Review: Cthulhu’s Minions & The Innsmouth Look

Cthulhu's Minions (The Arkham Detective Book 1) by [Craft, Byron]

Cthulhu’s Minions, by Byron Craft

The Innsmouth Look (The Arkham Detective Book 2) by [Craft, Byron]

The Innsmouth Look, by Byron Craft

This review is for two books, as I read them back to back, got swamped with packing up a house, and have finally found time to put together a proper review.
The Arkham Detective series follows a no-name pulp detective in the city of Arkham, Massachusetts. While most of the residents have heard rumors and stories regarding all of Lovecraft’s beasties doing their dirty work in the town, most of them don’t believe them, and neither does our protagonist until a gory encounter and a witness who claims some rather horrendous things.
Cthulhu’s Minions is a great primer to the world of the Arkham Detective in that it’s a great origin story for the guy who makes it his job to hunt down the weird stuff while also being a short read to get you psyched about the bigger stories in the series.
The action doesn’t stop with Minions, though, and my intrigue kept me going straight from the last page of Cthulhu’s Minions and directly into the sequel, The Innsmouth Look.
Depending on the day, my favorite story from the Lovecraft Mythos is Shadow Over Innsmouth. The dark tale of a city cursed by it’s fortune in more ways than one makes for a great setting for some pulpy adventure (as myself and other authors have noted). Unlike those other authors, and even myself, the adventure here is nonstop pulpy goodness that only Byron Craft could have put together. On the trail of a murderer and kidnapper from that doomed city, the Arkham Detective takes grit to a new level as he interrogates the town and puts his best detective shoe forward, stumbling upon Government spies, trapped locals, and, of course, a dark ritual that the town wants to happen while the rest of the world obviously doesn’t.
Craft knows his Mythos and weaves that into a series of books that reads like a great Lovecraftian story, but with more adventure and less fainting. I give both of these books 5 out of 5 stars for just being great and fun reads.
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Review: Lucifer’s Nebula by Phipps/Suttkus

Lucifer's Nebula (Lucifer's Star)Lucifer’s Nebula, by C. T. Phipps and Michael Suttkus is the second novel in the adventures of Cassius Mass, a devilishly handsome former prince of a cruel planet that no longer exists. This is like Star Wars if it were written in a darker and more cruel (and arguably fun) universe.
Lucifer’s Nebula is a sequel to the first book, Lucifer’s Star, in which we learned that the universe has experienced governmental turmoil, civilizations have been ravaged, and an ancient set of beings known as the Elder Races have left their mark on the current civilization. This book picks up where the first left off in a way that doesn’t make you feel like you’ve missed a step between the books.
We find our reluctant hero, Cassius Mass, as the hesitant Captain of the Melampus, the ship that he had been flying on during the previous book. His crew is filled with variously colorful characters, including his two lovers, the aggressive First Mate, Clarice, and the ship’s medical officer, Isla. Isla is also a bioroid, which is like a fleshy C-3PO who’s artificial intelligence is so advanced that it’s considered (by some) to be a sentient being. Many of the bioroid’s of this universe are enslaved, as most people see them less like people and more like machines. Isla’s struggle, in this book and the last, reminds me of Pris from the original Blade Runner. She was made for one purpose (in Isla’s case, sex), but rebels against her users to follow her true calling. At this point, that mostly consists of being a medical officer and hanging out with Cassius’s pirate crew.
Most of the cast of Lucifer’s Nebula (and the whole series, really) is incredibly broken or has experienced some sort of trauma. One of my favorite characters, William, had to deal with his entire world being ravaged and destroyed by one of the warring governments. Major Terra (introduced in this book) is a brainwashed soldier from that same world as William. She was kidnapped by her conquerors and brainwashed to be their loyal assassin. Everyone’s broken. The Melampus wouldn’t be remiss in renaming itself “The Isle of Misfit Toys.”
This broken aesthetic doesn’t end with just the crew, as their Captain is the most broken of them all. Inside his head he relives and can never escape the memories of all of the people that he’s killed or led into a battle that’s gotten them killed. One of those ghosts is his dead wife, who seems to have lost much of her humanity in her transition from living flesh to digital ghost. He’s wracked with guilt and anger over who he was and what he’s lost and he desperately wishes to atone for the life he’s lived.
In book one, this led us into the great character arcs that Phipps and Suttkus are famous for. Phipps always manages to introduce you to an utterly broken person and show us their path toward healing. When book 1 ended, we had hope for Cassius.
Then book 2 started, and we were saddled with an uncomfortable reality. While a lot of what was broken in these characters was healed, life doesn’t let you forget about the parts that you haven’t fixed yet. Cassius is still addicted to his alcohol and self-destructive tendencies, and the character journeys in this book help us to see the more human side of addiction, abuse, and violence on both a global and a personal scale.
There’s politics, huge twists, and adventure galore, but the big win with any book that has Phipps’s name on it is the character development (and the action. Lots of great action.).

