Contrary to the second part of its name, most of the stories in Mike Davis’s Autumn Cthulhu anthology aren’t strictly part of the Cthulhu Mythos. They do, however, generally fall into the realm of cosmic horror, and nearly all of them have some thematic connection to autumn.
I’m a huge John Langan fan, so his story “Anchor” is the one I was most looking forward to reading when I picked up this anthology. While I found it a bit overlong, the supernatural element was imaginative and I appreciated the skill with which the relationships among the main characters were conveyed. Also, two of the major characters are poets, and the story includes excerpts from their poems which are quite good.
One of the strengths of both “Anchor” and Langan’s novel The Fisherman is that the human relationships are as emotionally compelling as the paranormal goings-on. Damien Angelica Walters’s “In the Spaces Where You Once Lived” is another such story. The love the main character feels for her husband really comes through, and the tale is as touching as it is scary. Jeffrey Thomas’s “After the Fall” is in this vein as well. The sudden appearance of massive, monstrous images in the sky almost serves as a backdrop for the main character’s attempts to mend his troubled family relationships.
Laird Barron’s “Andy Kaufman Creeping Through the Trees” truly lives up to the name “weird fiction.” A teenage girl wants to secure tickets to an exclusive show as a gift for her seriously ill father. The transaction doesn’t go as planned, but beyond that, the story is almost impossible to describe.
I loved Gemma Files’s short story collection Spectral Evidence, so I was happy to see that one of the stories in this anthology is by her. Titled “Grave Goods,” it focuses heavily on our individual and collective sense of self, and how we react when that sense is overturned.
The central conceit of Nadia Bulkin’s “There is a Bear in the Woods” might at first seem humorous: a politician sells his soul to an eldritch being to win an election. Who hasn’t joked about a politician they dislike doing something similar? But Bulkin makes the story truly horrifying, giving the reader an impression that, while the earthly consequences of the deal are pretty terrible, the metaphysical ones might be even worse.
In his introduction to the book, Davis quotes Lawrence Block as saying that while autumn is the best season, it’s also the saddest. Many of the stories deal with something or someone passing away, lending the anthology an almost elegiac feel. While there certainly is dread, and a few outright scares, in the book, they lie side-by-side with a quieter melancholy, and that sets Autumn Cthulhu apart from other anthologies in the same genre.