The transformations of The Black Wings of Cthulhu

The Black Wings of Cthulhuis a collection of twenty-one stories, each with a theme or structure similar to the classic horror tales of H.P. Lovecraft.

They are stories of world-eating gods from outside our universe, men who transform slowly into beasts, and folk who are haunted by their own pasts.

The editor of the collection, Lovecraftian scholar S.T. Toshi, has chosen only the most satisfying of tales for this collection, each one a creepy reflection of Lovecraft, while retaining its own sense of setting and individual style.

The most compelling story in the book is one called Copping Squid by Michael Shea. In this story, the main character, Ricky, is approached by a stranger while he’s working a late night shift at a convenience store. The stranger has an odd objective. He threatens Ricky with a knife, and Ricky draws his own. When the man lunges, he stops short, and lets himself get cut by Ricky’s blade, then he asks for $10 and a ride down the street. 

Ricky allows himself get dragged into a curious journey with the odd stranger, who seems to have discordant and shifting goals. This previously bored convenience store clerk finds himself suddenly in a world of old gods, and nonsensical worship. By the time he figures out what’s going on, it’s too late to turn around.

Like the above-mentioned example, some of the stories seem to be set in the world of Lovecraft’s own lore, while others, like The Broadsword by Laird Barron, which is probably the downright creepiest tale in the book, have wholly new terrors.

In this one, an older gentleman begins to hear voices coming from the walls of the aging apartment building he lives in. As he explores and tries to talk to his friends about it, the man – and the audience – are forced to delve deep into his memories to find what happened to an old friend and colleague years ago in the dark wilderness, and what that has to do with a race of strange creatures who occupy our own frail forms.

Happy endings are not really the name of the game here, which is fine, but the book as a whole does have a noticeable weakness: Despite the quality of each story in the volume, most of the tales would have been even better if they’d not been in a volume of Lovecraftian tales. By that I mean that the twists and surprises are sometimes lost. 

Most of the stories deal with characters who begin as ordinary, though troubled, folk who are investigating strange occurrences or attempting to come to terms with what seems like illusions or hallucinations. When the revelation arrives in each story that eldritch forms or malevolent magic is responsible for the madness, it’s not really much of a surprise. Each story becomes a bit predictable only because we already know the tale will have Lovecraftian influences, which is usually most present in the climax.

However, as I noted earlier, this issue doesn’t affect the quality of each story, and while it may dull the creep-factor just a bit, the stories are still easy to appreciate on their own merits.

Overall, the collection is a fun read for Lovecraft fans. It doesn’t read like Lovecraft fan-fiction, but rather like a true homage to a master of creepy story-telling, and would be a cool introduction to some great creepy fiction for those unfamiliar with the style.

The Black Wings of Cthulhu is available now from Titan Books. A second volume will be available in 2013.

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