The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is N.K. Jemisin’s ambitious debut novel, and the first of her Inheritance trilogy. Set in the high palace of Sky, it is told in clear, beautiful language by its heroine, Yeine. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms documents the last few days in the life of the recently orphaned young woman, a fragmented history of her family’s rise to and hold on power, and the ancient history of a God’s War that never truly ended.

***

Spoilers ahead.

“There were three gods, once” (6) is where Yeine’s story rightly begins. One god was killed, the second made a slave, and the third rose to rule the world through his primary worshippers, the Arameri family. Yeine’s mother was the heir to Arameri power before she renounced it for her barbarian husband. However, the love story of Yeine’s parents also involves revenge, and a bargain with fallen gods.

At first I anticipated another teen dystopia novel, since the protagonist is a nineteen year old woman summoned back to her mother’s ancestral home as another heir to her grandfather’s power. But Yeine is part of something else than the usual heroic exceptionalism. Yes, she is young, and her fate is extraordinary and involves massive shifts in the way power is wielded in the world. But she is no dystopian fantasy heroine. She knows the trap she has been summoned to spring, and that she was never meant to inherit: “There will be no decision’ I said…’And no contest. They will kill me at once and turn their attention back to each other” (10).

But it is not so simple as that. In addition to palace politics, Yeine was learning what her father’s life had cost. Her mother had bargained with the enslaved god and his children, and allowed a portion of the dead goddess’s soul to be put into unborn Yeine, because “In many ways, we mortals are more…versatile, for lack of a better term. More complete. For example, none of them can create or extend life. The simple act of having children…is a power that has been lost to the gods for millennia” (43).Through Yeine, the divine soul could be reborn and seek her revenge against her murderous brother: “Was that, then, why I had all these strange dreams and visions? Because a goddess’s soul had begun to rot inside me?” (185).

So although Yeine must die to secure the succession of one of her cousins to the Arameri throne, her death will unleash the goddess’s soul within her. “Then I closed my eyes and touched my chest. Nothing beat beneath my fingers; my heart had been destroyed. Yet something was there, giving life to my flesh. I could feel it. The Stone. A thing of life, born of death, filled with incalculable potential. A seed. “Grow,” I whispered” (380).

***

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a strange and wonderful story. Jemisin produces a rich flavor of multiple cultures without delving too deeply into any but those of the Darre and the Amn, Yeine’s parent’s people. Even then, there are relatively few straightforward descriptions of cultural norms but many sideways references and shadowy, half-familiar allusions. It is enough to spur the imagination and create the full world.

The Amn people, to whom the Arameri belong, dismiss most of the world as barbarians. They were once barbarians like all the rest. But now, they are barbarians with immense wealth and power who effectively rule the world. What they decree as culture is merely their dominance, and they hold to their barbarism despite their position. Torture is normal to them, as part of both their entertainment and their worship. Also referenced, but not described, are cannibalism and incest.

Jemisin also has a take on godhood that reminded me of the imperfect Greek gods—her gods and godlings are immensely powerful but emotionally stunted. They are vain, jealous, vengeful, and needy. But there are other aspects to them plucked from various other mythologies and woven into her own. Nahadoth, darkness and chaos, is the firstborn god of the Maelstrom. Next came light and order as Itempas. Last born was Enefa, twilight, life, and death. They fought, they mated, they made the world and other gods. And Itempas killed Enefa  out of jealousy, and imprisoned Nahodoth for the same. Other, lesser gods are alluded to, although they were killed in the legendary war. Again, as with culture, Jeminsin creates a full pantheon from suggestion.

***

N.K. Jeminsin

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is beautifully written, and seductive in lulling a reader into complacency with gentle detail before throwing in a harsh bit of the world’s truth: the Arameri hunt and kill heretics and all their families because Itempas will bear no rivals; part of Yeine’s coming-of-age included being raped at thirteen because she could not defeat the man in combat; as a god, Yeine will kill her children and enslave her sibling to secure her position and exact a measure of vengeance for her own suffering.

It is hard to believably produce the abstraction of divine inhumanity. Jeminsin achieves it inconsistently in the novel, but when she does it is stunning. Yet The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms still seemed incomplete at the end, Yeine’s transition from mortal to god ambitious but somewhat unsatisfying. I’m not sure what was missing—perhaps that wonderful, suggestive mystery that infuses the rest of the text. The final chapter felt…too neat?…compared to what went before.

