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S. T. Joshi
Black Wings: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror
Reviewed by: Mario Guslandi © 2010
PS Publishing
UK Hardcpver, First Edition
ISBN 978-1848630611
Publication date; 04-01-2010
427 pages; £25.00/ $ 40.00
Date Reviewed: 03-26-2010

Index:  Horror  Fantasy  Science Fiction  General Fiction

The universe and the mythology created by HP Lovecraft in his tales of cosmic horror and supernatural evil continue to offer material and inspiration for new stories and anthologies.

The latest, 'Black Wings' published by PS Publishing and edited by the renowned Lovecraftian expert ST Joshi, is aimed to produce not further imitations or pastiches reworking Lovecraftian subjects, but rather to elicit by group of today's writers, new fiction dealing with "cosmic" themes and atmospheres in keeping with the master's view of the world.

In other words, not yet another collection of "Cthulhu Mythos" but a more ambitious literary project which has enrolled twenty-one contemporary authors, including the likes of Ramsey Campbell, David J Schow, Michael Shea, Darrell Schweitzer.

Does the book hit the proposed target? Yes and no.

The anthology does collect a number of accomplished, top-notch tales which make the volume well worth reading, but, alas, also includes a substantial amount of dull and uninspired pieces of fiction so easily forgotten that I'll pretend I've never read them at all.

Thus, I'll just look at the brighter side, which fortunately is very bright indeed. Caitlin R Kiernan's "Pickman's Other Model (1929)", loosely inspired to the classical Lovecraft's story is centred around an enigmatic movie star, occasionally posing as a model for a mildly successful painter. Slightly overwritten, the tale alternates parts where the plot is exceedingly diluted and strong, effective scenes of unsettling beauty.

Similarly, Brian Stableford revisits the Pickman's story, offering a clever, different point of view in "The Truth about Pickman", a kind of SF whodunit. Sam Gafford contributes "Passing Spirits", an entertaining piece where a bookstore clerk affected by a brain tumour is haunted by Lovecraft's ghost. In Laird Barron's excellent, engrossing novella "The Broadsword", an old hotel turned into an apartment building becomes the venue of strange events and apparitions revealing an alien, horrific reality.

"Rotterdam" by Nicholas Royle is a very dark tale where a novelist and wannabe scriptwriter involved in the adaptation of a Lovecraft's story changes into a bloodthirsty murderer. In "Susie" the distinguished artist Jason Van Hollander abandons for a while his usual craft to pen an effective tale where the death of Lovecraft's mother is retold as a vivid nightmare. "Lesser Demons" by Norman Partridge provides a spicy mix of Lovecraftian atmosphere and zombie horror, while "An Eldritch Matter" by Adam Niswander describes very dramatically how a man gets physically changed after pocketing a metal object of alien origin.

By far the best tale in the volume is the outstanding "Substitutions", a happy return to dark fantasy by the talented Michael Marshall Smith. The story (which, truth be told, is barely consistent with the general topic of the anthology) is an insightful, superb exploration of the desire to live a different life and to share it with a different person. The cruel twist in the tale introduces a horrific ingredient, which makes the yarn suddenly creepy and deeply disturbing. Which proves, once again, that good fiction defies the limits of the assigned subject and mainly relies upon solid storytelling. Even Lovecraft would agree.

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