During the Halloween season, we seek out forms of entertainment that have a hint (or more) of the unsettling about them: horror movies, haunted houses, and, for those of us who love to read, scary stories. The Ulthar Press anthology A Lonely and Curious Country: Tales from the Lands of Lovecraft, provides an abundance of such tales.
As the title suggests, many of the stories take place in settings that will be familiar to Lovecraft fans. Pete Rawlik’s “Down through Black Abysses” shows us what happened to the narrator of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” after that story ended. One great aspect of this story is that it takes into account the way sensory details change as the main character’s metamorphosis nears completion: as a being adapted to live in the depths of the sea, he relies on smell, taste, and touch much more than on sight. Jonathan Titchenal’s “Radical Division” takes us to ancient Kingsport and witch-haunted Arkham, while Brian M. Sammons and Jamie D. Jenkins’s “After Birth” show what Innsmouth might look like in the mid-20th century.
But the collection brings us farther afield as well. Steven Prizeman’s “The Dreamer of Nothingness” takes us to 1960s Paris, where participants in a student protest movement find themselves caught up in less earth-bound events. (As a point of interest, there really were widespread protests by students and working-class citizens of Paris in the mid-late 60s; these grew so intense that in May 1968—the month and year where the story takes place—the French economy pretty much stopped and then-President Charles de Gaulle fled the country for a few hours.) Seán Farrell’s “Paudie O’Brien and the Bogman” brings the eldritch to rural Ireland. In “Down by the Highway Side,” Paul R. McNamee reworks the old legend of the southern Blues singer who sells his soul to the Devil. There’s still a southern Blues singer, and he still sells his soul…but not to any being as comprehensible as the Judeo-Christian Satan.
On occasion, authors have inserted the Cthulhu Mythos into other pre-existing fictional worlds, as in Neil Gaiman’s “A Study in Emerald.” In one of the most interesting stories in this volume, “The Litany of Yith,” Brett Davidson does something similar. He posits an encounter between the main character of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine and the Great Race of Yith, and the two settings mesh surprisingly well. The world of 30,000,000AD: truly a lonely and curious country.