Sunday, 24 November 2019

Mi-Go Thinking…

Some time ago now I posted some random thoughts about the infamous Fungi from Yuggoth inspired by an investigation of Laurent de Longnez’s Eighteenth Century work about the planets of our solar system. I thought I would put some of these cogitations into action and come up with a new way of looking at the Mi-Go. For what it’s worth, here is a different take on an old Mythos stand-by that might get some creative juices flowing out there.

Of course, none of this is canon and is easily ignored if it doesn't suit your purposes; however, if you think it might add some interesting wrinkles to your material, give it a shot!

de Longnez Redux

De LONGNEZ, Laurent, L’Histoire des Planetes, Paris France, 1792

Quarto; full calf, decorated in blind with blind rules and blind-stamped spine titles between six raised bands, with two brass hasps; 320pp., on laid paper, with a decorated title page and 16 engraved plates, one folding.

French; Laurent de Longnez; 1792; 1D2/1D4 Sanity Loss; Cthulhu Mythos +10; 17 weeks to study and comprehend

An enigmatic book. It contains a wealth of information about the planets of our Solar system, much of it fanciful and mired in mythology and legend. A lot of the occult detail derives from sources which are plainly not of the Western mystical tradition and is said to have been generated by some unknown access to Hyperborean sources. It’s noteworthy that several planets listed in the outline were not known of at the time of writing, specifically Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, although the planets spoken of are not identified by those names.

De Longnez’s book suffers from poor editing and is riddled with errors of grammar and punctuation, indicating that its production suffered from an excess of haste. Modern readers (from about 1900 onwards) incur a -15% penalty to their Read Language: French rolls when engaging with this text if their level in that skill is below 60%.


The thing that got me thinking was the reference in L’Histoire des Planetes of a race of “men” living on Neptune which were of a fungoid nature. De Longnez portrays them quite whimsically as human-seeming figures with large mushroom caps on their heads; interestingly, he shows them being tossed by great winds, a known feature of Neptune’s atmosphere but something of which the French writer could not have been aware at the time of writing. He later refers to another fungal species living on a distant planet which he calls “Iukkoth”, and he also speaks of an insectoid species – the Shan - driven from the planet Shaggai and which planet-hopped towards Earth looking for a new home base before stopping on L’gy’hx (Uranus).

While it might be plausible that fungal species predominate at the further reaches of our solar system (making it a dominant lifeform in our part of the universe when you consider the diversity of fungoid life on our planet alone), it seemed a little convenient that there would be two highly intelligent fungal life-forms kicking around out there, especially when you consider the voracious nature of the Insects from Shaggai and their tendency to colonize fanatically and dominate all sentient creatures wherever they go. Put plainly, if the Shan had jumped steadily from planet to planet, they would have colonized Earth completely by now, and things would be a little grim for us as a species. Something stopped them in their tracks, and that something – to my way of thinking – was those funny looking mushroom-people on Neptune.

The Nature of Fungus…

Fungal lifeforms – which include a bewildering variety of mushrooms, toadstools, molds, smuts and rusts – are typified by the fact that they cannot be conclusively defined as plants or animals. They display features from both camps and thus, because they belong absolutely to neither, must be taxonomically described as either and listed as a separate type of lifeform. It’s this combination of features which allows fungal entities to invade both plants and animals in order to – primarily – bring about their decomposition.

Fungi procreate by creating and releasing spores. These are sometimes released explosively through the creation of fruiting bodies generated by the main structure of the fungus or are dispersed by wind or water. Other types of fungus move about in order to maximise resources and to spread to more favourable locales, while other forms deliberately infect other plants or animals using their growth or locomotive faculties to spread the range of their habitat. Fungi do the majority of this work using long, almost invisible fibres called mycelia which they radiate outwards from their central mass. It has recently been discovered that many trees and other large plants use these webs of fibres under the ground to symbiotically ‘communicate’ with each other concerning such things as soil quality, water levels and weather conditions.

