The Children of Gla’aki: A Tribute to Ramsey Campbell’s Great Old One
Dark Region Press
Brian M. Sammons and Glynn Owen Barrass (ed.)
Although I have long been aware of the works of Mr Ramsey Campbell, I don’t believe that I had ever actually managed to read anything written by him until very recently; I really only became conscious of how good his writing is, and how influential it has been both on the Lovecraftian Mythos, and the wider genres of horror genre (and many others). One of Mr Campbell’s short stories, The End of a Summer’s Day, was reprinted in an anthology I reviewed recently on this blog – Chthonic: Weird Tales of Inner Earth. As I said in my review, I found that short story incredibly difficult to finish, harrowing even, and discovered that it stayed with me long after I had completed my review of the anthology and moved onto reading other titles. I’d never quite experienced anything like that before, and I knew that I needed to read more by Mr Campbell; and as I was researching on Amazon to see which of his works were available on the Kindle, I noticed that Dark Regions Press had recently published an anthology centered around one of Mr Campbell’s creations – Gla’aki, one of the Great Ones, elder gods in the ever-expanding Lovecraftian Mythos. I absolutely love reading material set in the Mythos, and Dark Regions Press were kind enough to send me a review copy in exchange for a review, so I got to reading as soon as I could.
As I noted in my previous review of World War Cthulhu, all of the The cover art, by titles published by Dark Regions Press are produced to an incredibly high standard, and The Children of Gla’aki: A Tribute to Ramsey Campbell’s Great Old One is no exception; although I only have access to the eBook and not a physical product this time around, the high level of quality is obvious from the start. The cover art, by Daniele Serra, is a gorgeous piece of art that immediately draws the readers attention; a blurry, almost dream-like depiction of Gla’aki in all of its terrible, blood-stained glory, it immediately sets the tone for the stories found inside the anthology. And although there are no interior pieces of art to accompany the stories, unlike World War Cthulhu, there is another piece by Serra just after the introduction by the editors – this time depicting the ruined row of houses in Brichester that are clustered around the lake that Gla’aki inhabits, and which is central both to the original Gla’aki story by Ramsey Campbell, and to the rest of the tales within the book itself. They’re both stunning pieces of art that deserve to hang on an art gallery wall, not just within a book.
Moving onto the contents of the anthology itself, it contains 18 short stories by a variety of authors, many of whom are veterans of the Lovecraft/Cthulhu Mythos genre; and it is edited by the duo of Brian M. Sammons and Glynn Owen Barrass, yet another sign that this is going to be well worth the reader’s time. All of the stories are centered, one way or another, upon the Severn Valley/Brichester Mythos that Mr Campbell has created in his decades of writing; and for those unfamiliar with the setting, such as myself, the stories are bookended by an excellent Introduction (by the editors) and Afterword (by Mr Campbell) that give enough context to understand where Gla’aki fits into the wider Mythos, and how his evolution began. The collection begins, appropriately enough, with The Inhabitants of the Lake br Mr Campbell, the first of his stories to feature Gla’aki, Brichester and the lake itself, and after reading it, it becomes obvious why it has inspired an entire anthology and become so popular in the wider Mythos genre. It is a masterpiece of horror writing, telling the tale of the protagonist, Alan, and his friend Cartwright, who decides to purchase one of the houses edging onto the eponymous lake; as letter after letter is exchanged, we slowly begin to see the situation that Cartwright has placed himself into, and the insanity that begins to form as the lake and its surrounding have a deleterious effect on him. It sets the scene for the Mythos perfectly, giving us all of the background and context needed – the existence of Gla’aki and how it ended up on earth, the gruesome manner in which it bends humans to its will, and the frankly revolting way that it emerges from the lake.
