Dead But Dreaming
Originally for Raw, New Things #6, 8/1/2002
|Lovecraftian anthologies seem to be popping up
all over the landscape these days. This one is from Darktales publications, a small house
dedicated to horror novels and anthologies, run by Keith Herber and David Nordhaus. For
those of you who pay attention to such things, Keith Herber was once the major
scenario-producer for Chaosium. Mr. Herber is also an editor for the collection, along
with Kevin Ross, another one of Chaosiums perennial scribes. In fact, it was these
two names that overcame my initial resistance to the idea of buying the book. Having been
stung by such awfulness as Bruce Gehweilers New Mythos Legends, I try to be a
bit more discerning in my purchases of small publishers Lovecraftian material. The
Internet is in some ways a wonderful thing, carrying to us news of many items of interest.
Unfortunately, it does not always convey information about quality. If you happen to be a
person of poor impulse control, this can lead to some disappointments. Fortunately, this
is not so with Dead But Dreaming. Dead But Dreaming is a fairly small, 202
page trade-sized paperback, priced at $17.99. Kevin Ross says in his introduction,
"Many newer tales just arent scary, theyre predictable and tiresome. By
simply reading a page or two of the average pastiche, you can just about guess how the
storys going to end, right down to the phrasing of the final awful revelation customarily
rendered in italics for effect!" I wont contradict him. While there are
many solidly readable volumes of Lovecraftian pastiches out there, many are wildly uneven,
and some are out and out . Where I did find the occasional predicable story in Dead But
Dreaming, all were interesting enough to pursue to their conclusions.
Quite notably, the stories in this anthology take place in many different locations, and with many different protagonists. There are strange post-apocalypse futures, far-future space opera, stories set during World War II, the twenties, and of course the modern day. Narration comes from a hired assassin, an anthropologist, a scriptwriter, a ten year-old boy, and a want-to-be occultist. In each case, there is at least as much of the writer in the story as there is of Lovecraft, and in many cases this keeps the stories fresh.
What sets "The Disciple" apart from an uninspired story is the direction the story goes. I thought I knew where it was going, but I was quite pleasantly proven wrong. The quality of the prose kept me interested, even when I thought the ending inevitable and cliched.
The most structurally interesting story is Lisa Mortons "Call of Cthulhu: The Motion Picture". It is an impressive tribute to Lovecraft, structurally imitating The Call of Cthulhu", but not subsuming itself wholly into that tale. And while the main plot line is interesting, the story also presents us with layers and layers of subtext. And the Graduate Student that sleeps within me cant resist reading between the lines of a story, especially when it cries out to be interpreted. I wont bore the reader with my musings, but I will advise the prospective purchaser of the book to read the story carefully; theres a lot going on beneath Lisa Mortons deceptively simple prose.
Especially good is Ramsey Campbells "The Other Names." In general, I havent been very impressed with Campbell. Yes, "Cold Print" is an excellent story, but his original Brichester stories are the work of a beginning writer, good but not yet technically proficient. "The Other Names" is a subtle tale by a master of his craft, who knows how to bring us chills. Campbell allows us to figure out whats going on in the story just a few paragraphs ahead of his protagonist, a very effective device that is difficult to evoke properly. My hats off to Mr. Campbell for this story.
David Annandales "Final Draft" is in every way the perfect closing of the book. Certainly one of the most insidiously effective of the stories presented, Annandale also shows a visual flare that the other stories seem to lack. If there is a story in this collection that most effectively captures the slowly-revealed cosmic hopelessness of Lovecrafts best work, I would say that this is it.
Other stories are less successful, but they never fall down to the level of utter dullness. Darrell Schweitzers "Why We Do It" is the least interesting story, but at a page and a half, its not much to suffer through. These days, I have to call a Lovecraftian collection satisfactory if I like more stories than I dislike. Dead but Dreaming far exceeds this mark, with all but a few of the stories leading somewhere interesting