Writing with a Newborn

The first thing that everyone, without exception, does when you tell them that you’re expecting a child is offer advice. Sometimes they’ll disguise it as a story from their times as a parent or caregiver and other times they pretend they heard you ask them just so they can tell you. It’s a little annoying, but it’s harmless and, to be completely honest, I’m certain I’ll do it to someone else when the time comes (or I already have!).

For writers, it’s no different. While Ren and I received, and continue to receive, everyone’s general opinions about fussiness, diapers, and corporal punishment, my writer friends have only ever said one thing:

“Good luck finding time to write.”

Now, I’ll admit that my first several weeks with my beautiful bundle of joy was exhausting. She’s perfect in every way, but she is still a baby, and baby’s in those first few weeks can make every day feel like you’re walking through mud. Exhaustion is real, my friends.

BUT! Once she started to learn us and we started to learn her everything began to gel and I started to wonder what the heck all of my writing friends meant. I managed to meet two anthology deadlines without any problem.

While I still haven’t written anywhere near as much as I would have hoped to have written by this point in 2018, I will proudly admit that it has nothing to do with my daughter. My procrastination in my writing has been entirely the same as it was before she was born.

“Hey there, Mr. Novel-in-Progress! How are yo- Oh, look a (Netflix show, phone game, Youtube video, cat that needs petting, or butt that needs scratching)!”

Writing is one of my favorite things to do, but my biggest problem in writing has always been me. Once I sit down and make myself start typing, it flows easily and I can get a lot of words down. It’s that initial “making myself sit down and start typing” that’s the hardest part.

And that has nothing to do with my daughter.

To that point, there has been adaptation. I don’t expect to sit down and get four straight hours of writing in the middle of a Saturday. Instead, I adapt. I write when she naps, or I write when she’s gone down for the night. In contrast to the myth, having a child doesn’t require 100% of your day. She does require 100% of your love and attention when she’s awake, but if she’s napping next to you looking all adorable, there’s no reason you can’t pop open your laptop and let her be your writing muse!

I’m only speaking from the position of a parent who’s only child is under 6 months old. It’s likely that as she ages and and her needs change I will find less and less time to write.

The good news is that I don’t believe any of that.

I believe that as her needs change I’ll adapt my writing schedule and style. I’ll still procrastinate but I’ll also evolve as my daughter grows.

“Good luck finding time to write,” is a nice sentiment, but it implies that my not writing is her fault. That’s not true at all or we’ll have to blame Netflix and Cat-petting as well. Nope, my schedule and how I find time to write are entirely on me. I’m responsible for when the words get on the page, and I’m responsible for when they don’t.

That being said, I totally wrote two more chapters in the next Andrew Doran novel last week. You’re welcome.

I love my Peanut. Her and Ren are the best Muses a guy could ask for!

