Tag Archives: TV Movie & Game Tie-In Fiction

Time Trips

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Doctor Who: Time Trips [Amazon, Publisher, Local Library] with stories by Stella Duffy, Trudi Canavan, Joanne Harris, A L Kennedy, Jake Arnott, Cecelia Ahern, Nick Harkaway, and Jenny T Colgan, with illos by Ben Morris.

Various Doctor Who Time Trips

Time Trips is an anthology of Doctor Who stories by accomplished authors All eight stories are novella length, previously published as separate ebooks. Each has a two-page title spread with an illustration by Ben Morris. Although a couple of the Doctors appear in two stories, and not all the Doctors are covered, the assortment does span six different versions of the hero from his sixty years of television adventures.

A.L. Kennedy’s “The Death Pit” is a delightful tale of the Fourth Doctor. It is 90% characterization, with an old-fashioned freak-of-interplanetary-nature monster. It takes place at a golf resort in the 1970s, and it has more than a whiff of Douglas Adams about it.

Jenny Colgan’s “Into the Nowhere” is entirely too much bickering between Clara and the Eleventh Doctor, with insular fannish features: demands that readers understand Clara’s ontological peculiarity, along with unexplained references to the Shadow Proclamation. The use of trappings from Christian myth reminded me unpleasantly of the episode “The Satan Pit” (first televised in 2006) where they likewise served to paper over weak plotting.

Nick Harkaway’s story “Keeping Up with the Joneses” has the Tenth Doctor managing a crisis inside the TARDIS, touched off by leftover ordnance from the Time War. The resulting instability creates an entire Welsh town within the hyper-architecture of the machine. This locale is called “Jonestown,” for reasons that make sense within the story, but the name still evokes the great 1978 massacre/suicide of the Peoples’ Temple in Guyana, which I find it hard to believe was Harkaway’s intention.

Trudi Caravan sends the Third Doctor and Jo to Australia for one of the shorter adventures in the book, “Salt of the Earth.” It might be the best tonal match for an actual representative television episode among all of them. It is set in the later 21st century and benefits from a closer view of that future than was available in the 1970s Pertwee era. Jo’s experiences with advanced technology are thus piquant for today’s readers who have already seen much of it developed.

“A Handful of Stardust” by Jake Arnott features the Sixth Doctor and Peri, allowing them to encounter both John Dee and the Master in Elizabethan England. It is cleverly written, and Arnott does seem to keep the protagonists irritating in the same ways they were in the 1980s show. The presentation of Dee isn’t very sympathetic, and in some ways he is eclipsed in the story by his junior contemporary Thomas Digges.

Cecelia Ahern’s “The Bog Warrior” is pretty bad. If it hadn’t been for the Ben Morris title illustration, I wouldn’t have been able to know that the protagonist was the Tenth Doctor. He is largely a bystander in a Cinderella-inflected exoplanetary drama involving zombie soldiers and a counterrevolution.

“The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time Traveller” by Joanne Harris has a little bit of Alice in Wonderland, a lot of Bixby’s “It’s a Good Life,” and a dose of McGoohan’s The Prisoner in a story supplementing the Third Doctor’s regeneration in “Planet of the Spiders.”

The last story is the earliest in the Doctor’s biography as well as Earth’s history. Stella Duffy sends Patrick Troughton’s Doctor with Jamie and Zoe to classical Alexandria in “The Anti-Hero.” Short chapters helped this one feel like an old television serial.

I borrowed this collection from my public library, and I foresee no itch to reread it, nor do I expect I will ever bother to own a copy. Still, most of the stories were clever and enjoyable, and I can easily recommend the book to Doctor Who fans.

The Ravening Deep

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Ravening Deep [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Tim Pratt, cover by John Coulthart, part of the Arkham Horror series.

Pratt Coulthart the Ravening Deep

The Ravening Deep is Tim Pratt’s first contribution to the Arkham Horror novels franchise, but he has written short-form Yog-Sothothery before, among which I have read and enjoyed the 2008 “Dude Who Collected Lovecraft,” co-authored with Nick Mamatas and reprinted in Paula Guran’s New Cthulhu anthology. Pratt is evidently not a New Englander, as he mentions the “coast of Vermont” in passing (229).

