A Little Dark Reading: Margaret Irwin’s “The Book”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

This week, we’re reading Margaret Irwin’s “The Book,” first published in 1930 in The London Mercury and collected in The Weird (Tor Books, 2012). Spoilers ahead.

“From among this neat new clothbound crowd there towered here and there a musty sepulchre of learning, brown with the colour of dust rather than leather, with no trace of gilded letters, however faded, on its crumbling back to tell what lay inside.”

Summary

One foggy November night, bored by his detective story, Mr. Corbett searches for more palatable bedtime reading. The dining room bookcase holds a motley collection: Mrs. Corbett’s railway stall novels, 19th-century literature from Mr. Corbett’s Oxford days, children’s fairy tales. Here and there looms a real tome ...

Fungi From Bob’s Discount Beer: Stephen King’s “Gray Matter”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

This week, we’re reading Stephen King’s “Gray Matter,” first published in the October 1973 issue of Cavalier and later collected in Night Shift. Spoilers ahead.

“Can you feature that? The kid all by himself in that apartment with his dad turning into… well, into something… an’ heating his beer and then having to listen to him—it—drinking it with awful thick slurping sounds, the way an old man eats his chowder: Can you imagine it?”

Summary

In a sleepy town near Bangor, Maine, Henry’s Nite-Owl is the only 24-hour store around. It mostly sells beer to the college students and gives old codgers like our narrator a place to “get together and talk about who’s died lately and ...

The Gate and the Key and the Paintbrush: Max Gladstone’s “Crispin’s Model”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

This week, we’re reading Max Gladstone’s “Crispin’s Model,” first published right here on Tor.com in October 2017. Spoilers ahead, but seriously, go read it first.

“Craquelure legions danced in the fissures of my skin. The red muscle of a peeled-back cheek was a field that grew unholy thorns, and corpses twisted in my hair, pecked by carrion birds.”

Summary

Arthur Crispin makes Salvador Dali look like an eccentric wannabee. His mother’s slow death from a mind-warping cancer has taught him a critical truth: People blind themselves to the “rot beneath our skin.” Thus he veils his work until it’s passed to the purchaser, so that its revelation will shock the unveiler and “open ...

Do You Want to Build a Snowghoul? Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today is our 200th post! In celebration, we’re watching Sean Patrick O’Reilly’s Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom, released in October 2016 and based on a graphic novel published in 2009. Spoilers ahead.

“Friends don’t eat each other. Unless they get very hungry.”

Summary

Once upon a dreary time, we find young Howard Lovecraft living not in his beloved Providence but in what appears to be dreary rural seclusion, in the dreary house of paternal relation Mary Lovecraft. Mother Sarah drags him to see father Winfield at an institution very much NOT Butler Hospital, run by Dr. West. Yes, the ethically challenged prototype of THAT Dr. West, who keeps Winfield locked babbling in a bare ...

Bad Ways to Live Forever Part 397: H.P. Lovecraft and Henry Whitehead’s “The Trap”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re reading H. P. Lovecraft and Henry Whitehead’s “The Trap,” written in 1931 and first published in the March 1932 issue of Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror. Spoilers ahead.

“And in some outrageous fashion Robert Grandison had passed out of our ken into the glass and was there immured, waiting for release.”

Summary

Narrator Canevin has traveled far afield, most recently in the Virgin Islands, where in the outbuilding of an abandoned estate-house he discovered a mirror dim with age but graceful of frame. Sojourning in Connecticut as tutor in a friend’s school, he finally has an opportunity to break the mirror out of storage and display it in his living room.

The ...

Shadow Over Argentina: Mariana Enriquez’s “Under the Black Water”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re reading Mariana Enriquez’s “Under the Black Water,” first published in English in Things We Lost in the Fire, translated by Megan McDowel. Spoilers ahead.

“She dreamed that when the boy emerged from the water and shook off the muck, the fingers fell off his hands.”

Summary

Marina Pinat, Buenos Aires DA, isn’t thrilled with the smug cop sitting in her office. He hasn’t brought a lawyer—after all, he says, he’s innocent. Never mind that Pinat has his voice on tape, saying “Problem solved. They learned how to swim.” The time stamp suggests that he at least knew that two young men were thrown into the Ricachuelo River. But then, that sort of thing ...

The Most Scientifically Interesting Community in the U.S.: Welcome to Night Vale

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at the first episode of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor and voiced by Cecil Baldwin, first broadcast on March 15 2015 through Commonplace Books. Spoilers ahead.

“A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.”

Anne’s Summary

Unlike Ruthanna, I was a Night Vale virgin, wandering innocent and vulnerable into its many-layered mysteries. So I took some friends with me. En route, we stopped at a cantina in the middle of nowhere (everything in the vicinity of Night Vale being in the middle of nowhere. Interesting phenomenon, this multiple-maybe-infinite middleness of ...

