Edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Robert Weinberg
I was full of hope when I first picked up this book. It is indeed rare that books dedicated 100% to the Cthulhu Mythos hit the stand. Unfortunately, by the time I got half way through I realized that rarity still stands today. Like so many movies out of Hollywood claiming basis on Lovecraft's works, this book is filled with empty promises.
Don't get me wrong. The stories contained in the book are good, most borderline excellence. All but two of them are not what I consider Mythos material. When will publishers realize it takes more than the mention of a name or two to embed the Mythos into a story or book? My test for Mythos material still stands, if you take the Mythos out and the story can stand on its own, then it's just not Mythos.
Still, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The short story titled Her Misbegotten Son by Alan Rodgers is enough to makes purchase of Miskatonic University worth while, especially for those who are of the Witch-House fan club. Keziah Mason and Nyarlathotep are back in this fast, powerful story that will have you riveted from the moment you begin reading. Some may complain that Keziah Mason was killed in 1930, but what exactly is death, anyway, to those who inhabit the sphere of the Cthulhu Mythos? It is but a state of existence, a slumber of aeons which even the most horrid of creatures rise out of from time to time. Rodger's keeps the referrals to past Lovecraft stories to a minimum, using just enough to seed the plot and deepen the terror. He doesn't go overboard with assumptions, doesn't people Arkham with every name ever used in Lovecraft stories, and doesn't name buildings on the university campus after notorious ghouls, murderers, witches, and other grisly horrors. This story is award winning material. King, Barker and Koontz watch out, this guy has style. I give it the Coveted Elder Sign. Good job, Alan!
The Down and Dirty
From the beginning, the short stories in this book have you scrambling to retain a virtual who's who in the modern world of Arkham, though after the first few pages you suddenly realize remembering names is a lot easier than you first thought. It seems everyone in Arkham is related to each other, while families are limited to those identified in Lovecraft's works. It seems to me that some folks think they justify their story's existence in the world of the Mythos by naming characters as descendants. Unfortunately, the answer to this line of thought is no.
(Okay, okay. I used the Whateley line in my serial, "The Children of Cambridge," which you might say stands in direct contradiction to this line of thought. Notice, though, that Whateley is about the only familiar face in the setting (besides ol' Nyarlathotep)the town, the main characters, the locale are all different, and made so intentionally. "The Children of Cambridge" is my story and it exists in my world, a world which expands upon, but is not limited to, the world so graciously given to us by Lovecraft.)
According to Lovecraft, Arkham is his name for Salem, Massachusetts. As such, I'd imagine it to be a pretty big city. After reading some of the stories, though, I got the feeling there was only one church (St. Stanislaus'), one hospital (St. Mary's), and one mysterious haunted house (the Witch-House). Clearly, a lack of imagination is evident, which is really quite surprising after noting the exceptional quality of most the material in the book. To me, one of the fun things about writing Mythos fiction is the ability to make the world grow (within the limits we all know and understand).
Another problem with the series of stories is Miskatonic University, itself. I always thought one of the true lures of MU was the fact that it was a normal university in almost every way that housed a very abnormal secret. Even the faculty knew very little of the world of the Mythos except for that which was thrust upon them by chance or by design. I do not think, though, the MU would have come to a point where the supernatural was its total cirriculum, where classes such as The Prophet Within (a class on becoming a seer) are prevalent. Nor do I believe such a school, understanding the implications of terror spoken of in the Necronomicon, would allow the student dance club to be named after Yog-Sothoth's son, complete with statue and murals, nor would it have a swim-team named the Octa-pods. In any other setting, would a university name buildings or wings after ghouls and murderers (the Waite Library or Whateley Library, take your choice; the West Medical School; or the Pickman Laboratory).
Still adding insult to the injury is the lack of background knowledge of the Mythos displayed by some of the authors. The most evident, by far, is in the short story titled Mandelbrot Moldrot by Lois H. Gresh. In her story, she describes the Witch-House with
"its black spires illumed by a sickly moon, its windows gutted and hanging like gaping mouths...Once a dormitory for poor students, now a dilapidated hulk...Here, Gilman studied quantum math and physics in the 1930s. Here, Keziah destroyed Gilman using powers of mathematical chaos."
Actually, the spires collapsed during a hurricane force storm in 1931, along with the roof and most of the attic. The Witch-House was actually a boarding house for anyone who dared live there. The cheap rates, especially for rooms on the top floor, drew poor students to its availability. Most importantly, though, is the fact that Gilman was the one who destroyed Keziah Mason as she threatened the sacrifice of a child he had unknowingly helped kidnap. Gilman was, in fact, devoured from the inside out by Brown Jenkin, Keziah's familiar, in retaliation for her destruction. Were these oversights of the facts mere mistakes, or is this a story by a writer trying to find her niche without a real background into the Mythos? If you want to write it, you've got to read it first.
I could go on, but I believe you catch the general drift of this book. To sum things up, most of the stories were written with the thought that if you drop a name or two here and there, everyone will believe your stuff to be Mythos material. Facts need to be straighttoo many of us know, breath, and dream Mythos to try to get one over on us.
Is the book worth your time? I believe so, if only for such stories as Her Misbegotten Son and Ghoulmaster. But if you think you're picking up a gold mine of Cthulhu stories when laying down the $5.99 for the book, you're more likely to find the gold mine has run dry long before you got there.