Permuted Press, $5.99, ISBN 978-1618680860
The stories in Cthulhu Unbound 3 all feature our friendly neighborhood tentacled slime beasts from the great beyond. However, while previous volumes of this anthology series may have stories of various genres united by the presence of our slimy buddies, the four stories here are all no-nonsense straightforward horror and gore.
Cody Goodfellow’s Unseen Empire starts off with a bunch of soldiers on the search of a tribe of Comanche folks that apparently vanished just like that. It’s 1900, by the way. Among these men is the bounty hunter Inigo Hull, a half-Comanche who knows more than he lets on about the fate of the missing natives. When these men discover an entrance in a hill that leads down and down and down, of course it’s only sensible to go on down and say hi to whatever lives beneath. The story also flashes back to various instances in Inigo’s past, so pay attention to the dates prefacing various parts of this story.
This story is pretty gory, and underneath all that gore is an interesting take of the typical “mad mastermind of the zombie army” trope. But it’s also marred by the author’s tendency to have Inigo drone on and on in various long exposition monologue, and often, I find myself wondering how this fellow knows so much. Sure, he’d seen and done things, but some of the things he talk about would require digging into libraries and studying old books. Did he do that? I was never told, so I always wondered while I was reading this story.
DL Snell’s Mirrorrorrim is like The Matrix gets violated by tentacle monsters. Our protagonist Justin has a strange tattoo and a tendency to self-harm, so he attends a self-help group where the psychiatrist is weird and everyone else is creepy. This one has a self-indulgent quality to the narrative – everything feels deliberately fragmented and obtuse, and every sentence seems designed to show off how deep and profound the author is being. Throughout it all, Justin is an irritatingly smug and dumb protagonist, not blinking a bit even when the people around him are acting like weirdos. Of course, if he quits the group the moment things get weird, there would be no story.
Nemesis Theory by Tim Curran has a creepy and mysterious inmate of a prison unleashing all kinds of horrible fun stuff on the other inmates. This one has the claustrophobia, and it has a good set-up, but the story just drags on and on and on, with too many characters taking up space. By the time it ends, I’m more exhausted than terrified.
The R’lyeh Singularity by David Conyers and Brian M Sammons closes the anthology. These two men also edit the anthology, which makes it a tragicomic kind of irony that this story has the most obvious errors in them. Some – like using “loosing” when they clearly mean “losing” – can be overlooked, but the two authors’ constant use of “rouge” when they mean “rogue” is funny. Sure, there is always the possibility that the poor guy in question goes “rouge” due to radioactive rays of the monster or something, but nothing can explain “rouge agent”, sorry guys. This one is interesting, as it pairs a “rouge” agent and a government agent against the US government-sanctioned efforts to use Cthulhu woo-woo to create biological weapons, but like the previous story, this one just keeps going and going until my eyes glaze over.
All four stories share a common flaw: they don’t know when to stop. Sure, gore is fun and violence is always welcome, but there can only be so much of these before I get desensitized and even bored of the whole thing. The story needs to keep moving. Here, the stories all have patchy pacing. Scenes tend to meander even when they are drenched in gore, and where the author or authors could have drummed up momentum or build up the tension, they tend to just go on and on like old coots telling war stories in the most rambling manner possible.
The fact that it is too easy to lose interest in the stories here, despite the abundance of violence and gore, is the biggest strike against Cthulhu Unbound 3. I mean, come on, all that fun stuff, and it’s still boring? Something’s really not right here.