The other seventeen stories in the collection, then, are tributes to this original story (and others that Mr Campbell wrote to expand on it); and they must surely therefore be judged on what they bring to the Mythos – how they both pay tribute to the original story, and in turn expand upon it. Well the good news is that, in my opinion at least, every story contained here within expands upon, or contextualises, the Gla’aki Mythos, often in some very unusual or surprising ways. As with my other reviews, I won’t conduct myself in the manner of an American book report and list every single story; instead, I’ll focus on those that I felt had a certain impact on me, or impressed me in particular. The first story is Country Mouse, City Mouse by Nick Mamatas, a brilliant piece of writing that effortlessly mirrors the unique nature of the bond between twins with the bond felt between Gla’aki and its servants, while also making good use of a contemporary setting – in this case, the London riots of 2011. It’s a story that requires a few readings in order to fully make sense of the plot and some of the more subtle subtexts, but a good start to the anthology. I also enjoyed In Search of Lake Monsters by Robert M. Price, which is based around an attempt by a TV documentary crew to search Deepfell Waters for something they believe is akin to Nessie, and the increasingly desperate (and futile) attempts by a Brichester University professor to warn them off.
This is then followed by the rather unsettling The Collection of Gibson Flynn by Pete Rawlik, which follows the increasingly gruesome and disturbing attempts by the protagonist, Gibson Flynn, to procure one of the sacred volumes of The Revelations of Gla’aki; it had my stomach turning by the end, but the last few sentences alone make it a worthwhile journey, as Mr Rawlik shows the insidious nature of pursuing forbidden knowledge and thereby falling into Gla’aki’s orbit. The Secret Painting of Thomas Cartwright by W.H. Pugmire is a short but typically weird and wonderful tale of two opposing cults fighting over a painting by one of the original Gla’aki cultists; Pugmire’s writing is always a delight to read, ephemeral and richly evocative, and this is no exception, also highlighting the fragmentary and often vicious nature of the various cults that spring up around Elder Gods and Old Ones. The Spike, by Scott R Jones (editor of the fantastic Chthonic) is an intriguing tale of a Steve Jobs-like figure who recruits the protagonist to investigate on of Gla’aki’s spikes, and illustrates how modern science and technology is as powerless as anything else to resist the corrupting nature of the Great Old One.
The Dawning of His Dreams by Thana Niveau is a brilliant piece of short fiction that provides an entirely unexpected (yet strangely moving) backstory to Gla’aki’s meteor-city, and gives a voice to the poor creatures who are slowly corrupted by the Great Old One to do its bidding. The Lakeside Cottages by William Meikle allows Mr Meikle to bring back an old favourite, Carnacki, to investigate the strange goings-on around Deepfell Waters and that sinister row of houses, and provides a much-needed jolt of action to the proceedings; he is also able to bring his unique talent for portraying an atmosphere, bringing the lake and its surroundings to life in a way the other stories didn’t seem able to. And Squatter’s Rights by Josh Reynolds provides another Royal Occultist adventure; I’m a huge fan of Mr Reynolds and his Royal Occultist stories – they’re always fast-paced, action-packed and written with a wry eye for humour, so often missing in Mythos stories; here, we not only get some great fight-scenes between Charles St. Cyprian and the servants of Gla’aki, but we also get an important insight into the role those townhouses by the lake play – and the fact that even an inter-dimensional nightmare creature is bound by the same contract law as us puny mortals.
Moving to the end of the anthology, The Nature of Water from the pen of Tim Waggoner is a heart-breaking tale of sundered childhoods, rash acts that lead to murder, and how, strangely, even a creature like Gla’aki can actually offer a sense of closure and belonging to someone in an incredibly difficult stage of their life. A very touching story. Finally, Night of the Hopfrog by Tim Curran follows a reality ghost TV show as they investigate the lakeside townhouses, and we get to see first-hand the way in which exposure to the Great Old One and its environment can slowly but surely break down even the greatest of sceptics. I’ve never seen this type of story format before – the transcripts of a TV show – and its an incredibly effective plot device that I enjoyed reading a number of times.
In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed The Children of Gla’aki; the cover art, the interior art, the editing and the stories themselves combining effortlessly to provide a rich, intriguing and fittingly disturbing tribute to Mr Campbell and his creations. I hope that, one day in the future, we might see a second such anthology, as the myriad ways that the tribute tales have expanded upon the original Mythos are just crying out for further exploration