Monday, May 24, 2010
Black Wings: New Tales of Lovecraftian Fiction
Ed. by S.T. Joshi
PS Publishing, 2010
Before I start to say anything about this book, I need to make a brief but very important announcement: I have not read any of the original works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Should I be ashamed for this? Maybe. I do not know. But now this is not the case. Much more important now to understand whether you can write something worthwhile about an anthology entitled "Black Wings: New Tales of Lovecraftian Fiction" without even a clue what he wrote (excluding the fact that some of his work can be put in two words - "weird fiction"). I think it`s possible. And it may even be useful to take a virgin look to anthology consists today HFL successors.
When you read the "explanation literature” (let's call it so, that does not use the word «fanfic»), you involuntarily have to compare the original and the sequel, thus part of the attention given to how the successor uses one or another motive of firsthand, was a follower able to convey the language of master, finally, whether a pupil put the teacher at the shoulder, or could not even begin to approach. All this makes turbid a look at the literature, strictly speaking. When you armed with knowledge of Lovecraft's prose, you more watch it for the branches: what, how, whence comes in a sequel. If not armed, you judge literature directly. Of course, knowledge of the original gives more pleasure in reading, savoring more detail. But it also may spoil the impression during reading.
When I picked up this tribute compilation, I admit I thought «Black Wings», like its predecessor «Lovecraft: Undound», edited by Ellen Datlow, are perhaps the pioneers in Lovecraft-building, but I was wrong. Lovecraft-ish anthologies are out a lot, almost every year, but not all of them equally well. This one, edited by S.T. Joshi, is excellent, although not all stories included in it equally well, too. Let`s take a look at the best.
The most successful stories there are those, where the beyond, space, frightening are only in contact with daily life, measured way of life, our reality. Those stories, which the space replaces, dominates the natural way of things, have turned out inconclusive.
One of the best (if not the best at all) things in the anthology was the opening story "Pickman's Other Model (1929)" by Caitlín Kiernan. Brilliantly written, the story resembles a sophisticated mix of modernistic novel and noir with a taste of intoxicating mysteries. Add to this a silent movie and a woman, carrying death and you will receive an elegant multi-layered story. This story is unlikely to have written Lovecraft himself, but it`s clear: Kiernan today is one of the most powerful writers of not only horror but fiction in general.
Another gem in the collection is «The Broadsword» by Laird Barron. "Broadsword" is a hotel in which the protagonist of the story, old Pershing, lives. He is lonely and burdens of the past: long ago he lost his friend in the jungle, but Pershing thinks, although he does not recognize this, that could save him. But, as you know, sometimes they come back.
Barron very realistically depicts the life of Pershing. This short story is a Philip Roth-on-Lovecraft-acid. Life of the old man becomes a nightmare when he begins to hear strange sounds, but his life had not been good before. Deceased friend returns in a new guise, to talk, but life of Pershing is already endless dialogue with the deceased. «The Broadsword» is a terrible story about that the nightmare can be replaced only by another, and punishment can even passionately be wanted.
"Usurped" by William Browning Spencer begins with a young couple involved in a road accident because of an unexpected collision with a wasp swarm. From that the catastrophe in their personal life begins as well: Brad, the main character, feels that that something was wrong with him. And he no longer feels invisible connection between him and his girlfriend. This story is another excellent example of how to pack in the right proportions cosmic terror with terror of the earth.
In his «Rotterdam» Nicholas Royle, also known for its detectives, perfectly shows what happens if in action, full of claustrophobia, add Lovecraftian horror. Screenwriter Joe arrives in Holland to look for images and ideas for a new script, but life, instead of images, gives him something more terrible. Trenchant, memorable story.
"The Truth About Pickman" by Brian Stableford is a story seeming take places in a Victorian decor. Professor Thurber seeks DNA of Pickman. Confrontation in words may cost the fate of the world. Chamber story with an unexpected ending. Another good chamber story in the collection is «Tunnels» Philip Haldeman. Told by a little girl, this story is probably the most harmless of the collection.
Veteran of the horror genre Ramsey Campbell distinguished in the genre of epistolary style in his «The Correspondence of Cameron Thaddeus Nash». The story is a series of letters between Cameron Nash and actually Lovecraft. Nash, initially friendly, becomes increasingly bitter and sarcastic: the stories of Lovecraft is the cause. Campbell wrote elegant pastiche, but breakthrough had failed in this story.
A truly fascinating story is the Norman Partridge one. In «Lesser Demons» sheriff and his deputy have to survive after that people began to turn into demons. The story is not so much scary as alarming. Only after reading it we will know what is more effective against the demons - the knowledge or the power.
At the end of the anthology there is another masterpiece. Michael Marshall Smith perfectly showed what should be strange - and terrible - story in the spirit of Lovecraft. In "Substitutions" mistake in the delivery of food leads to sad consequences. This is a story about the changes, about need of changes and about that changes are still inevitable. But this is the story about faithfulness, stability and impossibility of changes.
«Black Wings» is a very strong anthology, another masterpiece from PS Publishing.