Sometimes I have to wonder why I still get so disappointed with the Cycle books. I mean, with Robert Price doing all the editing I should know what to expect by now. Anyway there are a fair number of reasons why this book is strictly of interest to fanatics (like me) or collectors (like me!) and not so much to the idly curious fan. My heartburn with The Tindalos Cycle was such that it took me months to finish it.
First of all, this book should be titled The Frank Belknap Long Cycle. About half the stories have nothing to do with the Hounds of Tindalos; pages are fleshed out with stories about Chaugnar Faugn. Second, as usual the object was not to present the dozen best written stories about our favorite Hounds. Instead Price tries to show the antecedents of Long's Hounds in some stories that may have influenced him (and this is rampant speculation; there is nothing to say the stories by Chambers of Bierce had anything to do with Long's story). Then, as the burning light of fan fiction throughout the 70s and 80s, he wants to show what passed for mythos fan fiction back in the day. Thus we end up missing out on one of the best Tindalos stories ever, One Way Conversation by Brian Sammons, and we get dross Through Outrageous Angles. Finally just about all of these stories are reprints and likely to already populate the shelves of the group of fans most likely to buy the book. Furthermore, Price's own humorous story, The Dweller in the Pot, was about as funny as Mozart's A Musical Joke and sustains repeat reads about as well.
Regarding the book itself, it is Hippocampus Press' usual superb production qualities. I saw only a few minor typographical errors. List price is $20 for 364 pages but Amazon discounts to $18, with free shipping for orders > $25 (say, if you pre-order The Yith Cycle). I do not know why Hippocampus is publishing this instead of Chaosium. The introduction by Robert Price is invaluable if a tad over-wrought. Cover art is by Robert Knox, who also gave us the covers for Beyond the Lamplight and The Fungal Stain.
Here are the contents.
Introduction: Chock Full o' Mutts - Read and enjoy, but read the story introductions after you have read each story, to avoid Price's spoilers or to let his opinion influence you.
The Maker of Moons, Robert W. Chambers - I really like the fiction of Robert W. Chambers but despite protestations from the editor I cannot see any reason to include this story in this book.
The Death of Halpin Frayser, Ambrose Bierce - Is the use of the name Halpin enough to include this creepy story by Bierce in The Tindalos Cycle? You decide (but the answer is heck, no).
The Space-Eaters, Frank Belknap Long - Long introduces us to the ill favored town of Partridgeville in his classic story. Problems for the modern Lovecraftian are that Long is not that good a writer and the cross is sovereign over this creepy space aliens.
The Hounds of Tindalos, Frank Belknap Long - I have loved these critters since I first read this story as a young teen. To be honest, beyond the concept, Long's story is just sort of weak. In it, the Hounds may be viewed as fallen angels, not entities in an indifferent cosmos. Of course, if you have read The Rifters trilogy by Peter Watts you can just think of life taking two directions, A vs B, and the two are completely incompatible. Also by price, Chalmers would not have written Ahhhh... (I always think of Monty Python and Castle Arg, where Sir Galahad says "Perhaps he was dictating!").
The Letters of Halpin Chalmers, Peter Cannon - Brilliant little story for fans of Lovecraftiana, particularly for those of us who never knew Lyda Long.
The Death of Halpin Chalmers, Perry M. Grayson - Continuing a sequence of stories, this is another piece mainly for fans of all bits of Lovecraftiana.
The Madness out of Time, Lin Carter - Lin Carter rewrites the main scene from the Hounds of Tindalos and attaches some moralizing by one A. Hazrad. This is a classic example of Carter's rehashes and certainly could have been excluded.
The Hound of the Partridgevilles, Peter Cannon - Another fun piece for the fan fiction crowd, if without any broader appeal than that.
Through Outrageous Angles, David C. Kopaska-Merkel and Ronald
McDowell - A dreadful pastiche involving a character from Derleth's The Trail of Cthulhu and Laban Shrewsbury. How often do authors get to re-write the backward time travel from Long's original?
