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Arkham Tales: Stories of the Legend Haunted City Paperback – July 7, 2006
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Learn more
From the Inside Flap
Nestled along the Massachusetts coast, the small town of Arkham has existed for centuries. It is the source of countless rumors and legends. Tales of Arkham are whispered by those who have visited it each telling a different and remarkable account. Reports of impossible occurrences, peculiar happenings and bizarre events, tales that test the sanity of the reader are to be found here. Magic, mysteries, monsters, mayhem, and ancient malignancies form the foundation of this unforgettable Eastern town. Collected in this volume are the strange and terrifying stories of the legend-haunted city.
About the Author
William Jones is a writer and editor who has worked across genres, including mystery, horror, science fiction, dark fiction, historical and young adult, and non-fiction. He has edited several fiction anthologies. His writing also reaches into the role-playing industry, where he has published articles and gaming supplements for a variety of publishers. When not writing fiction, he teaches English at a university in Michigan.
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And we also owe a debt to Chaosium for their role playing game, Call of Cthulhu. Actually I never played it; back when I had time for such leisure pursuits I was a D&D fan (but you gotta love a game where no matter how good you are, you eventually go insane or get eaten...). So here is my bias for the review: I do not know the source materials other than the stories by HPL and his legion of followers. And here is my assessment: you do not need to know their source material! Just like you don't need to know any of the Delta Green sources to really enjoy their books. Frankly, it's a wonder it took so long for Chaosium to elicit fiction based on their game world. After all there are tons of D&D based books. Delta Green, a version of CoC set in the modern era rife with secret government agencies and conspiracies, has been generating GREAT fiction for years now. Maybe the idea was germinating for a while but Chaosium was too broke to act on it, I dunno. Although set in or about Arkham, authors had free rein about all other content and setting, so there is no sense of repetition at all.
Someone will have to fill me in on the authors' reimbursement but I think it was peanuts plus 2 copies of the book, so truly these stories are labors of love. What I really like is there was a solicitation of stories and a culling process by the highly respected William Jones, from Elder Signs Press. This means the stories are notches above the cycle books. List price is $15.95 but it is discounted on Amazon to $10.37, and available for free shipping if you buy $25 worth of stuff (like Hardboiled Cthulhu!). The book itself is a good quality trade paperback, like all the cycle books. Page count is 288, not counting the editor's note, so very generous! The editor's note by William Jones is quite useful and details the setting for the anthology in Chaosium's world. Unfortunately there are no bios on the authors. Cover art is by Steven Gilberts. It shows a grizzled one eyed grounds keeper at Miskatonic University, shadowed by various critters. I am not sure about this, but I believe Mr. Gilberts did the artwork for some CoC game scenarios, so this is a very appropriate choice. This brings me to the biggest flaw in the book: there were at least a half dozen careless typos, mostly word substitutions. I did not jot them down as I was reading but, for example, p160 "fowl odors" (unless everything was supposed to smell like chickens). I think someone relied too much on a spell checker. Also in the story Burnt Tea by Michael Dziesinski busted was used as a descriptive adjective, "busted body." OK, I'll accept that a woman has a bust, or a narc conducts a bust, or you sculpt a bust. I'll buy that if you are writing colloquially in dialogue, or representing someone's thoughts, to say something was busted is appropriate slang, but in narrative detached from thoughts or dialogue it reads like the mistake of an ignoramus. Why not "broken body?" I saw this same mistaken usage twice in another story somewhere recently, maybe a chapbook, and I was equally put off by it. I won't say it killed the story, but goodness gracious it peeved me. I greatly enjoyed Eats, Shoots, & Leaves by Lynne Truss, so consider this my panda paw print.
