Book Review: The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, edited by Paula Guran

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Genre: Horror

Format: Paperback book

I’ve been really into Lovecraftian fiction lately, so I was pretty excited to pick up The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu at my local Half Price Books. It features a story I liked by Brian Hodge that appeared in The Best Horror of the Year Volume 9, so I knew it would at least be pretty good.

This book, as promised, was mammoth, clocking in at a hefty 474 pages. In order to keep the book a convenient, readable size, this means the text is quite small. If you have a hard time with small text you may want to read this on an ereader so you can enlarge it. Unfortunately, as with many collections, there appears to be no audio version.

All the stories in Mammoth Book are interesting new takes on Lovecraftian characters, mythos and themes. Some are more directly connected to Lovecraft’s fictional worlds, while others have a connection that’s far more tenuous. There were a lot of good stories in this collection, and a few great ones, but the only one that actually gave me chills and made me check the shadows in the corners of the room was “I Do Not Count The Hours” by Michael Wehunt. There’s nothing creepier to me than a protagonist watching a video of themselves in which they’re doing inexplicable things they don’t remember. Maybe it’s because I’m from the Blair Witch generation, I dunno, but this story really stuck with me.

I enjoyed “In the Ruins of Mohenjo-Daro” by Usman T. Malik and “Legacy of Salt” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Both stories benefited from non-Western settings that let the authors use more direct references to the mythos while still feeling like fresh, original takes.  I also liked “I Dress My Lover in Yellow” by A.C. Wise and “Umbilicus” by Damien Angelica Walters. Both were very creepy and used Lovecraft’s ideas to great effect.

I want to give a shout-out to “I Believe That We Will Win” by Nadia Bulkin as a story that proves the old chestnut of “show, don’t tell” simply isn’t always true. Sometimes telling is the most effective, as when the story requires a little distance for the audience because the topic is so horrifying we might not be able to engage with it otherwise. I absolutely loved this story, and I’d especially love to hear it in audio, so I hope a podcast buys it.

Any collection is going to have a few stories that are duds for every reader, which is really just about personal taste, and that was certainly the case here. Unfortunately, because the anthology is so massive, the effect seemed to be amplified–there were a lot of stories I liked, but also several I really didn’t. All the stories I really loved were in the second half of the anthology, so if you pick this up and find the first half unsatisfying, don’t give up. It gets better! And even if you only read the six awesome stories mentioned above, this collection is well worth the cover price.

Overall: 4/5 elder signs

3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, edited by Paula Guran

  1. I’m interested in this antho for the same reasons you were, but the small print is a big turn off. Maybe they’d have been wiser doing two volumes, so the print could be larger? I remember being so excited to finally buy a paperback version of the Vandermeer’s The Weird Compendium. .. and then i opened it and saw the teeny tiny font, and nearly cried.

    • That seems to be a trend lately, tiny text to fit in more stories. I’d rather have fewer, better stories and text large enough to read! Fortunately there are e-readers, but I still prefer the feeling of a book in my hands.

      • Same. I can read on an e-reader or on my phone, but I’d really prefer not to. For what it’s worth, I recently finished Theodora Goss’s Snow White Learns Witchcraft. Very high percentage of really good stuff, and good sized font too!

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