–MD–

Review: Meddling Kids, by Edgar Cantero

First published on Shoggoth.net:

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cangtero

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

To be entirely honest, when I first picked up my audio copy of Meddling Kids, by Edgar Cantero, I had no idea that I would be writing a review for Shoggoth.net. As a matter of fact, I only picked it up because I remembered reading somewhere that it’s an adult parody of Scooby Doo. To that point, it absolutely is a 100% homage to Scooby Doo, but it is also an homage to Lovecraft, the mythos, and the other players in the mythos.

The story takes place in 1990, 13 years after the Blyton Summer Detective Club (BSDC), aka the Scooby Doo gang, solved their last case. It starts with their last masked villain getting out on parole and being confronted by the slightly more aggressive version of their Daphne. In this, she goes by the name of Andy and she’s only the Daphne character because all of the others were already taken. In this opening scene, it becomes quickly apparent to Mythos fans that this is going to be a Lovecraftian tale.
From there, Andy collects Carrie (Velma), and Nate (Shaggy), and since we’re 13 years past the BSDC days, Shawn’s (Scooby’s) grandson, Tim. Our Fred is the first obvious casualty. He died a few years before this reunion after a stint as an actor ended in a drug overdose. This is how they introduce that all of their lives aren’t what they had expected and they are sure that the real mystery behind their last case wasn’t a masked villain, but was instead an actual lake monster that the news covered up. Ever since they were scared by that real monster, their lives have been hell. Shaggy is in an asylum in Arkham, Velma got her biology degree but instead waits tables at a bar, and Daphne is a former Air Force soldier who escaped from prison.
Needless to say, their lives are shit and they know that they need to confront whatever it was that they ran away from if they ever want to get their lives back on track.
The book is filled with some great call backs to the original Scooby Doo (there’s a Zoinks River) as well as some references to Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and other childhood mystery stories. As a Mythos tale, Edgar Cantero doesn’t shy from the deep end of the mythos and plays as fully in that as he does the Scooby Doo stuff.
The negatives about this story resolve entirely around the writing style, which switches between standard novel-style and screenplay without any warning. It’s jarring and sometimes confusing, but as an audio tale it was generally alright to follow. It took me about three or four times before I stopped paying attention to it, but you do notice it. The other thing is a lot of the made up words and overly cartoonish descriptors. The made up words are simple to understand the meaning of, but those and the odd descriptions pull you from the story as you stop to rewind in your mind what you just heard/read and decipher it again in the context of the scene.
Outside of that, I thought the book genuinely enjoyable and had a great time reliving the good ole days of Scooby and the gang (and yes, Fred/Pete is in it…in a way). I also loved an interesting twist at the very end involving the newest Scooby of the gang, Tim.
Another thing: every now and then Tim does speak, just like Scooby Doo does, but this is explained away in a very clever way as a part of Nate/Shaggy’s hallucinations as a generally insane guy. It’s really well done and still gives us the Scooby scenes without breaking the reality that the story tries to weave.
4 out of 5 stars. Great book.

Review: Master of Chaos by David Hambling

Masters of Chaos by David Hambling is the fourth book in the Harry Stubbs series and it goes without saying that I am a huge fan of the series.

David’s Mr. Stubbs is a man of simple means, striving to better understand the world. This is more than the world as normal men and women know it, although he is constantly reading and taking correspondence courses to increase that knowledge, but also the darker and more sinister works first described by H. P. Lovecraft. To that point, Harry had found himself in the “employ” of an American named Ms. DeVere. She had recruited Harry to investigate the of happenings of Norwood. Harry is only barely qualified for this role through his past run-ins with Lovecraft’s mythos and his history as a former successful boxer.

Master of Chaos did something I didn’t expect a Stubbs novel to do, although I should have, and thrust our hero into an undercover role as an orderly at an asylum. While I hadn’t expected it, it fit well with the evolution of Harry’s investigations and made for some amazing scenes and great literary art as the reader who, four books in and well versed in Stubbs’ adventures, questions along with our hero whether or not he’s lost his mind.

