Saturday, May 25, 2019


Twenty-One New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror, Edited by S.T. Joshi

“Satiety”, by Jason V Brock ~ A strange story about a Lord Vanderbulle, superstar horror writer and Mary Sue extraordinaire, who has taken a beautiful young fan named Anastasia as a lover, and brought her to his exclusive high-rise condominium in Dubai to take part in an annual gastronomical “Festival” of his own design. Most of this tale is taken up by a tone deaf and unfortunate political dialogue between the two, with Anastasia playing the part of the petulant and accusatory young “SJW” stereotype who thinks that defending Lovecraft and Roald Dahl makes one a white supremacist, and Lord, that of the worldly, wise, exasperated older liberal who argues that Lovecraft’s racism couldn’t be THAT bad if the subcontinental academic S.T. Joshi (yes, the editor of this collection) thinks so highly of him. Anyway, the argument soon dies down and the story goes in one of the three directions that it could possibly go from that point on. A so-so entry.

“Provenance Unknown”, by Stephen Woodworth ~ Now this is more like it! The final story of this anthology features rarities broker Erin Vance getting a chance to acquire the legendary Aldon-Bennington Object, a cursed item found by explorers during a doomed, all but forgotten early 20th century voyage to the Antarctic. One of Erin’s clients has been trying to get their hands on this object for a long time, and now, at last, an associate in the world of elite procurement (Aram) has laid hands upon it, along with all the proper documentation, and he’s willing to sell. But he won’t be letting it go for cheap.

Erin asks for, and receives, permission to take photographs of the item—which appears to be a pyramidal chunk of meteorite with a partially exposed, cat-sized sculpture of a beetle/lobster looking thing embedded in the center—and a holding period of two days, to examine the documentation for herself and discuss the purchase with her client. Pretty soon, however, her dreams take on a weird cast, and she decides that she wants the item for herself. Lucky for her, she gets a call from Aram, who has suddenly become desperate to be rid of the thing, causing him to cut his asking price in half. Erin arranges for the funds, rushes over and takes possession of the item… but then, disturbing coincidences begin to take place, causing Erin to enlist the aid of a chemist friend, to help fully authenticate the item.

And that’s all I’m going to say about that, aside from declaring “Provenance Unknown” to be one of the best stories of this collection.

“The Well”, by D L Myers ~ While I’m not a fan of horror poetry, this one was quite lovely, and it served as a more than fitting coda to the collection… right down to its final line.


And that’s it for Black Wings of Cthulhu Volume 6! I’ve reviewed every story and poem in this book, and now, I’m ready to move on to something completely different… i.e., a novel, most likely Matthew Stokoe’s COWS, a cult novel that I’ve heard is among the most disturbing works of fiction in recent years. I’m really looking forward to it! Also, I’ll be continuing to update this media diary with quick announcements of any movies or TV shows of note that I watch, and of course, graphic novels and comic books.

yer old pal Jerky

Friday, May 24, 2019


This Friday was an interesting one for yer old pal Jerky. I was summoned to a meeting of the Toronto Landlord Tenant Board as a witness on my landlord’s behalf, in an effort to help her evict a truly terrible tenant from the building where I live.

The tale of this nightmarish neighbor of mine is a long one, and I hope to eventually write it all down for posterity’s sake. For now, however, thanks to what can only be described as abject malpractice on the part of the sole adjudicator for the case, suffice it to say that the nightmare tenant “won”. This, apparently due to the fact that the adjudicator in question was in a big rush to get to the cottage this weekend, causing her to dismiss the case for “insufficient evidence”, roughly 20 minutes after she instructed the landlord’s lawyer to release all the witnesses who’d shown up, because “we already have their written statements” and hearing from us would have been “redundant” and a waste of her time.

So, what does all this mean? Basically, it means that my fellow witnesses and I now have to continue sharing our building with a dangerous, drug-addled lunatic with a long history of violent criminality… only now, she knows which of us are her “enemies”. Actually, everybody in the building wants her gone, but only those of us who did the right thing and showed up when summoned are likely to be targeted for reprisals. Yes, it sure is fun, being thrown under the bus by a massively incompetent city official!

I mean, seriously… is it literally impossible to evict someone in Toronto these days? We’re talking about a tenant who, above and beyond her recent involvement in a strong-arm robbery during which insecticide was sprayed into the eyes of an elderly woman, engages in non-stop, round the clock screaming fits in the hallways, and marathon door-slamming sessions that go on for hours. We’re talking about someone who broke into a bunch of other tenants’ mailboxes, kicked in her part-time boyfriend’s apartment windows, and has engaged in countless acts of wanton vandalism. The building bears the scars of her passing on literally EVERY FLOOR, with giant holes punched into the walls wherever there’s a doorknob that can reach. We’re talking about someone who has physically assaulted the elderly landlords! Elderly landlords who have gone through all the proper legal steps to have this lunatic evicted from their building, not only for their sake but for the sake of all their other tenants, only to be told: “Nah. Screw all that. That crazy, dangerous tenant gets to stay.”

