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Author Topic: Black Wings of Cthulhu, Edited by S.T. Joshi  (Read 14679 times)
TheFolklorist
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« on: August 21, 2012, 12:36:45 PM »

Has anyone else here picked up S.T. Joshi's much hyped anthology of Mythos fiction Black Wings of Cthulhu? It's now available in both the UK and the States and I bring it up because I picked it up about two weeks ago and am about half way through it and am hating it. This is seriously some of the worst attempts at Mythos or Lovecraftian fiction I've ever read. The atmosphere is wrong, the tone is wrong, the underlining philosophy is wrong, the stories either aren't scary or are scary for the wrongs reasons. I'm really wondering if some of these authors have actually ever read Lovecraft and I'm especially baffled that this whole thing was put together by Joshi who has been so hard on horror authors in general and Mythos writers in particular that I figured a collection put together by him would be nothing but the cream of the crop, but instead it's some of the worst I've ever read.

Here's what I've read so far.... (Some Spoilers)

"Engravings" by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. - A short story about a man trying to beat the clock to deliver a package to a mysterious man named Mr. Phoenix. The story does a good job of capturing the frustration one feels when running late for an important meeting and it seems as if everything in creation is trying to get in your way. However that's the only complement I can give it. It otherwise fails at conveying Lovecraftian cosmic terror and the out of left field ending feels more like something from 1987's Angel Heart then anything HPL ever came up with.

"Copping Squid" by Michael Shea - This story, set in a modern day urban ghetto, starts off with an interesting set up and then goes nowhere with it. The reveal at the end is also identical to author Donald Burleson's Mytho tales "The Eye of Hlu-Hlu" but not as chilling.

"Passing Spirits" by Sam Gafford - This story is more of a spoof then an actual Lovecraftian tale but is overall pretty good. Basically imagine the movie 50/50 (2011) only replace Seth Rogen's character with HPL's ghost and you've got it.

"The Broadsword" by Laird Barron - This story has some good creepy moments in it and is well written over all but it belongs in an Arthur Machen tribute book more then an HPL one. There is also a scene where the protagonist is taken into some sort of sub-dimensional underworld which had I been an editor I would have strongly advised against it as it reads like a deleted chapter from Lovecraft's "The Mound", and we all know what a winner that story is.

"Denker's Book" by David J. Schow - This was also one of the shorter stories in the book and largely forgettable. It seems to be riffing on Lovecraft's "From Beyond" but honestly it was so poor that recalling anything else about it right now is beyond me.... heh

"Inhabitants of Wraithwood" by W.H. Pugmire - Pugmire is a pretty well known contemporary Mythos writer but this may be the first story I've ever read by him. He's obviously got some serious chops when it comes to prose but as for the story itself it just wasn't very interesting. It's basically "Pickman's Model" meets "The Picture of Dorian Gray" but in reverse with regard to the later. Hopefully anyone reading this book will have read both of those works and as a result will see the ending coming not long after having begun the piece. Not bad but not great either.  

"Howling in the Dark" by Darrell Schweitzer - Schweitzer is the editor of the much contested anthology Cthulhu's Reign which Mythos fans either seem to love or hate. I love it but didn't find Schweitzer's own tale from that collection - "Ghost Dancing" - to be amongst the best. This story here is.... just confusing. I'm honestly not sure what it was about. Nightguants maybe? Again not very Lovecraftian either way. In fact it almost feels more like an adult version of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are.... and no not in the way the Spike Jonze film was.

"Lesser Demons" by Norman Partridge - This is seriously the worst story I've read so far. I really have no idea how it got picked for this book as it doesn't read like Lovecraft at all. It's almost the antithesis of Lovecraft. It reads like the screenplay for the next Resident Evil movie only with Milla Jovovich's character having been replaced by a craggy old backwoods gun loving sheriff. The story opens with the sheriff holed up in a cabin in the woods. He explains how a few weeks ago the world we know ended and was overrun by "bloodfaces" (aka ZOMBIES!) and then gradually other monsters who burst out of the bloodfaces' chests. None of these monsters are particularly Lovecraftian and include such creatures as a bear turned inside out, a minotaur with dreadlocks and some giant spiders with rat faces as well as your standard issued bat-winged, hoofed and horned demon at one point. Basically the sheriff and his deputy end up hiding in the woods occasionally venturing into town to get some supplies and lots and lots of guns. The deputy is more intellectual and wants to understand what happened to the world so he's given some books dealing with the occult. Yeah given, as in the author comes up with the laziest most nonsensical way for him to acquire some random books on occult lore. They're in the backseat of a car. Yeah..... Anyway the sheriff disapproves and tells the deputy that there's no point in all the book learning, they just need to hole up with plenty of ammo and sooner or later, after they've killed all the monsters, everything will go back to normal. But the deputy refuses to stop so the sheriff eventually shoots him. Yeah..... So in the end the military shows up and shoots all the monsters. The sheriff and the soldiers stand around for the last couple pages yucking it up about how all those scientists and scholars back at HQ are fools for trying to figure out how to fix this problem with books and charts. They know how to fix the problem; Aim and Fire. And that's the end. The happy ending. I think this might qualify for what Lovecraft called "bland optimism" but it also reads like a huge endorsement for the NRA. Terrible.

