Read New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird Online

Authors: Neil Gaiman,China Mieville,Caitlin R. Kiernan,Sarah Monette,Kim Newman,Cherie Priest,Michael Marshall Smith,Charles Stross,Paula Guran

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Anthologies, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Anthologies & Short Stories, #Metaphysical & Visionary, #anthology, #Horror, #cthulhu, #weird, #Short Stories, #short story

New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird

BOOK: New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird


Edited by Paula Guran

Copyright © 2011 by Paula Guran.

Cover art by Rafael Tavares.

Cover design by Telegraphy Harness.

Ebook design by Neil Clarke.

All stories are copyrighted to their respective authors, and used here with their permission. An extension of this copyright page can be found

ISBN: 978-1-60701-328-0 (ebook)

ISBN: 978-1-60701-289-4 (trade paperback)


No portion of this book may be reproduced by any means, mechanical, electronic, or otherwise, without first obtaining the permission of the copyright holder.

For more information, contact Prime Books.

For Ann Kennedy VanderMeer

Who inspired me to be an editor with
Silver Web
and kindness.

Who still remains kind and inspiring

and who put the weird back in
Weird Tales

• Contents •

, Paula Guran

, Caitlín R. Kiernan

, Michael Marshall Smith

, John Langan

, Marc Laidlaw

, Dale Bailey & Nathan Ballingrud

, Cherie Priest

, Laird Barron

, Nick Mamatas & Tim Pratt

, Steve Duffy

, W.H. Pugmire

, Neil Gaiman

, John Shirley

, Sarah Monette

, Paul McAuley

, William Browning Spencer

, David Barr Kirtley

, Elizabeth Bear

, Holly Phillips

, Don Webb

, Norman Partridge

, Cody Goodfellow

, China Miéville

, Kim Newman

, Lon Prater

, Michael Shea

, Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette

, Charles Stross





I first encountered the works of H.P. Lovecraft around 1974 on a mantel in Oklahoma City. A friend had the six Ballantine paperbacks—the black ones with John Holmes’s “face” covers—of three Lovecraft collections, the two
Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos
anthologies (with stories mostly by other writers), and
The Shuttered Room and Other Tales of Horror
(supposedly “posthumous collaborations” between Lovecraft and August Derleth, but actually authored solely by Derleth—not that I had any knowledge of such perfidy at the time). I don’t recall any other books on that mantel—just those: centered and practically enshrined in a place of honor.

Those books were really
books, man . . .

By the mid-1970s, Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s small, dedicated band of loyal readers was beginning to grow much larger, but his influence on horror (and, to an extent, fantasy and science fiction) was already profound. As Peter Straub has noted: “His influence on other writers, which was immediate, has proved to be unending and fruitful.” In
Danse Macabre
, Stephen King wrote that Lovecraft “ . . . opened the way for me, as he had done for others before me . . . [T]he reader would do well to remember that it is his shadow . . . which underlies almost all of the important horror fiction that has come since.”

Lovecraft’s legacy also includes the essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” which, in the opinion of many, still stands as one of the finest examinations of its subject. His thousands of letters (S.T. Joshi estimates HPL penned around 100,000) conveyed and further disseminated his ideas to myriad correspondents.

During his life, Lovecraft saw himself as a nonentity who did “not expect to become a serious competitor of my favorite weird authors.” After his death he was, outside genre (and often within it), dismissed as nothing more than a pulp fictionist who wrote outdated florid prose. Now, after decades of scholarly devotion to gaining recognition for him as (to quote Joshi) “an unassailable literary figure,” H.P. Lovecraft has not only gained respectability but entered the literary canon.

In 1997,
Tales of H.P. Lovecraft
(Ecco) offered a selection of Lovecraft’s stories chosen and introduced by the impeccably literate Joyce Carol Oates. In 2005, McSweeney’s published a translation of the indecipherably literate French cultural critic Michel Houellebecq’s 1991
H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World
Against Life.
More importantly, 2005 saw the venerable Library of America indicate HPL’s significance as an American author by publishing
H.P. Lovecraft: Tales
, a collection compiled by Peter Straub. A single volume of all of Lovecraft’s fiction,
H.P. Lovecraft: The Fiction
became part of the Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Writers series in 2008.

Beyond literature, Lovecraft has been mainstreamed through film, television, music, graphic arts, comics, manga, gaming, manga, and theatre for years. Even if you’ve never read a word of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction, you have been introduced to his imagination without realizing its origin.

