Friday, March 29, 2013

Lovecraft Unbound -- Ellen Datlow (ed.)

Dark Horse Books, 2009
420 pp


Having just finished four other books edited by Ellen Datlow, I have to say that this one has a wider range of good stories than the previous four volumes of The Best Horror of the Year do individually.  It's still a mixed bag though, with some stories much better than the rest, some following under the category of  "good and I'd probably look for more by their authors," and some that just didn't do it for me. In short, your typical anthology.  If you're considering reading this one,  keep in mind that the book was not intended to be a collection of Lovecraft pastiches but rather a collection of stories inspired by Lovecraft's work.  Even so, it comes out a bit unevenly and while the authors each offer a brief write-up on how Lovecraft inspired their work, some of the stories seem to be a bit off. 

So let's get down to business starting with the table of contents:
  1. “The Crevasse” by Dale Bailey and Nathan Ballingrud
  2. “The Office of Doom” by Richard Bowes
  3. “Sincerely, Petrified” by Anna Tambour
  4. “The Din of Celestial Birds” by Brian Evenson
  5. “The Tenderness of Jackals” by Amanda Downum
  6. “Sight Unseen” by Joel Lane
  7. “Cold Water Survival” by Holly Phillips
  8. “Come Lurk with Me and Be My Love” by William Browning Spencer
  9. “Houses Under the Sea” by Caitlín R. Kiernan
  10. “Machines of Concrete Light and Dark” by Michael Cisco
  11. “Leng” by Marc Laidlaw
  12. “In the Black Mill” by Michael Chabon
  13. “One Day, Soon” by Lavie Tidhar
  14. “Commencement” by Joyce Carol Oates
  15. “Vernon, Driving” by Simon Kurt Unsworth
  16. “The Recruiter” by Michael Shea
  17. “Marya Nox” by Gemma Files
  18. “Mongoose” by Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear
  19. “Catch Hell” by Laird Barron
  20. “That of Which We Speak When We Speak of the Unspeakable” by Nick Mamatas
 There are six I really liked and five  that were good, not great, so that accounts for over half of the stories in this book.  The best story in this book is without question Caitlin R. Kiernan's "Houses Under the Sea," set in beautiful Monterey.  The story is seen through the eyes of a narrator who not only has no name but no gender either.  He/She has been assigned to write about Jacova Angevine, his/her former lover, who once had a promising career in academia but later became the head of a cult called "The Open Door," whose members she led into the ocean one day in a mass suicide. It's one a summary doesn't do justice, but my god ... this story is absolutely chilling and probably meets best the Lovecraft-inspiration criteria.   I have to give Ms. Datlow kudos for including it.   "The Crevasse,"  set in the Antarctic is also an excellent, Lovecraft-inspired story but one I've read before; also set in the Antarctic is Holly Phillips' "Cold Water Survival," another previously-read but excellent story.   Also clearly in the Lovecraftian zone is (believe it or not) Michael Chabon's "In the Black Mill," which I found to be outstanding; I did a double take when I got to this author's entry because well, he does horror & dread so nicely -- a side of Chabon I've never seen before!   "Marya Nox" by Gemma Files also caught my eye -- told in more or less epistolary format, it focuses on a strange church in Macedonia that was uncovered after having been purposely buried in its entirety.   "Catch Hell," by Laird Barron isn't exactly Lovecraftian so to speak, but there's definitely evil lurking in the woods around the Black Ram Lodge.  This one I've read before and while I really like this story, its inclusion in this particular volume is kind of a mystery. 

The six that were (imho) good/not great but still deserving of a mention are "The Din of Celestial Birds," by Brian Evenson, “Come Lurk with Me and Be My Love” by William Browning Spencer, "Leng," by Marc Laidlaw -- I'm a total sucker for anything set on the Plateau of Leng, and "That of Which We Speak When We Speak of the Unspeakable” by Nick Mamatas. This one resonated with the idea that there's nothing one can do when confronted by cosmic forces beyond anyone's control and it appealed. And while  "The Office of Doom" was kind of  playful with its interlibrary loan of the Necronomicon, I'm still not quite sure about it. Ditto for "The Recruiter," which was dark enough for my weird tastes but kind of missing something there.

Obviously anyone reading this collection will have their own personal favorites, since as I've  noted before, horror is definitely in the eye of the beholder.  I'd recommend it -- there are many fine stories here. 

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