Forrest's Reviews > The Children of Gla'aki: A Tribute to Ramsey Campbell's Great Old One

The Children of Gla'aki by Brian M. Sammons
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When I began this book, I took the following note: "On a bit of a Lovecraftian kick, but it will soon pass. I won't say I'm burning out on it, but I'm . . . more wary than I was in the past."

After reading this volume, maybe I'm leaning more toward the burnout stage. A few stories herein have kept me from the brink of just saying "Quatsch" to everything with the descriptor of "Lovecraftian". But there was a fair amount of dreck. On average, was it worth reading? Yes. The really great stories in here are really great. Perhaps you need the bad to highlight the good, like a diamond atop mud. But having to clean off all the muck is getting old. Perhaps I had high hopes, because I enjoyed Ramsey Campbell's The Inhabitant of the Lake & Other Unwelcome Tenants, despite his self-reproachment for the immaturity of some of the stories. Maybe that's the problem - writers taking cues from an unstable source. Some of these writers were able to fashion gems, others cheap baubles, still others, broken, useless shards.

Nick Mamatas's "Country Mouse, City Mouse" was, as I expect from Mamatas, well-written and dipped its toes in explorations of tolerance and diversity. It expands the "universe" of Campbell's work by extending its reach. But I didn't find it all that horrific, outside of the fatalism expressed at the end. Three stars to this tale.

John Goodrich's "Tribute Band" isn't the sort of story I normally like. But what should have been a hackneyed story of rock and roll gone wrong was actually really enjoyable. It's a little "cute" and somewhat predictable, but the voice is distinctive and likable. The balance between folksy structure and challenging vocabulary is excellent. I just plain found myself drawn in. Three stars. Better than I would have guessed!

Robert M. Price's "In Search of Lake Monsters" is as pulpy as they come, with all the trappings one would expect. Then again, it had all the trappings one would expect . . . Still, I enjoyed it a lot. Four stars full of guilty pleasure. Sometimes you just can't really explain why you like a story, you just do. That's the case here.

While Pete Rawlik's "The Collection of Gibson Flynn" has an intriguing twist ending, the buildup paid so much homage to Lovecraftiana that it read like one giant inside joke, a pastiche of itself, mythos masturbation. The ending saves it from the realms of hackneyed mediocrity, but only just. Three stars, barely.

Outside of the intriguing title, W. H. Pugmire's "The Secret Painting of Thomas Cartwright" was uninspired and not nearly as intriguing as the title. Two forgetful stars.

Edward Morri's"I Want to Break Free" is a lesson in tension: the push me, pull me between cosmic forces and self-will, the intestines of genius and insanity, even the fence-hopping from pop culture references to literary stylistics. This story has VOICE. Punch. Chutzpah. Up to this point, the best story in the anthology, and it's not even close. I want to read more Morris! Five stars.

I'm admittedly out of touch with the weird fiction world. So this was the first Scott R. Jones story I've ever read. I am impressed. "The Spike" is a deep exploration of the alien-ness of, not Gla'aki, but a piece of Gla'aki. It's like Roadside Picnic but with the horror turned up to eleven. The writing is sparse, punchy, yet descriptive. Five stars.

I am certain that Thana Niveau must have better work than "The Dawning of His Dreams," given her publication history. This . . . I don't know what to call it, a story, I guess, did absolutely nothing for me. It's a hot mess. As an editor, I would likely throw this thing across the room. One star, because it was written. That's the best I can do.

William Meikle's "The Lakeside Cottages" featured a narrator that was too clever and self-aware by half. It read like a Call of Cthulhu session with a narrator who seemed to possess great knowledge of the Old Ones, which might be great for a recurring character, like an occult investigator, but didn't work in this one shot. Still, okay. Three stars for the three eyes of Gla'aki.

I have high expectations for Orrin Grey's fiction, and "Invaders of Glaaki" didn't disappoint. Yes, I'm a sucker for '80s nostalgia, and this story is full of it. But it takes things in a horrific direction. Imagine The Last Starfighter meets cosmic horror. I am not a big fan of second-person viewpoint, but it kind of worked for the story. I enjoyed this. Four stars.

