with its account of a photographer's attempts to catch the ineffable through the lens of his camera. Well-paced and with touches of detail that confer verisimilitude, it holds the attention all the way through to the delicious payoff in the final line. Laird Barron's "Oblivion Mode" is the story that is the most way out there, initially feeling like "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" as reimagined by Lewis Carroll, but then evolving into something far bleaker. It's a helter skelter of words and imagery, with larger than life characters in a fantasy construct par excellence, taking on trans-dimensional vampires, or something like that. Initially I had a hard time getting into the story, but once you are 'in the zone' the payback from the author is more than worth the effort, a visionary confection of high fantasy and cosmic horror that will linger in the mind long after the narrative is done.

"Mr. Doornail" by Maria Dahvana Headley is a delightfully off kilter account of a monster imprisoned in a house and the sacrifices that must be made to keep it in abeyance, like a magic realist rendering of "The Dunwich Horror". It was a pleasure to read, from first word to last, and with a key role allocated to goats. A simple prisoner transport takes a bad turn for two detectives in "The Secrets of Insects" by Richard Kadrey, the story unsettling and disturbing for the way in which it reifies the figure of the serial killer, making him the agency of a higher power.

From Caitlin R. Kiernan we have a series of "Excerpts for An Eschatology Quadrille", ranging across time and the United States of America, each excerpt fuelled by the presence of a strange artefact that completely unnerves those who come into contact with it. It's a collage story, the separate parts startling and inventive taken on their own, but with a totality that is much greater than the sum of their parts and hinting at something truly ominous, an evil that we can sense but never quite clearly pin down, perhaps because to do so would result in madness. We're back with Pickman in "Jules and Richard" by David Nickle, with the former lured into the latter's net courtesy of a femme fatale with an agenda of her own. Strong in the story is the sense of another world bubbling away in the corners, the nooks and crannies of our own world, suspected but never seen by the masses, and into which some are privileged admittance, but always at a high cost; there are things that cannot be unseen, as Jules learns to his cost. Mention should also be made of the gallows humour in the story, most of it coming via the artist's interaction with his models.

The shortest story in the book, "Glasses" by Brian Evenson tells of a woman who receives biofocals instead of bifocals, with disastrous consequences. There's the stark warning that to see is also to be seen, and a strong feel of an invisible world that we would do well not to become aware of. From A. C. Wise we have "When the Stitches Come Undone" whose protagonist returns to his isolated hometown and revisits a reality altering event from his childhood. Central to the story is the idea of sacrifice, of undergoing a terrible ordeal to avert some greater evil, but what makes this backwoods horror work so well are the details that lead up to the moment of revelation, with vicious imagery to reinforce the ultimate message hidden in the subtext.

Brian Hodge's "On These Blackened Shores of Time" is the longest story in the book, with grieving parents entering a subterranean world to learn what happened to their son when his car was swallowed up by a hole that opened in the road. Everything is here, from pitch perfect characterisation to a compelling mystery story, from human horror to a cosmic peril that is beyond good and evil, that asks us to question the purpose and meaning of life itself, though Hodge decides to end the story on a human note, an act of violence and compassion that goes in some way towards redeeming the human ape. Last we have the visionary "Bright Crown of Joy" by Livia Llewellyn, with global warming given a Lovecraftian twist, a tale of transformation of both human beings and the planet on which they live, opening up new and ever more cosmic vistas to the mind's eye. It is the perfect, dizzying end to this collection that steps boldly into the unknown while honouring the man who planted the seed that gave birth to such endless possibilities.





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