World War Cthulhu is the first publication in Dark Regions Press weird fiction line. Edited by Brian Sammons and Glynn Owen Barrass, this is an eclectic collection of 22 short stories covering the many manifestations of the Cthulhu mythos in relation to one of humanity’s favourite pastimes, namely that of war and aggression. To call this collection huge would be a bit of an understatement, the eBook that I read was just shy of 400 pages but the text is broken up by the gorgeous illustrations from M. Wayne Miller that precede each story. Even in black and white they are sumptuous to behold and neatly capture the essence of each story.
Just looking at the table of contents and who is in here should leave anyone who has a passing interest in modern lovecraftian fiction salivating and chomping at the bit. Robert M. Price, W.H. Pugmire, C.J Henderson and Jeffrey Thomas are but some of the name talents on display but it is the lesser known talents who really elevate the anthology and encapsulate the concept of war in the Cthulhu Mythos.
So, dear reader, what bang do you get for your buck? First out of the gate is “Loyalty” by John Shirley. This is set in a far flung future where Earth is on the verge of annihilation by an invading race that appears impervious to everything that is flung at them. As a last gasp, researchers turn toward the improbable in the vain hope that they which sleeps eternal and can’t really die can turn the tide. However as one would suspect, fealty to a cosmic god requires a fair exchange that will have far reaching repercussions for humanity. As an opening story it nicely sets up the underlying concept of war within the Cthulhu Mythos in that humanity is pretty much a spectator when cosmic forces collide.
Next up is “The Game Changers” by Stephen Mark Rainey. Set during the Vietnam War, this follows a lost combat patrol deep in the jungle wilds who stumble across a downed B52 bomber, its very unusual payload and a very dubious alliance of parties. It alls goes a bit “Charlie Foxtrot” very quickly! “White Feather” by T.E. Grau is an atmospheric and taut tale set during the War of Independence and chronicles a raiding privateer who encounters and raids a very odd coastal settlement. Suffice to say, it doesn’t end particularly well for his foolhardy crew nor himself.
“To Hold Ye White” by W.H. Pugmire is a dreamlike and poetic tale that follows two shipwreck survivors who are washed up on a strange island and confront a mysterious statue. The quality of Pugmire’s writing is decidedly eerie as at times I felt as though I was reading a lost work by H.P. Lovecraft. I haven’t really read much of his work and after reading this I think it is time to change that mistake! Following on from this is the first of two stories that re-imagines The Battle of Troy from a Lovecraftian perspective. Robert M. Price delivers you “The Sea Nymph’s Son” and, as one would expect from a skilled writer and scholar, it is a thoroughly engrossing and enjoyable story.
Vietnam rears its’ ugly head again in “The Boonieman” by Edward M. Erdelac. And in this particular story that is quite literally the case. Set in and around Firebase William it deals with the disastrous results of a failed attempt to protect a local village from NVA incursion. I can’t write much more beyond that without spoiling it but suffice to say if you like exciting and well written stories then you are in for a treat!
“The Turtle” by Neil Baker is set during the American Revolution and follows the use of the first submarine in an attempt to deal a blow against the British warship H.M.S. Cerberus. I really liked this short story. It is set against the backdrop of the war in Massachusetts and the insidious spread of a mysterious cult along the state’s shore that is transforming the nature of the war. As it turns out, the opposing factions have much, much more to fear than each other. This is an exciting, engaging and exceptionally well written story. Neil Baker is definitely on my radar as one to watch!
“The Bullet and the Flesh” by David Conyers and David Kernot is a Harrison Peel adventure set in Zimbabwe. If you haven’t read a Harrison Peel story than do yourself a favour and do so! They are just really fast paced, exciting and exceptionally well written stories that are totally engrossing. In this one, Harrison is joined by frequent collaborator Emerson Ash as they pursue an African Warlord who has laid his hands on some mysterious barrels. Suffice to say that what they contain is better left sealed as once broken Peel and Ash are in a world of hurt. And this is a story that hurts. The real casualty here will be your emotions as this story takes an unflinching and raw look into what it actually means to be a child soldier in Africa. Strong stuff!!
By comparison, “Broadsword” by William Meikle feels like a good old fashioned adventurous romp. Set in the Alps, it follows a group of commandos as they go toe to toe with the Mi-Go. Alliteration aside, this can best be described as pulpy type fun very much in a Where Eagles Dare style as the protagonists’ battle to save humanity from the Mi Go’s super weapon. It is a whole heap o’ fun!
“Long Island Weird- The Lost Interviews” by Charles Christian, is one of those surprises that I previously mentioned. It is a fragmented narrative of ten interviews that start of at one point and then take you in a completely unexpected direction. It is written in the style of a historian piecing together fragments of oration about a mysterious mansion called Beacon towers that was built in the 1920s and the hints and association that this place has had in terms of local folklore. The differing oral interviews hint, contrast and debunk the mysteries surrounding the place so that you end up wondering what the hell is going on. You start of with a disused mansion but end up with Innsmouth, U boats, secret societies and mysteries. It is just one of those stories that really sinks its hooks into you and won’t let go.
“The Yoth Protocols” by Joshua Reynolds is set during the Red menace scare of the cold war. The Cthulhu Mythos are alive and well and the FBI is dead set on ensuring that the US keeps the lid on what it knows far away from prying eyes. It uses the little used setting of K’n-Yani and the dead black caverns of darkest N’Kai as its setting. Featuring two FBI agents, one of whom is the rather sinisterly named Indrid Cold, this is as dark as the caverns it is set in.