One particular family of fungus – Cordyceps – uses its mycelia to infect ants and other insects. The fungus growing within the insect then drives the creature as if using a kind of exoskeleton, sending it out to find the kinds of nutrients and other raw materials its host needs in order to survive and procreate. When the time is right, it forces the insect to crawl upwards onto grass stalks or tree limbs and position itself such that it cannot easily be dislodged. Then, the fungus creates a fruiting body called an ascocarp which bursts forth out of the insect’s head or thorax, releasing spores for the wind to carry out to the next waiting insect drones. Some Cordyceps species utilize only ants in this fashion; others are less choosey. One species inhabits only tarantulas…

Putting it All Together…

My premise, therefore, is that those benign little guys with the big hats on Neptune, were actually a species of fungus which reproduce a lot like Cordyceps does. I imagine that the Shan – an insect species which, like many insect species – would have a range of body types within their hive structure, suited for various purposes, one of which would be a ‘heavy infantry’ or ‘shock trooper’ form, useful for crashing down onto a planet and taking it over. The standard Shan form is quite small, with intelligence seeming to be inversely-proportional to size in their race, and the usual Shan entity encountered is a sneaky, vicious scout model, useful for infiltrating when the odds would seem to be against an easy Shaggai victory.

I imagine that initial Shan reports of L’gy’hx reported a rather benign and unwarlike race in charge, if only because everything on the planet that could have been infected by the inhabitants’ mycelia had been. Accordingly, they rained destruction from the skies in the form of their heavy cavalry fighter swarms, only to become bemused when everything went very, very quiet. I imagine the fungus folk on Neptune thought that all of their Christmases had come at once: here was a perfect vehicle for them to occupy; space-worthy, made of extraterrene, dimensionally-shifting matter and built for mayhem on a galactic scale. What’s not to love?

My suggestion is that, unlike other fungal types who create ascocarps and other fruiting bodies in response to nutritional and environmental stimuli, the fungus people of Neptune could delay certain phases of their physical development according to need. Thus, they could infiltrate the Shan stormtroopers with their mycelia, grow inside them and control their bodies and then burst forth their ascocarp without letting it release its spores, but rather to enact certain other useful protocols.

Thus, while most of us would think of a Mi-Go as something like this:

Strictly speaking, a Mi-Go is just this:

And just like that, the deadly rampage of the Shan through our solar system was stopped dead in its tracks and the Mi-Go, the “Fungi from Yuggoth”, were born.

(The relocation to Yuggoth – possibly our Pluto, but not likely – makes sense since fungal species do not enjoy bright light – so moving away from the Sun is key – and also they needed to consolidate their claim over the Shan by backtracking across the Insects from Shaggais’ dominion.)

But having taken control of the local Shan enclaves, the MiGo didn’t just settle down into the sort of torpor that had consumed them on L’gy’hx. With these new bodies they began exploring their new environments, now no longer confined to a single planet. They experimented with innovative surgical techniques, made contact with the other entities in their neighbourhood and began to consolidate themselves as the creatures which we have come to know.

Alternative Fungal Bodies

Once they have compromised a body to use as a means of locomotion, the MiGo have to adjust to their new circumstance. After a number of months equal to the MiGo’s CON score, they go into a torpid state during which their new body structure becomes consolidated. The ascocarp firms up and the matter forming the unreleased spores within it is re-absorbed; as well, any extraneous, or problematic, remnants of the original body are sloughed away or reconfigured. In the case of the insectoid hosts provided by the Shan, this period of torpor includes the creation of a cocoon like structure around the creature; in other instances, a tight web of mycelia are created around the nascent being. The being that emerges from such a state is more ‘solid’ and defined, and able to become an effective member of MiGo society, lending the skills that its new form bestows.

