Tagged: book

Cthulhu in Wonderland

Most of us these days have a kindle, or kindle software on a PC, phone, iPad or whatever. And its fair to say that you can find lots of lovecraft, cthulhu, pulp horror fiction to download and read.  One of the best Lovecraft anthologies for instance is available on Kindle for free, visit the Cthulhuchick website for details here.

Cthulhu in WonderlandMore recently though I stumbled upon “Cthulhu in Wonderland”, by Lewis Carroll and Kent David Kelly, (although in truth I strongly suspect that Carroll has little knowledge of this latest collaboration).

I don’t know why I have never thought of taking Alice and dosing her with Space Mead, or of shoving Cthulhu through the looking glass, but the concept is actually genius.  Playing with the dreamlands ideas and twisting the innocence of the Alice story in the best kind of way.  If you like American McGee’s Alice then you will like this as well.

Available from Amazon at the lordly price of £1.94 (why the 94 pence why not just 2 quid?) the book is great fun. True it could do with a little bit of editorial interference, some layout issues, some grammatical oddities but lets face it, its only going to cost you £1.94 what do you want leather bound calligraphic script…  I knew I was hooked about a paragraph in when Alice muses;

“And what is the use of a mythos tome pertaining to the Slaughter of Humanity, and the cataclysmic End of Days, thought Alice, without pictures or conversations?”

And after that the plunge down the Abyssal Zoog Hole really is just the beginning.  Our top tip for the last day of April is that if you have the technology to read a kindle eBook, treat yourself to “Cthulhu in Wonderland” and see if it doesn’t inspire you to inflict some real horror on your players in that next game of Call of Cthulhu.

Available on Amazon here.

Ia! F’tagn!

Derek.

Hardboiled Cthulhu

Hard Boiled Cthulhu: Two Fisted Tales of Tentacled Terror,  is an anthology of short stories wherein the Lovecraft mythos meets film noir; the Call of Cthulhu meets The Big Sleep.  It’s a great idea as this is such an excellent setting for such tales, often overlooked both in fiction and in the COC role play game.  The book contains twenty-one contributions by a wide range of writers all of whom have a passion for Lovecraft’s creations.  With a few exceptions this is the only time they have been available in print.

The book itself is some 330 pages and contains the following;

Sleeping with the Fishes (Poem) — James Ambuehl
The Pisces Club — James Ambuehl
A Change of Life — William Jones
Ache — David Witteveen
A Dangerous High — E. P. Berglund
A Little Job in Arkham — John Sunseri
Day of Iniquity — Steven L. Shrewsbury
Eldritch Fellas — Tim Curran
Outside Looking In — David Conyers
Pazuzu’s Children — Jeffrey Thomas
The Devil In You — Eric J. Millar
The Mouth — William Meikle
The Questioning of the Azathonthian Priest — C. J. Henderson
Some Thought on the Problem of Order — Simon Bucher-Jones
The White Mountains — Jonathan Sharp
The Terror Came — Patrick Thomas
The Prying Investigations of Edwin M. Lillibridge — Robert M. Price
The Roaches in the Walls — James Chambers
To Skin a Dead Man — Cody Goodfellow
Unfinished Business — Ron Shiflet
The Watcher From the Grave — J. F. Gonzalez
Dreams.biz — Richard A. Lupoff

The book itself is a good quality paperback, glossy cover, nice paper, crisp print, in fact just what I have come to expect from Elder Sign Press.  As well as the stories themselves there are capsule biographies of each of the contributors.

The tales themselves are generally very good and in many ways they tick many of my boxes, some evoke a really good Lovecraftian atmosphere (In particular Robert M Prices contribution The Prying Investigations of Edwin M Lillibridge”). Some hit the mark in terms of story; I particularly enjoyed John Sunseri’s “A Little Job In Arkham” which has a little Oceans 11 feel to it, if you want to steal a priceless tome from Miskatonic Uni then you need the right group of thieves’.  A tale, well told with a good twist in the tale. I will certainly be on the lookout for more of Mr Sunseri’s work.

