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Song of Cthulhu: Tales of Spheres Beyond Sound (Call of Cthulhu Fiction) Paperback – July 1, 2001
The Amazon Book Review
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From the Author
SONG OF CTHULHU is a collection of 19 stories of otherworldly terror, born in the abyss conjured by Erich Zann's violin in the rue d'Ausseil. Featuring such influential authors as H. P. Lovecraft, Ramsey Campbell, Hugh B. Cave, Fred Chappell, Thomas F. Monteleone, and many others, SONG OF CTHULHU explores the unknown spheres beyond sound, its pulsating rhythm punctuated by moments of dark beauty, breathtaking suspense, and nerve-shattering horror. Put on some atmospheric music, dim the lights, and settle in with this literary symphony whose notes rise from the hidden depths of R'lyeh itself.
About the Author
Stephen Mark Rainey is author of the novels BALAK, THE LEBO COVEN, DARK SHADOWS: DREAMS OF THE DARK (with Elizabeth Massie), BLUE DEVIL ISLAND, and THE NIGHTMARE FRONTIER; the short story collections FUGUE DEVIL & OTHER WEIRD HORRORS, THE LAST TRUMPET, LEGENDS OF THE NIGHT, OTHER GODS, and THE GAKI & OTHER HUNGRY SPIRITS; the scripts for three DARK SHADOWS audio dramas (THE PATH OF FATE, CURSE OF THE PHARAOH, and BLOOD DANCE); and over 90 published works of short fiction. For ten years, he edited the award-winning DEATHREALM magazine, and has edited three anthologies (SONG OF CTHULHU, DEATHREALMS, and EVERMORE). Mark lives in Greensboro, NC.
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********This mixed anthology will start off, fictionwise, with 'The Music Of Erich Zann' by H. P. Lovecraft (Howard Phillips Lovecraft 1890-1937), is one of Lovecraft's better, and better known, non-Mythos stories. In this story a poor student of philosophy has found a room at a hotel on the rue d'Auseil, and the low-cost room that he rents is just beneath the room rented by the poor journeyman musician Erich Zann. After Zann comes home every day from his day job, he plays eerie and odd music on his violin, and because of this, the unnamed student will make it his business to meet the reclusive musician. Soon there starts an odd relationship between the two, as simultaneously cosmic and eldritch forces are escalating, which will bring good news to nobody.
In this story Lovecraft shows his gothic roots as his story just drips with atmosphere as the readers are drawn into the student’s claustrophobic world. We are also reintroduced to the Lovecraftian/Gothic continuing character of the nameless everyman narrator who always seems to end up being the narrator of so much of Lovecraft's fiction. Short and sweet, if this isn't one of Lovecraft's best stories, it is certainly one of my favorites.
********'The Dark Beauty Of Unheard Horror' by Thomas Ligotti (Thomas Robert Ligotti: 1953-) is a critical examination of Lovecraft's story of Erich Zann, and Ligotti, a legendary small-press author himself, does a better job at examining the story than I could. But, beware, Logotti's analysis will include many spoilers, however, if you have read Lovecraft's story first there won't be any problems.
********'The Rue d'Auseil' by Fred Chappell (Fred Davis Chappell: 1936-) is a story set years after the events of Lovecraft's story, and it deals with the composer Tether, who collects antique musical robots, and Tether is now going to reproduce Zann's music as played by some of the robots that he has collected. He's going to recreate the music at the newly discovered Rue d'Auseil, which had disappeared at the end of Lovecraft's story. While this effort will end well for no one, and the story is fine, unfortunately the reason for all of this is just rather petty and mediocre.
********The next story is 'The Plain Of Sound' by long-time author J. Ramsey Campbell (John Ramsey Campbell: 1946-) and it involves three friends who plan a hiking tour across the English countryside. In doing so they make the mistake of hiking to Goatswood, Campbell's version of Arkham, and it will end up being a bad, bad choice of hiking destinations, as because of this, the three decide to move on to Brichester. While on their way there they come across an abandoned house, and in this house they find a diary and a contraption. The diary describes a horror and the machinery causes the horror. A decent little horror story, it won't change the world, but it’s a fun piece of fan fiction none-the-less.
********One of this anthology's strongest stories is 'The Last Show At Verdi's Supper Club' by Stephen Mark Rainey (1959-) and it is a story about the Dark Man, and this story is told from his viewpoint, and he's hungry. And desperate. Here Nyarlathotep is a musician and he’s invited his closest new friends to his concert at the Verdi's Supper Club, and it is here that we learn of his guilt, as he becomes more and more melancholy as he realizes that his friends mean something to him even though they are doomed, and doomed by him. Once again, Rainey contributes one of the darkest stories to be found in these anthologies from Chaosium.
