Howard Phillips Lovecraft remains one of the more controversial yet influential genre writers of the early 20th century. A man like his friend and contemporary, Robert E. Howard, who has stood the test of time. His creations in the Great Old Ones, Necronomicon, Nyarlathotep, and Deep Ones have resonated with generations of readers.
Perhaps his most admirable quality as a writer was the fact that he was never afraid to let anyone play with his toys. An early advocate of what we’d now call “open source” writing, he happily shared concepts and ideas with his fellow writers. Howard Phillips would be delighted at the longevity of his creations and the fact that he has entertained thousands of people through things like the Call of Cthulhu and Arkham Horror tabletop games or Re-Animator movies.
Speaking as the author of the Cthulhu Armageddon books as well as participant in such anthologies as Tales of the Al-Azif and Tales of Yog-Sothoth, I thought I would share some of my favorite post-Lovecraftian fiction created by writers willing to play around with HPL’s concepts. Many of these examine the alienation and xenophobia themes while keeping the cool monsters as others address them head on from new perspectives.
I admit my tastes have influenced me to choose the pulpier works over the scarier but it’s not like the former didn’t have plenty of HPL stories (The Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath, The Dunwich Horror, and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward) nor is the latter lacking for advocates.
Blurb: The first in a new range of novels of eldritch adventure from the wildly popular Arkham Horror; an international thief of esoteric artifacts stumbles onto a nightmarish cult in 1920s New England.
Countess Alessandra Zorzi, international adventurer and thief, arrives in Arkham pursuing an ancient body freshly exhumed from a mound in Oklahoma, of curious provenance and peculiar characteristics. But before she can steal it, another party beats her to it. During the resulting gunfight at the Miskatonic Museum, the countess makes eye contact with the petrified corpse and begins an adventure of discovery outside her wildest experiences. Now, caught between her mysterious client, the police, and a society of necrophagic connoisseurs, she finds herself on the trail of a resurrected mummy as well as the star-born terror gestating within it.
Review: Tabletop gaming and Lovecraft have a rich history with the Call of Cthulhu games being incredibly successful and long lived. However, they never took the TSR route of churning out stories set in the Mythos, perhaps out of fear they’d undermine the horror. Arkham Horror, by contrast, embraces the kind of pulp sensibility I love to write about and includes books mixing horror with “blow the monster up with dynamite.” This one is particularly good with a Catwoman meets Lara Croft-esque protagonist and her sidekick Pepper planning to steal a mummy recovered from Midwestern America. There’s a full Graphic Audio production of the book and I recommend picking that up over the regular audiobook version if one must choose.
Blurb: Cassandra Khaw bursts onto the scene with Hammers on Bone, a hard-boiled horror show that Charles Stross calls “possibly the most promising horror debut of 2016.” A finalist for the British Fantasy award and the Locus Award for Best Novella!
John Persons is a private investigator with a distasteful job from an unlikely client. He’s been hired by a ten-year-old to kill the kid’s stepdad, McKinsey. The man in question is abusive, abrasive, and abominable.
He’s also a monster, which makes Persons the perfect thing to hunt him. Over the course of his ancient, arcane existence, he’s hunted gods and demons, and broken them in his teeth.
As Persons investigates the horrible McKinsey, he realizes that he carries something far darker. He’s infected with an alien presence, and he’s spreading that monstrosity far and wide. Luckily Persons is no stranger to the occult, being an ancient and magical intelligence himself. The question is whether the private dick can take down the abusive stepdad without releasing the holds on his own horrifying potential.
Review: Private detectives are always a good choice for Lovecraft protagonists and the video game adaptations (Dark Corners of the Earth, Call of Cthulhu, The Sinking City) tend to default to them. Here, the protagonist seems unusually well-versed in the Mythos and trying to do something simple by protecting a boy from his father. The combination of real life evils with the ones of the Mythos makes a very effective novella.
Blurb: Miskatonic University is bathed in the blood of the students who have walked its halls. A place where the darkness is more than just shadows.
As with many of the best universities, many students having a distinguished family name—but at Miskatonic this can be as much a curse as a blessing.
Such an aged repository of occult histories has secrets of its own. Miskatonic University is an anchor for all reality. Held tentatively in place by spells woven into its walls over generations.
Someone, somewhere, is breaking those spells and all of the universe is on the brink of tearing apart.