Who Was Howard Phillips Lovecraft?

Lovecraft was little known to the general public while alive and never saw a book of his work professionally published. Brilliant and eccentric, he was also decidedly odd.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born on August 20, 1890, the son of Windfield Scott Lovecraft and Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft in Providence, RI. Lovecraft’s father, a victim of untreated syphilis, went mad before his son reached age three. The elder Lovecraft died in an insane asylum in 1898. It is doubtful Howard ever knew the true cause of his father’s demise.

After his father’s death, young Howard was raised by his mother; two of her sisters; and his maternal grandfather, Whipple Van Buren Phillips, a successful businessman. His mother was an over-protective and domineering parent. She spoiled and coddled her son, but was also highly critical of him. She told the quite normal-looking boy, for example, that he was so hideous he should not leave the house as he might scare the neighbors.

Sickly (probably due more to psychological factors more than physical ailments) and precocious, Lovecraft later claimed that, as a child, he was “very peculiar and sensitive, always preferring the society of grown persons to that of other children. I could not keep away from printed matter. I had learned the alphabet at two, and at four could read with ease . . . ” He discovered
The Arabian Nights
Grimm’s Fairy Tales
. A year or so later, HPL developed an intense interest in ancient Greece and Rome. He also discovered weird fiction at an early age as his grandfather often told tales in the gothic mode. Lovecraft began writing at age six or seven.

Lovecraft started school in 1889, but attended erratically due to ill health. After his grandfather’s death in 1904, the family was financially challenged. Lovecraft and his mother moved to a far less comfortable domicile and the adolescent Howard no longer had access to his grandfather’s extensive library. With private instruction an impossibility, HPL began attending a public high school where he became interested in Latin and continued writing. A physical and mental breakdown kept him from graduating (and, consequently, college). He became reclusive, rarely venturing out during the day. At night, he walked the streets of Providence, drinking in its atmosphere. He read, studied astronomy, and, in his early twenties, began writing poetry, essays, short stories, and eventually longer works. He also began reading Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and pulp magazines like
The Argosy
The Cavalier,
All-Story Magazine

Lovecraft was saved from his life of solitude when he became involved in amateur writing and publishing. As HPL himself wrote: “In 1914, when the kindly hand of amateurdom was first extended to me, I was as close to the state of vegetation as any animal well can be . . . ”

His story, “The Alchemist” (written in 1908 when he was 18), was published in
United Amateur
in 1916. Stories appeared in other amateur publications like
Home Brew

Lovecraft’s mother suffered a nervous breakdown in 1919 and was admitted to the same hospital in which her husband had died. Her death, in 1921, was the result of a bungled gall bladder operation.

“Dagon” was published in the October 1923 issue of
Weird Tales
, which became a regular market for his stories. He also began what became his prolific letter-writing with a continuously broadening group of correspondents.

Lovecraft met Sonia Haft Greene, a Russian Jew seven years his senior, shortly thereafter at a writers convention. They married in 1924. As
The Encyclopedia of Fantasy
, edited by John Clute and John Grant, puts it, “ . . . the marriage lasted only until 1926, breaking up largely because HPL disliked sex; the fact that she was Jewish and he was prone to anti-Semitic rants cannot have helped.” After two years of married life in New York City (which he abhorred and where he became even more intolerantly racist) he returned to his beloved Providence.

In the next decade, he traveled widely around the eastern seaboard, wrote what is considered to be his finest fiction, and continued his immense correspondence through which he nurtured young writers like August Derleth, Donald Wandrei, Robert Bloch, and Fritz Leiber. Outside of letters and essays, his complete works eventually totaled fifty-odd short stories, four short novels, about two dozen collaborations or ghost-written pieces, and countless poems.

Lovecraft never really managed to make a living. Most of his small livelihood came from re-writing or ghostwriting for others. He died, alone and broke, of intestinal cancer in 1937, and was buried at Swan Point Cemetery in Providence. Forty years later, a stone was erected to mark the spot by his admirers. It reads: “I am Providence.”

His friends August Derleth and Donald Wandrei founded Arkham House expressly to publish Lovecraft’s work and to bring it to the attention of the public They issued
The Outsider and Others
in 1939 and followed with many other volumes. Eventually Lovecraft’s work was translated into a dozen languages and is now, of course, widely available in many editions

What is “Lovecraftian”?

There’s a great deal of scholarly debate on the question, but I’ll provide some generalities.

