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Lovecraft Unbound (2009)

by Ellen Datlow (Editor)

Other authors: Dale Bailey (Contributor), Nathan Ballingrud (Contributor), Laird Barron (Contributor), Elizabeth Bear (Contributor), Richard Bowes (Contributor)18 more, Michael Chabon (Contributor), Michael Cisco (Contributor), Ellen Datlow (Introduction), Amanda Downum (Contributor), Brian Evenson (Contributor), Gemma Files (Contributor), Caitlin R. Kiernan (Contributor), Marc Laidlaw (Contributor), Joel Lane (Contributor), Nick Mamatas (Contributor), Sarah Monette (Contributor), Joyce Carol Oates (Contributor), Holly Phillips (Contributor), Michael Shea (Contributor), William Browning Spencer (Contributor), Anna Tambour (Contributor), Lavie Tidhar (Contributor), Simon Kurt Unsworth (Contributor)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2841266,803 (3.87)20
Tales inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft.
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Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
The Crevasse, by Dale Bailey & Nathan Ballingrad: *** This story plays off “At the Mountains of Madness,” Lovecraft’s great tale of Antarctic discovery. I found the details of polar exploration more interesting than the cosmic horror part.
The Office of Doom, by Richard Bowes: **** A college library must take special steps when a student assistant gets the Necronomicon on interlibrary loan. Hilarious.
Sincerely, Petrified, by Anna Tambour: **** Two nature lovers protect a natural treasure by inventing a curse. The author was wise to make the results ambiguous.
The Din of Celestial Birds, by Brian Evenson: ***1/2 I once returned to Amazon an anthology by this author because it was too nasty. I here merely noted that his cruel imagination isn’t exhausted.
The Tenderness of Jackals, by Amanda Downum: ***1/2 The transients of urban Weimar Germany are preyed on by worse things than the historical serial murderers. Oddly enough, hope is found in this terrible place.
Sight Unseen, by Joel Lane: *** UFO mythology is used as the basic of the cosmic horror.
Cold Water Survival, by Holly Phillips: **** Back to Antarctica, as green adventurers riding an iceberg learn that global warming is thawing things. The author creates a unique atmosphere from a unique place.
Come Lurk with Me and Be My Love, by William Spencer Browning: **** The laidback narrator may or may not regret taking a chance on love.
Houses Under the Sea, by Caitlin R. Kiernan: ****1/2 Yet another person sticks their nose into the wrong place, this time on the bottom of the sea, as my favorite contemporary weird writer draws on the lore of Innsmouth and the reality of suicidal cults.
Machines of Concrete Light and Dark, by Michael Cisco: **** A woman takes a train ride with an old friend to another Lovecraftian small town where treachery and wolves await.
Leng, by Marc Laidlaw: ****1/2 In the highlands of Central Asia, a hunter of rare fungi walks into a botanical hell.
In the Black Mill, by Michael Chabon: ****1/2 A small industrial town in Pennsylvania has a secret that would terrify the denizens of Innsmouth.
One Day, Soon, by Lavie Tidhar: **** An evil paperback novel, based on the premise that Rommel had conquered Palestine, triggers nightmares and day terrors.
Commencement, by Joyce Carol Oates: ***** Oates imagines a ceremony that combines the typical schedule of an American commencement with some cultural appropriation from the Aztecs.
Vernon, Driving, by Simon Kurt Unsworth: ** Cosmic horror enters into a gay man’s revenge on the seducer of his beloved.
The Recruiter, by Michael Shea: ***1/2 In San Francisco, a poor old man is used most vilely by a Lovecraftian horror under the nearby sea.
Marya Nox, by Gemma Files: **** Sheesh, don’t take things out of weird looking abandoned churches.
Mongoose, by Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear: **** Space opera meets cosmic horror in this tale of an exterminator and his pet who hunts pests from other dimensions who infests space ships.
Catch Hell, by Laird Barron: ****1/2 A couple with horrific fertility issues go to a retreat built by occultists in the Pacific Northwest wilderness. The entity that the wife makes a deal with seems more out of Christian lore than Lovecraft’s atheistic imaginings.
That of Which We Speak When We Speak of the Unspeakable, by Nick Marmatas: **** Three losers face the end of the world, with shuggoths as the angels of the apocalypse. ( )
  Coach_of_Alva | May 13, 2018 |
I love the horror genre, especially in short story form, to which I think itÛªs ideally suited, but I‰Ûªm not as well read in the classics as I‰Ûªd like. I haven‰Ûªt read any Lovecraft stories until recently: when I checked out this book, I checked out a book of Lovecraft stories to read first, so I could experience what I‰Ûªd heard about his writing style and his themes firsthand. I read (more like skimmed, to be honest) five stories before giving up entirely. I hate to admit it, but even though I find the ideas behind the stories fascinating, I couldn‰Ûªt get through the turgid prose. So maybe this collection is for people like me, because these stories are expressions of what the various authors appreciate about Lovecraft, written in their own style, not his.