Lovecraft in the Funhouse Mirror: Joyce Carol Oates’s “Night-Gaunts”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at Joyce Carol Oates’s “Night-Gaunts,” first published in the October 2017 issue of Yale Review. Spoilers ahead.

“On his father’s right cheek, a small coin-sized birthmark of the hue of dried blood, with a suggestion of miniature fingers, or tendrils. An opened hand? But very small.”

Summary

Horace Phineas Love, Jr., sees a face in the window of the (vacant) Cornish House atop Charity Hill in Providence, where (once) he lived. It’s gaunt, pale and impassive, eyes sunken yet alive and alert. Gleeful. But there can be no face in the empty house. Perhaps it’s the reflection of the quarter-moon, “paper-thin and elusive behind a bank of gauzy stratus clouds.” ...

Dexter and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Real Estate Deal: Tim Pratt’s “Cinderlands”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at Tim Pratt’s “Cinderlands,” first published in the Drabblecast podcast in August 2010. Spoilers ahead.

“The lemons were small, and while they were yellow, it was less the yellow of cartoon suns and more the yellow of jaundiced skin or nicotine-stained teeth.”

Summary

Close to the end:

Dexter West wakes to the sound of claws on the hardwood floor of the apartment above—no. He’s moved into a house of his own; the noise is coming from the heating duct in his walk-in closet. He presses an ear to the metal and listens to the scuttle of tiny claws. Rats. In the duct. Or in the walls? He should get a cat. Back ...

Wolverine vs. Sabertooth vs. Dracula: John Langan’s “Wide Carnivorous Sky”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at John Langan’s “Wide Carnivorous Sky,” first published in John Joseph Adams’s By Blood We Live anthology in 2009. Spoilers ahead.

“Even the soldiers who’d returned from Afghanistan talked about vast forms they’d seen hunched at the crests of mountains; the street in Kabul that usually ended in a blank wall, except when it didn’t; the pale shapes you might glimpse darting into the mouth of the cave you were about to search.”

Summary

So, is it a vampire?

That’s the burning question four Iraq War veterans ask each other over a campfire deep in the Catskills. Narrator Davis, along with Lee, Han and the Lieutenant survived a particularly bloody confrontation in Fallujah, but ...

The Secret Life of Abdul Al-Hazred: Reza Negarestani’s “Dust Enforcer”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at Reza Negarestani’s “Dust Enforcer,” a chapter from Cyclonopedia: Complicity With Anonymous Materials, a 2008 novel published through Re.Press. This week’s excerpt can be found in Ann and Jeff Vandermeer’s The Weird anthology. Spoilers ahead, but it’s not really the sort of piece where that matters.

“Abdul Al-Hazred as an adept rammal (sand-sorcerer) probably wrote Al Azif through the dust-infested language of Pazuzu, who constantly enriches its howls with pest-spores in order to expand the hallucinatory space of progressive arid diseases.”

Summary

Caveat Lector: No summary can substitute for reading this excerpt from Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials, described by editors Ann and Jeff VanderMeer as a fusion of “Lovecraftian ...

Have No Fear, Or Else: Francis Stevens’s “Unseen – Unfeared”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at Francis Stevens’s (a.k.a. Gertrude Barrows Bennett’s) “Unseen – Unfeared,” first published in February 10, 1919 issue of People’s Favorite Magazine. You can read it more recently in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Weird anthology. Spoilers ahead.

“My eyes fixed themselves, fascinated, on something that moved by the old man’s feet. It writhed there on the floor like a huge, repulsive starfish, an immense, armed, legged thing, that twisted convulsively.”

Summary

Narrator Blaisdell dines with detective Jenkins in a low-rent Italian restaurant near South Street. Jenkins chats about old Doc Holt, recently implicated in a poisoning murder. Only reason Holt was under suspicion was he lives amongst superstitious people, who swear he ...

For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Shoggoth: Howard Waldrop & Steven Utley’s “Black as the Pit, From Pole to Pole”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at Howard Waldrop and Steven Utley’s “Black as the Pit, From Pole to Pole,” first published in Robert Silverberg’s New Dimensions anthology in 1977. You can read it more recently in Lovecraft’s Monsters. Spoilers ahead.

“It was only when he began to make out the outlines of a coast in the sky that he experienced a renewed sense of wonder.”

Summary

The story’s scaffolding is complex, but our Omniscient Narrator kindly lists its components:

In 1818, Mary Shelley published Frankenstein. John Cleves Symmes published a treatise claiming the earth is hollow and holds concentric spheres, accessible at the poles. Edgar Allan Poe was nine. Herman Melville wouldn’t be born for another year, but Mocha ...

Anybody Could Write a True Story: Black Helicopters by Caitlin R. Kiernan

The sea off the coast of New England has gone foul with the poison of a fallen star. Ptolema, an agent of the same sort as the Signalman but employed on a different shore, must unravel the chess game in action around her to resolve a potential apocalypse. The pieces in motion include a pair of psychokinetically gifted twins separated by a sinister doctor at the behest of a rival agency, the devouring filth of the tainted sea, attempted assassinations and misplaced pawns.

