The Book of Cthulhu by Ross E. Lockhart; Night Shade Books; 2011; 530 pgs; $15.99 US

This collection of 27 stories is comprised out of 25 reprints and two new tales. This means if you are a compulsive Cthulhu completionist then you might already own most of these stories in other books and magazines. There, that is the only somewhat negative thing I could come up with for this new collection of short stories from Night Shade Books. In order to maintain my hardnosed critic street cred, I had to find at least one thing to nitpick about and now that that’s out of the way, the fanboy gushing can begin.

The Book of Cthulhu is one hell of a tome. It looks spiffy with an eye catching cover and it’s a big beast, being a trade paperback sporting 530 pages of total tentacled terror. As mentioned before, there are 27 stories rounded up for this book, representing a nice cross-section of authors, from legends of Lovecraftian fiction like Ramsey Campbell and T.E.D. Kline to modern masters of the mythos like W.H. Pugmier and Michael Shea, to authors that don’t immediately spring to mind when you think of Cthulhu and his pals, but who nevertheless show they can do Lovecraftian Lit as well as anyone else in this this book. Yes I’m looking at you, Joe R. Lansdale.  And honestly, while not every story here hit me as equally hard with the oh-my-god-that-was-awesome stick, not a single tale was a bummer. I can’t remember the last collection of stories I so thoroughly enjoyed from cover to cover, but I’m betting you want specifics, so allow me to shine a spotlight on the stories that really wowed me.

Out of everyone who has ever built castles in Lovecraft’s sandbox, Ramsey Campbell is my favorite architect, other than HPL himself. His story here, “The Tugging” is a great example of cosmic horror at its most…well cosmic. Since there are so many great stories in this book, I won’t name just one as the best of the bunch, however if I did, this one would be a serious contender.

Some years back I had the idea of doing a mythos story of my own, combining aspect spy fiction and the us vs. them mentality of the cold war. Then I read “A Colder War” by Charles Stross and I was both disappointed and elated. I was disappointed that someone had beaten me to the punch, but elated that Mr. Stross had done it so well. That bag of mixed emotions is reprinted here, and this time I was just happy to give it another read and to enjoy the hell out of it. Well, maybe I was still just a tad bit envious, but I digress.

When it comes to W.H. Pugmier, allow me to paraphrase Will Rodgers by saying that I never read a story of his that I didn’t like. His “Some Buried Memory” is another one of his works that I’m happy to have made fast friends with. This author never disappoints, and this tale here is a great example of why that is.

With “Fat Face”, Michael Shea takes an idea from H.P. Lovecraft and takes it to the next logical, and horrifying, level. To say anymore would be to give too much away, so I won’t, only that I’ve always liked this one a lot.

T.E.D. Kline is an amazing author that I’m actually upset at for not writing more. I’ve read everything he’s ever done, loved all of it, and his “Black Man with A Horn” is one of his best. If you have yet to read this amazing story, then it alone is worth the price of this book. The fact that you would then get 26 other great stories in addition to it would be a bonus.

I need to read more Brian McNaughton. Everything with his name on it I’ve liked, but sadly there hasn’t been a whole lot. “The Doom that Came to Innsmouth” is one of the stories by him that I had read before and I liked it then just as I liked it now. It deals with some of my favorite Lovecraft creations, and if you can’t guess what they are from the title then you really need to read more HPL. Yet this tale has its own strong, sure voice and avoids the dreaded Pit of Pastiche that too many similar tales tumble into. This story is dark and darkly humorous, not to mention filled to the gills with goodness.

For a different kind of shadow of terror over the eternally haunted Innsmouth, and for a bit of dark levity mixed in with your Lovecraft, give Edward Morris’ “Jihad over Innsmouth” a whirl. It is a trip I’m sure you soon won’t forget.

I love me some Joe R. Lansdale, he is one of my all-time favorite authors and boy, are his pockets just stuffed with talent. No matter what flavor of genre he does; horror, humor, crime, western, blends of all four, or Lovecraftian goodness like he does here with “The Crawling Sky”, it is always topnotch enjoyable entertainment. This tale left me hungry for more of Lansdale’s unique take on Lovecraft and I hope the master chef serves up another plate soon.

Brian Lumley is an author who sometimes hits big with me, or misses by a mile. Thankfully “The Fairground Horror” is one of his solid hits. I loved this story back when I read it at a tender age sometime in the 1980s, and it has lost none of its punch in this rereading many years later. To see Lumley at the top of his game, you defiantly want to go to this fairground.

And there are many more stories and authors I could sing the praises of, but if I did, I’d be here all day, and this review is already pushing maximum word limit, so I’ll have to cut things short. If you want a great collection of Lovecraftian horror tales from the authors I mentioned above, not to mention other notables like Thomas Ligotti, Gene Wolfe, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Laird Barron, Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., David Drake, Bruce Sterling, and others, then this is the book for you. I highly recommend this to both neophytes and grand masters in the Cthulhu Cult

Sep 15, 2011

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