Sorry, but Tom Lynch's "Scion of Chaahk" is a Campbell pastiche while Campbell is pastiching Lovecraft. I . . . just . . . can't . . . Maybe I'm just done with pulpy mythos fiction? Two stars.

Konstantine Paradias' "Cult of Panacea" is everything that Niveau's earlier story could have been. Yes, it's a history, but its presentation in the context of the story makes sense and forms a bleak, resigned picture of what it means to be a cultist of Gla'aki in the far-future wake of Earth's decrepitude and demise. It's rare to find a science fiction horror piece like this. It held my interest well. Four stars.

I think it's time to admit to myself that I do NOT like mythos pastiches, especially those that are trying to be funny, but are not very funny. Josh Reynolds' "Squatters Rights" just hit all the wrong buttons for me. I'm becoming leery of these Cosmic Horror Mythos-inspired anthologies. I'll finish this one. There have been some great stories here. But not this one. Two stars and my tastes are a-changin'.

Lee Clark Zumpe shows considerable writing skill through most of "Beneath Cayuga's Churning Waves," then ends flat. The ending was a disappointing deus-ex-machina, which could have been the ending to just about any detective thriller. It was as generic an ending as I could think of, like something right out of a "You Too Can Write Detective Stories" formula book. The story is still worthy of four stars, but the ending felt so tacked on that it doesn't deserve a fifth.

Despite a number of poor stories in here, some shine. Tim Waggoner's "Nature of Water" is one such. Simultaneously flipping the horror on its head and embracing it, this is a tale of horrific redemption. What could have easily been revenge schlock, Waggoner turns into an emotionally meaningful, yet terrifying end, deftly avoiding the obvious. Wonderfully written and full of pathos, I loved this story. Five stars.

That's three reality-show stories now. I'm tired of them. This one, "Night of the Hopfrog" by Tim Curran, claims to be the raw transcript of video for a ghost-hunter style show. But then where is all the parenthetical notation coming from? Who wrote these notes? The story would be more effective without them actually. Even then, with proper editing, I would only give it two stars. I never liked reality TV anyway.

The fiction ends on a strong note with John Langan's "Mirror Fishing," which subsumes Gla'aki in folk tradition that blooms into cosmic horror. The characters are wonderfully complex, from the young Pat to his tutor in the ways of Auld Glaikit, Lisa. The descent into the depths of Gla'aki's fractal-dimensional realm is amazing, and the folksy conceit refreshing. I enjoy those tales where human folk conception maps onto true cosmic horror in a sort of cargo-cult worship of those things that we cannot understand. This is a story that will stick with me for a while. Five stars.

Mathematically, I'm coming in at an average just above three stars. I'm rounding down to an even three, which seems about right. On average, The Children of Gla'aki is . . . average (despite the high praise Campbell heaps on ALL the stories in his afterword). The heights are really high: There are a few truly amazing stories in here. But the depths . . . well, Gla'aki himself will be well fed by some of these stories sinking to the bottom of the lake. I suppose some of the danger in editing such an anthology is that, in order to fill a word count and get readers, you might take a few pedestrian stories from "name" writers. I've never hewed to that philosophy myself, when editing. I only take the stories I love. If they happen to be "name" authors, that's helpful. But I also love giving the underdogs a chance. You have to start somewhere, right? Maybe at the bottom of the lake.
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Reading Progress

