Saturday, March 21, 2015

Reviewish: Letters to Lovecraft

The end of 2014 was a bit of a personal mess, full of head-colds and surgical biopsies and final papers. The start of 2015 hasn't been nearly as bad, but it has been just as busy (how is it already late March?). Those excuses, however, do not absolve me of the guilt I contain over this review - which was owed to the general public back in November. It was meant to be one of my 'fire' updates in December, but got lost in the mix.

So, with great shame, I finally bring you my review of:

Letters to Lovecraft
edited by Jesse Bullington
Stoneskin Press

Letters to Lovecraft Cover" ‘The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.’

So begins H. P. Lovecraft’s essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” arguably the most important analysis of horror ever written. Yet while hordes of writers have created works based on Lovecraft’s fiction, never before has an anthology taken its inspiration directly from the literary manifesto behind his entire mythos…until now.

Like cultists poring over a forbidden tome, 18 modern masters of horror have gathered to engage with Lovecraft’s famous essay, 'Supernatural Horror in Literature'. Rather than responding with articles of their own, these authors have written new short stories inspired by Lovecraft's treatise, offering their own whispers to the darkness. They tell of monsters and madmen, of our strange past and our weirder future, of terrors stalking the winter woods, the broiling desert, and eeriest of all, our bustling cities, our family homes."

(from Stoneskin Press)

Up front, I must say Lovecraft's "Supernatural Horror in Literature" has been a touchstone for me in academic papers and in conversations about the importance and impact of horror literature for many years. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I was exceedingly excited to get my hands on an Advance Review Copy of this collection. (I pursued it before I came down with what would be a 4 week viral ordeal, with ripple effects I'm still feeling more than 4 months later.)

I cannot say it half so well as Publishers Weekly or SFF World -- but I agree wholeheartedly with them that this collection is something different in the best of ways.

Each author selects a particular passage from Lovecraft's essay and introduces their story with a brief explanation of their relationship with that passage. This made the collection all the more enticing for me, as a reader and student of academia. It is often a valuable insight to hear the author's own voice when engaging with works that are part of a conversation, such as the conversation created between these tales and Lovecraft's essay.

The format also creates a binding thread that runs through the anthology, making every story fit. There isn't a slacker or outlier in the bunch. I was hypnotized and drawn into each story through not only the writer's craft, but the interaction between Lovecraft's essay and the author's view of it.

This anthology is the sweet spot between academic engagement and idolic entertainment.

Of the entire collection, many stories stuck with me; to pick a favorite would be an impossible task. Would I choose Grey's dabbling in using Lovecraft as a character, Jones' lycanthropic romp, or Files' exploration of things hidden in childhood? (I could honestly list EVERY author's name here and give a reason for their story to be a favorite...) But, at the end of the day, one story has stayed with me over the months - even though I've skipped it on re-reads of the collection because it creeped me out so much - and that is Nadia Bulkin's "Only Unity Saves the Damned".

No spoilers here, but if you give it a read and at first think "Oh, just another kids with a video camera horror story," think again and keep reading - that is only the frame for something much, much creepier.

If you're curious but not yet certain about getting this collection for yourself, Stoneskin Press did a series of "Teasers to Lovecraft" that will give you a taste of what the collection has to offer, including the introduction I mention above to Nadia's deliciously unsettling tale.

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