But that too-neat conclusion actually makes me want more. While the book ends at a natural point with Yeine assuming the mantle of godhood from dead Enefa, Jeminsin expanded the saga further into a trilogy. I have not read the rest yet, but the skill with which this story was told means I won’t wait too long to remedy that.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!

 

In place of a much-discussed third X Files theatrical film, Fox decided to revive the show with a six episode miniseries that dives immediately back into the core alien abduction mythology. Chris Carter returns as executive producer and as one of the writers and directors of the new season. In addition to the irreplaceable Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson), the Season 10 miniseries brings back Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), The Smoking Man (William B. Davis), and Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish).

The X Files are back
The X Files are back

I didn’t watch much of The X Files in its original run from 1993 to 2002—I was more of a Buffy girl, back then. Nor did I watch either of the two big-screen X Files movies, or read the comics based on the show. However, such a cultural touchstone can’t really be ignored.

So I did watch The X Files intermittently online, when the mood would strike me. A couple of my favorites were the disgusting and legendary episode “Home” (S4;E2), about a severely inbred family who began keeping exclusively to themselves right after the Civil War, and the less legendary but still memorably creepy “Detour” (S5;E4), which uses the unlikely evolutionary adaptation of lost conquistadors to make its red-eyed monsters. These episodes gave me a certain fondness for Mulder, Scully, and their weird assignments, and gave me a rudimentary background in the show’s driving themes of alien invasion and shadow governments.

And now, The X Files is back and we all have another shot at believing that Mulder’s elusive truth really might be out there. This time, some of the ideas sound almost too familiar for comfort.

Episode 1 of the new mini-season, “My Struggle,” was written and directed by series creator Chris Carter and made its debut at New York ComicCon 2015.  With it, Carter again picked up the series’ mythology and brought it roaring back. There are UFOs in this episode, and lots of them. As Mulder tells us in the voice-over intro, “Only Roswell is remembered. But we must ask ourselves, are they really a hoax? Are we really alone? Or are we being lied to?” With that establishing idea, the episode proceeds to cut back and forth between a saucer crash in New Mexico in 1947 and the expanding paranoia of the present day.

XFiles2016
Mulder and Scully, together again

Fourteen years later, Gillian Anderson’s Scully is thinner, tired-looking, cool and still patrician. David Duchovny’s Mulder looks his age, weathered and ragged and drifting. But their chemistry is still there, a mutual concern made of expressions and glances more than any particular dialogue. It was good to see it.

To energize the familiar major characters from the original series, the new episode brings in Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale), a conspiracy theorist whose grand paranoia only serves to feed and magnify Mulder’s. Their pairing results in a huge, unifying conspiracy theory that incorporates the H-bomb as an unwitting beacon to UFOs, government cover-ups of alien technology, human experimentation resulting in human/alien hybrids, government created climate change, 911 false-flag accusations, and other, generalized anti-government conspiracies.

In addition to the modern conspiracy twists, the show digs deeply back into the classic iconography of alien abduction, with the added confounder that the X Files program itself was a lie to distract anyone from the truth. Mulder, who so wants to believe, is willing to believe that he and Scully were manipulated by the very program they devoted their energies to. The unifying theory only needs the “why” answered to prove it—and that quest will be plenty of fuel for a several-season-long fire.

The episode is very talky as it establishes itself after so long a hiatus. The exposition is heavy and somewhat melodramatic, rather than actually clumsy—it is technically well executed, but why, for example, is O’Malley explaining basic alien abduction information to Scully? And there is a dearth of action. What happens, happens in the last few minutes of the show in a burst of conspiratorial energy.

But Scully believes. Mulder believes. And the episode ends with Skinner calling them back in, because they are the only people prepared to face what is coming.

So, coming to the revival not as a die-hard fan but as a casual browser, I would have to say first episode of The X Files miniseries is intriguing and a welcome return. The writing is good, the cast is in its element, and the conspiracy theories are flying. I doubt six episodes are enough to cover all the possibilities suggested in the first one. But after this, I certainly wouldn’t say no to an eleventh season. Maybe it’s out there.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!

