And now, over to David Anderson, who sent TC a piece on author David Conyers and his renowned Harrison Peel book series.
ELDRITCH ESPIONAGE: LOOKING BACK AT HARRISON PEEL
by: David Anderson
Out in deep space, past the distant, dancing stars of the Milky Way, there may or may not lurk horrors from beyond. However, most ‘sane’ individuals like to think that, YES, these super-powered alien gods exist (by sane I mean genre enthusiasts). Or they at least enjoy fictional stories about them, and can suspend disbelief long enough to have some fun. And that, I think, is what may have originally ensnared readers into H.P.’s imagination – it seemed somehow plausible, like the tales were an almost first-hand account at times. This isn't news to the experienced Lovecraft fan, I know, but worth talking about anyway.
For me, as a reader of Lovecraftian fiction, both of the pulpy action kind found in tomes like CTHULHU UNBOUND or the straight, Joshi laces of BLACK WINGS, I look for the writer of a particular story to pull me into the world as ‘plausibly’ as possible, providing either science or official sounding ‘made up data’, whatever sells me on the fact that these beings from beyond could indeed travel among us. But I also look to be entertained, and a scholar bumbling along or even a story told through a series of letters can get boring (mind you some are fantastic!). I’ll ashamedly admit that I like a few guns to be fired off, an exotic babe to entice me, and explosions. I like to see these punk-ass Lovecraftian entities get a taste of whoop ass directed at them, even if it is like shooting the T-1000 liquid metal terminator with small arms fire (which was comically pointless but did slow the thing down).
I’m always screaming at the TV during horror movies, proclaiming “just shoot the damn thing” or “punch Michael Myers in the face, just try it”. And along came Harrison Peel, a character which at the time (I’ll get to that) had a complete monopoly on my attention and Lovecraftian book stack. Peel, a fictional Australian intelligence operative with a complicated resume of American intelligence ties (I’ll try and tackle that later) instantly became my ‘voice’ in the Mythos Universe. “Shoot the fucking Shoggoth, for Christ’s Sake!” was now not an unanswered utterance, but something I could use as a rallying cry for future readings.
“James Bond versus the Cthulhu Mythos” has been the crude, boiler plate ‘blank versus blank’ template explanation used to sum up Peel to the masses, and it works, to an extent. Bond’s world, or his ‘fictional universe’ is a lot less realistic and candy coated compared to the harsh, ultra real world of HARRISON PEEL. In Peel’s world, sometimes innocents die. Children get killed, just like in real life. Horrible tortures are performed by cruel men, just like in real life. And horrors from beyond EXIST, which may or may not be just like real life. Peel’s cohorts can be killed at any second, and often suffer at the hands of the cruel world that David Conyers (oh yeah, he’s the author of THE HARRISON PEEL SERIES) faithfully renders out, looking to our own for the template. Essentially, James Bond would have bled out, and shit his pants after he died in literally the first paragraph of his potential ‘Peel-verse’ adventures. This isn't your Grandma’s Mythos, if you need a fun catch phrase.
Peel is often in Third World Countries, embroiled in war zones that almost, ALMOST, match the horrific nature of the cosmic entities he ultimately has to do battle with. Realistically, insane governments and terrorists alike would love to get their hands on “cosmic, violent entities of extreme power”, and naturally, use them as weapons. Most of the time, mankind ends up unleashing the very things it has to, itself, stop (through heroes like Peel).
So, how did I come across Peel, and how is this a ‘look back’? Come with me into my DeLorean and let us go back to the year 2008. I had just moved into my new house, got my first mortgage, and had just left a really crappy job for a new, better one. The one benefit of the past crappy job, though, was an ample amount of web surfing time during the job. I found a website called DAGONBYTES that proclaimed it had Lovecraftian stories, free to read. I’m not sure how I came about the site, but there I was, being exposed to Lovecraft for the first time (I was a late bloomer). I quickly, over the course of a few weeks, read almost all of Lovecraft’s works, or at least the major, popular ones. AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS was an amazing tale, and reading it unspoiled for the first time was amazing.
After emptying out my chest of free-stories, I decided to go looking for more that maybe weren’t listed online. I then discovered that OTHER authors had taken up Lovecraft’s mantle, and soon I was at the Amazon page for TALES OF THE CTHULHU MYTHOS, a paperback that changed my reading world but one I also lost before I could finish. I bought that along with THE SPIRALING WORM by John Sunseri and David Conyers.
