Dead But Dreaming Reviewed

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Dead But Dreaming is a newer volume of Lovecraftian tales as diverse as it is well recognized. For years, the story collection existed as one of the scarcest tomes in Cthulhu Mythos circles, with less than 100 copies released by the original publisher before they shuttered their doors in 2002. Its current incarnation is thanks to Miskatonic River Press, which decided to give into popular demand and re-issue this anthology in paperback, complete with updated commentary. Cthulhu Mythos fiction, as many know, is often a phrase that encompasses wonderful new yarns drawing off H.P. Lovecraft's ideas as well as the most trite pastiches. Fortunately, readers will find the former quality in abundance and little of the latter in this volume.

Fifteen tales edited by Kevin Ross and Keith Herber round out the collection. The authors' names, like the stories, are a broad variety that includes well known Lovecraftian writers as well as newcomers. Not surprisingly, this results in a vast range of settings and styles that is almost bewildering, but shows the sheer flexibility that can be applied to Lovecraft's cosmic horrors. Whatever else, the backdrops throughout the anthology are perhaps the most impressive. Cthulhu and his consorts, alongside more nameless Things, rear their heads in the distant past and future, during world wars and in cinema and haunted houses.

These are fantastically warped skeletons around which the meat of full stories wraps. A clear standout included in Dead But Dreaming is Ramsey Campbell's "The Other Names." It gives a semi-classic snapshot of disaster after a young boy finds a madman's Necronomicon in an abandoned house. Amid a dour social existence, Campbell's boy finds affirmation and horror in something that should not be. Darrell Schweitzer also deserves praise for his selection, "Why We Do It." A college student is bringing his university crush home to observe the old time religion practiced by the community he grew up in. The ending is fairly obvious a little way through, but it still comes off with a punch through Schweitzer's powerful and mournful prose. "Salt Air" by Mike Minnis centers on a familiar Lovecraftian setting: an academic environment where a Professor is forced to watch his friend and colleague fall to an obsession dangerously enabled by supernatural forces. Lovecraft's Kingsport comes alive in all its haunting majesty in this tale, forcibly resurrected by the emotional loss and repetitious phrases that echo the mist shrouded, hypnotic seaside town. Lovecraft himself shows up as a devious ghost in Lisa Morton's "The Call of Cthulhu: The Motion Picture," which carries cosmic horror onto the set of producers looking to bring Lovecraft's most famous tale to life. The film concept scores high for originality, and Morton's stylistic retelling of "The Call of Cthulhu" offers a nostalgic familiarity and something new for readers.

Several well spun tales use an adventurous twist that can, when done correctly, seem natural to Lovecraftian works. Stephen Mark Rainey's "Epiphany: A Flying Tiger's Story" tells of a downed American fighter pilot in the jungles of Southeast Asia who learns there are far worse terrors than the Japanese enemy. Rainey's story is a strong exercise in well paced tension and transition from a world that is horrible, but strictly human, to the inconceivable outre. "The Unseen Battle" perfectly blends mankind's squabbles over territory with outside alien taints. A native girl in a colonial territory encounters a half maddened soldier from the Battle of Ypres who is scarred by more than wartime shell shock, one who has brought his own dire enemy with him to a place far from the trenches. Brian Scott Hiebert's story utilizes the First World War again in a time honored tradition dating back to H.P. Lovecraft himself, but its infused with an exotic perspective and the Old Gentleman never would have used. "The Thing Beyond the Stars" by Robin Morris stars another adventurer, this time a captain of an interstellar ship sent in search of fellow humans and the Old Ones. Morris' narrative is an imaginative sci-fi piece that reads like a brief sequel to Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness," picking up after unleashed Shoggoths and cultists have decimated Earth and forced humanity off world. Naturally, escape from horror proves elusive no matter how far from their home world humans go, but Morris' deadly, ultimate horror is truly frightening and awe inspiring in the Lovecraftian sense.

While the majority of Dead But Dreaming's stories are excellent or at least passable, there are a few that miss the benchmark for various reasons. "Bangkok Rules" by Patrick Lestewka starts off promisingly with a professional hit man who encounters eerie rumors in his industry's circle, but takes a turn for the worse in its reliance on graphic gore. It seems more designed to shock and sicken than awe and terrify--critical aspects of anything measured as "Lovecraftian." Adam Niswander's "Bayer's Tale," though well written, feels too much like a Lovecraftian pastiche without enough implications for the world beyond his detective's murder scene. Finally, David Bain's "Under an Invisible Shadow" is wonderfully narrated, starting in a zombie apocalypse's aftermath. Unfortunately, the story is much too short, and its "Invisible Lovecraftian Terror" is an entity that seems Lovecraftian in name only.

All in all, one would not be mistaken to treat Dead But Dreaming as a Lovecraftian buffet. The overwhelming majority of tales served up are fine dining, and virtually all are worth trying. The anthology's reputation precedes it truthfully, and as longtime readers of weird fiction know, it is not often that rare books come back on the market, let alone as affordable as this. Purchases may also support the rising Miskatonic River Press, which primarily focuses on gaming materials at this point, but may conceivably look at new fiction anthologies, if sufficient and deserved interest in the original book materializes.

-Grim Blogger

  © Blogger template Writer's Blog by 2008

Back to TOP