The Taint and Other Novellas (book, Brian Lumley, 2009)
Weird fiction from Death Ray 17.
THREE AND A HALF STARS
Cthulhu Mythos-themed tales from HP Lovecraft’s second greatest-acolyte
Horror has not fared so well in these otherwise bountiful times. Both SF and fantasy have co-opted blood and gore, once solely the province of horror, in the pursuit of greater realism. If this weren’t too great an indignity, nasty monsters and other horridness have also been snaffled up by the other two, just because they are great. Its raison d’etre depleted by cross-genre raiding, horror’s been relegated to the back seat, and the sad fact is that there are few really capable writers of horror fiction. That means you simply don’t see much fiction like Lumley’s any more in the mainstream; most of what we do get is the work of ’80s survivors like Hutson, Herbert or, indeed, Lumley.
It’s a shame, because there’s a certain power in such tales, as this collection amply shows. Like much horror, The Taint and Other Novellas is a little less polished than the very best of SF or fantasy. Lumley writes simply and directly, and this makes his stories feel like young adult fiction, or a preamble to a Call of Cthulhu RPG adventure. But some readers may remember being addicted to Lumley’s Necroscope series in the 80s and early 90s, and these mythos tales did a great service by introducing many to Lovecraft’s terrifying world. Presented here are seven novellas, including the early “The Horror at Oakdene” (1970) and his most recent mythos tale, the eponymous “The Taint” (2003).
I can only think of a couple of weirder authors than Lovecraft. His work is inimitable, so it’s hard to understand how it has provoked so much sincere emulation. Nobody has ever managed the heights of hysterical claustrophobia Lovecraft’s ripe prose engenders, thus Lumley’s stories remain generally less affecting than Lovecraft’s. This is in part the fault of “Cthulhu Mythos” itself, artificially constructed by August Derleth (Derleth is, of course, Lovecraft’s greatest acolyte), wherein each of Lovecraft’s creatures is part of some grand cosmic hierarchy. It humanises the inhuman, Derleth’s Linnaen classification, and that robs much power from Lovecraft’s insanely uncaring milieu. Still, even thus catalogued, as in Lumley’s work, Lovecraft’s otherwise unknowable cosmic horrors retain the power to chill. Bereft of the worst excesses of Lovecraft’s verbiage (Lumley’s not a terrible racist either) most of these novellas successfully conjure the spirit of old HP, and at least in this collection, the majority of the protagonists do not fight back; this tendency of the likes of Lumley’s occult hero Titus Crowe sets his full-lenghth novels directly at odds with the spirit of Lovecraft.
Lumley lacks the originality and utter bonkersness of Lovecraft, and the stories might feel peculiarly quaint, but The Taint and Other Novellas offers much for the horror devotee.
Did you know…?
Brian Lumley is now the nearly venerable age of 71. Born in 1937, he started writing during his spare time while he was in the army, quitting the forces in 1980 and becoming a full time writer. He’s written around 40 novels, notably in the Necroscope, Titus Crow and Psychomech series. The Taint and Other Novellas is the first of two volumes from Solaris (previously released by Subterranean press) collecting together a chunk of Lumley’s mythos fiction.