Tentacles and Transhumanism: A Review of TOMORROW’S CTHULHU

Tomorrow’s Cthulhu edited by Scott Gable & C. Dombrowski
Published by Broken Eye Books
Review by Billy Lyons

 

Whatever happened to the Great Old Ones?

Is the spirit of Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, and Shub-Niggurath alive in the 21st Century and beyond?   Will tomorrow’s technology provide a medium through which the barriers between dimensions dissolve? Are there modern scientists working diligently to wake the Elder Gods, just as Wilbur Whateley did in the shadowy hills of Innsmouth so many years ago? If these are questions that plague your mind and keep you awake deep into the night, you will definitely want to check out Tomorrow’s Cthulhu, the excellent new short story collection from Broken Eye Books.

The stories found in Tomorrow’s Cthulhu are so well-written and hold the reader’s interest so well that it is difficult to pick just one favorite.

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“68 Days” by Kaaron Warren is a chilling story that chronicles the macabre experiences of a likable social outcast during her participation in a scientific research project.

Clinton J. Boomer’s “The Sky Isn’t Blue” tells the story of a deadly cat and mouse game that unfolds as a hardened homicide detective interviews a renowned therapist, one who is hiding a very dangerous otherworldly affiliation.

In “Astral and Arcane Science” by S.J. Leary, two investigators interview a reclusive scientist who is working deep in the bowels of a medical research facility. Before they are through, they will uncover secrets that threaten not only their own lives, but the future of humanity as we know it.

The stories found in Tomorrow’s Cthulhu are masterful blends of science fiction and the creeping horrors that are familiar to any H.P. Lovecraft fan. Each tale provides a unique glimpse into the terrors that unsuspecting humans might face in the near future if the Old Gods should wake from their slumber.

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A review of The Wanderer by Timothy J. Jarvis

Published by Perfect Edge
Available Here
Review by Tom Breen

In his introduction to the recent New York Review of Books edition of two horror novels by William Sloane, Stephen King writes that the books are “actual works of literature,” in that slightly embarrassed way fans of genre fiction have of explaining themselves to others.

“Actual literature” is code for things like “well-developed characters” and “non-formulaic plots,” and as much as genre fans may bridle at such distinctions, few of them have not experienced the rush of joy that accompanies the discovery of a book that can be safely recommended to one’s non-genre-reading friends. Look – characters! Accomplished prose! Literature!

This is approximately the sensation one feels when reading The Wanderer, Timothy J. Jarvis’ debut novel. A tricky, postmodern work that can function as a collection of short stories as easily as a science fiction novel, and is best received as both at the same time, it’s the sort of weird fiction that you’d give to someone to convert them to weird fiction.

Bracketed by a formidable critical apparatus including foreword, note on the text, afterword, end notes, and two appendices, the bulk of The Wanderer is purportedly a manuscript left behind by the mysteriously vanished British horror writer Simon Peterkin, which may be a final work of fiction or may be something much more terrifying than that.

The Wanderer

The framing device within this framing device is the memoir of an immortal man in the far distant future, but the narrative takes long detours that practically function as standalone tales. The overall effect is something like a modern, weird fiction version of The Decameron or, perhaps more appropriately given the book’s British setting, a horribly inverted Canterbury Tales, with the pilgrims relating experiences that have severed them irrevocably from the possibility of normal life.

One of the distinguishing features of “actual literature” is that it doesn’t rely on its readers to fill in narrative gaps with previously acquired knowledge about genre conventions, and in The Wanderer, Jarvis eschews the familiar tropes of supernatural fiction to craft a series of increasingly bizarre and memorable encounters with the inexplicable.

A (literally) underground society of elderly aficionados of graphic Punch & Judy shows; ordinary Londoners, somehow in the company of medieval knights, chasing dragons on Hampstead Heath; a pedestrian tunnel that leads to a tower containing a gruesome parody of family life; and the terrible secrets of Glasgow’s (quite real) Necropolis are just some of the elements Jarvis deploys in the course of his tale.

Throughout, the book conjures an atmosphere of estrangement: characters in contemporary London have experiences they can’t explain, but which are enough to sever them from the possibility of the kind of normal lives they once lived; the narrator, living far in the future, is isolated not only by his immunity to death, but by a longevity so extreme no one on earth has spoken his native English for millennia. This alienation is at the heart of great weird fiction, from the cosmic horror of Lovecraft to the Freudian torments of Aickman, a revelation that obliterates understanding rather than increasing it. The tree of knowledge is not that of life, as the poet observed, and this is more or less what Jarvis’ characters come to learn. If the purpose of genre fiction is to entertain, this is not genre fiction; it is, as Kafka said stories should be, “an axe for the frozen sea within us.”

