Azathoth: Ordo ab Chao
Edited by Aaron J. French
JournalStone Publishing (August 4, 2023)
Reviewed by Andrew Byers
Having read French’s previous edited Cthulhu Mythos collection, The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft, also for JournalStone, I was looking forward to seeing what was in store.
The idea of Azathoth, rather than the Lovecraftian entity itself, looms large over this collection. I was a bit surprised that the entity itself is only mentioned in a handful of the collection’s stories and doesn’t really ever make an appearance. This is not a collection for diehard Cthulhu Mythos fans slavering for appearances by Mythos monstrosities consuming souls and laying waste to cities. On the contrary, Azathoth: Ordo ab Chao is a collection of mostly understated cosmic horror in which complex systems—people, society—are overtaken by entropy and rendered inert, or dissolved entirely, or thrown into chaos. I was struck by just how absent Azathoth himself was from these stories. I suppose that makes sense, given that we don’t know very much about Azathoth, just simply that he is a “blind idiot god,” perhaps not even truly sentient as we would understand it, and that he sits at the chaotic heart at the center of the universe, from which all matter is created, but I wanted to note that absence for other readers.
But enough preamble, onto the stories themselves. There are simply too many to dissect in their totality, so I’ll just note the stories that stood out especially strongly.
“Agent of Chaos” by T. Kingfisher: What a wonderful story. It’s less a tale of Azathoth and more of a general purpose cautionary tale about tampering with forces that man was not meant to know, no matter how inadvertent. Here, the eponymous agent of chaos is a precious little black kitten playing with a ball of yarn. This could have been an overly twee sort of story, but Kingfisher threads that needle deftly, providing a genuinely suspenseful story.
“Expatriate” by Jamieson Ridenhour: Ridenhour is a skilled writer. Once again, Azathoth is only briefly named as a kind of cosmic king who has dispatched his agents to apprehend a political dissident from his court who has sought refuge in the jazz clubs of 1960s Europe. I don’t really see this one as being connected with mainstream Mythos depictions of Azathoth, but it was an excellently poignant story.
“The Blind God’s Game” by Matthew Cheney: Interesting slice of life tale of an ex-con, his niece, and their outsider friends, all of whom work at an occult shop. Some of the best depictions of Tarot readings I have ever encountered. This is one where the stakes aren’t earth-shattering but it’s a good time nevertheless.
“Church of the Void” by Donald Tyson: A journalist, a Catholic priest, and their friend attend a public lecture by a new cult that promises non-existence to its adherents. At first, they assume that the cult is made up of charlatans, but as it turns out, it’s not, and that takes them on a terrifying journey. Once again, a nice exploration of the existential chaotic void of Azathoth without the presence of an actual Azathoth.
“The Infinite Beat” by Nathan Carson: A fascinating look at an occult group of percussionists who must dedicate their existences—at great cost, as it turns out—to keeping the god at the center of the universe asleep and dreaming and quiescent.
“The Door at 21 bis Rue Xavier Privas” by R. B. Payne: A lengthy novelette about a French detective that begins innocuously enough with a dead body found in the Seine, and ends with mind-shattering revelations about the nature of mortality and the cosmos. Really nicely written and exactly the kind of story I was hoping for when I began reading the collection.
“An Unusual Pedigree” by Richard Thomas: A man inherits a truly dark legacy that has been passed down from generation to generation in his family. This legacy colors and shapes his entire life and will be carried down to his own descendants. Powerful.
“Dust-Clotted Eyes” by Samuel Marzioli: Set in a world where almost everyone has gone away—simply disappeared—after a Visitor, in the guise of a loved one, has led them away. The last few people on Earth are holed up in a house wondering what Visitor is going to show up tonight, as well as how long they can resist joining their loved ones. Unrelievedly dark.
“The Revelations of Azathoth” by Lena Ng: A women who is an orphan and a slave, as well as a seer, lives in a fantasy setting (perhaps one of the Dreamlands?), and has heard the word of Azathoth. She spreads his worship in preparation for his coming. Really nice.
“Respect Your Elders” by Adam L. G. Nevill: A fascinating and brutal piece of social commentary in the form of a novelette that begins with a strange meteor shower. In a catastrophe vaguely reminiscent of 1984’s Night of the Comet, people all over the world under the age of forty go violently feral and kill off everyone over the age of sixty they encounter in a two or three week orgy of savagery and chaos. When the dust settles, they kind of shake off their murderous stupor and move into the now-deceased senior citizens’ homes and take their stuff as their own in a global bout of generational wealth redistribution that everyone simply accepts and doesn’t say much about, lest they trigger a new bout of savagery on the part of young people.
All in all, a really nice collection of wonderfully atmospheric cosmic horror tales. Definitely recommended.