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Dark Homage: Lovecraft

Thanks to the kindness and patience of lokilokust , I was finally able to read the set of novelettes Delirium Books released in tribute to H.P. Lovecraft. Dark Homage: Lovecraft is a collection of six small format hardcovers, each containing a story by a contemporary author influenced by the Old Man of Providence. Like a number of Delirium releases, the set was produced in an absurdly small print run of 100 copies, which really does no favors to fans of these writers or of Lovecraft, nor does it do much for the authors themselves. I'm not sure what the set originally retailed for, but it currently goes for $300 and up at the few online retailers that carry it.

The stories themselves range in length from fifty to one hundred ten pages and vary widely in quality. Had they been issued together in a trade paperback anthology, I would have been disappointed to pay $20 for the whole collection. Luckily I was spared having to shell out actual money to read them.

Stephen Mark Rainey's Epiphany: A Flying Tigers Story kicks off the series and is one of the strongest works in the group. Rainey uses dense exposition delivered by an erudite first-person narrator to build his atmosphere, in true Lovecraftian fashion. But he doesn't rely on archaic phrasing, cheap verbal pastiche, or mythos name-dropping to deliver an homage, which is refreshing. The ending of the story doesn't quite live up to the fine tension Rainey develops, but it's still an effective tale.

The same can't be said for Charlee Jacob's The Seventh Victim, which reads like a knock-off of the films Seven and Identity with a sprinkling of Lovecraftian furniture to make it fit the series' label. It was entirely predictable and had basically nothing to do with Lovecraft's mode or philosophy. Jacob is usually a more stylistically interesting writer than this as well, but everything about the story is flat.

The less said about Brian Lumley's The Man Who Killed Kew Gardens, the better. Plants! Taking over the earth! Rivalled only by...unnecessary punctuation! Evil!? Yes!

Jeffrey Thomas's The Arms of the Sun is the fastest paced of the six novelettes, and like Rainey's story it manages to capture a certain Lovecraftian concept without the usual pastiche trappings. There's a Night of the Living Dead/Invasion of the Body Snatchers sensibility to the narrative, which drops the reader in media res of an apocalyptic event and focuses on an isolated couple's struggle to survive. Thomas also manages to cap his story with a devastating ending.

Matt Cardin is one of those rare horror authors who is also a true scholar and intellectual. His studies in philosophy and religion inform his fiction, which is heavily influenced by both Lovecraft and Ligotti, and his work is usually the highlight of whatever venue it graces. His novella The God of Foulness is longest book in the Dark Homage set, and it captures an aspect of Lovecraft's philosophy while forging new ground in an expansion of the mythos. Cardin keeps one foot in the body-grotesque of contemporary horror and the other in the cosmic implications of HPL's creations.

While John Pelan is an excellent editor and a generally solid writer (not to mention a long-time Lovecraft fan), his An Outsider doesn't manage to maintain the momentum of the previous two books in the series. Instead, Pelan closes the set with a repetitive story that begs to be half its length and that doesn't quite capture the cosmic sense that it strives for. The ending in particular is a disappointment, descending as it does into well-worn territory of protagonist-reversal that other authors have executed with more skill.

In general the collection was a disappointment, despite some very good stories. It's unfortunate that Thomas's story doesn't appear in his new collection of Lovecraft-inspired stories, Unholy Dimensions, as I'd just point people there if it did. Hell, I'll still point people there. I've got my fingers crossed that Cardin will issue another collection, this time with The God of Foulness as its anchor. His Divinations of the Deep is a must-read for any fan of Lovecraftian fiction.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 19th, 2006 04:30 am (UTC)
Before anything else, I do have to raise a toast as well to lokilokust, who is definitely one of the best reasons I'm thankful to have met on LJ (though I don't recall how).

Anyway, great review, Jack, and I have to confess that I'm deriving a strange sort of pleasure from the fact that this wasn't as stellar a set as I expected/feared it would be.

I'm probably sour-graping here, but when you said, "Like a number of Delirium releases, the set was produced in an absurdly small print run of 100 copies, which really does no favors to fans of these writers or of Lovecraft, nor does it do much for the authors themselves," I was torn between nodding my head in agreement and shaking my head in disbelief (at the practice not your views on it).

I've never read any Jeffrey Thomas, though I think I have gone through a couple by Scott. Maybe I'll give Unholy Dimensions a try, since I don't think I have anything by Jeffrey on my shelves.

Which is more than can be said for Stephen Mark Rainey. I've always been curious about him and hope to someday pick up that Chaosium anthology he edited about Lovecraft and music, which seems like an interesting theme to me. I think I have "Orchestra" over here (is that the story from October Dreams?), but I must confess I've yet to read it.

