Book Review: The TAINT AND OTHER NOVELLAS

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1-28 - Book Review: The TAINT AND OTHER NOVELLASBrian Lumley
Solaris
2008

A collection of thrilling tales inspired by H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos from one of horror’s biggest legends. This volume contains the very best of Brian Lumley’s Mythos novellas spanning the entire breadth of his illustrious career. From “Rising With Surtsey” through to the eponymous “The Taint”, these tales plumb the very depths of horror and show Lumely at his twisted best.

Going through the history of the life of H. P. Lovecraft, it was pretty much not only known that he didn’t mind other authors playing around in the nightmarish Mythos Cycle playground he created, but at times actually admitted to certain other authors handling the creations better than he could, giving freely to others the right to tinker with these concepts.

In case you were wondering what all of that has to do with this review of an anthology book by Brian Lumley, then let me take the time to welcome you to the world of horror fiction, and one of the more prolific of the Extended Mythos writers.

Just a very brief bit on Brian Lumley: He first discovered H. P. Lovecraft’s stories while he was serving in the British military, happening upon a well-loved paperback copy of reprints of his stories from Arkham Press. Shortly thereafter, he began to write his own stories which borrowed heavily from the world that Lovecraft created (and which so many others happily play in), and over time amassed a rather prolific collection. It wasn’t until recently, though, when his work began to find an audience here in the United States, after his Necroscope series exploded, and his older works began to be reprinted here for our reading pleasure. Even now, though, it’s kind of a fun hunt-and-peck game to find anything by Lumley that isn’t somehow associated with the Necroscope series. Fortunately, some are easier to find than others.

The Taint and Other Novellas happens to be the first in a two-book collection of short stories and novellas of those stories that were specifically written in the Lovecraft Mythos Cycle. After an introduction, the stories contained are “The Horror at Oakdeene”, “Born of the Winds”, “The Fairground Horror”, “The Taint”, “Rising with Surtsey”, “Lord of the Worms” and “The House of the Temple”. These stories represent works that Lumley did while still a Military Policeman, and not yet writing full time, and date from between the 1960s and 1980s. I’ve always kind of found Lumley to have an unabashed pulp style to his writing, and it doesn’t get much pulpy than his earlier Mythos stories, as showcased in this collection.

Overall, I found the collection…interesting. As I mentioned, there’s a raw, pulpy style to the writing, and probably due to the fact that these were early outputs, seems a bit more purple in prose than his later established work. The standouts were “Born of the Winds” (which was set in Canada and dealt more with a Windigo type creature) and “The Taint” (which, was actually written in 2002, 2003 and is the most recent story in the collection), which took a deeper look at the curse of Innsmouth. Titus Crow makes an appearance again in the story “Lord of the Worms”. I must say, though, the stories didn’t really stick with me much, which is not a slam to the quality; there just wasn’t much as far as doing something fresh with the concepts that Lovecraft left for us to mess with. Again, they’re early stories, and he got better with age. I would say, The Taint and Other Novellas is a collection for completists who are trying to collect ALL of the Mythos stories. Which is why I have this still. Otherwise, novice curiosity types could stand to hold off for a bit.

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Book Review: TITUS CROW Volume Two

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titus crow volume twoBrian Lumley
Tor
1998

Titus Crow and his faithful companion and record-keeper, Henri-Laurent de Marigny, fight the gathering forces of darkness–the infamous and deadly Elder Gods of the works of H. P. Lovecraft. Cthulhu and his dark minions are bent on ruling the Earth. A few puny humans cannot possibly stand against these otherworldly evil gods, yet time after time Titus Crow drives the monsters back into the dark from whence they came.

Volume Two of a series of collections that were released in the later part of the 1990s, containing the novels featuring Brian Lumley’s Cthulhu Mythos investigator Titus Crow–well, kind of. See, that blurb from the back of the book that I included up there? The paragraph in italics? Yeah, that one. Greatly misleading, I’m afraid. You read just that, and one expects a slam-bang couple of adventures where Crow and Marigny throw down with Cthulhu and his minions for severely cheesing off the Old One in the last collection. Nope. Sorry. Though, if you bought this for the cover art itself…I don’t blame you. It’s pretty cool looking.

The first of the two novels contained herein–The Clock of Dreams–picks up where the previous story left off, with Henri-Laurent de Marigny climbing inside the TARDIS…er, I mean the bigger-on-the-inside coffin-shaped clock device that is also a space/time/dimension hopping ship that is totally not a TARDIS, to join his friend Titus Crow and his Elder God girlfriend in Elder Gods Paradise. Only, he takes an unexpected detour when Kthanid–Cthulhu’s benevolent cousin–recruits him to take a trip into the Land of Dreams to rescue Crow and his girlfriend from the clutches of the henchmen of Nyarlathotep (gesundheit). And while Nyarlathotep (gesundheit) and his minions factor into Cthuhlu’s nefarious plans on infiltrating the Land of Dreams, ol’ Tentacle Face doesn’t really make an appearance.

The second story in the collection–Spawn of the Winds–not only does not mention, let alone feature Cthulhu, it doesn’t even mention a very much absent Titus Crow and Friends. Instead, this is a story written from a bunch of psychic transmissions from an agent of the Wilmarth Foundation whose expedition to find the dreaded Walker of the Winds led to being kidnapped by said Old One and taken to a far-off wintry planet, where they join the resistance that’s led by none other than the half-human daughter of said pseudo-deity. Again, I reiterate: there was a serious lack of Titus Crow in a story included in a Titus Crow collection. But I digress.

All pedantism aside, the two Lovecraft Mythos-inspired novels by Brian Lumley are earlier works by the British author, and are entertaining enough as dark fantasy works that plays gleefully in the Cthulhu Cycle sandbox. Mind you, the prose is an interesting shade of purple, especially in The Clock of Dreams. I don’t know if this was deliberate, keeping in the spirit of the original Lovecraft stories that inspired these, or if this just was how Lumley wrote back in the day. Regardless, I’ve read much worse, and the two novels contained were entertaining yarns and flowed pretty well with the faux-Romantic era style, deliberate or not.

And of an item of mere curiosity, it seems that, prior to finding this copy of Titus Crow Volume Two at the 1/2 Price Books, I discovered that I do actually own a 1978 first edition mass paperback copy of Spawn of the Winds that I remember picking up at another used book store in Kansas five years ago. The cover’s a bit worse for wear, but it’s to be expected. And now I realize I sound like a complete book nerd. In any case, Titus Crow Volume Two was a nice detour into Lovecraftian dark fantasy, heavy on the fantasy elements. If you can get past the false advertising of the back cover blurb, this makes for some good bedtime reading.