The second volume of The Secret books of Paradys is more of the same high-Gothic, colourful, arcane, mysterious fiction as the Book of the Damned, butThe second volume of The Secret books of Paradys is more of the same high-Gothic, colourful, arcane, mysterious fiction as the Book of the Damned, but more of a piece, the tales tied together more directly into a consistent single story....more
A very nice story from Mr G, in which he manages to inject humour into a Cthulhu tale without making it too twee. Very light hearted, but with just aA very nice story from Mr G, in which he manages to inject humour into a Cthulhu tale without making it too twee. Very light hearted, but with just a soupcon of overwhelming existential dread, helped on both counts by the many Mythos references, both overt and more subtle....more
Neil Gaiman really is a magician. The worlds he constructs within his tales are so vivid and magical, and also relatable; he will slip in a sentence tNeil Gaiman really is a magician. The worlds he constructs within his tales are so vivid and magical, and also relatable; he will slip in a sentence that adds a whole new layer to the reader's understanding of the events without taking them out of the story. He, somehow, manages to combine the mythic and the personal.
This brief story showcases those skills admirably, as a young (unpublished) writer talks with his young charge about the type of bedtime story the latter would like to be told - a scary story, scary enough to be interesting but not to keep him awake - that turns into the boy telling him about a monster that he has, of course, made up......more
It is rare that collections are not a mix of quality, all but the very best having a few misfires. This is quite the opposite, a generally low standarIt is rare that collections are not a mix of quality, all but the very best having a few misfires. This is quite the opposite, a generally low standard of fiction with a couple of stand-out good stories, no great ones, and a few that are quite painfully bad. Often, the stories were just not very interesting, and reading to the end of even these short works often a slog. It must be said, I got the distinct impression that part of the issue was in the editing; several of the stories seemed to contain clumsy sentences or word usage of the sort that I'd have though an editor - or even a proofreader - would have picked up on.
Cthulhu Mythos stories are quite difficult to do well, having to get the right balance of weirdness and cosmic terror and hopeless dread, and the proliferation of Lovecraftian works due to ever increasingly popularity over the last few years suggests an even greater preponderance of tripe than the general run of fiction. Sadly, this volume does nothing to dispel that. One of the pleasures of a short fiction collection is finding authors to seek out in the future, but there are only a couple from this who I would even consider seeking out, and some that would actively put me off should I see them included in an anthology....more
Reviewing a roleplaying game (RPG) book is quite different than reviewing a fiction or non-fiction book; they are still storybooks in a way, but alsoReviewing a roleplaying game (RPG) book is quite different than reviewing a fiction or non-fiction book; they are still storybooks in a way, but also instruction manuals, rule books, reference tomes and guidebooks to the setting - the world in which the game takes place. It would be unusual to read it cover to cover, you would tend to read sections some several times and dip into others, returning later for reference. The criteria by which they are judged is, therefore, quite unique.
World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour is a primary setting guide for a pre-existing game. Call of Cthulhu is a bona fide classic of the genre, one of the first games to move roleplaying away from the hack n slash of Dungeons and Dragons and its ilk into a more investigative, thinky, character-driven milieu. It is based of the Cthulhu Mythos writings (primarily by H.P. Lovecraft, but expanded by others) and I don't think it's any coincidence that it is since that games' 1981 launch that Lovecraft's work has been rediscovered by an ever wider audience.
The primary setting for the original Call of Cthulhu is, as with Lovecraft's stories, New England in the 1920s (with adventures in exotic places such as Antarctica and the Amazon), though the horrors can be transplanted to any era or locale, and there are many supplemental books that do so. World War Cthulhu, as you can probably guess, is a guide for adventures in World War II, and is excellently done. As well as their standard military roles (for the Allied forces, naturally) the characters are agents for a shadowy civil servant who tasks them with investigating potential extra-dimensional spookiness - at the same time as having to survive the very real horror of the bloodiest conflict in the history of humanity.
As such, the game can be run leaning either way; classic Cthulhu-style, using the war as a backdrop, or primarily focusing on the war itself with occasional added horror (imagine some other terror invading the trenches, like the zombies in the movie Deathwatch) or some mixture of the two.
