Firstly, I would like to thank Tachyon Publications for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy of the novel. Sadly my verdict on this book is not a good one: it was not my cup of tea, nor my cup of coffee.
The time it takes me to finish a book is usually an indicator of whether I’m engaged in the writing and interested in the world/characters or not. It took over a month to finish this book and every time I would have to tell myself to sit down and keep reading in order to get through it (it’s a pet peeve of mine, not finishing books, so I avoid doing so only in last-case scenarios). I wrote out my thoughts for each of the short stories below in the order they appear in the anthology.
Only the End of the World Again:
Neil Gaiman is very good with writing descriptions, to say the least. He adds an otherworldly quality to surroundings, and this short story was no exception. It was very fitting to the theme and style of Lovecraft’s works, and yet I had an issue with it. It felt busy, as if he wanted to fit as many characters and details into the story, being well aware that he had limited space. The descriptions were chilling and, in a couple places, even a bit grotesque, but I wasn’t captivated by the story. It felt a bit...purposeless, I realized as I finished, and though it made me go back and wonder about it, it was not the good kind of wondering and reflecting about the book. Still, I’m sure big fans of Gaiman’s will enjoy this story as it hold that chilling, otherworldly quality to it that has won over so many readers.
This one had such a distinct style and air to it; I fell in love with it. I loved the attitude that was displayed through the writing, the way the speech of the characters really captured the time period. It was a chilling story, confusing in the beginning but easy to warm up to in the middle, and finished with a solid, haunting ending. These are the kinds of short stories that’ll stick with you for a while, with characters that leap off the page and, though they may have quite the attitude or swear or whatnot, they still make you laugh and win a part of you over. The elements of horror and incorporating of the ‘monster’ part in this story was more subtle as well, which was perfect for the plot. It was quite the memorable tale with enough imagery and action in not that many pages that when it finished I couldn’t help but wish there were a few more pages, just to know what happened next, and that’s when I know that a piece of writing has won me over, as well as a certain rawness and human quality to it.
Red Goat Black Goat:
Just the right amount of disturbing and horror can be found in this story, but there is also an inner layer of sadness in terms of the family and the children. Perhaps this wasn’t written intentionally yet when I finished reading the story I felt a tremor of sadness and sympathy for the children, for that need to be loved and cared for. This story was an example of the really good short stories that start abruptly with a scene and end the same way, but still make the story coherent and engaging with the reader. After this one I don’t think I’ll be able to look at a goat the same way again without imagining the Goat-Nurse, and the final scene in the barn. That truly was in the style of Lovecraft: grotesque, chilling, with just the perfect amount of horror but fascination that resulted after reading the story. To think something as seemingly innocent as goats can suddenly become so terrifying.
The Same Deep Waters as You:
The strong part of this story was how much time it spent describing the emotions of the few characters that were in it, as well as the setting and the overall situation. It started off right in the middle of the action and cleared up any questions along the way. I loved that this one wasn’t written with the intent to terrifying and make it a horrifying tale, but rather it had a subtle underlying layer of thought to it when it came to those bizarre creature captives that Kerry was to ‘study’. The jump in events from when the prison got destroyed to when Kerry and Tabitha moved into the town was so sudden I didn’t understand it at first until going back and carefully rereading. Otherwise this story was great in a different kind of way, how it was so vivid in such a short amount of space, and how emotionally attached I become to the characters and the way the situation with the creatures made for suspense and called for the reader’s emotional response. It had everything a great short story needs.
A Quarter to Three:
Short but comical this story’s main strong point is how it entertains while lets you get to know the characters only from their personalities, their names and backgrounds unknown and even the speaker’s gender a mystery. However I couldn’t help but wonder what exactly the point of the story was. The ending wasn’t as strong as it could be. There was such a lead up and building of suspense and premise and it flopped at the end without any grand, memorable execution that was expected.
The Dappled Thing:
Steampunk was combined with the familiar elements of Lovecraft’s tales in this short story, the end product being a jungle adventure with vivid details and a plot that felt more like watching a movie than reading a story. There was enough description for each vital aspect of the story without it being an overload. The best part perhaps was the ending, the way it had an idea contained within it rather than just being an ending to the story. The monster was also unusual and terrifying in a way that wasn’t necessarily just physical, but rather more in terms of its behaviour. The action-adventure tone to this story is so successful in drawing the reader in that makes it stand out as one of the best stories in this book. It took the basic foundation that is the monsters of Lovecraft’s lore but made it something unique and its own, the product being not only enjoyable but also memorable.
Sadly this one was mediocre. The premise was promising, as were the details of the angels who were Hounds of the Master or under the Father of Frogs, however it fell flat somehow. Perhaps it’s that the story felt incomplete due to its short length. The beginning was strong with establishing the hunger and situation which the sister fallen angels were in. Not only that but the second strength of the story was how the amphibian monster was totally different from the standard image of a monster from Lovecraft’s tales. But overall it didn’t work, though I wished so much it would. It felt unfinished and hanging, putting so many things on the table but not furthering these ideas.