Here are the contents (not otherwise listed elsewhere that I could find, so I typed the dang thing myself):
Mysterious Dan's Legacy - Matthew Baugh
Vaughn's Diary - Robert Vaughn
The Orb - Tony Campbell
The Nether Collection - Cody Goodfellow
Worms - Pat Harrigan
They Thrive in Darkness - Ron Shiflet
What Sorrows May Come - Lee Clark Zumpe
Arkham Pets - James Ambuehl
Small Ghost - Michael Minnis
Burnt Tea - Michael Dziesinski
Arkham Rain - John Goodrich
Regrowth - David Conyers
The Idea of Fear - CJ Henderson
Disconnected - Brian Sammons
The Lady in the Grove - Scott Lette
On Leave in Arkham - Bill Bilstad
Geometry of the Soul - Jason Andrew
Spoilers may follow so stop now if that bothers you *********
Mysterious Dan's Legacy - Matthew Baugh - This is a new author to me. In 1873 a Kansas cowboy (that was frontier territory right after the Civil War) comes to Arkham to collect an inheritance, which brings unwelcome knowledge, responsibilities and enemies. This was a very likeable story; I wonder if the protagonist, Daniel Hawkins, will become a regular character in Mr. Baugh's stories.
Vaughn's Diary - Robert Vaughn - Here is one story where my knowledge of the source material wasn't up to scratch and I couldn't remember if there was an antecedent story but HPL or someone else, so I don't recognize the name Timothy Erasmus Vaughn. Regarding this tale, never ever read the diary of a deceased relative who was an occultist in Arkham. Never! I hadn't read anything by Mr. Vaughn before, but this was a good read and I hope he is writing more mythos fiction.
The Orb - Tony Campbell - Tony Campbell wrote After the War which appeared in Horrors Beyond. I liked that story well enough but it didn't knock my socks off. That impression is confirmed in The Orb, which is also OK but doesn't stand up to the best in this anthology. A Miskatonic Unversity librarian's father has to match wits with the Hounds of Tindalos and Nyalathotep.
The Nether Collection - Cody Goodfellow - After the absorbing Cahokia in Horrors Beyond and the unreasonably entertaining To Skin a Dead Man in Hardboiled Cthulhu, and his sensational novels Radiant Dawn and Ravenous Dusk, Mr. Goodfellow can basically do no wrong. This was a change of pace, being a story of Harry Houdini and Lovecraftian ghouls. What can I say, I really liked it.
Worms - Pat Harrigan - This was a fascinating story by an author I never encountered before. It chronicles the rise of a man from office drone to fanatical rabble rouser, with terrific Lovecraftian touches scattered throughout. I loved that more subtle touches were used as opposed to the usual rub your face in the fact that there's a mythos out there.
They Thrive in Darkness - Ron Shiflet - With Unfinished Business in Hardboiled Cthulhu Mr. Shiflet now has two tales of Pickman and his ghouls in print. While I enjoyed the story, I confess to liking Unfinished Business better.
What Sorrows May Come - Lee Clark Zumpe - Mr. Zumpe wrote The Breach, a terrific story in Horrors Beyond, and has a few stories in mythos magazines. This effort was OK, sort of a reanimation tale with a protective ghost thrown in. I liked the prose but the story left me flat; I didn't dislike it, there was just better stuff here.
Arkham Pets - James Ambuehl - This very brief story by the ubiquitous Mr. Ambuehl concerned a boy who finds some crawly things in an Arkham swamp and decides to bring them home. Complications ensue. I found this amusing and diverting.
Small Ghost - Michael Minnis - Mr. Minnis is very productive. Recently we've had A Little Color in Your Cheeks in Horrors Beyond (mostly good) The Prodigies of Monkfield Cabot in Eldritch Blue (OK), Salt Air (superb) in Dead But Dreaming and The Butcher of Vyones (great) Lost Worlds of Space and Time #1. Small Ghost was terrific, maybe the highlight of Arkham Tales. It was about Brown Jenkin, the rat-like witch's familiar and someone with the health department.
Burnt Tea - Michael Dziesinski- I already mentioned my problem with the typos. Otherwise this was a very nifty work by an author I never encountered before, about the Hounds of Tindalos and Japanese tea ceremonies in the 1920s.