The story features a team of protagonists, with the most central of them being Diana Stanley, who has been established in the game milieu as “the redeemed cultist.” This book affords an alternate account of Diana’s time in the Silver Twilight Lodge, previously treated in the Arkham Horror novel Feeders from Within. On a couple of occasions, another character refers to Diana with the name “Stanfield” (e.g. 282), which seems to be just sloppy or nonexistent proofreading.

Regular readers of Cthulhvian fiction might assume from the title and the seafaring character Abel Davenport that this novel has something to do with the Deep Ones, such as those associated with Innsmouth, but these are very peripheral to the story, and actually opposed to the chief menace indicated in the book’s title. The title refers to “the Ravening Deep, The Hungry Star, That Which Divided Multiplies, and the Infinite Maw, among other appellations” (208). The cult around this being has an excellent frisson of inhumanity and paranoia, like that of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers or “The Whisperer in Darkness.”

There is a significant role for the Silver Twilight Lodge of Arkham and its leader Carl Sanford. He has appeared as a villain of greater or lesser remoteness in other Arkham Horror fiction, but in this book he is more ambiguous. Diana certainly sees him as a menace, but he does forgive her insubordination, and he collaborates with her and the other heroes for at least part of the story. I enjoyed the level of detail given to goings-on in the lodge here, along with the appearance of the Lodge Guardian Sarah Van Shaw, a character who featured as one of my favorite cards in Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game.

Another character who becomes part of Diana’s team is the thief Ruby Standish. She appeared in the old Arkham Horror board game (second edition) and Elder Sign, but not yet in more recent Arkham Files games.

The pacing of the book is fast, all twenty-three chapters of which took me only a few days to read. There is plenty of fan gratification for players of the Arkham Files games, along with a well-contained adventure of occult menace in Lovecraft country. It’s not a sophisticated literary work, but it is the sort of perfectly palatable genre fodder that the Arkham Horror imprint should lead readers to expect.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Royal Imperial Boxed Set by Ian Doescher has arrived at the Reading Room, a gift from the Librarian’s mom (presumably in celebration of my new prescription for glasses coming soon, which means I may be able to comfortably read again). This box set includes Verily, A New Hope [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]; The Empire Striketh Back [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]; The Jedi Doth Return [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]; and an 8-by-34-inch full-color poster. This collects the adaptations of the original trilogy from the ongoing William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series. (This might seem tangential, but these are, after all, books with monomyth in iambic pentameter, and more, so I felt like I’d mention the arrival. Plus, I intentionally and willfully cross the Town-Gown-Tau divide all the time …)

Doescher William Shakespeares Star Wars Trilogy the Royal Imperial Boxed Set

“Experience the Star Wars saga reimagined as an Elizabethan drama penned by William Shakespeare himself, complete with authentic meter and verse, and theatrical monologues and dialogue by everyone from Darth Vader to R2D2.

This Royal Imperial Boxed Set includes all three New York Times best-selling volumes in the original trilogy: Verily, A New Hope; The Empire Striketh Back; and The Jedi Doth Return. Also included is an 8-by-34-inch full-color poster illustrating the complete cast and company of this glorious production.

Authentic meter, stage directions, reimagined movie scenes and dialogue, and hidden Easter eggs throughout will entertain and impress fans of Star Wars and Shakespeare alike. Every scene and character from the film appears in the play, along with twenty woodcut-style illustrations that depict an Elizabethan version of the Star Wars galaxy.”

Doescher William Shakespeares Star Wars Trilogy the Royal Imperial Boxed Set Panorama

Shadows of Pnath

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Shadows of Pnath [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Josh Reynolds, cover Daniel Strange, part of the Arkham Horror series.

Reynolds Shadows of Pnath

“The City of Lights was nice and all, but Arkham was Arkham. Her father had told her that once you were in Arkham’s shadow, you couldn’t escape it” (40-1). Although Shadows of Pnath is set in the Arkham Horror game milieu, none of it takes place in the Massachusetts city of Arkham, only in “Arkham’s shadow” at various locations around France. This second novel written by Josh Reynolds for the Aconyte Books series continues the adventures of his elite thief character Countess Alessandra Zorzi and her apprentice Pepper Kelly. It furthermore introduces the involvement of Arkham Files investigator Trish Scarborough, a spy for the US “Black Chamber” Cipher Bureau.