Anthony Boucher
Anthony Boucher

While I’m on the subject of Western horror…I mentioned Anthony Boucher’s “They Bite” in my review of Bone Tomahawk—not for the shared love of lopped off extremities or strange cannibal tribes or even the old tropes linked to the native dead and their burial grounds, but because of the real-world basis and enduring creepiness of each work’s monsters.

Have you ever read a story that gets under your skin, like a splinter you can’t remove? Some tales never lose their power to frighten, no matter how familiar they become. Anytime I have been challenged to name a prime example of a horror story, “They Bite” is first on my list. Published in Unknown in August, 1943, it was a weird Western before the genre truly existed, and it is never too far from my attention.

Boucher, who cut his teeth writing for Weird Tales, Unknown, and Astounding Science Fiction, often infused his stories with a light, humorous touch. But there is nothing funny about “They Bite.” It is a tightly told story of the look-over-your-shoulder variety, peopled with creatures that were men, once. He makes excellent use of repetition and suggestion to drive home the existence of his tenacious predators.

They Bite
They Bite–Abandoned Dwellings

Set in the desert of California, “They Bite”’s Carkers lurk around the town of Oasis, hidden, hungry, snatching what they can. Boucher builds a legend up around them with a few cultural references and a few dangerously imprecise descripives: “something moved, something little and thin and brown as the earth. Too large for a rabbit, much too small for a man”, and, “something like a man and something like a lizard, and something like the things that flit across the corner of the eye”, and,“something very dry and thin and brown, only when you look around it isn’t there. Ever see it?”, and, “you glimpse lean, dry things out of the corner of your eye… take the Carkers and the things you don’t quite see and you put ’em together. And they bite.”

“They Bite” is sort of a cross between Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Night of the Living Dead. Hugh Tallant, the main character of the story, is not a good person. He is greedy and lazy, willing to kill in order to steal a prospector’s gold and happy to blame the murder on a local legend. The Carkers of the story come from a long line of bogeymen, both historical and imagined:

“Ever hear of Sawney Bean? …Or let’s be more modern—ever hear of the Benders? Kansas in the 1870s? No? Ever hear of Procrustes? Or Polyphemus? Or Fee-fi-fo-fum? There are ogres, you know. They’re no legend. They’re fact, they are…you’ll find ’em everywhere. All over Europe and pretty much in this country too before communications became what they are.”

Sawney Bean--part of They Bite's background
Sawney Bean—part of They Bite’s background

But they are not, strictly speaking, cannibals. They might have been only that, once, but they’ve changed under the desert sun: “Maybe they put together what the Indians knew and what they knew, and it worked. Maybe Whatever they made their sacrifices to understood them better out here than in Kansas”.

So it is that Tallant discovers not only are the legends true accounts, but that he badly misjudged his ability to get away with murder. Counting on fear of the Carker legend to cover his tracks, Tallant steps into his own trap: “he noticed the infinitesimal rise and fall of the chest. The Carker was not dead. It was sleeping”.

While the desert setting gives “They Bite” its weird Western flavor, the horror hinges on the relentless reminders of the danger of lean, dry things seen at the corner of the eye. The Carkers stand in the place between fact and superstition as Boucher weaves together the frontier fears of the unknown with native legends and documented human depravity. It is a beautifully-made story that will continue to creep around the edges of your awareness for a long time to come.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!

 

I’d like to pay a small tribute to three men whose work in movies meant something to me, each in his different way. Angus Scrimm, David Bowie, and Alan Rickman were wildly divergent in their talents and career paths, and each received wildly varying amounts of recognition and acclaim in life and in death. I’m not going to pretend to any sweeping career overviews or deep thematic analysis, or even that their talents were in any way comparable.  It’s not about art, or even objective quality. For me, this is about remembering how each of them played a certain role that made, and still makes, me happy.

Angus Scrimm in Phantasm
Angus Scrimm in Phantasm

The first I want to recognize is Angus Scrimm, the one and only Tall Man, who helped make the Phantasm movies the cult horror classics they are. I wasn’t allowed to see Phantasm when it came out in 1979 because my mother eschewed the junk culture of cheap horror movies. When I finally did get to watch it a few years later (at a friend’s house, naturally), I was smitten by the sheer cheesy wonder of it. Scrimm, an unlikely monster with his creepy dwarves and silver spheres, was a large and lasting part of that, since I still bellow “Boy!” in imitation of him to this day. He has 51 acting credits   to his name, ranging from appearances in TV series (including Alias) to a slew of low-budget horror movies. His final portrayal of the Tall Man is in the soon-to-be-released Ravager: Phantasm V.

