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The Dweller in the Deep Novel by Graham…
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Since I started reading the Dark Waters Trilogy of Arkham Horror novels by Graham McNeill, I've also read some of his Warhammer 40,000 fiction, which I enjoyed better, despite my greater appetite for Yog-Sothothery than Goth space opera. I think this result may be a function of the techniques that McNeill uses to establish setting. While details that cry out "This is an armpit of the galaxy in the fortieth millennium!" are all well and good, I sort of tire of constant reminders that "This is America in the 1920s!" I already have a pretty good idea of what 1920s America was like, and if the author will be so kind as to avoid anachronisms, that doesn't need to be constantly re-established.

One setting-emphasizing device that McNeill used repeatedly in Dweller in the Deep, the final volume of Dark Waters, was to provide cameos of historical celebrities, such as Charles Lindbergh (91 ff.) and Ernest Hemingway (218 ff.). These are coyly introduced by their first names only. Such stunts do not help the reader experience any immersion in the narrative, and this story is not significant or clever enough to support a more distanced engagement. Even worse are some of the anachronistic allusions, such as having a character quote 2001: A Space Odyssey, "My God, it's full of stars!" (238)

I speculated after reading the earlier volumes that the Dark Waters author took significant inspiration from The Lord of the Rings, and while these books are certainly not a mechanical "re-theme" of Tolkien's work, they do indeed retain throughout a similar pacing and structure, with a diverse "fellowship" broken up into numerous paths and challenges contributing to a common quest.

McNeill has carefully synchronized the events of his trilogy with Lovecraft's original story "The Call of Cthulhu," so that the showdown at the end of the books is a different perspective on the same temporary emergence of Cthulhu from the ocean depths, giving extra rationales for his appearance and withdrawal alike. While I'm not sure that extra rationales help to emphasize the cosmic indifferentism that continues to feature even in Dweller in the Deep as the philosophical framework of Yog-Sothothery, still, I found it a neat trick to line up the chronology so well. Another well-played feature of the books, however minor, was the fondness of the foremost protagonist for Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.

Wrapping up, I feel an obligation to compare this trilogy of Arkham Horror novels with the other one (published thus far): The Lord of Nightmares, by Alan Bligh and John French. I think that McNeill's trilogy are superior Arkham Horror books, i.e. ones that faithfully reflect the game elements in novel form. Bligh and French, on the other hand, have written the better weird horror books, ones that are genuinely outre and chilling. The Dark Waters Trilogy, despite some admirable features and fine moments, never really rises above the level of pastiche, while The Lord of Nightmares Trilogy seems to have its own horrific center of gravity.
4 vote paradoxosalpha | Mar 18, 2015 |
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