Thursday, October 27, 2016

Autumn Cthulhu review

    Autumn is a strange theme for a novel about H.P. Lovecraft's universe. I mean, you can combine Cthulhu with just about anything. Cthulhu has fought the Real Ghostbusters, the Justice League, Godzilla, and a host of other characters once people realized he was public domain. The Mythos has been at the center of Westerns, Space Operas, and even a teenaged romance which parodied Twilight.

    But autumn? The season? It's a strange combination even as the editor, Mike Davis, explains that autumn is the perfect season for the Mythos. Much like humanity's existence, it is the twilight of the world, giving rise to the end before a new world begins thereafter. Humanity, in Lovecraft's world, is in its perpetual autumn as the Great Old Ones are waiting just around the corner to devour us all.

    So, I was intrigued. In fact, the concept of autumn is not related to the Cthulhu Mythos and the end of humanity at all. Those coming here looking for the familiar staples of Deep Ones, ghouls, the Great Old Ones, and Elder Gods will not find them. Instead, Autumn Cthulhu is devoted to the concept of Lovecraftian feeling stories. This is a book of, to use one of Lovecraft's favorite descriptors, "Weird Fiction."

    How weird? Well, Andy Kaufman shows up instead of Cthulhu but he's actually creepier than Old Bat Wings himself. Yes, that Andy Kaufman. Those who may be put off by this should note the stories are all enjoyable horror. Stephen King would be proud at how many of the authors develop a wonderfully believable protagonist only to then shove them into something horrific and inexplicable. This is the book's greatest strength as there's just so many "off" and incomprehensible that humans can never catch a break. It is a book which nicely reflects the random and unfathomable universe which Lovecraft said was the true source of horror.

    That is perhaps the book's strongest suit in that everyone and everything our protagonists encounter are unexplained. Bizarre stuff happens and or protagonists just have to deal with it despite a lack of information or ability to resist. There's plenty of Lovecraftian "themes", though. Like "Grave Goods" by Gemma Files, in which an archaeological dig which discovers a parallel evolutionary offshoot of humanity which is terrifying in its implications plus "Trick...or the other thing" by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. in which someone discovers just how awful it is to gain the attention of the Other Gods on Halloween.

    My favorite tales were "Andy Kaufman Creeping Through the Trees" by Laird Barron which juxtaposes the bizarre with the nightmarish and "The Night is a Sea" by Scott Thomas which feels very much like The Dunwich Horror without copying any elements from it. I didn't think any of the stories were stinkers, though, and that's rare for these sorts of collections.

    Other effective stories include "The Smoke Lodge" by Michael Griffin which blur the difference between reality and fiction as well as "There is a Bear in the Woods" by Nadia Bulkin that seems to state what we think is going on in reality is limited by just how much our mind is able to correlate (which turns out not to be much).

    About the only thing I can say which is a complaint is this sometimes feels like it could be a Stephen King homage versus a Lovecraft one. That's hardly a terrible complaint, though, since Stephen King owes a lot of his style to the original New England horrorsmith. Not all of the stores scared the pants off me but enough of them did that as a seasoned scare reviewer like myself gives this top marks.

    In conclusion, Autumn Cthulhu is an anthology of weird fiction and strange tales which is perfect as a purchase for Halloween or just for some enjoyable Fall scares. It's not quite as Cthulhu Mythos-orientated as I would have liked but Lovecraft, himself, believed codifying the supernatural was missing the point. Besides, there's some true standouts here.


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