"Rapture of the Deep and Other Lovecraftian Tales" Book Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Published by Hippocampus Press
Written by Cody Goodfellow
2016, 308 pages, Fiction
Released on April 29th, 2016
“Our smug science is a flimsy garment of wishes and lies, while the unspeakable truth they hide is a roaring wind.” – Cody Goodfellow
Cody Goodfellow is one of the most influential voices in bizarro fiction. Yeah, I’ve said that before. He is also one of the most unique crime writers out there. If you haven’t read Repo Shark, go read it now and you’ll see I’m right. Okay, ready for a new one? Ready for one that might make a lot of people angry? Here it goes: Goodfellow is one of the best purveyors of Lovecraftian fiction currently offering mad narratives about cosmic horror and unspeakable things, and he does without being boring, cliché, or derivative. With its combination of humor, violence, outstanding prose, and unadulterated Lovecraftian mayhem, Goodfellow's Rapture of the Deep is the kind of collection that makes almost everything else in the crowded Lovecraftian arena seem like unnecessary and painfully boring pastiche. When Goodfellow does mythos fiction, instead of the usual appropriation/recycling that currently floods the genre, the reader gets is a wild, unique reimagining of those elements and chaotic gods they know and love. This, the author’s fourth collection, delivers a dozen Mythos stories that are as Lovecraftian as they are Goodfellonian (remember I came up with that one in 2016).
The dozen stories offered in Rapture of the Deep and Other Lovecraftian Tales add to up over 300 pages of top-notch storytelling, so I’m only going to talk about a few favorites. The collection kicks things off with The Anatomy Lesson. This gory narrative, which ends up dealing with underground horrors, is a fast and relatively short story when compared to others in the book, but it manages to set the mood for the rest of the collection and lets readers know that they’ve entered a place where an author with a unique voice will be tackling known themes. It also announces to readers that they’re in the presence of an author in full command of language and the elements of storytelling:
The forbidden books are laced with truths disguised as myth and folklore, just as the alchemists hid their chemical discoveries in arcane symbolism. Some scholars have it that the first ancestor came down from the stars, while others claim that it lives still and sleeps in the earth’s core. It matters not where our original ancestor came from, or if it exists at all. The secret ways of all flesh, the keys to heal, to perfect and change at will the fundamental properties of the body! All this wisdom has been entrusted to the Ones Who Know, the ghoulish acolytes of Nyogtha! I have seen that power with my own eyes, Lennox! The wonders we could work . . .
The second narrative that knocked me down a few times is In the Shadow of Swords. Set in Iraq and steeped in a military world that Goodfellow will revisit a few times throughout the collection, this story follows a group of American soldiers as they encounter an array of entities far scarier than anything the government has told you is currently there. Full of a special kind of gore that only Goodfellow is capable and packed with action and great descriptive passages, this is just one of a few tales that, while satisfying and complete, also made me wish the author would take the idea and characters and turn the short story into a novel.
What order of animal this thing is, he can’t begin to judge—for all he knows, it’s vegetable. Its limbs are chitinous, too many to count, and jointed with ball-and sockets, folding and unfolding, collapsing and telescoping restlessly beneath its body, which is little more than a lozenge of silvery translucent jelly stuffed with glittering, jewel-like organs. A livid violet phosphorescence blooms from the soft tissues, like the cold gleam of deep sea fish. Great, glassy fans like bat’s wings radiate out from its back, fluttering gently and dispersing curls of steam; rows of clattering mandibles prowl the orbits of its mouths, positioned beneath each limb.
Rapture of the Deep, which the collection is named after, is another standout in a book full of great stories. Anyone familiar with the Mythos knows that water, deep, dark, mysterious water, is at the center of a lot of the mayhem Lovecraft wrote about, and this story takes a submarine (literally) to delve into the depths of that element of Lovracraftian fiction (you know, figuratively). As with many other stories, this one starts with action and accelerates from there. Furthermore, this is perhaps the most poetic narrative in the collection, which is saying a lot, but there’s truly something special about the writing here, about the way beautiful words are used to describe horrible things, about the way Goodfellow can make a reader’s day with “Tiny jewels of glistering ectoplasm and endless garlands of stinging tendrils...” Despite that beauty, this is always a horror collection, and the horrors are large enough to constantly remind you of that:
The size of a city, the creature yet bore some kinship with the lavaborne larvae. In its wake, the mountainous isopod left glowing opals that bored into the splintered earth like depth charges, like the treasures carelessly spilled by a god, or the eggs sown by a devil.
The last story I’ll talk about is Cahokia. More than the narrative itself, this story matters because it demonstrates the author’s academic knowledge of not only the Lovecraftian universe but also of everything that could possibly be related to it. Arguments about HPL aside, there is something undeniably powerful in his stories, something that has kept many young readers, me included, glued to the pages of his books late at night with a head full of cosmic horrors and a strange desire to visit faraway places, learn about mysterious cultures, and acquire the kind of arcane knowledge that quickly leads to madness. Godfellow’s fiction also causes all of these:
I could not deny it, and there were so many more—the children of Sacsayhuaman and Tiahuanaco, Tikal and Angkor Wat, and others that might have been Lemuria, Atlantis, and El Dorado—all the vanished peoples of the earth whose fabled ruins had eluded conquistadors and driven them mad with greed, all the enigmatic peoples of the sun whose trails went cold in the mists of history.
I recently wrote a book review with no quotes. The preceding one is different. Why? Because every book is different and the oeuvre of every author demands to be analyzed and approached in a different way. In the case of Goodfellow, there is nothing I could write that would communicate the strengths of his prose the way a paragraph of his work could. Simply put, no one writes like Goodfellow. From classic horror elements and an undeniable knowledge of the Mythos to a healthy dose of unique weirdness and a penchant for over-the-top brutality and memorable characters, Rapture of the Deep and Other Lovecraftian Tales is one of the most complete and astonishingly original collections to have invaded the world of tentacles and Elder Gods in the last half decade. Gather around kids, because your favorite hierophant is here, and he has some dark tales to tell.