Comments on Shim's Wings of Love(craft)

In which Shim enjoys about half an anthology, quibbles terminology, is predictably mean about stuff that appears suspiciously literary, and makes no song references whatsoever.

Comments (go to latest)
Including the names of the authors of the stories would help here.
Arthur B at 19:02 on 2015-01-10
I'll leave it to Shimmin whether he wants to edit in the authors' names, but there's a list here.
Shim at 21:45 on 2015-01-10
Including the names of the authors of the stories would help here.

Never occurred to me, sorry. I'm curious: is there a particular way I didn't think of in which it'd help, or does it just seem generally useful?

Because of the way I've discussed the stories in themed groups, I couldn't really see an elegant way to add the authors' names in without making the text itself seem clunky and hard to read. Instead I've just stuck a list in at the top. Hope that's okay? I also fixed a typo.
I brought up the issue of the author's names for two reasons:

1. It helps me evaluate whether or not I'd be interested in reading something if I know who wrote it. Of the listed authors, I'm a fan of Spencer's Lovecraftian work, and I'll check out anything Stableford writes. Most of the others I don't know.

2. I'm a published writer, although what I write is very, very distant from Lovecraftian short stories. I like to see writers get credit for their work.
James D at 21:16 on 2015-01-14
I too appreciate the addition of author's names - I found it especially interesting that you especially didn't like Michael Cisco's story, given that he's something of a critical darling.

Somewhat related, just from my interactions with other fans, it seems like horror is more "to each his own" than most other genres - I wonder if it's because horror's main goal is to engender a specific set of feelings in the reader - horror, fear, terror, disgust, etc., and a reader's personal phobias and predilections can dictate that more than usual. If so, in theory it seems like romance would be the same way, though I don't know anything about that genre.
Shim at 23:07 on 2015-01-14
Sorryish about the names... with a monograph I’d obviously do that, and if I’d been looking at each story in turn I’m sure I would as well. With the thematic arrangement it didn’t really occur to me, as most weren’t getting much attention, although thinking about it, the ones I disparaged were probably owed that much at least!

I was interested (slash disappointed) to note that of the authors I’d actually heard of – Pugmire, Stableford and Cambell – nothing really struck a chord with me. It may be worth bearing in mind, though, that critical darlings and me tend to go together like fish and paragliding...

I can sort of see what Cisco is going for, but I’m afraid I thought the execution wasn’t that good. Perhaps he was aiming for a portentous, ominous sort of atmosphere full of interpersonal tension, but it came across to me as needlessly cryptic; it’s hard to feel the tension of a story if you’re just sort of perplexed about what’s going on. I may be unfair, but the impression I got was that the opacity concealed Cisco not having any real idea what the cultists were all about. If you’re trying to write a story from a cultist POV, that’s a problem.

In contrast, The Truth about Pickman was pretty open, and I was convinced by the world it presented. The antagonist felt well-realised and, while I can’t now recall if everything was explained, there was a sense of solidness; Stableford seemed to have a firm grasp of the situation he was writing about. My regret there was that it didn’t feel weird enough – as a story it’s pretty good, but as a follow-on to Pickman’s Model it had something quite specific to live up to. In this case, I was awaiting a little more weirdness punch at the end, which never came.

To put a few more cards on the table, I’ve never really considered Lovecraft as horror. It’s very much weird fiction as far as I’m concerned. In fairness, everything here is basically weird fiction (except, of course, Rotterdam).

Incidentally, as well as the folks I specifically recommended, I will be checking out Stableford and Campbell’s other writing. These particular stories didn’t do quite what I was looking for, but I didn’t come away with the impression that the authors were Not For Me. Maybe also Niswander.
Adrienne at 22:58 on 2015-04-17
Shim, you may also want to check out Nick Mamatas' work. He isn't exclusively a Lovecraftian writer, but he just recently published a short story collection in that mode that's reportedly very good: The Nickronomicon. (I say reportedly because while (disclosure) Nick is an online friend of mine, I don't tend to read his stuff because i find it, um, traumatic.)

You might also be interested in some of the other stuff from the same publisher, Innsmouth Free Press -- they're a small press owned by a woman of color that's specifically publishing horror and weird fiction, often in a Lovecraftian mode.
Shim at 16:42 on 2015-04-18
Hi Adrienne, thanks for the recommendation, always nice.

Between your disclaimer, and phrases like "gritty", "unflinching", "uncomfortable to read" and "utterly disturbing" in the review, I think I'll give this one a miss. But I appreciate it nonetheless! I'm pretty sure Nick appears in another anthology I've got in the pile, so I'll get a taste of him sooner or later.

