As Matthew Carpenter points out in his introduction, Lovecraftian fiction has become a mainstay of the fantastic and weird fiction genres, with some of the best-written stories being published on a regular basis. A Lonely and Curious Country is no exception. (Mr. Carpenter didn’t say that, I did.)
The seventeen stories here are perfect examples of what’s going on in the admittedly large subfield of Lovecraftian fiction. They are disturbing, horrifying, Lovecraftian. In some the Lovecraftian element is quite prominent; in others, you don’t realize you’re in Lovecraft country until you’ve almost finished. I’m not going to try to give a one or two sentence summary of each one. Rather I’m going to focus on the ones that stood out to me. YMMV. One other thing before I start discussing the stories. Of the eighteen authors, I had only heard of three of them prior to reading this book (Webb, Price, and McNamee). There are a lot of good writers out there that I need to keep up with.
“The Dreamer of Nothingness” by Steven Prizeman takes place in Paris in the 1960s (I think it’s the 60s). It concerns a student radical who lives in a dilapidated rooming house at the top of a hill on a dead end street. One day one of the Arab students who lives there disappears. This one is an homage to “The Music of Eric Zann”.
A student who is an undercover agent for the FBI is the central character in “Turn on, Tune in, Infiltrate, Disrupt” by K. H. Vaughn. LSD and Lovecraft, a scary combination.
Rebecca Allred tells the story of convicted murderers who are forced to participate in an experimental study in which the subjects are killed with an injection and then resurrected in “Project Handbasket” and what happens with one subject in particular. Allred uses medical reports and tape transcripts to tell one of the most innovatively written tales in the book.
In “Salt Water Bodies”, Susan Hicks Wong gives us a story that doesn’t appear to have anything to do with Lovecraft until you get to the end. Then your understanding of everything changes. I didn’t really like this story until the last page or two, and then I loved it. I can’t say anything else without spoiling the twist.
“Radical Division” by Jonathan Titchenal is one of several stories that draw their inspiration from “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. There are several Lovecraft’s longest stories that I’ve not read, and “Innsmouth” is one of them. (Don’t judge me. I’ll get to it in the next few weeks.) This one concerns an FBI agent who happens to have been born in the area.
“After Birth” by Brian M. Sammons and Jamie D. Jenkins is one of the more disturbing stories in the book. Set in the 1940s, it’s about the daughter of a wealthy, upwardly mobile family who had a tryst one night with the gardener’s son. While the boy’s race isn’t stated, we are told he isn’t white. The situation jeopardizes her engagement to the scion of a prominent family who happens to be away serving in the military. Her father, who is a first rate [fill in the blank], takes her in the middle of the night to have an abortion against her will. The clinic is in the nearby town of Innsmouth. This one is not for the squeamish.
Don Webb’s “Unsung Heroes” is equally disturbing. It concerns a German officer in WWII who discovers that there’s a race superior to the Aryan race. What makes this one so unsettling is that Webb manages to convey the horror that was Nazism so effectively by writing in the first person.
Robert M. Price takes a look at the theological implications of the Mythos in “The Third Oath of Dagon.” Here, students descended from the survivors of the events in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” are admitted into the divinity school at Miskatonic University. It turns out these students engage in some rather unorthodox means of evangelism.
Finally, there’s Paul R. McNamee‘s “Down by the Highway Side”. It concerns an aging country singer named Barksdale in Mississippi. I was born in Mississippi, and my paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Barksdale, so I was hooked right there. Paul works blues legends into this story while giving it a tragic country music ending.
Paul comments here regularly and wrote a guest post to promote A Lonely and Curious Country last month in case you found his name familiar but didn’t recognize it. I was fortunate to be able to read an early draft of a story Paul has coming out in an anthology of stories about William Hope Hodgson’s occult investigator Carnacki later this year. Keep your eye on Paul. He has a deep understanding of the roots of the weird tale and pays homage to those roots while building on them.
A Lonely and Curious Country is shows the variety of what the Lovecraftian tale has become. This is one of those anthologies that will probably have something for anyone who enjoys Lovecraft. It will also probably surprise you with how the Lovecraftian story has grown.