Many hive-based insects have alternate forms within their species designated “castes” and I see no reason why the Shan should not follow suit. The pigeon-sized, sneaky, monstrous blowfly form familiar to Mythos aficionados works as a scout operative, hiding in the shadows while surveying potential planets for domination and taking over the bodies of the inhabitants. Because they work at great distances from the hive and must adapt to changing and volatile situations, they are generally cunning and resourceful.

These Scouts have a variety of different kinds of limbs useful for a range of activities, although whether these occur naturally or are surgical modifications is currently unknown. The Shan are highly adept at such surgery and it can be inferred that the MiGo only took on such skills after assuming control of the Shan enclaves in our Solar System. The Insects from Shaggai are also dimensionally unstable, allowing them to fly through space or invade the bodies of their hosts: Shan entities who have been Fungally compromised, lose this quality but not entirely: they are left with an inability to be photographed without the use of special camera equipment. Photos taken of the MiGo always display blurred images but can be viewed correctly through complex exotic lens arrays or rendered visible using eccentric emulsions during the photographic development phase. Whilst unable to phase through solid matter, the fungal avatars do become resistant to extremes of temperature and environment and can thus endure high altitudes and even the rigours of outer space.

MiGo who infect Shan Scouts, while unable to possess other creatures, benefit from their small size in being able to hide and crawl on vertical planes or the underside of horizontal surfaces. The passive telepathy with which all MiGo are gifted also allows them to avoid detection by other creatures in their vicinity. An interesting aspect of this body conformation is that, if the MiGo Scout uses its large claws to cover its ascocarp, their telepathy becomes obscured, allowing them to hide from beings able to detect such emanations. Some metaphysical researchers have however, determined that, if a Shan spell - the “Invocation to Azathoth” (see below) - is used while in the company of such shielded fungi, they will raise their claws and join in, thus revealing their locations.


The most common form of MiGo encountered is the larger mantid form generated from the combining of MiGo ascocarp and Shan ‘shock-trooper’. This format has wings and a myriad of pincers and nippers, allowing for all kinds of useful adaptation. Many of the notorious MiGo surgical processes are performed by such entities. But there are other forms available to the Fungal infiltrators, within Shan society.

The Insects from Shaggai are cruel and despotic. They enjoy dominating other creatures and they delight in torturing them. A feature of their society are the presence of torture pits and gladiatorial arenas. These have proven to be fertile grounds for the MiGo, who have generated many interesting new hybrid forms from them.

Foremost amongst these are the MiGo generated from the Beings of Xiclotl. The Beings are massive and used by the Shan for heavy labour, blitzkrieg strikes, or for gladiatorial bouts. When combined with a MiGo, they become more intelligent which makes them a lot more useful. Firstly, given their massive size, the MiGo tend to colonise the Being of Xiclotl, with up to five ascocarps erupting from the infestation. Given that the MiGo have a shared intelligence, this doesn’t affect their ability to operate the creature, but it does allow for the combination to be an effective ‘seeding’ agent. A Xiclotlan MiGo can lumber into an environment with up to four of its ascocarps releasing spores, either simultaneously or in sequence, to populate a territory or decimate an opposing army (obviously, the creature will not have undergone a period of torpor for this to occur). Otherwise, the sheer size and combat effectiveness of the Xiclotlan MiGo has all kinds of applications.

Another creature from the torture pits of the Shan is a kind of whip-spider which seems to have been built from one of the Shaggai shock troopers. These creatures have been modified to appear more like scorpions than mantids and are used by the Shan to transport troops and equipment into areas which they seek to control. These entities have broad backs upon which stuff can be placed and they have been surgically modified to have claws to aid in this process. A long whip-like tail has also been provided for defense: this mainly works like a long flexible club and is also fitted along its length with venom producing glands capable of blinding foes, but which mainly induces an incapacitating stinging sensation in those it strikes. Of course, this venom, like all poisons, is meaningless to the fungoid MiGo, but they have learnt that it works against their enemies, so they retain it when infecting these creatures as hosts.

