On the surface, the genres of Cyberpunk and Cthulhu Mythos would appear to be at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Cyberpunk, amongst other things, deals with the negative impact of technology on humanity and society. It appears to me to be a very internal battle that Cyberpunk describes, namely that of the human soul battling against the encroaching cold embrace of technology. H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos by comparison, chronicles humanity’s struggle to deal with terrifying and unfathomably cosmic forces far beyond our comprehension. As much as this description sets those poles apart, the two genres have much more in common than one would have been led to believe.
Both genres utilise an underlying bleak and helpless mood in their chronicling of humanity’s struggle with invasive influences. In Cyberpunk, technology comes across almost like a godlike presence. It exists in all corners of the globe and permeates every aspect of culture, society and humanity. Both genres are also frequently set in grimy environments where the main characters are on the lower rungs or margins of society and have to deal with overbearing and unyielding forces, be they faceless corporations and technology that appear almost magical in nature or uncaring alien gods.
Eldritch Chrome is very much a child of the Cyberpunk ethos, a monstrous fusion of flesh, technology and Lovecraftian weirdness. In the hands of less talented editors this could have ended up as a bit of mess. Thankfully however under the editorial stewardship of Brian M. Sammons and Glynn Owen Barrass, the resultant union is a refreshing and fun melding of the hard sci-fi of technology and the gooey, visceral horror of the Mythos.
Kicking things off is Robert M. Price’s “Obsolete, Absolute” which deals with society where a viral infection has decimated humanity leaving the remnants to sift through the collective data and information amassed. It deftly weaves notions of the pre-determined course of human history and destiny with underlying tones of dread and hopelessness to create a subtle and nuanced introduction to the anthology.
This is then followed up by “The Place That Cannot Be” by D.L. Snell which can be best described as a bit of an odd fish. Set in and around a society that bares more than a hint of the Deep Ones about it, the story has a disconcerting hallucinatory tone to it that seeps under your skin. Initially I was a bit dismissive of it but the nightmarish tone and imagery of its’ underwater city and environs as well as trying to determine what is reality and what isn’t is a bit of head melt.
“The Battle of Arkham” by Peter Rawlick is a rip roaring tale of urban warfare in a dystopian vision of an Earth overrun by hideous Lovecraftian mutations and crossbreeds. Facing down these mutations is a slew of enhanced humans, Mi-Go, Deep Ones and zombies. Really, really entertaining and great fun to read it nicely counteracts the preceding story’s nightmarish tone.
“The Wurms in the Grid” by Nicholas Cook is ostensibly about a hacker hired to protect a rich man’s neural network from attack. It is set in a world where rather than build up, the more prestigious in society have burrowed down into the earth. Unfortunately such digging may unearth things far more capable of “hacking” than any human could be especially when it comes to the human mind.
“Symbiosis” from William Meikle reminds me somewhat of the film Strange Days as it envisages a world where people live vicariously through the trade of people’s memories. The unfortunate means of accessing these memories is through the use of genetic engineered worms latched onto your neck. As one would expect from a story being in this collection it is always best to do a little research as to what that worm is engineered from. A dark and grimy tale about the battle between the conscious and unconscious mind it is a fitting addition to this anthology.
The story is then followed by the incredibly fast paced and exciting “Playgrounds of Angolalaland” by David Conyers. Conyers’ has this innate ability to write really exciting and fast paced stories that whip past in the blink of an eye. In this story set in a far distant future, humanity has populated an alien city in Antarctica and the battle is on to discover and recover alien technology. If you are a fan of his Harrison Peel short stories then you should enjoy this. The eponymous character is in here but seeing as this is cyberpunk his appearance is more Harrison Peel 2.0. So if a melding of cybernetic technology, alien architecture, corporate espionage, folded universes and protoplasmic entities doesn’t peak your interest then perhaps you should just go for something more sedate!
The break neck thriller speed of this story is nicely juxtaposed by the following one. “Sonar City” by Sam Stone is, to be honest, not strictly a cyberpunk story. The mood and descriptions of the pollution laden and archaic London are much more in keeping with Steampunk. Styles aside, this is an entertaining and suitably visceral tale about the appearance of an ageless entity known as Yh’menyhua in the sewers of the city and its’ desire to procreate itself.
Following on from Stone’s story is “The Blowfly Manifesto” by Tim Curran. This is set in a suitably grimy, dank and dirty city where a detective is chasing down “Crawling Face”, an augmented serial killer, on a drenched killing spree through the dark shadows on the city. In his quest to unmask the killer, he accesses the ubiquitous information network prevalent in cyberpunk settings. As his investigation deepens, he discovers that an invasive influence has permeated the network and corrupted the millions of connected souls that use it on a daily basis. This corruption leads the AI controlling the network to invoke the ultimate anti-viral cleansing solution, the directive of the title. As a writer, Tim Curran’s style is heavy on description but in the restricted confines of a short story, he uses this to maximum effect weaving a visceral, claustrophobic and taut story full of dread.
