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Singers of Strange Songs: A Celebration of Brian Lumley
edited by Scott David Aniolowski
Chaosium Books, 240 pages

Singers of Strange Songs, A Celebration of Brian Lumley
Brian Lumley
Brian Lumley was born in 1937 at Horden, England. He has written horror and fantasy since the late 1960s. Retiring from the British Army in 1980, he became a full-time writer. His work includes the Necroscope series of novels. Lumley's short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies and has often been selected for volumes of The Year's Best Horror. His story, "Fruiting Bodies" won the British Fantasy Award.

Brian Lumley Home Page
The Worlds of Brian Lumley
ISFDB Bibliography
Brian Lumley Tribute Site
The Starside Cyberstack

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Neil Walsh

To begin, I have a confession to make: I am unfamiliar with the works of Brian Lumley, other than by reputation. I've been told by several friends who know my reading tastes that I would enjoy Lumley's writing. He has in fact been on my "to be read" list for quite some time, and I will get around to reading him. Singers of Strange Songs, however, has certainly been instrumental in moving Lumley closer to the top of my list.

The release date of this book was timed to coincide with the appearance of Brian Lumley at NecronomiCon '97, this past summer. It contains two previously published stories by Lumley, one at each end of the book, making a nice frame for the collection. One of the two is an old Lumley classic, "Cement Surroundings," while the other, "Spaghetti," is rather less well known, albeit no less chilling. The remainder of the stories in this collection are previously unseen works from relatively unknown authors -- "up-and-comings," as my friend Rodger would say. They were selected, the editor tells us, "because each made good use of some part of Brian Lumley's Cthulhu Mythos material and creations." Hence, the tribute to Lumley. Contributors include Don D'Ammassa, Donald R. Burleson, Benjamin Adams, Tina L. Jens, James Robert Smith, John Tynes, Lois H. Gresh, Gregory Nicoll, C.J. Henderson, and Stephen Mark Rainey.

True fans of Lovecraft, the original creator of the Cthulhu Mythos, will admit (at least to themselves) that some of his earlier works in particular are less than brilliant. In fact, one might go so far as to say that some of them are embarrassingly poor. But when Lovecraft's at his best, you'll be sleeping with the light on. For the most part, the quality of writing in Singers of Strange Songs is superior to what one might expect from a collection of Cthulhu Mythos horror from even higher profile names. If you plan to read it, you might want to invest in a night-light.

True fans of the Mythos will also recognize that Lovecraft had a sense of humour about his horror. Oh sure, he wrote some brilliantly terrifying stuff, but he also knew how to have fun with it. If you aren't certain what I'm talking about, dig up a copy of "The Unnamable" and give it a read -- you'll see what I mean. My point is that several of the contributors to this collection also know how to have fun with the material while still keeping it firmly within the realm of horror, approaching but not quite crossing the line into the province of self-spoof (although sometimes the line can't help but get pretty thin).

Some of Lovecraft's favourite themes are revisited in this collection, such as tainted blood ("Mirabella, your pregnancy is not a human thing." -- from "Where I Go, Mi-Go" by Lois H. Gresh. Ok, maybe this one crosses that line...) and the overwhelming, despairing futility of human life ("God help us. For we are not able to help ourselves." -- from "Not to Force the Rhymes" by Benjamin Adams). And, perhaps more importantly in the context of this edition, many of the creations of Lumley are revisited, including Yibb-Tstll, Bugg-Shash, Cthylla, and of course the dread chthonians. And believe me, meeting these creatures is considerably more unnerving than trying to pronounce their unhuman names.

Chaosium is well known as a publisher of gaming material, especially for their Call of Cthulhu game system, but Singers of Strange Songs is the 15th title in their Call of Cthulhu Fiction line of handsome, slim trade editions packed full of cthulhoid horror. This one is well worth the price of admission.

Copyright © 1998 by Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh is the Reviews Editor for the SF Site. He lives in contentment, surrounded by books, in Ottawa, Canada.

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