While Shadows of Pnath is most overtly a sequel to Reynolds’ previous book Wrath of N’kai, it also draws on threads begun by Reynolds with his contributions to the recent Arkham Horror anthology volumes The Devourer Below (“The Hounds Below”) and Secrets in Scarlet (“The Red and the Black”). The initial arc of the novel is focused on the recovery of a copy of Cultes des Goules, and it bears a certain resemblance to The Club Dumas–or more precisely to its cinematic version The Ninth Gate. This plot also brings into play Zorzi’s peer “acquisitionist” Chauncey Swann, an American connected with the Silver Twilight Lodge.

The titular Pnath is a reference to the Vale of Pnath in the Lovecraftian Dreamlands, which also featured in Brian Lumley’s Ship of Dreams. In a piece of weird horror set in interwar France, it is not surprising to encounter a few traces of jauniste mythemes regarding the “pallid mask” and ominous glimpses of yellow. These are undeveloped and may be seeds sown for a further sequel.

Alessandra and Pepper are separated early in the course of the story, and most of it consists of short, fast-moving chapters alternating between their two viewpoints. Reynolds has succeeded in cultivating my affection for his heroine to the point that I hope game publisher Fantasy Flight will eventually issue a set of Countess Zorzi investigator cards for Arkham Horror: The Card Game.

Secrets in Scarlet

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Secrets in Scarlet: An Arkham Horror Anthology [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] ed Charlotte Llewelyn-Wells, with David Annandale, Davide Mana, Jason Fischer, Carrie Harris, Steven Philip Jones, Lisa Smedman, James Fadeley, M J Newman, and Josh Reynolds, cover by Daniel Strange.

Llewelyn-Wells Secrets in Scarlet

Secrets in Scarlet is the second volume of new short stories edited by Charlotte Llewelleyn-Wells and set in the Arkham Horror game milieu. Just as the previous book was oriented around the “Night of the Zealot” campaign in the core set of Arkham Horror: The Card Game, this one consists of background tales that flesh out the setting and antecedent plots of the recently-released Scarlet Keys Campaign Expansion. The campaign is built upon a cosmopolitan cast of conspirators whose lore goes back to Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game or even earlier. Known collectively as the Congress of the Keys, or the Red Coterie, these include the Red-Gloved Man, the Claret Knight, Amaranth, The Sanguine Watcher, and others. At least one of these characters features in each of the stories. There are also other incidental characters from the game, such as Li Flint and Ece Sahin.

Arkham Horror player-character investigators only appear in a few of the tales. Reporter Rex Murphy has a nautical fright in Lisa Smedman’s “Strange Things Done.” Stephen Philip Jones has written about security consultant Kymani Jones investigating a theft in “A Forty Grain Weight of Nephrite.” “The Red and the Black” by Josh Reynolds concerns the spy Trish Scarborough. The immediate events of the narratives all take place in the 1920s interwar period in which the games are set.

Seven of the nine stories are the elaborated forms of seven of the nine rumors in the bulleted list on page 10 of the Campaign Guide from The Scarlet Keys, with settings of Shanghai, Havana, Buenos Aires, Anchorage, Istanbul, and Marrakesh. There are no stories for the Nairobi and Kathmandu entries on that list, however. Instead, the first tale in the book is set in Manhattan, and the the final one is in Venice. These highlight the campaign’s explicit (though optional) inclusion of separately-distributed scenario packs, alluding to The War of the Outer Gods and Carnevale of Horrors respectively.

The literary quality of the stories is variable. Of special note is the contribution by M. J. Newman, who had a long tenure as the lead designer on the card game. As far as I know, the story “Crossing Stars” is Newman’s first published Arkham Horror fiction that is not embedded in game rules. I wasn’t impressed with the often affected diction here, e.g. “a sorcerer, able to manipulate the very winds of change with but a thought and the implementation of various esoteric componentry” (287). But the story made up for it with an interesting plot well connected to the central theme of the collection. I thought the best writing of the book was in the pieces by Smedman and Reynolds, but they all held my interest.