Everything I find fascinating about Lovecraft (and couldn‰Ûªt get to in his writing) is evident in these stories: the cosmic horror (yeah, I know everyone uses that phrase, but it‰Ûªs such a good one); the idea that we are blind to true reality, which would drive us mad if we got a glimpse of what was really going on; the monsters that are so alien as to defy description and yet are also so entrancing; the sense of impending doom, of dread, of the end of the world lurking just over our shoulders; the sense of isolation in knowledge, of what it‰Ûªs like to know the terrible truths of the universe when no one else even suspects.

I thought this was a pretty even collection; like with every book of short stories, I have favorites and I have stories I didn‰Ûªt really like, but in this case, I thought they were all well written. A couple have blended together in the days since reading -- ‰ÛÏThe Crevasse‰Û and ‰ÛÏCold Water Survival‰Û were excellent stories, but they both took place in the arctic and involved an exploratory party finding evidence of nonhuman life in the ice (or are they going insane from cold, isolation, and altitude?), knowledge of which bewitches some characters into madness and death. At least one struck me as a little out of place ‰ÛÒ ‰ÛÏVernon, Driving‰Û is excellent as a dark psychological tale of murder but seems only tangentially related to Lovecraft, with no supernatural elements at all.

I have several favorites, so here‰Ûªs the basic list, ranked in order of favoritism:

‰ÛÏHouses under the Sea‰Û by Caitlin R. Kiernan ‰ÛÒ a journalist attempts to understand (and write about) his ex-lover‰Ûªs involvement in the mass suicide of a cult. This is a weird, weird, disturbing story, about people walking into the sea, the worship of unspeakable gods, and a video connecting the two, told from the point of view of someone who missed the boat (so to speak) and isn‰Ûªt sure if that‰Ûªs a blessing or a curse. The narrator is so haunted and distressed that it made me agitated just reading it, and Kiernan‰Ûªs writing is just perfect.

‰ÛÏLeng‰Û by Marc Laidlaw ‰ÛÒ a mycologist (study of fungi) traces the steps of a missing scientific duo to a temple in the mountains of China guarding Leng, a place where untold undiscovered species of mushroom are supposed to exist. I found this story really creepy and actually had to put the book down after reading and go watch something funny on TV. The wormy tendril protruding from the forehead of the ‰ÛÏenlightened‰Û almost did me in.

‰ÛÏIn the Black Mill‰Û by Michael Chabon ‰ÛÒ an archaeologist professor researching a long-dead, violent primitive society is distracted by questions about the ‰ÛÏfamous‰Û Plunkettsburg Mill, in which all the men seem to work despite the frequency of maiming and death. This seemed to me the most straight-up horror story of the bunch, written with intensity and slow-building mystery. What I liked most about this one besides the detailed description of the mill and the creepy black train is the inevitability of the ending. Once the poor doomed narrator steps off the safe path to satisfy his curiosity, you can only wait for his mistakes to catch up to him.

‰ÛÏMongoose‰Û by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear ‰ÛÒ inter-dimensional monsters proliferate in space, and a hunter is hired to eradicate them in a space station along with his companion cheshire Mongoose, who is an alien species itself that no one really understands. People impatient with science fiction in which you must infer or wait for world-building details won‰Ûªt get into this one (I like them), but otherwise it‰Ûªs a good old monster hunt in space with a pretty happy ending (especially for this collection).

‰ÛÏCatch Hell‰Û by Laird Barron ‰ÛÒ a couple with a strained relationship and an interest in perverse dark rites stay at a lodge in tiny backwoods community outside of Seattle, where their attempts to get pregnant end with horrific results. This is a great example of the dark turn a relationship between damaged people can take, with a sort of demonic, Rosemary‰Ûªs Baby twist that I expected but then was still surprised by, because it didn‰Ûªt turn out how I thought.

‰ÛÏThe Crevasse‰Û by Dale Bailey and Nathan Ballingrud ‰ÛÒ a scientific expedition high in the mountains (of Tibet, I believe) finds a crevasse in the ice when one of their members falls to his death, and they believe they find evidence of an ancient civilization in the crevasse but can‰Ûªt seem to document it. This is the first story in the collection and it sets the scary, suspenseful mood perfectly.

