Anyone with a comprehensive knowledge of this blog knows that I have a love/hate relationship with the works of H. P. Lovecraft.
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Space Opera (High and Low)
On the one hand, some of his stories are, in my opinion, terribly written. The action and narration are painful to read and sometimes seem like parody. On the other hand, some of the images he presents possess the potency of an archetypal nightmare. I feel that he had an extremely powerful imagination but for whatever reason lacked or neglected to use the writing techniques needed for good story-telling. For this reason, I continue to circle around Lovecraft’s works. Aggravated by the reality but fascinated by the potential.
So, I just finished the stories in this anthology. I read them over the course of yesterday and today. That’s twenty-eight stories inspired by the writings of Lovecraft. By any protocol currently in place that is dangerously north of the recommended median safe dosage. And what I found is consistent with both what I know about Lovecraft and what I know about anthologies. Let’s look at the categories.
Case 1: Assume you are a rabid Lovecraft fanatic. Then by definition you’ll love this anthology. It’s chock full of Lovecraftian bug juice. You’re not gonna find a stronger dose of the real thing. But even you, the grand master of the Lovecraft Day Parade will enjoy certain stories more than others. Stands to reason. Because even though the stories have the main attraction it’s there in different dosages and also it is flavored with the other ingredients. Suppose you are a rabid right wing Lovecraftian and you hit upon a story that includes some feminist story elements or sentiments. Then that would decrease your enjoyment. Or suppose you’re a Cthulhu Mythos purist and a story contains some element that you see as heretical, say humor or some science that disagrees with your vision of the saga. This also would be a negative.
Case 2: You’re a Lovecraft agnostic. You don’t hate or love him. Then each story is taken on its merits. And so, even more powerfully than in Case 1 your own spectrum of preferences come into play and by definition you will have a much lower average score for each story since it won’t start out on the Lovecraftian plateau.
Case 3: You despise Lovecraft. Well, in that case you’d have to be reading this collection out of some kind of masochistic impulse. Because even if the story characteristics agreed with your other requirements for good fiction, the Lovecraftian elements would be a constant irritant. Chances are a much smaller subset would be acceptable. These would be stories that have all the other personal qualifications going for them to offset the anti-Lovecraft bias.
As previously stated, I fall into the second category. The story will work or not based on how well the elements resonate with my tastes. And since I’m an old geezer brought up in the paleolithic era I respond well to regressive, patriarchal, hetero-cis-normative, Europhilic, western pro-American themes extremely well. All other influences lower the enjoyment quotient to some degree. By definition, anything written after 1957 is going to suffer from a certain deviation from this baseline point of view. End of truth in advertising disclaimer.
So let’s get started. The story that best represents the nightmare quality that I think is the most powerful part of the Lovecraft experience is also one of the shortest pieces in the anthology. I’ve always thought that parents’ emotional bond to their children is the strongest point of attack for horror writers. In his story “When We Change,” Mason Ian Bundschuh identifies what can be truly horrific about humans being forced into a meat grinder. Forcing people to make unthinkable choices is the very essence of tragedy and horror.
Interestingly, another of my favorites is a parody, a Lovecraftian farce. James Brogden’s “The Decorative Water Feature of Nameless Dread” was very good. It falls into the British tradition of Wodehouse, Fawlty Towers, The Office and anything else that juxtaposes the English desire for propriety and normalcy against the actual absurdity of real life. I definitely was smiling during my read of this story. It aligns very nicely with my own sense of humor.
In the next installment of this article I’ll give my ideas on some of the larger stories.