August 10, 2017 – Shelved
August 10, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
June 7, 2018 – Started Reading
June 7, 2018 –
page 9
3.06% "On a bit of a Lovecraftian kick, but it will soon pass. I won't say I'm burning out on it, but I'm . . . more wary than I was in the past."
June 7, 2018 –
page 41
13.95% "I've already read and given my thoughts on "The Inhabitant of the Lake" in my review of the book of the same name, so I'm foregoing a rehash."
June 7, 2018 –
page 50
17.01% "Nick Mamatas's "Country Mouse, City Mouse" was, as I expect from Mamatas, well-written and dipped its toes in explorations of tolerance and diversity. It expands the "universe" of Campbell's work by extending its reach. But I didn't find it all that horrific, outside of the fatalism expressed at the end Three stars to this tale."
June 10, 2018 –
page 69
23.47% "John Goodrich's "Tribute Band" isnt the sort of story I normally like. But what should have been a hackneyed story of rock and roll gone wrong was really enjoyable. It's a little "cute" and somewhat predictable, but the voice is distinctive and likable. The balance between folksy structure and challenging vocabulary is excellent. I just plain found myself drawn in. Four stars. Better than I would have guessed!"
June 11, 2018 –
page 78
26.53% "Robert M. Price's "In Search of Lake Monsters" is as pulpy as they come, with all the trappings one would expect. Then again, it had all the trappings one would expect . . . Still, I enjoyed it a lot. Four stars full of guilty pleasure."
June 13, 2018 –
page 93
31.63% "While Pete Rawlik's "The Collection of Gibson Flynn" has an intriguing twist ending, the buildup paid so much homage to Lovecraftiana that it read like one giant inside joke, a pastiche of itself, mythos masturbation. The ending saves it from the realms of hackneyed mediocrity, but only just. Three stars, barely."
June 15, 2018 –
page 99
33.67% "Outside of the intriguing title, W. H. Pugmire's "The Secret Painting of Thomas Cartwright" was uninspired and not nearly as intriguing as the title. Two forgetful stars."
June 17, 2018 –
page 110
37.41% "Edward Morri's"I Want to Break Free" is a lesson in tension: the push me, pull me between cosmic forces and self-will, the intestines of genius and insanity, even the fence-hopping from pop culture references to literary stylistics. This story has VOICE. So far, it is the best story in the anthology, and it's not even close. I want to read more Morris! Five stars."
June 25, 2018 –
page 128
43.54% "I'm admittedly out of touch with the weird fiction world. So this was the first Scott R. Jones story I've ever read. I am impressed. "The Spike" is a deep exploration of the alien-ness of, not Gla'aki, but a piece of Gla'aki. It's like Roadside Picnic but with the horror turned up to eleven. The writing is sparse, punchy, yet descriptive.5*"
June 26, 2018 –
page 137
46.6% "I am certain that Thana Niveau must have better work than "The Dawning of His Dreams," given her publication history. This . . . I don't know what to call it, a story, I guess, did absolutely nothing for me. It's a hot mess. As an editor, I would likely throw this thing across the room. One star, because it was written. That's the best I can do."
June 26, 2018 –
page 154
52.38% "William Meikle's "The Lakeside Cottages" featured a narrator that was too clever and self-aware by half. It read like a Call of Cthulhu session with a narrator who seemed to possess great knowledge of the Old Ones, which might be great for a recurring character, like an occult investigator, but didn't work in this one shot. Still, okay. Three stars for the three eyes of Gla'aki."
June 27, 2018 –
page 163
55.44% "I have high expectations for Orrin Grey's fiction, and "Invaders of Glaaki" didn't disappoint. Yes, I'm a sucker for '80s nostalgia, and this story is full of it. But it takes things in a horrific direction. Imagine The Last Starfighter meets cosmic horror. I am not a big fan of second-person viewpoint, but it kind of worked for the story. I enjoyed this. 4 stars."
June 28, 2018 –
page 178
60.54% "Sorry, but Tom Lynch's "Scion of Chaahk" is a Campbell pastiche while Campbell is pastiching Lovecraft. I . . . just . . . can't . . . Maybe I'm just done with pulpy mythos fiction? Two stars."
June 30, 2018 –
page 188
63.95% "Konstantine Paradias' "Cult of Panacea" is everything that Niveau's earlier story could have been. Yes, it's a history, but its presentation in the context of the story makes sense and forms a bleak, resigned picture of what it means to be a cultist of Gla'aki in the far-future wake of Earth's decrepitude and demise. It's rare to find a science fiction horror piece like this. It held my interest well. Four stars."
June 30, 2018 –
page 201
68.37% "I think it's time to admit to myself that I do NOT like mythos pastiches, especially those that are trying to be funny, but are not very funny. Josh Reynolds' "Squatters Rights" just hit all the wrong buttons for me. I'm becoming leery of these Cosmic Horror Mythos-inspired anthologies. I'll finish this one. There have been some great stories here. But not this one. Two stars and my tastes are a-changin'."
July 2, 2018 –
page 218
74.15% "Lee Clark Zumpe shows considerable writing skill through most of "Beneath Cayuga's Churning Waves," then ends flat. The ending was a disappointing deus-ex-machina, which could have been the ending to just about any detective thriller. The story is still worthy of four stars, but the ending felt so tacked on that it doesn't deserve a fifth."
July 3, 2018 –
page 232
78.91% "Despite a number of poor stories in here, some shine. Tim Waggoner's "Nature of Water" is one such. Simultaneously flipping the horror on its head and embracing it, this is a tale of horrific redemption. What could have easily been revenge schlock, Waggoner turns into an emotionally meaningful, yet terrifying end, deftly avoiding the obvious. Wonderfully written and full of pathos, I loved this story. Five stars."
July 3, 2018 –
page 255
86.73% "That's three reality-show stories now. I'm tired of them. This one, "Night of the Hopfrog" by Tim Curran, claims to be the raw transcript of video for a ghost-hunter style show. But then where is all the parenthetical notation coming from? The story is more effective without it actually. Even then, with proper editing, I would only give it two stars. I never liked reality TV anyway."
July 4, 2018 –
page 279
94.9% "The fiction ends on a strong note with John Langan's "Mirror Fishing," which subsumes Gla'aki in folk tradition that blooms into cosmic horror. The characters are wonderfully complex, from the young Pat to his tutor in the ways of Auld Glaikit, Lisa. The descent into the depths of Gla'aki's fractal-dimensional realm is amazing, and the folksy conceit refreshing. This is a story that will stick with me for a while. 5*"
July 4, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