These singular figures—the Signalman, Ptolema, the doctor Twisby—and their vast, invisible agencies are a horror equal to those from out of space. However, their interventions might also be the one thing keeping our species afloat on unkind cosmic waves.

The original Black Helicopters was released as a limited chapbook in 2013 by Subterranean Press; five years later, this revised and significantly expanded edition follows …

Understanding the Reptilian Nature of the Divine: Robert Silverberg’s “Diana of the Hundred Breasts”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at Robert Silverberg’s “Diana of the Hundred Breasts,” first published in the February 1996 issue of Realms of Fantasy. Spoilers ahead.

“And for a moment—just a moment—I seemed to hear a strange music, an eerie high-pitched wailing sound like the keening of elevator cables far, far away.”

Summary

Tim Walker’s on his annual tour of Mediterranean ruins. He can afford to prowl the world without profession because, like older brother Charlie, he’s lucked into a seven-figure trust fund. Charlie’s also a genius with movie-star good looks, winner of trophies and prom queens, now a renowned professor of archaeology leading a dig at Ephesus. Tim’s always felt like “Charlie-minus, an inadequate simulacrum of the genuine ...

Othniel Marsh, (Probably) No Relation: Caitlín Kiernan’s “A Mountain Walked”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at Caitlín Kiernan’s “A Mountain Walked,” first published in 2014 in S.T. Joshi’s The Madness of Cthulhu anthology. Spoilers ahead.

“What was witnessed, for all its horror, I cannot wish to forget as it hints at a world even more distant and ultimately impervious to our understanding than the bygone ages and their fauna hinted at by our diggings.”

Summary

We read, verbatim, excerpts from the field journal of Arthur Lakes, made during an expedition to the Wyoming Territory in 1879. At Como Bluffs, with the assistance of “bone sharp” Bill Reed, Lakes and party have been unearthing the fossil treasures of the Jurassic and Cretaceous. At night the fellows tell tall tales ...

Monsters Bearing Bouquets: R.A. Kaelin’s “Mnemeros”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at R.A. Kaelin’s “Mnemeros,” first published in 2015 in Lynn Jamneck’s Dreams From the Witch House anthology. Spoilers ahead.

“Some names are like keys; they swing doors wide open that are best left shut.”

Summary

Leah Byrd recalls her youth in a rural Texas rotten with ghost towns. With the nearest “live” town two hours away, she made her own entertainment exploring abandoned buildings for relics like bent branding irons and old medicine bottles.

Her best leads come from an old “River Rat.” He tells her about strange carved stones down by the Brazos River, which were there before the Comanches. ‘Course, you don’t touch ‘em, or the tarry stuff they drip. ...

Honor Thy Oozy, Headless Ancestor: Clark Ashton Smith’s “Ubbo-Sathla”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at Clark Ashton Smith’s “Ubbo-Sathla,” first published in the July 1933 issue of Weird Tales. Spoilers ahead.

“Moment by moment, the flowing vision in the crystal became more definite and distinct, and the orb itself deepened till he grew giddy, as if he were peering from an insecure height into some never-fathomed abyss.”

Summary

The Book of Eibon supplies our epigraph: a description of Ubbo-Sathla, the featureless demiurge that dwelt upon Earth before even the Great Old Ones arrived. It spawned “the grey, formless efts…and the grisly prototypes of terrene life” which must one day return to it through the “great circle of time.”

A few years along that great circle, ...

You Wish It Were Forty-Two: Algernon Blackwood’s “The Man Who Found Out”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at Algernon Blackwood’s “The Man Who Found Out,” first published in the December 1912 issue of The Canadian Magazine. Spoilers ahead.

“Here, in all the homely, friendly turmoil of a Charing Cross crowd, a curious feeling of cold passed over his heart, touching his life with icy finger, so that he actually trembled and felt afraid.”

Summary

In Professor Mark Ebor is found that rarest of combinations, the esteemed scientist and the earnest mystic. His contributions to biology are great, his “optimistic, stimulating little books” published under the pen-name “Pilgrim” eagerly awaited. Only his publishers and his assistant Dr. Laidlaw know the scientist and visionary are one and the same. Laidlaw respects ...

Jack Vs. the Fungi From Yuggoth: T.E. Grau’s “The Truffle Pig”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at T. E. Grau’s “The Truffle Pig,” first published 2013 in Ross E. Lockhart’s Tales of Jack the Ripper anthology. Spoilers ahead.

Our narrator is many things: a ghost, a whisper, the shadow of a thing that casts none. Oh, and also saboteur, tracker, and killer of men and women. Especially women. Reviled, hated, yet the only thing that stands between our world and its fall into “the soundless crush of the eternal abyss.”

Narrator would kill every one of them if it were possible, but the order’s learned to keep its numbers low, hence secret. In the 7th century, “drunk on hubris and…righteousness,” it attempted eradication of the enemy and was nearly eradicated ...