Friday, September 5, 2014

Cowboys of Cthulhu

I'm honestly really divided on this particular book. Even after having had well over a month to ruminate on it I'm still not sure how I feel about it. I think I was initially thrown after having seen all the high ratings it got on Amazon. It had a good number of 5 star ratings and raised my expectations a bit too high I suppose.

Now, I wouldn't say Cowboys of Cthulhu is a bad book, but I wouldn't put it up as high as it has been raised. On one hand the plot is very simple: A cowboy and a handful of people in a traveling oddities circus type thing are sent to settle some very strange goings on in the wild west, which has Lovecraftian elements. The whole thing is done in a rather simple manner, but for this sort of story I think that's for the better. I'd rather have something simple and decent than something convoluted and overly complex for the sheer sake of it. So yeah, simple premise and it's not screwed up.

Character identities are actually done pretty well, each of them very distinct and easy to identify. I wouldn't say they have lots of personality per se, as most of them don't interact much, but you are never confused about who is who and who does what. I don't recall all of their names, because I'm just plain bad at remembering those I'm afraid, but I can tell you a distinguishing feature of each person, so I'd say the author does alright on that count.

Dialogue is... I'm not sure. I don't feel qualified to analyze dialogue, because it is something that I usually don't notice, so I wouldn't put a whole lot of faith in my opinions in regards to that. Feel free to ignore me on this one. That said, it didn't feel natural and was kind of odd to me. Even so, I wouldn't say it was bad either. Just sort of middle of the road. Although one thing that honestly did bother me was how the harsh language was handled. One character in particular peppered every sentence with profanity, which was replaced by stars just like ***** this. Now, I am not a fan of profanity myself and often mark out nasty stuff in books I purchase, but this execution was just plain distracting and left me instead trying to translate what the heck was being said.

The real slippery slope that is tread here is the fact that Lovecraftian stories are really hard to do, even if you happen to be HP Lovecraft. Most people miss the concepts of his work entirely, instead boiling it down to "Tentacles!" I read some comics from Dark Horse supposedly inspired by his work, and most often were just stupid. Sure, one or two were good, but it's really tricky when anyone from the modern era tries to do anything in that mythos.
So does the author fail or succeed in capturing any of the features or themes that made Lovecraft stand out? Yes and no.

The climactic fight scene and their entrance into the canyon are actually interesting. From a distance the geometry of the entire thing keeps shifting and changing, baffling the protagonist. Even when they get inside and the fight starts bullets don't go where they are supposed to. Because of the strange dimensional plane they have unintentionally entered things don't go the way you think they would, resulting in a very strange but interesting gunfight, where the normal laws of physics are in gear only for a short period of time. From a gunfight standpoint it was weird, but from a Lovecraftian angle it was actually rather interesting. And it did end in a way that made it clear that the author understood the fatalist and depressing truth that the Old Ones can be resisted but never stopped, although I don't feel that he succeeded completely. Just partway for me.

But what honestly left me kind of grimacing was the enemy they directly faced. Major world ending spoiler here, so ye be warned.
The enemies are three little Cthuloids wearing Western attire and firing revolvers from their face tentacles. I'm sure other people thought that idea was awesome, but it just plain sat wrong with me. It feels fundamentally wrong for such strange interdimensional beings that have been around for time unknown to be wasting their time with single action revolvers in a pitched gunfight.
In traditional Lovecraft there was very little action or fighting, although it did happen. I fondly remember the atmosphere describing the raiding of the ancient cult in the bayous in Call of Cthulhu. Being a Western, it would have been an absolute crime to not have a gunfight, so I'm not upset on that point, but rather that the enemy fighters were Chthonians.

I think it would've worked better if they had been tracking down a cult that was related to the one in the bayou, running amok and spreading terror in the trackless wastes of the Wild West, having a pitched gunfight in the hills and eventually beating them back into their underground lair before witnessing some strange thing that should not be next to a Cthulhu idol, bending their sanity before sealing it off with a keg of dynamite. It could have ended with victory, but with the crushing knowledge that they've only forestalled the inevitable. This would have easily given us an excellent fight and fit very neatly within the mythos.

There are a few other minor things that bother me, but overall I consider just an okay book. The author does have a distinct voice with some level of flair that gives it energy. Just needs some polishing up is all. I wouldn't have given it a 5 star rating on Amazon, but I certainly wouldn't have given it a 1 star either, as it does do some things right. If you have lower standards for modern Lovecraft than myself and just want a mindless action romp, then this will work just dandy. If you want something that echoes the terror that the original stories did so long ago, you will be disappointed.

I wish the author good luck in improving and making future publications!
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