Thursday, November 1, 2012

Book Review: 'Haggopian and Other Stories' by Brian Lumley

2 / 5 Stars

At 606 pp., ‘Haggopian and Other Stories’ is a thick doorstop of a mass-market paperback, released in November of 2009 from UK publisher Solaris. The cover artist is Bob Eggleton.
Of the 24 stories in this short story compilation, all but two were first published during the interval from 1969 – 1989, mostly in Arkham House, or other specialty publisher, hardbound anthologies.
Some of the stories (‘Cement Surroundings’) were eventually worked into the form of chapters in Lumley’s ‘Titus Crow’ novels, such as ‘The Burrowers Beneath’.
In his Introduction, and in the prefaces that accompany each story, author Lumley credits August Derleth with supporting his efforts at becoming a published writer. As well, Lumley defends Derleth from what the former feels are unjustifiable criticisms of Derleth’s handling of some elements of the Mythos, such as the imposition of a good/evil duality on the actions of the various Deities.
Rather than provide mini-reviews of each tale, which would be laborious, I will categorize the contents, and this, hopefully, should provide sufficient detail to allow readers to render a judgment on whether ‘Haggopian’ is the type of book they’re looking for.
The majority of the stories are ‘traditional’ Arkham House-style Mythos entries: in other words, they follow the paradigm in which Seekers of Eldritch Knowledge meddle with Forbidden Things, and wind up in direst difficulties. Such stories rely on atmosphere and setting, rather than employing graphic descriptions of horror, to unsettle the reader.
‘Cement Surroundings’, ‘The Night Sea-Maid Went Down’, ‘Recognition’, ‘Aunt Hester’, ‘The Kiss of Bugg-Shash’, ‘The Sister City’, ‘The Statement of Henry Worthy’, ‘Dagon’s Bell’, ‘The Mirror of Nitocris’, ‘The Second Wisk’, and ‘The Hymn’ all are competently-written stories, if not particularly original or imaginative in scope.
Titus Crow himself makes appearances in ‘The Caller of the Black’, ‘Name and Number’, ‘De Marigney’s Clock’, and ‘The Black Recalled’, often to provide succor to fumbling amateurs caught up in dangerous occult phenomena.
Other tales are set in the ancient days of Lumley’s ‘Primal Lands’ series, and / or the Dreamlands of Lovecraft’s ‘Randolph Carter’ character: ‘Mylakhrion the Immortal’, ‘Dylath-Leen’, and ‘The Sorcerer’s Dream’.  
The ‘Curse of the Golden Guardians’ feature’s Lumley’s Conan- modeled barbarian hero, Tara Khash. It’s one of the better entries in the anthology.
The best entries are those in which Lumley infuses his traditionalist tack with a greater helping of gruesomeness and gore. ‘Haggopian’, about a deep-sea explorer with an abnormal fondness for parasitic aquatic life, is genuinely creepy. ‘What Dark God’ features a nasty act of vampirism, and ‘The Thing from Blasted Heath’ introduces the carnivorous plant trope with greater effectiveness than the entirety of Scott Smith’s novel, ‘The Ruins’. ‘The House of Cthulhu’ echoes Lovecraft’s ‘Dagon’, and features the infliction of a loathsome fate upon those foolish enough to trespass on blasphemed ground.
‘Synchronicity or Something’ is a half-humorous look at the fanboy world associated with the Chaosium role-playing games.
The verdict ? Dedicated fans of Lumley and / or the Mythos will probably want to have this anthology on their shelves. However, I suspect that readers looking for entertaining horror fiction per se will find the packaging of 600+ pages with 24 stories, all with similar themes, too unvaried a diet to be truly engaging.

1 comment:

MPorcius said...

I got this from the library when it was new, and read several of the stories and thought they were pretty good; not groundbreaking or spectacular, but solid.

I think the oil rig one ("Night the Sea-Maid Went Down", perhaps) was probably my favorite. There was also one in which a guy buys a house on the English shore which turns out to have been built over an ancient temple (maybe "Dagon's Bell") which I quite enjoyed; it was like a traditional Lovecraft story but more action.

I recognize the names "Aunt Hester" and "Mirror of Nitocris," but can't recall a thing about them.