As a supplement to Call of Cthulhu, this is excellent. There is lots of great background on the various intelligence agencies (there is, understandably, a push to make the characters intelligence operatives rather than straightforward soldiers, as investigation - often behind enemy lines is such a large part of the game) and great short summaries of the theatres across war-torn Europe and North Africa.; general information on the status of various countries as well at least three or four adventure ideas for each as well as a list of "Fortean events" through out the period for extra inspiration. There are, of course, equipment guides (description and statistics for a wide range of WWII weapons, prices for both legal and black market goods, etc), background on some historical figures and how they might be connected (Ian Fleming, Dennis Wheatley, Kim Philby, Aleister Crowley, and others) and, of course, an update of the Dark, Lamentable Catalogue - a guide the Elder Gods and other entities, as well as various Earthly factions and cults. As is now usual, the book ends with a fully fledged adventure to get you going - although extra supplements, including adventures, have already begun to appear. i have not yet run this adventure, entitled The God in the Woods, as I have a couple of my devising to get the group into the swing of things, but it's always good to have one as back up and it looks to be a good one.
The book is very well put together - a solid, attractive hardback (build quality is a consideration for RPG books, as they will get a lot of handling while using for reference) with a good contents page and index, something that many RPGs still lack, an unforgivable omission for any sort of reference book - with good artwork and layout, double columned throughout with good placement of tables and highlighted boxes for important text and examples (again, the number of game books where a table turns up many pages away from the section to which it refers is quite astounding. There is an old joke that RPG designers have an excellent vocabulary that unfortunately doesn't include the word 'proofreader'). The writing itself is solid and, importantly, clear.
This book is produced by a company called Cubicle 7, from whom I have bought quite a few books in the past (they produce the utterly superb Laundry Files RPG, based on Charles Stross' wonderful books) and they have quickly gained a reputation for quality and attention to detail. There's always a good amount of free downloadable content on the website (character sheets, tables and even adventures) and I can personally vouch for their superb customer service; when you buy the physical book you get a PDF as well and they one time I had to chase up the link I received an immediate response.
A great advantage to this setting, of course, is the vast amount of material available online. I have researched locales and buildings (I needed a ruined castle in Poland for my adventure) along with timelines of the war to plan my campaign and the location of adventures.
4.5 stars, highly recommended for your insanity inducing, squamous horror laden, world changing conflict pleasure....more
Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy is remarkable. From the start it is a uniquely creepy experience or existential horror, written in a way thatJeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy is remarkable. From the start it is a uniquely creepy experience or existential horror, written in a way that unsettles - and occasionally terrifies - the reader, drawing us in to this exploration of a region which has, somehow, been separated from the rest of the world by forces unknown, and possibly unknowable. However, if you ask what it is about, I would squirm like an aesthete; that is much harder to pin down - and this is, in truth, part of the mythic power of the books. Th story might be about memory and growth, about the places we start from and where we end up, the choices we make along the way; about environmentalism and the pointless, unwinnable and self-destructive war humanity is waging against nature; about the ultimate unknowableness of the cold, uncaring universe. About the human need to to fight against the inevitability of annihilation and ever present authority and to come to an acceptance of what is.
In the first novel the 12th expedition into Area X have no names, having been reduced to their roles of Biologist, Psychologist, Linguist, etc, in what seems to be a (futile) effort to rob them of their identities to 'protect' them from the effects of this strange land, although it turns out to be not the least help as the initial strangeness eats away at them and this quickly ramps up to a horror that is bizarre and unimaginable while being somehow deeply personal. Annihilation defies understanding and is all the more terrifying for it.
The following volumes expand both the background and subsequent events and also ground the goings on; whilst in the first book we had no idea when or where this took place, we now see this is some version of the US and, outside of Area X, the characters have names and lives and histories. While we lose an uncertainty and universality in this, this allows VanderMeer to build real character and expand the scope of the mystery of what IS Area X.
I have only given Acceptance 4 out of 5, although the trilogy as a whole is definitely a 5. I think that the whole should, perhaps, be read as a single book to allow the connections throughout the story to work, for each part to build upon the other, although I doubt that any firm conclusion is possible, which is part of the strength of these books. They will stay with you and unsettle you long after you turn the last page....more
This is a difficult book to rate. As my earlier updates suggest, I started of very much liking it (although 'liking' may not be the right word, givenThis is a difficult book to rate. As my earlier updates suggest, I started of very much liking it (although 'liking' may not be the right word, given the thoroughly unsettling nature of the stories). The opening story was utterly superb, and the quality continued through the next couple of sections - the book is broken into short collections of themed stories, the tales in each related to a greater or lesser extent - but, toward the end, I was beginning to find a sameness to the writing rather wearing.
The early sections are superb. Derangements is thoroughly surreal and creepy, with The Town Manager in particular having a circular element that reminded me an especially good, odd Twilight Zone. The tales in Defamations deal with a corporate horror, a weirdly Kafka-esque world where yu are utterly controlled by your employment which seeks only productivity and drains all other motivation from life. It made me think of Robert Chambers but in a pointedly modern, industrial setting.