Actually, one of the reasons I enjoy Lovecraft and its pastiche is that it is remarkably undisturbing (when it does get uncomfortable, that's normally because he's being prejudiced). I steer clear of actual horror. My brain can mess with me quite enough without anyone giving it ideas.
Adrienne at 05:37 on 2015-04-20
Shimmin -- You're welcome! And yeah, if you don't want real horror, probably avoid Nick. Some of the other Innsmouth Free Press stuff might still be up your alley, though!
Shim at 16:37 on 2015-04-20
There's definitely a couple of things on there that look interesting, especially as some of it is outside the USA/Europe. Although right now I'm trying to work through the books I picked up in Japan so vaguely attempting not to buy more stuff :S

Glad to see you back, by the way!
Robinson L at 20:36 on 2015-06-15
I'm somewhat acquainted with Mamatas - I first bumped into him via his contribution to Star Wars On Trial, and while I disagree with him about Star Wars, I've read a bit of political commentary from him that I broadly agree with. I remember Elizabeth Bear once characterized him as a true chaotic neutral, which I can believe from what I've seen of his nonfictional writing, but I generally find it engagingly chaotic neutral.

I've read/listened to a couple of his short stories, one of which I think was about a computer which possibly contains Lovecraft's mind, or something like that. My favorite so far is Arbeitskraft, a steampunk story about Friedrich Engels digitizing Marx's writings after the latter's death, trying to get more of his friend's insights upon the state of the world and of capitalism (hmm, now I come out and say it, kind of similar concept to the Lovecraft story, if I'm remembering right).

The end of Arbeitskraft seems to suggest salvation via steampunk Singularity, with Digital Marx apparently predicting the working class will eventually emancipate themselves by mental uploading. Which, I've just realized, is kind of fitting, given that's essentially what has happened to Marx himself in the story. Still, I gotta admit, my concept of life is too grounded in the realms of the embodied, the physical, and the material to view mental uploading as anything other than an esoteric happy ending. Still a good story for all that. (It got an honorable mention in Gardner Dozois' 2012 Year's Best Science Fiction anthology, along with ~200 others, for whatever that's worth.)
Arthur B at 14:24 on 2017-12-08
Finally got around to reading this so rather than doing my own review I'll offer some thoughts here:

STUFF WE BOTH LIKE: I wasn't sure about how heavily Copping Squid leans into a fear of impoverished black people, and I didn't entirely buy how Andre convinces the protagonist to play along. (There's a particular bluff which requires the protagonist to believe that the San Francisco police department would give a harder time to a white convenience store clerk than they would to a black guy with a deeply suspicious demeanour, and... yeah.) I think it made up for it with the sheer audacity of the horror imagery involved.

The Broadsword might just be my favourite entry in the collection. It's a bunch of familiar tropes, sure, but it's shaken out in an interesting way. (I especially like how the conclusion is the opening movement of a cabin-in-the-woods-type horror movie.)

With Usurped I thought the flat effect was quite a good way of conveying the way the protagonist's thought processes had been altered and forced into an alien pattern.

Tempting Providence I thought was kind of awesome, with its central premise in particular a much better execution of the whole "Fishers From Outside" idea than most others have managed.

The Truth About Pickman seems to be part of Stableford's ongoing project to write perfectly rational alternate explanations for Lovecraft's stories, like the debunking of Shadow Over Innsmouth I reviewed a while back, but at least this time around there's actual horror involved and it isn't just Stableford being a massive fun-killing spoilsport.

Tunnels, I've decided, is actually a better Chthonian story than anything Brian Lumley has written. Which isn't a high bar, but it clears it very comfortably.

STUFF I LIKED THAT YOU DIDN'T: Even though Pickman's Other Model doesn't offer a whole lot beyond what the original story has to offer, beyond dabbling into another artistic medium and playing with some of those really juicy vintage Hollywood scandals, I thought it was quite engaging in terms of technique, particularly in the way it sets out the information provided.

Denker's Book is brief and a bit silly, but it's fun for it and at least it doesn't outstay its welcome.

If Inhabitants of Wraithwood were any more over-the-top gothic it'd be wearing a mesh shirt and too much eyeliner, but I thought it presented a very imaginative scenario.

The Correspondence of Cameron Thaddeus Nash I liked because whilst it does draw on Lovecraft's biographical details and his exchanges with various pen pals of varying degrees of flakiness, at the same time you don't need to know any of that to follow the story and there's an actual narrative arc involved.