Not that The Wanderer is dull. Jarvis can write a fight scene as well as anyone, and his scares are genuinely scary. Even better, a wry humor glints in many places (Peterkin’s career as a mostly obscure horror writer is deftly handled, with story titles like “The Glass Eye of the Stuffed and Mounted Bream that Hangs Over the Mantelpiece in the Old Stainer Place” tossed off casually), and Jarvis has a way with genuinely lovely, beautiful prose, as when one character rides a bus across London Bridge at night, “the lights of waterfront buildings reflected in the river below, gemstones strewn on a jeweller’s blackcloth.”

This is an extraordinarily accomplished first novel, and readers of weird fiction have much cause for celebration at the prospect of a second. In a corner of the literary world where “actual literature” is all too rare, Timothy Jarvis’ The Wanderer is the real thing.

A Flock of Opportunity: Broken Worlds reviewed

Edited by Jack Burgos
Published by A Murder of Storytellers

Also available on Amazon

The democratization of publishing tools is a double-edged sword, for sure. You get a lot of people shoving out an unending sting of sub-par, shoddily edited (if at all) swill. I’ve listened to podcasts espousing the benefits of getting a ton of material out quickly—as in, 5,000 words or more a week—in order to start LIVING THE DREAM NOW. There’s reams of digital copy available online right now that would never pass muster with any self-respecting publishing outfit of any size.

The other consequence, of course, is that we now have access to the work of writers and editors who might not get a mainstream publishing opportunity. Few things are more enjoyable than when I discover a new writer (through a small press or self-published) whose work is unique and of high quality.

Broken Worlds is a book from an editor whose passion for genre literature is clear. This is the kind of book that has benefited from the digital and print on demand revolution. It’s got a ton of short stories from independent (and some underground-established) authors. The book is very uneven in terms of genre, writing styles, and arguably quality—but that’s what makes it charming. It’s big enough and diverse enough that you’re bound to find something you like. It’s books like this that represent the future of small press publishing: new editors and authors getting their sea legs under them, getting their work published and read, developing their voices and deciding where they want to go as artists—and those of us who take a chance on their work get to go along for the ride.

The book’s central theme is that we live in a reality of systems—and these systems degenerate or evolve (much like traditional publishing itself). Each story contains some sort of breakdown, whether of a social order, of innocence, or of reality itself. Beyond this wide apocalyptic conceit, however, the stories are very diverse in tone, style, and narrative. Again, this is both the book’s greatest strength and weakness. But it’s in this diversity that you’re sure to find something you like.51NGWT0IJ3L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

The stories I enjoyed the most were by a couple of authors I was already familiar with, and a couple that I had not heard of before. “The Wailing Women” by M. R. Ranier is at the front of the book and sets its tone as one of its strongest stories. “The Interview” by Shannon Iwanski is both hilarious and macabre, especially for anyone who has ever worked for a giant institution or government. Scott R. Jones is as always in fine form, this time offering us a story about language, words, and the unmaking of all things in “I Cannot Begin to Tell You”. Robin Wyatt Dunn’s “The Coens” mixes science fiction slipstream adventurism with cosmic finality. “Five Laments for the Horizon Summer Resort, to be Destroyed and Never Built Again” by Tom Breen (his short fiction debut) is a slow burn ghost story that reminded me of subtle yet emotionally powerful classical supernatural stories. I’d like to see what Tom can do in the full-on weird/horror forms.

The majority of the book’s offerings fall somewhere between science fiction and fantasy, but there are a few horror offerings here. That said, I wouldn’t recommend this for someone looking for a purely horror anthology. Reviewing such an eclectic book is difficult, as personal preferences in style and tone (and occasionally quality) vary so widely that I can’t really sum up a book like this. While I think the anthology would have benefited from a few less stories and a greater focus on theme (or genre), it’s still promising to see so many new (to me, at least) voices in a volume that is anything but another printing-mill short story anthology. It’s an exciting time to be a reader (and writer!) of genre literature, and Broken Worlds is a solid step forward into speculative fiction territory for young editor Jack Burgos and A Murder of Storytellers.

