Black wings of cthulhu v.., p.1
Black Wings of Cthulhu, Volume 5, page 1
Also Edited By S. T. Joshi:
S. T. Joshi
Plenty of Irem
Diary of a Sane Man
The Woman in the Attic
Robert H. Waugh
Far from Any Shore
Caitlín R. Kiernan
In Blackness Etched, My Name
W. H. Pugmire
The Walker in the Night
Jason C. Eckhardt
The Black Abbess
Mollie L. Burleson
A Question of Blood
Mark Howard Jones
The Organ of Chaos
Seed of the Gods
Donald R. Burleson
Sunni K Brock
The Red Witch of Chorazin
About the Editor
Also Available from Titan Books
BLACK WINGS OF CTHULHU 5
ALSO EDITED BY S. T. JOSHI:
Black Wings of Cthulhu
Black Wings of Cthulhu 2
Black Wings of Cthulhu 3
Black Wings of Cthulhu 4
Black Wings of Cthulhu 6 (October 2018)
The Madness of Cthulhu
The Madness of Cthulhu 2
OF CTHULHU 5
TWENTY NEW TALES OF
EDITED BY S. T. JOSHI
Black Wings of Cthulhu 5
Print edition ISBN: 9781785656910
Electronic edition ISBN: 9781785656927
Published by Titan Books
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First Titan edition: January 2018
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Previously published in May 2016 by PS Publishing Ltd. by arrangement with the authors. All rights reserved by the authors. The rights of each contributor to be identified as Author of their Work have been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Copyright © 2016, 2018 by the individual contributors.
Introduction Copyright © 2016, 2018 by S. T. Joshi
Cover Art Copyright © 2018 by Gregory Nemec
With thanks to PS Publishing
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BLACK WINGS OF CTHULHU 5
H. P. LOVECRAFT HAS LEFT SUCH AN IMMENSE PAPER trail—stories, essays, poems, and thousands of letters—that it seems as if every aspect of his life, work, and thought is visible for all to see. But even in the most exhaustively chronicled life there remain elements of mystery—gaps and lacunae that later writers can flesh out with their own imaginations. And the themes, conceptions, and motifs that underlie his fiction are similarly capable of almost infinite expansion and elaboration. And so we come to this fifth instalment of the Black Wings series.
We are today faced with an unprecedented flood of “Lovecraftian” or “Cthulhu Mythos” writings from publishers large and small, by authors well-known or obscure. What was once a trickle has become a tidal wave, and some have wondered whether we are witnessing some kind of “bubble” that might burst someday. We are indeed reminded of the general “boom” in weird fiction in the 1970s and 1980s, which produced so much rubbish—by authors who had nothing to say in the weird mode but who were merely seeking to duplicate the popularity of the relatively few authors who achieved bestseller status—that it collapsed of its own mediocrity. There is, as in any field, plenty of mediocrity in contemporary Lovecraftian writing; but a solid core of sound, even brilliant, work remains.
One of the central themes in Lovecraft’s writing is the problematical role of science in human affairs. It would be a grotesque mistake to think that Lovecraft—an atheist and materialist who regarded science as the ultimate arbiter of truth and a strong bulwark against the intellectual errors of religion, quackery, and mysticism—had any doubts about the value of scientific enquiry. But, as one well aware of the fragility of the human psyche, he often pondered on the catastrophic effects that the realisation of our own risible insignificance in the cosmic scheme of things might have on the sensitive mind. As he wrote in an early letter: “To the scientist there is the joy in pursuing truth which nearly counteracts the depressing revelations of truth.” Many of his greatest tales, such as “The Colour out of Space,” At the Mountains of Madness, and “The Shadow out of Time,” depict scientists coming face to face with the appalling implications of their discoveries. In this volume, we see this thread underscoring such otherwise varied tales as Caitlín R. Kiernan’s “Far from Any Shore,” Lynne Jamneck’s “In Bloom,” and Donald R. Burleson’s “Seed of the Gods.”
History was immensely important to Lovecraft. “The past is real,” he once wrote in a letter. “It is all there is.” His quest to absorb the historical treasures of his native land—from Quebec to Key West, with stops along the way at New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Richmond, Charleston, St Augustine, and many other well-preserved havens of antiquity—was unremitting, and it reveals a deep-seated need to enmesh himself in the coils of history as a kind of shield against cosmic insignificance. This devotion to history and topography led him to create his own constellation of New England towns (Arkham, Kingsport, Dunwich, Innsmouth)—towns that have themselves taken on a life of their own in the work of subsequent writers, as several stories in this book (Jonathan Thomas’s “Plenty of Irem,” W. H. Pugmire’s “In Blackness Etched, My Name,” Sunni K Brock’s “Fire Breeders”) indicate.