David Bowie in Labyrinth
David Bowie in Labyrinth

Next is the incomparable David Bowie, who in addition to his fantastic music and his musical persona Ziggy Stardust also appeared in a surprising number of films. He took many small roles such as Pontius Pilate in the controversial The Last Temptation of Christ, and as an ethereal Andy Warhol in the surreal biopic Basquiat. But Bowie is perhaps best known as an actor for his leading roles as an alien in the trippy, dated, and grotesque The Man Who Fell to Earth, a less-than-immortal vampire in The Hunger, and, of course, the flamboyant Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth, where the odd, catchy songs and odder, infamous costumes forever cemented his position in my young heart. I will always love him as this character, even though as an adult it makes me cringe a little. Okay, a lot. But, still.

Alan Rickman in Galaxy Quest
Alan Rickman in Galaxy Quest

Last is Alan Rickman, who began his career on the stage before moving into movies. Among his consistently fine mainstream performances, he always sprinkled in a few genre roles where he seemed to enjoy himself immensely. He was the criminal mastermind Hans Gruber in Die Hard, Metatron, the Voice of God in Dogma, and the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But Rickman truly built his legacy over eight films as the inimitable, arrogant, nuanced Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series. Still, I am fondest of him as the perpetually disgusted former Shakespearean actor Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest. Many of the characterizations he would later bring to Snape were fully developed in Dane—from the condescension to the sarcasm to the unexpected, matter-of-fact heroism. It looked less impressive without Snape’s all-black costume, but it certainly played the same.

The passing of a celebrity is a strange thing. They have an impact on our lives but we rarely really know them as rounded human beings, so their deaths come as a sudden, odd disruption rather than an intimate personal loss. It doesn’t mean we don’t mourn them. It doesn’t mean we aren’t sad and somewhat bereft at losing them. That’s where I am with Scrimm, Bowie, and Rickman. I didn’t know them, but I miss them just the same.

Despite their cluster and the much-referenced Rule of Three I know the deaths are random, and that many other celebrities have died in recent days. Having these three all die so close together, though, reminds me more of what is gone. Angus Scrimm, David Bowie, and Alan Rickman meant something to me in the context of science fiction, fantasy, and horror films. And for that I thank them, and am glad that I can still watch their peculiar magic time and time again, and bring them back for a little while.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!

Bone_Tomahawk_Poster
Bone Tomahawk Poster

Bone Tomahawk is a compelling little Weird Western movie, lurking right on the edge of the genre with its combination of laconic cowboys and horrific natives. Written and directed by S. Craig Zahler, Bone Tomahawk premiered at Fantastic Fest in September, 2015 and went into limited theatrical release in October, 2015. While it has a familiar quality to it, the story is freshly told and effectively, creepily presented.

Spoilers ahead.

For a movie that opens with a throat slitting, a scalping, and an accidently desecrated burial ground, it is almost immediately engaging in a warm way. The oddly literary dialogue is delivered with a western ruffian twang and a sly humor that is unexpected but right. There is a bar named The Learned Goat. There are lines like, “You ask about horses again I’ll slap you red,” and “Sorry for yelling at you.” “My wife used to call me a dumb imbecile all the time. Felt kinda nice.”

The script is a treat. While Bone Tomahawk echoes some of the drawling stateliness of Unforgiven in its pacing, it is not nearly as contemplative and ambles along with jokes and a quicker step. There is precious little music in the film, save for two scenes. The noises of the men and the wind and the moving brush fill the spaces around their chatter. The dialogue follows its own path, separate from the action–witty, bantering, with sarcastic humor running through almost every exchange. The teasing and familiarity effectively conveys the unavoidable intimacy of a tiny community.

The primary cast is led by the ever-reliable Kurt Russell as Sheriff Franklin Hunt, an impressively mustachioed old lawman with a penchant for shooting suspects in the leg. Richard Jenkins plays Chicory, the aged assistant deputy, with deep humor and pathos. As Brooder, the town dandy, Matthew Fox is utterly convincing as a very handsome, very vain, very able rake/gunslinger. Patrick Wilson and Lili Simmons play the pivotal O’Dwyers with a modern slant, yet their drives, attitudes, and frustrations a perfectly within context.

fourhorsemen
Riding out

David Arquette as the scoundrel Purvis reminds me of his role in Ravenous, although here is less dissipated and less amusing since his character inadvertently brings monsters to the town of Bright Hope. The troglodytes, as they are called, come in pursuit of him. They capture him, but also take Mrs. O’Dwyer and the Sherriff’s primary deputy, spurring the plot by necessitating their rescue.

