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.

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annotated-lovecraftThe New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft. By H.P. Lovecraft, Edited with a Foreword and Notes by Leslie S. Klinger, Introduction by Alan Moore. New York, NY: Liveright; 13 October 2014; ISBN 978-0-87140-453-4; 922 pages; hardcover.

 

The thing about Lovecraft (or about any iconic writer, really), is that you get used to the pastiches, the tributes, the imitations and derivations. It is a necessity, then, to return to the source at intervals and remind yourself exactly why this author has inspired so many people over so many years to try to tap into the rich, dark, cryptic world he created.

Sometimes it seems as if every writer banging away out there has tapped into the shadowy world Lovecraft seeded for us. Sometimes it feels a little cheap, as if we should come up with our own monsters. But in The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, Leslie S. Klinger makes Lovecraft’s intentions about the use of his ideas abundantly clear: “The more these synthetic demons are mutually written up by different authors, the better they become as general background material. I like to have others use my Azathoths and Nyarlathoteps–& in return I shall use Klarkash-Ton’s Tsathoggua, your monk Clithanus, & Howard’s Bran” (lxiii).

The book itself encourages that sharing. It makes a reader want to pick it up, feel it, and weigh what might be inside. The first thing to notice about it is that it is a truly handsome edition, with heavy pages and a cover laced with tentacles. Physically, it is a striking representation of its content. Lovecraft is dense and dark. This book is, too, with the ivory paper mimicking aged parchment and lending a sepia tint to the illustrations. The blurbs are from a selection of heavy-hitters in the field of weird fiction such as Neil Gaiman, Harlan Ellison, Peter Straub, and Joyce Carol Oates (as much as I find Oates’s novels draining, her short, macabre pieces are chilling).

Rather than taking on the entirety of Lovecraft’s work (which has been done before and often), Klinger instead looks closely at twenty-two stories and novels. This volume covers the instantly recognizable titles like The Call of Cthulhu and The Shadow Over Innsmouth to the less immediately known but still resonant The Festival and The Silver Key.

The annotations are thorough, and liberally sprinkled through with original magazine covers and illustrations, examples of handwritten drafts, and photographs of many of the places referenced in the stories. Klinger does a remarkable job of recreating the environment in which Lovecraft worked, showing his readers the prosaic structures and neighborhoods that Lovecraft twisted into his own world.

The appendices are a treasure. Appendix 1 is a chronological table of events in Lovecraft’s works, beginning with the 1771 death of Joseph Curwen in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward to the 1935 storm over Providence in “The Haunter of the Dark”. Appendix 2 is a partial list of the faculty of Miskatonic University, including each one’s position and the story in which he appeared. Three is Lovecraft’s own outlined history of the Necronomicon, itself footnoted by Klinger and including a reproduction of Lovecraft’s original version written on and around a letter he received from the director of the Park Museum in Providence. Four is the genealogy of the Elder Races as laid out by their creator, five a list of Lovecraft’s solo fiction output with dates of writing and publication, again with a reproduction of Lovecraft’s own handwritten list, and six a list of his collaborations (whether openly or as ghostwriter), which include such figures as C.L. Moore, Robert E. Howard, and Harry Houdini. Appendix seven is a compact overview of Lovecraft’s influence in popular culture that focuses primarily on the films he inspired.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The appendices bring us to the end of the physical book, but the beginning is really where the challenge still waits. Alan Moore’s introduction foreshadows the literary criticisms that will follow in the foreword and annotations, honing in on the substantial baggage Lovecraft carries with him across the decades. He describes the struggle to create a literary legitimacy for Lovecraft’s works after his death, a task that “…has undeniably been hindered by his problematic stance on most contemporary issues, with his racism, alleged misogyny, class prejudice, dislike of homosexuality, and anti-Semitism needing to be both acknowledged and addressed before a serious appraisal of his work could be commenced” (xi). Moore himself is dealing with it in his own way, through a gay, Jewish character in his series Providence. And he still describes the interest in and appreciation of Lovecraft’s craft as a “posthumous trajectory from pulp to academia that is perhaps unique in modern letters” (xi).

Klinger’s foreword provides a brief biographical summary that also does not shy away from the increasingly inevitable, uncomfortable topic of Lovecraft’s racism and how it manifested in his actual life and as part of his tangled cosmology:

Although his attitudes may be dismissed as products of the times, his words do not display casual racism…It seems that Lovecraft’s peculiar upbringing, combined with his family’s tenuous social position in Rhode Island society, grafted onto his consciousness a hostility to virtually all who were not white New Englanders…Although the times changed, and the “scientific” bases for racism and eugenics that he embraced eroded over his lifetime, Lovecraft remained static and unbending. Worst of all, his beliefs may be seen as essential to several of his stories, such as “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” which imagines the horror of interspecies breeding (lxvi).

Unfortunately, the flaws in Lovecraft’s morality set up questions for the morality of his modern readers. Are we justified in enjoying his works, revering them, even though we know that the author held some execrable beliefs that informed some of his best-known and most admired work? Is it acceptable to separate an artist from his art, and treat the creator and the creation as two independent entities?

Moore, in his introduction, felt that the art transcended the man. Not all would agree, but we read on, just the same.