A spell was cast to alter causality and bring together the strongest bloodlines to have ever walked through the halls of Miskatonic University. The Scion Cycle.
Some of this year’s freshmen have their own secrets. Their veins pumping with the cursed blood of their families. They must overcome the horror of their lineage and unearth who they truly are if reality is to be saved.
The power of Kaziah Mason, the brood of Innsmouth, the madness of R’lyeh, the quest of Randolph Carter, and the insane brilliance of Herbert West in the hands of teenagers.
What could possibly go wrong?
Review: Perhaps the lightest entry on this list, Miskatonic University: Elder Gods 101 isn’t even horror but urban fantasy. It’s written in the same vein as Drew Hayes’ Super Powereds with a bunch of freshmen at college discovering they have superpowers and need to save the world. Much like the Andrew Doran series by the same author, it may send Lovecraft purists heading for the hills but you actually get more enjoyment from the book the more you know about the minutia of HPL’s writings as the Davenport brothers’ knowledge runs deep.
Blurb: The first novel in Hugo Award-winning author Charles Stross’s witty Laundry Files series.
Bob Howard is a low-level techie working for a super-secret government agency. While his colleagues are out saving the world, Bob’s under a desk restoring lost data. His world was dull and safe – but then he went and got Noticed.
Now, Bob is up to his neck in spycraft, parallel universes, dimension-hopping terrorists, monstrous elder gods and the end of the world. Only one thing is certain: it will take more than a full system reboot to sort this mess out . . .
Review: Combing the absolute horror of the Great Old Ones with the mundanity of being a British civil servant, even one that just happens to be a field agent and spy. The Laundry Files is a fantastic book series that is somehow humorous, terrifying, and philosophical all at once. Bob Howard is a great character and is the only man in the world who can stand against the forces of darkness through the power of mathematics. Except, really, he knows he’s eventually going to lose and he’s mostly just trying to delay CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN for a few years at best.
Blurb: Padlocked doors. Strange light fixtures. Mutant cockroaches.
There are some odd things about Nate’s new apartment.
Of course, he has other things on his mind. He hates his job. He has no money in the bank. No girlfriend. No plans for the future. So while his new home isn’t perfect, it’s livable. The rent is low, the property managers are friendly, and the odd little mysteries don’t nag at him too much.
At least, not until he meets Mandy, his neighbor across the hall, and notices something unusual about her apartment. And Xela’s apartment. And Tim’s. And Veek’s.
Because every room in this old Los Angeles brownstone has a mystery or two. Mysteries that stretch back over a hundred years. Some of them are in plain sight. Some are behind locked doors. And all together these mysteries could mean the end of Nate and his friends.
…or the end of everything.
Review: Peter Clines and I were notably both coming up in Permuted Press when that company got bought out by people who subsequently began printing Oliver North and other Far Right authors. Abandoning ship, both of us found better deals. I was overwhelmed by how much I loved his Ex-Heroes books where superheroes fought zombies. They had their flaws but got better each book until they were cancelled. 14 is even better as our protagonists are staying at a surreal apartment building where the mysteries of what its purpose as well as horrors is an onion to unpeal. Later works like The Fold show Peter has an excellent grasp on the Mythos.
Blurb: A classic 1920s science fiction novella — with a 2015 twist. Ex-boxer Harry Stubbs is on the trail of a mysterious legacy in South London. A polar explorer has died, leaving huge debts and hints of a priceless find. Harry’s informants seem to be talking in riddles, he finds that isn’t the only one on the trail — and what he’s looking for is as lethal as it is valuable, leaving a trail of oddly-mutilated bodies. The key to the enigma lies in an ancient Arabian book, leading to something more alien and more horrifying than Harry could ever imagine. Harry is not be an educated man, but he has an open mind, bulldog persistence and piledriver fists — important assets when you’re boxing the darkest of shadows.
The story of mystery and horror draws on HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and is inspired by Ernest Shackleton’s incredible real-life Antarctic adventures.
Review: Despite the popularity of the Call of Cthulhu games, there’s a surprising lack of Lovecraftian detective fiction out there. You’d think the company would have been marketing books like TSR had been fantasy in the Eighties and Nineties. The Harry Stubbs series, starting with the Elder Ice, is as close to it as I’ve found. A WW1 British boxer, he is always coming within a hair’s breadth of destruction at the Mythos’ hands but avoids enough of it to keep his sanity and life. For the most part.
