A Season in Carcosa by Edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.; Miskatonic River Press ; 2012; 282 pgs; $19.99 US
First, if you don’t know who Robert W. Chambers is and never read any of his work, stop right now and go read some. Not only will you find a dark, eerie, surreal world waiting for you in his stories, but as this new book is a loving homage to the man, you would do yourself a world of good knowing a little something about the landscape before deciding to spend a season in this haunted city. And if you find that Chambers just isn’t your cup of tea, well then I pity you, but I would spare you some time and advise that you pass on this book as it will do nothing to change your opinion. However, if you’re already well acquainted with the tawny monarch and if someone should ask you, “have you seen the Yellow Sign?” you can give a twitchy grin and say that you have, then this is the book for you.
Edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., a man well known for his love of Robert W. Chambers and his own yellowish prose (and if you don’t get that as a compliment, then you definitely need to read more Chambers), here you will find 21 dark and disturbing tenants of the cursed and far off city of Carcosa. Some of these citizens have a long tale to tell, others only speak in poetic prose, but all have something worthwhile to say.
While none of the stories here fell completely flat, a rare and refreshing change when it comes to anthologies, I did think that some of them felt sort of samey. Almost as if the same central theme was utilized too often and/or was too pronounced. That doesn’t meant that those stories weren’t actually good, only that some felt like I had just read them only moments before. A bit more variety would have made this a truly stellar book. Also, one or two of the authors presented here try to ape Chamber’s unique voice a bit too closely for my liking. I don’t like it when someone tries to write like H.P. Lovecraft in a Lovecraftian collection, and I don’t like when the same thing attempted with Robert W. Chambers.
Still those are relatively mild criticisms for an otherwise grand collection. If that’s all I can find fault with this book, then that’s a testament to just how good it is overall. I won’t detail all 21 stories here, but I will point out those that soared higher than the rest for me on their tattered, aurulent wings.
First and foremost there’s “Wishing Well” by Cody Goodfellow. When talking about Mr. Goodfellow’s work I always feel a bit like Will Rodgers insofar that I’ve never met a story of his that I didn’t like. This one is no exception and it is a serious contender for my coveted “Best of the Book” award. I won’t say that it alone is worth the price of this book, as there is a bunch of great stuff here, but damn is it a good one.
But Mr. Goodfellow does have some stiff competition for that award from Gemma Files and her “Slick Black Bones and Soft Black Stars.” I not only liked the story that it told, but the very way in which it was written.
Simon Strantzas perhaps best evokes Chamber’s style in this book with his more traditional King in Yellow story, “Beyond the Banks of the River Seine.” I say it’s traditional, but that’s a far cry from pastiche and when I say style, I do not mean trying to copy the author’s voice. That’s a huge distinction.
Don Webb’s “Movie Night at Phil’s” is far from traditional but it is no less as wonderful. It’s about a Roger Corman directed movie adaptation of the King in Yellow and that idea alone put a smile on my face when I started reading this one. When I had finished reading, the smile was still there.
In “it sees me when I’m not looking,” Gary McMahon combines Chambers’ ideas with a gritty noir flavor for fantastic results.
“D T” by Laird Barron is another example why that author is getting all the good press that he’s been receiving over the last few years. It is also one of the more unique tales in the book, concerning a writer and his doppelganger. I loved it.
There are plenty more amber gems to be mined from this book, but I’ll leave their discovery to you. After all, that’s half the fun. The other half is fear and dread and A Season in Carcosa delivers ample supplies of both. For fans of the King in Yellow, this book is a must have. For everyone else, brush up on your Chambers 101 first and then if you want to take a graduate class on all things yellow, give this book a spin. Consider it recommended.
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