********Tom Piccirilli (Thomas Edward Piccirilli: 1965-2015) was one of my favorite authors of the nineties and two thousands. Piccirilli's story 'Water Music For The Tillers Of Soil' as the story by Rainey before him, contributes one of the darkest and most melancholy stories in this anthology. Basically this is an alternate universe story in which the story's unnamed protagonist is wrapping up the apocalypse of the world as he knows it. And his world is already well on its way to oblivion as the Cult of Dagon has already brought civilization as this world knows it crashing down into the decadent mire. Our unnamed protagonist is the composer who is translating ancient texts and prayers into a full orchestral movement so that Dagon will arise, destroy, and take control, of what is left of the world. Piccirilli died way too early. Another one of those underappreciated dark fantasy tales that is constantly overlooked by readers, for stories by more flashy and famous authors.
********'Shallow Fathoms' by M. Christian is a story about a man who suddenly feels compelled to enter a dingy and broken down fish store when he witnesses some nasty mutations involving dying and diseased fish. In fact the whole store and its proprietor is a massive tribute to death, decay, corruption, and devolution. Having read one of Christian's novels and finding it rather mediocre, I wasn't holding out much hope for this story, and my unhope was more than adequately full-filled.
Firstly, the story does not fit into this anthology's theme as music doesn't play any part in this story, and second, like his novel, Christian never uses one sentence when three or four will do. And thirdly, the story is just meanders. Between the wordiness, the meandering storyline, and the tone-deaf attempts at atmosphere, 'Shallow Fathoms' is short but seemed a thousand pages long.
********Thankfully a much better story follows. 'How Nyarlathotep Rocked Our World' by Gregory Nicoll deals with the indie rockers Dew, and now having lost a bassist, and who have another, have also acquired a new manager who goes by the name of Nyarlathotep. As Dew gets better and starts to accrue their audience Nyarlathotep arranges a supergig in memory of a recently deceased (murdered) friend, and it is only at the end of the concert that members of Dew realize that they have been conned, and their gig will end up causing mass destruction. The first of three stories involving indie underground bands and an underground setting. Not very Lovecraftian, but well worth reading.
********'Listen' by James Robert Smith (1957-) is told in an epistolary manner by a character as he settles into his new house to prepare for his new job. As he goes for a hike, he finds an isolated and abandoned house, and with this house's discovery, his haunting dreams start. I'm a sucker for a good ghost story, and that's what this is, it is a haunted house story, and it has nothing to do with this anthology's central theme, but this is another story that I'm glad to have read anyway.
********'Mud' by Brian McNaughton (1935-2004) shows why I'm also a sucker for a good weird war story. McNaughton spent years writing sleazy porn novels before writing a series of Satanic potboilers, and then winning an audience with his Lovecraftian/Clark Ashton Smith weird fictions. In 'Mud' Allied soldiers on patrol enter a war ravaged French town whose streets have been reduced to a semi-fluid mud, and in doing so they encounter a German patrol. The Germans are on a mission, and end up in a battle with the Allies. Things will then go sideways for both patrols, especially when something evil and ancient wakes. A lot happens in this short story, and this would have made a great movie. Stories like this show why McNaughton is much missed by his fans.
********McNaughton's story is then followed by 'Paedomerphosis' by Caitlin R. Kiernan (Caitlín Rebekah Kiernan: 1964-), and it is the second of the three stories dealing with indie rockers. Annie is a member of the band TranSister and while rehearsing, Annie falls hard for Elsie of the Seven Deadlies. The short-short romance details the rise and fall of Annie's crush until she learns that Elsie is . . . off physically. A story that has some of Lovecraft's tropes, but which doesn't devolve into horror, but does show that those that consider themselves to be on the outskirts of society, can be just as conservative as anybody else.
********'Intruders' by Hugh B. Cave deals with retired cop Tom Carter who has moved to Atlanta to be near his son and daughter. And while there he makes new friends, including the redhaired Millicent Armer. Then one night a trio of thugs break into a neighbor's house and robs and terrorizes them. Scared, Millicent agrees to have Tom sleep over for the next few nights to watch over her house. Things initially start off alright even if Tom starts hearing things, including ghostly versions of "The Miraculous Mandarin" by Bartok. Then that which is haunting Millicent decides to come back physically to revenge a misconceived wrong while the robbing punks pick the wrong house at the wrong time break into. Poor them. Maybe not a great story, but it is a classic pulp horror thrill from a man who wrote right up to his death, and who was responsible for nearly two thousand short stories. I've always been a fan of Hugh B. Cave's (Hugh Barnett Cave: 1910-2004) fiction, and I was a sucker for this one too.
********Novelist, short storyist, publisher, and fan Robert Weinberg (Robert Edward Weinberg: 1946-2016) gives us 'Chant', and hack horror novelist is channel surfing late at night looking for something to rip-off for his next novel when he comes across an infomercial for "Cthulh R’lyeh", an album of religious chants from EOD and the Starry Wisdom Association. And so it goes, research is started, and the writer finds that the use of chants may be a way to bring the Elder Gods into the real world, and the playing of this commercially available version of these chants may be working. A solid bit of fan fiction from an author that was well known for his fan activities, and while this story is more tongue-in-cheek than horror, it is fun none-the-less..