I was reminded of the novel “The Chrysalids” while reading this one, from the overall situation that was going on and some of the aspects of the characters. Still that didn’t stand in the way of enjoying the story, though it took some time to ease into it and get a general understanding of what was going on; I’d say it was up until the second section of the story that I was confused, but then things were slowly cleared up. There wasn’t much of the original monsters of Lovecraft in this one, though Cthulhu and some other alien monster-like creature were mentioned; the main focus was on the idea of space ‘colonies’ and the overtaking of the world, a concept which isn’t entirely new yet was written in a way that gave it a new spin, especially with the lovely cast of characters that truly made this story work.
Love Is Forbidden, We Croak and Howl:
A somewhat touching story about a girl and a ghoul, the only downside of which was its abrupt ending that could have been extended and added upon. The context in the beginning set the story up wonderfully, as did the introduction before the ‘actual’ story, yet it felt incomplete somehow, and it was this suddenness to the ending that broke the spell of the story.
The Sect of the Idiot:
I found this one far too wordy and winded with its descriptions, prose, and trying to spin the world in a way that made everything so descriptive and clear that, in fact, it took away from the enjoyment of reading. It was a struggle to get through and I ended up skimming some of it, reading about a quarter of the long descriptive paragraphs as I was hoping to get to the action, which wasn’t there as much as it could be, and the impact of the end was very much muted.
Jar of Salts:
Being a huge lover of poems I loved this one, its words not only describing but moving along the action and creating a sense of tension and emotional response. It was that strong, I felt, that I went back and read it over a couple of times, simply to let that powerful first reaction sink in and grow. It played on the general concept of monsters and fear but did so in a slightly different manner, capturing it all in a poem which was the perfect form for its message.
Black as the Pit, from Pole to Pole:
I don’t know what to make of this one, at all. For one I felt it didn’t belong as much in the book as the other stories because the main character was the monster of Frankenstein from Mary Shelley’s novel, rather than Lovecraft’s monsters which are the main focus of this anthology. However that decision is entirely up to the editor so if it was seen to be fit then they know better. Otherwise however I think it was too wordy and slow. The plot was rather scrambled and the jumps in the beginning of each section, from the historical recollection of events to present-moment events, were difficult to follow. When I read the historical background provided in the beginning of the first section I expected something different from the story than what I ended up finding. The strong point of this short story was how well the creature’s emotions and thoughts were covered, but it felt like this was done at the expense of a clear and exciting plot line.
Waiting at the Crossroads Motel:
Simple but chilling, I was captivated by the atmosphere of this story. It presented yet another totally different concept of what it means to be a monster, this one much more human than all the previous ones. Raw and real the pacing was great, as were the characters, especially the dark edge that was given to Walker. There isn’t much to say about it other than that it stood out from the rest of the stories, in a positive and sinister way.
I’ve Come to Talk with You Again:
This story left me thinking nothing at all. I wasn’t disappointed or amazed by it, as short as it was. It didn’t extract much emotion from me either, the numerous characters appearing without offering much context to the actual story, and the hooded figure passing quickly in the memory without explanation or creating any sense of fear or intrigue about it, so this is one I took as it was without thinking anything about it.
The Bleeding Shadow:
Wow, this was a really creepy story, by far the most terrifying one in the entire anthology. It was that awesome simply-for-the-sake-of-thrill story that didn’t have any hidden moral or message or anything of the sort. It grabbed my attention from the beginning with the quick dialogue, smooth pace, and memorable details. I breezed through it, not wanting to stop, only caring to find out how this would end. The dirty, miserable atmosphere was so well described that at a certain point I myself began to feel somewhat grubby, and that’s when I knew this story was a success. It can’t be described, the feeling of reading this cannot be conveyed in words; it must be picked up and experienced. As far as creating a sensory and graphic experience, this story was the winner.
That of Which We Speak When We Speak of the Unspeakable:
Abstract yet gripping, this one. I like the rough, natural nature of the characters, although I still couldn’t figure out what exactly was going on at the end. What I appreciated most was the though spoken by one of the characters about love, it somehow struck me in a way that I both agree and disagreed with it, and those kinds of points in any story are vital, I think. That was the real strong point of this specific story.
I didn’t follow the thought of the poem. I read along and tried to visualize what the words before me were describing but they all slid off and stayed as no more than just words.
Children of the Fang:
I couldn’t get into this one and ended up skimming chunks of it, reading the rest in detail, but I finished it without much engagement with the writing. My favourite part of it was when he sat his grandchildren down and told them a story about the cattle as a way of getting his moral across to the kids. I found there were too many names to keep track of for my taste, and some of the characters weren’t vivid enough to stay in the memory.
The list of beasts at the end was a wonderful touch that I loved and really helped clarify, in some cases, what the beast was like in terms of characteristics/physical appearance. Plus it’s always great to get background information on what the creation of it might’ve been inspired by.
Anthologies are tricky things, and in my experience end up being love-it-or-hate-it kinds of things, in this case bordering the latter. I can’t say I found it terrible, but I wasn’t won over. I could appreciate some of the stories for their mastery skill-wise, but very few actually stayed in the memory upon finishing the book, or over the long period of time I spent reading this.
I do, however, encourage giving this one a try, because if I didn’t enjoy it someone else definitely will. For me the stories were much less terrifying or chilling, rather feeling a tad flat and not delivering the promised thrill. It had modern and interesting twists on beloved monsters in some cases, but the bumps in the road greatly outnumbered the rare pleasurable reads.