Awaiting Strange Gods: Weird and Lovecraftian Fictions
by Darrell Schweitzer
Cover Artist: Tim Kirk
Review by Sam Tomaino
Fedogan & Bremer Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781878252753
Date: 15 September 2015 List Price $39.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Awaiting Strange Gods is a collection of Weird and Lovecraftian Fictions by Darrell Schweitzer, published from 1994 to 2014, plus a new story first published in this volume.
"Envy, the Gardens of Ynath, and the Sin of Cain" -+- Our narrator, Brian Simmons, is a naive young college student when he meets Justin Noyes, two years older, who paints lush, alien landscapes he calls the Gardens of Ynath, Through his "terrible, speaking hands on either side of my (Simmons') head", Noyes shows him visions of Ynath, Yuggoth, and Shaggai. Noyes tells him about the old family curse handed down through his grandfather and father before him. Simmons becomes his disciple and slave. Things end badly one night and Simmons abandons all of the strangeness and lives a normal life, for good and bad. Now, he confronts Noyes at "the old Akely place" after Noyes' cult has been suppressed. This is a sequel to "The Whisperer on the Darkness" with names like Noyes and Akely, but the end is distinctly different and that adds to the story immeasurably. A good start to the volume.
"Hanged Man and Ghost" -+- A schoolteacher named Miss White is sent from the county to teach the nine children of Chorazin, Pennsylvania. She finds their customs odd, like going around barefoot. They have reasons for this but they do not tell her. Our narrator, 11-year-old Jerry becomes friendly with her but this is no Zenna Henderson tale. Good story.
"Sometimes You Have to Shout about It" -+- Caroline was born screaming and has a loud scream when she is growing up. She can scream into her pillow and not be heard, except by a being in another world. As she deals with her mother and her boyfriend, involved with some kind of cult, she can use some help. Good.
"Stragglers from Carrhae" -+- The story begins after the death of the Roman Governor Crassus in the Battle of Carrhae 53 BC. Two Roman soldiers, Marcus Vibius and our narrator decide to desert and seek their fortune in Arabia. But they find themselves haunted by nightmares and followed by the resurrected dead saying the name Nyarlothotep. Vibius is taken into the air by the Mi-Go and comes back telling our narrator that he should join Nyralothotep's army against the Parthians. What does our narrator do? I liked the historical context. It made this a unique entry into the Cthulhu Mythos.
"The Eater of Hours" -+- A group of (maybe) 12 knights who have fallen away from the Crusade enter a strange stone castle. But this is not a real castle. It fell from the stars and contains the Chronophagos, the Eater of Time. Time is distorted and viewpoints shift in a very bizarre story.
"The Runners Beyond the Wall" -+- Jimmy is an American boy whose parents traveled to England to meet a distant relative named Lord Blessingleigh. A shipwreck kills his parents and he is taken in by the cruel Lord, and not treated kindly. That is, until Jimmy learns the Lord's secret and changes himself into someone else. But at what price? Chilling little tale with a reference to something familiar at the end.
"On the Eastbound Train" -+- In 1912, newly-minted college professor George Henderson is en route to Constantinople via the Orient Express. He had been chosen to examine a medieval codex that had been unearthed in a monastery. He winds up sharing his compartment with his old mentor Professor Augustus Lindsay, who seems to be hiding something. When the older man is taken by people wearing hoods the younger professor tries to intervene to no avail. But the kicker comes at the end when we learn the rest of the story. Nice buildup to the end.
"Howling in the Dark" - Our narrator is Joseph, who becomes aware of presences in the darkness. He sloughs off his emotions the better to communicate with them. He is not entirely successful.
"The Head Shop in Arkham" -+- Our narrator tells us that in the 60s, there was a head shop in old, conservative Arkham. that his friend, Geeko Fairman, led his fifteen-year-old self to. Our narrator's life is never the same in this wild ride, the only story original to this book.
"Innsmouth Idyll" -+- Timmy spends a Sunday afternoon with Hezzie, lying on the beach and, then, skinny dipping. He comes to an awakening, but, this being Innsmouth, a different kind than most teenagers.
"Class Reunion" -+- The story opens with Jeffrey and Victoria attending the Class of 1965 50th reunion of the Orne Academy, the oldest prep school in North America. When we hear that the founders were Jedediah Orne and Joseph Curwen, we know things aren't good. Just what was this prep school preparing them for? Another brilliantly done Mythos story using one if its least popular gods.
"Why We Do It" -+- Howard is a college freshman, headed home to the middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania (the town of Chorazin, again) and taking a beautiful girl named Kimberley with him. He hints that things will be strange and asks her several times if she is going with him of her own free will. It's December 17th, time for an annual ritual. Only Kimberley is surprised with the results. Nicely done.