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message 1: by Donna (new)

Donna I gave up on mythos pastiche (and honestly, most pastiche in general) over a decade ago, and I think my reading life has been the better for it. There are definitely some gems in that pile, but I got tired of mining my way through the rest of it to reach them.

Too many mythos stories wind up feeling a little empty, like they're being written for the market rather than as any kind of genuine expression. Which, now that I think about it, is the same reason I've mostly dropped novel-length written horror.


Forrest Donna wrote: "I gave up on mythos pastiche (and honestly, most pastiche in general) over a decade ago, and I think my reading life has been the better for it. There are definitely some gems in that pile, but I g..."

I agree with you on all accounts. It's too bad that so much dreck keeps getting published. The horror genre has been really insular for a long time. The same people publishing the same people.


message 3: by Wastrel (new)

Wastrel [subtle self-advertising there!]

I think the problem with any mythos - Old Ones, Batman, Odysseus, whatever - is that it foists upon the author a sort of co-authorship, and many authors lack the confidence to deal with that. Faced with the burden of the dead (and/or collective) hand's authority, they tend to resort either to deferential imitation, or blustering, deflecting pastiche (you can't commit heresy if you're only joking).

Mythos stories only work in my opinion - and very limited experience - when the author really asserts ownership of their own story, and makes the story follow their own purposes, not that of their ghostly collaborator. Sometimes that means writing a story that only hints in the direction of the mythos while really being about something else; other times, it takes the mythos on full-bore, but is willing to commandeer it for a new purpose. Otherwise, as Donna says, the result is empty - just a writer going through the motions, ticking the boxes of the subgenre.
[to be fair, that is sort of appropriate. Lovecraft, after all, often feels in his less inspired stories as though he's just going through the motions, noneuclidean geometry tick, madman tick, unaussprechliche kulten tick, arkham tick, folk traditions tick, inbreeding and scarily non-european people tick, etc. Some of his best stories are where he's less Lovecraftian - I'll take The Colour Out Of Space over Cthulhu any day]

If nothing else, too faithful an imitation removes the whole point of lovecraftian 'horror' - the horror! Lovecraft relies on that sensation that he's taking the ground away from under you, unexpectedly exposing an unnerving chasm of darkness below. When it works, it's a magic trick. But over-faithful 'mythos' work is like a magician explaining the trick in detail before she starts - on the adverts for the show. We know where we're going to end up. We know the machinery that's going to get us to that point. So it's hard to surprise, and without surprise it's hard to shock or unnerve, or horrify. To put it bluntly: if we start out in a horrifying world, nothing the author can do can horrify us any further.

The most effectively lovecraftian stories, I should imagine, are those that don't advertise - those that give us a comfortable world, and don't warn us how they're going to tear it away.


Forrest Wastrel wrote: "[subtle self-advertising there!]

