I've been on a bit of a Lovecraft kick lately, first reading the man himself, then Alan Moore's disturbing homage. And it all got its impetus from The Book Of Cthulhu II, which I won via the Goodreads FirstReads program. I figured I should read the real thing before picking up either of the derivatives. Sad to say, I haven't had any luck finding a copy of The Book Of Cthulhu I, but oh well. Most of these are authors I'd not heard of before, and all save a couple are ones I'd yet to sample. Kim Newman wrote the stellar Anno Dracula series, among other things, and I am a Neil Gaiman devotee. I've not read all of his work yet, but not for lack of trying.
This is an anthology of Lovecraft-inspired works from a wide range of authors. I'll list and comment below, only commenting on plot when I think it necessary. Its a bit tough to mention plot for a short story without spoilers, so....
--Neil Gaiman, Shoggoth's Old Peculiar; I had read this one before in a collection of Gaiman tales (don't remember which one), and it didn't make much sense then as I had never read HPL. Now I have, and I had a much greater appreciation for the story. That said, not nearly as great as A Study In Emerald.
--Caitlin R. Kiernan, Nor The Demons Down Under The Sea; The writing style here was a bit confusing at first-Ms. Kiernan is not afraid of a sentence fragment masquerading as a full sentence if it helps set her scene. But once the scene was set this proved a very evocative tale.
--John R. Fultz, This Is How The World Ends; Fultz sketches a brief vignette of Cthulu's rise from the deeps to swallow the world, and I must say his vision is frankly terrifying.
--Paul Tobin, The Drowning At Lake Henpin; Most of these are Lovecraftian, but this is the first one I've seen that could have been written by Lovecraft himself.
--William Browning Spencer, The Ocean And All Its Devices; I'm still not completely sure I understand what Spencer is saying about what lives in the water just offshore from this beachfront hotel, but I know I don't want to meet it.
--Livia Llewellyn, Take Your Daughters To Work; This one succeeded in disturbing me. That's all I'll say.
--Kim Newman, The Big Fish; I love Kim Newman. Newman is a past master of the literary pastiche, here presenting a sequel to Lovecraft's Shadow Over Innsmouth while at the same time doing a Sam Spade-type character (maybe Spade himself, the protagonist is never named...did Spade live in San Francisco?) AND roping in his recurring characters Edwin Winthrop and Genvieve Dieudonné from the Diogenes Club stories.* Which I am just reminded that I should get around to reading...
--Cody Goodfellow, Rapture Of The Deep; A corporate investigation into a potential source of endless energy on the seafloor turns to terror when an ex-Soviet psychic and his unwilling protegé take an astral visit to sunken R'lyeh....
--A. Scott Glancy, Once More From The Top; An aged Marine recounts the horror he and his fellows experienced at the Battle Of Innsmouth. I quite enjoyed this one...though I don't recall the Deep Ones having Shoggoths in the original story. Maybe that came from one of HPL's stories I haven't read yet...Anyway, gonna try and track down the anthology this originated in.
--Molly Tanzer, The Hour Of The Tortoise; An exiled young lady returns to her ancestral home, thought cursed by the surrounding villagers, to find her illegitimate father on his deathbed and something amiss about the house....
--Christopher Reynaga, I Only Am Escaped Alone To Tell Thee; Christopher Reynaga recasts Moby Dick as a tale of Captain Ahab hunting Cthulhu in order to buy the world more time before his rise.
--Ann K. Schwader, Objects From The Gilman-Waite Collection; A creepy though not unpredictable tale of a man entering a museum exhibit featuring the coral and gold jewelry from The Shadow Over Innsmouth.
--Gord Sellar, Of Melei, Of Ulthar; I'm still not sure I understand this one. Melei is visiting other worlds in her sleep, one of which appears to be post-Cthulhu New York. I can't figure out, however, whether she exists in the far-distant past or the regressed future...in either case, it was an intriguing tale.
