As always, my Sunday books reviews are meant to be suggestions of something to buy right before you are on a flight. I give links to Kindle editions so you can buy and download them right away. I try and error on the side of entertaining or easier to read and for books that will help pass time.
“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” – opening lines of Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft
The Cthulhu Mythos is a collaborative universe featuring the idea that there are Great Old Ones that greatly predate mankind that have been waiting to return and take power over the universe. Of course, for purposes of stories within that universe, that time is either now, or deranged cultists are doing something to hasten that time. The typical story is one set where the main characters face cosmic indifference, humankind really does not matter and is insignificant compared to the vast and mind twisting reality of our true place there. To even glance at a small portion of this truth twists your mind and drive you insane.
The author that originated this universe was Howard Philip Lovecraft, and e wrote and published horror stories in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He was a contemporary of and corespondent with Robert E. Howard who wrote the Conan the Barbarian stories. He also wrote many letters to Robert Bloch (Psycho) and Clark Ashton Smith and they influenced each other and wrote stories that while self contained were loosely connected to the overall Cthulhu stories.
Lovecraft wrote for publication in the pulp magazines of his time, so his work is short stories and novellas. You can get through a story or two on even a short plane flight, but they are horror stories so maybe they are not the best to read if you plan on sleeping right away. They certainly are period pieces and not modern at all, but he does enjoy “things that go bump in the night” as a plot convenience and maybe they are not the best in strange hotel room with sounds that you are no familiar with.
“That is not dead which can eternal lie.
And with strange aeons even death may die.” – Abdul Alhazred “Necronomicon”
It is pretty hard to avoid references to Cthulhu if you like and follow SF or Fantasy. The origins were in horror but it leapt into fantasy a long time ago. As an example, if you like the Evil Dead film series, the book that caused all the problems and the rise of the undead zombies is called the Necronomicon. That is directly from the Lovecraft story “The Hound” and appears in several more of his stories. There have been movies made directly from his stories and his works have influenced other movies, books, music and TV programs. I think part of the enduring popularity of his stories was that he was an early fan who wrote lots of letters to magazines and friends and others that wrote him. He freely encouraged other people to use his inventions and framework and during his life and afterwards people took him up on it.
I suggest starting with “Call of Cthulhu” and then reading the rest of the stories in the order they were published in. I included links below to two sources of his stories. One is free (Lovecraft’s works are old enough to be past copyright) and one is an inexpensive compilation of all of his writings. I will warn you that the stories themselves just have passing references to race that show some prejudice, but Lovecraft was more racist (and sexist) than even the norm for his time and that does come out in his letters much more than his stories. I can enjoy his works and the influence he has on modern writing without being caught up on his personal beliefs, but they are a matter of record. Funny enough, he had a fair number of personal relationships, at least in writing and fan circles, that were contrary to his written views.
I do not think that Lovecraft would ever have won awards for his complete mastery of the English language and his ability to write, but his plotting and ideas are good and the stories are short enough that any issues with the prose itself do not intrude too much by the time you reach they end of the story. I enjoy the details he has in his stories and he wrote during a time when people were transitioning from horses to cars. Some of the problems in his stories would just be solved with a cell phone call today, but modern writers still can use his ideas and make them work in modern stories.
When using the free link you need to be familiar with how to “open with” a program for a phone or tablet or how to transfer files yourself onto a Kindle. Kindle uses MOBI as the format while Nook and Apple’s iReader uses ePUB format. The free source is actually slightly better edited and has a few less spelling mistakes in it. I don’t think the link works outside the USA and it certainly will have issues inside China. If you want to read the stories on your web browser, you can try www.dagonbytes.com.
I have enjoyed these stories for years and years and like catching the pop culture references to them that appear with what seems to be increasing frequency. I hope you like them too.