Of all the tales the only one that is somewhat out of place is Steven L Shrewsbury’s “Day of Iniquity” while a great read; it was definitely a good Sword & Sorcery tale, it was not really a detective type story by any stretch of my very elastic imagination. Basically a barbarian follower of Wotan leads his tribe to achieve vengeance on a dark cult.  What was this doing in this book?

For me however there are two highlights.  Richard A. Lupoff’s Dreemz.biz” is a cracking tale in which an enigmatic web site supplies vivid and dangerous dreams to its occasional customers. Whilst not as “hardboiled” as many of the tales and its Lovecraftian horror only becomes apparent in its closing stages, the feeling of good old “cosmic horror” will stay with you for some time after you finish reading.  

Finally, not everyone’s favourite I’m sure but “Eldritch Fellas” by Tim Curran is brilliant, I won’t spoil it for you by describing the story, but it is at heart a humorous tale which takes the hardboiled genre to its Cthulhian extreme where Lovecraft, Raymond Chandler and Tony Soprano all meet.  You will laugh out loud, even if it’s only at the fart jokes.  

In summary I think this is a great collection of stories, with something for everyone whether it is the genre, the Lovecraftian horror, the humor or the fact that you collection would be incomplete without it.  It was bought for me as a gift, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it as a read and it has left me with many ideas for evil to inflict upon my role play group to boot.

Go on click here and treat yourself!

 

Greg Egan – Distress

Distress by Greg Egan

I have to admit that about half way through reading Distress I thought my head was going to explode, cosmology and maths – neither are ever likely to be my specialist subjects if I make it onto Mastermind.  But, it is impossible to deny that anything that makes you think about the meaning of life, the nature of existence itself can be very special.  In this respect I would say that Greg Egan is writing books that are as thought provoking as works of science fiction can ever be.

 

In Distress Egan takes a long hard look at a number of ethical and moral issues and then one step up from there he explores the existential, describes the indescribable and makes us think about the concept of a “Theory of Everything” – the ultimate knowledge.  His real talent in this novel is in convincing the reader that they can cope with the concepts at play in this novel without the need for a doctorate; he succeeds in making difficult scientific concepts accessible and indeed enjoyable.

 

“The most merciful thing in the world … is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” Is one of my favourite Lovecraftian quotes and it is also a concept at the very heart of Egan’s Distress.

 

The story is set some time in the not too distant future, mid 21st century and focuses on Andrew Worth, a slightly hypochondriac journalist who covers science stories and at the start of the book is in the final stages of completing a harrowing documentary about the very extremes of “Franken-Science”.  After splitting up with his girlfriend Andrew decides that he needs a break and turns down an assignment looking into an outbreak of a new psychological phenomenon known as Distress, affecting an increasing number of people (the fact that this is the title of the book immediately suggests that it is a theme that will reappear later).  Instead of the Distress story he opts to cover what he hopes will be a less traumatic but equally high profile story doing a character piece on one of the worlds leading physicists, Violet Mosala, as she presents her new “Theory of Everything” or TOE at an upcoming conference.  Unsurprisingly a theory that is capable of explaining the very fabric of existence is in itself somewhat controversial, especially amongst religious groups, anti-science groups or “Ignorance Cults” as well as those with their own counter theories.

 

The conference takes place on a renegade, man-made island called Stateless.  Stateless is a place that is subject to international sanctions, resulting from its lack of respect for the technological patents which made its construction and continued existence possible.  Almost instantly upon arrival on Stateless, Worth is plunged into intrigues surrounding plots to assassinate Violet Mosala.  A group exists which believe that the mere act of defining a TOE and thereby explaining “everything” will in itself cause the fabric of existence to unravel – something they are willing to go to any length to stop.

 

Of course, without giving anything away I can reveal that Worth becomes embroiled in the assassination attempts, becomes a target himself, is kidnapped, experiences a military incursion onto Stateless and discovers what the outbreaks of Distress are really about.

