Book Review: Children of Lovecraft, edited by Ellen Datlow

Book Review: Children of Lovecraft, edited by Ellen Datlow

An anthology of contemporary short horror stories using HP Lovecraft’s ideas in their own works of dark and weird fiction.

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“That is not dead which does eternal lie. Across strange aeons, even death may die.”

So said HP (Howard Phillips) Lovecraft back in the 1920s. He was referring to his literary creation, Cthulhu, but with the benefit of hindsight he may well have been referring to his own legacy.

Since writing his seminal series of short stories in the 1920s and 1930s Lovecraft has gone on to earn an enduring fame. Much of this was due to the efforts of his friend August Derleth in anthologising his output after his death, but a great deal was also due to Lovecraft’s allowance that other authors could pen tales ‘in universe’, using the same stable of literary characters and unholy books.

childrenoflovecraft200Contemporary to Lovecraft were a stable of authors using his ideas in their own fiction, and this practice has continued through the years, and its latest incarnation is Ellen Datlow’s Children of Lovecraft, an anthology of the latest work in the field.

From her introduction Datlow challenges us with the question: what makes a Lovecraft story in 2016? For her, she explains, it is the sense of unknowing, of glimpsing the secrets of the universe for a brief second before the small candle of consciousness is snuffed out. This is as good an explanation as any, and her choice of stories bears this out.

Nesters, by Siobhan Carrol, takes us back to Lovecraft’s era with a splendidly creepy tale of the Oklahoma dustbowl that would have done Steinbeck proud. Little Ease, by Gemma Files, brings us firmly into the 21st century with an unsettling tale of pest control and science gone awry. In Eternal Troutland, by Stephen Graham Jones, there is more than a touch of Stephen King, as a man struggles with his divorce and memories of the past.

The Supplement, by John Langan, is the first in this collection to mention a book. This is not Lovecraft’s fabled Necronomicon but rather a doorway not to another ‘where’ but rather another ‘if’. Mortensen’s Muse, by Orrin Grey, riffs successfully on Lovecraft’s own Pickman’s Model, this time using the device of photography, interestingly again going back to the 1930s to do so.

Oblivion Mode, by Laird Barron, is a radical departure from the usual Cthulhu mythos, taking us to a dark fantasy world inhabited by vampires, talking animals and sword-swingers, and it shows the reader there are indeed more things in heaven and earth than may be dreamt of in their philosophy. Mr Doornail, by Maria Dahvana Headley, continues this theme with a tale of dark magic, witches and, unexpectedly, goats.

The Secrets of Insects, by Richard Kadrey, takes us firmly back to the modern era with a tale of detectives in LA. Exerpts for an Eschatology Quadrille, by Caitlin R Kiernan, consists of four short shorts, each dealing with the consequences of holding a statue which, by the looks of things, you really shouldn’t hang on to. Jules and Richard, by David Nickle, again has shades of Pickman as an artist discovers the weird world beneath his feet.

Glasses, by Brian Evenson, is a melancholy piece dealing with, of all things, a pair of Lovecraftian spectacles. When the Stitches Come Undone, by AC Wise, gives us a marvellously creepy look at the consequences of forgetting, while On These Blackened Shores of Time, by Brian Hodge, is a paean to loss and the determination not to forget. Bright Crown of Joy, by Livia Llewellyn, rounds out the book with a far-future tale of a post-warming future.

It is difficult to see Lovecraft’s influence in some of the stories in this collection, but they are all worthy of a read in their own right, and all share the same sense of otherworldliness and ‘weird’ that will appeal to fans of the genre.

Add to this solid cover art by Mike Mignola and you’ve got a book that should please even the harshest of critics.

Reviewed by D C White

Rating out of 10: 9

Publisher: Dark Horse Books
Distributed by: Penguin Books Australia
Release Date: 15 October 2016
RRP: $34.99 paperback

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