S.T. Joshi, in
The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos
, identified four broad components of what he terms the “Lovecraft Mythos”:

• A fictional New England topography.
(This eventually became a richly complex, historically grounded—if fictional—region.)
• A growing library of “forbidden” books.
(Rare tomes holding secrets too dangerous to know.)
• A diverse array of extraterrestrial “gods” or entities
. (Often symbols of the “unknowability or an infinite cosmos, or sometimes the inexorable forces of chaos and entropy.”)
• A sense of cosmicism
. (The universe is indifferent, chaotic, and humans are utterly meaningless nonentities within it.)

A fifth element—a scholarly protagonist or narrator—is not unique to Lovecraft, but is another identifiable motif.

Even though not all of Lovecraft’s work falls within these boundaries, his best fiction usually differed from earlier supernatural fiction. In his introduction to
At the Mountains of Madness: The Definitive Edition
, China Miéville points out: “Traditionally genre horror is concerned with the irruption of dreadful forces into a comforting status quo—one which the protagonist scrambles to preserve. By contrast, Lovecraft’s horror is not one of intrusion but of realization. The world has always been implacably bleak; the horror lies in us acknowledging the fact.”

“Lovecraft’s stories were noticeably devoid of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and other traditional supernatural monsters appearing in the work of his pulp contemporaries,” noted Stefan Dziemianowicz in a
Publishers Weekly
article. “Though written in a somewhat mannered gothic style and prose empurpled with words like ‘eldritch’ and ‘squamous,’ his atmospheric tales strove to express a horror rooted in humanity’s limited understanding of the universe and humankind’s arrogant overconfidence in its significance in the cosmic scheme.”

The story “The Call of Cthulhu” (1928) is probably the best example Lovecraft’s idea of “cosmicism.” Cthulhu is a monstrous entity so alien and incomprehensible even his name can not be pronounced by human tongues. A priest of “the Great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any men, and who came to the young world out of the sky” and who are gone but still reside “inside the earth and under the sea . . . their dead bodies had told their secrets in dreams to the first men, who formed a cult which had never died.” This cult “had always existed and always would exist, hidden in distant wastes and dark places all over the world until the time when the great priest Cthulhu, from his dark house in the mighty city of R’lyeh under the waters, should rise and bring the earth again beneath his sway. Some day he would call, when the stars were ready, and the secret cult would always be waiting to liberate him.”

As Lovecraft himself wrote, such stories conveyed “the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the cosmos-at-large.”

Other writers of the era, with Lovecraft’s blessing, began superficially referencing his dabblers in the arcane, mentioning his unhallowed imaginary New England towns and their strange citizens, alluding to cosmic horror, mentioning his godlike ancient extraterrestrials with strange names, and citing his fictional forbidden books of the occult (primarily the
of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred): the Cthulhu Mythos—or, rather, anti-mythology—was born.

Lovecraft never used the term “Cthulhu Mythos” himself. It was probably invented by August Derleth or Clark Ashton Smith after HPL’s death. They and others also added their own flourishes and inventions to the mythology, sometimes muddling things with non-Lovecraftian concepts. Authors like Robert Bloch (now best known as the author of
), Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan the Barbarian), Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, and younger writers such as Henry Kuttner, Fritz Leiber, and Ramsey Campbell all romped within the Lovecraftian milieu and added elements to it. Later writers with no direct connection to HPL joined in as well.

Of the hundreds of stories written since 1937 in Lovecraft’s style, or based on his bleak cosmicism, or alien entities, or occult books, or any of the signifiers of a “Lovecraftian” tale—whether based on true elements conceived by HPL or the sometimes spurious inventions of others—many were derivative, formulaic, or simply ineffective. Some simply haven’t stood up well over the years. Others have become classics. But this anthology is not about fiction written in H.P. Lovecraft’s day or even in the twentieth century.

The New Lovecraftians

When considering the theme of this anthology, I chose to use only stories published in the twenty-first century. This was by design, but it also turned out to be a delight as these stories are only
of the recent best.

Increasing awareness and popularity of H.P. Lovecraft’s writing and the skills and imaginations of current writers have combined for an ever-increasing pool of top-notch fiction. Recent anthologies of original Lovecraft-inspired stories—most notably
Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth
, edited by Stephen Jones (Fedogan & Bremer, 2005);
Lovecraft Unbound
, edited by Ellen Datlow (Dark Horse, 2009); and
Black Wings: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror
, edited by S.T. Joshi (PS Publishing, 2010)—single author collections, and other sources provide an editor (and readers) with a wealth to choose from.

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