Reviews - What do customers think about High Seas Cthulhu: Swashbuckling Adventure Meets the Mythos?
high sea cthulhu Dec 26, 2007
good book. Catches the lovecraft ideal out on the high seas in a collection of short stories
Very few chills Oct 15, 2007
These stories are actually pretty good, for the most part. Given the overall theme, you expect Cthulhu, Dagon, and Deep Ones, and that's what you get with some exceptions. I really enjoyed the set-ups of the stories, the characters involved, and the writing styles.
So why the two stars? Because there were no surprises. Everything was put forward in plain, simple descriptions and plot lines. No "barely glimpsed" horrors, no hanging mysteries; just straight linear stories. Nothing to match or even reach for the chills that HPL's prose is capable of creating. It's a bit like reading descriptions of events in a "Call of Cthulhu" RPG campaign. Prosaic is a good word. These are more fantasy stories than lovecraftian horror.
Yet another Lovecraftian triumph from Elder Signs Press Sep 2, 2007
High Seas Cthulhu, full of mythos stories nautical and piratical, is the latest offering from Elder Signs Press. Right now this company is the hottest thing around in the US for fans of Cthulhu mythos fiction. They are more prolific than either Hippocampus Press, Chaosium or Mythos Books. In the UK, the best thing going is Rainfall Books. Thank goodness for the modern era and the web, so fans can access all of their books. High Seas Cthulhu is a lovely trade paperback, with the usual flawless production qualities and editing we expect from Elder Signs Press (OK, I saw an occasional sentence fragment and at least one instance where as author used the word bemused when they meant amused). It lists for $15.95. I don't see a discount on this site but it is available for free shipping if you order more than $25 worth of stuff. Page count was 327 with stories starting on page 9, very generous for this genre! There were a few unnumbered pages of useful minibios of the authors at the back of the book. All of these stories are newly published with this anthology except "Ensnared," which was in an obscure story collection in 2003. Most of the authors were new to me. The attractive cover art by Steven Gilberts shows a Cthulhu-like thing attacking a ship; it could have been based on a number of the stories herein. I liked it but my favorite ESP covers are the shoggoth in Hive and the noir cover for Hard Boiled Cthulhu. There were a few nautical terms bandied about that I did not know; I've posted a list of these words and their definitions on alt.horror.cthulhu to save you the trouble. I wish William Jones had written an editor's/publisher's note to explain how he conceived of this book and let us know a little about the story selection process. This would have been fun to read; I had a similar wish when I read Hard Boiled Cthulhu.
Here are the contents:
The Idol in His Hand by Darrell Schweitzer The Tip of the Iceberg by John Shire Passage to Oblivion by Lee Clark Zumpe - Dark Blue by Alan Dean Foster The Isle of Dreams by Charles P. Zaglanis Ensnared by Paul Melniczek A Kind of Fear by C.J. Henderson La Armada Invencible by Michael McBride The Others by Stewart Sternberg Signals by Stephen Mark Rainey The Havenhome by William Meikle The Bedlamite by Ferrel Moore The Star of Istanbul by Chris and Linda L. Donahue High Seas by Michael Penncavage Those Who Came to Dagon by John Shirley Clown Fish by Matthew Baugh Ice by Heather Hatch The Wreck of the Ghost by Tim Curran The Stars, in their Dreaming by Gerard Houarner Depth of Darkness by William Jones
I ended up really liking the book but it took some time to grow on me compared to Arkham Tales or Hardboiled Cthulhu, where I stayed up all night reading. There were a few stories in here I didn't really like, most near the front of the book, which took the wind out of my sails for a while. This is in contrast to other titles where just about all the contents are top notch. Eventually I warmed up to it and finished High Seas Cthulhu in a matter of 3 or 4 nights. It is practically self recommending to mythos fans. I mean, pirates and the mythos, how can you miss?
*****spoilers may follow so stop reading now if it bothers you******
"The Idol in His Hand" - Darrell Schweitzer has written a few mythos stories I know about. In particular I really liked "Why We Do It" form Dead But Dreaming. This story was OK but didn't really jazz me, about a journalism student interviewing a seedy ex-pirate who may have found a curious route to immortality.
"The Tip of the Iceberg" - This was a very likeable story, about an exploratory vessel discovering a shoggoth encased in the ice on the coast of Antarctica.
"Passage to Oblivion" - Lee Clarke Zumpe has a few mythos stories to his credit including "What Sorrows May Come" in Arkham Tales (a decent enough effort) and "The Breach" in Horrors Beyond (that I thought was very good). Unfortunately I found "Passage to Oblivion" pretty annoying. Maybe it was in medias res for some characters he has developed in other stories I don't know about. One main character is a superhuman Sentinel of Sodalitas Invictus (and these are not all that well explained in the text, although I suppose you can infer what they are; I even did a wikipedia search to no avail) and the other is probably a human avatar of the Great Race, posing as an Arkham professor. A secret map charting waters not meant to be seen by humans is stolen by the Barbary pirates and needs recovered. Apart from the exposition I was not blown away by the prose.
"Dark Blue" - Alan Dean Foster does not need introduced to fans of fantasy and science fiction. His mythos stories include "The Horror at the Beach" from The New Lovecraft Circle and "A Fatal Exception Has Occurred At..." from Children of Cthulhu. Both were OK. This was my favorite mythos story by Foster so far, where a too-clever-by-half entrepreneur inadvertantly finds some undiscovered ship wrecks in the Pacific Ocean and decides to salvage them with a crew sworn to secrecy. Maybe he should have hired a different ship.
