Weirdbook Annual #2: The Cthulhu Mythos, ed. Douglas Draa

Saturday, 16 March 2019 12:40 Tara Grimravn
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Weirdbook Annual #2:

 

The Third Cthulhu Mythos Megapack

 

Edited by Douglas Draa

 

(Wildside Press, February 2019, tpb, 148 pp.)

 

The Shining Trapezohedron” by Robert M. Price
A Noble Endeavor” by Lucy A. Snyder
Ancient Astronauts” by Cynthia Ward
The Thing in the Pond” by John R. Fultz
Enter the Cobweb Queen” by Adrian Cole
Tricks No Treats” by Paul Dale Anderson
Ronnie and the River” by Christian Riley
Cellar Dweller” by Franklyn Searight
Yellow Labeled VHS Tape” by R.C. Mulhare
Tuama” by L.F. Falconer
Mercy Holds No Measure” by Kenneth Bykerk
Treacherous Memory” by Glynn Owen Barrass
The Hutchison Boy” by Darrell Schweitzer

Reviewed by Tara Grímravn

Released on February 14, 2019, Weirdbook #2: The Third Cthulhu Mythos Megapack features 13 stories (reviewed here) along with a selection of poetry. As a longtime fan of Lovecraftian horror, I’d like to say that all of the entries in this anthology hit the mark but, unfortunately, a few of them just didn’t live up to expectations.

The Shining Trapezohedron” by Robert M. Price

After winning a trip to Egypt with archaeologists from Miskatonic University, the Reverend Enoch Bowen is excited to see the land of the Bible for a couple of reasons, not the least of which are the dreams he’s been having. Upon arrival in Egypt, the team’s goal is to find the lost tomb of a heretical pharaoh named Nephren-Ka but the researchers are stymied. Unable to decipher enough clues to locate the tomb, they send Bowen to a monastery to examine a few Coptic manuscripts they hope might lead them in the right direction. Now alone, Bowen finds himself led to a very unexpected discovery of his own.

Nyarlathotep is one of my favorite Lovecraftian monsters and Price chose to base this story on one of the many forms he is said to take. The tale itself acts as something of a prequel to Lovecraft’s “The Haunter in the Dark,” providing a possible back story to Professor Enoch Bowen. While not particularly action-packed, it most definitely draws you in and holds your attention. I thought it was a good story to lead off the anthology.

A Noble Endeavor” by Lucy A. Snyder

Mariette, a house slave on a plantation in Barbados, is sent to assist the terrifying Dr. Bronson in his laboratory. Aside from being a horrendous racist with ideas such as cannibalizing the populations of entire African nations by feeding them to poor Europeans as potted meat laced with infertility drugs meant to stop poor people from breeding, Bronson is trying to distill achronic aether into a crystal that will let him change the past. Mariette is forced to assist him, with unexpected results.

Set in an alternate steampunk-style version of Earth during the Victorian Era, Snyder’s story is certainly an entertaining read. The setting is imaginative with its hints of airships and animatronic workers, and Dr. Bronson and the slave-owning plantation masters are suitably villainous, even if a little too stereotypical. I struggled, however, to connect the story to the Cthulhu mythos. Snyder mentions “Ylem,” which is a real-life term for the primordial substance of the universe that comes to us out of 1940s physics theory. In the story, it’s a wish-granting but there was no sign of the Great Old Ones or any of their servants to be found.

Ancient Astronauts” by Cynthia Ward

Joanna and Mike are on the way to visit their friend Bradley. As they approach the house, they see Bradley cross over onto the property of Mr. Waite, a rather hateful elderly man. When their friend climbs into the driver’s seat of Waite’s truck and drives off towards a circle of standing stones rumored to be dedicated to the Old Ones, Joanna and Mike follow to find out just what their friend has gotten involved in.

One of the fascinating aspects of the Cthulhu mythos is the idea of soul transfers and I was glad to see Ward choose to highlight this for the story. After all, the notion of someone stealing your body so they can continue living while you die in their place is a pretty horrifying thought. Unfortunately, the story has a fair share of problems and this is one of those stories I felt missed the mark.

To start, in terms of writing style, I found it difficult in a few places to tell when a flashback started or ended. When Joanna and Mike get to Rocky Hill, for example, there’s no clue that the following conversation is a flashback, which is usually done using a language cue. The dialogue simply launches into a conversation between Bradley, Mike, and Joanna, and then just as suddenly Mike and Joanna are alone climbing the hill again.

The ending, too, was also a bit of a dud for a few reasons. To begin with, the dialogue is unbelievable. The matter-of-fact manner in which teenagers Bradley, Joanna, and Mike discuss the terrifying events they just endured makes little sense given the circumstances. I can’t imagine anyone talking so blasé after what they’d gone through. Mike and Joanna are also wounded pretty severely but their actions and dialogue really don’t equate with the amount of pain they’d have to be in with those injuries.

