Saturday, March 31, 2018

Review: Heroes of Red Hook, edited by Brian M. Sammons & Oscar Rios

Though H. P. Lovecraft is a beloved writer of Weird horror, to say his writings had some problems with race is putting it mildly. Some fans say argue that he was simply a product of his time. Others say his bigotry went beyond the mainstream level of the era. Regardless of where one stands in this debate, the fact remains that racism is prevalent in many of Lovecraft’s works. While I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss his writing because of this unfortunate aspect, it needs to be acknowledged that its presence is hurtful and dehumanizing to some people.

Heroes of Red Hook is a response to one of Lovecraft’s more overtly racist stories, “The Horror At Red Hook”, where the diversity of peoples in this New York neighborhood are reduced to devil-worshipping, degenerate mongrel hordes. This anthology is not meant to bash Lovecraft and his stories, however. There is a clear appreciation and enthusiasm for the Mythos and the huge contribution Lovecraft made to horror and Weird fiction. These tales simply attempt to humanize and give voice to the marginalized in American society-People of Color, LGBT folk, immigrants, people with disabilities, etc.

Although this anthology was inspired by Lovecraft, few of the tales possess the cosmic, existential horror of the Old Man of Providence.  Most of them are pulp adventure, or at the very least adventurous horror in the vein of Titus Crow, Thomas Carnacki or the Call of Cthulhu RPG- which makes sense since the publisher, Golden Goblin Press, also creates adventure scenarios for that game Here the protagonists often triumph over- or at least temporarily stop- the supernatural horrors around them (though the non-supernatural societal horrors arrayed against them are another matter).

There are a lot of stories in this book and while it is great to see such a diversity of characters, the high volume does limit space, resulting in some works feeling rushed. Many a tale has a fantastic, detailed build-up, only to suddenly push the horrors onto the stage and run them past before the word count runs out. Still, I love the set-up for many of these and hope that at least a few authors will return to their creations in the future.

Here’s a run-down of the stories

A True Telling of the Terror That Came to Red Hook
by William Meikle

As the title says, this is a matter-of-fact retelling/exploration of what really happened in Lovecraft’s story. It concerns a black jazz musician and his Kurdish friend as they investigate that weird Suyden guy who keeps hanging around the local dancehalls and churches.

This story actually does a lot to clarify the original “Red Hook”, the ending of which is a confusing mish-mash of demonic imagery and purple prose that seems to be trying to imitate an Hieronymus Bosch painting.

Ivan and the Hunting Doll
by Mercedes M. Yardley

Ivan emigrated from Russia when he was just a boy and now struggles to survive as an adult in the East Side tenements of New York. One day he receives a gift- an eerie porcelain doll- from his grandmother who stayed behind in the Old Country. Naturally, the doll is more than just an inanimate toy. It is an artifact out of the old myths and fairy tales. Tales that often have a bright, pretty cover hiding dark things beneath.

A Gentleman of Darkness
by W. H. Pugmire

Alma is visiting her artist associate, Carl Pent, to discuss his bizarre dreams and frequent bouts of somnambulism. During her visit, she hears the otherworldly music of Pent’s quiet Egyptian neighbor and learns from him that scraps of darkness may still linger in Red Hook even when the larger horrors have been vanquished.

Hungry Ghosts
by Cody Goodfellow

Dr. Wing Ho is well-versed in matters strange and supernatural, which is why he’s called in to investigate a bizarre murder in San Francisco’s Chinatown. A man has apparently been teleported halfway through a wall in an old alley. What sort of being could have done this? Where did it go? And why do some of the bricks in the alley appear to be made of solid gold?

Tell Me No Lies
by Sam Stone
Adrienne’s lover, Sarah, has been murdered and she’ll do anything to find the killer. Her need for closure eventually leads her to a very unusual spirit medium in New Orleans.

O Friend and Companion of Night
by Vincent Kovar

There are supernatural forces in this story, but the true horror lurking here is the monstrous practice of gay conversion therapy.

This is, unfortunately, one of the tales that rushes through the end. Though the slow building dread that permeates the majority of the telling makes up for its too-quick ending. It would have worked well as a longer piece, or even a short novel.

Across A River of Stars
by Scott R. Jones

Brothers Aaron and Micah have been sent to the front lines of World War One, though they are not exactly eager to fight for the Canadian government that has tried so hard to snuff out their Cree heritage in the Mission schools. In war-torn France, they meet a man searching for something supernatural among the mud and ruins. A beast of hunger and cold from the Frozen North of their own home.

Old Time Religion
by Paula R Stiles

In the North Carolina State Archives, there is a short journal that belonged to a woman investigating local folk songs in the 1920s. Though her account is brief, it is clear she encountered something odd in the small town of Cherokee Holler. There’s a song known by all the townsfolk about a mysterious being names Judas Charlie, who a special hold on the community.

Men and Women
by Oscar Rios

One of my favorite stories.  John and Danni are investigators of the occult whose experiences have taught them how to see the mythos bubbling up through the cracks of mundane reality. Their latest case leads them to a small isolated community where every woman and girl over the age of 10 has inexplicably become pregnant at the same time as part of a rite for a certain Black Goat of the Woods.