"The Isle of Dreams" - A captain mad to see his deceased wife and to restore his son to his full faculties seeks a fabled island in the South Pacific where it is said dreams can be made real. Nyarlathotep has something to say, however, about just whose dreams come true. I liked it.
"Ensnared" - This was pretty good! A fishing boat lands a stone idol instead of a net full of fish. Complications ensue.
"A Kind of Fear" - CJ Henderson is a prolific author not just of Lovecraftian stories although they are big part of his output. He recently published a Cthulhu based Kolchak graphic novel and "The Idea of Fear" in Arkham Tales, a pretty good hard-bitten PI tale. This was another winner from Mr. Henderson. A rich insufferable snob enlists a crew of workers to unearth some pirate treasure. Things turn out the way he wants but not as you would expect. I liked the twist at the end.
"La Armada Invencible" - Michael McBride has an entertaining book, Species, Chronicles of the Apocalypse, available from ESP. I am not aware if he has any other Lovecraftian stories out there. He is a skilled writer and tells us what really happened to the Spanish armada. There was a reason Sir Francis Drake was so successful.
"The Others" - This was a tautly written story about a slaver that is transporting a cargo, including three men who are definitely not the same as everyone else. In some ways the plot device reminded me of Fantastic Planet, except it was a more active than passive expression of the mind.
"Signals" - Steven Mark Rainey is the author of the very good mythos novel Balak and the story collection The Last Trumpet. "The Violet Princess' in Eldritch Blue was a fine read. I have not yet essayed his new novel Blue Devil Island. With credentials like these it is no surprise that this was an excellent story, about a man obsessed with a phenomenon of recurring lights in the North Atlantic. I liked the ambiguous denouement.
"The Havenhome" - Willie Meikle wrote a novel with mythos trappings called Island Life that I did not care for at all. Then he wrote a Derek Adams novel, The Midnight Eye Files: The Amulet, which was great. I also really liked his story "The Mouth" in Hardboiled Cthulhu. Unfortunately I did not like "The Havenhome." Maybe it could have used a rewrite. A sailing ship comes upon a colony in the New World where something terrible is stalking them.
"The Bedlamite" - This story had a few problems in terms of organization and being too busy, but all in all I enjoyed reading it. At the time of the Civil War, the Secretary of Navy's son has gone mad and put out his eyes, as the sole survivor in a ship found derelict. A strange group of men are taking him back to see to try to help him recover.
"The Star of Istanbul" - Here is another story I had some issues with. First of all, to the assiduous Lovecraftian it is anachronistic. The Deep Ones did not come to Devils Reef until summoned by Obed Marsh about 300 years after the time of Suleiman the Magnificent. Also I thought the parts trying to show the perspective of the Deep Ones and Cthulhu didn't really work; they made them somehow mundane and not horrifying. Finally, how could the hero escape an attack of a swarm of Deep Ones by jumping into the sea? Humans have a mysterious stone and Cthulhu wants it back. Even with my problems with the plot devices I thought it was pretty well written.
"High Seas" - Very nice! A trio of deep sea fisherman catches a big shark that has a message inside it. This leads to an encounter with another group of people out fishing...
"Those Who Come to Dagon" - John Shirley is a well respected author who may have written a mythos story or two, including "Buried in the Sky" from Weird Tales that I haven't read. I did not really like the end where the protagonist writes in the throes of a transforming event. Unfortunately it is all too common a failing in mythos fiction. I am always reminded of the scene from Monty Python's Holy Grail where the knights are debating about what is Castle Arg, and King Arthur says that he wouldn't have written Castle Arrrrgghh he would have just said it, and Sir Galahad says "Perhaps he was dictating." Overlooking that and accepting it as a mythos trope, this was a very well written story about a search for promised treasure. The treasure found isn't exactly what was promised.
"Clownfish" - This was really good, and more of a real pirate story than most of this book's contents, as a crew of cut throats come upon the sole survivor of a shipwreck. After the fact, the title was perfect. Although I liked "Mysterious Dan's Legacy" in Arkham Tales, "Clownfish" was superb.
"Ice" - Another very agreeable read! An Antarctic research vessel discovers something terrible trapped in the ice.
The Wreck of the Ghost - Tim Curran is the author of the decent mythos novel Hive, with sequels planned. He also wrote the hysterically funny "Eldritch Fellas" in Hardboiled Cthulhu and the novel Dead Seas, that I own but haven't read. This well could be the best tale in High Seas Cthulhu, a whaling story full of adventure, whaling, seafaring jargon, tentacles and mayhem.
"The Stars, in their Dreaming" - Gerard Houarner wrote the highly effective "The Blind" in Horrors Beyond and has a penchant for fiction like Clark Ashton Smith. This one I found OK, nothing special, as a slaving ship sails into uncharted waters. In some ways the ending was a trifle too upbeat for me for this anthology.
"Depth of Darkness" - William Jones edited the anthology and skillfully helms ESP. He has a collection of stories on his own label, Artifacts, mostly compiled from other ESP books (ugh, duplication). "Depth of Darkness" was terrific, a fitting close to the anthology. Another research vessel dredges a 3 billion year old artifact off the ocean floor. Complications ensue. Great prose!
So in summary, if you've read this far you've probably already bought the book so anything I say is superfluous. Any serious Cthulhu mythos fan will have to have it. While I wasn't completely won over by all of it, there were plenty of gems here and that makes me give it a warm recommendation. I understand Elder Signs Press is planning a mythosish sword and sorcery anthology, as well as one centered on my favorite Great Old One, Nyarlathotep. I can't wait to see what they do next!