|What the HPL?|
Campbell's first published stories mostly got bought and published by H.P. Lovecraft's publishing champion August Derleth in the early 1960's when Campbell was in his teens. Campbell rapidly grew into one of the most formidable, if not the most formidable, talents in horror fiction. He partially repaid his debt to Derleth (who died in 1971) with this anthology, initially published by Derleth's pivotal Arkham House Press.
Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos was neither internally consistent nor called 'The Cthulhu Mythos' at the time of HPL's death in 1937. But Lovecraft's vast web of writerly correspondents had already begun working in a loosely consistent shared universe before HPL's death, with HPL's blessing, and that shared universe would only grow larger and larger over the decades. Now that the Cthulhu Mythos has engulfed South Park, Supernatural and Hunter S. Thompson, can world domination be far behind?
The nine stories herein range from a pastiche which fleshes out one of Lovecraft's story fragments ("The Black Tome of Alsophocus") to a creepy, allusive dystopia that makes no overt reference to anything in the Cthulhu Mythos, though it appears to be clearly set within that universe if one has even a passing acquaintance the Mythos ("Shaft 247"). In between are gems like David Drake's hard-case, Conradian "Than Curse the Darkness", Stephen King's London-taxi-cab-ride-gone-horribly-wrong "Crouch End", T.E.D. Klein's subtle and bleakly funny "Black Man with a Horn" and Campbell's own tale of teenage angst and amorphous horrors in "The Faces at Pine Dunes."
The last five stories named above have all been anthologized multiple times since their first appearance, and for good reason. Between about 1976 and 1981, Campbell edited three major original horror anthologies -- Superhorror, this book and New Terrors -- during what was a high point for original-to-book-form horror anthologies. All of them, including this one, are dandy. Derleth would have been proud.
However, the cover of the only paperback edition of this anthology (which cost me $23 used, by the way, plus shipping and handling, and was worth every squamous, batrachian penny) takes a risible scene from Brian Lumley's so-so Robert E. Howard homage "The Second Wish" and runs down the hall and into the exploitative bookstalls of the world with it. I'm pretty sure Campbell, and the ghost of H.P. Lovecraft, must have had a laugh over the paperback publisher's choice of subject matter. Ai! Highly recommended.