I am curious about Charlee Jacob, though I'm not sure where to start and how I'll take it, because her writing is generally very explicit, at least from what I've read of it. (I am, after all, the most squeamish horror fan in the world.)

As for John Pelan, I love the anthologies he's (co-)edited, though there's always one or two clunkers amidst the gems. I've only read a couple of his actual writing though, and I'm rather surprised that he seems to be best known for his work with Edward Lee, who is another writer who I think will cause me to squeam.

Ooh, a new word.
Jan. 19th, 2006 01:19 pm (UTC)
you should definitely check out jeffrey thomas.
'unholy dimensions' is a pretty inexpensive trade paperback and his collection 'aiiieee!'(sp?) is still in print in paperback, as opposed to the stuipdly overpriced and stupidly limited delerium hardcover.
charlee jacob is usally a brilliant stylist, as outr host pointed out, but a lot of that was really reigned in on this one, and the story suffered for it.
i think the basics of the story were basically terrible, but if she had allowed herself to write it as a charlee jacob story, as opposed to some sort of pastiche, it would have been much better and more forgiveable.
overall, i agree with jack's assessment.
(and i can't stand edward lee, with a few noteable exceptions.)
Jan. 19th, 2006 04:14 pm (UTC)
Okay, I'm placing those Jeffrey Thomas titles on the list. What about Jacob? What would be a good work of hers to start with?

(And okay, since I'm curious what are those "noteable exceptions" when it comes to Edward Lee?)
Jan. 19th, 2006 10:48 pm (UTC)
the only real noteable exception for ed lee was a chapbool entitled 'bomb' from camelot books, that was more of an experimental piece about romantic relationships.
it was quite sad, well written, and probably the best thing i've read by him.
jacob has a few novels in mass market paperbacks that are all good enough starting points.
she has quite a poetic style, but does tend to go for the gross out.
(and, again, she tends a bit much toward the scatalogical.)
Jan. 19th, 2006 11:04 pm (UTC)
There are a few stories by Lee I like, and I think he's capable of far more than he does. He both sells himself short and doesn't stretch himself as a writer, probably because he gets so many accolades for his gross-out work, while the more subtle material disappoints the expectations of his audience.

I think Creekers is a decent enough novel, though once you've read that all his other inbred creature stories sound like pale imitations. His novella in Triage, "In the Year of Our Lord: 2202" is quite powerful once you get past the opening. His CD novella "Operator B" (which I have as a .pdf from some promotion) is a solid take on pulp adventure. And the SF/conspiracy novel Stickmen is actually quite funny. I'd like to see him revive its protagonist. Of course, neither Triage nor Stickmen sold particularly well, because they're not gross-outs.
Jan. 20th, 2006 12:25 pm (UTC)
i'd forgotten about 'triage' and 'stickmen,' both of which i would point out as noteable exceptions when it comes to lee.
i quite enjoyed 'the stickmen,' actually.
Jan. 19th, 2006 12:42 pm (UTC)
I sort of felt the same way after reading this: I didn't miss out on much, and with any luck the good bits will appear in collections by authors whose word I'd buy anyway. According to someone on Shocklines, the set went for a total of $225. I hate that sort of pricing and those limited runs that prevent a large number of interested readers from ever seeing the work.

Jacob is a decent stylist, but I don't care for visceral horror much myself, so I'm not a big fan. Ultimately her style is undercut by her subject matter, and as much as I revere style, some things it just can't overcome. As for Rainey, he's got some inexpensive paperbacks available through Wildside: The Last Trumpet is a Lovecraftian novel, and there's a short story collection as well whose title escapes me.

Pelan's work with Lee can be skipped. It's excessive and ultimately silly (which is part of the point, really, that gore at that level becomes absurdist humor), but I'd like to read more criticism from him as he's a perceptive reader and lucid writer.
Jan. 19th, 2006 01:22 pm (UTC)
it was originally $300, but staley dropped the priced after about a billion complaints and cancellations.
i agree with you about jacob, for the most part.
i'm not often too keen on scatalogical horror.
no matter how well written, it still smacks of a philosophical juvenalia that i find... boring, really.
'balak' is rainey's 'mythos' collection.
Jan. 19th, 2006 04:19 pm (UTC)
Again, you have me nodding, Jack. While I do love having discovered the small press, both for writers contemporary and not, it's also been quite frustrating because of low quantities and high prices.

And I'm not sure if you've collected comics before (maybe you did, but I don't recall reading it in the "geek post" *grins*), but I can't stand it when people buy two or more copies of something, just because it's "certain" to hike up in value later on: both monetary and "cultural," for want of a better term. ("Oh you don't have that edition? I have TWO of that.")

Thanks for the tips on Jacob and Rainey, and I have to say that I also share your desire to read more criticism from Pelan.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )