Brian Lumley,
Haggopian & Other Stories: Best Mythos Tales, Volume II
(Subterranean Press, 2008)

Having recently read an earlier volume of Cthulhu mythos-inspired tales by Brian Lumley, it is tempting to classify this one as "more of the same," but in fact, it would be more accurate to say "more of the same plus several differences." The distinction comes from the fact that Subterranean Press's first collection of Lumley's vivid takes on Lovecraftian lore (The Taint & Other Stories) featured novellas in which there was room for more plot, more characterization and more dread to be layered into the scenes of stygian horror than we get much of in this gathering of 24 short stories. Depending on your tolerance for the sort of plots that tend to dominate mythos outings (the kind with lots of overwrought narration and dialogue that sounds straight out of Hammer bodice-rippers leading up to few truly happy endings and many sticky ones), this may be a good thing or a bad thing.

The "good" here is that Lumley makes forays into considerably more sub-styles of the horror genre in these short stories than he did in the novellas. Sure, we get the ichor-dripping Lovecraft pastiches, but we also get a few jaunts into Robert E. Howard-like sword-and-sorcery territory, a stab or two at more straightforward science fiction, several missives starring or at least having something to do with Lumley's well-known leading man Titus Crow, and even a somewhat lighthearted romp memorably skewering the horror convention-going fan base. If you don't find one style to your liking, there are plenty of others upon which to whet your appetite.

As was the case in Taint, some of the best oddities in this collection highlight Lumley's penchant for ichthyology, deep-sea mysteries and dank seaside settings. My personal favorite is "Dagon's Bell," which serves up an ancient mystery centering on a foreboding cliff-top farm, the miasma that envelops it and fogs the minds of those who dwell there, what lies in the burrows beneath the farm, and what answers the call of the titular bell (hint: it has more to do with worship than dinnertime). Moreso than in any other story in this volume, Lumley builds a tangible degree of suspense before the inevitable terrors come crashing through the barriers between our reality and the one from beyond.

Other excellent forays into foreboding come in "The Hymn," in which an experiment in an isolation chamber involving psychic abilities goes all sorts of wrong, and "The Night Sea-Maid Went Down," which goes out to sea again by using an oil rig as the locus of disturbing doings.

Most out of place here is "The Statement of Henry Worthy," with its weirdness stemming from bizarre plants (or something akin to plants) found beneath the moors of Yorkshire seemingly having little to do with the mythos. Another plant-based tale, "The Thing from the Blasted Heath," is simpler but more effective in its evocation of alien oddity, and yet along with some of the other offerings here, seems a bit underfed in comparison to the real powerhouse stories.

In the end, we are fortunate indeed that a publisher has netted so much of Lumley's mythos-related output from across so many years and served it up to us on the two platters represented by Taint and Haggopian. It is a fine compliment to the memory of H.P. Lovecraft that these tales from one of his most fervent disciples are doubtlessly inspiring a new generation of writers to continue expanding upon his infamous creation.

review by
Gary Cramer

17 January 2009

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