--Mark Samuels, A Gentleman From Mexico; This was an outstanding idea, and I literally laughed out loud when I realized what was going on. I didn't find the ending as strong as the middle, but it was very like what Lovecraft himself might have written as the ending.
--W.H. Pugmire, The Hands That Reek And Smoke; Very creepy. Not really my thing, but creepy.
--Matt Wallace, Akropolis; Behold, the Great Old Ones are returning, and they have sent their emissaries to prepare the way for them...A great story here.
--Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette, Boojum; This was one of my favorites, a real surprise find. Living spacecraft, starfaring pirates, evil aliens who collect human brains for their own sinister purposes...it's all here. Quality science-fiction! I'm going to track down the anthology it was originally written for...I was a bit hazy on most of the Lovecraft connections in this one, as I'd not read the relevant tales.
--Jonathan Wood, The Nyarlathotep Event; Agent Arthur Wallace of MI37 goes up against Nyarlathotep, an ancient entity from a dimension representing humanity's collective fears, and he does it with a snarky sense of humor and a hilarious narrative voice. I literally laughed out loud several times while reading it, and plan to track down the author's other stories featuring the same protagonists.
--Stanley C. Sargent, The Black Brat Of Dunwich; A surprising tale here, as Sargent turns the entire HPL story The Dunwich Horror on its head. Very fun, and HPL himself might be a fan of this one, but it would help to have read the original tale first.
--Fritz Leiber, The Terror From The Depths; I actually forgot for a while that this wasn't actually a Lovecraft story. I don't think I've ever seen (by HPL or anyone else) so comprehensive and cohesive an ode to the Cthulhu Mythos...Well done.
--Orrin Grey, Black Hill; A quick read, a mite predictable, but decent nonetheless.
--Michael Chabon, The God Of Dark Laughter; A small-town sheriff investigates the ritual murder of a clown, possibly uncovering ties to an ancient and unholy cult. I really enjoyed this one, and I think I may have to look up more of Michael Chabon's work.
--Karl Edward Wagner, Sticks; An incredibly creepy tale of an artist who discovers an ancient abandoned cottage that continues to haunt his dreams...Again, I really enjoyed this.
--Laird Barron, Hand Of Glory; Less actually scary, not incredibly Lovecraftian, but a good story nonetheless. Mobland hitman Johnny Cope has a problem. It seems that an old enemy of his father has sent goons to kill him. They weren't incredibly successful, but they did manage to get his ire up. Now Johnny wants to know why....
On the whole, I loved this collection. A lot of the stories were excellent, but like with any collection you'll have some that were better than others. I love Neil Gaiman, but given my choice I'd put in A Study In Emerald over Shoggoth's Old Peculiar. Its simply a better tale-though, I'll allow, perhaps not a better tribute to the original Lovecraft. Some of the stories I flat-out disliked, but that was probably a matter of taste. Certainly they are different than the ones cited by other reviewers as having fallen flat for them. A few of the stories, good as they were on their own, probably would have been enhanced by a more thorough knowledge of Lovecraft's works. I've only read a very small selection as of this writing. I plan to remedy that in the near future...I very much recommend picking up this book if you ever get the chance.
*Technically, the Diogenese Club stories happen in a separate world from the Anno Dracula novels, but they are mirrors of each other and feature the same characters. The prime difference seems to be that in the Diogenes Club stories Dracula was actually defeated as scheduled in his original book, whereas in the Anno Dracula world he was triumphant.
Content: This is a horror anthology, so from the get-go you know its not going to be appropriate for children. Bloody horror violence. Sexual references, including the implication that a couple characters are lesbians. The protagonist in another tale makes her living as a writer of Victorian-era pornography, and mostly non-explicit excerpts of her work are included. She also refers to several sexual encounters of her own, in generally non-explicit but incredibly suggestive terms. Language varies from story to story, but some at least are R-rated.