In June of 2012, a sensation hit the Internet – a story-type podcast called Welcome to Nightvale. Created by Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink, it featured a small Southwestern town where the bizarre is an everyday occurrence. It was a huge hit among millennials, and I found it amusing as well. This wasn’t, however, their first creative project. In 2010 they compiled an unusual tribute to one of America’s greatest writers – A Commonplace Book of the Weird: The Untold Stories of H.P. Lovecraft. https://www.amazon.com/Commonplace-Book-Weird-Stories-Lovecraft-ebook/dp/B004APA1DW
The starting point came from Lovecraft’s notes, a list of unused story ideas found after his death. These they found on a blog called Lapetiteclaudine.com, which appears to be inactive. There were over 100 ideas in the last, ranging from short phrases to detailed paragraphs. Cranor and Fink reached out to their fellow writers to create an anthology. They assigned these ideas randomly to participants, and the result was one of the more unique anthologies I’ve ever seen.
The stories contained in this volume came in a great variety of styles, from humorous to chilling and occasionally dull. The majority, however, were pretty good. Many of the contributors are mainly playwrights, which gives their entries a rather experimental flavor. My advice to the reader applies any multi-writer anthology: skip any stories that bore you and press on with the next. As a reviewer, however, I’m obliged to read the book in its entirety.
The book contains not just a handful of weird poems, such as “The Man from Providence” (Lovecraft’s hometown) by Jeffrey Cranor. I’m OK with poetry, but most of it was rather too avant-garde for my taste. (My text-to-speech application did some rather weird things with some of them.) I did, however, enjoy the creepy illustrations that accompanied the stories. Most of these were by Joseph Fink or Justin Marquis.
I must note that two of my favorite entries had a steampunk-ish feel: “The Impossible” by Will Hartwell & Christopher Scheer about a famous Holmes from Victorian times and “Levittown (36. Disintegration)” by Mark Farr, a nice piece of weirdness featuring Aleister Crowley and the Almighty Cthulhu. Other notables included the very Lovecraftian “Horror on the Ebon Stair” by Zack Parsons, the suspenseful “Vacancy at the Fenrick Inn” by F. Omar Telan and Joseph Fink’s “Relative Damnation.” The latter rejuvenates the old theme of “selling your soul” with the interesting structure of a condensed novel and a bit of a twist at the end.
By the way, I give the authors kudos for not succumbing to the “Lovecraft was an evil racist” propaganda that’s become sadly common in progressive circles. Even Wikipedia’s article on the author repeats this nonsense.
I heartily recommend this book to Lovecraft fans. As for my rating, in keeping this blog’s steampunk theme I’m changing my five-star system to a five-gear system. For creativity and (mostly) good writing, I give Commonplace Book of the Weird 4 gears out of five.