Dead But Dreaming has long been out of print, which is why it retails for over $200 in some places. But thanks to Miskatonic River Press it's back and once again affordable those of us less inclined to spend the equivalent of a dollar per page on their fiction.
Edited by the legendary late Keith "Doc" Herber and the prolific Kevin Ross, both have their roots in the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game. The line between fiction and role-playing game has always been blurred for the Call of Cthulhu parent company, Chaosium, so the transition from game author to editor is not unexpected. Dead But Dreaming answers the question: where so many editors have failed, can these two gaming veterans succeed?
EPIPHANY: A FLYING TIGER'S STORY: A fighter pilot ejects into a foreign jungle and we spend each terrifying moment with him as he dangles over the black abyss of a dark forest. Stephen Mark Rainey's tale isn't the strongest of the Mythos-related stories but it is beautifully told. 4 out of 5 stars.
THE AKLO: Loren Macleod pens a story about an archeologist discovering the origins of man are much more malign than he ever imagined. It's written in the traditional form of a Lovecraftian short story, complete with postscript reporting the fate of the hapless narrator. I'm not fond of authors mimicking Lovecraft's style but I can appreciate the effort. 4 out of 5 stars.
BANGKOK RULES: Author Patrick Lestewka has a sick imagination. This is the nastiest, most vile Mythos-tale of the bunch. It is brilliant and disgusting enough that it forces all the other authors to up their game. Just remember: in a game of chance, always look under the tablecloth FIRST. 5 out of 5 stars.
WHY WE DO IT: Veteran Mythos author Darrel Schweitzer pens a short story that manages to make a cultist both selfish and relatable. His opinion of a young woman who could be sacrifice or wife is decided in one fateful moment. All that in just three pages. 5 out of 5 stars.
THE DISCIPLE: David Barr Kirtley manages to do what so many have failed: He creates a story about an arcane professor that is horrific without being cheesy. Too many Mythos authors cast Miskatonic University as a college seething with kooks casting spells, but Kirtley cleverly turns the usual crazy professor plot on its ear. 4 out of 5 stars.
SALT AIR: Michael Minnis combines Kingsport with the King in Yellow while channeling Robert W. Chambers. It's ponderously paced, but that's on purpose. 4 out of 5 stars.
THROUGH THE CRACKS: Walt Jarvis posits that schizophrenics are actually dealing with alien outsiders from other dimensions. He makes the fear of a supernatural contagion deeply personal. 4 out of 5 stars.
THE UNSEEN BATTLE: Brian Scott Hiebert writes a story rich with history. The connection between a young girl and a World War I pilot provides an interesting counterpoint to the creeping intrusion of the Mythos, but the ending falls a little flat. 4 out of 5.
BAYER'S TALE: Adam Niswander tells a Cthulhu tale from the point of view of a police detective on the trail of a cultist. This is a perfectly serviceable story but it doesn't bring anything new to the genre. 3 out of 5.
THE CALL OF CTHULHU: THE MOTION PICTURE: Lisa Morton intentionally mimics the structure of H.P. Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu in a modern retelling of the iconic horror story, cleverly building on the popularity of the Big C himself. 5 out of 5.
UNDER AN INVISIBLE SHADOW: David Bain summarizes a zombie apocalypse, skips the good parts, and jumps to the creation of colloquially named "Lovecraftian Terror." And that's it. Nothing happens. The weakest of the collection. 2 out of 5.
THE THING BEYOND THE STARS: A futuristic tale by Robin Morris continues a theme throughout Dead But Dreaming that the Great Old Ones are infinitely vast. Only a science fiction story can encompass the inconceivable dimensions of a being beyond human comprehension. Lovecraftian futures are often conceived as a dodge around the promise of humanity's destruction, but Morris definitely refutes that theory here. 5 out of 5.
FIRE BREATHING: I saw the movie Dead Air the same night I read Mehitobel Wilson's tale of an ill-fated DJ who crosses paths with a cultist. It's a nihilistic story of dread and terror. 5 out of 5.
THE OTHER NAMES: I met both Darrel Schweitzer and Ramsey Campbell in one day, but before I had read any of their fiction, which is the sole reason my head didn't explode from the Mythos-y goodness. Campbell has had a love/hate relationship with his horror roots that launched his career, alternately embracing and rejecting the Mythos circle. It's clear he's reconciled with this latest story, in which a young boy in Brichester crosses paths with Daoloth. I'm just happy to have another Severn Valley installment! 5 out of 5.
FINAL DRAFT: David Annandale shoulders the burden of concluding the collection. The editors wisely wrap things up by none other than the stars coming right, told with creeping dread through the joint efforts of an architect and his geologist wife. We all know how it ends, but Annandale conveys the horror through a new medium: architecture. My father's an architect so the imagery stuck with me. 5 out of 5.
Overall, these stories rate a little over 4 out of 5 stars, so I'm rounding the collection up to 5. With only one weak installment in the entire book this is a superior collection of Lovecraftian horror that actually delivers on its promise.