Again, these are mostly mindless creatures in their standard form; when infected by the MiGo, they have access to the Fungal hive mind and their actions become generally more considered.

Fungal Technology

Re-visiting the Fungus from Yuggoth also means looking once more at their technology and these creatures have perhaps the most comprehensive equipment catalogue in the Mythos. Let’s unpack:

First, we have to acknowledge that most of the more familiar items of MiGo tech have been developed since the race took over Shan bodies. This is because these items conform – in most cases - more particularly to the new dimensions of the standard MiGo form than otherwise. Second, Shan technology is more, well, ‘technological’ than the things which the MiGo create and some of this expertise has obviously been incorporated into the newer forms of MiGo tech.

These bio-luminescent harnesses are actually a type of slime mold. They can exist well enough when worn by a MiGo user, since the fungal nature of the MiGo allows the mesh to absorb the proper nutrients from its wearer. When worn by a human however, the armour is less effective and causes damage to the wearer. Over time, due to lack of proper nutrition, the slime mold eventually dies.

Brain Cylinder:
Humans tend to rationalise things, putting objects that they see but don’t immediately understand into a context that allows them to make sense of their experience. In the case of the MiGo Brain Cylinder, humans have seen the hard, pod-like dimensions of these objects, and have seen the brain within, suspended in a mesh of mycelium strands and have ‘read’ these as technological objects when in fact they are organic structures. The vaguely cylindrical exterior of the ‘Cylinder is composed of a leathery skin – akin to the outside of a puffball but far more durable – with a transparent patch allowing visual access to the brain encased inside, suspended in a mycelium web and being fed nutrients inside a slime medium. And those external components which are plugged in to allow communication with the brain’s owner? Why build eyes and ears from scratch when you can just take them from another creature and surgically affix them to the Brain Cylinder? Fungus doesn’t utilize nerves or axons, so the MiGo don’t really comprehend such things as pain…

Earthquake Mining Machine:
The other way that the MiGo dissuade outsiders from learning about their capabilities – especially their technological devices – is to use their inborn abilities of psychic manipulation to alter their enemies’ perception of their equipment. The fact that these devices have been described by witnesses as “enormous cubes, twenty feet on a side” leads me to think that they are in fact anything but.

I would posit – given that such agglomerations of fungus exist here on Earth – that the “Earthquake Mining Machine” is in fact an enormous fungal mass, capable of moving through rock strata and of dislodging pieces of the earth’s crust – hence the name. These masses would – like all MiGo fungal entities – share a consciousness with their creators and be effective agents in creating earthworks, subterranean hideouts and other useful defences.

Electric Gun:
The Electric Gun would seem to be a piece of MiGo tech that pre-dates their transformation into Shan hosts. When you think about it, a race with pincers and claws would never create a weapon that can only be effectively utilized by limbs of a more accommodating nature – like hands for example. I would propose that these devices were (and probably still are) affixed into the fungal matter of the entity and are then fired by conscious mental manipulation. Human witnesses may well have seen the MiGo carrying these objects prior to implantation; they may have seen the MiGo use them by activating them clumsily with their claws; and some humans might well have gotten one of these thing to work by fiddling with its mechanism; but it’s not how they were meant to be used. Not a pistol; not so much: more like a cybernetically-implanted taser-gun.

Mist Projector:
Intense cold tends to slow fungal matter down, but it doesn’t necessarily kill it. The MiGo may well have used these items to curtail unwanted blooms of material but they have since found out that sub-zero temperatures are very useful in slowing down and destroying other lifeforms. Since having taken over Shan bodies, the MiGo are even more resistant to temperature extremes than they were previously. With the adoption of Shan nous, these devices are more efficiently technological nowadays rather than organic in nature.

We should also include known Shan equipment in this list, since – positing that the MiGo (as we know them) are simply compromised Shan entities – the technology of Shaggai has now also become the property of the MiGo.

