Book Review:Cthulhu’s Reign

Cthulhu’s Reign
Edited by Darrell Schweitzer
DAW Fantasy Paperback
309 pages/ $7.99 US/$9.99 CAN

ISBN: 978-0-7564-0616-5

Review by Chris Welch

The Darrell Schweitzer edited anthology Cthulhu’s Reign has fifteen answers for the question “What happens after the stars are right?”

Generally speaking, this is not a book for optimists. But it is a book for fans of cosmic horror and dark fantasy.

For those of you who do not know what we’re talking about, here is a brief background: In H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos tales, various eldritch gods and monsters are waiting to return to Earth to claim it as their own once more after having been kept at bay by occult and/or alien means for thousands of years.

This “waiting for their return” motif has been around since Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” was published in 1926, but the unearthly powers can only return “when the stars are right.” In the last 80 years or so, many Lovecraftian-inspired horror tales have utilized the open-ended conclusion of the Old Ones still waiting to return.

But now, Schweitzer has brought together fifteen international horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction authors who have provided tales in a variety of voices and perspectives that take place after the Old Ones have returned. In short, Schweitzer and the authors have closed that open-endedness and have brought the motif to a logical… well, conclusion.

All of the fifteen stories in this anthology are engaging and add a new spin to the Cthulhu Mythos in some way. Some tales require a little more reader commitment than others, due to some unique narrative structures, but this is indeed a collection that Lovecraft fans should add to their book shelves.

Perhaps the most complicated and eclectic story is ‘Vasatation” by Laird Barron, which is sort of a cosmic beatnik, stream-of-consciousness narration from the viewpoint of a certain eons-old, sea-bound god; however, Brian Stableford’s “The Holocaust of Ecstasy” is equally exotic in its narrative perspective, although a bit more grounded, so to speak. Likewise, John Langan’s “The Shallows” is a more-than-what-it-seems piece as the characters come to grips with the new world order on a very personal level.

But the stand out tales in this book are Ian Watson’s “The Walker in the Cemetery,” in which Cthulhu self-divides out into human-size fractals and traps survivors in an Italian cemetery; Mike Allen’s “Her Acres of Pastoral Playground,” has a protagonist coming to terms with the price he paid for a safe haven; a similar theme but different angle is the focus of “Spherical Trigonometry” by Ken Asamatsu (translated by Edward Lipsett); Matt Cardin’s “The New Pauline Corpus” in which the new New Testament is written; and “Nothing Personal” by Richard Lupoff, in which the inhabitants of Yuggoth are the source of Earth’s end.

Other noteworthy stories are Jay Lake’s “Such Bright and Risen Madness in Our Names;” John Fultz’s “This is How the World Ends;” and Schweitzer’s own contribution, “Ghost Dancing.” The end of the world is a bit humorous in Gregory Frost’s “The Seals of New R’lyeh,” and the one glimmer of optimism in this book can be found in Fred Chappell’s “Remnants.”

In short, the stars are right for Lovecraft fans to enjoy Cthulhu’s Reign.

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