A Primer to Ramsey Campbell Edited by Eric J. Guignard

Ramsey Campbell is a living legend of the horror genre. He’s also the reason I was able to review Michael Shae’s The Color Out of Time, click the link to find out how. I first encountered Campbell’s name in relation to H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. Campbell’s first book, The Inhabitant of the Lake, was published by Arkham House, the small press that is primarily responsible for the survival of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction. Campbell also corresponded with Arkham House’s founder, August Derleth. Fans of the Cthulhu Mythos will know the significance of mythos writers corresponding. Lovecraft was a prodigious writer of letters, and he had a vast circle of literary acquaintances when he passed away. Derleth was among Lovecraft’s correspondents. This creates a direct link from Lovecraft to Campbell through Derleth. All of which is to say Campbell has a pedigree in the horror writing community. Despite that, I hadn’t read his work due to the daunting amount he has written in his lifetime. Quite frankly, I just didn’t know where to start. Thankfully, Eric J. Guignard solved that problem for me with his publication of A Primer to Ramsey Campbell. This collection of six of Campbell’s tales is a perfect entry into his work. Each story has a fantastic analysis by Michael Arnzen, PhD, which lends the reader additional insight into each work. I can’t say enough good things about this compact book. Do yourself a favor and order a copy. Even if you’re familiar with all of Campbell’s work, Arnzen’s analysis will make re-reading previously published tales worth the purchase price.

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The Weird Company by Pete Rawlik

I greatly enjoyed Pete Rawlik’s Reanimators. That novel followed Dr. Stuart Hartwell as he attempted to perfect his re-agent, a serum to cure death, while competing with H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West. Hartwell’s adventures gave readers new perspectives from which to view some of Lovecraft’s work. For instance, Hartwell plays a small part in the creation of the titular Dunwich Horror. I talked about my enjoyment of Reanimators in my Summer Reading Roundup last year, but now I’m ready to discuss the sequel, The Weird Company: The Secret History of H.P. Lovecraft’s Twentieth Century.

I should think it goes without saying, but if you want to truly enjoy Reanimators and The Weird Company, you’ll need to be familiar with the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Whereas Reanimators primarily drew on Lovecraft’s schlocky Frankenstein tale, Reanimator, The Weird Company takes most of its major inspiration from At the Mountains of Madness. Rawlik doesn’t just draw from At the Mountains of Madness though. Characters and references from The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Thing on the Doorstep, Dreams in the Witch House, The Hounds of Tindalos, The Blob, John Carpenter’s The Fog, The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, Through the Gates of the Silver Key, and The Strange High House in the Mist appear within the pages of the Weird Company. And those are just the characters and references I identified, and remembered, while writing my review.

Minor Spoilers Below

In The Weird Company, Shoggoths, protoplasmic monsters, are working to abscond from their icy solitude in Antarctica. Their escape from the frozen continent will spell doom for humanity. The only force standing in the Shoggoths’ path is the Weird Company, a group of unlikely heroes who I think of as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen if Alan Moore drew from Lovecraft stories instead of classic fiction. The narrative is relayed via diary entries from several members of the Weird Company, mostly from Robert Olmstead, the protagonist from The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Together the group travels to Antarctica and battles to keep the Shoggoths from escaping.

Rawlik adds several new twists and connections into Lovecraft’s existing canon. Some purists might be skeptical of these, but I liked all of the fresh inclusions. One fascinating link Rawlik makes is between the blood of the Elder Things, creatures from At the Mountains of Madness, and the re-agent created by Herbert West and Dr. Stuart Hartwell. The Elder Things can enter stasis and effectively live forever, and the re-agent preserves and revives, so it makes sense the two substances would be similar. Rawlik also manages to make the Elder Things rather terrifying in their locomotion, a feat infinitely impressive considering Lovecraft’s original descriptions of their alien forms. At the end of the book, there’s also a ghoulish twist to the Elder Sign, which is traditionally portrayed as a protective ward.

My review is quickly devolving into a lunatic’s raving, and I’d prefer to avoid being committed to the Arkham Sanitarium, but I have a few last thoughts before I end. The climax of the story is a ton of fun, if like me, you’re a fan of cats, specifically The Cats of Ulthar. Oliver Wyman does an outstanding job narrating The Weird Company on Audible. He did the same for Reanimators. Lastly, don’t forget to check out Pete Rawlik’s latest Lovecraftian installment, The Miskatonic University Spiritualism Club. The book is now available for pre-order from Jackanapes Press.

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Experimental Film by Gemma Files

When The Lovecraft eZine recommends a book, I listen. So it was that I found myself purchasing Gemma Files’ Experimental Film on Audible. I burned through the story at a pace akin to combusting Silver Nitrate Film.

I want to let you discover the plot of Experimental Film for yourself, so I’m not going deep into spoilers. The tale follows a film teacher, Lois, as she investigates Lady Whitcomb, who may’ve been one of Canada’s first filmmakers. Lady Whitcomb created films in the era of highly combustible Silver Nitrate Film, hence my reference above. Unfortunately for Lois, the deeper she digs into the mystery of Lady Whitcomb, the weirder things get for her.

