fantasy and science fiction book reviewsfantasy and science fiction book reviewsForever Azathoth: Pastiches and Parodies by Peter Cannon

In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.

On the back cover of Forever Azathoth: Pastiches and Parodies, H.P. Lovecraft himself is quoted. “As a rule, I don’t think that a comic or flippant style — or one with much satire — mixes well with the weird.” Forever Azathoth sets out to dispute that statement, and makes the horror writer’s case instead.

Peter Cannon is a gifted and versatile writer. His skill and style are showcased here, but the individual pieces themselves did not engage me. The book opens with the six-part novella “Forever Azathoth,” billed as a sequel to Lovecraft’s The Thing on the Doorstep. Cannon faithfully replicates the structure, with shifting points of view, as the sorcerer Ephraim Waite serially possesses descendants of the Upton family and their associates, as they squabble over the literary inheritance of Edward Derby, poet of the weird. Some of the humor builds over time, so that the third time someone suggested a camping trip in Maine, I did snicker. Still, the focus of these long sections is more on Lovecraftian trivia and in-jokes, tidbits about hack writers versus scholars that don’t advance the story. Since it was clear what was happening, there was no real suspense, nor was there quite enough humor. I had to push myself to finish it.

Cannon is a fan of P.G. Wodehouse, so there are three stories featuring the amiable and oblivious Bertie Wooster and his impeccable gentleman’s gentleman, Jeeves. Randolph Carter, a recurring Lovecraft character, makes an appearance in one of the tales. I thought Cannon’s attempt to imitate Wodehouse was labored, and all three stories suffered from too much Bertie and not enough Yog-Sothoth.

By the time I reached “Tender is the Night-Gaunt,” the F. Scott Fitzgerald pastiche, I nearly put the book down. I’m glad I didn’t though, because the next story is the first gem of the collection. “The Sound and the Fungi” imagines what would have happened if William Faulkner’s Compson family had met the Winged Ones. It may just be that Faulkner, with his shifting, stream-of-consciousness points of view and a fine disdain for conventional punctuation, was a complete style change, but Faulkner and Lovecraft go together like chocolate and peanut butter. And “The Sound and the Fungi” is funny. Caddy, arguing with her dead but re-animated brother Quentin about her fiancé, says:

. . .it’s not like N’gah-Kthun is from Yaddith on the Outer Rim or god forbid a yankee . . .

The second charmer in the book is “Old Man,” inspired by Lovecraft’s writings about the Kappa Alpha Tau (KAT) fraternity. The prose is lovely, with a strange innocence, as the human main character does a bad thing out of love for his feline friends. The story is dark, surprisingly sweet, and definitely for cat lovers.

Two other stories pay homage to modern horror writers Ramsey Campbell and T.E.D. Klein. “The Undercliffe Sentences” captures the feel of Ramsey Clark, but I have read too many stories set at fantasy and horror conventions. This didn’t bring anything new. “The Arkham Collector” is a vignette that imagines an unusual book collection. “All Moon-Beasts Amorphous and Mephitic” spoofs the James Herriott veterinarian stories.

“Nautical Negros” uses a Lovecraftian story-frame that flirts with time-travel — or perhaps a precognitive dream. The central part of the story is written in a 1930s pulp style with lots of sly humor as the worshippers of Cthulhu struggle with doctrinal disputes and schisms. Is Gnophkehs the equal to Cthulhu, or merely a secondary godling?

Cannon knows his subject and is a gifted stylist. Dedicated, dyed-in-the-wool Lovecraft fans will find something here to love. There isn’t enough here, however, to welcome a casual Lovecraft reader or invite a new reader into the fold; and I’m afraid that the gentleman from Providence’s work just doesn’t lend itself to belly laughs.


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.