Monday, July 11, 2016

Reviewish: Swords v. Cthulhu

Getting back in the review saddle, post-graduation and what a way to start off - with an anthology! I received an advanced copy for the purposes of review, and am delighted to say it didn't let me down.

Swords v. Cthulhu 
edited by Molly Tanzer and Jesse Bullington
Stone Skin Press

If you purchase directly from Stone Skin Press, you get the ebook version for free.

It's no secret that I loved-more-than-words Bullington's previous editorial release through Stone Skin Press (Letters to Lovecraft) for its blend of Lovecraftiana and Academia. It tickled every possible soft spot I have for Lovecraft-inspired work and my desire to see creative work intersect with academic analysis. I have a warped sense of fun, what can I say? I didn't honestly expect this anthology to hold up against that benchmark, but in its own way, it absolutely did.

A spiritual successor to Shotguns v. Cthulhu (which I didn't review), this collection requested a few primary markers to tie the whole thing together; "a Mythos element, an action sequence, and melee weapons [to] carry the day." Did it deliver? Yes.

The collection of talent alone (and a delay in responses to submissions due to the high number of writers trying to get their tentacles into this door) is impressive. From Stone Skin Press;

Natania BARRON • Eneasz BRODSKI • Nathan CARSON
Michael CISCO • Andrew S. FULLER • Adam Scott GLANCY
Orrin GREY • Jason HELLER • Jonathan L. HOWARD
John Hornor JACOBS • John LANGAN • L. LARK
Ben STEWART • E. Catherine TOBLER • Jeremiah TOLBERT
Laurie TOM • Carrie VAUGHN • Wendy WAGNER • Caleb WILSON

Most remarkable about this collection overall was the zest and gusto that I felt from many of the stories. I had a strong sense that this was reflective both of the authors and the editors in charge of the project.

Hands down, my favorite of the lot was Orrin Grey's "A Circle That Ever Returneth In" which draws the reader in with a Choose Your Own Adventure narrative, using Lovecraft's "Shining Trapezohedron" (from "The Haunter of the Dark"). Grey is deft with his application of the second-person narrative, and the piece evoked a lot of nostalgia for old D&D modules. But, lest you think the format is all fun and games, Grey doesn't let readers off the hook; this narrative is true to the sense of dread and entropy endemic to the Mythos. On my first read-through, I probably got the best ending a poor soul could hope for...  (A small note: this was also the most problematic story for me to enjoy in the true spirit of things, since I was reading from a PDF. At the time of this writing, there is no digital option on Amazon, but be aware.)

In juxtaposition to Grey's playful approach, other authors offered darker and more stark stories. John Hornor Jacobs' "The Children of Yig" is one story to take a Norse approach, yet steers clear of making heroes out of a historically violent culture. Still, it was easy to slip into Grislae's story; there is always sympathy to be had, even when your protagonist is a pillaging, murdering raider--particularly when that protagonist must inevitably come up against creatures of the Mythos.

Overall, this collection is solid and I would happily recommend it to readers interested in fun stories that still remain true to the heart of despair that beats in the dark universe of the Mythos.

If you're still curious but not yet convinced, check out the Sword v. Cthulhu Teasers over on the Stone Skin Press site, where you can sample the stories included in this collection.

5/5 Stars!