John Langan’s Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies is a bit different from his previous collections in that it’s a tribute to the writers who inspired him. Each story is paired with a note about how it came to be and which writers (or filmmakers) Langan was drawing on when he wrote it.
Unsurprisingly, Langan’s inspirations include many of the classic authors of horror and weird fiction. Also not surprisingly, Langan takes the themes or subjects they wrote about and makes them his own. In the title story, he riffs on one of Lovecraft’s lesser-known tales, “The Nameless City.” In Langan’s version, the eldritch family secrets stand alongside mundane ones and may even be the less frightening of the two. The first story in the book, “Sweetums,” owes its origin to Robert W. Chambers’s “King in Yellow” mythos. Like Chambers’s work, it creates ambiguities about what’s real and what isn’t. Another Lovecraft-inspired story is “The Horn of the World’s Ending,” which is interesting for its historical setting.
In addition to these early writers, Langan also builds on the work of more modern masters, including Stephen King and William Gibson. Probably my favorite story in the collection was “Irezumi,” which blends cosmic horror with cyberpunk elements. It’s the kind of hyper-imaginative work I’ve come to associate with Langan. The stories “Inundation” and “Zombies in Marysville” both share a theme that Langan has some experience with: that of “approaching a great catastrophe from the margins.” Some of Langan’s strongest previous work, such as his story “The Shallows,” have adopted this perspective, and it’s great to see him return to it here. These stories were both inspired by the work of Stephen King, and while King’s characters are often right in the middle of the catastrophe, his focus on character interactions is a trait these Langan stories share.
It’s not only written work that has provided the spark for Langan’s imagination. Another of my favorite stories from the collection, “To See, To Be Seen,” draws on the classic horror movie The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Another strong story, “The Underground Economy,” had its genesis in both the stories of Robert Aickman and the films of David Lynch. This feels like a particularly apt pairing, since both artists were known for works that had a surreal or unsettling feel, rather than outright horror.
Overall, this collection does a wonderful job of showcasing Langan’s range as an author. It’s a great collection for both new and veteran fans: new fans because serves as a “travelogue” of his work, and old fans because of the exploration of Langan’s literary influences.