Lesser Demons is blatantly a Lovecraftian take on the whole zombie apocalypse thing, and I almost slipped into not liking it because of that because it seemed like a very straightforward zombie apocalypse tale with a thin veneer of Mythos slapped on it, but then it went in some interesting directions so I just about approved. I agree that the protagonist is very FPS-ish, though I think that's part of the point - he's in full on "I Am A Hard Man Making Hard Decisions Because Life Is Hard" mode and he closes the story contemplating going back to a mundane existence and whether that's even possible and everything we've seen so far in the story suggests things may have gone too far for that.

STUFF I DIDN'T LIKE THAT YOU DID: I couldn't get on with Desert Dreams - the end seemed kind of abrupt for the amount of buildup it had. Likewise, The Dome I thought had an interesting central mechanism but seems to lack a certain something, and I thought Howling In the Dark kind of fell apart at the end and doesn't really go anywhere.

I wasn't keen on Substitution. There's basically nothing Lovecraftian/cosmic horror-ish about it at all, it's just a cautionary tale, and the closest thing it comes to any Mythos-y/Lovecraft-ish themes is "stick to what you know", and that's a stretch.

STUFF WE BOTH DON'T LIKE: Engravings is kind of awful, isn't it? I particularly dislike the narrative voice of most of it, because it seems like Pulver's trying to write from the point of view of someone who comes from bad circumstances but has a very classist and patronising take on what that implies - it's the train of thought of someone that the author doesn't believe has that much in the way of thoughts. And it's yet another Mythos story where Nylarathotep does a supervillain monologue at the end. That didn't work when Lovecraft did it in Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and it gets no better with other people's attempts.

Passing Spirits is... eh. I can see that it's quite clever. But as you point out, it ain't Lovecraftian cosmic horror (it's someone dying of brain cancer with Lovecraft and associated figures cropping up in their hallucinations), and whilst it's an interesting meditation on death it doesn't really offer the weird fiction chill that I go to this sort of collection for. I have strong suspicions about the reasons behind its selection; Gafford has clearly read I Am Providence (or at least is reasonably well-informed about Lovecraft's biography) and leans on that a lot, and one wonders whether Joshi waved it in because he's the world's pre-eminent biographical expert on Lovecraft and it warmed the cockles of his heart to see someone get that right and/or show signs of having read and enjoyed his work.

(Susie is even worse for this - if you weren't reasonably up on your Lovecraft biographical details you might entirely miss that the title character is supposed to be Lovecraft's mum.)

Rotterdam is fucking awful. I should moderate that statement: it's perfectly serviceably written. By and large (with one exception I'll note in a bit), I reckon in terms of basic writing craft the standard here is way better than the average for, say, those Robert M. Price I reviewed a while back.

But in terms of the actual content of the story it's not good for more or less all the reasons you point out. It just doesn't do anything interesting, and has this really grating “sensitive, intellectual protagonist vs. masculine, sexually attractive rival" narrative which reads like it's trying to criticise toxic masculinity on the part of the rival but actually the rival doesn't do anything that toxic and it's the protagonist who's being toxic in that nasty passive-aggressive/just-plain-aggressive way that people who call themselves "incels" do. It's pretty much a literary version of one of those “virgin X/Chad Y" memes the kids are into these days.

Violence, Child of Trust is one of those stories where really nasty stuff is happening but it just sorts of wallows in that nastiness without doing anything interesting with it. I'd have missed the twist had you not mentioned it, and having noticed it I'm not sure how I'm supposed to care given that
the dude's substituted in his brother's daughter instead of his own as the sacrifice, but it's too late for them to cancel so his brother has to go ahead and do the deed, except we don't really know either woman because the story is entirely from the mens' perspective so all it means for the reader is that one cipher has been stabbed instead of another and the toxic relationship between the brothers remains toxic, which we already established.

An Eldritch Matter is just bad in terms of prose, as in it reads to my eyes like an unrevised first draft entirely lacking in flavour. It's just not very developed at all.

On the whole I tend to agree with you that this is an extremely middling collection. Looking at the above I note that the hit/miss ratio seems to be close to 50-50 - and to be honest, whilst there's stories I like here, there's far fewer stories I like so much as to declare them keepers. I'll take a look at later entries in the series to see if Joshi's batting average improves; the prominence of the anthology series means that for the later volumes Joshi probably got more submissions, which would naturally translate to being able to be more selective about what made the cut.

Oh, and since I've been doing it for the other Mythos anthologies I've been reviewing, a Boy's Club-o-meter reading:

Number of authors with stories in the anthology: 21
Number of said authors who are male: 19
Boy’s Club-o-meter rating: 90.5%
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