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Ross E. Lockhart
The Book of Cthulhu
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2011

Night Shade Books
US Trade Paperback First Edition
ISBN 978-1-597-80232-1
Publication Date: 08-30-2011
530 Pages; $15.99
Date Reviewed: 12-07-2011

Index:  Horror  Science Fiction  Fantasy  General Fiction

There is something utterly satisfying about a Cthulhu Mythos anthology — and make no mistake about it, 'The Book of Cthulhu' is a great Cthulhu Mythos anthology. For sixteen bucks, you're going to get more than 500 pages of engrossing Lovecraftian horror.

The power, of course, of Lovecraft's vision is that it was always intended to be a collaborative universe, set in what passes for consensus reality but set also on undermining consensus reality. The stories were meant to be subversive from the get-go. Moreover, this has always been a very flexible fictional sub-genre that accommodates a variety of tastes and styles. You'll find ample evidence in this collection. 'The Book of Cthulhu' is a perfect example of discomfort reading.

In general, I prefer my anthologies to consist of all-new stories, or at least, reprints from obscure magazines that have not been collected elsewhere, so that valuable space is not used up with stories I've already read and thus am unlikely to re-read. But I find Cthulhu mythos stories in general very re-readable. For example, in here 'Fat Face' by Michael Shea, which has made many appearances since its original publication as a chapbook, was something I really looked forward to re-reading. Shea's disturbing vision holds up well, and his prose is always a pleasure to read. "Bad Sushi" by Cherie Priest and "Nethescurial" by Thomas Ligotti are also joyous ways to spend the holiday season re-reading and immersed in ichor.

Lockhart's collection does include quite a few re-prints from the sort of sources where one appreciates the reprint. Bruce Sterling's "The Unthinkable" and Charles Stross's "A Colder War" are excellent examples, and both share a very well-wrought theme incorporating nuclear Armageddon and extra-dimensional intrusion. It is such a natural fit, one wonders why it hasn't popped up more often. And then there is Steve Duffy's delightful "The Oram County Whoosit," which takes the old folk tale of the "toad in the hole" to a Lovecraftian level. Duffy approaches his material with a sense of humor that in no way undercuts the horror, but instead ramps up the terror.

One of the great strengths of this anthology is the variety of writing styles it accommodates, even as every story yields up a lovely nugget from the Cthulhu mythos. You can enjoy the literary styling of T. E. D. Klein's "Black Man With a Horn" again, since chances are you've read it before, and find Joe R. Lansdale's weird western "The Crawling Sky" not so far away. Laird Barron's novella-length "The Men from Porlock" is meaty and intense, while Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. offers up the hard-pulp "To Live and Die in Arkham." It's just as intense, but in a very different manner.

If you're a fan of the Cthulhu mythos, then 'The Book of Cthulhu' has an easy place on your must-buy list. But since the American Library-curated Lovecraft collections is getting the creator some notice beyond the hard-core horror fans, this book seems like a natural follow-on. The stories in this collection have all lots of literary merit, a wide and wild variety, and some sort of tentacled entity from another dimension. This is not a recipe for sushi, good or bad, but rather a recipe for literary satisfaction.

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