Several other writers have transferred the historical depth and strangeness of Lovecraft’s New England into other corners of the world. Ramsey Campbell most famously did so in the English towns of Severnford, Brichester, and Goatswood. Today, David Hambling has written an entire volume of stories focused on the (real) town of Dulwich, whose name so deliciously recalls one of Lovecraft’s own imaginary locales. Hamb
Lovecraft’s concern with the psychological effects of “truth” is keenly etched in a number of his tales—and never more potently than when, as happens in “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and “The Shadow out of Time,” the first-person narrator himself discovers some appalling fact about himself that he cannot deny. Robert H. Waugh’s “The Woman in the Attic” mirrors this existential terror by showing us what might have been going through the mind of poor Nabby Gardner (from “The Colour out of Space”) as she succumbs to the ravaging effects of the meteorite that fell on her farm. From a very different perspective, the protagonist of Nicole Cushing’s “Diary of a Sane Man” may or may not be “mad” in the conventional sense—or has he just seen the true nature of the universe and our frightful position therein? And Nancy Kilpatrick’s “The Oldies” actually takes us into the realm of psychiatry, where a group of traumatised women seek to deal with a reality that overwhelms one of them.
World-building was a core function of Lovecraft’s tactile imagination, whether it be the fantasy realms found in his “Dunsanian” tales, from “The White Ship” to The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, or his more famous Mythos tales, where the entire universe is refashioned before our eyes. Here, such stories as Cody Goodfellow’s “Snakeladder,” Mark Howard Jones’s “Red Walls,” and Donald Tyson’s “The Organ of Chaos” effortlessly create new worlds out of whole cloth or reconfigure our own world into something new and terrifying.
As suggested above, the figure of the gaunt, lantern-jawed Lovecraft roaming the streets of his beloved Providence, Rhode Island, or the many other bastions of antiquity he explored during his lifetime has itself become an icon of popular culture. “The Walker in the Night” by Jason C. Eckhardt, a native Rhode Islander, draws deeply upon both that icon and the very real history of Providence—notably the tremendous New England Hurricane of September 1938, which devastated the city. Mollie L. Burleson’s “The Quest” tells of a Lovecraft-like writer who, as for so many of us today, inspires a fanatical following.
As with its predecessor, this volume ends with a long poem. We are in the midst of a tremendous renaissance of weird poetry, and H. P. Lovecraft—although substantially inferior as a poet to such of his colleagues as Clark Ashton Smith and Donald Wandrei—is at the heart of it. His Fungi from Yuggoth sonnet cycle continues to inspire dozens of poets, while other poets find his key themes as amenable to treatment in verse as in prose. Wade German (whose Dreams from a Black Nebula was one of the outstanding volumes of weird poetry of 2014) is at the forefront of the movement, and his “Lore” is a vital elaboration of the ever-fruitful “forbidden book” motif found in many recent works of Lovecraftian fiction.
Is there “too much” Lovecraftian writing out there today? The question is really not one of quantity but of quality: bad writing, in whatever amount, is always to be deprecated; but we can never have too much of good writing. The best Lovecraftian writers today use the themes, motifs, and imagery from H. P. Lovecraft’s work as springboards for their own creations. Far from being simple pastiches, such works proclaim their originality by the innovative adaptation of familiar tropes. In my mind, there has never been such a proliferation of innovative, dynamic, and imaginative treatments of Lovecraft’s work as we are seeing today, and I trust that a volume like this one presents at least a fair proportion of it.
S. T. Joshi
Plenty of Irem
Providence native Thomas has persisted in writing weird fiction amidst (or despite) such diverse livelihoods as postal clerk, artist’s model, and percussionist. His collections include Midnight Call (2008), Tempting Providence (2010), Thirteen Conjurations (2013), Dreams of Ys (2015), and Naked Revenants (2017; all from Hippocampus Press). A novel, The Color over Occam (2012), is available through DarkFuse. His work has also appeared in Vampirella (Warren, 1978), PostScripts (PS Publishing, 2010), A Darke Phantastique (Cycatrix Press, 2014), Searchers After Horror (Fedogan & Bremer), and elsewhere.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END FOR KINGSPORT WAS its junior college. And by “Kingsport” I mean that grand jumble of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century structures on perennial last legs, on the rickety brink but never quite collapsing into crooked cobblestone lanes, or teetering over the waterfront as if yearning to drown lemming-like in Massachusetts Bay. Duncan Hines guides of the 1930s sang Kingsport’s praises for the more intrepid antiquarian sightseer, but lamented the absence of decent eateries. A Beaux Arts hospital and neoclassical courthouse little detracted from the overall “scenic decay” described in the ’40s by landscape painter Eric Sloane.
