Sunday, December 27, 2015

Swords Against Cthulhu (Ed. Gavin Chappell, Rogue Planet Press/Horrified Press, 2015)

Well, readers, I guess I lied when I said my review of The Dark World would be my last of 2015.  I had a couple days' worth of lunch-break reading last week before my long weekend off work, and grabbed this anthology, which I'd picked up at Pulpfest back in August and not gotten to yet.  If you recall my review of Barbarian Crowns, you'll have an idea of why I'm saying that at Paperback Perils, 2015 is ending not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Most of the same criticisms I had for Barbarian Crowns are in effect here, with the book being thick with typographical errors and incidents of correctly-spelled, but incorrectly-used words - "He did not know what he had done to angry the man," things of that nature.  It comes across as very sloppy and very disrespectful of the reader's time.  To be perfectly honest, it leaves me disinclined to buy future books put out by Rogue Planet Press or its parent organism, Horrified Press (the same outfit behind, through another subsidiary, Barbarian Crowns).

There were not a lot of really enjoyable stories in this collection, and I won't single out the particularly bad ones by name.  I really would like to focus on the positive as best I can here at Paperback Perils.  I think most of the stories in this book could have benefited from being read by a third party and the authors given serious feedback on them.  Instead, let me single out the stories I enjoyed the most:

  • "The Burning Messenger" (Matt Sullivan) - A meteorite bathed in weird energies spells doom for a Viking settlement.  I particularly enjoyed the aging ex-swordsman protagonist, strapping on his sword for one final battle.  The writing is crisp and the story demonstrates the author's understanding of how to use "Lovecraftian" language for effect, rather than obfuscation.  
  • "A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness" (Gavin Chappell) - taking the "swords" of the title in a figurative sense, this story pits an American Jihadist leading a detachment of ISIL soldiers on a mission to destroy Assyrian ruins, and discovering that some stones are better left unturned.  For the most part I thought the story was very well done, though I tended to wince a little bit every time "Second in command" was abbreviated to "2iC." That would have been perfectly fine, even laudable, if the story had been written as an after-action report, but in the third-person narrative it sticks out as awkward.  
  • "The Sword of Lomar" (Jason Scott Aiken) - full disclosure, I know Jason, I consider him a friend, and his reading of this story at Pulpfest was part of why I bought the book.  A sequel to Lovecraft's "Polaris," the story finds Nuja of Lomar trying desperately to hold the line between the city of Lomar and the hordes of Inutos that seek to destroy it.  It's an enjoyable read and the framing technique, the same as that from "Polaris," is a nice touch.  
  • "The Thing in the Swamp" (Stephen Hernandez) - this is my favorite story in the entire collection, and makes some of the material I slogged through almost worth the journey.  A swordsman for hire is called upon to destroy a monstrous entity feeding on a poor village.  There's some obvious elements from SEVEN SAMURAI/THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, but the swordsman Vidric is given a rich inner narrative, while several passages written from the monster's perspective are an unexpected treat.  Hernandez keeps the monster front and center even when it's off-screen by having characters discuss it and think about it throughout the story, and the final fight is not merely one of brawn, but of brains as well - Vidric has to think to destroy the monster, not just swing his sword until his arm falls off.  
Was the book worth it? I read four really good stories and a number that could have used some work, and got to avoid talking to coworkers during my half-hour to myself during the work day.  I don't know the likelihood of me picking the collection up and rereading it, but I don't regret the purchase too much.  I doubt I'll be developing the same relationship with Horrified Press that I've built with Meteor House, though.  

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