‰ÛÏThat of which we speak when we speak of the unspeakable‰Û by Nick Mamatas ‰ÛÒ three teens hang out drinking in a cave in a post-apocalyptic world taken over by shoggoths. This story has a bleak ending (and a totally appropriate one), but what struck me the most is how matter-of-fact the teens take the end of the world. With no hope left, they cling to their blasÌ©, cool demeanors until the end.

‰ÛÏCommencement‰Û by Joyce Carol Oates ‰ÛÒ a young scholar performs the role of Assistant Mace Bearer for the first time in a large, prestigious university commencement, but what that really means slowly becomes known as the ceremony progresses. This one was predictable, but the oratory style of the telling (and the pointed commentary on overblown, self-congratulatory commencement ceremonies in general) sold it for me. Academia is full of ritual, after all.

I think the best stories in this collection either scared me or gave me an unnerving sense of reality vertigo, or both. I put stories like ‰ÛÏLeng‰Û and ‰ÛÏHouses under the Sea‰Û in the ‰ÛÏboth‰Û category, as well as ‰ÛÏCatch Hell‰Û, ‰ÛÏThe Crevasse‰Û, and ‰ÛÏCold Water Survival‰Û. All of them had some truly weird imagery, a slow-building sense of dread, some really scary scenes, and disturbing endings (that were both final and open-ended at the same time, as if the story continues past the page). ( )
  Crowinator | Sep 23, 2013 |
I am rating this one at 3.5, the highest rating I've given an Ellen Datlow collection so far. Having just finished four other books she's edited, I have to say that this one has a wider range of good stories than the previous four volumes of The Best Horror of the Year do individually. It's still a mixed bag though, with some stories much better than the rest, some following under the category of "good and I'd probably look for more by their authors," and some that just didn't do it for me. In short, your typical anthology. If you're considering reading this one, keep in mind that the book was not intended to be a collection of Lovecraft pastiches but rather a collection of stories inspired by Lovecraft's work. Even so, it comes out a bit unevenly and while the authors each offer a brief write-up on how Lovecraft inspired their work, some of the stories seem to be a bit off.

So let's get down to business:
There are six I really liked and five that were good, not great, so that accounts for over half of the stories in this book. The best story in this book is without question Caitlin R. Kiernan's "Houses Under the Sea," set in beautiful Monterey. The story is seen through the eyes of a narrator who not only has no name but no gender either. He/She has been assigned to write about Jacova Angevine, his/her former lover, who once had a promising career in academia but later became the head of a cult called "The Open Door," whose members she led into the ocean one day in a mass suicide. It's one a summary doesn't do justice, but my god ... this story is absolutely chilling and probably meets best the Lovecraft-inspiration criteria. I have to give Ms. Datlow kudos for including it. "The Crevasse," set in the Antarctic is also an excellent, Lovecraft-inspired story but one I've read before; also set in the Antarctic is Holly Phillips' "Cold Water Survival," another previously-read but excellent story. Also clearly in the Lovecraftian zone is (believe it or not) Michael Chabon's "In the Black Mill," which I found to be outstanding; I did a double take when I got to this author's entry because well, he does horror & dread so nicely -- a side of Chabon I've never seen before! "Marya Nox" by Gemma Files also caught my eye -- told in more or less epistolary format, it focuses on a strange church in Macedonia that was uncovered after having been purposely buried in its entirety. "Catch Hell," by Laird Barron isn't exactly Lovecraftian so to speak, but there's definitely evil lurking in the woods around the Black Ram Lodge. This one I've read before and while I really like this story, its inclusion in this particular volume is kind of a mystery.

The six that were (imho) good/not great but still deserving of a mention are "The Din of Celestial Birds," by Brian Evenson, “Come Lurk with Me and Be My Love” by William Browning Spencer, "Leng," by Marc Laidlaw -- I'm a total sucker for anything set on the Plateau of Leng, and "That of Which We Speak When We Speak of the Unspeakable” by Nick Mamatas. This one resonated with the idea that there's nothing one can do when confronted by cosmic forces beyond anyone's control and it appealed. And while "The Office of Doom" was kind of playful with its interlibrary loan of the Necronomicon, I'm still not quite sure about it. Ditto for "The Recruiter," which was dark enough for my weird tastes but kind of missing something there.

