Monday, November 1, 2010

Book Review: 'The Disciples of Cthulhu' edited by Edward P. Berglund




3 / 5 Stars


‘The Disciples of Cthulhu’, DAW Book No. 213 (288 pp.) , was issued in 1976 and features a cover illustration by Karel Thole.

I remember picking this book up from the rack at Gordon’s Cigar Store in October 1976,  back when Steely Dan’s ‘The Fez’, ‘Muskrat Love’ by the Captain and Tennille, and “Disco Duck’ by Rick Dees, were playing on the radio. TV offered ‘(Dick) Van Dyke and Company’, ‘Police Woman’, ‘Baretta’, and ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’.

‘Disciples’ is a reasonably good anthology of Cthulhu stories, particularly in comparison with the endless fanfic anthologies churned out over the past 15 years by Chaosium, and the more polished collections (‘Cthulhu 2000’) published by Del Rey. All its entries were written specifically for the book, and veteran authors, as well as newcomers, were included in the lineup. Copies of this book in good condition fetch high prices on eBay and amazon.com.

As a Cthulhu anthology, ‘Disciples’ tends toward the quieter end of the horror spectrum, focusing less on blood and gore than on the psychological derangement that comes with encountering the Old Ones and their warped human acolytes. 

My opinions of the stories:

‘The Fairground Horror’ by Brian Lumley: the creepy owner of an amusement park side show reserves a set of eldritch artifacts and collectibles for viewing by appointment only. When an archeology professor requests to see the objects, he may see more than he bargained for….sharing the same English setting as Lumley’s ‘Titus Groan Crow’ stories, ‘Fairground’ takes a leisurely approach in getting to its denouement (correction courtesy M. Porcius).

‘The Silence of Erika Zann’ by James Wade: in a seedy music club an acid rock band named The Electric Commode , led by a striking singer named Erika Zann, starts to attract attention from the hipsters.  The band’s music is strange and unearthly, and not all of the sounds are coming from the players on stage. [The theme of rock music as a natural outlet for Cthulhu worship is recycled by Alan Moore in his recent ‘The Courtyard’ and ‘Necronomicon’ comics for Avatar Press.]

‘All Eye’ by Bob Van Laerhoven: in the Canadian wilderness a scholar gets lost and finds himself confronting an evil entity from beyond Time and Space. Van Laerhoven was a newcomer to writing and his first-person narrative, while holding the reader’s attention, can be confusing at times.

‘The Tugging’ is the inevitable entry from Ramsey Campbell. An art critic for a British newspaper is troubled by dreams of an undersea island coming to the surface; these dreams may be triggered by the approach of a rogue planetoid into the solar system. As is usual with a Campbell contribution, the plot is an afterthought, weighted down by a thick encrustation of metaphors and similes: buses ‘quake’ and ‘fart’, telephone calls ‘leap prankishly’ (?!), the dawn ‘clutches’, memories ‘tear’ their way through insomnia…you get the picture.

“Where Yidhra Walks” by Walter C. DeBill, Jr. : in the wilds of West Texas, a traveler finds himself stranded in a small town named Milando. The townspeople don’t take kindly to strangers, particularly strangers who start to ask too many questions about an ancient cult that worships an entity called Yidhra the Devourer…..this is one of the better tales in the anthology, making a well-crafted transition from the atmosphere of unease that starts out most traditional Mythos stories before ramping things up to a chase sequence reminiscent in some ways of ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’.

‘The Feaster from Afar’ by Joseph Payne Brennan: a supercilious novelist decides to take a sabbatical in a remote area of New England. He begins having disturbing dreams, but dismisses them as manifestations of the depression induced by the gloomy countryside. This is not a good attitude to take when in Cthulhu Country…one of the best stories in the anthology.

‘Zoth-Ommog’ by Lin Carter: a young museum staffer is troubled by a statue from a collection of artifacts recovered by a South Pacific expedition. He enlists the aid of the faculty at Miskatonic University and discovers the statue is the manifestation of one of Cthulhu’s offspring; there are unpleasant implications for the safety of all who view it. Carter can’t resist belaboring the reader with a detailed exposition on the background of the Mythos, making this novelette too long and rambling to be very engaging.

‘Darkness, My Name Is’ by Eddy C. Bertin: vacationing in Freihausgarten, a remote village in Germany, Herbert Ramon decides to investigate rumors of a temple located somewhere within a nearby Dark Hill. The locals don’t like talking about the Hill, or the strange ceremonies that are supposed to take place during the full moon…This story is the most innovative in the collection, moving from the familiar theme of the seeker into Eldritch Mysteries to a decidedly Cosmic, sci-fi perspective.  Bertin’s use of a New Wave prose style in accompaniment of this narrative shift is overdone, but ‘Darkness’ stands as a very capable modern contribution to the Mythos.

‘The Terror from the Depths’ by Fritz Leiber: on the California coast, Georg Fischer has weird dreams of a vast network of tunnels lying under the trails in the hills surrounding his home. Are they connected to the bizarre shrine to a marine Deity in the basement of the house ? ‘Terror’ is a rather pedestrian reworking of the major storylines of the Mythos, and Leiber mimics too closely Lovecraft’s overwrought prose style (caves are referred to as ‘subterranean vacuities’).

Summing up, 'Disciples' is a decent anthology and worth picking up. Note that the most recent edition, published in 1996 by Chaosium in trade paperback format, dropped the Carter and Brennan entries for new ones by Robert Price and A. A. Attansio.

3 comments:

Aaron Mason said...

The Feaster from Afar was an interesting story, but it's representation of Hastur is lacking, particularly given the storied history of the "character".

Love that cover art for Disciples though - much better than the overproduced stuff they use these days that look like, well, nothing in particular.

- Aaron

Will Errickson said...

Been meaning to pick this one up, if only for the cover art.

MPorcius said...

"Titus Groan" is an interesting Freudian slip for "Titus Crow," tarbandu!