What the hell more cause does a landlord need before they can evict a tenant? Hallways covered in blood?! A dead body?!

Anyway, the lawyer for the landlord has already filed an appeal of the Board’s inexplicable and indefensible decision, and myself and some of the other witnesses are going to be filing an official complaint about the adjudicator’s behavior at the hearing. I’ll keep you all posted about the situation, either here at the Mediavore, as part of my media diaries, or at my catch-all hobby blog, Daily Dirt Diaspora. For now, however, let’s get to the reading!


Twenty-One New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror, Edited by S.T. Joshi

“To Move Beneath Autumnal Oaks”, by W.H. Pugmire ~ The Weird Fiction community recently lost one of its most beloved characters—and sacred Keeper of the Eldritch Flame for the Pacific Northwest—the gentleman scholar Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire. A master stylist and a lifelong writer in the Lovecraftian vein, Pugmire is known for his evocative prose, and for creating the Sesqua Valley setting, home of the Shadow Children and the location where many of his stories take place. This short, funereal piece makes for a lovely introduction to Pugmire’s work, as it features a character he often returns to, the grotesque Simon Gregory Williams, a.k.a. “the Beast”, and an intriguing, semi-linear narrative about death, love, grief and incest (?) that would not be out of place among Poe’s mysterious masterworks. I will definitely be seeking out more Pugmire.

“Mr. Ainsley”, by Steve Ransic Tem ~ A fantastic, truly Lovecraftian tale, presented as an account of the first visitor that the titular Mr. Ainsley has had to his home since his wife died, ten years prior. When the visitor, a young, freckle-faced political canvasser, passes out within seconds of stepping into the house’s “unique” atmosphere, Mr. Ainsley takes it upon himself to make the young man comfortable until he comes to. Afterwards, the two carry on an awkward, increasingly disturbing conversation, which culminates in Mr. Ainsley’s insistence that the young man see the garden before he leaves. Tem is a veteran of the genre who’s been writing some of the best short horror fiction of the last four decades, and he really knows what he’s doing. The buildup of suspense, the way disturbing details are nonchalantly dropped into the narrative for maximum effect, the relentless narrative acceleration towards an increasingly unavoidable doom… it’s all masterful stuff. With two stories (and one poem) left to go in this collection, “Mr. Ainsley” is the best of the lot so far.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019


When it comes to magazines, I’ve been in love with them all my life. My first love was Cracked, followed shortly thereafter by Famous Monsters of Filmland. Then, as my age hit the double digits, I started getting into MAD, National Lampoon and Fangoria. My mid-teens saw me getting into OMNI, Heavy Metal, Creepy and Eerie.

As I transitioned from high school to university, I discovered Michael J. Weldon's incredible Psychotronic Video (full archive) and added SPY to my regular reading mix. By the time I graduated, I was a regular reader of Harper's, and when I moved to Toronto I started reading the excellent multidisciplinary intellectual digest The Baffler, the formally innovative literary quarterly McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, and the funniest goddamn magazine in the world, the half-comics/half-satire/all-hilarious VIZ, home to Sid the Sexist, the Fat Slags, the Drunken Bakers, and countless other ongoing works of demented genius.

I bring this up because it’s become almost impossible to track down newsstand copies of VIZ in Toronto nowadays. They used to carry it at International News shops, but now, they only do so sporadically, and at fewer and fewer locations. That’s why, a couple months ago, I decided to bite the bullet and subscribe... just like David Bowie!

And so, this week, after the obligatory 8 to 10 week waiting period... I got my first issue of VIZ in the freaking mail! And folks, let me tell you... issue #285 is glorious. It's, like, the Platonic Ideal of what an issue of VIZ should be. Eventually, I'll probably get around to writing something more substantial about this magnificent rag. I may even try to convince some of you to subscribe along with me! Or I might just have something to say about my favorite strips ("Drunken Bakers" and anything written by Barney Farmer), the best fake letters and "Top Tips" ("Empty paracetamol blister packs make ideal cryogenic freezing chambers for ants"), or other comedy tours-de-force (like this edition's feature, "Sherlock, Eamonn or Big John... Who is the Best Holmes?"). For now, however, let's just move on...

To the rest of my non-reading media consumption diary for the day! So, what did I watch on these two days? Well, I finally got around to seeing this year's Pet Sematary remake. As a great admirer of Stephen King's darkest novel by far—and as a qualified fan of Mary Lambert's 1989 film version—I don't think the filmmakers did an adequate job of justifying this film's existence. The actors are all decent (with the lone standout performance being Jeté Laurence's), the cinematography is adequately spooky, the score is sufficiently goosebump-inducing. There's nothing in particular that's wrong with the movie. It's just that we've already seen it, presented in pretty much the exact same way, with the sole exception of a highly effective mid-film tweaking of the source material that comes surprisingly close to redeeming this effort... until the film ultimately reverts to type and squanders all that disturbing new potential. I won't go into detail, but you'll know what I mean, if and when you watch.

Speaking of horror, I also watched the first two episodes of HBO's 5-part miniseries Chernobyl, a prestige TV dramatization of the 1986 Soviet nuclear power plant disaster in Ukraine. Chernobyl, of course, was an insane moment in our species' history, probably ranking just a few notches beneath the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and (arguably) a few above the assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK on the consequences scale. Furthermore, in terms of potential consequences, it leaves all those events in the metaphorical, radioactive dust. It's also one of the few historical events that actually unfolded like an apocalyptic horror narrative.

The first two episodes of this HBO series are, in a word, amazing. The attention to detail is spectacular, as are the performances from the vast, uniformly stellar cast of actors, known and unknown. Also, if you're at all interested in the history behind the show, HBO has a podcast that you can listen to after each episode, expanding upon details and divergences from reality on an episode-by-episode basis. It's a pretty good podcast in its own right.

Bottom line? By two episodes in, HBO's Chernobyl has the potential to become a crown jewel of this so-called Golden Age of Television that we're allegedly in the middle of these days. It's TV that educates, but also doesn't feel like homework. I have a feeling it's going to win all the awards, and I'm looking forward to the next three episodes.

Sunday, May 19, 2019


I woke up really late today, sleeping through most of the day. It’s midnight, and the sound of fireworks is cracking through the weighty darkness of the overcast night sky. Haven’t gotten much work or reading done today. Instead, I’ve watched the final episode of Game of Thrones (meh), the newish Will Ferrell movie The House (meh), and a number of Parks and Recreation episodes. I really enjoy that show. I find it comforting and easy to like. Also, Aubrey Plaza and Rashida Jones both break my heart. And then there’s “Ron Swanson”, who is awesome. Aziz Ansari, Adam Scott, Rob Lowe, “Andy”… it’s just a quality show with one of the better post-Seinfeld sitcom ensembles I can think of. And it’s got a really gentle, positive vibe. Anyway, I’m three seasons in, and I’ll watch through until I’m done eating my leftover burrito, then I’ll read another couple stories from Black Wings, and that’ll be enough of that.


Twenty-One New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror, Edited by S.T. Joshi

“The Shard”, by Don Webb ~ This is a story about James and Bart, two American cousins and SF dorks whose families toured the UK when they were in their teens. Bart’s mom was a musicologist researching the “Birchester Sound”—an obscure late ‘60’s phenomenon overshadowed by the lads from Liverpool, being a mix of psychedelica and something called Severn Valley folk music—so part of their visit took place in Ramsey Campbell’s North Country Mythos setting of (you guessed it) Birchester and the Severn Valley.

One of the mementos Bart brings back stateside is a green and pink slab of tourmaline spar about four inches long. In the years following their UK tour, Bart’s IQ drops from 186 to 86, and his family has him institutionalized. There's no explanation for this sudden change, and James remains his only friend.

Bart dies in 2015 leaving behind a diary with the word “Glarky” written in it thousands of times and that watermelon tourmaline spar. Except that’s not what it was. James, being a scientist with access to labs, scrapes off a bit to test its makeup. Turns out it's mildly radioactive, made of radium mixed with boron silicate and a strange plastic that resembles DNA. Also, it was artificially extruded. And when you fall asleep with it in your hands… you dream. Amazing dreams. So amazing that James becomes a dream junkie, costing him his relationship, his job, etc.

The shard also records memories and plays them back. James goes through all the Bart recordings. Then he goes through recordings made by some British guy in a Birchester Sound band (the Titus Groans) who, while feasting on dreams/memories, decides to stop eating actual food, and slowly starves to death. Then the dream/memories go back farther… and the grand mystery of the shard’s true origin (among other things) is revealed.

See, it all has to do with an advanced alien civilization on a planetoid city with an ancient, titanic, “Class X” god-thing (the Unnamable) being held in a crystal prison of sorts, and the unavoidable residue of four-dimensional beings existing in a ten-dimensional universe, and it involves gravitons and consciousness and the disease called “religion”. Also, tentacles. And, oh yeah! The shard is, like, an alien armpit wart.

Eventually, it turns out the Unnamable was an early form of the being that eventually evolves into the spiny hallucinogenic space-godling called Gla’aki, and the alien whose dreams James is experiencing (now full-on, as though remembering his own past) has succumbed to the Cult of the Unnamable and secretly plans to drill through the Crystal Trap Door behind which Future Gla’aki is being held on his way to an execution that will NOT take place.

The story ends with James’ fate mirroring Bart’s. It’s an okay story, a good, quick read. And so, just for shits and giggles, I thought I’d put together a list of potential band names for practitioners of the fictional “Birchester Sound” (we already have The Titus Groans). If you come up with some names of your own, please include them in the comments section:

The Goatswood Trio 
Watermelon Tourmaline 
Voice of the Pines
The Syncops
Planet Blink
Paperback Discipline
The Herd
Ramsey's Commonplace Band

“The Mystery of the Cursed Cottage”, by David Hambling ~ A locked room mystery set in Seesin’s Copse, a woodsy part of Surrey, England, in the late 1920’s. Granny Attwater, an old lady rumored to be a hundred years old, is evicted from her small cottage home by a new landowner, Mr. Potter. She puts a curse on him then promptly dies. Wanting to prove the curse foolish, Potter publicly vows to spend the weekend alone in the cottage. He locks himself in… and disappears. Now, a police inspector accompanies Mr. Blake, a specialist in paganism, the occult and other such topics, and Mrs. Bellhaven, a Theosophist with “a gift for sensing vibrations”, to the cottage, in order to try and solve the mystery. A series of disturbing events begins with a gruesome discovery that indicates Mr. Potter’s true fate, and culminates with someone meeting their own horrific end, as well as a cameo appearance by the British version of our old friend Brown Jenkin.

“To Court the Night”, by K.A. Opperman ~ By far the best lyric poem of this collection so far (which contains an unprecedented four of them), this Poe-like ode to necrophilia is lush in its imagery and precise in its traditional rhyme-scheme and its flawless iambic pentameter. Great stuff!

Saturday, May 18, 2019


Today, Spidey had me, Merrill, and Robert Gordon over for drinks, chats, and homemade kefta kabobs. They were delicious. It was fun. The Wheeltrans guys made great time, both ways, and were very proud of themselves about it (which is cool, as I was proud of them too). Robert finally spilled some beans the two of us had been holding onto since he lived in the Beach(es), which was funny. I guess he figured a decade was enough buffer to keep the shame directed towards us over our scummy behavior that one time to a minimum. Anyway, despite a full day out of the house, I still managed to do a little reading. Here is my reading report...


Marvel Comics, written by Zdarsky, art by Magno and Guice

After a promising first couple issues, Marvel’s latest attempt to make a “thing” out of (technically) their first-ever super-team book—the WWII-era Invaders, featuring Captain America, Bucky, the (original, android, criminally underutilized) Human Torch, trying to figure out what’s wrong with/reign in the lunatic ambitions of an out of control Namor who seeks to unite the underwater world and wage war on the surface world (again!)—I am beginning to lose interest. Not just because the story beats are starting to feel too familiar at this point, but also because the stuff that is original to this storyline (the ret-conning of Namor’s years of amnesia, the whole Professor X element and the idea that Namor is, like, “the first mutant’ or some such nonsense), I’m just not feeling. I’ll give it one more issue, just to see how they squirm Namor out of the fact that he appears to have attacked New York with three (count’em!) nuclear warheads. After that, without serious improvement, I will be taking this title off my pull list.


Story by Darcy van Poelgeest, Art by Ian Bertram

Upon completing my first read-through of the third issue of this ongoing masterpiece-in-the-making, I was delighted to find that my personal Geek Rating had gone up a notch. How so, you ask? Well, it turns out they decided to publish that letter I wrote (as mentioned above)! They edited my letter down quite a bit (of course), and the parts they printed, they did mostly for utilitarian purposes (you'll know what I mean if and when you read it), but still, I have to admit that seeing my letter in print sent a little shot of adrenaline rippling through me. But aside from all that, if you're at all a fan of—or know of a mature teen who loves—art, First Nations topics, science-fiction, Canadiana, and stories that address the horrible potential of theocracy, then by all means seek out Little Bird. The first issue is in its third printing already, the second issue has been out for four weeks, and the third issue came out literally three days ago (at the time of this writing). You won't be disappointed!

Twenty-One New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror, Edited by S.T. Joshi

“The Gaunt”, by Tom Lynch ~ Boilerplate occult revenge story set in the Massachusetts Bay Colony circa the 1700’s, a man (Arthur Bishop, the titular “Gaunt”) whose wife and daughter were burned as witches for helping a rich family’s servant girl get over her migraines through the use of some slippery elm tea, returns to the township of Arkham after a seven year tour of the colonies and the Old World, during which time he searched for, and discovered, an esoteric means of redress for the monstrous injustice of his family’s destruction. The Necronomicon features, but is not named, and the description of the Gaunt’s horrible vengeance is sufficiently diabolical and descriptive to make up for the fact that, overall, the story feels rushed, under-cooked, and a few pages shorter than it maybe should be.