Blurb: The Burrowers Beneath is the first book in the Titus Crow series from bestselling author Brian Lumley
The Titus Crow novels are adventure horror, full of acts of nobility and heroism, featuring travel to exotic locations and alternate planes of existence as Titus Crow and his faithful companion and record-keeper fight the gathering forces of darkness wherever they arise.
The menaces are the infamous and deadly Elder Gods of the work of H.P. Lovecraft. Chthulu and his dark minions are bent on ruling the earth–or destroying it. A few puny humans cannot possibly stand against these otherworldly evil gods, yet time after time, Titus Crow defeats the monsters and drives them back into the dark from whence they came.
Review: Stretching the definition of “new” to the breaking point (it came out in the Seventies), the Titus Crow series is one of the biggest influences in my writing career because it is such an incredibly batshit crazy series. A Sherlock Holmes and Watsonian pair of occultists, Titus Crow and his assistant Henri de Marigny start with a war against a new Great Old One sending monstrous sandworm-esque monsters around the world to hunt them. Then it goes from there. I love this book and think its the Masks of Nyaralthotep literary equivalent I always needed. My only regret is the fact Tor books refuses to shell out money for new covers or release the rights back to Brian Lumley on the Kindle editions. So I recommend the audiobook version by Crossroad Press and not just because they’re my publishers (*zing*).
Blurb: People move to New York looking for magic and nothing will convince them it isn’t there.
Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father’s head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.
A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break?
Review: Victor LaValle has a complicated relationship with HPL, being a man of color who loved the writings of the author but felt excluded by his world. Re-imagining The Horror of Red Hook, Victor LaValle tells the story of a (not very good) jazz musician who finds himself immersed in a complicated occult conspiracy with the police, an eccentric millionaire, plus unlimited power to a man who might be able to overthrow a corrupt power structure.
Blurb: Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: Masks of Nyarlathotep is an epic tale of globe-trotting adventure inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, presented as a 1930s-style radio drama. Dark Adventure Radio Theatre presents the tale with an absurdly large cast of professional actors, exciting sound effects and thrilling original music by Troy Sterling Nies.
Like many Lovecraft fans, we played Chaosium’s celebrated role playing game Call of Cthulhu®. Now, in partnership with Chaosium, we’ve adapted their most famed and beloved game supplement of all time – Masks of Nyarlathotep – into a fully dramatized super episode of Dark Adventure Radio Theatre. And if you’ve never heard of or played the game – don’t worry, you don’t need to know anything about the game to enjoy this super-sized episode. The death of a dear old friend and an inquiry into a doomed archeological expedition spiral into a global investigation with dire repercussions.
Can a handful of intrepid investigators make a stand against an insidious and bloodthirsty cult? Can a diabolical conspiracy be thwarted before a doomsday plan comes to fruition? Is there any hope for mankind against the machinations of an Elder God or will they meet only despair, death and madness?
Review: I admit I’m probably cheating by including this “book” at all since it’s actually a radio show program made in deliberate homage/mockery of ones from the 1940s. This includes commercial breaks for cocaine pills, asbestos, and other fine products of the time period. However, this is just a delightful adaptation of the classic Call of Cthulhu campaign with a bunch of pulp heroes. It also has the LUDICROUS body count of the original campaign but somehow I cared for each and every one of the heroes getting knocked off left and right.
Blurb: The state took Aphra away from Innsmouth. They took her history, her home, her family, her god. They tried to take the sea. Now, years later, when she is just beginning to rebuild a life, an agent of that government intrudes on her life again, with an offer she wishes she could refuse.
“The Litany of Earth” is a dark fantasy story inspired by the Lovecraft mythos, set in the world of Ruthanna Emrys’s The Innsmouth Legacy series.
Review: The top recommendation here is by Tor reviewer, Ruthanna Emrys. An interesting interpretation of HPL’s world from a reversed position. Basically, the Deep Ones and their human families were put in internment camps as of The Shadow of Innsmouth but released after WW2. Aphra Marsh is one of the few survivors and is struggling to reintegrate into American society. Dealing with a cult of white people who have misinterpreted her people’s religion, it sets up the excellent Innsmouth Legacy books.
The Litany of Earth sadly has a story to go along with it of executive meddling as the first two books in a sequel series, called The Innsmouth Legacy, were contracted but abruptly cancelled before any real resolution to the series’ plot. The original story works on its own fantastically but I crave more Aphra Marsh in the main series.