My favorite thing about this novel and each of the Stubbs’ adventures, is how Hambling introduces entirely new elements of the mythos into Harry’s life and makes it seem like part of the everyday world we live in. It makes me wonder if some day Harry will lose all sense of reason as anything can be explained away by the police or the doctors…

My favorite part of this delightful tale was easily the part regarding the time Harry received in the first book. When you read it, you will know what I’m referencing. It’s difficult to say this was my favorite part, because I had so many and always enjoy a good yarn of my favorite boxer, but I’m a simple man.

5/5 stars for the Norwood Titan!

Review: The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft

The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft

The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft

(First publisher for Shoggoth.net)

Normally, I have mixed feelings when it comes to anthologies. It’s not that I don’t like them, my problem is quite the opposite. I love them, but once I get to the point in an anthology story where I want it continue divulging the secrets it’s only just now begun to show me is when the story ends and we shift gears into an entirely different story.

I feared that would happen with The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft, but I wanted to give it a try anyway because I’m a huge fan of Donald Tyson’s Necronomicon books and knew that he had written the descriptors of the gods between each of the individual stories.
I was pleasantly surprised to find every story in this anthology pleasant to some degree. I still suffered, especially at the end of tales such as A Dying of the Light by Rachel Caine.
This anthology was well put together, in that it introduced new tales with very beautifully written takes on the different beasts of the Mythos, while still making itself a primer for each of them. It works well as an introduction to the Mythos, or as a database to update your knowledge if you’re fairly involved in the lore, but haven’t had the time to read any of the Clark Ashton Smith stories (for example).
That leads me to my favorite bits. I haven’t read much of Clark Ashton Smith, but I’ve read some and have only really read the Wiki page for Tsathoggua. With that being said, one of my favorite stories from this mix was The Apotheosis of a Rodeo Clown. This story was one of the few that left me begging for it to continue, as it ends with some revelations about the main character that I think (I need to read CAS to be sure) harkens back to the original Tsathoggua tale.
On the other side of that coin, my other favorite stories were Dream a Little Dream of Me (Jonathan Maberry), In the Mad Mountains (Joe R. Lansdale), and Down, Deep Down, Below the Waves (Seanan McGuire). In the case of Dream a Little Dream of Me, we got some great pulp adventure while expanding on the Dream Lands and the Night Gaunt Mythos. In the Mad Mountains seemed to create a new interpretation of the Mountains of Madness, while also creating an absolutely horrific tale. Down, Deep Down, Below the Waves was simply great Innsmouth story telling and kept me on the edge of my seat. I didn’t know who to cheer for and that, in itself, was somewhat horrific.
At the end of this book, I was left craving more, so much more and encourage everyone to pick up a copy. This was a 5/5 star anthology.

A Great Andrew Doran Review!

Special thanks to Adam for this great review!

The Statement of Andrew Doran

Matthew Davenport

Macabre Ink/Crossroad Press

In the vast majority of stories set in the Cthulhu Mythos, or within the broader genre of Lovecraftian or Cosmic Horror, it is a trope that if any character – whether protagonist, antagonist or some part of the supporting cast – comes into contact with a being from the Mythos, or any of the magic that comes from the void between dimensions that said beings inhabit, then there will be an incredibly high price to pay. That price is usually something to do with one’s sanity being slowly (or rapidly) peeled away as the true face of the uncaring cosmos is revealed; a soul being corrupted or completely destroyed; or, at best, some combination of the two that doesn’t happen immediately but is cursed to haunt the character until their shortened and untimely death in the near future. That’s all well and proper, and such an intrinsic part of Lovecraft’s writing, and the genre that has expanded upon his writings, that I would be concerned to see a story in the genre that didn’t include it; it wouldn’t be a Cosmic Horror story, or something inspired by Lovecraft.