Book Review: Resonator – New Lovecraftian Tales From Beyond

Edited by Scott R. Jones; Published by Martian Migraine Press

Available for pre-order now

“From Beyond” is a Lovecraft story that, while lacking the elegance and polish of some of his other works, is effective precisely because it presses the right buttons in very few words. It’s profoundly Lovecraftian in the hidden-world-higher-dark-power aspect. Human beings stumble blindly through magic and forbidden science to open up a dangerous and increasingly hostile new world that is always just out of sight. It’s only a few pages long, with most of the terrors generated by the reader’s mind. Lovecraft supplies us with just enough details to stoke the fires of imagination.

The film From Beyond, conversely, shows quite a bit—and liberally dumps buckets of slime and blood everywhere—while also under-explaining the true nature of the creepy-crawlies that float, bite, suck, consume, and ultimately corrupt and metamorphize the humans who come in contact with the infamous Resonator. Or, is it the bodies of that characters themselves that cause the corruption? Does the pineal gland, once stimulated, assume a life of its own, pushing the characters into new states of abominable evolution?

Martian Migraine Press has assembled an all-star team of horror writers who tackle these themes. In Resonator -New Lovecraftian Tales From Beyond, these writers pick up where Lovecraft and Gordon left off, tracking the fate of the Tillinghast family and the Resonator technology through a variety of weird and slimy tales of lurid erotica, old-fashioned splatterpunk, and paranoid science fiction-horror.

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I feared that the collection would at one point run out of steam—after all, how many different ways can you rebuild and re-frame a concept like the Resonator technology? The writers of this collection—expertly assembled by Scott R. Jones—managed to write stories with common themes and gross-outs, but that stand on their own in setting, characterization, and creativity. None of these stories feel like repeats or filler; each new story has a fresh and viscous take on the terrors that lurk in the branes beyond and within the human heart.

While there are reasons to like every story in this collection, I have a few personal favorites.

“IPO” by Darrin Brightman explores the Post-9/11 commercialization of the Resonator technology. Brightman’s social critique is so on-the-nose it’s easy to miss: the very machines meant to protect us make us see monsters, everywhere.

“Film Maudit” by Christopher Slatsky explores one of my favorite horror tropes: that of a forbidden film and/or a haunted movie theater (see Mer Whinery’s “The Projectionist” in our upcoming High Strange Horror release). A gorehound who has seen it all attends a special screening of a supposedly lost art house/snuff film, with the experience enhanced by the RestoRed Oscillator, an almost-forgotten spookshow gimmick that thrills the audience in new and horrifying ways.

“Bug Zapper” by Richard Lee Byers follows a scientist and a team of Army Rangers—wearing armor and popping pills to keep them motivated—as they try to destroy a special tower the government built to keep the invisible monsters away. Turns out, we are far more connected to that invisible ecosystem than even Tillinghast could have imagined, and mucking around in t-space wasn’t the best idea after all.

“Parasitosis” by Lyndsey Holder is about a man with unexplained psychological issues—including the ability to see emotions and psychological states—exploring the meaning of memory and current experiential reality, one moment at a time. This story is disorienting as it is frightening.

“The Wizard of OK” by Scott Nicolay shows us an Aleister Crowley devotee as he uses an unspeakable mix of technology and blood sorcery to explore space and time, at the expense of one very lost and damaged woman and her son. There’s a demon-thing-god-worm-creature that defies the imagination, with a psychic and physical presence that preys upon our unsympathetic characters, resonating with both physical and emotional fear.

“The Divide” by Damir Salkovic is the soul-scarring final piece. It’s more of a science fiction sequel to the original story, with a near-utopian future consisting of a wealthy elite seeking greater and greater thrills and experiences that lead them all the way to the center of creation. There they encounter a fate—and a truth—far worse than they could possibly have imagined.

There’s plenty more to like. This is a creative exploration of form and content around the shared conceit of technology/sorcery and third-eye truth. In case you missed the original story, it’s included at the beginning of the collection, so don’t worry about being lost in the shuffle. Each author takes those primordial ideas and conjures up terrors both immediate and existential. In Resonator, merely getting eaten alive by unseen monsters from outside time and space is the least of your concerns, and one of the more noble fates the hapless characters end up suffering.

This book comes with my strongest recommendation for fans of both science fiction-horror and body-horror.

5/5 Resonance Waves