I think the problem with any mythos - Old Ones, Batman, Odysseus, whatever - is that it foists upon the author a sort of co-authorship, and many authors lack the c..."


Yes, an excellent analysis of the problem. I think that part of that confidence is a string voice, the author's own syntactical stamp set via word choice and sentence structure. A weak voice puts one at the mercy of the ancestors, so to speak.

And I agree, give me The Colour Out Of Space over most of Lovecraft's work. I do, however, have a soft spot for The Whisperer in Darkness, which took my breath away the first time I read it.


message 5: by Wastrel (new)

Wastrel Ha! Coincidentally, that's my other favourite of his stories! (though I haven't read them all yet, particularly a couple of the novellas).

On the one hand, Whisperer is in some ways a subversion of his usual approach; on the other hand, he actually did the opposite of what I suggested... In Whisperer, rather than being "dum-de-dum-de-AARGH!-NECRONOMICON-THINGSTHATMANWASNEVERMEANTTOWOTOF!!!", the narrator actually knows a lot about the mythos before the story starts, or at least has heard of it. Which in addition to being a change also allows Lovecraft to avoid one of his biggest problems: the way he's constantly trying to hit peak horror at the same time as he's having to do way too much infodumping, because he's tried to maximise the shock by maintaining the mystery until the last moment. Whisperer instead gets a lot of the mythos-building out of the way relatively early on, so that the horrifying twist is actually in the plot, not in the backstory...

...which you know, because you've read it too. Sorry, thinking out loud to myself there!


On your first point: yes, it's a tricky one. Lovecraft's prose style is so closely attached to his atmosphere that writer find it hard to avoid it - and indeed, it's hard to avoid the style while keeping the content without the result sounding like a parody (one song to the tune of another, as the old radio game goes...)

On the other hand, Lovecraft's prose style is awful. Even Lovecraft only really gets away with it half the time, and only because readers are willing to put up with some inelegant paragraphs for a few gems of sentences now and then. Writers who follow him don't just look imitative - because it's obvious when you're writing like Lovecraft, and because he's so individual that nobody can quite copy him - they also often just can't do it. Because writing like that well is so hard, and it doesn't come naturally to most modern writers. So they end up stranded halfway between HP and contemporary.

I do think that you can write a mythos story in Lovecraftspeak, or something like it - perhaps the best mythos stories would be written that way. But I don't think there are many writers who could do it. Again, they'd need to be able to master that voice and make it their own, rather than sounding like imitators.

...and now, for something really weird, having said that, I can't help wanting a Lovecraft Mythos story written by Oscar Wilde... On the face of it it sounds absurd - parody, given Wilde's superficial style in his plays, and his deflationary approach to the supernatural. But actually, if you read his poetry and his prose poems and his fairy tales, I think Wilde was one of the few authors who really did have a sufficient grasp of baroque, decadent prose style to actually be able to write like Lovecraft if he'd wanted to...


message 6: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Wastrel wrote: "...and now, for something really weird, having said that, I can't help wanting a Lovecraft Mythos story written by Oscar Wilde..."

Someone who liked both authors enough could write something in this vein. Maybe even with Wilde as a character? That might be over the top...

just saying "Quatsch" to everything with the descriptor of "Lovecraftian".

But there's a new Emrys this year!


Forrest Wastrel wrote: "Ha! Coincidentally, that's my other favourite of his stories! (though I haven't read them all yet, particularly a couple of the novellas).

On the one hand, Whisperer is in some ways a subversion o..."


Totally agree on Oscar Wilde. He should have done a play about it!


Forrest Miriam wrote: "Wastrel wrote: "...and now, for something really weird, having said that, I can't help wanting a Lovecraft Mythos story written by Oscar Wilde..."

Someone who liked both authors enough could write..."


I haven't read Emrys yet. And, I should be clear, I loved Laird Barron's X's for Eyes, which was a Lovecraft . . . well, not pastiche, per se. More of a subtle mockery and homage at the same time. But then, Barron had a strong voice in that novel(la) that I loved.


message 9: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Emrys is Lovecraftian in content, but not really in prose style.
I recommend trying this free short to see if she appeals to you.
https://www.tor.com/2016/05/24/reprin...


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