review – Starry Wisdom Library


Starry Wisdom Library:

The Catalogue of the Greatest Occult Book Auction of All Time

Edited by Nate Pedersen
PS Publishing  (2014)

In 1935, Robert Bloch was completing “The Shambler from the Stars” and wrote to H.P. Lovecraft for permission to kill him off in the story. Lovecraft not only agreed, but returned the favor by offing horror writer “Robert Blake” in his sequel, “The Haunter of the Dark.” The Blake character becomes obsessed with a deserted church across the street from his apartment in Providence, RI. He learns the blighted building once was the home to the esoteric Church of Starry Wisdom. Exploring the church, Blake discovers that when the cultists vanished, they left behind their library of rare and ancient books on the occult and black magic. Blake reads from the tomes, translates a journal best left untranslated, and dies unpleasantly.

Nate Pedersen has returned to the moldering library of the lost cult in the new book The Starry Wisdom Library. He has developed the premise that in 1877, the Church of Starry Wisdom was preparing to leave Providence under their own terms (didn’t happen), and approached the infamous Arkham auction house of Pent & Serenade, specialists in discreetly selling off occult collections.

In preparation for the auction, Pent & Serenade, well aware of the value of the library, commissioned 19th-century scholars and specialists to write essays on the histories of the books for the catalog of items being auctioned. This catalog has only been recently rediscovered in the Miskatonic University Library and this book is the “facsimile reproduction” of the original publication.
The “19th-century scholars” who have contributed essays on the malignant books are some of the top writers and researchers in the weird fiction field today. Here, firmly formatted as a Victorian pamphlet, are Lovecraft’s history of the Necronomicon, as well as contributions from F. Paul Wilson, Ramsay Campbell, Joseph Pulver, Pete Rawlik, Robert Price, W.H. Pugmire, E.P. Berglund, and 37 other scholars.

If you play Call of Cthulhu RPG, it’s a priceless tome unto itself, providing ample background material to obliterate the players. For readers of weird fiction, it is a delightful compilation of notorious texts of varying degrees of familiarity, all carefully formatted by antiquarian bookseller Jonathan Kearns. It is gorgeously styled, quirky, and a unique addition to any weird fiction bibliophile’s shelf.

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review – These Black Winged Ones

these-black-winged-onesThese Black Winged Ones
W.H. Pugmire
Myth Ink Books (2014)
limited edition chapbook of 100 numbered copies

Myth Ink has initiated a new series of chapbooks. And if this first one is any indication, it bodes well for the series. The debut is by none other than the prose poet of Sesqua Valley, W.H. Pugmire. This is a small chapbook, under 40 pages including introduction and biographic notes, and the $9 price tag reflects that. For a new Pugmire story, that is more than reasonable.

The book includes an introduction by Pete Rawlik, who is no slouch in the art of Lovecratian horror either. The Rawlik piece is less an introduction to the story as an introduction on the friendship of the two writers.

The story is based on a section of Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” about Inspector Legrasse’s raid of a cult mid-ceremony in the swamps south of New Orleans. The captured cultists all deny they took place in a ritual murders, claiming it was the Black Winged Ones they had summoned.

Eleanor Whisk has come to this malevolent place in the woods, for Miss Whisk is a desperate woman. She has never dreamt and has taken to perusing the occult as means to dream. So she allows herself to be led to this unhallowed ground by a mad poet of New Orleans, who has heard that this ancient gathering spot of unspeakable rituals can inspire dreams. As the maiden and the poet will learn, the line between dream and nightmare is gossamer fine.

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Review – Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos

Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos

Bobby Derie
Hippocampus Press
September 2014

In spite of the rather salacious title, Bobby Derie presents an objective and scholarly (and in several spots, dry) analysis of love, sex, and gender in the life and work of H. P. Lovecraft and how the concepts evolved through his protégés and later devotees. The book consists of four sections, looking at Lovecraft the man, his works, the works of others built upon his foundation, and a survey of the range of “Cthulhurotica” from sex magick to shokushu goukan.

As one might suspect, Derie has his work cut out for him. Although Lovecraft professed to being uninterested in matters amatory, he was pursued by a number of women in his amateur journalism days – Winnifred Jackson, Hazel Heald, and of course, the future Mrs. Lovecraft, Sonia Greene. Derie uses his discussion of Lovecraft’s relationship with his wife to segue into an analysis of Lovecraft’s work, looking at the material from a sex-centric perspective. He finds both normal and unconventional sexuality in a surprisingly large number of tales. Some are discussed elsewhere, such as the Deep Ones miscegenation in “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and the homosexual implications of Edward Derby’s marriage to Asenath Waite who is actually a vessel hosting the consciousness of her father in “The Thing on the Doorstep”, but Derie also finds his topic well-represented by tales such as “The Dunwich Horror” where Yog-Sothoth impregnates Lavinia Whateley, the supernatural conception that gives birth to Wilbur Whateley and his twin.