That leaves

“Sincerely, Petrified” by Anna Tambour
“The Tenderness of Jackals” by Amanda Downum
“Sight Unseen” by Joel Lane
“Machines of Concrete Light and Dark” by Michael Cisco (whose work I normally LOVE but this one was just off)
“One Day, Soon” by Lavie Tidhar
“Commencement” by Joyce Carol Oates
“Vernon, Driving” by Simon Kurt Unsworth
“Mongoose” by Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear

that I wasn't overly impressed by.

Obviously anyone reading this collection will have their own personal favorites, since as I've noted before, horror is definitely in the eye of the beholder. I'd recommend it -- there are many fine stories here. ( )
  bcquinnsmom | Mar 29, 2013 |
Unlike Datlow's earlier tribute anthology, Poe: 19 New Tales Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, where many of the stories, removed from authors' notes and the context of the book, didn't seem to have much to do with Edgar Poe, almost all these stories have an obvious Lovecraft connection. It usually isn't a listing of the blasphemous tomes and extraterrestrial entities created by the master. Datlow wisely avoided that, for the most part, along with Lovecraft pastiches.

It isn't an entirely new anthology. Four of the stories are reprints. But virtually all the stories are enjoyable and work as either modern examples of cosmic horror, horrific nihilism, or interesting takeoffs on Lovecraftian themes and premises.

The one exception is one of those reprints and, surprisingly, from the biggest name here. Possessing no discernable Lovecraftian theme, image, or plot element, Joyce Carol Oates "Commencement" also fails even in its internal logic. The plot concerns the allegorical cast of the Poet, the Educator, the Scientist, and the Dean and a fate they really should have seen coming at a future graduation ceremony.

The connection to Lovecraft is a bit dilute in other tales but still noticeable. In Lavie Tidhar's "One Day, Soon" it's a magical book that pulls a modern Israeli man into a horrible world of Nazi genocide in the Jewish heartland. It works as horror and as an alternate history premise not explored before. Anna Tambour's "Sincerely, Petrified" isn't very Lovecraftian in its plot of scientists rationally perpetuating the hoax of a curse (though petrification shows up in Lovecraft's "Man of Stone"), but the story is entertaining, particularly the odd relationship between the two enthusiastic rockhounds. Vast, impersonal, sentient forces invading our world and literally devouring us is the revelation a woman has upon meeting a childhood friend she had, she hoped, lost track of in Mike Cisco "Machines of Concrete and Dark" but the story is marred by an end that doesn't really work. "The Din of Celestial Birds" by Brian Evenson is another reprint. The parasitism and possession encountered in the South American home of a mysterious German émigré monk is certainly in keeping with Lovecraft, but the story has more of the flavor of Lovecraft's friend Clark Ashton Smith when he was at the top of his form: lush, exotic, and morbid.

Lovecraft was fascinated by polar exploration and Tibet, and some of the best tales here use those settings. Dave Bailey and Nathan Ballingrud's "The Crevasse" has some Antarctic explorers in the 1920s catching a glimpse of something. And, as in the best cosmic horror, what is glimpsed is less important than all that it implies. Thrillseeking settlers of an iceberg in the south polar seas discover something deadly and almost invisible in the ancient ice of their vessel in Holly Phillips' "Cold Water Survival". Mark Laidlaw's "Leng" adjoins that land to Tibet and sends an amateur mycologist there to explore it for legendary and new fungi. And, of course, he finds something. Effective first-person horror.

What would a Lovecraft tribute anthology be without sinister cults? "Come Lurk With Me and Be My Love" by William Spencer has a very introverted 32 year old man willing to go to great lengths to win the favor of a gothish girl. That includes meeting her father and reading her tracts on intelligent design. Michael Chabon's "In the Black Mill" (another reprint) comes close to being a Lovecraft pastiche in its story of a sinister factory and its frequently maimed workers in a Pennsylvania town in 1948. Michael Shea's "The Recruiter" has an elderly man receiving some much needed money from a sinister cult in San Francisco. Shea's rhyming entities add a note of gleeful evil. Another reprint is Caitlin R. Kiernan's superb "Houses Under the Sea". Weaving back and forth in time, its narrator tells of his lover, a Velikovsky-like academic and the cult she led - straight into the sea. The Lovecraftian themes of the call of heredity and intelligent and nonhuman survivals from prehistory are mixed with the very un-Lovecraftian theme of sexual attraction.

