Under Twin Suns Edited by James Chambers

I received Under Twin Suns: Alternative Histories of the Yellow Sign as a Christmas present and read it in only a few days. Unfortunately, January and February were busy months, and I couldn’t finish my review of this anthology until now. In the time since I read Under Twin Suns, it made the final ballot for the 2021 Bram Stoker Awards. Congratulations are in order for the editor, James Chambers, publisher, Hippocampus Press, and all the authors. The Bram Stoker nomination is a well-deserved accolade for this fantastic collection.

I’m an avid fan of Robert W. Chamber’s The King in Yellow. I’ve written a few tales loosely connected to the King in Yellow, and I even took a trip to visit the author’s grave in Broadalbin, New York. Suffice it to say, when I first heard about Under Twin Suns, I was excited by the prospect of an anthology consisting of King in Yellow-inspired stories. My excitement only doubled when I found out some of my favorite authors, such as John Langan, had tales included.

Per the advice of James Chamber’s introduction, I read this collection from front to back. It’s a testament to the quality of the work in Under Twin Suns that I was able to do that with no issue. I often find that anthologies have ebbs and flows, like a novel, and some stories prove to be more or less engaging based on your mindset while you’re reading. Occasionally, you may even skip a tale to revisit. There wasn’t a single story in Under Twin Suns that didn’t hold my interest. I read each one and moved right to the next until I was finished.

I’ve listed a few of my favorite tales in this collection below, but I wanted to note again that each work included in Under Twin Suns is great. These stories are just the ones that resonated most with me on my first reading. “Robert Chambers Reads The King in Yellow” by Lisa Morton is the first tale, and I loved the meta nature of it. “The King in Yella” by Kaaron Warren felt like a modern take on Karl Edward Wagner’s “The River of Night’s Dreaming.” “The Yellow House” by Greg Chapman ramped up to a stunningly insane climax. “Freedom for All” by JG Faherty felt topical as it dealt with a conspiracy theory driven cult. “Y2K” by Todd Keisling gets props for bringing David Bowie into the King in Yellow mythos. “Veiled Intentions” by Linda D. Addison was an excellent poetic inclusion. Lastly, “The Exchange” by Tim Waggoner was a perfectly Twilight Zone-esque story with a wonderful ending.

If you haven’t read Under Twin Suns yet, I highly recommend you pick up a copy. That said, be sure you’ve read at least “The Yellow Sign” and “The Repairer of Reputations” by Robert W. Chambers before you dive into this anthology. I’m sure you can still enjoy this collection if you’re not familiar with those tales, but you’ll get a lot more out of each author’s work with some prior knowledge of The King in Yellow. If you need a taste of Chamber’s prose before picking up his work, you can check out this video, where I read an excerpt from his story “The Yellow Sign” while visiting the author’s final resting place.

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Itchy, Tasty: An Unofficial History of Resident Evil by Alex Aniel

Don’t let anyone convince you Twitter is all bad. Thanks to @MiskatonicL, a Twitter friend who shares a mutual love of horror, I discovered Itchy, Tasty: An Unofficial History of Resident Evil. I’ve been a Resident Evil fanatic since 2002 (the first movie led me to the games). The mix of horror, monsters, and action hooked me, and I quickly purchased and worked my way through every available entry in the series. To date, I’ve played twenty-three of the twenty-eight released games. The ones I missed were either not released in the US, non-canonical, or repackages of games I’d already played in another form. Suffice it to say, I know my Resident Evil games, but I was still surprised by how much I learned in Itchy, Tasty.

For those who don’t know, the phrase “itchy, tasty” comes from the diary of a person turning into a zombie in the original Resident Evil. Fans of the series fondly recall the first time they read that haunting tome. I was amused to learn that in Japanese, the phrase is “kayui uma,” but due to the words being homonyms in that language, the phrase can mean “itchy, tasty,” or an odd assortment of amusing other things such as “delicious porridge,” “itchy porridge,” or “itchy horse,” to name a few. I was also amused to learn that the voice and live actors in the first Resident Evil were, essentially, a hodgepodge of English speakers with no voice acting experience pulled in off the streets of Japan.

While I knew the name Shinji Mikami, the director of the first and fourth Resident Evil games, prior to reading this book, I was delighted to discover the names of Kenichi Iwao and Noboru Sugimura. Iwao was the writer for the first Resident Evil, and Noboru Sugimura wrote most of my favorite Resident Evil games after the first one. As a writer, I loved learning more about the people who created some of my favorite characters and scenarios. Sugimura in particular, was responsible for the story of the original Resident Evil 2, which I consider an unsurpassed masterpiece.

In addition to learning new bits of information about the development of the Resident Evil games, I experienced continual waves of nostalgia as I was reminded of things I’d forgotten. For instance, Capcom had decided to release Resident Evil games exclusively for Nintendo’s GameCube for a short time. As a kid, I didn’t have a GameCube, but my brothers had one at my dad’s. As a result, I spent most of my weekends and summers at my dad’s playing Resident Evil Remake, Resident Evil Zero, and Resident Evil 4 (which were all exclusive to GameCube for a time). I was also reminded of playing Resident Evil: Outbreak and Resident Evil Outbreak: File 2. These were the first online games I ever played, and I had to use my uncle’s PlayStation 2, which had an online adapter, to connect with other players during a short visit to his apartment in Philadelphia over the summer of 2005.

I don’t typically review nonfiction, but I thought, since the subject is horror related, I’d make an exception for Itchy, Tasty. If, like me, you love Resident Evil, I’d say this book is a must read. I’d even highly recommend it if you’re just a fan of gaming, as you’ll learn a ton about Capcom’s history. This book provided me a much-needed break from fiction, while also supplying me with inspiration as I learned about how the various creators at Capcom worked around countless challenges to release my favorite games. In Itchy, Tasty, Alex Aniel wisely chooses to focus on the period from 1996 to 2006, what old school Resident Evil fans tend of think of as the golden age of the franchise. That said, I’d certainly be interested in a follow-up book covering 2006 to the present.

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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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