“Missing at the Morgue”, by Donald Tyson ~ For a story by a “noted scholar of the occult”, “Missing at the Morgue” has the feel of a decent pro-am effort, at best. A kind of Lovecraft noir, liberally riddled with that genre’s shopworn clichés, it’s the story of Dalhoy, a freelance photographer after a photo of a recently deceased serial killer, and his dealings the New World’s most lax, ineffective police force. The laziest of tricks work like magic for Dalhoy. For instance… 
Cop: “I can’t let you in.”
Dalhoy: “Come on. Please?”
Cop: “Well… okay, but only for ten minutes!” 
There are re-animated corpses, disappearing organs (a plot point that also, hilarious irony, disappears from this story halfway through), and a new type of monster, which Tyson describes as “indescribable”, but essentially, they are cat-sized tadpoles with little arms, eyes, and sharp white teeth (oh, and their mama monster, who is just a big black shivering ball floating in an underground lake). There’s a secret tunnel located at the back of a single corpse-locker in the hospital morgue, but it conveniently disappears, via unknown means, within hours of being discovered. There’s the aforementioned vast underground lake that, miraculously, no one knows about, even though it’s somewhere within crawling distance of a major hospital. This story is a mess. Another tale that has no business being in a collection of what are supposed to be the very best stories that the Cthulhu Mythos has to offer.

Friday, May 17, 2019


Didn’t get much reading done on Sunday because I watched the third and fourth episodes of this season's Game of Thrones, among other things. Then, on Monday, I spent a lot of time working on Milton Zysman’s Unravelling Genesis project, which again limited my personal reading time.


Twenty-One New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror, Edited by S.T. Joshi

“Carnivorous”, by William F. Nolan ~ Martha and Dave Burns are sick and tired of cold Chicago winters, so they decide to post an online ad seeking rental of a modest house in Los Angeles over the winter/spring months. They get a single reply, from a prim and proper Victorian type named Viola P. Fanning, who agrees to let the couple stay at her beautiful home while she tours Europe for five months in search of new objects for her collection of rare fungi and exotic plants.

Furthermore, she will let them stay without charge, as long as they agree to care for her collection. This involves twice daily plant feedings using a special, gruesome concoction that is swimming with tiny living things, and a midnight sing-song of classics from the American Songbook. Oh, and Martha and Dave are never, under any circumstances, to open the locked door at the back of the greenhouse! Ridiculous, yes, but it’s a deal they can’t refuse.

Upon arriving at the home, they find it to be quite spacious and lovely, but the specimens in the greenhouse are hideous—mostly carnivorous plants and fungoid growths that give off both a repellent stench and an odd orange luminescence. All in all, it’s a fun if somewhat predictable little tale, featuring some truly interesting information about real-world carnivorous plants and a gruesome denouement featuring a far more violent version of what Stephen King turns into at the end of the Creepshow episode, “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”.

“On a Dreamland’s Moon”, by Ashley Dioses ~ Not being a fan of horror poetry, nor of Lovecraft’s Dreamlands stories, this particular offering didn’t have much to offer me, personally. There are some lovely lines, featuring some exquisite imagery, however. And it doesn’t take long to read. So I wouldn’t skip it if I were you.

“Teshtigo Creek”, by Aaron Bittner ~ Jim takes his girlfriend Kelly camping at a state park, even though, as a duo of park rangers try to warn them, it’s the middle of mosquito season, the water is still freezing cold, and the campground is only accessibly via canoe.

Things go from bad to worse as the couple get drunk and, at Jim’s urging, decide to try and skinny dip, only to have Jim step on something that puts a dozen tiny needle-holes in his foot, causing him to pass out in agony and nearly drown. Kelly pulls him out of the water and the next day they head home, with Jim now suffering from the head cold to end all head colds.

The weekend was pretty much a disaster… so bad was it, in fact, that when Jim is sent home sick from work, he arrives to find that Kelly has packed up her shit and moved out. He tries calling her, then gives up, promptly collapsing to the floor and passing out.

Jim wakes up to find the older of the two park rangers from the Teshtigo outing standing over him, reciting some weird incantations. He feels something squirming painfully in his sinus cavities. Then he feels something explode from his face… a tiny monster! With teeth like a piranha and two little salamander legs tipped with three razor-fanged fingerlings!

Jim feels his sanity slipping away as he watches the park ranger gently pick up the creature and tuck it away in a pocket of his windbreaker. Not too far gone to ask questions, Jim demands to know: “Why did you come after me? What is that thing? What’s going on?”

Turns out the park ranger knows these little creatures, and that he felt he “had to get the nuttaunes back.” Nuttaunes, by the way, is a Lakota word meaning “my daughter”. And then he walks away. As brisk and amusing as this story was to read, it also felt like a bit of a rush-job. I’m surprised it made Joshi’s cut.

“Ex Libris”, by Caitlin R. Kiernan ~ Maggie shows up at her friend and lover’s apartment—this unnamed individual providing the story’s first-person narrative—with a battered Campbell’s Tomato Soup box containing 11 very old and creepy books that she picked up at an estate sale. Maggie keeps “forgetting” to take the books home with her, and over the span of a couple weeks, simply being in the presence of these tomes begins to exert a number of changes over both the teller of this tale and Maggie, herself.