Space Pyramids:
The Shan and the MiGo both share a worship of Azathoth, but whether this arose in both species independently or if it was adopted by the MiGo after their occupation of the Shan, is unknown. These pyramidal interstellar ships are powered by a radioactive core which is said to be a dimensional connexion to Azathoth itself. The MiGo seem not to be too keen on using them, which makes sense: the Shan, being extra-dimensional in nature, can shrug off heavy rads; fungus is durable, but can still be affected by intense radiation, even when bolstered by a partial dimensional fluidity granted by ex-Shan bodies. Still, it must be assumed that the MiGo know of these spaceships, are able to build them, and can use them at a pinch.

The Nervewhip is a vicious device which speaks to the nature of the Shan in that it causes maximum pain and disability without doing a lot of damage (although it can still give the victim a heart-attack). The MiGo are aware that other races experience pain, but they are unable to understand it, since fungus just doesn’t work that way: nerves are for other species. Thus, this device is infrequently found in the average MiGo armoury, although they do like to arm their “Alien Grey” creatures with them, if only to throw off the suspicions of those familiar with traditional MiGo armaments.

Fungal Dirty Tricks

One thing that makes the MiGo so insidious as enemies of Earth is that they are able to adapt and to re-configure themselves and their technology in order to accommodate the things that they learn about us. Essentially, they learn and then they formulate new ways of doing things, factoring in the stuff that they’ve discovered. Here are a few choice instances.

Most chemicals have a minimal effect upon the MiGo. Acids and other caustic substances will burn them but there are few substances which could be called ‘poisonous’ to a fungal lifeform. The prime enemy of the MiGo – chemically – is Sulphur, which is a known natural fungicide, but other compounds must be formulated using the capabilities of a lab.

On the flipside, the MiGo are extremely poisonous to human beings, as are many other fungal bodies. If the substance of a MiGo is ingested by a human, they will start to malfunction on a chemical level. The damage to their body is systemic, meaning that entire systems of organs within the body begin to shut down, starting with the liver and kidneys. Death is always drawn-out and inevitable.

No-one is quite sure what gives the MiGo their telepathic qualities, but when these are combined with the hallucinogenic emissions that these creatures can summon up, the effects that they can produce are quite literally terrifying. The MiGo have become experts in generating complex narratives designed to dupe their prey, using the powers that their hallucinogens can inspire in their targets – fear, panic, paranoia, sensory overload, somnolence and disassociation. The most complex and ongoing narrative that they have formulated includes the following:

“Alien Greys”:
The entire body of lore which can be labelled as the “UFO Phenomenon” is a wall of deception generated by the MiGo to obfuscate their various incursions upon this planet. As part of a highly organized plan which includes hallucinogenic manipulation of witnesses and the implantation of various narratives including the “alien abduction scenario”, the MiGo have gone so far as to create fungal exoskeletons in the form of the Alien Grey, a now well-known by-product of UFO hysteria.

These are bodies made from fungal matter and are designed to throw off any connexion to the MiGo operatives working here on this planet. It’s not known if these are wholly-created sentient beings, telemetric automata controlled distantly by MiGo ‘puppeteers’, or if they are standard MiGo which have been extensively surgically altered. Time, and investigation, will no doubt tell…

Interstellar Missiles:
A niggling fear among the fraternities of those who are aware of the MiGo threat, is the possibility that they might be able to create interstellar missiles capable of travelling through space and ‘seeding’ planets with MiGo creatures. Of course, the MiGo have already achieved this goal.

For more details about these terrifying weapons, backtrack through this blog and read the scenario entitled “The Monkey Tree Puzzle”, along with a bunch of other nifty ideas about MiGo nastiness.

