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Author Topic: Modern Cthulhu Mythos fiction that doesn't suck  (Read 88773 times)
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« on: June 07, 2010, 11:06:30 PM »

I've mentioned my distaste for the "Cthulhu Mythos" tradition here before.  Partly, it's because it seems kind of lame for a writer to go around playing in another writer's sandbox (make up your own monsters, dammit!).  Partly, it's because it all just seems like a literary in-joke that's been carried way past its expiration date. Mostly though, it's because the vast majority of it that I've read kinda sucks.  My experience with modern Cthulhu Mythos stuff is limited to a couple of collections (Cthulhu 2000 and another I can't remember the name of, but I think it was Del Rey, and may have been called Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos), and a few W.H. Pugmire stories.  There were exactly two good stories in those two collections ("Notebook Found in a Deserted House" by Robert Bloch, and "Black Man With a Horn" by T.E.D. Klein), and the only Pugmire story I liked didn't actually have any references to Lovecraft's worlds and monsters that I can remember.  The rest were forgettable at best, and memorably bad at worst.  Oh, and there was that Sherlock Holmes / Lovecraft thing Neil Gaiman did, "A Study in Emerald," but that one works mainly for its novelty value, and "Jerusalem's Lot," which is a rather poor story, not just by Lovecraftian standards (because one can't help comparing these things to Lovecraft), but by Stephen King standards as well.

Today, against my better instincts, I bought a book called Cthulhu's Reign.  I don't recognize any of the writers in it, but I bought it because the idea behind the collection is what happens after the Great Old Ones take the world back.  All that stuff is generally treated as ominous prophecy in Lovecraft and the Lovecraft-worshiping writers I've read, so it's interesting to see someone tackle the subject of what life will be like when the stars have been right for a while.  I don't have high hopes for it, though.   I'll let you know if any of the stories turn out okay.

So is the Cthulhu Mythos as it lives today nothing but crap?  Any good stories out there?
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« Reply #1 on: June 08, 2010, 12:54:50 AM »

I don't know of any good stories directly related to the mythos because I feel the same as you do about people stepping into other people's work, but I do read a lot of books by authors who were directly inspired by Lovecraft:
- China Mieville is one of my favorite authors. He writes stories about vast cities and the fantastical and often horrifying events that take place therein. I'd start with his Bas'lag trilogy: Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and Iron Council.
- The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is a tale within a tale about some very strange goings on.
- The Terror by Dan Simmons is a retelling of a true historical event, just with far more sinister outcomes.
- Kelly Link writes short stories that range from the hilarious to the bizarre, and have a unique quality all their own.
- Laird Barron has written two short story collections, The Imago Sequence and Occultation, that are philosophically related to Lovecraft, but don't deal directly with the mythos. The Necronomicon makes a brief appearance in the latter, but it's more of an homage than an invasion of Lovecraft's work.
- Finally, I haven't actually read these authors yet, which means I don't know how closely their horror is related to Lovecraft, but I'm hearing good things: Michael Cisco, Jeffrey Ford, Mark Z. Danielewski, Joe Hill, and Scott Smith.

Also, I couldn't agree with you more that King completely dropped the ball in Jerusalem's Lot, but he made up for it with The Tommyknockers, which was inspired by Lovecraft, and has to be one of my favorite of his novels along with Pet Sematary and The Shining.
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« Reply #2 on: June 08, 2010, 01:39:16 AM »

Ramsey Campbell.  his early stuff was very clearly Lovecraftian (but he was a teenager, so I forgive), and much of his later stuff still shows the tones, but went in his own direction.

and T.E.D. Klein

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« Reply #3 on: June 08, 2010, 10:58:00 PM »

What I'm seeing is that a lot of good work has been loosely inspired by Lovecraft, in a general sort of sense, but just about everything with the words "Cthulhu Mythos" attached sucks.

I'm reading Cthulhu's Reign now, and I've decided that I officially hate the Cthulhu Mythos.  Lovecraft's stories are good, and his ideas about alien beings are still cool, but he didn't call it the Cthulhu Mythos and, most importantly, when he wrote it, it didn't suck. Probably because they were his ideas in the first place.  The Cthulhu Mythos should have died with Lovecraft.

This book sucks.  It really, really sucks.  And in its sucking, it reminds me of all the other sucky, sucky swill out there that name-drops monsters and places from Lovecraft's fiction.  It all exists purely for the benefit of that damned role-playing game, I think, and it's all just absolutely terrible. 