Derie addresses the themes that will pervade the rest of the book, with a particularly well well-summarized look at the tentacle as a phallus. He then examines the writers who carried forth the Lovecraft tradition starting with peers such as Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch and August Derleth. He follows this thread to the modern titans such as Ramsey Campbell, W. H. Pugmire, Alan Moore, Edward Lee and Caitlín R. Kiernan. These modern authors are far more explicit than anything Lovecraft wrote or even inferred. Indeed, most of the modern mythos would have been banned as pornography under the ethos of Lovecraft’s time, which Derie touches on lightly with the kerfuffle over the necrophilia-themed “The Loved Dead” collaboration with C.M. Eddy.

Derie wraps up the book by wading into the seething mass of erotica in other media, bravely delving into the occult forms of Lovecraftian, films, comic books, even exploring two of the scariest places on the Internet for Cthulhuroticsm – the old newsgroup and Cthulhu fan fiction archives.

Derie’s impartial façade is maintained throughout; this is a titter-free examination of what could have easily slipped into a voyeuristic romp. It is an aspect of Lovecraft scholarship not often examined, and certainly with some discomfort when it is brought up. Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos should be on the shelved of anyone with an interest in the analysis of the mythos and its evolution. However, it is important not to read too much into the sexual connotations of the mythos. As psychoanalyst Allen Wheelis once cautioned, although conscious aims are often a cover for the unconscious aims, it should not always be assumed that is true. In other words, to paraphrase Freud, sometimes a tentacle is just a tentacle.

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review – Shrieks and Shivers from The Horror Zine

shrieks-and-shiversShrieks and Shivers from The Horror Zine

Edited by Jeani Rector
Post Mortem Press (January 2015)
Reviewed for Hellnotes

Shrieks and Shivers from The Horror Zine is the third anthology selected from pages of the e-zine by Jeani Rector. Rector is no slouch when it comes to writing horror, with highly respected novels and short stories to her credit, but as an editor and anthologist, she is even better—I might even suggest phenomenal. In five years, she has catapulted The Horror Zine into an innocuous little website into an award-winning e-pub juggernaut, where best-selling scribes (the current issue includes a Piers Anthony story) and lesser-known authors intermingle freely in the table of contents.

The only change from the previous two books is the new publisher, Post Mortem Press. Everything else remains unchanged–Rector has again selected an exceptional collection of the best of the best: 33 stories in a well-balanced collection of emerging writers blended with tales from such luminaries as Joe McKinney, William F. Nolan, Ray Garton, Elizabeth Massie, Tim Waggoner, P.D. Cacek, and Tom Piccirilli. Just to add to the name-dropping, the book also features a foreword by Bentley Little and an introduction from John Russo.

More importantly, there is little repetition in the stories; Rector gleefully bounces from haunted castles to sideshow freaks, from parasitophobics to somniphobics, and from organ harvesting to suicidal sky divers. Even when the standard beasties such as zombies, ghosts, lycanthropes, and witches appear, they are new twists, not the same tired tropes. As one example, “Reflector Eyes” by Garrett Rowlan is a modern retelling of Frankenstein (or Pygmalion and Galatea for the purists). Only instead of spare body parts and a mad scientist, you have spare auto parts and a sculptor, with a little Wizard of Oz on the side.

Bentley Little’s foreword mentions his dismay that this could be the last Horror Zine anthology. I agree. The variety and quality offered by Rector and The Horror Zine is a standard to which other anthologies should strive, and the loss to the horror genre would be immeasurable.

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review – Cthulhu Lives!

Cthulhu Lives! An Eldritch Tribute to H. P. Lovecraft
Edited By Salomé Jones
Ghostwoods Books
August 2014

reviewed for

How can you not like an anthology that, before you even read a single story, already has three things in its favor: a foreword by Leeman “Ask Lovecraft” Kessler, an afterword by S.T. Joshi, and most importantly, 17 new stories, none of which are by the usual group of writers that seem to appear in every Lovecraft anthology.

Editor Jones’s previous anthology Red Phone Box (2013) wove the stories of 23 different authors together in such a way as to be distinct tales but interconnected through an underlying story arch.

Essentially, Jones has done the exact opposite in Cthulhu Lives!, where the lack of connectivity essentially evokes the basic Lovecraftian tenet that the irrelevancies of mankind are beneath the notice of an uncaring universe, and that mankind’s interactions with the Old Ones are unnoticed to the gods, and mind-rendering and messy for mankind. Jones has carefully avoided the twin traps of overt pastiches and generic stories that simply drop a familiar name or book title. Instead, she has chosen stories that evoke the themes of cosmic horror and fear of the unknown without slipping into tropes. The story lengths swing wildly in both directions, a calculated risk by Jones in her selections. It works because the stories are a diverse lot, leaping from steampunk Victorian England to a modern day physics lab, from England to Australia to North America. Some stories are a bit more obvious in their influences such as “Hobstone” by G. K. Lomax, which is evocative of “Rats in the Wall,” while “The Highland Air” shows author Gethin A. Lynes to be a devotee of “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.” This is an observation, not a complaint; all the stories evoke the classic Lovecraft disquiet of the unknown that quickly escalates into abject terror. If you’re looking for stories from the wretched interpretation of Lovecraft where professors sail through space on  the backs of byakhees, you’re in the wrong book.