While fungal and driven by a space-faring collective intelligence, the MiGo – since being freed from their prison on Neptune – are still fundamentally invasive intelligences driving alien bodies. That doesn’t mean that the capabilities of those bodies cannot be exploited. One of the driving requirements of the new MiGo species is continuation and growth; more MiGo means more Shan bodies which are required for exploitation. That means one thing: eggs.

The Shan, while a loosely hive-based species, are not, like ants or bees, truly a hive consciousness. They are more closely analogous to wasps, in terms of their social organization, but more truly like flies. As such, they have no single “queen” entity birthing all members of the hive, neither do they have a true caste system, although they have generated their own diversification of form and function as part of their culture. Therefore, each Insect from Shaggai is capable of growing eggs, of fertilizing the eggs of another of their kind, and of implanting their own fertilised eggs inside the body of a host creature. None of these capabilities are denied the MiGo usurper of a Shan corpus.

If necessary, a MiGo can activate the organs of generation of their Shan body and create eggs. These can be fertilized by another MiGo and inserted – using the Shan’s standard ovipositor – into the body of a host creature. These eggs will then mature, hatch and begin eating the body of the host from the inside out. At the appropriate time, the MiGo will harvest the larvae and imprison them in “Brain Cylinders” controlling their development until MiGo spores can be introduced to them and they can then emerge as new MiGo beings. Sometimes, the MiGo lay eggs in captive creatures simply for food. Omelette, anyone?

New Spell

Invocation to Azathoth:
This is a ritual benediction to the Outer God, asking for assistance in forthcoming endeavours. It involves a traditional chant and a complex (for humans, anyway) set of gestures made with the hands. When cast by a human practitioner, it costs 1 Magic Point and 1 Sanity Point; Shan and MiGo casters only spend the Magic Point since sanity is a meaningless term when applied to them.

Casting this spell means that any subsequently cast Mythos spell is 5% more likely to succeed, and 10% more likely to do so if that spell specifically invokes, or is associated with, Azathoth. It also occasionally (5%) reveals the presence of invisible, or magically hidden, objects or creatures. As mentioned above, if used in the vicinity of telepathically shielded MiGo Scouts, they will reveal themselves to those able to spot telepathic activity.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Cthulhoid Knock-offs...

DERLETH, August, The Trail of Cthulhu, Carroll & Graf Publishers Inc., New York NY, 1996.
Octavo; paperback; 248pp. Minor wear; covers lightly rubbed and edgeworn; text block edges lightly toned; some offset to the inside covers; retailer’s sticker to the back cover. Very good.

“The Call of Cthulhu” is perhaps the best-known of HPL’s oeuvre, probably because it has the name ‘Cthulhu’ in the title and also because of its links to the roleplaying game, which also bears the name. When most people think of the Cthulhu Mythos, they probably think of the various likenesses (mainly plush) of the Sleeper in Rl’yeh that abound in pop culture; those who have read somewhat more widely will probably think of this short story also. The strengths of that narrative are multifarious and perhaps the best aspect of it is the fact that it weaves together disconnected elements unearthed by the efforts of the narrator, in line with its own initial sentence:

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all of its contents.”

Correlating content is, in fact, exactly what the narrator tries to accomplish in the story, and it is the nebulous and half-formed results of his quest that exactly exemplify just what this sentence declares and why that inability to correlate is so merciful. The creation of a hidden revelation which lies just outside of perceptual range is what makes this story so powerful: it’s not a screaming, jangling horror-fest – which might disappoint some modern readers – but its effect is to generate a slow and steadily creeping sense of doom which is, I think, a far better and more subtle achievement.

This is one of Houellebecq’s “sacred texts” of the Cthulhu Mythos – something which will surprise no-one – but even without such lauded commentary, most fans will probably include this story somewhere in their personal ‘Lovecraft Top Five’ at least. It’s not surprising then, that other writers would look to it as a kind of touchstone for what Cthulhoid literature should be like.