The biggest issue with the ending, though, is that it contradicts the main premise of the story, that of soul transference and human sacrifice. If Waite had already transferred his soul into Bradley and was going to kill his old body with Bradley’s soul in it, why then did the collapse of the standing stones that crushed Waite’s old body result in the transference being reversed?

In canonical Lovecraftian horror, such as “The Thing on the Doorstep,” death of the old, wasted body was not required. And if it is required according to the rules in Ward’s story, why would the crushing of Waite’s old body not have satisfied this requirement? Essentially, the ritual itself seems superfluous to sealing the deal with the Old Ones, considering that it’s implied that Waite was already inhabiting Bradley’s body at the beginning of the story when the boy was seen climbing into Waite’s truck and driving to the standing stones. It’s a safe assumption that the boy wouldn’t have gone through this willingly. Finally, the very last paragraph was an incongruous note on which to end.

The Thing in the Pond” by John R. Fultz

After Old Man Carter disappears into the giant hole he’d dug, it fills up with glistening green waters that drown the surrounding fields by a few feet. A few years later, Ted’s best friend Johnny disappears into the same watery pit. Later on a stormy April night, a decaying Johnny returns with tales of Tsath, the City of the Sleeping God, and asks Ted to come with him.

Although not written by Lovecraft himself, Clark Ashton Smith’s Tsathoggua Cycle is still inextricably linked with the Cthulhu mythos. As such, Fultz’s tale fits like a glove in this anthology of Lovecraftian horror. “The Thing in the Pond,” is unsettling in a slow, creeping kind of way and thoroughly enjoyable.

Enter the Cobweb Queen” by Adrian Cole

Nick Stone is an interdimensional private eye. When his friend Montifellini tells him that someone needs his help in another world, he jumps on his friend’s Magic Bus and travels to Ulthar, a dismal world filled with vicious cats. Once there, Nick meets up with Long Tall Sonny and his mysterious friend who want a ride back to New York City. But all isn’t as it seems and Nick finds himself caught in a rather nasty web spun by a servant of the Cobweb Queen.

For the most part, this is an okay entry in Lovecraftian horror. The story itself is entertaining enough, clipping along at a fast-enough pace to hold interest. The only real issue I have with it as that there are a few jumps in story logic. For example, Long Tall Sonny willingly gives up the game to Nick, revealing who Zermillia really is and what her plans are. As they finish talking, she appears from the shadows and is aware that Nick knows her true intentions. This is a bit odd. One might argue that she was eavesdropping on their conversation but, if that was the case, how does she not know that they aren’t really in New York City, since that was part of their discussion, too?

Tricks No Treats” by Paul Dale Anderson

An unnamed narrator recounts his adventure on All Hallow’s Eve in Arkham, there to see if the rumors are true that the Witch House of Keziah Mason reappears on its former island in the middle of the Miskatonic River, where a gateway between the land of the dead and that of the living is said to exist. Although he hopes to be reunited with his deceased love Laura, he unfortunately finds, not his lady love, but something else entirely.

Anderson’s story is short but it makes for an enjoyably unsettling read. I have to wonder, though, why the narrator is so easily fooled by the shoggoths at the bridge. To say much more than this would spoil the ending, but it is really the only monkey wrench tossed into otherwise well-running works.

Ronnie and the River” by Christian Riley

Ronnie rents a small apartment in a renovated Victorian home, where he is often tormented by his neighbor Rick. One day, during his work as a janitor for the local university, he discovers a secret door and shortly thereafter begins seeing hieroglyphs that provide him with a rather horrific means of revenge against his tormentor.

This is a really good story. Riley’s writing style has a very nice literary quality to it that flows along like the very river in Ronnie’s painting. As strange as it may seem, it is very satisfying to see Rick get his comeuppance in the end, while Ronnie gets a reward that seems somewhat out of character for a deity called “the One of Infinite Disorder.”

Cellar Dweller” by Franklyn Searight

Elderly Alan, a descendant of the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, reminisces about the many encounters he’s had with the Elder Gods throughout his life, especially during his career as a reporter for the Arkham Daily News. With a little fondness, he recalls an event from his teenage years when he first faced his seemingly irrational fear of his parents’ basement. Intent on curing himself of this phobia, he decides to spend a night in the cellar, only to find the djinn who devoured his strange ancestor some 1,200 years before.

Searight’s story was one of the better tales in the anthology. The style of language—the period language—chosen for the dialogue was more formal than usual but this seemed appropriate since Alan was reminiscing about his youth, which was presumably in the 1930s or 1940s. I say this because the style reminded me of television or radio shows of that period. Either way, I was pleased to see this piece of Lovecraft’s “history” of the Mad Arab illuminated and expanded upon here.

Yellow Labeled VHS Tape” by R.C. Mulhare

Mason finds a box of old videotapes at a flea market. Most of them aren’t anything too special but one with a blank yellow label catches his attention. Later, he and his friend Lexus decide to watch it. After a few minutes of what seems at first glance to be a bad theater group acting out a play called the “King in the Tattered Cloak,” the tape seizes up and stops playing. Mason then takes the tape to his friend Davan to get it fixed. While there, Davan tells him of an urban legend about a cursed videotape said to drive people mad and suggests Mason shouldn’t try to watch it again. Needless to say, he doesn’t listen.

