Supplying the gallows humor are Gaiman and Newman’s contributions, respectively with “Only the End of the World Again” and “A Quarter to Three”. “Only the End of the World Again” is a werewolf story set within Lovecraftian universe. One memorable quote comes to mind: “I vomited a foul-smelling thin yellow liquid; in it was a dog’s paw—my guess was a Doberman’s, but I’m not really a dog person; a tomato peel; some diced carrots and sweet corn; some lumps of half-chewed meat, raw; and some fingers. They were fairly small, pale fingers, obviously a child’s.” Although it doesn’t feature a canine creature, Newman’s contribution can best be described as “a shaggy dog story,” or perhaps, more appropriately, “a shaggy frog story.” To divulge any more would lead to spoilers.
Lansdale’s “The Bleeding Shadow” depicts a musician who has made a disturbing bargain. In this tale, music is definitely not Shakespeare’s “the food of love,” illustrated in this passage: “There was something inside the music; something that squished and scuttled and honked and raved, something unsettling, like a snake in a satin glove.” Profoundly unsettling, “The Bleeding Shadow” pulsates with atmosphere and dread.
Returning to Shakespearean associations, “Love is Forbidden, We Croak and Howl” is Caitlín R. Kiernan’s Lovecraft-esque take on Romeo and Juliet. A ghoul becomes enamored with a young miss, who is in the throes of transforming into an ichthyologist’s wet dream. While the course of true love never runs smooth, boundaries are crossed—if not surmounted. Clever, arch, and surprisingly dear, Kiernan strikes all the right chords.
Crossing barriers also comes into play in Brian Hodge’s “The Same Deep Waters as You.” A renowned “animal whisperer” is contracted by a covert government agency to try to communicate with a group of humans who have transformed into fish-like creatures. Kept at a concentration-camp-like hidden compound, the leader of the creatures responds a bit to the woman whisperer’s penchant for empathy. Once back in a more hospitable aquatic environment, the creature takes on the alpha role in the relationship. This highly intelligent narrative probes the dangers of assumptions and misinterpretations. Even those with inquiring minds and the finest of intentions, can be lured into something very dark: “There really were things you didn’t want to know, because the privilege came with too much of a cost.”
With author Thomas Ligotti, there is always a price to pay in life. Existential angst is part of Ligotti’s morbid charm. In “The Sect of the Idiot,” indulgences into the anxiety are plentiful. Ligotti’s embracing of Lovecraft’s themes and ambiance is febrile and eloquent: “The town had more wonders than I knew; a cache of unwonted offerings stored out of sight. Yet somehow this formula of deception, of corruption in disguise, served to intensify the town’s most attractive aspects: a wealth of unsuspected sensations was now provoked by a few slanting rooftops, a low doorway, or a narrow backstreet. And the mist spreading evenly through the town early that morning was luminous with dreams.”
In “I’ve Come to Talk with You Again,” by Karl Edward Wagner, the theme of debt is repeated. In a sort of Dorian Gray meets The Old Ones, an aging successful horror writer fails to look his age. While his circle of chums (who are in their forties) are sickly and succumbing to illness and addiction, the protagonist maintains his health and attractive appearance. As is indicated, in the song title clues within the story, one can get by “With a Little Help” from one’s friends. Even if those friends aren’t knowingly committed to the arrangement.
There are 16 stories and two poems in Lovecraft’s Monsters; covering each one would be a lengthy task. Suffice to say, Tachyon Publications has produced an excellent themed anthology. Lovecraft enthusiasts will plunge into the volume and be happily immersed in the content.
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