 

Distress is fast paced, has action and intrigues a plenty.  At points there are so many different plot strands that I wasn’t sure which way things were going to go and the fact that I really didn’t understand the “science” really didn’t matter – in fact I think it made the whole “suspension of belief” more plausible.  As long as you don’t falter at some of the heavier going, jargon laden sections of the narrative you will enjoy this book – just go with it.

 

I think that Egan has managed something special, Distress is not just another “cyberpunk” retelling of another old story – there are new novel ideas and the presentation is fascinating.  This is SF for the thinking man or woman; it is clever, eloquent and thought provoking.  If I have a criticism it would be that there are numerous plot hooks that are not developed.  The central character Andrew Worth is deeply flawed, his hypochondriac nature, refusal to have a brain scan, insistence upon following “rules” and other obsessive behaviours build an interesting character the basis of which remains unexplained.

 

Its not a lightweight book, but it is very good.  I will certainly read more of Greg Egan and recommend Distress wholeheartedly.

Richard K Morgan – “Black Man”.

http://www.richardkmorgan.com

Black Man by Richard K MorganRichard Morgan was the recipient of the Philip K. Dick award for his debut novel, Altered Carbon and now Black Man, (or Thirteen as it has been rather cowardly renamed in the US), has collected an Arthur C Clarke award.

Unlike the previous novels featuring Takashi Kovacs, Black Man introduces us to an equally harsh but much nearer future setting. Morgan does a superb job in the way that he introduces the world in which Black Man takes place it is not a simple world, but the background is not laboured, there are snippets of information which allow you to piece together a complex geo-political background as the story progresses. The USA is no longer the worlds largest super power; it has broken into three large states. These comprise the republican Jesusland, the technology-rich Pacific Rim, and the North Atlantic Union which is very much the liberal remainder of the US aligned with the United Nations as we know it.

Black Man is still very much in the mould of the previous novels in that it centres on some recognisable and overtly confident, wise-ass characters. The novel is also bathed in the recognisable sex, violence and rollercoaster action that readers of the previous novels will be used to. As someone else said to me about Black Man; …yyou know you are reading a Morgan! But there the similarities end, Black Man is a novel that asks many more questions than those that have come before it; humanity, racism, religion, ethics, genetics (nature vs nurture), gender politics and I could go on. It is a Sci-Fi Novel that is more than just another Space Opera or cyberpunk regurgitation. It deals with issues that relate to us and our world today and specifically challenges some of the decisions that we are making and where those decisions will ultimately take us.

The central character Carl Marsalis, the Black Man of the story, is a Thirteen a genetically engineered super soldier a group which are now strictly regulated, licensed or exiled, forbidden to reproduce and generally feared. The thirteens are very much one of mans mistakes, the consequences of which are dealt with in a variety of ways within the book. A strong theme is the fallout of over enthusiastic genetic engineering preceding the time in which the book is set for me there were many resonances with the issues raised in P.K Dicks Do androids dream of electric sheep and the subsequent movie Bladerunner. In keeping with that theme Carl Marsalis is portrayed as a licensed bounty hunter who tracks down other rogue thirteens.

The story kicks off with a number of scenes which set up the world view and introduce Marsalis before going on to set up the core story based around another thirteen who returns from Mars and starts a bloody and seemingly random killing spree, Carl Marsalis is recruited by the colonial authorities to hunt down the killer. A simple storyline becomes more complex as the bloody trail left by the rogue killer is exposed as a complex cover for more sinister activities.

The novel has an intriguing set of characters, particularly Sevgi Ertekin, an ex-cop who is going through an emotional low after the death of her boyfriend, (who it transpires was also a thirteen) and who ends up working alongside Carl Marsalis.

If I have a criticism it would be that I found the ending a little unsatisfactory, without giving anything away, I suspect that Morgan is, with the final pages of Black Man, hedging his bets for a sequel or at least a follow up novel with the Carl Marsalis character.

I have very much enjoyed all of Morgans novels and whilst I dont think that Black Man is his best, I do think that it is definitely his most thought provoking. If you liked Morgan’s previous novels, you are most likely going to enjoy Black Man.