Firebrands of Torment, Michael Cisco - Now here is more of what I was hoping for. Michael Cisco is a really gifted writer and he provides a different take on the events in The Hounds of Tindalos. Secret Hours from Mythos Books is a good way to start exploring his fiction.
The Shore of Madness, Ann K. Schwader - Ms. Schwader provides a very good sonnet about the Hounds.
Gateway To Forever, Frank Belknap Long - Long re-writes his own Hounds story, more or less, where a man seeks to end his ennui. The ending isn't the best but the story is perhaps my favorite by Long.
The Gift of Lycanthropy, Frank Belknap Long
The War Among the Gods, Adrian Cole
he Ways of Chaos, Ramsey Campbell - These three stories could easily have been expunged. They are part of a dozen stories written about a Robert E. Howard character in round robin fashion by various well known authors, and published in a fan magazine. The stories became progressively more improbable, with the series eventually sputtering out. The whole shebang was published as Ghor, Kin-Slayer. While this book is strictly for completist collectors, at least there the saga has some context. Here they read as interminably lame. Even the great Ramsay Campbell could not salvage it.
Juggernaut, C. J. Henderson - This is where I think the Teddy London series jumped the shark. I like CJ Henderson and I like Teddy London, but by now he is so powerful he can destroy all of the Hounds of Tindalos. He is now a superhero, more a caricature than the PI we all came to love at the beginning.
Scarlet Obeisance, Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. - A terrific prose poem by Pulver, the master.
The Horror from the Hills, Frank Belknap Long - Goodbye Hounds! Hello Chaugnar Faugn. While I like the entity, the writing here is weak, very typical for Long. Also I guess he got tired of writing because his characters start calling the monster Chaugnar, like it's the given name and Faugn is the surname. The best part of the story the Roman interlude, isn't even by Long! It's a dream fragment written by HPL! (For those of you who want more Roman mythos try The Drums of Chaos by Tierney)
Pompelo's Doom, Ann K. Schwader - The Roman sequence is drafted in poetry by the wonderful Ann K. Schwader.
Confession of the White Acolyte, Ann K. Schwader - Here is another engaging sonnet. For those interested, you can get a nice sonnet collection by her called In the Yaddith Time.
When Chaugnar Wakes, Frank Belknap Long - Long's poem is better than his prose.
The Elephant God of Leng, Robert M. Price - OK, after all my carping, the estimable Mr. Price gives us one of his best stories, this one featuring Chaugnar Faugn.
Death Is an Elephant, Robert Bloch - Bloch was inspired by Long's story to give us a decent yarn that is certainly better than Long's original.
The Dweller in the Pot (OR, THE PASTA OUT OF SPACE EATERS) By Frank
Chimesleep Short, Robert M. Price - Well, if you like elbow in the ribs mythos humor...
But It's A Long Dark Road, Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. - Pulver is a prose artist. His contribution is so superior to everything here (except perhaps the Cisco) that it makes me gnash my teeth for what might have been.
Nyarlatophis, A Fable of Ancient Egypt, Stanley C. Sargent - Sargent is famous for his meticulous, detailed research for background for his stories. Certainly that immensely helps set Nyarlatophis into context and adds to the depth of the reading experience. The Hounds make a brief appearance, but are really just one minor plot device for this novella. Unfortunately, in my view, the whole thing could have been pared down by about a third, and also if you already own The Taint of Lovecraft, you already have this story.
Mind-Pilot, William Laughlin - A completely new story for me, this is a wonderful updated riff on the original Hounds story. It gives a rousing close to a frustrating anthology.
So what to do? The stories by Price, Cisco, Pulver and Wright are the best straight up mythos horror. The ones by Cannon, Grayson, Bloch and Sargent are worth a read. The rest mostly aggravated me. Collectors can expect a good deal of overlap. Novices to the mythos are advised to look elsewhere first.