Sunday, September 11, 2016

Lovecraftian horror from a woman's perspective

Dreams from the Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror

Edited by Lynne Jamneck

Publisher: Dark Regions Press

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars

Dark Regions Press should be congratulated for putting out so many great anthologies in the time of their existence and for focusing much of their output on the endurable but esoteric sub-genre, Lovecraftian horror. This year they have published a beautiful, heavily illustrated (one full page color plate for each story) anthology titled Dreams from the Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror.. The collection has 20 pieces of short fiction either based on H. P. Lovecraft's Chtulhu Mythos or influenced by them. All of the stories are by female writers and the range of authors goes from legendary to established to rising stars.

There is little bad I can say about this collection. I don't think there is one poorly written story among the 20. For the most part with a few exceptions, these are atmospheric tales relying on what is implied rather than what is spelled out on the print. This is in keeping with Lovecraft's emphasis on the horrors that creep in the mind. The Ancient Ones of the Cthulhu Mythos may be fine with tearing up a victim now and then but it is what is done to the mind that haunts the reader. The first story is representative of that and is by a legendary writer, Joyce Carol Oates. "Shadows of the Evening " does not evoke the Cthulhu Mythos directly but suggests the dreamlike qualities of many of Lovecraft's works. More importantly it is a typically beautiful Oates work, introspective and suggestive.

Two of my other favorite stories are more directly connected with the Chtulhu Mythos. "Our Lady of Aria Mons" by Caitlin R. Kiernan and "The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward" are also excursions into science fiction with a Lovecraftian tinge. Both excellent tales, they would be at home in either Weird Tales or Analog magazines.

There are a good many other stories here. Just selecting a couple, I am especially fond of Karen Heuler's All Gods Great and Small, a environmental revenge story with the usual shaman avenger that one often sees in this type of storytelling. Yet I loved the idea of gods existing in the tiniest of bodies. "Eye of the Beholder" is another crafty tale with some social implications. I am not sure of the Lovecraft connection on this one but it is certainly quite creepy and a bit indulgent in the "Ewww!" department.

But despite there being much good short fiction here. overall it feels a little uneven. I don't think that is because of the quality in writing but because there seems to be too many stories that have too loose of a connection, or none at all, to Lovecraft's primary themes. Overall this is an introspective collection of tales and I wanted more of H. P.'s evocation of "unspeakable horrors". Lovecraft may have implied a lot but he still "creeped" the hell out of you.

Nonetheless, it is a anthology worth reading and not least for showcasing some of the finest female writers working in the genre of horror. Editor Lynne Jamneck did a commendable job of editing and I cannot say enough wonderful things about the cover design and the color illustrations by Danielle Serra.

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