The most prominent of these writers are the two individuals who took it upon themselves to preserve HPL’s body of work, creating their own publishing house and winning back Lovecraft’s literary estate from the one to whom he had originally entrusted it (erroneously) in his will. August Derleth and Donald Wandrei were reasonably well-known authors in their own rights; certainly, both were known to HPL and formed part of his literary circle. They both, however, put aside their own efforts in order to turn Lovecraft into a household name. I think we can say that they succeeded.

Derleth was best known for penning bucolic rural tales set in the American Midwest, but after establishing Arkham House, he struck out into rather more outrĂ© areas. Part of the Lovecraft estate was a notebook containing short descriptive passages, seeds of ideas, which Lovecraft noted down for future cogitation but which, for whatever reason, he chose not to develop further himself. One of these – a dream fragment – was taken up by Frank Belknap Long and became the novella “The Horror from the Hills”. Derleth himself, took many of these unformed concepts and transformed them into short stories which he ‘co-published’ under his own name and Lovecraft’s as The Watchers Out of Time. Eventually though, he saw fit to take on “The Call of Cthulhu” as well.

Lovecraft’s tale has a single researcher sifting through the contents of his uncle’s chest of papers and following lines of investigation out towards a steadily crystallising awfulness. Derleth takes this idea of tracing threads to their inevitable conclusion and puts a different spin on it. He creates a series of (young; male) investigators who become embroiled in the machinations of a mysterious academic by the name of Laban Shrewsbury. One by one, they meet and become fascinated by the secretive Shrewsbury and they are dragged into the bizarre war he has declared upon Cthulhu and all of its earthly devotees. Rather than a strange box of papers to attract the narrator(s), here we have a taciturn adventurer who doles out information only as needed and who strings his associates along on ever weirder journeys which they narrate by way of journals in a well-known epistolary format. It’s a kind of spin on HPL’s device in “Cthulhu” and, it must be said, it doesn’t really work that well, but there are a few creepy moments to be found along the way. It’s noteworthy as well that most of the concepts which he engineers in this story – Laban Shrewsbury; Space Mead – have since become canon in Mythos lore.

WANDREI, Donald, The Web of Easter Island, Consul Books/World Distributors (Manchester) Ltd., London, 1958.
Octavo; paperback; 174pp. Mild wear; covers lightly rubbed and edgeworn; text block edges toned; inside covers tanned. Very good.

Wandrei attempts to travel the same territory in The Web of Easter Island but is far less successful than Derleth. Revealingly - even though the book is dedicated to HPL - it coyly avoids using any Mythos terminology, referring to the Old Ones as “Titans” led by their leader “Septhulhu”. Part of what lets this exercise down is simply its frantic sidestepping of the Cthulhu canon. The other thing that makes it weird for the average Mythos fan is the presence of (gasp!) sex.

Wandrei’s take on “The Call of Cthulhu” has the added frisson of men encountering women; however, before any of you start desperately trying to locate a copy, Wandrei’s imaginings of what takes place betwixt a man and a woman are of a particularly adolescent nature. This ain’t no Fifty Shades of Grey (if that’s any kind of benchmark) and its inclusion is jarring for anyone familiar with HPL’s style. I’m not condemning it – I wish he’d done it better – but it’s certainly an indicator as to how Lovecraftian fiction has room to evolve.

Our hero, Carter Graham, is an orphaned, self-reliant academic who regularly purchases physical attention from sex-workers because making friends is somehow beneath him. He finds an idol buried in a “cursed” graveyard, one postal code away from Stonehenge, and discovers a sacrificial chamber beneath its resting site. It transpires that this chamber and Easter Island are spiritually connected, and he goes there to get to the bottom of stuff. Unlike “The Call of Cthulhu” where the information within the box drives the narrative forward, the strange idol is the focus here, and the mayhem it causes as it travels across the countryside trying to get back to its original location creates the web of tales alluded to in the title.