Arkham Rain - John Goodrich - Mr. Goodrich is active on the mythos scene but I don't recall seeing his work before. I'll have to remedy that! Arkham Rain was a terrific story about the Innsmouth taint visiting an unwitting family. An old mythos trope? You bet! But this was a wonderfully original take.
Regrowth - David Conyers - I'm a big David Conyers fan. He is becoming well published in almost all the newer mythos anthologies. This story has some thematic similarity to False Containment in Horrors Beyond, and deals with unnatural melding of disparate species. Being a Conyers yarn it was a darn good read, although I've liked other stories by him better.
The Idea of Fear - CJ Henderson - We, of course, did need a hard boiled PI story in this book! Who better to do it than the masterful CJ Henderson? But this story was refreshingly different; the ending will catch you by surprise, as a PI and a medium try to find a ghost.
Disconnected - Brian Sammons - Mr. Sammons can also do no wrong, especially after One Way Conversation in Horrors Beyond. This is another winner. It is about the Mi-Go and Yuggoth, and a PI tracking down a missing relative. But like everything else by Brian Sammons, do not expect the usual mythos conventions or story format.
The Lady in the Grove - Scott Lette - Yet another new author to me and yet another auspicious introduction! An Irish enforcer is sent to Arkham to provide a little muscle for an MU professor.
On Leave in Arkham - Bill Bilstad - Ditto the above. This story has a complex construction with rapidly switching time frames and viewpoints, about WWI veteran/murderer. Very worthwhile read.
Geometry of the Soul - Jason Andrew - Also a new author to me, Mr. Andrew's story was only OK, about a MU expedition that goes horribly awry. The initial few pages in the Arkham sanitarium were much better for me than the last few pages.
So in summary, this is a terrific book of all brand new fiction. Even the stories that aren't the best are pretty good, and the best stories are first rate. The price is low and the page count is generous. Many of these authors are new on the scene and the rest are among the hot new mythos talents. Don't try to choose between it and Hard Boiled Cthulhu; order both of them discounted from Amazon! Together they are still less than Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth. Mythos fans should not hesitate.
That's what this collection reminded me of. A bunch of works left at the grave of H.P.L. with very little to encourage them. There is a certain amount of promise in this work, but it is quickly buried under stories that never seem to go anywhere. The writing is cliched in most of the tales, and sometimes the mythos seems to be an afterthought to what's going on.
Poor editing contributed to the poor effect, but really, the quality of the stories does not match most of the "fan work" that has come before. It reads like a bunch of adventure intros for the "Call of Cthulhu" RPG, and not like a series of genre stories.
Well, that explains the rather dodgy quality of most of these stories. Rarely have I read a collection of Mythos tales that was - on average - so poorly written both stylistically as well as plot-wise, so full of typos, so enormously predicatble, downright silly (a Mythos entity called Hasad the Horrible?!) and in some cases so incredibly forcefully inserted in the Arkham surroundings. I mean, come on ... a Japanese deligation holding a weird tea ritual at the Miskatonic University? Can things get any sillier?
Most of the writers seem to be rather inexperienced, using quite a few pages for character and athmosphere building only to find out that they haven't got enough words left for a decent plot development and interesting twists. Some stories conclude in rushed endings and only rarely did they leave me with a satisfied feeling.
Of the 17 stories in this collection there were only five I considered worthy of being included in a collection for fans of the genre: Harrigan's 'Worms', Ambuehl's 'Arkham Pets', Minnis' 'Small Ghost', Henderson's 'The Idea of Fear' and Sammons 'Disconnected'. These either take a fresh and original approach to the Lovecraft universe or hint at bigger, cosmic things outside the limits of the stories. They also use interesting story structures and sometimes offer interesting sequals to Lovecraft's classic stories. Overall though this collection is not really worth picking up with so much other quality anthologies to choose from.