The Eye of Infinity
by Sam Gafford

Two rival gangs of youths in 1920s New York must call a truce and work together to figure out who is stealing kids off their streets and why.

Lords of Karma
by Glynn Owen Barrass and Juliana Luartaroli

Lily Crawford has been having strange dreams ever since she came out of her years-long fugue with complete amnesia. She dreams of working at a huge table in a strange city, recording her life and all her knowledge for being she can’t clearly make out, but who she refers to as the Lords of Karma.
While an interesting variation on The Shadow Out of Time, this story has a tendency to focus way too much on setting. Long descriptions of buildings and hallways start to distract from the narrative of a young woman trying to figure out what happened to the missing parts of her life.

A Ghostly Detestable Pallor
by Penelope Love

Beatrice discovers the fate of her missing Zio Pietro when he returns to his shop transformed into a horrid, maggot-like monstrosity. After ending his torment, she follows a trail of clues to a cult of white supremacists attempting to use dark science experiments to eliminate the “undesirables” around them.

Crossing the Line
by Tom Lynch

Jack doesn’t feel like he fits in anywhere. Not with his father’s culture in New York’s Chinatown, nor with his white mother’s American relatives who look at him with disdain. The only people who accept him for who he is are those monks in green robes lead by Brother Eng. They seem kind and benevolent, but something about them just isn’t quite right...

The Guilt of Nikki Cotton
by Pete Rawlik

A mysterious disease is slowly spreading over the world, leaving its victims immobile and locked out from reality. There is no cure, only round-the-clock care in a special hospital ward.

Nikki Cotton has been assigned to one such ward, built in the back of a Red Hook theater to house the members of the troupe who have fallen victim to the epidemic. To break up the monotony of the ward, the owner has decorated the room with works of art. Including several busts made of an unearthly fungal white marble. Nikki finds the stone faces deeply unnerving, though she cannot say exactly why.

Brickwalk Mollies
by Christine Morgan

A story about prostitutes and their struggle against a certain “Doctor Jack” who has fled from London to prey on the women of Red Hook. This Ripper, however, is more than just a mortal man.

The Backward Man
by Tim Waggoner

Another one of my favorites. Jacob can’t help counting. Cars, pedestrians, flowers. Always in sets of fives. It’s the only way for him to keep his universe in order.  That becomes more than just a metaphor on the day Jacob sees a man walking backward down the street, his boneless mushroom-white fingers writhing like serpents. The Backwards Man is counting too. But his numbers are slowly unmaking reality, leaving cracks of void where order breaks down. And Jacob might be the only one who can do anything about it.

Beyond the Black Arcade
by Edward M. Erdelac

A fictional adventure in the life of Zora Neale Hurston,  investigator anthropologist and a major figure of the Harlem Renaissance- perhaps most well known for her novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God”. In this tale, Hurston’s exploration into Hoodoo (a variant of Voodoo practiced in Louisiana) leads her deep into the bayous where she comes across the remains of the site where Inspector LeGrasse fought cultists in “The Call of Cthulhu”.

This story also expands on the “black-winged things’ and “a forgotten pool where a white thing dwelt” briefly mentioned in Lovecraft’s original story.

Shadows Upon the Matanzas
by Lee Clark Zumpe

There’s a lot of plot in this one. Almost too much.  Ancient Incan emperors, secret societies, colonial Spanish ruins, investigative journalism. So much happening in such a short time that the tale feels like the summary of a full novel.  Not quite enough meat to the story. I actually enjoy the depth of detail, I just wish this could have been a longer story or a full-fledged book.

You can get a copy of Heroes of Red Hook at Golden Goblin Press' website.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Review: Dreams from a Black Nebula by Wade German

Wade German is a poet firmly anchored in the Weird tradition. His verses are steeped in the dark, macabre worlds of classic writers of the strange and eerie like H.P Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and Jack Vance.

You really need to get into a certain mindset to fully appreciate these poems. Read them at night in a quiet place, perhaps by the light of a nightstand lamp or a few flickering candles- real or LED. Let each word expand its full imagery. Let yourself be drawn into the glimpses of strange dimensions that German highlights in brief chiaroscuro of verse before taking you through the dark spaces to a new alien landscape.

 Even the section titles demand careful consideration to unlock the nuances hidden in their words. How can one not be at least a little enthralled by titles like “Phantasmagorical Realms”, “Hypnogogic Terrain, or “Songs from the Nameless Hermitage”?

German’s style is not for everyone, of course. I often had to stop mid-poem to look up some odd, obscure word- an effort that would likely turn off a casual reader.  Several of the poems use an odd device where a sentence from one stanza will repeat somewhere in the next one. I found this technique rather distracting and a little gimmicky after a while. Though I fully admit that I don’t know a whole lot about poetry, and have no doubt that there’s a very deliberate reason for this technique that would be enjoyable for someone who actually understood.

Because of these idiosyncrasies, it’s easy to simply skim over German’s poems as if you were watching scenery flash by outside your car window on a long trip. But it is definitely worth pulling to a stop on the side of the road, stepping outside in the cool of dusk and letting German unveil the haunted, galaxies in the sky above you.

You can get a copy of Dreams from a Black Nebula from Hippocampus Press