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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The Last Ritual

The Last Ritual by S.A. Sidor is a perfect tie-in novel for the Arkham Horror Universe. It’s a fun, easy read that will leave you satisfied and ready to move onto your next Aconyte Books release. Each chapter is perfectly paced, with a cliff hanger to pull you into the next section. I highly recommend The Last Ritual for fans of the Arkham Horror games and Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. I thought I’d offer my summarized thoughts before I opened the gate to my full review. Consider this your last warning, spoilers will appear out of the cosmic abyss below.

I was initially interested in The Last Ritual for two reasons. First, it was set in the Arkham Horror Universe. Anyone who knows me is aware I’m obsessed with Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror games. I most recently discussed my love for these games when I unboxed two recent products in a YouTube video, but I also wrote an essay called The Narrative Appeal of Board Games, which mentions Arkham Horror, a while back. For those new to the Arkham Horror Universe, it started with a single board game based on the Cthulhu Mythos, which later grew tentacles and birthed several other board games, card games, and video games. This isn’t the only tie-in fiction either. There are a few other novels and novellas, and I own a book called The Investigators of Arkham Horror, which details all the characters in the Arkham Horror Universe up to that point. The second thing that interested me about The Last Ritual was the flat-out gorgeous cover created by John Coulthart (pictured to the left). I can’t say enough about how quickly this work of art grabbed my attention, conveyed everything I wanted to know about the tale, and made me want to read this book.

Of course, a good setting and façade aren’t worth much without a solid story inside. Thankfully, S.A. Sidor delivers a fantastic yarn. The narrative follows Alden Oakes, a painter, as he teams with Nina Tarrington, a writer, to investigate a mysterious artist’s commune called the New Colony. The pair suspects the New Colony is behind a series of ritualistic murders taking place around Arkham. A famed surrealist painter named Juan Hugo Balthazarr leads the artist’s commune, and he starts to take an increasingly dangerous liking to both Alden and Nina. The story combines elements of the Cthulhu Mythos with the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose story “The Rich Boy” is quoted in the opening pages of this novel. Fans of the Arkham Horror Universe will be happy to know that Preston Fairmont, Calvin Wright, and Norman Withers make appearances in the prose, and there are also references to Carl Sanford and the Silver Twilight Lodge. The narrative flows beautifully toward its conclusion, which reminded me somewhat of the chilling end to John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, but I’ll leave the specifics for you to discover.

Lastly, as a fan and writer, I love finding additional connections between the various works set in the Arkham Horror Universe. I suspect that Juan Hugo Balthazarr mentioned his film director friend, Luis Bunuel, near the end of The Last Ritual to foreshadow the antagonist in Rosemary Jones’s Mask of Silver. To find out if I was right, I plan to buy Mask of Silver, the next book in this new series of Arkham Horror tie-in fiction, immediately.

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Halloween Season

In Halloween Season, Lucy A. Snyder presents an eclectic mix of tales. They will all entertain you, and a few will send shivers down your spine. Snyder is a masterful short story writer, and I was lucky enough to have taken a class on the subject taught by her while in Seton Hill University’s Writing in Popular Fiction Program. The majority of what I know about the craft and business of short stories comes from that class. As a result, I couldn’t wait to read this book.

All of Snyder’s tales in Halloween Season contain a mix of humor and heart. The collection’s first short story, “Hazelnuts and Yummy Mummies,” is a Halloween twist on Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, and it is a great, heartfelt opener. The story also has several fun references to Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. “Cosmic Cola,” the following tale, deals with what Stephen King coined “the peculiar little town” trope. Basically, it’s when strangers enter a town where the residents are harboring a monstrous secret. I wrote a paper entitled “Hawthorne and Gorman’s Shadow over Innsmouth,” which touches on the origins of this trope, and I love reading any story that engages with it. I was especially thrilled to see “Cosmic Cola” make direct connections to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos tale, “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” If that wasn’t enough, in “Cosmic Cola,” one of Halloween’s most sacred traditions, dressing up, saves the protagonist’s life. “Visions of the Dream Witch” and “The Porcupine Boy” also engage with the Cthulhu Mythos, and “The Porcupine Boy” has one of the spookiest moments of the collection near the climax. Lastly, “The Kind Detective” is an impressive yarn because it’s relatively short and still manages to convey an excellent sense of cosmic terror.

I’ll leave the rest of the stories for you to discover, but I thought they were all fantastic Halloween fun. Of course, I can’t forget to mention the excellent cover by Lynne Hansen. I was lucky enough to hear her discuss how she came up with this cover at the Halloween Season Launch Party, and it truly captures the essence of the book and October. I even have a copy of the cover prominently displayed as part of my Halloween decorations. Now that I’ve finished Halloween Season, I plan to find more of Snyder’s work to devour.

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Lost Vintage and Other Halloween Treats

In case you didn’t see the announcement via my social media posts, you can join my fellow authors and me at the Women Running from Houses Launch Party on 10/13/20 at 8:30 PM (EST). We’re going to be discussing our gothic horror stories in the anthology. My tale is “Lost Vintage.” For a little preview of the literary influences on that story, be sure to check out the video below. I visit the grave of Robert W. Chambers, author of The King in Yellow. His work inspired H.P. Lovecraft, and The King in Yellow featured heavily in the first season of True Detective.

You can also check out this other video where I unbox my copies of Castle of Horror Anthology Volume 4: Women Running from Houses. I also open the Under Dark Waves expansion for the third edition of Arkham Horror the board game, and Barkham Horror: The Card Game, a dog-themed expansion for Arkham Horror: The Card Game.

Lastly, I have a blog post appearing in the Horror Writers Association’s Halloween Haunts series. I am incredibly proud of this post because I got to talk about how my late grandmother influenced my development into a horror writer. The post will be appearing on October 15th, and I’d love if you could give it a read.

Until Next Time,

Stay Froggy,

Jeremiah