After Curran’s nightmarish story we have another stylistic gear shift. “Flesh and Scales” by Ran Cartwright doesn’t feel particularly Cyberpunk as it plays around with moods reminiscent of noir-ish detective stories. That’s my only gripe with its inclusion as otherwise is a highly enjoyable romp through almost Soprano territory with made men (re: tentacled Cthulhu spawn), dolls (Deep Ones) and land monkeys (humans) going about their gangster like ways. Like I said, it doesn’t really go for the hard science fiction trappings of Cyberpunk but I guess it is more the downbeat mood and the gutter level view of an alternate society that rates its inclusion. It is also a dame fine bit of storytelling to boot!
“Inlibration” by Michael Tice deals with one of the underlying themes prevalent in cyberpunk writing. This is the spread and dissemination of information and how its’ use and interpretation can profoundly change our interactions with each other and the world about us. In the context of this story, this involves an investigator looking for the last copy of the Necronimicon in an almost completely digital world. As one would expect, getting your hands on this book is one thing but having the ability to instantaneously access, cross check and disseminate the contained information is another thing altogether.
“Hope Abandoned” by Tom Lynch is set in a post apocalyptic New York following a seismic event that has seen part of the city, “South Town” abandoned to shadows, whispers and well in keeping with a Lovecraftian setting, a nameless lurking horror. This again is another story I can’t fault. It feels claustrophobic and cloying in terms of atmosphere and really plays well with the parameters of cyberpunk.
“Immune” by Torrie Leigh Relf is set in a dystopian future where humanity has been successively decimated by different “waves” of infection. Told from the perspective of one of the titular characters, Remy, it plays very effectively with your emotions as you try and understand what the fourth wave will be. Then you realise that the fourth wave has already happened and what it actually entails is soul destroying. As is the case with these anthologies, I have another writer or three that I’ll keep my eye out for.
“Real Gone” by David Dunwoody is another story that deals with a central tenant of Lovecraftian fiction, that of dreams and their influence. In this, a large faceless corporation called Shunned Reality Media is a file sharing site called “Dreamcatcher” to harvest the dreams, or rather nightmares, of its’ users. One such user, escaping an abusive spouse, has reoccurring visions that blurs the lines between reality and the dreaming world and comes face to face with the ominous sounding “The Client”. Weird and nightmarish.
“CL3ANS3” by Carrie Cuinn tackles a topic that is central to Cyberpunk and Lovecraftian fiction, that of data, information and manipulation. In a far flung future, all data is recorded and sifted, catalogued and stored for future generations. However, a general sickness is overcoming some workers who are tasked with sifting images and information from a certain university in Massachusetts. I really liked the atmosphere and mood of this piece as it reminded me somewhat of THX1138 in its visualisation of an antiseptic and pristine environment. This is a really impressive piece of writing where some things are best left forgotten.
“Dreams of Death” by Lois Gresh is set in a Innsmouth type town where a mutagen called Flotulum has infected the majority of the human species and one girl vainly attempts to prevent herself from become another carrier. Very much a story about what it is to be human and what sacrifice is. Barrass and Sammons collaborate on “The Gauntlet” which is a gleefully raucous romp involving a citywide summoning orchestrated by cultists and the use of mecha by the police to quell the disturbances. These mechs are ostensibly a fusion of man and intelligent machine but in one instance the man is ripped from the machine and is replaced by something far more sinister.
“Indifference” by CJ Henderson is excellent. It is a very thoughtful and moody piece of work about the influence of technology and the impact of information on the collective conscientiousness and how individuality is irrelevant in a world of shared experience. It follows an investigation into a series of bizarre incidents involving students who have irrevocably changed from their normal selves into distant shadows and pale imitations without hope. Suffice to say it is bleak but damn is it good!
This excellent anthology is closed off with one of the unsung progenitors of Cyberpunk, Jeffrey Thomas, with “Open Minded”, a short story set in Punktown. This follows an employee of “Augmentation Concepts” who comes into contact with some rather strange clients called the “Ogim” who are much more than meets the eye. As ever, Jeffrey Thomas weaves a wonderfully well written tale that just carries you along and makes you yearn to read more.
So, does it work as an anthology? Yes would be the short answer. I really like speculative fiction and particularly work that blends different genres. “Eldritch Chrome” won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but for me this particular blend most definitely is!