There is a sense of casual heroism among the main characters, of competent men shouldering their load without complaint—the familiar Western ethos of honest, imperfect men doing what needs to be done. When Sherriff Hunt declares, “I’m riding out with Mr. O’Dwyer, because there isn’t a choice for either of us,” the immediate response of Brooder and Chicory is that they will go, as well, because they each feel a personal responsibility for what has happened and a need to make it right.

The tension in Bone Tomahawk rises slowly, like water coming to a boil. Before we ever see the troglodytes, we are on edge from encounters with other, less ghastly men. While travelling, Brooder mocks the sherriff, Chicory, and O’Dwyer for ever having married. But his own heart is broken when his horse is badly hurt when she resists being stolen by thieves in the night and he has to put her down. “Thank you, for your service,” is all he says. It is an underplayed scene, and more affecting for it. The humor drains out of the film quickly after that.

Brooder and his horse
Brooder and his horse

Brooder actually develops as a fascinating character to watch. In a remarkable bit of acting, Matthew Fox shows Brooder beginning to go into shock after losing his hand during an ambush by the troglodytes. But even while shaking from the blood loss and pain, he ties off the stump and asks for the repeater rifle and dynamite. “I’m far too vain to ever live as a cripple,” he says to his companions, as he chooses how to die.

The unnamed tribe of troglodytes reminded me of the wendol of The 13th Warrior and the Carkers of Anthony Boucher’s “They Bite” in their brutality and described cannibalism. They are human but monstrous, decorated with tusks and skulls, ghostly in a coating of ashes, wielding the sharpened jawbones of horses as battle axes. They inhabit an avoided place known among the local Native Americans as the Valley of Starving Men—an area of dry dirt hillsides scraped into walls and inset with animal skulls. They do not speak–“What kind of tribe doesn’t have a name?” “The kind that doesn’t have a language. Cave dwellers”—instead, they use weird, hollow howls through bone whistles set into their throats.

Hunt_and_trog
Bone Tomahawk troglodyte

While the troglodytes are made bestial, the camera does not linger on them or use them for jump scares and shock value. They are presented rather matter-of-factly, much as the townsmen approach them. The horror is understated, with relatively (if not actually) little gore. What bloodshed there is, is graphic and grotesquely believable—scalping, evisceration, dismemberment, torture, a man split in half. But this is not sexy horror movie gore. It is meant to look as real as it does.

I was never a Western fan (Clint Eastwood doesn’t count—he’s his own genre). I always preferred action and horror. But there is an everyman’s nobility to the Western genre. With the employment of stellar actors, a deeply engaging script, and some outré human evil, Bone Tomahawk becomes a film that crosses genres in a satisfying way. While not particularly frightening, it is a well-told, entertaining, and unsettling film that is grim enough to be, truly, weird.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!

Cthulhu 2000 Arkham House cover
Cthulhu 2000 Arkham House cover

Nothing like a new year for ringing in the Old Ones! Cthulhu 2000: A Lovecraftian Anthology is one of many fine Mythos-inspired collections that have been assembled over the years. Edited by Jim Turner, Cthulhu 2000 was initially published by the legendary Arkham House in 1995 and reprinted by Ballantine/Del Rey in 1999—just in time for the Millennium (or the impending apocalypse of Y2K, as it was known at the time).  Cthulhu 2000 contains eighteen stories, many by authors we have mentioned before, written over the span from 1964 to 1992—and although none of the stories is set at the millennium, they are all meant to be relatively current events. A handful were culled from other Lovecraft-themed anthologies Arkham House had put out previously, but most of the rest came from such esteemed magazines as Interzone, Asimov’s and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

It’s hard to argue with those kind of pedigrees. And so, on to my notes on the contents—while all are fine reading, I have starred the ones I think are essential:

“The Barrens” by F. Paul Wilson is a plainly-written novella that places Lovecraftian elements convincingly in the heart of the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

“Pickman’s Modem” by Lawrence Watt-Evans is a bit of joking Mythos whimsy, an unexpected approach to cosmic horror.