********'Ghoul’s Tale' by fan/publisher/writer Robert M. Price (Robert McNair Price: 1954-) perpetuates itself to be an excerpt from the famed and notorious Necronomicon, Judge Dee edition, and in it Alhazred meets an old acquaintance at Irem the City of Pillars, and damn near doesn't get out alive. This is a solid piece of short non-fact, non-fiction fan fiction by a historian of weird fiction. Price, along with Weinberg, is one of those that was instrumental in keeping the Lovecraftian flame alive throughout the years.
********Up next is 'The Next Big Thing' by Rob Suggs, and it is a historical Lovecraftian story about Nyarlathotep's travels across Europe in the time of the Black Death, his dealings with Beethoven’s music, and with today's musical sensation of "Rant". Suggs explores just how Nyarlathotep and his influence on music always seem to precede one disaster after another. And now Nyarlathotep is behind a huge musical festival and soon carnage will reign supreme. A great story, and lesser authors would have turned this story into a full-length novel.
********'The Flautists' by Edward P. Berglund (Edward Paul Berglund: 1942-) is a short-short that gives us our third story dealing with an indie rock band being used by Nyarlathotep to bring about the end of the world. Of course, that's to be expected in an anthology like this, and it's all in the telling that matters. Well done.
********The prolific D. F. Lewis (Desmond Francis Lewis,: 1948-) was going to be the next big thing during the eighties and nineties, although I didn’t fall for the hype. Still, after reading 'Fall From Grace' a reevaluation may be due the man's work. Lewis has a tourist vacationing at a seashore B&B when she has an encounter of the weird and surrealistic kind. Perhaps it's obvious to everyone but me, but I'm not sure as to what has happened at the end, as Lewis has always been one to be obtuse in his fictions, with this story not being much different, still, I liked it.
********In 'Drums' Major Harold Briggs is retired from the British Service when during the mid-period of the Vietnam War he is approached by Captain Puckeridge of Brigg's old outfit the S.A.S. Puckeridge needs Briggs to hunt down an old ally of his, and ally that is now working against England’s best interests. What follows is a weird adventure in which a squad of soldiers marches into a situation in which they are not equipped for, or prepared to fight. William R. Trotter's story is another one that would not have been out of place in the pages of one of the old weird fiction pulps.
********After twenty years Maeve McKiernan is now back in Lila Woods life in the story 'The Enchanting Of Lila Woods' by E. A. Lustig. Maeve is involved with extremely abused women from across the globe, and has now gotten Lila, who was Maeve's ex-student, to design a special website for Maeve's retreat. Maeve also wants Lily to visit the isolated retreat, and so she does, and when she arrives she meets Rachel Bearfist, a young woman who lives in the nearby woods, and who tells Lila about how it’s Rachel's job to keep an ancient evil that lives below Arkham House, at bay. So, this story goes where we all know where a story like this would go. This is a story with an unusual plot and background, and it is well done. For me, this is an unrecognized classic in modern weird fiction.
********'Yog-Sothoth, Superstar' by Thomas F. Montleone is a tongue-in-cheek story, told in an epistolary manner about how somebody has had the brilliant idea of doing a Broadway musical dealing with the love affair between Lovecraft and Sonia Green. There will be mysterious deaths, bad songs, and then something . . . something HUGE is rising up under the sea.
'Yog-Sothoth, Superstar' is a story that reminded me of Eric Norden's satiric send-up 'The Curse of the Mohndoro Nkabele' which also starts off as a piece of lightweight entertainment dealing with artistic mediocrity, but which slowly turns nasty by the story's end. Fun stuff.
The stories in the anthology fall into three categories. Stories in which music is an integral part of the story; so that the story just couldn't exist in its present form without it. The second type is those that have music as part of the story, but the musical part easily be swapped out for something else with no noticeable harm and no foul to the story, and there are those scattered few stories that have nothing to do with music. While these stories' quality could be debated, they should have found homes elsewhere. Still, this is easily a five star anthology as it shows Stephen Mark Rainey's deft ability at picking great stories, just as he did for his weird fiction magazine "Deathrealm". And after all is said and done, I found that my favorites, stories that I wouldn't mind reading again, and I read them all before twelve years ago, would be the stories by Lovecraft, Rainey, Piccirilli, Cave, Kiernan, Trotter, McNaughton, and Lustig. Some bios of the authors would have been nice, but, well, you can't have everything.
For this site I have read these other books of interest:
At The Mountains Of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft.
Black Wolf by Galad Elflandsson.
The Boats of the 'Glen Carrig' by William Hope Hodgson.
The Deep End by Gregory Luce.
Deeper by James A. Moore.
The Destroyer #141: Frightening Strikes by Warren Murphy & Richard Ben Sapir (Tim Somheil).
H. P. Lovecraft's Dark Arcadia by Gavin Callaghan.
Predator X by C. J. Waller.
The Sign of Glaaki Novel by Steven Savile & Steve Lockley.