It was the Teatro Grottesco stories themselves, forming the final section, that for me spoiled the collection. A sense that had been building from some of the previous stories that the narrative voices - always first person - were too similar too each other, all of a somewhat pompous, overly-wordy circumlocution that made me think of 19th century literature, did become a problem. ~The stories themselves I found less interesting, the ordinary people of the earlier stories replaced by bohemian artistic types further making the stories feel more dated and less relevant. The stories seemed rather pointless - in the way that some weaker Lovecraftian horror is, where rather than the feeling of hopelessness there is a sense of "huh?" - although the denouement of the final story did reverse this with a growing crescendo of dread and a final burst - or perhaps seep would be a better word - of existential terror....more
A very mixed bag, this issue contains some excellent horror fiction and the others, while not duds, were of the sort of horror/weird fiction3.5 stars
A very mixed bag, this issue contains some excellent horror fiction and the others, while not duds, were of the sort of horror/weird fiction that didn't engage me.
Scarecrow, Alyssa Wong
A truly creepy and scary tale of transformation, loss and guilt. Weird, but weird with a point and not just for the sake of it.
Goat Eyes, David D. Levine
An excellent modern-day vampire tale - no romance or sparkles, but a truly engaging tale of violence and its residue, along with the harmful effects of fear and hatred and stereotyping
December Skin, Kristi DeMeester
An affecting tale, again of transformation and violence, and of fraternal love
The Bury Line, Stephen Hargadon
The second story I've read from Hargadon (the first being a couple of issues previously), he writes about ordinary, modern life with an odd, dark, almost Tales of the Unexpected twist. The Bury Line is about the slow death of wage-slavery and a faster alternative.
Be Light, Be Pure, Be Close To Heaven, Sara Saab
A good, affecting story about a religion that makes strange, personal sacrifices. I think it's saying something about the mutilating effect of religion.
What Happened to Marly and Lanna, Noah Wareness
Patrimony, Matthew Cheney
Both of these tales fell short, for me. They each had a mix of weirdness and ambiguity and symbolism that didn't hang together. WHtMaL is laden with symbolism, a story of childhood illness (possibly?) with a nod toward Stephen King's Pet Sematary and an unsettling ambiguity. Patrimony is a downright nasty little tale of post-apocalyptic rape and a Furey-like revenge. The closing paragraph, I think, tries to go for menace and ambiguity but just comes off as lazy....more
A superb story in Charlie Stross' Laundry series. Genuinely horrific - both gorily and existentially - with more references than you can shake a stickA superb story in Charlie Stross' Laundry series. Genuinely horrific - both gorily and existentially - with more references than you can shake a stick at and some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments....more
The first of Tanith Lee's "The Secret Books of Paradys" features three tales set in a shadow version of Paris across a span of several centuries; whilThe first of Tanith Lee's "The Secret Books of Paradys" features three tales set in a shadow version of Paris across a span of several centuries; while no dates are referenced, the settings appear (by the furniture and references) to be post-revolution, early Renaissance and late 19th century respectively.
The prose is dense and rich (short of purple, but it did take me a few pages to adjust from the sparer writing I've grown used to), and the style in each section subtly different reflecting its era. As usual, Tanith Lee is firmly Gothic - both in the tradition of Radcliffe, Lewis, Poe and Chambers - as well as the fact is feels as though it should be accompanied music from the Sisters of Mercy and All About Eve.
The first-person narrators and supporting cast are those on the fringes of society - Stained in Crimson is told by a louche left-bank poet who stumbles into a game with a mysterious brother and sister, which may have been fated; in Malice in Saffron a country girl running from abuse by her step-father joins both a nunnery and street-gang, her double life allowing her to exact vengeance on those who have harmed her and wider society; and in Empires of Azure a journalist is pulled into the web of connections between a female impersonator and ancient magic.
This gender fluidity is, in fact, central to each of the tales, manifesting as either literal transformation or subterfuge. Likewise, the gender power relationships often flip unexpectedly - literary tropes of direct action by men and manipulation by women are introduced and reversed. Rape makes an uncomfortably frequent appearance, although it is not confined to female characters.
It must be said that few of the characters beyond the central ones are drawn as more than sketches, but this suits the mythic quality of the stories and is not really a weakness. The first two parts, Crimson and Saffron, are truly excellent, affecting tales, although Azure felt to me somehow unfinished; the writing felt rather less polished and the construction lacking, while the ending somewhat pointless, otherwise The Book of the Damned may well have been a five star book....more