Wednesday, April 26, 2006

There's Good Odds That, Just By Mentioning It, CoIM Is Part of the Mythos Now Too

No in-depth reviews today, I'm afraid; I was about a quarter of the way through In Cold Blood when a book I had requested through ILL came in. Now, while I had known that the novel (Hive by Tim Curran) was supposed to be Lovecraftian horror, I hadn't realized that it was actually Lovecraftian horror, as in written as a sequel to an actual Lovecraft story, At the Mountains of Madness. And that's when my borderline OCD kicked in . . .

You see, I didn't just think "Oh, if it's a sequel to this one particular Lovecraft story, I should read that Lovecraft story first." No, that would be normal and sane. Instead, I thought "Oh, it's a sequel to a story in the Cthulhu Mythos, so I really should read all of the Cthulhu Mythos stories in chronological order to make sure that I catch any and all cameos and passing references in each and every story."

The only difficulty with that is, depending on where you look, practically every story Lovecraft has ever done has been labeled as part of the Mythos; it's like a precursor to Stephen King's Dark Tower series in a way, since all a story needs it a passing reference to something that gets a passing reference in a DT book to be considered a tie-in; or, for the comic geeks out there, think Crisis on Infinite Earths on red skies. And, while Lovecraft was nowhere near as prolific a writer as Mr. King, there's still a sizeable chunk of fiction to track down.

Luckily, practically every Lovecraft story to ever see print is available online for free, although Arkham House wishes it weren't so; there's some dispute over whether his works should be in the public domain or not. Working off a chronological list of his stories, I marked which one were available in the print collections at the public library, placed those collections on hold, and started tracking down the other stories online. After reading the bulk of his writings between 1905-1921, I finally decided that due to time constraints I should just bite the bullet, read At the Mountains of Madness, read Hive (which, due to its ILL status, I only have for another week), and come back for the rest of Lovecraft's oeuvre afterwards. Of course, I wasn't even 10 pages into AtMoM before coming across numerous veiled references to characters and events which I'm sure are taken from Pickman's Model, The Call of Cthulhu, The Dunwich Horror, etc. *sigh*

Since my Lovecraft reading has been all over the place, I don't know the best way to go about reviewing his writing: by collection, by story, all at once? I will say that some of his early stories (The Beast in the Cave and The Alchemist are two of the more egregious offenders) tend to rely on these twists that the novice writer felt compelled to hammer into his readers heads with a final exclamatory sentence declaring the twist is as prosaic a fashion as possible, as if he didn't trust that the reader would understand what was going on unless it was spelled out for them in black and white; very off-putting, but luckily it wasn't a trend that he would follow throughout his writing career.

Probably my favorite of the 20-odd stories I've read so far is The Temple, narrated from the P.O.V. of a nasty German U-boat commander during WWI whose shortsighted cruelty calls down a curse upon his vessel; I think I enjoyed this one because, although it deals with the usual Lovecraftian tropes of alien intelligences and ancient civilizations and the like, the nature of the narrator is quite a deviation from the honest and well-meaning (if unlucky and eventually insane) characters that usually populate his stories.

Of course, entering into a Lovecraft kick in my reading has also lead to my adding practically every Lovecraft adaptation imaginable into my queue, so you can be expecting some interesing Movie Mondays in the near future.