Losing my Humanity: A Review of Tomorrow’s Cthulhu

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Tomorrow’s Cthulhu takes genetic modification, technological implants, our first steps toward greater space travel, and asks how all this might look, how humans might look, in a world post-Cthulhu.

Tomorrow’s Cthulhu: Stories at the Dawn of Posthumanity presents 30 short stories adding to the Cthulhu Mythos, all loosely wrapped around the themes of “posthumanity” and “transhumanism.” I was pleased with the diversity of the tales, both in subject matter, styles, and by the broad spectrum of humanity we see reflected in its pages. There are some excellent short stories within begging to be turned into scenarios.

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Published in 2016, Tomorrow’s Cthulhu is Broken Eye Books’ first entry in the Cthulhu Mythos genre, followed in 2017 by Ride the Star Wind: Cthulhu, Space Opera, and the Cosmic Weird. Now, in March, 2018, Broken Eye Books is about halfway through a Kickstarter for their next entry, Welcome to Miskatonic University, edited by Scott Gable and C. Dombrowski, featuring cover art by the prolific Michael Bukowski, whose collection illustro obscurum we wrote a short profile of last year.

Light spoilers from here on out, folks.

I have trouble narrowing down a favorite story–definitely a good sign–but we can still start with a few of the standouts.

I won’t go into as much detail with most of the stories I mention here, but our first entry deserves the attention. “The Posthumous Recruitment of Timothy Horne,” by Pete Rawlik, takes perhaps the most overused of Mythos monsters, the mi-go, and flips both their motivations and humanity’s response to them on their respective heads. Rather than collecting human brains, the mi-go blockade humanity from the stars, without explanation or motive (they are mi-go after all). After Captain Timothy Horne is recruited to go on a dangerous (posthumous) mission, he finds himself in the Dreamlands, utterly changed, but ready for a journey across the stars, through gateways and across the waters off Dylath-Leen. It was, perhaps, the most optimistic story in the collection, something that I appreciated nestled as it was within the other nihilistic entries, like a palate cleanser. It captured some of the wonder for me that Lovecraft’s Dreamlands tales hold, and I left the story wishing that it continued into a fully fledged novel (okay, this one was my favorite).

Robert Brockway’s “The Judas Goat” brought a Ligotti-esque bleakness to the collection that was perhaps truest to the depression that so often attends posthuman thinking (at least for me). It takes what at first seem very mundane encounters, from a mundane protagonist working for an observatory, and twists both into a “what if?” story of Doomsday proportions. It left me with a heavy feeling in my stomach, as though the narrator’s confession had somehow come true…

In “Astral and Arcane Science,” SJ Leary uses the trope of the hardboiled private investigator (but two women, in this case) to uncover the origin behind life-prolonging and gene-altering drugs, which, of course, is as monstrous as you might expect. This story gave us what I claim as the single best sentence in the whole book: “[I] felt as though I was less human simply for acknowledging the thing’s existence.” How much more Lovecraftian can you get?

“Chunked” reimagines Roger Zelazny’s uber-classic science fiction novella The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth through a kind of Pacific Rim encounter of the Other in the ocean deep (not that there are mechs but that–well, you should read it). Author Matt Maxwell imagines a world where the Great Old Ones have returned to the Earth’s oceans, and boy are they tasty…

Lynda E. Rucker’s “Testimony XVI,” which comes late in the collection, has perhaps the most realistic vision of what might happen should Cthulhu rise today. Two friends find themselves driving down the Pacific coast of America to see the gigantic thing that’s washed ashore, and which has been sequestered by the military. Throughout, the narrator, speaking from a point after the events she narrates, knows with absolute certainty that world-ending events are afoot. Her attitude seems precisely like the one many of us might take–not panic, but resignation. “It felt as though our unconscious minds were being colonized,” she writes of the dreams that oppress her and her friend. Which, of course, is precisely how colonization works, worming its way into the minds of the oppressed, in this case, the human species itself.

In a collection of 30 stories, you can’t expect to like every single one, which, weirdly, is actually one of the collection’s strengths, as it demonstrates a proper diversity in style and form. The first story in Tomorrow’s Cthulhu, unfortunately, was the least interesting in the collection, and made me nervous for the rest. Luckily, the second story in Tomorrow’s Cthulhu reassured me that what waited inside was quality fiction. “The Stricken,” by Molly Tanzer, adds to the lineage of one of Lovecraft’s most famous characters, Herbert West. It would have made a much stronger opening to the book, with several memorable scenes (uncle Herbert’s head in a glass jar) and a fun take on the zombie trope that’s so popular nowadays.

One complaint I did have about the volume was the amount of white space. While not a huge issue, the formatting of author bios (sometimes on their own page, sometimes not) sometimes forced two nearly blank pages between one story and the next, and seemed inconsistent and awkward to me. That said, this is a professionally produced publication, relatively typo free and grammatically consistent across the text.

All these stories, and I’ve yet to mention some of the familiar names you’ve likely heard of: Richard Lee Byers, author of many of the Forgotten Realms novels, Bruce R. Cordell, designer and writer on several editions of D&D, and others. Ultimately the collection won me over with its new takes on classic Mythos elements, wholesale invention that expands the genre, and through its interest in portraying people of color, women, and LGBTQ peoples, as the heroes and the tragic figures, and not the horror itself. As a reminder: there are 30 (thirty!) stories in this collection, and if you’re a fan of the Mythos, you’re certain to find something you like.

Don’t forget to head over to Broken Eye Books’ ongoing Kickstarter for Welcome to Miskatonic University. It includes some of the authors from Tomorrow’s Cthulhu, some new faces, and a possible additional anthology with work from the likes of Lynne Hardy and up-and-coming author and poet Brandon O’Brien. At the time of writing, they have 11 days left and only a few-hundred dollars left to go. This promises to be another fine anthology of Mythos fiction.

I reviewed a free copy provided by Broken Eye Books.

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