DAW, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0616-5
One thing about HP Lovecraft: he never, as far as I could remember, went into detail as to what happened to the world once those tentacled jelly-blobs from outer dimensions started to take over the world. Darrell Schweitzer attempts to put together an anthology that tells me about life on earth once the Old Ones come to play, and I could only wonder that the late Mr Lovecraft never did this because he knew the end result would be so monotonous.
Or maybe it’s a problem caused by the fact that the stories here are similar not only in that all the authors have penises (or at least I hope they do), these authors also come up with depressingly similar themes and concepts in their stories. They are all uniformly predictable: the world is screwed up, people are made into blob-squid chow, and yet, some people still act like they are in a zombie apocalypse movie.
Ian Watson kicks things off with something so ridiculously absurd, at least. The Walker in the Cemetery tells of a group of tourists making the rounds at Genoan cemeteries when the tentacles show up. They find themselves trapped, but the priest – there’s always one – decides that they can save themselves if they kill some mini-Cthulhu thing that spawned from Big Daddy Cthulhu, only to find Big Daddy Cthulhu taunting them by providing them with food (don’t ask me where the food came from, and I don’t know what to know) as he kills them off one by one. Oh, and tentacle rape happens, complete with involuntary ecstasy and subsequent pregnancy. Fun for the whole family! This one is so ridiculous that I can’t help feeling that it is so bad that it is so, so good.
In Sanctuary, Don Webb tells of our hero who is charged to retrieve a Bible on behalf of a priest from a ruined bookstore. Times are hard for people since the Old Ones rose from their sleep. In fact, it’s almost like the zombies in the original draft of this story had been scratched out to make way for the Old One minions so that this story can fit into this anthology!
Mike Allen tries to contrast the perfect Utopia with the nightmarish realm of the Old Ones, in this story where a man has a seemingly perfect family and they live a perfect life… except, things are never what they seem in Her Acres of Pastoral Playground. This one is pretty disquieting, but at the same thing, it’s not exactly something that bowls me over.
Ken Asamatsu’s Spherical Trigonometry was originally in Japanese, so Edward Lipsett graciously translated this story for everyone. This one has a very rich man commissioning a large shelter in anticipation of the rise of the Old Ones. This shelter has no angles, just like everything else inside, because he believes that those monsters creep into our dimension through angles. Our hero’s wife is a scientist that built this structure, and when the monsters strike ahead of schedule, our hero and his wife find themselves fleeing with the rich bloke and that man’s wife into that shelter. No angles… that means they will be safe there. Right? This story is easily the best of the lot – solid build-up and fantastic gross-out moments.
Will Murray imagines a world ruled by the Old Ones in What Brings the Void as one depressingly similar to the world ruled by machines in the Terminator movies. An US operative with the ability to project his soul out of his body and spy on things unseen is charged to infiltrate an Old One human-processing factory. A certain Shub-Niggurath is bemused by his feeble efforts. This one is too predictable for its own good.
Matt Cardin wants to do some kind of amazing sacrilege by putting Cthulhu into the New Testament in The New Pauline Corpus. The result is a very effective sleeping pill. Long, rambling sentences describing the author’s navel are not my thing, sorry.
Darrell Schweitzer’s story is Ghost Dancing, which sees a man summoned by an old friend to his hometown. He isn’t keen to go back, because there was something he did with his friend that might have plunged the world into the tentacle-infested hell it is these days. This is a story of redemption featuring my favorite kind of stoic bastard antihero. I can see the ending come from a mile away, but still, this is one of the better stories in this anthology.
The hero in John R Fultz’s This Is How the World Ends is one of the survivors in a post-“Hello humans, we are the Old Ones and we own your asses!” party Earth and, in this story, his entire band is wiped out except for a pregnant woman. Now, really, where I have read that story before? The tropes are there, predictable, and that’s about it.
John Langan also attempts to contrast the mundane against the hellish by having the narrator of The Shallows reminisce about an incident involving his family in the past, an apparently mundane incident compared to the world he currently lives in. This one is a mildly interesting read, and by this point, I’m really bored of the constant similarity running through the stories in this anthology. How about some dancing Cthulhu for a change?
In Gregory Frost’s The Seals of New R’lyeh, thieving bastards are like cockroaches – they thrive even when humanity is pulverized by the Old Ones. This one is mildly humorous at places due to the author’s dry wit, but it’s the same old, same old by this point in the anthology.
Brian Stableford’s The Ecstasy of Holocaust has a protagonist ramble on and on about… a holocaust, or maybe about the hairs poking out from the author’s belly button. I’m bored.
Laird Barron has a deity-like fellow, who can hop through time and possess people’s body, essentially living forever, yammering like a tedious old cow in Vastation. Cthulhu is a minor character, a pimple on the narrator’s wide rear end of an ego. Oh yes, the world is doomed, it’s like a zombie apocalypse without the zombies, the usual.
Richard A Lupoff tries to change things up – thank you – by having the jelly-blob fiends being aliens instead of deities. In Nothing Personal, our heroine watches in horror as her colleague ends up accidentally triggering a war between Earth and those aliens. Fun, but also, entirely predictable from the start.
We are still in sci-fi territory as Fred Chappell’s Remnants closes the anthology. This one is about some humans trying to avoid capture by the slime-jelly fiends while friendly aliens try to locate and save them. This one is disconcertingly pleasant after all the apocalyptic doom and what not of the previous stories, but still, it takes forever to get to a point.
By the time Cthulhu’s Reign comes to a close, I’m ready to just move on. This is one anthology that could have benefited from stories of a more diverse nature. Too many stories here feature the same theme, same style, and even the same trite take-home message about humanity and what not. There are many far better anthologies of this nature out there – this one is just depressingly average.