It’s no secret that I’m a Mythos Fan. Which, it may surprise you to learn, is a very different thing from being a Lovecraft fan. I love the dark, twisted visions that author H.P. Lovecraft painted of cults, the arcane, and creeping madness, but any extensive reading of the author’s work reveal that he was kind of a bastard. And when I say “kind of a bastard,” I don’t mean to mitigate the term at all. I mean to specify the variety of bastard that is racist, xenophobic, and nihilistic. If you’ve ever been reading about dark cultists and lurking tales only to encounter Lovecraft’s naming a pet after a racial slur or seeing him describe a monster by comparing it to a black person, you know what I’m talking about.
I’ve longed to read horrific tales of the Mythos that weren’t written by a horrific jerk. Brett J. Talley’s That Which Should Not Be delivers just that.*
The story is actually a series of vignettes and tales, each connected to a central piece of narration that provides an alternate telling of The Call of Cthulu, or at least a markedly similar “sequel” to it. Talley’s tales are frightening in varying degrees, but all are sufficiently creepy and build upon the Mythos mythology (mythosology?) well. The psuedo-scholarly atmosphere common in Lovecraft’s work only help to build the mounting dread to palpable levels. And there are all manner of ghouls, monsters, and unspeakable horrors running amok. In short, it’s likely most of or everything you love about Lovecraft, with little you’d miss cut out.
The book isn’t without its faults. The books various protagonists all seem to run together; all young men who yearn for the days when they were once skeptical of the supernatural. The only distinction between them seems to be their profession. That’s not dissimilar to reading Lovecraft’s anthologies, but it sticks out more when all of the characters purport to occupy the same story. Additionally, Talley veers away from Lovecraft’s despondent brand of atheism with a modified, generally Judeo-Christian mythology. I found it interesting, but if you don’t like Jesus in your Cthulu stories or vice versa, it might be annoying.
Finally, the word cyclopean is a great word, but you only get to use it once per book. Any more than that just sounds excessive.
Still, none of these trifles should put you off an otherwise fantastic book. That Which Should Not Be is a fun romp through the Mythos world that shouldn’t be missed whether your a fan of Cthulu or just wondering what all the screaming is about.
* It should be noted that I have no idea what kind of person Mr. Talley is. But if he is a horrible person, he hides it from the reader quite well, and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.