"An Eldritch Matter" by Adam Niswander - The shortest story in the book and the most pointless. It reads like the climax of a body horror movie and nothing else.
                                  
« Last Edit: August 21, 2012, 02:29:58 PM by TheFolklorist » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: August 28, 2012, 02:21:12 PM »

Thanks for the summary, I was tempted to buy it, I was on the fence, now I'm not! The only one of the stories I read was Laird Barron's (which is already in another of his book of short stories), it's not his best story (or just wasn't my cup of tea anyway).   
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« Reply #2 on: August 28, 2012, 03:41:55 PM »

I bought that on Kindle purely because according to the description in the Amazon store, the story "Black Brat of Dunwich" was supposed to be in it. It was not. I looked around on the Internet, and apparently it was slated to be included but had to be scrapped at the last minute for copyright reasons or something. I still haven't read it, and now I don't think I will.
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« Reply #3 on: August 28, 2012, 04:35:45 PM »

I did read this cover to cover looking for some "lovecraftian" type writing, but could not find it. Does having Lovecraft in the story as a character make it Lovecraftin? Or just using some of the Mythos stuff within an original story? I think not. I think all in all it was a good read, some stinkers, some good stories, but i think people should be more wary about labeling something "Lovecraftian" because when I think it, I think of something written in Lovecraft's style, not just old Grandpa and his monsters thrown in to an otherwise modern horror story.

I'm glad I only borrowed it from the library instead of buying it, but I am glad I read it.  Grin
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« Reply #4 on: August 29, 2012, 02:43:00 AM »

I'm glad to see others feel the same way about these stories that I do and are also raising the question as to how these are Lovecraftian or Mythos stories exactly. I wish Joshi would have included introductory essays to each story the way Price does in his anthologies so as to explain/justify why they are included.

I also haven't read any further in Black Wings because I got a hold of a copy of Shotguns vs. Cthulhu about a week ago and so far every story I've read in there has been good if not brilliant. It really washed the bad taste of Black Wings out on my mouth. If you can get a hold of a copy of Shotguns vs. Cthulhu I highly recommend it! 
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« Reply #5 on: August 31, 2012, 03:10:51 PM »

I was on the fence about picking this up as well, but from what I'm seeing it seems like I should just save my money.  Maybe I'll just pick it up from the library when it's available.

Where does one obtain a copy of Shotguns vs. Cthulhu?  I looked around a little last week but saw that it wasn't out yet.  Or am I missing something?
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« Reply #6 on: September 05, 2012, 11:58:49 AM »

Very very meh.  I have read much better fanfic on the net for free, honestly.  I always buy mythos books.  But much of the post 2000 stuff is getting really very tired, to be honest.  You can tell that the authors writing today were influenced by HPL and his followers, alone, not by the righ intellectual heritage that preceded them. 
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« Reply #7 on: September 27, 2012, 08:49:36 AM »

I have this book, and was excited to read it, but yeah, it was somewhat bland. All in all, I enjoy having short story collections around for times between novels or when I am feeling a but A.D.D. This one is fine for that, but not very Lovecraftian at all. I was surprised that Joshi signed his name to this collection.

Bob
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« Reply #8 on: October 09, 2012, 10:26:15 AM »

Wow, it has been a bit since I've posted here, but figured I'd stop back in (and try and figure out what happened to my avatar). Spotted this thread fairly quick because I recently got Black Wings II in the mail, and yadda yadda yadda two cents worth.

I overall liked the collection. 3.5 stars out of 5? Something like that. I've forgotten many of the particulars but the general impression I got was positive. The good stories are surrounded by meh stories and the overall mood is more evocative [of a generally horror mood] than directly aimed at my horror spine, but I have enough experience reading weird tales to know that many are better in hindsight than in hand, and so was quite able to sit back, relax, and kind of just let the many flavors of weirdness flow (many colors in the weird fic rainbow, as it were).*

They are slower burn, most of them, but knowing Joshi's tastes via such works as Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos, I expected that. Most are inchoate in their mythos (those not actively trying to leech off of some Derlethian variation and/or Pickman's Model, anyhow) but there is at least the potentiality that they could grow up (in the case of "The Broadsword", The Croning is the eventual explanation and exploration, though it might be the exception). This was my first exposure to Barron, and though I have read others by him I like more, this story was the one that made me go out and buy those others. I had already read some Pugmire, and have read some more since then, but this story is the one that I tend to think about the most.