In a nutshell, Mulhare’s story takes its inspiration from a combination of The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers and the horror film The Ring, which was based on a novel by Koji Suzuki. For the most part, it loosely follows Chambers’ formula in which the uncanny is present but not the focus—the cursed object is mentioned but only really lurks menacingly in the background, while the foreground of the stories focus mostly on the mental deterioration of the characters. Muhare’s tale deviates from this a bit.

While Chambers shows us the decline of his protagonists, nothing at all really happens in “Yellow Labeled VHS Tape” until the very end when the character’s mental state suddenly snaps without warning. The events leading to this are relatively mundane and not at all spectacular or enough to really drive someone mad. In essence, it is missing the sense of impending dread typical of Chambers’ stories.

Tuama” by L.F. Falconer

Young intern Diana and her boss, Dr. Chase-Whateley, arrive on the shore of Tuama, a small island off the coast of Scotland, to study birds. Once their camp is set up for the evening, however, the good doctor reveals her real reason for coming to Tuama. Her late husband had believed there was a gateway to the fourth dimension on the island and she is here to prove his theory. She needs Diana’s help to do so, promising to share the glory of the discovery. Unfortunately for the intern, however, her role in this endeavor might mean never leaving the island.

Falconer’s story reminded me a little of Stephen King’s short story “The Raft,” especially at the end. While the story is by no means terrible, it was definitely a little off. The dialogue is forced and unnatural in places and, having had quite a bit of experience in the world of scientific academia, I have to wonder why an entomologist would have taken on a field research assistant internship to study birds and not insects. And why would an ornithologist feel as though they could make a name for themselves with a physics discovery? The two disciplines are far too different and the logic there just doesn’t make sense to me.

Mercy Holds No Measure” by Kenneth Bykerk

In central Arizona in 1871, tired of dealing with claim jumpers and thieves, a gold miner named Samuel Delarosa decides he’s built up enough of a stash to start a safe, boring life for himself as a dry goods merchant. Before he packs up his mule and leaves his claim for good, however, he makes one more cursory check of the mine to pick up any gold nuggets sitting on the ground’s surface. One nugget, in particular, catches his eye, sitting as it is in some sort of ooze. As he tries to pull it free from the slime, he realizes that he’s just stumbled into something far more terrifying than thieves.

Unfortunately, I lost interest in this story very quickly. The first five pages (out of thirteen total) simply detail Samuel’s history and it was just boring. It’s with the second paragraph on the fifth page where the tale actually begins and, even then, the narrative drags on for a further eight pages. That being said, the ultimate ending itself is certainly horrifying, although I’m not entirely convinced it was worth wading through the rest of the text.

Treacherous Memory” by Glynn Owen Barrass

Cassey’s new client Ted wants her to find out where his wife Selene goes when he leaves for work. Selene had recently returned after having disappeared two-years earlier. He’s convinced that she’s not really his wife and something else has come back in her stead. Sure that Ted isn’t playing with a full deck, Cassey stakes out his home to see what she can gather about Selene’s supposed suspicious activities. What she finds isn’t at all what she expected.

Barrass’ tale is an interesting story of alien abduction. Still, it has a few problems. For example, the importance of the shell-like object Selene is seen burying was never made clear and it’s not certain why this was introduced into the story aside from being just an unusual activity to have Selene do. Because it jumps from this right to Cassey getting a call from Ted after Selene attacks him, logically-speaking it seems like the purpose of the shell-like thing should have been connected somehow, but it was never mentioned again.

In addition, like a few of the other stories in this anthology, I have once again to wonder what it has to do with the Cthulhu mythos or Lovecraftian horror in general, as I don’t see any form of connection between them. It just didn’t seem to fit with the mandated theme of the anthology.

The Hutchison Boy” by Darrell Schweitzer

An unnamed narrator tells the story of his son Jack’s friend Caleb. Caleb is a bit odd, both in appearance and mannerisms. The narrator and his wife find the boy’s appearance to be a bit unsettling but they don’t really start to worry until Jack begins picking up some of his strange habits and beliefs. When they find Caleb and Jack on the beach screeching inhuman sounds at the sea, they are frightened enough to tell the boys they can’t see each other anymore. Unfortunately, boys will be boys and Jack finds a way to see his friend again, much to his parents’ horror.

This is another of the better stories in the book. It’s also the first to hint at Innsmouth and the events that took place there in Lovecraft’s many stories. I also find it interesting that there doesn’t seem to be a true villain in this story as far as the main characters are concerned—the real threat comes from The Call. Caleb himself is never really a danger in the way Innsmouth people often are in other stories. He simply wants his friend to go home to the underwater city with him so they can stay friends. Viewed through the rose-tinted glasses of youthful friendships, it’s a forgivable offense. On the other hand, the horror this caused Jack’s parents is also quite understandable.