I am currently playing through The Scarlet Keys campaign in the card game, and I would definitely recommend this book of related stories to anyone in a similar position. Even for those with no involvement in Cthulhvian gaming, the suite of stories set against the background of a global conspiracy of alien sorcery and lost technology is enjoyable. At its best moments, it reminded me a little of Caitlin R. Kiernan’s Tinfoil Dossier books.

In the Coils of the Labyrinth

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews In the Coils of the Labyrinth [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by David Annandale, cover art by John Coulthart, part of the Arkham Horror series.

Annandale Coulthart In the Coils of the Labyrinth

In the Coils of the Labyrinth is David Annandale’s first full Arkham Horror novel, although he previously contributed “Professor Warren’s Investiture” to the collection The Devourer Below, and it was one of the better stories in that volume. He has a prior track record as an author of Warhammer 40,000 game milieu novels.

The circa 1925 transatlantic plot of this story features some elements of folk horror in the Scots village of Durtal and medical horror in Arkham, Massachusetts. The two are united by a gothic scheme of family degeneracy and menacing architecture, under the influence of some chthonic malevolence. Protagonist Miranda Ventham is a university English professor whose metier is 19th-century Romantic and Gothic fiction.

Professor Ventham is friends with parapsychologist Agatha Crane (one of the player-character investigators from the Arkham Files games), and the book’s lovely cover art by John Coulthart shows Agatha Crane exploring by herself in trench coat and hat. The two leading viewpoint characters are thus both women, and the novel passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. When Ventham is put in a sanatorium for her tuberculosis–where she remains for most of the novel–most of her interactions continue to be with women: the other patients and the nurses alike.

The god-monster and its minions in this novel are de novo, reflecting the spirit of Yog-Sothothery, but not indebted to HPL or the larger accumulated “mythos” for any details beyond the town of Arkham and Miskatonic University as settings and some use of the “elder sign.” Annandale in his acknowledgments more particularly credits the horror films of Dario Argento for some inspiration, and the character named “Daria” may have been a conscious tip in that direction as well.

The Devourer Below

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Devourer Below [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] edited by Charlotte Llewelyn-Wells, cover by John Coulthart, book 5 of the Arkham Horror series.

Llewelyn-Wells The Devourer Below

The Devourer Below is the fifth volume of Arkham Horror fiction to be issued under the Aconyte imprint. While the previous four have been novels, this one is a collection of short stories by various authors. I was thus expecting a wide assortment of tales, joined only by their early 20th-century Arkham, Massachusetts setting and the involvement of assorted investigator characters from the Fantasy Flight Arkham Files games. I was in fact pleasantly surprised to find that these stories are far more interrelated than that.

Players of Arkham Horror: The Card Game may recognize “The Devourer Below” as the title of the third and final scenario of “The Night of the Zealot,” the campaign included with that game’s core set. All of the stories in this book relate to that starter campaign, featuring the servitors of the Great Old One Umôrdhoth. (Umôrdhoth is based on Mordiggian, from Clark Ashton Smith’s story “The Charnel God.”) Such servitors are largely a mix of ghouls and human cultists.

Specific enemy characters from the card game campaign figure in the stories, as do the important investigator allies Leo De Luca and Lita Chantler. Investigator protagonists include Tony Morgan, Carolyn Fern, Joe Diamond, Daisy Walker, Agnes Baker, Wendy Adams, and Finn Edwards. On the whole, I found the enemy-focused stories more satisfying than the investigator-centric ones, but I liked both and appreciated the variety.

As a suite of connected tales of yog-sothothery, The Devourer Below is just fine. As a supplement to the Arkham Horror games, it is good. As an amplification of the core set adventure cycle in Arkham Horror: The Card Game, it is very good.

This book appends a “tease” reprint of the opening chapter of Ari Marmell’s Arkham Horror novel Litany of Dreams, oddly included in the table of contents as if it were one of the stories written for this volume. It also sports the third Arkham Horror fiction cover art by John Coulthart. I like these highly detailed multi-panel covers a lot.