However, I must admit that it is nice to see a piece of Mythos fiction that features a protagonist who is fully aware of the myriad dangers of the void, but who is still skilful and disciplined enough to be able to effectively wield those powers without immediately turning insane or being mutated into a fleshy blob that can only scream telepathically. Sometimes it’s a good thing to buck the general trend of a genre, as long as it’s actually done properly – an excellent example is the Midnight Eye series of novels by my favourite author, William Meikle, which features a Glaswegian private detective who becomes embroiled in Lovecraftian shenanigans and can occasionally pull off a success without his mind being irreparably shattered. Another great example is the book that I’ve just finished reading, and is therefore the subject of this review – The Statement of Andrew Doran by Matthew Davenport. The titular Doran is a professor, mythologist and occultist who divides his time between studying various elements of the Lovecraftian deities and the cults who worship them, studying forbidden texts to understand the basis of the evils done by the deities, and fighting anyone foolish enough to try and use them for evil. He’s a fantastic creation, unashamedly in the style of iconic and archetypical adventurers such as Indiana Jones – someone not afraid to use guns, swords and his bare fists at times to fight foes trying to end the world through Lovecraftian means – not to mention a hefty dose of void magic when appropriate.

Set in the early 1940s during the Second World War, with the United States on the brink of joining the war against Germany and Japan, The Statement of Andrew Doran sees the professor pursue the Necronomicon when it is stolen from Miskatonic University by agents of the Nazi regime, fighting his way across Spain, France, Switzerland and Germany in an attempt to stop the nefarious Traum Kult from unleashing the apocalypse on Earth. Fast-paced, action-packed and extremely well-written, by the time I was half-way through the novel I was enjoying myself more than I have in quite some time. Because while we get fantastical, almost cinematic action sequences (a fight against undead Nazi soldiers while fighting through a heavily-armed convoy is a particular favourite of mine), and some of the genre’s obligatory dream-like sequences where entities such as Cthulhu are witnessed, there are also some intriguing ideas ventured by the author.

For example, the Necronomicon is stolen by the Nazis from Mistaktonic University at the beginning of the novel, and there’s an interesting relationship between Doran and the university administration that’s really only hinted at by Davenport. I rather enjoyed the idea that the senior faculty left the dreaded, forbidden tome on open display for students to read, in order to see what they would conjure from the book and they could take advantage of once the unfortunate student was driven insane or killed. Davenport also weaves together a number of genre archetypes, such as creatures, cults and deities, to evoke a world in which the theft of the Necronomicon, and the desperate efforts to get it back, are merely on plot amongst many being undertaken by cultists and other groups and individuals. This is brilliantly illustrated by an early section set onboard a trawler heading from the United States to neutral Spain, with Doran encountering some oddly fish-like men who are guarding a mysterious set of packages heading for the Spanish coastline, and having to disrupt their plot in order to proceed with his journey.

Doran himself is also an interesting and well fleshed-out character. Although he starts off as an obvious homage to Indiana Jones, with a desire to keep forbidden tomes in museums (or preferably all to himself) and an eager readiness to punch foes in the face, the author slowly but surely gives him more depth as the novel moves forward. We get to see how his efforts to get the Necronomicon back affect him, both physically and mentally; and his relationship with a supporting character that appears about a third of the way through the book is incredibly well done, doing an excellent job of subverting the often stale genre trope of ‘suspicious companion who doesn’t seem quite human.’

Cheerfully pilfering the best and most exciting elements of the genre – the Necronomicon, Cthulhu, Herbert West – and deftly bringing them together, Mr Davenport has written a fantastically pulpy, fists-swinging, guns-blazing, magical lightning-hurling action-adventure that readily proves that not all Mythos tales need to be grim, foreboding and often achingly depressing in order to be successful or authentic; Davenport shows that it is possible to use all of the tropes of the genre, and be faithful to them, while still producing an incredibly enjoyable adventure. The Statement of Andrew Doran is a credit to both the author and the publisher – once again the fantastic Crossroad Press – and I cannot recommend this heartily enough; I greatly look forward to reading the sequel and any other books that come in the series.

via The Statement of Andrew Doran – Matthew Davenport – Review