As for whether it is proper Lovecraftian, I concluded after reading that it might be best to think of as weird fiction that probably wouldn't be around if Lovecraft hadn't have happened. It is not pure by any means (these are also fictions that would not wholly exist in a world without Ligotti or Lansdale, it might be said), though that could have been its best chance at a more proper success.

Joshi strikes me as attempting to find a balance between mood (a pinch of desperation rubbed into a large cut of locus) and the hint of mythologizing, but then many of the stories are simply about someone brushing up against hints of the outside. "Brushing the outside" is, own its lonesome, utterly blase in weird circles. I am not consciously scared of knowing how infinitesimal I am. The abject uncaring universe is no longer a freebie boogie man, but at least a proper and well-honed acknowledgement of this can evoke a primal response. A tool underdeveloped in Black Wings. Dead by Dreaming is much better at appreciating the changes in the world and genre fiction when it comes to such things.

Also, the willful exposing of truths is way too lacking here (the truth, when it does come, simply shows up). The Jamesian trope of an antiquarian peeling back studious layers is a big ole slice of the Lovecraft pie, and this collection has far too little fun with the theme. For shame. Joshi said that M.R. James wasn't proper weird because he did not embody a proper ethos, but then so few of these stories make up for their lack of truth-digging with moral-claiming that it makes you wonder how the Joshian cat got thrown out with the bath water.

Still, I liked it enough to order the sequel (via which I found out that John Langan has the *best* signature) but have not read part II, yet, because I've read in the neighborhood of 150+ stories over the past couple of years, and have many uncompleted anthologies waiting to be completed, and I think the short story as an art form is starting to hurt my brain... so I'm limiting myself to one story, at the most, per day. Then, when I get the energy back, I'll ram into Black Wings II and VandeMeer's The Weird.

* As a note that might help, I would rather read Ramsey Campbell than nearly any other horror writer, this may or may not explain a lot about my take on this collection, even though I was let down by the ending of the Campbell story included in this volume.
« Last Edit: October 20, 2012, 12:38:56 PM by wyrmis » Logged

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« Reply #9 on: October 20, 2012, 07:11:59 AM »

I liked "Pickman's Other Model" all right.

 It had some kind of disturbing sexual stuff in it that Lovecraft probably would have found very repellent.
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« Reply #10 on: March 17, 2013, 02:11:06 PM »

This topic has been dormant for so long that I got a warning to considering beginning a new topic rather than adding to this discussion, but I love this book so much I need to add just a few words.  It seems that people read the book expecting to find tales of Cthulhu Mythos, and I blame Titan Books for this.  The book's original title was BLACK WINGS; but because the name "Cthulhu" has become, in the eyes of modern publishers, a key "selling component," they added "of Cthulhu" to the title despite the protests of S. T.  In his Introduction, Sunand writes:  "It was this single statement that led me, in soliciting stories for this book, to suggest that straightforward 'Cthulhu Mythos' stories were not the only ones that would be considered for inclusion.  It can readily be seen that some writers have chosen to play ingenious variations off of other Lovecraft tales whose relation to his mythos is tangential at best.  ... It is for this reason that I have carefully chosen my subtitle, 'New Tales of LOVECRAFTIAN Horror."  Concerning my own tale, I wrote it as part of my utter obsession with "Pickman's Model," and yet the Pickman element is not vital to my story and probably could be entirely eliminated with no effect to the plot.  But the only reason I created Wraithwood was in order to write "about" Pickman and his ghouls, however obliquely.  I am an obsess'd Lovecraft fanboy and my keenest aesthetic addiction is to write Lovecraftian weird fiction; but, as in every other aspect of my life, my fiction is perverse, idiosyncratic, delirious and a reflection of a warped soul, and thus there are gobs of people who have an extreme allergic reaction to it.  However, I believe that if we are to continue writing Lovecraftian horror, we have to do so with works that are uniquely our own, and then we have to realise that our work will never have any appeal to a commercial readership and that there will be very few who actually dig our lunacy.  But that's why I love the small press--those publishers who bring forth my books in extremely beautiful and extremely LIMITED editions.  It gives me the freedom to write exactly what I want to write, in exactly the manner I wish to  do so.  I love BLACK WINGS II as well, and continue to be very excited about this series.  As for "disturbing sexual stuff," my dear Alden--Great Yuggoth, if such things wig ye out, DO NOT read the story that Jessica Salmonson and I have sold to BLACK WINGS III, "Underneath an Arkham Moon"--is reeks of intense sexual sickness and will certainly affront ye!
« Last Edit: March 17, 2013, 02:17:13 PM by whpugmire » Logged

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« Reply #11 on: August 02, 2016, 01:53:32 PM »

I just have to say I love this series. I'm on book III and already have the next two lined up. They are loosely connected to Lovecraft, but you need to appreciate these stories on their own. The author's that are published here are well known in the horror genre having published multiple works on their own so you know you aren't getting some amateur garbage. Most importantly they are a pleasure to read even though they don't copycat Lovecrafts writing style. I don't understand the poor reviews here.
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