“A Feast of Death” by Lee Clark Zumpe is set during World War One and follows four British soldiers incarcerated at the mercy of first the Turkish and then a rather dubious German Colonel who is building the Berlin Bagdad railway. This started off really well in terms of the brutality of P.O.W. treatment but kind of to lost its’ way towards the end of the story and I was left feeling a bit confused and disorientated. Then again, maybe that was the whole point of the story as the narrator is most definitely wondering what has happened to him at the end of the story.
I felt a lot more at ease with the next batch of stories as these were to be honest rather excellent. “The Ithiliad” by Christine Morgan is just sumptuous and elegant storytelling from a fine writer about the battle for Troy’s soul amongst demigods, gods and “other” gods. This feels very much like it is ripped from mythology in the way that it is written. Christine Morgan is definitely a writer to watch. She just has this turn of style that is brilliant. This is then followed up by what I would say is the standout piece in this collection.
“The Sinking City” by Konstantin Paradias is excellent. It is the story that just seals the deal on the concept of war in the Cthulhu Mythos. It homes in on one of the central concepts of H.P. Lovecraft’s writing in that the Mythos is ostensibly about a cosmic war between alien races far beyond our comprehension. Humanity is but a speck of dust to these races, inconsequential and insignificant. It is theme that is used to brilliant effect in this story which is set on R’lyeh and chronicles the war between Cthulhu and his minions and the Great Race of Yith. It is rather refreshing to read a Mythos story from a non human perspective. I really do not want to spoil this story except to say that if you like mythology, time travel and superior writing then this guy is one to watch. Absolutely brilliant!!
“The Shape of a Snake” is a suitably twisted alternate history take from Cody Goodfellow about a young Teddy Roosevelt and his (mis)adventures in Mexico. I have always liked Cody Goodfellow’s work and this story is no exception to the rule as he gleefully weaves a story about serpents and surprises.
“Mysterious Ways” from the late, great C.J. Henderson reminds us why he was such a well respected writer. This kicks off with a scene of Roman slaughter as a defending cohort is annihilated. Desperation forces the commanding centurion to seek solace and prayer in the local temple. He prays to the Gods to save him and his men’s life. Unfortunately as is the case with stories set in an uncaring universe it depends who actually listens to your call. In this case, saving your skin doesn’t necessarily mean your soul and conscience will be left intact, especially when your saviour is Nyarlathotep. “Magna Mater” by Edward Morris is set in occupied France during world war one and is about the wolf in sheep’s clothing that is the local church housekeeper and how she keeps the local “flock” replenished from deserting soldiers. It is a moody, atmospheric and damned creepy story.
Irish nationalism rears its (literally) ugly head in Brian M. Sammons and Glynn Owen Barrass’ collaboration “Dark Cell”. In this, a former arms dealer is used by a mysterious American to keep track of a splinter IRA cell who have managed to find themselves the ultimate, undetectable weapon, namely that of a very old book with which they aim to unleash ancient horrors on London. Unfortunately these things have a habit of going pear shaped very quickly and in the case of this story, very messily indeed. I don’t think I’ll be going back to Epping Forest anytime soon!
The effect of having access to forbidden knowledge and being able to disseminate it is picked up by the next story, “Cold War, Yellow Fever” by Peter Rawlick. This is set during the Cuban missile crisis and revolves around the CIA’s machinations to try and destabilise Castro through nefarious means. Unfortunately when your operative has got his mitts on “The King in Yellow” and is using it as propaganda to start an uprising what arises isn’t going to have quite the intended effect. At all!
“Stragglers from Carrhae” by Darrell Schweitzer is told from the perspective of a lone survivor of the Roman’s attempt to subjugate the Parthinians. I liked the style and atmosphere of this story as you can’t tell if what the narrator experiences as he flees the field of slaughter is real or the result of the madness of war. Next up is “The Procyon Project” by Tim Curran. This is an entertaining piece about the US government’s attempt to harness an alternative power source during World War 2. As one would suspect if you are using inter-dimensional physics, maths and witchcraft as the basis for your calculations then you’d best be prepared to run as it will definitely hit the fan. Or in this case, run and stay silent. As befits Mr. Curran’s short stories it is a fun and entertaining read.
“Wunderwaffe” by Jeffrey Thomas is another slice of Punktown joy. I can’t for the life of me understand why this writer isn’t more popular with the general public. Thomas has this deftness of touch about his writing that just carries you a long with his stories. Punktown, for the uninitiated, is the human colony of Paxton where anything and everything is possible. Imagine a Blade Runner type city only populated by humans, aliens, mutants etc with shades of science fiction, horror and numerous other genres thrown in. This tale is set within the globular Die Glocke Hotel as Colonial soldiers are tasked with protecting some Kalian priests who turn out to be a living scripture and all that stands between Punktown and the deity Uggihuit. Fast paced, action packed and read in an instant!
This reads and looks like a labour of love. I can’t begin to imagine how amazing the artwork looks in colour. M Wayne Miller’s interior plates provide beautiful encapsulations of each story and Vincent Chong’s cover certainly sets the tone. Suffice to say that this is just a great collection of stories from voices old and new and is well worth shelling out for!