Those books that are named should be familiar to most fans of Lovecraft’s work: Freidrich Wilhelm von Junzt’s Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten, Ludvig Prinn’s De Vermis Mysteriis, Francois-Honore’ Balfour’s Cultes des Goules, etc. However, it’s not the books themselves, but the effects they have on the narrator and Maggie, that matter. Both experience these effects in their own way. Maggie begins to change physically, becoming more sexually aggressive and violent, whereas the narrator feels that the books are telling her stories.

The first one she relates is probably the most interesting. It’s about a 19th century Englishwoman named Harriett* who uses an incantation found in Der Vermis Mysteriis to call down a horrible entity by the name of Mynarthitep, a blasting darkness who squeezes tight against her magic circle, which proves to be of insufficient strength, eventually collapsing like a submarine in an uncontrolled descent… but not before the she pulls a trick on the entity by killing herself before it can mess her up too badly.

As the story evolves, the narrator suffers some sort of mental breakdown, seeing visions, visiting buildings that burned down ages ago, applying all of her worldly erudition to the situation at hand. This causes Kiernan to skillfully embed deep cultural, historical, literary and artistic references throughout the story, everything from Hesiod to Nietzsche to Steinbeck to William Burroughs, including extended meditations on sin, and an impressive dissertation on dueling academic opinions on the meaning behind the story of Pandora’s box. Kiernan even manages to sneak in a bit of a mystery about the most likely provenance of the books, a story that involves the Starry Wisdom cult and an occult-obsessed thief named Robert Blake.

Eventually, Maggie literally transforms into a “shining trapezohedron”, as described in the Livre d’Eibon, only made out of bone, blood, muscle and sinews. Pretty weird.

*There’s a line on page 152 that gave me a chuckle. When relaying the story of the Harriett the Englishwoman, Kiernan writes: “Her name must have been irrelevant, because I never did learn that…” Funny for two reasons… first, two paragraphs later she identifies the “unnamed” woman as Harriett, and second, due to the fact that the narrator of “Ex Libris”, herself, goes unnamed.

“You Shadows That in Darkness Dwell”, by Mark Howard Jones ~ Another nameless protagonist, this time, experiencing some truly beautiful weirdness, along with some absolutely chilling, surreal, evocatively written architectural horror.

A soon-to-be-divorced man, indifferent to his money hungry wife and his insolent, unloving daughters, tries to take his mind off things by going on a hiking holiday in an unnamed foreign land. He becomes lost, then comes across a boatyard, where he rents a small, motorized boat to make his way downriver.

Unfortunately, this only gets him MORE lost, as he can’t turn the boat around after crossing swift waters that he’ll never be able to navigate upstream. So, he pulls the boat out of the water and once again starts walking. That’s when he begins to notice black poppies, as well as a massive, man-made structure—a cathedral?—with spires that appear to reach impossibly high.

As he crests a hill, he sees a vast plain made black by the proliferation of the aforementioned black flowers, and he can see that the structure is much farther away than he originally thought… which means that it’s bigger than he first surmised. He also sees, in the far distance, the tiny figure of a woman hurrying through the flowers towards the tower. After a moment, she falls and he loses sight of her.

With little choice, he makes his way towards the tower. Still miles away from the structure, a light rain of silky black fluid begins to fall. What is this curious black rain? Industrial pollution? He hurries towards the structure, and as he approaches, it becomes even more disturbing in appearance.

“Arches seemed to flow one into the other, while buttresses tried to loop inside one another, as if someone had plucked the designs from the nightmares of some half-insane architect and rendered them solid.” From certain angles, it even seems to lurch towards the observer.

Fortunately, it was also on an elevated foundation. Once he reaches the structure and climbs aboard, he circles it, finds a door sufficiently recessed to offer him shelter, and notes a “whimsical” design feature resembling the top of a human skull—fontanels and all—sunken into the black stony material of the structure, apparently serving as some sort of doorstop.

 Other fantastical features include a kind of dry pool with two immense, horn-like shapes (instrumental horns, not from a bull’s head) facing each other. In the pool section, between the horns, figures in varying states of disassembly are visible, almost like they’re sunken into the floor. There is also a figure of a vast hand, three times taller than the tallest human shape, with screaming, roaring faces at each fingertip.

The black rain, in the meantime, has turned the building's foundation into an island of sorts. Black waves lap against the steps leading to the platform level. The wind picks up, causing the twin horns to howl in a painfully loud monotone. He blocks his ears, falls to his knees, and realizes that anything caught in the dry pool between those horns would be pulverized into putty by the decibel assault.

As the noise dies down, he spies a procession of tall figures appearing to walk on the black water towards the structure, as if called there by the howling. Their garments seem to drink in light. They are followed by smaller creatures wearing masks to hide their essential facelessness, “the very lowest apostles of depravity”. The narrator feels that he recognizes some of them.

A ridiculously tall door opens to let them in, giving the narrator a glimpse of the crimson interior. Then there is a cacophony as what sound like huge metal hooks slam and bash, moaning and screaming and other voices intoning: “THERE IS NO OUTSIDE!” over and over again.