The postwar college campus, on the inland edge of town, also took no bite out of the historic core, but set the tone for “modernization” and “urban renewal.” By the Nixon era, Kingsport as ramshackle time capsule had been gutted for glazed brick and reinforced concrete office blocks, commercial rows, and “affordable housing,” while Eisenhower-era optimism and subsidies had ebbed away, especially from the junior college, leaving it fiscally high and dry, subject to decades of neglect, the statewide butt of snarky jokes.
Here’s where I belatedly came in, a lifer in this region, though neither I nor anybody I’d met growing up had ever been to Kingsport. Some places just emit that uninviting vibe, which was definitely the case there, whether as colonial slum or postmodern dump.
Still and all, my North Shore roots and attendant local sympathies, bona fide or not, won me the position of capital campaign manager and PR troubleshooter at Kingsport Community College, commonly abbreviated KCC. That in itself underscored the public-image problem, an acronym that called fast-food chains to mind, a portent of graduates’ tragically plausible career outlooks. Imagine my double-take on discovering the original name had been, in gratitude to its principal backers, Kingsport Freemasons’ College, presumably before Southern fried chicken had made northern inroads.
To identify and promote Kingsport’s residual cultural assets, fostering native pride and attracting outside interest, struck me as beneficial to both town and campus. Besides, high time I made up for my unblemished record of ignorance about the place. The lack of historical society, tourism bureau, or chamber of commerce wasn’t helpful. But Monday would be my first day at KCC, so how better to combine vocation and leisure than with a data-collecting ramble the Saturday before?
From the Puritans’ hilltop burial ground on the outskirts, I could see clear across the valley to the patently less bucolic cinderblock sprawl of the college. Even from this distance it projected ennui, inadequacy. Look elsewhere while the choice remained!
Amiable June breezes dispelled the pall of solemnity up here. I could have been moseying through an air-conditioned Soho gallery as I admired gravestones’ carven slate hourglasses, skulls, and cherub heads, all sporting wings. Someone had come around lately with a lawnmower.
Then on the lee hillside, away from sun and civilization, I descended among markers of brown basalt, shaped like stiletto scabbards. They tilted every which way in scruffy grass as if apathy weighed on them, and were more weathered than their hilltop counterparts as if considerably older, too old for inscriptions to survive. But how could that be, when hilltop epitaphs from the 1650s lauded Kingsport’s founders? A malaise of confusion chafed me harder every minute I lingered, till I climbed back into the sun
Between burial hill and main drag were dowdy neighborhoods the wrecking ball had spared, but that persisted cringeworthy in their own right. To tell how old these houses were, or in what style, was impossible thanks to vinyl siding that expunged any ornament, personality, integrity, a scourge of architectural lobotomies in effect.
To cheer up I had to invade another graveyard, this one belonging to a monumental Episcopal church with square belfry, hipped roof, and Gothic windows. Unfortunately, the antiquity on the hill spoiled me for these tombstones, adorned with nothing earlier than Victorian willows-and-urns and suns ambiguously rising or setting on straight-line horizons. More intriguing to me was the decision to construct the massive Beaux Arts hospital on the other side of cemetery fieldstone wall, as if no thought had gone into the demoralizing influence of death en masse out the windows of morbidly ill patients.
The inner village was on egregiously hummocky ground, compelling a street plan of curves and switchbacks to avoid steep slopes, as if the settlers had single-mindedly built upon acres of prehistoric tumuli. Hence “old Kingsport” dictated the traffic flow of “new, improved Kingsport,” structuring it like new flesh under old bones; the prohibitive Plan B would have entailed flattening the topography. I, however, began to despair of finding Kingsport’s architectural old flesh. It inspired a pang to picture bygone appearances of streets like Frog, Mechanic, and Gingerbread.
Naturally nothing green, not the meanest crabgrass, was extant on Green Lane. But between an HMO “wellness center” with a façade like stale Triscuits and a “professional building” elegant as freshman foamcore models was crammed a miracle of preservation, easy to dismiss as a mirage of wishful thinking. Its massive proportions reminded me of a barn more than a home, as did its broad gambrel roof, in head-on outline like a longbow. A second, narrower gambrel protruded at right angle from the first, and fronted on the street.
This frontage, with paint flaking scabrously from brown clapboards and red trim, led me to wonder how archaic the house was; its upper stories overhung the sidewalk by a good six inches, like an Elizabethan vestige. And from the overhang swung a strake with woodburning-kit gilt lettering, “Mugford Museum of Quaint Kingsport.” A flagstone path, fringed by stockade fence to rebuff the neighboring HMO, led from the street, alongside the broader gambrel-end wall, to a simple peaked portico.
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