Files deftly balances supernatural film, pagan deities, and the reality of raising an autistic child in her novel. The protagonist’s voice is incredibly strong, and I think that is part of what makes the story so effortlessly enjoyable. The narrative also unfolds with film slang being used in place of traditional chapter titles, a fun touch. If you like works such as Cigarette Burns, The Ninth Gate, or The Ring, you should love this.

P.S. Morgan Hallett does a fantastic job narrating this on Audible.

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Cruel Works of Nature by Gemma Amor

Gemma Amor is a name I’ve been familiar with for a long time due to The NoSleep Podcast. Her story, “Foliage,” is one of the most memorable tales I’ve heard adapted there. So, it was only a matter of time until I picked up one of her books. After Amor described her story “It Sees You When You’re Sleeping” as “Xenomorphs in Chimneys,” on Twitter, I had to pick up her collection, Cruel Works of Nature, to download that story straight into my brain.

The previously mentioned “It Sees Your When You’re Sleeping” didn’t disappoint, and I enjoyed all the other tales in this collection. I’d heard adaptations of “Foliage” and “Girl on Fire” on The NoSleep Podcast before, but I enjoyed getting to read through the printed versions. Aside from those two tales, all the others were new to me.

Gemma Amor has an interesting style. She often blends humor, heart, and horror in equal measures. Her characters are well developed, and you find yourself rooting for them. She also indulges her readers in the occasional amusing absurdity. In “Scuttlebug” she has a giant spider attempt to get intimate with the protagonist, and “The Path Through Lower Fell” concerns man-eating cows. But Amor manages to keep her zany moments balanced so that they don’t disrupt the darker tone of her tales. This is a feat that repeatedly impressed me while I read Cruel Works of Nature.

When it comes to horror stories, I think the spookiest scenarios spring from everyday people finding themselves in terrible situations through no fault of their own. I’m not saying you can’t have the occasional protagonist who transgresses and is punished, but I think horror works best when it’s reminiscent of a nightmare. Several of Amor’s stories fit this description, but “His Life’s Work” and “Special Delivery” are two that perfectly illustrate what I’m discussing. The protagonists in those stories are normal people who encounter frightening situations without any choice in the matter, and I loved reading about their terrifying experiences.

If you haven’t yet read or listened to a Gemma Amor story, you may be interested to learn that her Bram Stoker Award nominated novel, Dear Laura, is currently being adapted and released by The NoSleep Podcast on a weekly basis. You can find a link to the first installment here. I’m loving the story, and I recommend checking it out to get a taste of Amor’s work. You can also search for any of her stories that have been previously adapted by The NoSleep Podcast. If, once you’ve finished listening to some of Amor’s work on The NoSleep Podcast, you’re still hungry for horror, I’d be delighted if you checked out Episode 8, Season 14, where my story “The House Flipping Find” is featured.

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Till We Become Monsters by Amanda Headlee

A sibling rivalry plays out in brutal and shocking fashion in Amanda Headlee’s debut horror novel Till We Become Monsters. This book is a fun, brisk read that combines some classic horror mythology with a psychological thriller. The primary protagonist is Korin Perrin, but don’t think you can take everything he thinks for granted. You’ll find out quickly that he’s an extremely unreliable narrator. As the story unfolds, you’ll be surprised by abrupt changes in the narrative’s direction.

Spoilers Below

When the tale opens, Korin is a small boy learning about changeling mythology from his grandmother. In European folklore, a changeling was a fairy that had been left in place of a stolen baby. This leads Korin to conclude that his grumpy older brother, Davis, may in fact be a fairy in disguise. Korin’s belief only grows stronger when Davis seemingly pushes their grandmother down the stairs. Things get wild after this as Korin shoves Davis into a fire, only to discover Davis isn’t a fairy. Korin is then shipped off to a mental asylum, where he’s poorly treated. Years pass and Korin recovers to become a successful student while his brother Davis becomes a malcontent with a burned arm who won’t leave home. The siblings take a camping trip into the woods with their father and family friends, but things go horribly wrong. Korin ends up confronting the mythology of the Wendigo, an evil spirit that provokes cannibalism, which turns out to be realer than that of the changeling.

The unexpected shifts were my favorite part of reading this novel. When you start to feel like you’ve got a good handle on how the book will progress, Headlee pulls the rug out from under you. First, I assumed the story would deal with Korin trying to expose his changeling brother, then I thought it might concern Korin battling out of a mental asylum to kill his brother, and finally, we find out things from Korin’s mother later in the tale that recontextualize the opening to reframe the protagonist and antagonist of the novel. The shifts kept me on my toes. I recommend checking this out if you think you’ve gotten to the point where you believe you can predict how every narrative will unfold. This book should manage to surprise you a few times. I’m excited to see what Headlee puts out next.

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