Although most readers outside horror have heard of Poe, Stoker, King, Barker, etc, Howard Phillips Lovecraft, one of the most prolific fantasists in the horror genre, deserves more accolades and recognition. Though most horror writers know his work or have heard of him, editor Anderson argues that Lovecraft should have the same instant recognizability factor as King because without Lovecraft, we wouldn’t have the same stories from King, Barker, Wilson, or Campbell. Lovecraft, he says, struck a blow to the status quo of horror.
Still, there isn’t exactly a shortage of Lovecraft anthologies out there, so to make this one stand out, the editors wanted non-Cthulhu stories, a wise strategy although highly ambitious, as anything that pays homage or draws from Lovecraft has some elements of Cthulhu.
The anthology leads with “Opt-In” by J.W. Schnarr, about an abrasive protagonist, Patrick, who attends the funeral of his girlfriend, Angela. Her father hates Patrick so much that his sons have to restrain him. But Patrick’s circumstances get worse – on top of dealing with his grief, he loses his job. Soon, he begins receiving calls from marketers telling him they’re Angela and trying to shame him into buying weight loss pills, foot odor controllers, etc. And even though he knows the conversations are pre-recorded and not really with Angela, he treats them as though he’s speaking to her. The lines between reality and illusion blur and things end on a vague note.
Two sci-fi offerings are “What Waits Out There” by Jamie Lackey and “Visions of Parin” by Joseph Williams. Although there is more of an immediacy to Williams’s piece, about a taunting and malevolent god-like being, Parin, whereas Lackey’s tale focuses on 238-R, a robotic being, both have unique takes on Lovecraftian themes.
“Ankor Sabat” by C. Deskin Rink is like epic fantasy infused with some science fiction. Set in a fictional universe, Lord Galen loses his beloved, Lady Fiona, to a hermaphroditic deity, Xethogga the Unspeakable, who steals women and uses them in his rites. As with many of the other tales in this anthology, this one shows us that the good guy can’t always win.
Two pieces dedicated to dreaming are “The Art of Lucid Dreaming” by C.M. Saunders, about a protagonist tortured by nightmares that depict an empty world without any activity or life. He tries lucid dreaming, which involves training oneself to wake up while within a dream, but that’s easier said than done. Jessica McHugh explores one woman’s bad experiences in her dream world in “A Ride in the Dream Machine” that teaches the protagonist it’s better to stay out of one’s dreams, because we never know the dangers that lurk within them.
My favorite piece, “Rawhead Rex,” by horror legend Clive Barker, is from the Books of Blood, and revolves around a pagan god unleashed by accident into a small town who wreaks havoc and lives to take back what the people who imprisoned him took away. It’s one of Barker’s more interesting and nuanced tales.
One of my other favorites was “The Troll that Jack Built” by Kathryn Board, about Jack, a higher up in R&D at a pharmaceutical firm. He is one of the worst online trolls. He neglects his wife and says he is always working. Everything in his world is peachy keen until someone online contacts him and demands that he continue trolling. The troll who torments others gets his own troll. I thought it was unique, and a timely piece as Internet trolls can be downright scary.
With “In the Shadow of the Equine,” Kenneth W. Cain reveals the story of a man and his son, Parker, on an island, who discover that a preacher is riling people up. A fight breaks out, only to stop when the old man reveals sea tentacles on his head that are alive. It’s an interesting survival story, and one of the more fast-paced offerings of the anthology.
In “Amsterdamned” by Mitch Richmond, two Americans and an Indian travelling abroad discover that a prostitute is more than she seems, and it turns out the ex-girlfriend that one of them is pining over may have had more of a role in saving him from the danger he didn’t even know existed.
For a more mathematical homage to Lovecraft, “Delta Pi” by Matt Moore delivers the story of a teacher who discovers that there’s more to Pi than he thought, while Bob Mustin offers Mayan history and legends in “The Offering” about a man obsessed with a woman who everyone has seen when he asks them, but he can’t find her. Some people are better left alone.
Torn Realities is definitely a unique collection that has many interesting stories to offer to diehard Lovecraft fans and a chance to discover some great fiction for those not as familiar with the author’s body of work.