“Shaft Number 247” by Basil Copper is a tight, guarded, claustrophobic story set in an underground—possibly underwater– warren of tunnels and shafts. In tone it reminds me of John W. Campbells’ Who Goes There?

“His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood” by Poppy Z. Brite is lush and filthy, and rotten with the Louisiana swamps. Overall the story is more vampiric than cosmic, but it approaches life and death as much less rigidly defined states, both desirable for different reasons.

“The Adder” by Fred Chappell introduces a new type of corruption wrought by the Necronomicon, one based on proximity rather than familiarity.

“Fat Face” by Michael Shea uses rich, visceral Lovecraftian language in this tale of a bubble-headed hooker’s encounter with a shoggoth in modern Los Angeles.

* “The Big Fish” by Kim Newman brings in Geneviève Dieudonnè from Anno Dracula to help a private detective who has run up against Dagon and the Deep Ones. Noirish, funny, and scathing, Newman incorporates studio Hollywood, wartime xenophobia, and organized crime into a lovely bit of Lovecraftiana.

“‘I Had Vacantly Crumpled It Into My Pocket…But by God, Eliot, It Was a Photograph from Life!'” by Joanna Russ is another story that is not overtly within the mythos, yet evokes the same sense of the beyond—gaping, hungry, and utterly inhuman.

Cthulhu sketch by Lovecraft
Cthulhu sketch by Lovecraft

“H.P.L.” by Gahan Wilson is typically, blackly funny, with a still-living Lovecraft, a resurrected Clark Ashton Smith, a Cthulhu Kids TV show, and some human sacrifice thrown in for good measure.

“The Unthinkable” by Bruce Sterling (normally known for his cyberpunk) brings Lovecraft into the Cold War, reframing the nuclear bomb as a weaponized Old One.

“Black Man with a Horn” by T. E. D. Klein—a novella I highlighted once before in my review of The Year’s Best Horror Stories, is a chilling interpretation of Lovecraft’s mythos made even more remarkable when set among other Lovecraftian tales. Insidious, dark, and haunting.

“Love’s Eldritch Ichor” by Esther M. Friesner is an unabashedly silly use of the Old Gods to help negotiate a contract with a predatory romance publisher, and a goofy break from all the cosmic despair. I don’t generally go in for funny spec, but Friesner is laugh out loud excellent.

“The Last Feast of Harlequin” by Thomas Ligotti is perhaps closest in style, vocabulary, and mood to Lovecraft’s originals—doomed and sullen and more subtle than you might at first think. This story uses clowns in their older sense, not as jokes but as warnings.

“The Shadow on the Doorstep” by James P. Blaylock is suggestive and moody, but without any particular plot or resolution is merely a dark vignette.

“Lord of the Land” by Gene Wolfe is as surreal and compelling as one could want, with an ancient Egyptian god lingering in the American heartland. The sweep between dreamland and real horror is classic Wolfe.

“The Faces at Pine Dunes” by Ramsey Campbell is suitably indistinct and creepy, with Campbell’s hallmark slippery language and barely described horrors.

“On the Slab” by Harlan Ellison retells the myth of Prometheus with his unmistakable scalpel wit and a peculiar and dismal conclusion.

“24 Views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai” by Roger Zelazny is the remarkable story that drew me back to this anthology. Gorgeous, dreamy, poetic, highly structured and literate and mannered and mythic—it is the story of a personal quest tied up in Japanese art, government agents, and cyberpunk elements.

In his introduction, also titled “Cthulhu 2000,” Jim Turner posits the question, “Why is it, one wonders, that a reclusive writer of weird-fantasy stories, who during his lifetime couldn’t even earn a decent living, now possesses the power to inspire, and even to affect the lives of, readers around the globe?” (xi). He goes on to answer himself with references to cosmic dread and a conception of evil that “conveyed no absolute meaning” (xiii), concluding that, for some authors who followed him, Lovecraft offered “a mythopoeic underpinning of appropriate magnificence and awe” (xvi). Those would be the intellectual answers. The more intuitive one is that Lovecraft inspires by the sheer possibility he opens with his various gods, monsters, and hangers-on. There are no limits. Anything can happen in this primordial atmosphere. And, as the stories above demonstrate, it frequently does.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!