More horrifying sounds. He plans to make good his escape by running across what he believes is an underwater platform that the worshipers used to “walk on water”, but he’s too frightened to take that first step. Then he spies a flash of white rolling in the black water. It turns out to be the corpse of the woman he'd seen earlier that same day. Something has used her as food.

And now it is night, dark as raven’s feathers in tar. Fortunately, he sees that his boat has been flooded off the shore and back into the water, and is now floating towards the structure… towards him. He manages to snag it with his jacket.

Though he can’t imagine how, he knows that somehow, this leviathan citadel of night must be destroyed. He also realizes that he’s become lost by drifting into part of the map stained by someone who spilled ink on it. As for his future life, he knows what he must do, but he is too afraid to do it.

I want to draw scenes from this story. For the imagery alone, it’s one of the best in this compilation so far, and one of the most impressive surreal short horrors I've read in a long time.

“The Ballad of Asenath Waite”, by Adam Bolivar ~ Basically, a balladic retelling of “The Thing on the Doorstep”, the same Lovecraft story that inspired “The Once and Future Waite”, a story also featured in this collection.

“The Visitor”, by Nancy Kilpatrick ~ Rob has just left his lover, Ian. Moved out and left his life a mess. Following the advice of friends and family, Ian takes a long weekend trip to Grenada for a sunny mini-vacation. Unfortunately, he’s miserably sick and riddled with anxiety for his whole time there. After sleeping through a couple of meals and missing most of his vacation, Ian encounters an intelligent talking bug (he thinks it’s a cockroach, she counters that she’s a “Palmetto”). She claims to be his spirit animal, but the way it’s talking (in Rob’s voice no less), it sounds more like an intelligent species looking for a way to mess with or reign in humanity’s worst instincts. Fun little story, but not very Lovecraftian, and probably insufficiently spooky for a prestige collection like this, which purports to be the gold standard


by Laurence Engraver

A beautiful, etching-style exploration of meat, and what it means to eat it… and think about it, which might not be such a great idea if it’s too early in the day for you to be exploring such stuff. Clocking in at an ad-free 28 pages, each page of Drippin’ features a full page image of butcher shop backdrops, with livestock in various states of preparation (cuts, chops, offal, etc), some sort of monster, as well as a diabolical meat deity. Personally, I pretty much love every book put out by Hollow Press, including their Under Dark Weird Fantasy Grounds anthology. And so now we have Drippin', which holds a place near and dear to my heart. What a wonderful, almost wordless Lovecraftian panache! Fans of such things owe it to themselves to look into all of Hollow Press' publications.

Saturday, May 11, 2019


Today, I attended TCAF (the Toronto Comics Arts Festival) as I have for the past four years, and while there, I purchased a number of very interesting books: Amnesia—The Lost Films of Francis D. Longfellow, the full package of Read More Comix, a Toronto-based book put out by attendees of the Toronto Comics Jam at Cameron House on the last Tuesday of every month, Andy, a Factual Fairytale: The Life and time of Andy Warhol, a 562 page objet d’art in and of itself, and finally, Drippn’, a wordless Lovecraftian tale, gruesome and beautifully etched in white on black. Anyway, I didn't get a chance to read much because of today's gallivanting, as you soon will see, below...


AMNESIA, The Lost Films of Francis D. Longfellow
By Al Columbia

A magnificent collection of 24 beautifully rendered, graphically disturbing and darkly evocative oversized images that combine the old-timey animation stylings of the classic Fleischer Studio properties such as Betty Boop and the original (and gorgeous) Popeye and Superman cartoons, with such themes as incest, sex magic, infanticide, cannibalism, Satanism, human sacrifice, and worse. Apparently, this is Columbia’s first salvo in a wide-ranging art project that is meant to create a Borgesian “fictional” historical trail for the “fictional” (and very troubled) animator Francis D. Longfellow. I certainly hope Columbia builds on this concept!

Friday, May 10, 2019


I want to write more, so that means reading more. I find that reading not only inspires me in terms of sparking new story ideas, it also helps me learn new techniques for achieving certain effects (something that is particularly important in the genres in which I wish to write: horror, speculative fiction, “the weird”). Unfortunately, thanks to the fact that my brain has been drilled full of holes thanks to our multi-tasking, attention-deficit-disordered way of life, I find that a lot of what I read goes in through my eyes and then rapidly exits my skull like steam schfitzing from my ears or something.

Of course, being a lifelong English Major, in the Garrison Keillor sense, I won’t be limiting my reading to short horror fiction. However, I’ve been reading a LOT of that stuff lately, so it’s probably going to be taking up a lot of room at the start. What I hope to do with this reading diary is to make note of the things I liked/didn’t like/loved/despised about the stories and novels that I read. I will also make note of any intriguing techniques or tricks that I might come across.

Well, that’s probably enough introductory babble for now. Know that I’ll be taking notes on stories in the various anthologies I’ll be reading in a piecemeal manner, reviewing a number of stories at a time. On the other hand, with the novels that I read, I will try to keep my notes on those together, even if I read said novel over an extended period of time during which I read multiple other short stories, comics, novellas, etc.

