Miskatonic River Press's Dead But Dreaming, edited by Keith Herber and Kevin Ross

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Summary: On its first printing, the publisher shut down after a tiny first run. Now it is back, six years later, with some new editing and introductions, and is available to be read. How did this somewhat early Mythos collection hold up to those who came after (and now, before) it? I review the book as well as review (via blurbs) the individual stories.

BLOT: (23 May 2011 - 08:39:26 PM)

Miskatonic River Press's Dead But Dreaming, edited by Keith Herber and Kevin Ross

Had I read this collection in 2002, when it first showed up in its semi-infamous doomed printing (the company folded with only about 75-90 copies being put there, and about 1/5 of those were pre-destined to be contributor copies), I do not know what I would have thought. Back then, most of my experience with Mythos tales were those by Lovecraft himself, a handful of the various "masters" (August Derleth, Robert Bloch, Frank Belknap Long, and Clark Ashton Smith predominated though only a few tales by each stuck to my memory) and discussion of various others through sources like alt.horror.cthulhu. I am not sure I had read many stories not set in the first half the 20th century, and I know I had not read many that were not traditional Mythos tales: an investigator in the academic sense, or a hapless accident explorer of the every day sense, ends up uncovering the truth and it goes poorly. Over the past few years, my Mythos knowledge has improved greatly (hah, for CoC fans who willed me to mark off a few Sanity points) and so maybe had I read this back then it would have been a revelation. And maybe it would have been too far left-field. I have no idea.

Now that it has been reprinted (a 2008 trade paperback edition of Dead but Dreaming can be had directly from Miskatonic River Press), and I've had a chance to read it as my dozenth or so such collection, I like it. All, and I do mean all, post-Lovecraftian Mythos story collections are hit-or-miss. Even those like Black Wings, by far one of the better ones, are not pure gold. It's just the genre, I guess. It is hard to sum up cosmic horror in a way that is guaranteed to feel trite and dated. The big twist is that man isn't the center of the Universe? Wow, early 20th century science called and wants its discoveries back. Even knowing what we do, though, science still comes across all those weird mysteries and there is still a lot of weirdness in our fellow men, especially those "backwoods" sorts and those strange academic sorts. Part of it is all hokey and hooey, for sure, but there are plenty of things to write in a horror field, even one that seems as easily boxed up as Mythos horror.

I like it, I said, but what do I like about it? Well, the editors have done a a great job of mixing various voices. Young pups right up against old dogs. That kind of thing. There is a mystery or two, a couple with blackly comic overtones, a revenge piece right up against a sad sack tale. While it felt a little Cthulhu centric (maybe), with a desperate need for a few other Lovecraftian diversions, it manages to play properly fast and loose with the concept of the Mythos (Lovecraft, himself, would change rules and names around as per the needs of the story). Several of the tales lead one to think of extending the story (heads up, gamers) and several are satisfying where there are. There are a couple of duds (Morton's "Call of Cthulhu: The Motion Picture" is dud enough for two stories) but most manage to have a good set-up or a great ending. In the end, I think the three or four best works (for my money, Campbell's story, as well as "Salt Air", "The Disciple", and "Fire Breathing" with "Why We Do it" nearly making it and "Bayer's Tale" being worthy but not quite there) will elevate the collection with the second run (the two mentioned in the last parenthetical as well as "Bangkok Rules", "The Unseen Battle", and the closing "Final Draft") making enough weighty effort that the collection is worth it. And if there are those I didn't fully like ("The Motion Picture", "Epiphany", and "Aklo" were all fairly meh to me with others not being bad but not quite hitting the sweet spot), then that's just the way a Mythos collection tumbles. No doubt, there will be those who adore "The Motion Picture" but detest "The Other Names" and "The Disciple".

The overall collection is Good with stories ranging from blech to great. I think the mode of the collection would like be Fair, with the favorites bringing a warm enough glow to my heart to notch the whole thing up a rank. Rather than blend too much look at the stories themselves into the review above, I thought I would give a short blurb about each down below. Enjoy.

Mythos Stories


Written by Doug Bolden

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