"The Warm" -+- Our narrator is a ghoul who used to be human. Some contagion had transformed him. He has vague memories of when he was human. Thus, when he meets "a Warm" (a human) who gives him something to eat and then takes his picture, he knows that thing the Warm is holding is a "camera" and he says the word. This surprises and delights the Warm who talks to our narrator about what they can learn about each other. Then, the Warm starts arranging things to paint a picture. A picture that, we are told, will be called Ghoul Feeding. We now know now who the Warm is. As they meet more often, the narrator begins to revert to his human self and changes in the other direction occur in the Warm. This all comes to an abrupt end. Great telling of "the rest of the story" for a classic Lovecraft tale.
"Spiderwebs in the Dark" -+- Our narrator is Philip, a former bookstore owner who meets a curious customer calling himself Walter Padraic Eochaid Nera O'Blarney, nickname Walrus because of his mustache and girth. On their first encounter, Walrus predicts they will be fast friends. That actually happens. Walrus is independently wealthy and seems to know everything about everybody, including Philip. Walrus tells great stories that could not possibly be true and he tells him about other things, too, like how sorcerers call demons. He says that "the macrocosmos... was filled with lines of touch, as he called them, force, energy...think of spiderwebs in the dark" and that Ascended Masters can feel them and use them to summon. Other occult matters are discussed. He offers a practical demonstration that leads to the terrifying conclusion. There are details in this that even startled me. The end has a really good sting to it.
"The Corpse Detective" -+- Our narrator here is a private eye who is dead, and existing in a world of the dead. When the wife of a government official disappears, leaving behind white dust, he is called in to investigate. Turns out she has returned to the land of the living...and she is not the last to do this. Imaginative and clever.
"Jimmy Bunny" -+- Jimmy, partnered with Annabel, regularly break into houses due up for sheriff's sales and take what contents, due to be taken to the city dump, that would be worth something. He had done this with his mother after his father abandoned him. But this house has something in it that deeply disturbs Jimmy. Chilling.
"The Last of the Black Wine" -+- This is set "in the final days of the earth, near the end of time." Adamphos the poet has reached the end of his quest for the ruined necropolis of Hados-Zhon. He is young, not 20 years old and was goaded into this by a rival in court of King Zhagriac, the poet Zuon Ximenac. Adamphos is in love with Dahemna, the daughter of the king, but she has nothing but contempt for him. He is convinced that she will love him after he has returned. As he approaches Hados-Zhon, he is approached by a mysterious figure who leads him to a beautiful woman who calls herself Shadow, the daughter of Thasaidon, Kin Death. She offers him the last of her finest wine. He drinks it and is changed forever. A very rich fantasy much like Clark Ashton Smith.
"In Old Commorium" -+- Paliphar Vooz is led on a tour of the universe in the other story influenced by Clark Ashton Smith. Nice prose. No story.
"The Clockwork King, the Queen of Glass, and the Man with a Hundred Knives" -+- Another story about a man with an older college friend who seems in touch with another world. This one is different from the first story in the book. The friend named Reggie Graham, does battle to defend the eponymous king and queen against the third character in the title. Our narrator gives him some assistance guarding a glass ring that must be protected from harm. Or does he prove a coward? Pretty good.
"The Scroll of the Worm" (with Jason von Hollander) -+- Jodie attends a party hoping to sell a comic strip she has developed called Winkie the Magical Bear, who travels through time. She was told she would meet a Mr. Hormisdas who could represent her. She doesn't meet him but she does encounter a sick young man named Kaspar Selz. He asks her to get something called an otoscope out of a wicker basket for him. She finds a scroll which she begins to unravel. Selz warns her about it and she puts it back. Things change for her that night and she has a different vision for Winkie and a lot of other things. Seems to be a standard tale of someone getting involved with something bad but what happens is very different. A very imaginative story.
"Those of the Air" (with Jason von Hollander) -+- Jerry returns home after the death of his mother to help his father deal with his older brother, Jeffrey, who has been kept in the attic for years. The family are descendants of the Whateley clan of Dunwich fame and the family curse has manifested itself in Jeffrey who is a huge beast with tusks and a simple mind. Jerry had left home some ten years ago because he could no longer deal with the situation. Now, with his father carrying the family Necronomicon, wrapped in plastic, he ascends the stairs for a final confrontation. Beautifully done. A sad, bittersweet tale.
"Ghost Dancing" -+- Eric Shaw is traveling north to Maine, to meet with a college friend, Robert Tillinghast, two years older, that had been a big influence in him at the time. A familiar theme used in other stories in this volume, but, again, with an entirely different outcome. He had introduced Shaw to the cult of Cthulhu and they had even held human sacrifices in the worship of the pantheon. Shaw, eventually, abandoned the cult and lived a normal life. But now, the Cthulhoid Apocalypse is taking place and his wife and daughters are killed when huge beasties wipe out New York City. The other cities of the East Coast are gone, too. When he finally gets to Tillinghast's place, his old friend is ecstatic with glee at the end of the world and ready to be a part of the New World Order. This one ends quite appropriately and serves as a very suitable end to the book.
This is an excellent volume and a must for any Cthulhu Mythos devotee. It's recommended for any fan of horror fiction. It's also got a cover and interior illustrations by Tim Kirk! If you have not read any Schweitzer, you should start...now.