And the thing is, there's no logical reason why it should all suck. I'm not a purist. I'm not looking for carbon-copies of Lovecraft.  I'm not opposed to the idea on philosophical grounds.  It's a great world for horror stories, and there should be a flood of good, weird, creepy writing coming out of it.  I should be all over this stuff.  It's just that, for some reason, it all sucks.  We've got this great source of inspiration and license to do just about anything with it, and for some reason that escapes me completely the result is a never-ending mountain of unreadable horseshit big enough to block the sun and tilt the earth on its axis.  This is the kind of shit Stephenie Meyer will have to read in Hell.
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« Reply #4 on: June 09, 2010, 02:22:40 AM »

I think the reason is that the people writing the stories aren't good writers and the only reason they're getting published is that someone out there wanted to put together a Mythos anthology and just had to take what they could get.
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« Reply #5 on: June 09, 2010, 06:24:01 AM »

I wouldn't say they're necessarily bad writers - well, certainly a fair few are, probably well over 90% - but I think the bigger problem is that they simply don't have that special something that made Lovecraft so good at his own genre. He was deeply immersed in the philosophy and the abstract thought processes that went into developing decades of this stuff.  For an outsider it's much too easy to want to add a little uncharacteristic sensation or to over explain when you dive in there. Plus, nobody writes that kind of English anymore. The Call of Cthulhu is already some 84 years old and the language has gone through some changes. That alone takes away a lot.

This is the kind of shit Stephenie Meyer will have to read in Hell.

P.S. Suck it Meyer!!
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« Reply #6 on: June 09, 2010, 11:27:08 AM »

I blame Derleth.

Lovecraft not only had philosophy going for him, but he was erudite and fundamentally comprehended the unending stream of lugubrious and polysyllabic adjectives he utilized.  So many others just crib his words, and drop his names, but never even bother to crack a book and look up the underlying meanings.

Not to mention, knitting lines of silly-string nonsense sounds into "monster names". 
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« Reply #7 on: June 09, 2010, 11:39:33 AM »

Not to mention, knitting lines of silly-string nonsense sounds into "monster names". 

Fear Pvn'sipop the Ploob! His hairy chicken legs will scratch you into an infinite psychological horror aeons beyond the cyclopean Platypus Maw of the ancient eldritch fiends, the barbarian Oirysh!! Grin
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« Reply #8 on: June 09, 2010, 12:24:48 PM »

I blame Derleth.

Lovecraft not only had philosophy going for him, but he was erudite and fundamentally comprehended the unending stream of lugubrious and polysyllabic adjectives he utilized.  So many others just crib his words, and drop his names, but never even bother to crack a book and look up the underlying meanings.

Not to mention, knitting lines of silly-string nonsense sounds into "monster names".  

The first story in Cthulhu's Reign doesn't even have that.  It's about a bunch of incarnations of Cthulhu of varying sizes running around wrecking stuff.  This tour group in Italy gets stuck where they are via some kind of Blair Witch magic.  One of them predicts, based on some kind of mumbo jumbo about Mandelbrot sets and the Large Hadron Collider, that they'll see a human-sized one come along any minute now, and sure enough, they do.  It starts picking them off one by one, taking them away and torturing them, and leaving food out to lure the remaining human survivors out of hiding.  It ends with some straight-up tentacle rape and then the souls of the dead people are in the statues in the graveyard for some reason.

And if I know anything about the way anthologies are edited, that'll be the best story of the bunch.

Ready for the patented Derlethian italicized ending? I spent seven dollars on this book.
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« Reply #9 on: June 09, 2010, 03:32:05 PM »

And of course, after bashing the Cthulhu Mythos so violently, I'm now tempted to try writing some myself.  Call it malice. Or self-loathing.

I do wonder if I might be a bit more forgiving if they just replaced all the names from Lovecraft with new ones.  I know part of what grates me about these stories is the way many of them seem to fundamentally misunderstand and change an established world, so that the effect is really jarring and wrong.  I'm sure if you went through It and replaced all references to Pennywise with, say, Sauron, the whole thing would seem a lot more stupid.  Maybe some of the same thing is at play in my own rejection of modern CM fiction? I've enjoyed enough preposterous SyFy original movies and ill-conceived monster stories that I do feel like a bit of a hypocrite for calling out these writers on their bad plots and schlocky gimmicks.  Hell, I love schlock.  It isn't like me to criticize a slimy, sleazy monster story because it's got some stupid plot holes.  I eat that crap up in every other medium.

I can't help but suspect that I'm just getting hung up on the "C word."  Cthulhu doesn't lure you to your doom with sandwiches, but maybe G'brogafran the Sadistic does, and I might even like that story.  This will take some pondering.
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« Reply #10 on: June 09, 2010, 06:57:44 PM »

Oh please, please write that story! And describe the sandwiches in painstaking detail. They should be sinister sandwiches!
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« Reply #11 on: June 09, 2010, 07:18:05 PM »

The story already exists. It's called "The Walker in the Cemetery" by Ian Watson. Except in his story, the monster is supposed to be Cthulhu.
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« Reply #12 on: June 09, 2010, 07:54:52 PM »

Did he take the story seriously or was it a gag? If it's a serious story then the man needs to found and hurt.
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« Reply #13 on: June 09, 2010, 08:48:27 PM »

It was serious. See above about Cthulhu's Reign.  The characters in the story were holed up and starving, and a little man-sized avatar of Big C was luring them out with food.
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« Reply #14 on: June 09, 2010, 09:12:16 PM »

Undecided Tragic........I'm no good at organizing angry mobs, but I can provide a few pitchforks, a blowhorn, and four or five cans of used motor oil and old towels for torches. Do we know where this Watson fellow lives?
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