Saturday, June 12, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Cthulhu's Reign edited by Darrell Schweitzer

Cthulhu’s Reign edited by Darrell Schweitzer
ISBN: 978-0-7564-0616-5


Some of the darkest hints in all of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos relate to what will happen after the Old Ones return and take over the Earth. In “The Dunwich Horror,” the semi-human half-breed Wilbur Whately speaks in his diary of traveling to non-human cities at the Earth’s magnetic poles “when the Earth is cleared off,” and hints at his own promised “transfiguration.” Very few Mythos stories have ever touched on this. What happens when the Stars Are Right, the sunken city of R’lyeh rises from beneath the waves and Cthulhu is unleashed upon the world for the last time? What happens when the other Old Ones, long since banished from our universe, break through and descend from the stars? What would the reign of Cthulhu be like, on a totally transformed planet where mankind is no longer the master?

It won’t simply be the end of everything. It will be a time of new horrors and of utter strangeness. It will be a time when humans with a “taint” of unearthly blood in their ancestry may come into their own. It will be a time foreseen only by authors with the kind of finely honed imaginative visions as those included in Cthulhu’s Reign.


My Thoughts:

Pretty neat concept, right? Made you curious, didn’t it? Let me tell you now, save your money. If you find this collection used or can get it from the library go for it, but I wouldn’t spend the $10 on it. I say this, and yet, I also have to say that individually none of the stories are bad – just dull. I found myself feeling bored a lot of the time. And a definite downside to this book is that there are no stories written by female authors. A fact which, if I had done my homework prior to purchasing this book would have led me to refrain from spending my $10. To my feminist sensibilities this omission is a big faux pas. (I have since done a little bit of reading around and found that this lack of women is very much a genre thing. Apparently not that many women write in the Lovecraft universe, although, judging by the presence of female writers in other Lovecraftian anthologies the editor could have found something to include women.)

Another overall issue was the shoddy editing – there were a lot of sentences with misplaced words, tense shifts and other little nitpicky things that an editor should be picking up (in my humble opinion). You can find sentences such as this one: “There have since been thousands of Cthulhu Mythos stories by other writers since Lovecraft’s time” (Schweitzer, pg 5 [emphasis added by me]), throughout the introduction and to some extent also in the stories. Oddly enough, the glaring mistakes seem to end about half-way through the collection, otherwise I might not have finished it.

Let me briefly go through the stories I enjoyed, so as to give credit where credit is due.

“The Walker in the Cemetery” by Ian Watson did a pretty good job of establishing atmosphere and the complete hopelessness of being confronted with Cthulhu. I particularly liked the setting within the cemetery and the use of the memorial statues to give depth to the sense of place. I think as far as settings go, this one was my favourite, although that has less to do with being a story about Cthulhu and more to do with simply thinking it’s a neat place.

“Her Acres of Pastoral Playground” by Mike Allen is probably my favourite story in this collection. To me, it embodied the surreality of the Cthulhu Mythos in combination with something very human. The tone, the story and the relation to Lovecraft was done really well. It's difficult to talk about this story without giving away the end / plot too much, but I'll try to say something at least and if you have a fear of spoilers maybe you should skip ahead to the next one. I think what I really liked is the sense of isolation and the main character's struggle to retain a sense of normalcy in the face of the complete insanity of a world taken over by Old Ones.

“The Holocaust of Ecstasy” by Brian Stableford left a lingering impression, as well, although I cringe a little at the use of the word “holocaust” in the title. I think what I really appreciated about this particular story is that it felt somehow more imaginative than some of the others – tiny spoiler alert: I mean, the protagonist is a human-fruit, which really struck me and underlined the absurdity of standing against cosmic chaos.

So these three stories really stood out, which isn’t to say that the others were not good stories. Depending on your preference you may enjoy different ones. “The Seals of New R’lyeh” (Gregory Frost), “Nothing Personal” (Richard A. Lupoff), and “Spherical Trigonometry” (Ken Asamatsu) were all good, but didn’t stick with me the way the other three did. Laird Barron’s “Vastation” intrigued me, but ultimately left a little too much to the imagination, I never felt that I was “in” the story. And lastly, Fred Chapell’s “Remnants” was good and I enjoyed it, but it seemed out of place in this anthology due to a rather positive ending. The doom and gloom, madness and mania of the other stories weren’t really present in this one, which makes for an uplifting ending to a possibly depressing book, but also led to a bit of a narrative rift.

There are a few stories I haven’t mentioned here. Those are the stories that really didn’t leave much of an impression on me.

I think that if you’re looking for a Lovecraft-inspired collection you would be better off getting Lovecraft Unbound edited by Ellen Datlow, while it also had some stories that left me underwhelmed the ratio of solid stories was higher and it also featured stories written by women.


  1. Read your review and im off to get the book :D
    Thought you might like my Cthulhu machinima film
    The Highlander; Cthulhu Enigma

  2. "And a definite downside to this book is that there are no stories written by female authors."

    Oh fuck off.