Amazon had recommended THE SPIRALING WORM to me, and the descriptions of the stories had me foaming at the mouth. I was a huge fan, as I mentioned earlier, of AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, so the modern day military RETURNING to Antarctica armed with guns and bombs intrigued the hell out of me. I ordered both books to qualify for super shipper savings or whatever, and thus began the tedious wait to receive these awesome books.
After merely samplings TALES (at least I read the story STICKS, what an awesome yarn!) it was lost after a co-worker stole it from me. I’d be mad about that, but if it created a new fan of the genre, I consider it a book well lost. I ended up reading a lot of those stories in later anthologies, anyway. Warmed up from my excursion into other writer’s take on the mythos, I decided to crack open THE SPIRALING WORM. All of the sudden, I was dumped into an action packed world where the Mythos were ‘real’ and these entities were being seen, out in public, in daylight! Gone from the shadows, and snarling in our reality, these cosmic horrors take on a new dimension especially bolstered by the fact that Conyers goes into the science behind all of it. We learn that some entities inhabit our dimension and others simultaneously, allowing them to see the future because part of their bodies exist outside of our sense of time. Being manifested ‘in the flesh’ into our world means that these horrors aren't impervious to damage, and that adds to the detail.
We, the reader, learn that extreme heat from thermite or a nuclear explosion CAN ‘destroy’ the vessels used by the invincible entities from beyond, although these dark gods become merely delayed, not stopped. Conyers does a great job of conveying that you cannot STOP these things, but you might be able to send some Shoggoth back to Antarctica in a body bag though, if you have the right equipment. There are also plenty of human adversaries Peel faces off against too, and Conyers never skimps out on the relationship developments. It isn’t just mindless action, although the action written is so superb I want other writers to read some of this author’s work and take note of the fluid execution of these scenes. Conyers also has a great knowledge of military tactics and equipment, and his education as an engineer only helps further sell the realism of the dynamic situations Peel gets in.
Peel himself is a bit of an enigma, and I may pack-peddle a bit on trying to explain his backstory! Peel has worked for American and Australian military and intelligence organizations, but also has gone on personal, unofficial missions and has ‘friends’ outside the intelligence agencies. One of the fun parts about this series is that we are constantly jumping around the timeline (while still building themes that carry the overall story forward) so we get “young Peel” stories and “old Peel” stories, if that makes sense. Older Peel is dealing with stopping the end of the world, while young Peel is just encountering these horrors for the first time.
So I ended up burning through WORM, partially because it was the only Lovecraftian book I had, and partially because it was damn amazing! One of the most exciting thing that has happened to me in my newer reading experiences was when I got CTHULHU UNBOUND volumes 1&2, and found out there was a PEEL tale called STOMACH ACID. Co-authored with Brian Sammons who would go on to invent his own character within David Conyers’ universe. I had no idea that the adventures of Peel would extend beyond The Spiraling Worm, so getting to see Peel in action again was thrilling. And boy was it a great story! This ended up getting me hooked on the world of Harrison Peel, and I eventually contacted Conyers and began a fruitful string of correspondences about the next Peel tales and where they would be published. Conyers really helped Peel get around, the spy appearing in numerous publications. Eventually Conyers decided to do a ‘soft reboot’ of the series, revamping older stories to better fit in a grand, new timeline and adding in tons of new content.
The Harrison Peel files was an indie effort by Conyers and self-published to Amazon, albeit with an amazing production quality to it. Conyers released 4 volumes, collecting and polishing his work as he went along, creating the first ‘cycle’ of the Harrison peel series. Unbridled by the fact he had no publisher in the way (granted, most of the material was previously published), Conyers crafted an amazing saga that is sorely underrated. Marathon reading the series is a truly amazing experience, blowing away even the most action packed blockbuster or brainy tech-thriller.
What’s great for the prospective reader is that Conyers has collected all of this work into an omnibus called THE SHOGGOTH CONSPIRACY. With the best cover to ever grace the Peel series and an introduction by well-known author Peter Clines, it’s a great time to get into Peel. I suggest you dive right in if you’re a fan of the Mythos.