Cthulhu Lives! is a solid addition to Lovecraft fiction, respectful of the source material but willing to test the boundaries. Salomé Jones has done a remarkable assembling this collection and Ghostwoods Books should be encouraged to pursue similar projects.

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review – The Outcasts

The Outcasts
Brian Muir
Post Mortem Press  (November 2014)
ISBN-13: 978-0692320853

Reviewed for Hellnotes

In the rural town of Konnor, Oregon, aliens have landed. The aliens are using humans to host their eggs, the vanguard of a secret invasion. The aliens have a hive mind, meaning anyone infested with the parasite can’t be trusted. The last line of defense is a band of flawed heroes. The difference here that author Muir takes the concept of the flawed hero and runs with it to extremes. His heroes have powers and abilities that are, for the most part, pretty useless: a bodybuilder with glass jaw, literally; a punk rocker with an mysterious energy supply; a man who wakes up with various body parts randomly appearing and disappearing each night; an old woman with dementia and clairvoyance, and the world’s dullest man. They must combine forces with other similarly feckless heroes to save the world without killing each other. Of course, the fact that the world scorns them ain’t exactly helping with motivation either.

Author Brian Muir may be best remembered for writing the cult sci-fi classic Critters (1986) but his film résumé includes 15 films for Full Moon, including the classic Gary Busey headliner Gingerdead Man (2005). He was also a popular mystery writer as well, with multiple appearances in Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock magazines. After his premature death in 2010, his literary executor discovered a number of unpublished manuscripts as part of the estate.

The Outcasts was Muir’s earliest written novel in this treasure trove on new material. It was completed after Muir scripted Critters, but shows the same seamless transition from humor to tension. The rapid-fire jumping between characters in has a bit of 1980s throwback vibe to it, but for a 30-year old creation, it does not feel dated. Also included is a previously unpublished essay by Muir on the best screenwriting advice he ever received and a fond retrospection on the birth of Critters. This should be in the collection anyone who fondly recalls the black humor films of the 80s, as represented by Muir’s carnivorous alien hairballs.

The author’s cousin and literary executor Charles Austin Muir and Post Mortem Press should both be lauded for allowing more of the all too brief career of Brian Muir to be introduced to a new generation of fans.

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review: Lovecraft and a World in Transition

Lovecraft and a World in Transition

S. T. Joshi
Hippocampus Press (August 2014)
ISBN-13: 978-1614980797
Reviewed for Hellnotes

There is a current controversy as to whether the World Fantasy award, a Gahan Wilson designed caricature of H.P. Lovecraft, should be replaced due to Lovecraft’s racism. This is neither the venue nor the format to jump into that morass, but I bring it up due to the misinformation being used in the argument.

Now, if you want to understand Lovecraft well enough to jump into that debate, you have two choices. You can read all of Lovecraft’s writings, including his letters. His published letters currently span upwards of 20 volumes across five publishers. When you finished reading all those (and assuming more volumes haven’t been released), place them in historical context.

Your second choice is consult an expert. And there is no more accomplished scholar on the work and life of H. P. Lovecraft than S. T. Joshi. For over thirty-five years, Joshi has edited the letters, annotated the prose, and chronicled Lovecraft’s life. And this new book, Lovecraft and a World in Transition collects all of the critical essays that Joshi has written since 1979.

Rather than study just the prose in a vacuum, Joshi approaches Lovecraft holistically, noting the interplay between author and creation. Approaching the material biographically, philosophically and thematically, Joshi offers insight, reinterpretations and along the way, reinvigorates scholarship into a broader understanding the complexities of the man and the myth.

The final section of the book may be the most important; it covers Lovecraft’s legacy and influence on the next generation of writers, such as Robert Bloch and Fritz Leiber. This section includes to a significant essay on the evolution of the “Cthulhu Mythos” (and if it really should be considered a mythology), and ends the book with Joshi’s keynote address at the NecronomiCon convention of 2013 in Providence, RI.

In the introduction, Joshi expresses his doubts that he’ll be producing any additional essays of the scope and magnitude of those found in the 645 pages of this tome. I hope he is underestimating his future impact in Lovecraft studies, but even if he is correct, this collection represents the most important body of work on Lovecraft outside of Lovecraft’s letters, and unequivocally confirms the relevancy and importance of Lovecraft and his work in modern horror.

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