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Black Wings of Cthulhu: Tales of…

Black Wings of Cthulhu: Tales of Lovecraftian Horror (2010)

by S. T. Joshi (Editor)

Other authors: Laird Barron (Contributor), Donald R. Burleson (Contributor), Mollie L. Burleson (Contributor), Ramsey Campbell (Contributor), Michael Cisco (Contributor)16 more, Sam Gafford (Contributor), Philip Haldeman (Contributor), S. T. Joshi (Introduction), Adam Niswander (Contributor), Norman Partridge (Contributor), W. H. Pugmire (Contributor), Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. (Contributor), Nicholas Royle (Contributor), David J. Schow (Contributor), Darrell Schweitzer (Contributor), Michael Shea (Contributor), Michael Marshall Smith (Contributor), William Browning Spencer (Contributor), Brian Stableford (Contributor), Jonathan Thomas (Contributor), Jason Van Hollander (Contributor)

Series: Black Wings of Cthulhu (1)

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Showing 4 of 4
It seems Joshi and I have very different understandings of the term "Lovecraftian story".

Broadly speaking, I feel that Lovecraft's stories include the following traits, to a varying degree: weird events or situations, whose hidden truths are revealed by the protagonists; dense, gothic writing that emphasises atmosphere over plot, but still follows a definite story progression to a distinct end; by the end of the story, the reader understands what has been going on. They also touch on some themes (the importance of imagination, the insignificance of humanity before the universe, corruption, maintaining a futile candlelight against the dreadfulness beyond our ken) and strike a fairly serious mood.

This book offers a wide variety of stories, all of which touch on some of these issues, but many of which deviate so strongly that I can't honestly consider them Lovecraftian. To my mind, "Lovecraftian" writing should be really quite close to that of Lovecraft, in the same way that a story isn't Wodehousian simply by featuring young Edwardians or pig-stealing. I don't mean they need to be a pastiche, but there need to be many points of similarity. Otherwise, the term "Cthulhu Mythos" seems more appropriate.

Several of the stories are very literary and artsy in style, full of metaphor and ambiguous writing, but a big departure from Lovecraft. These also tend not to feature very clear plots, with the reader left to try and puzzle out what might have been going on. A couple are fairly lucid supernatural stories, but not very close to Lovecraft either in themes, genre or the nature of the supernatural within them. There are several twist endings, which Lovecraft studiously avoided to concentrate on atmosphere. The chief problem is that these departures often combine, leaving you with stories that have only a tenuous claim to Lovecraftianism. A couple seem to have been included on the bizarre strength of mentioning HP Lovecraft, rather than any intrinsic property of the stories. There were only a handful that I feel comfortable categorising as Lovecraftian.

The range of stories in this book will mean that most people who want something Lovecraftian can probably find a few that suit their taste. If you have a very broad palate, you may enjoy most of them. Personally, I have no time for literary fiction and little for very artsy writing, and found several stories annoying, while a couple of others I simply thought were bad. However, there were also some very compelling stories I was delighted to read. The overall score represents my take on the whole collection.

Also worth noting: as sadly traditional for Lovecraft, women are pretty few and far between. There's one female protagonist (Susie, although she's less a protagonist and more a literary device, to be honest) and I don't think any of them would pass the Bechdel test.

My highlights: Copping Squid; Tempting Providence; Desert Dreams; The Broadsword; The Dome
Also ran: Tunnels, Howling in the Dark; Usurped; Substitution; Lesser Demons
Not particularly my thing: Pickman's Other Model; The Truth about Pickman; Passing Spirits; Inhabitants of Wraithwood; Denker's Book; Susie
Unimpressed: Engraving, The Correspondence of Cameron Thaddeus Nash; Violence, Child of Trust; An Eldritch Matter
No seriously, what?: Rotterdam ( )
1 vote Shimmin | Feb 8, 2015 |
A mixed bag, as with all anthologies, but a good introduction by S t Joshi. Some of this was very, very good, especially the last fifth, but some was diabolical (pun intended). My overall rating refers to an average of all the stories individual ratings which I kept a record of. Overall, good, but no cigar. ( )
  aadyer | Nov 4, 2014 |
Standout stories from Laird Barron, Norman Partridge, Michael Marshall Smith and Jason Van Hollander. But why there are only two women authors included, and of the stories there are no women protagonists at all, which made the collection really lopsided and ultimately disappointing. ( )
  allyshaw | Apr 4, 2013 |
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

It's true that I don't much care for story collections, although I do have a softer spot in my heart for the related story compilation format; and I just had a chance to read two better-than-average ones, actually, Mark Brand's Thank You, Death Robot and S.T. Joshi's Black Wings: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror. Both are similar in set-up, a couple of respected genre authors being asked to assemble a collection of stories by other respected genre authors, all on a similar theme, with Brand's (a Chicagoan who I recently had the pleasure of meeting) being all about evil robots, and Joshi's (from our pals at PS Publishing) consisting entirely of tales inspired by either the style or mythos of HP Lovecraft; and that's why in general I tend to like compilations like these more than just random story collections by a single author, because at least these stick to one unified idea, and often try to reach an equilibrium of quality as well. Of course, that doesn't stop the trait from being there that I dislike so much in story collections, that the pieces found within tend to veer all over the place in both tone and length -- some are classical homages to their main subject, some ironic modern twists, some not much more than a short bad joke, others little novellas unto themselves. They're both excellent for what they are, and come highly recommended to existing fans of the subjects, but also deftly illustrate why I tend to do only short, non-committal reviews of such collections, in that I find it hard to say much more about them and have it remain true for the entire book.

Out of 10: 8.4 ( )
2 vote jasonpettus | Apr 5, 2010 |
Showing 4 of 4
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Joshi, S. T.Editorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Barron, LairdContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Burleson, Donald R.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Burleson, Mollie L.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Campbell, RamseyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cisco, MichaelContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gafford, SamContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Haldeman, PhilipContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Joshi, S. T.Introductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Niswander, AdamContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Partridge, NormanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pugmire, W. H.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pulver, Joseph S., Sr.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Royle, NicholasContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Schow, David J.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Schweitzer, DarrellContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Shea, MichaelContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Smith, Michael MarshallContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Spencer, William BrowningContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Stableford, BrianContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Thomas, JonathanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Van Hollander, JasonContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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The one test of the really weird is simply this—whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings, or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe's utmost rim.

— H.P. Lovecraft, "Supernatural Horror in Literature"
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In this title, the modern masters of Lovecraftian horror offer up to 21 brand-new, utterly horrifying tales taking their inspiration from stories by Lovecraft himself. Well-known writers such as Caitlin R. Kiernan, Brian Stableford, and Ramsey Campbell delve deep into the psyche to terrify and entertain. Editor S.T. Joshi has assembled a star-studded line-up essential for every horror library.… (more)

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