Other stories use Lovecraft as a jumping off point to explore personal relationships. Amanda Downum's "The Tenderness of Jackals" has a teenage drifter at the end of his rope seeking some kind of change with the ghouls of Hannover, Germany. In his notes for "Sight Unseen", Joel Lane notes the prevalence of absent fathers in Lovecraft's work . His protagonist travels to Manchester, UK to learn about the father that long ago left him and the obsessions that made him fear the light. The protagonist of "Vernon, Driving" by Simon Kurt Unsworth's doesn't lose his lover to Lovecraftian horrors but a horror writer. Laird Barron's "Catch Hell" has a creepy anthropologist and his resentful wife locked in an unhappy marriage and both getting their wishes in a Washingtown town where the Black Goat hides in the nearby woods.

The rest of the stories fall in no easy category but are all good. Interlibrary loaning the Necronomicon sounds like a joke or a cliched start. It is sort of a joke in Richard Bowes "The Office of Doom" - at first. But, amidst a tale of university politics, intrudes some wonderfully subtle and sinister notes. Gemma Files' "Marya Nox" has an unusual structure - part of an after- lecture interview of a Nigerian Catholic priest who saw a strange church uncovered in Macedonia. Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear's "Moongoose" postulates a whole ecosytem of extradimensional entities - rather like moles following grubs in a lawn - that plague spaceships. This story, despite the Lovecraft derived names of various space stations, owes as much to Rudyard Kipling and Lewis Carroll as Lovecraft. And, finally, Nick Mamatas's "That of Which We Speak When We Speak of the Unspeakable" answers the question, effectively, of what some people would do when one of those Cthulhoid entities finally does return to our world. Some will always welcome the end of the world regardless of how it comes.

Only the Cisco and Oates stories mar this very good collection which should appeal not just to Lovecraft fans but horror fans in general. ( )
1 vote RandyStafford | Mar 5, 2012 |
While it's true that many of the stories involved no tentacular horror (and therefore might not fit the definition of "mythos"), I'd like to offer a different reader perspective - Lovecraft's style is not just the syntax, the goo and tentacles and darkness. It's also about leaving stories unfinished and only party told, about horrors only partially revealed and little understood, about the smallness of people in the face of the universe and the contradictory depth of their emotions and feelings. In some ways, I always found him to be making a point about how our own experiences will never cease to matter to us, no matter how big we understand the universe to be. When I read these stories, I found many of them to remind me of Lovecraft or be connected to him in their emotional senses and points about human beings. It's not unfair to say that these stories are, as described, inspirations - but at least some readers may find them more connected to that inspiration than not. ( )
  freddlerabbit | Jan 17, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Datlow, EllenEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bailey, DaleContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ballingrud, NathanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Barron, LairdContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bear, ElizabethContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bowes, RichardContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chabon, MichaelContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cisco, MichaelContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Datlow, EllenIntroductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Downum, AmandaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Evenson, BrianContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Files, GemmaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kiernan, Caitlin R.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Laidlaw, MarcContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lane, JoelContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Mamatas, NickContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Monette, SarahContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Oates, Joyce CarolContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Phillips, HollyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Shea, MichaelContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Spencer, William BrowningContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Tambour, AnnaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Tidhar, LavieContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Unsworth, Simon KurtContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alessi, TinaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This anthology is dedicated to Howard Philips Lovecraft, who I hope would approve.
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H. P. Lovecraft's work, and fiction inspired by mythoss, continue to sell ... and sell ... and sell.
First story ("The Crevasse" by Dale Baily and Nathan Balingrud)
What he loved was the silence, the pristine clarity of the ice shelf: the purposeful breathing of the dogs straining against their traces, the hiss of the runners, the opalescent arc of the sky.
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Book description
Collects these stories:
"The Crevasse" by Dale Bailey and Nathan Ballingrud
"The Office of Doom" by Richard Bowes
"Sincerely, Petrified" by Anna Tambour
"The Din of Celestial Birds" by Brian Evenson
"Sight Unseen" by Joel Lane
"Cold Water Survival" by Holly Phillips
"Come Lurk with Me and Be My Love" by William Browning Spencer
"Houses Under the Sea" by Caitlin R. Kiernan
"Machines of Concrete Light and Dark" by Michael Cisco
"Leng" by Marc Laidlaw
"In the Black Mill" by Michael Chabon
"One Day, Soon" by Lavie Tidhar
"Commencement" by Joyce Carol Oates
"Vernon, Driving" by Simon Kurt Unsworth
"The Recruiter" by Michael Shea
"Marya Nox" by Gemma Files
"Mongoose" by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear
"Catch Hell" by Laird Barron
"That Which We Speak of When We Speak of the Unspeakable" by Nick Mamatas
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