Thus we see a working-class English family sent mad and then killed by the idol after their son unearths it in a local graveyard; two murderers fleeing Justice by boat (and anticipating some mutual hanky-panky aboard ship as they do so) who get killed when the ship is destroyed; and our Investigator Graham who barely survives the destruction of his train as he tries to take the idol to his museum, among other incidents. The resulting ‘web’ is a bit fractured and ad hoc as a result and feels a bit bolted-on in places, rather than plotted, and there are journal entries provided by Graham that feel more than a bit like ‘info dumps’ providing convenient backstory and set-ups. And then there’s this:

“After a few minutes a nurse entered. She possessed a plain, cheerful face, and tawny blonde hair the colour of toffee. Nature had assembled her lavishly. She bore an impressive superstructure and an equally prominent extension in the opposite direction; assets and attributes that overbalanced her, coming and going, but not without attraction of a massive kind.
Graham mused, ‘Outstanding examples of development that are both steatopygous and mammosus.’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘The Greeks and the Romans had words. The Anglo-Saxon equivalents, while pungent, are less aesthetic.’
The nurse looked blank. ‘Did you ring?’
‘No, the bell did,’ he responded with a trace of brusqueness. He hated superfluous questions, especially those of feminine origin...”

And we wonder why this friendless fellow has to pay in order to get laid!

These juvenile and un-funny moments clutter up the scenery rather unnecessarily and are hallmarks of the late-'40s morality in which the writing is steeped. Wandrei should just have taken a further leaf from Lovecraft’s book and simply avoided trying to inject this kind of Bond-esque sexiness into his work. Someone with a greater maturity might have made this kind of thing work: not Wandrei; not so much.

On the other hand, the descriptions of the weird idol – insofar as it defies description – are serviceable. Wandrei manages to get his unearthly elements up-and-running with some expedition, although a touch more clarity wouldn’t have gone astray. At times it feels as though, after reading Lovecraft, he just said to himself, ‘I get it – I just need to be vague about this stuff’, which isn’t what Lovecraft does at all. When Lovecraft describes something, he uses very precise language; it’s simply the juxtapositioning of incompatible elements that lends a sense of things not being defined. It’s what makes HPL’s stuff unsettling, whereas Wandrei is simply outlining an indescribable object in a strictly workmanlike fashion, which is a different thing altogether.

In the final analysis, this is a picaresque and rather junior-level pastiche of the Cthulhu Mythos, which displays a somewhat obvious debt to Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu”, despite all the cute sidestepping of Cthulhoid names and concepts.


Modern readers evince a certain frustration with the discovery that a writer whose oeuvre they’ve decided to inhale has perished, signaling an inevitable end-point to their reading pleasure at some time in the future. Sadly, there are only so many Agatha Christie novels, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle delights and, indeed, Lovecraftian horrors. Once you’ve read them all, that’s it – it’s all over. Modern publishers have noted this phenomenon and often seek to extend an author’s salability by getting ghost-writers to create more works in a similar vein, which is how we suddenly have Val McDermid writing Jane Austen, Sebastian Faulks penning James Bond novels and Ben Schott continuing the mayhem of Jeeves and Wooster. They should just stop, as far as I’m concerned: a writer’s body of work is their legacy to humanity; it should be treasured, read and re-read, not parodied in order to squeeze a few more bucks out of the ‘franchise’.

So with these two novels, it’s a case of trying to re-write one of Lovecraft’s better-known works and attempting to keep the love alive. All I can say is that their hearts are in the right place – and Arkham House must certainly have benefitted from the sales! – but in copying the master, they reveal themselves merely to be writers of a less capable standing. That’s fine; there’s obviously a market for readers who simply look for ‘more’ in terms of their reading goals. However, these are not particularly good and may not quite satisfy the hunger of those who seek them out.

And, as a final warning, the Wandrei is quite hard to get hold of: this particular edition of The Web of Easter Island retails for about $100, so shop wisely!