Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Book Review: Dead But Dreaming 2, by Alex Lugo

As most of you not living under a piece of rusted sheet metal or inside a Rapture shelter now know, Dead But Dreaming 2 thundered out onto the streets last Friday, and Alex Lugo, living in such close proximity to the home office of Miskatonic River Press, was one of the first individuals on the planet to receive his copy.

Fittingly, and just days later, Alex - being the voracious consumer of all manner of weird, speculative, and Lovecraftian fiction that he is - had not just read the anthology from cover to cover, but had also written up a review for publication here at The Cosmicomicon.

Big thanks to Alex (who had previously reviewed Jeffrey Thomas' novel Thought Forms in early May) for his review, and just know that although it might not seem that way, I IN NO WAY bribed him with filthy lucre, bauble, or trinket to write such lovely things about my story "Transmission."  Either he's totally cracked, or possessed of exceptionally refined literary taste.  I'm not certain which is true, and dare not contemplate...  Instead, I'll just be grateful and humbled.

Review of Dead but Dreaming 2
By Alex Lugo
     Dead but Dreaming 2 is the second installment in a series of wonderful, Lovecraftian anthologies published by Miskatonic River Press. The first Dead but Dreaming was a cult hit, considered by many to be the finest collection of Lovecraftian and Cthulhu Mythos tales ever published. Knowing that, you can probably assume that Dead but Dreaming 2 has quite a lot of expectation to live up to, and it does.  But, I'm very happy to report that it delivers on every single promise, and then some. Within the pages of this eldritch tome are 22 tales written by the modern masters of horror. Each story is a take on Lovecraftian themes, and each one is executed with impressive craftmanship. Honestly, there wasn't one piece in this collection that I disliked. Every single story evoked the power and the horror of Lovecraft’s mind bending realms, while also shining with originality.

     If you're new to Lovecraftian and Cthulhu Mythos fiction, you may think it is impossible for a Lovecraftian tale to be original. Is it not just mere pastiche? Not at all! If one simply copies Lovecraft’s prose and clichés, the story will fail miserably.  Conversely, a good writer of Lovecraftian or Cthulhu Mythos fiction must be extremely original so that his or her own ideas and style can shine through the master's shadow - ergo the reader sees more of the author’s voice than Lovecraft’s, but can still feel the vibe of the gentleman from Providence. Because of this delicate balancing act of tribute and discovery, I believe that the great modern writers of Lovecraftian fiction are actually more original than most of their fiction writing peers because they have to achieve a goal that is somehow familiar but not just another pastiche. It is because of this that Dead but Dreaming 2 is so great, because each tale is an exceptional, unique take on Lovecraftiana, and as such, the book overflows with impressive originality. Although I enjoyed every single story, three really tickled my fancy.
     First off is "Your Ivory Hollow" by ye queen of eldritch horror, W.H. Pugmire. The tale is a semi-sequel to Robert Bloch’s "The Skull of the Marquis de Sade", and in the span of six pages, you become one of the pivotal characters in the story. Like the style of Lovecraft’s "Pickman’s Model", the speaker addresses you like you are an integral part of the unfolding story. This makes the tale more engrossing, and ultimately scarier. In only a half dozen pages, you will read of strange magick, infernal gems, suicide-inducing poetry, and utmost - insanity. Pugmire’s work never fails to amaze and enthrall me. His writing is like a paradox, as his tales both mystify and horrify the reader.

      My second favorite story, although not in order of best to least best, is "Father’s Day" by Brian M. Sammons. This was my first time reading a tale from Mr. Sammons, and I am confident it shall not be my last. The story introduces the reader to a strange, nameless boy brought up by his mother, who one day decides to venture to Innsmouth, Massachusetts (the setting for Lovecraft’s epic tale "The Shadow over Innsmouth") to find his father.  I will not spoil anything, but if you are familiar with Innsmouth’s abhorrent secret, you should get the gist of the boy’s situation. The tale is a sad mini-epic, and you will find yourself sympathetic towards a very strange boy who is far more than just "weird".
     Last, but not in any way least, is "Transmission" by T.E. Grau, proprietor of the unholy Cosmicomicon! This is T.E. Grau’s first tale published in print, and I can assure that there is much more to come! The story begins with a man wandering west to California. He does not look for fortune or fame, but simply a greater meaning to his shiftless, vagabond life. While driving in the deserts of Nevada, the main character picks up a radio transmission of what seems to be just another stupid religious fanatic crowding the AM dial. Yes, he is a religious fanatic, but quite the opposite of stupid. He is a messenger of the Meaning, something for which the main character has desperately sought, but the meaning of the Message, transmitted out into the desert night, is too horrifying and cosmic to even describe. The tale starts off with a rough and tumble prose style, which then becomes more mysterious, and, towards the conclusion, morphs into a tale of extremely well crafted atmospherics that is both mesmerizing and terrifying. The story ends with a twist that nobody will see coming. I can rightfully say that T.E. Grau is a strong force in weird fiction, and he has only just begun. Hear me and listen: T.E. Grau is THE one to watch!

      Dead but Dreaming 2 is an extraordinary anthology of fantastic, original Lovecraftian fiction. Within these pages you will find masterpieces of the weird tale from writers such as the incredible Donn Webb, and the remarkable Joseph S. Pulver Sr.

     If you have any level of interest in Lovecraft and weird fiction, this is the book for you. ____________________________________________________________________________


  1. Great review! I will have to get a copy of the book soon.

  2. Thanks Shane, and yes, you certainly must. :)

  3. Alex, my man, you are an excellent reviewer! I hope that you will post this review over at Amazon as well. Many thanx for your kind words.

  4. Alex, great review! I am pleased to appear in this book with such great writers, as T.E. and W.H.P.

  5. Thanks, Erik! I can't wait to read "The Depopulation Syndrome" in DBD2. Should be arriving this week.