URBAN CTHULHU: NIGHTMARE CITIES by Editor: Henrik Sandbeck Harksen; H. Harksen Productions; 2012; 216 pgs; $23.92 US

It is a good time to be a fan of Lovecraftian fiction. The last book I read for review was about the Cthulhu Mythos and the one I have lined up to read after this is about the Cthulhu Mythos. But hell, when Cthulhu guest stars on South Park and even Scooby Doo (no, really) I guess that’s only to be expected. So with all that Mythos fiction swirling around, a lot of editors and publishers have started to put themed books together, such as this one that places all the alien action into urban environments. Was that a wise choice, or are Cthulhu and his squamous, gibbering, unnamable cousins best left to slither in the shunned towns, moldering ruins, and desolate dark corners of the world?

At least for this book it seems like bringing the creeping horrors to the big city was a good move indeed. URBAN CTHULHU collects ten tales of terror from authors from across the globe, including the editor and publisher who are from Denmark, and that international effort really paid off here. If you’re putting together a book all about cities, then you had better make sure you’ve got a nice wide range of cities to write and read about. So this book does that, but what about the stories themselves?

All of the tales here were well worth reading, and I can’t too often say that about anthologies. I also liked that a whole bunch of the authors here, and the ones that did some of the best work, are what you would call new or at least up and comers. I absolutely love that, and if you love Lovecraft, then you should too as that means there is a whole new generation of authors ready, and more importantly very able, to carry the Cthulhu flag for many years to come. But general niceties are one thing, I know you all want some specifics, so here are some of my favorite stories from this new book.

I want to group up three authors right at the start, as there are a lot of similarities between them for me. I became aware of each of them around the same time (about a year to year and a half ago), I’ve read a quite a few things by them since then, often in the same books, and they have never disappointed me with their story telling skills. In fact, they consistently blow me away. They are Glynn Owen Barrass, Pete Rawlik, and T.E. Grau and their stories here, “Carcosapunk”, “The Statement of Frank Elwood” and “The Screamer” respectively. These three are the best of the bunch here. When I suggested that there were young Turks in this book, these guys are the ones I was thinking of. They have each rapidly become three of my favorite writers. All fans of Lovecraftian fiction should consider them bright shining stars that need to be carefully followed.

And as I expressed my joy at discovering great new things, let me tell you about Jayaprakash Satyamurthy. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by him before, but after reading his wonderful “Dancer of the Dying”, I will have to fix that. Editor Harksen chose to start this book off with this tale, and it was a wise decision. I love stories set in foreign (to me, at least) settings, but only if the author can pull off the unique feel. Mr. Satyamurthy does that wonderfully here and once again reaffirms that the global approach to this book was a very bright idea.

Now I could be wrong, but I’ve read stories by John Goodrich for a few years now, and in my opinion he doesn’t seem to get anywhere near the credit he deserves for consistently delivering damn fine work time and time again. So consider this my little bit to set the record straight. His very creepy tale about the horrors of insanity and apartment living (I can’t decide which is the more frightening) called “The Neighbors Upstairs” was superb.

To be clear, I enjoyed all the stories in this collection, but I have one last author and tale I want to highlight. The writer is Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. who is arguably the ‘biggest gun’ in this book’s arsenal, and his story “…the guilt of each…at the end…” brings the book to an amazing close. No one else writes like this man, and even when he sometimes co-authors a work with someone else, his voice comes through loud and clear. He is one of the most unique masters of Lovecraftian horror working right now. You could remove the author byline and I could tell you in a handful of lines if I was reading a Joe Pulver story. Very few authors are so confident to be so consistent, and Joe’s one of them.  This story is classic Pulver, which means it grabs you early and holds onto to you until the very end, without ever slowing or loosening its grip.

Add to this great collection of stories some topnotch production, such as each entry having an awesome black and white illustration as a cover piece done by Tom Kristensen. More books should go that extra mile and include such things. Let’s not forget the creepy cover by an artist I’ve admired for years, Paul Carrick.  Put that all together and you’ve got yourself on good looking book.

Looks, brains, street smarts, and with a cosmopolitan world view, what’s not to love about this sexy volume of new tales playing with the wonderful toys Lovecraft left to the world? Well not much at all. Cthulhuheads need to get this collection. It is cold cosmic terror done right in the urban setting. In all ways it is a damn fine book and I look forward to the next amazing anthology editor Harksen does, although this will be one tough act to follow.

Jun 3, 2012

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