Let’s get started with the most recent edition of what is reputed to be the finest ongoing collection of Lovecraftian and/or Cthulhu Mythos fiction, editor S.T. Joshi’s Black Wings series.


Twenty-One New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror, Edited by S.T. Joshi

“Pothunters” by Anne K. Schwader ~ Interesting story about field anthropologist Cassie Barrett, who specializes in native cultures of the American Southwest, getting a mysterious package from her assistant Frank Yellowtail’s nephew, Joshua, informing her about a dig site being looted of its unprecedented cache of uniquely constructed and decorated pottery found hidden in sealed-off cavates in the high desert. But looting by meth-addicted “pothunters” is the least of what’s going on at the site, and Schwader does a good job of establishing Cassie as someone who’s dealt with otherworldly forces before, peppering the text with references to terrifying past events at “Zia House”, or the need to bring along her absent mentor’s mysterious “box”. It’s almost as if this is a chapter from a larger novel, or Cassie Barrett is a character who features in multiple linked short stories. Either way, she makes for a unique entry in the pantheon of “Lovecraftian heroes”, and this ends up being an effective horror in the investigative/adventure genre, featuring classic Lovecraftian creatures, the identity of which any seasoned Lovecraft fan will be able to identify relatively early on. Not that this lessens the pleasure of this tale. Particularly recommended for young and female readers.

“The Girl in the Attic” by Darrell Schweitzer ~ A dark, disturbing bit of prose describing in lyrical but horrific ways what appear to be bits and pieces from a lifetime’s worth of memory going through the mind of a young woman (or perhaps the ghost of a young woman?) chained in the attic of a lonely, abandoned house in the woodlands of rural Pennsylvania… a woman who is simultaneously an organized cult’s sacrificial offering, and something like the larval form of a horrifying deity yet to be born. As her memories move from the mundane and familial towards the cruel and unavoidably horrific, the reader is subjected to some tough imagery. “The Girl in the Attic” is chilling and effective, but the ultimate effect is beautifully elusive in its treatment of the story’s central mystery.

“The Once and Future Waite” by Jonathan Thomas ~ Set in the 1980’s, in that most famous of Lovecraftian settings—Arkham Asylum—this story starts off as an investigation into a cell that seems to be haunted. Patients are complaining of flying insects trying to drill their way into their heads, and also of visions of a spooky, bearded man floating above them. Doctor Meg Kilduff, already miffed at being passed over for the job of director after her previous boss’ departure, begrudgingly investigates the room’s past, as per the new director’s orders. It’s at this point that Lovecraftian Easter Eggs (the first of which is in the story’s title) start flying at the reader fast and furious. With themes as varied as Reaganomics, postfeminism, sexual assault and the politics of mental health, this story ends up being an intriguing “serial possession” ghost story, with a final twist that will surprise, a final image that will disgust, and a final line that should put a smile on the reader’s face.

“Oude Goden” by Lynne Jamneck ~ An interesting short piece about a young, self-described “witch” in the Pacific Northwest, set in the 1920’s or so. The title is Dutch for “Ancient Gods”, with the ancient god in this case being Ghanatothoa (first offspring of Cthulhu according to some readings, Lin Carter’s in particular). Seems as though the protagonist’s lover, Jupiter, as well as other “outsiders” (homosexuals for the most part) from a small Seattle suburb are all disappearing. So, she sets out to solve the mystery. For such a short story, “Oude Goden” has an interesting cast of characters, including a sub-continental merchant with a deep understanding of the occult and a sideline in bootleg First Nations alcohol and super-potent hallucinogenic entheogens, a floppy-eared nocturnal rabbit who happens to harbor the soul of a hundred-years-dead Dutchman, the KKK, a phantom college of witches, and an arrogant, doomed young travelling warlock whose ultimate purpose in this story remains mysterious. Jamneck has also gifted us with a new book to add to the Mythos library: “Dhol Chants”, which contains incantations so potent that the reader needs to take arcane steps in order to prevent the triggering of uncontrollable effects simply by opening the book to certain pages! Decent short story.


Story by Darcy van Poelgeest, Art by Ian Bertram

The first issue of this instant classic comic book was so utterly superlative, it inspired me to write my first fan letter to a comic book creative team since the mid-1980’s. I guess I’ve got pretty good taste in comics, because since its debut, Little Bird has experienced unprecedented word of mouth success, leading to a swift sell-out and forcing Image Comics to print a second, and then a THIRD run… all before the second issue was even released. A dark future fantasy sf dystopia with elements of Native American lore, over the top superheroics, Jodorowsky-style mytho-messianic mysticism and utterly sui generis character designs, Little Bird is so far telling a somewhat familiar tale, but oh, the way it’s being told! I simply can’t wait to see where this creative team takes this magnificent comic.