BLACK WINGS OF CTHULU 4
Edited by S.T. Joshi
Published by Titan Books
Volume Four of the BLACK WINGS OF CTHULU series offers up seventeen new tales of Lovecraftian horror, nightmarish visuals that may seep into our consciousness long past our sleep. With author H.P. Lovecraft able to manifest such spine-tingling creations at the forefront of our minds, are these seventeen authors, each of whom have been inspired by the iconic author, able to replicate or at least honour those works?
As a fan of what Lovecraft I’ve read, I was looking forward to what unimaginable horrors lay ahead in this anthology book but with each turn of the page, I became more disappointed with what I found. The book starts off well with a story called Artifact by American novelist Fred Chappell that oozes just enough menace to whet the appetite with tales of generational horror. Likewise, The Rasping Absence by Richard Gavin offers up existential crisis of cosmic proportions that grips with its modern family setting. However, as the book progresses, the weaker the stories become and some seem too wrapped up in the idea of being Lovecraftian that they almost become a parody of it. Many of the short stories also suffer from abrupt endings which left me quite infuriated as I believe a story should have a beginning and an end, even if the end is open to interpretation.
Great stories are few and far between by the time I hit the middle of the book but as I worked through the final 200 pages, the quality seemed to improve to the point where I was actually grateful to have decided to finish what I’d started. From the very concise Revival by Stephen Woodworth to the space-exploration-gone-wrong short story Contact by John Pelan and Stephan Mark Rainey, the ideas shown in the latter half of the book prove to be the scariest of them all. Even sleep paralysis, something which has been explored in Rodney Ascher’s documentary The Nightmare, becomes a focus in Will Murray’s Dark Redeemer and am sure will give those who suffer from sleep paralysis a whole host of new nightmares to deal with.
One of my favourite short stories has to be the penultimate in the 400 page anthology, The Walls of Asshur-sin by Donald Tyson. Telling the tale of a 67 year old lecturer who returns to an historic site last visited in his youth, albeit this time with his bride, The Walls of Asshur-sin features a particular elder god that fans of Lovecraft will rejoice at the mere mention of. Extremely well written, in such a way that is easy to visualise, the short story had me gripped from page to page.
Like most anthology movies I’ve sat through, BLACK WINGS OF CTHULU 4 suffers from quality inconsistency. There are quite a few literary gems to behold here that would warrant seeking out the authors’ other work but among them are some right duds that purely serve to disappoint. If you can take the rough with the smooth then the book is worth a look but as of yet I’m still holding out for an anthology novel that can hit all the right notes.