Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A surprise in the mail and a review: The Crevasse

I've finally beaten Alice: Madness Returns, I tend to be slow with games when I have multiple, and the steam sale and getting back into pokemon and Magic: The Gathering have eaten a lot of my time. Much of what I said before still applies, but I'm gonna mull things over before I say anything more substancial. So many great ideas for Psychoka, however. And if I see another eyeless doll head for a month I'll claw out my own eyes. They really did overuse them by the final boss.

A bigger bit of news, in the mail today arrived a book I ordered. Only near as I can tell I didn't order it nor did any friends or family. It arrived in a box full of newspaper clippings and a statue of some horrible creature... It's called Lovecraft Unbound, being a Mythos obsessed nerd, its the type of thing I want, but it was only ordered on the 24th of june, and my memory isn't that bad, so I have no idea where it came from. It's a collection of short stories that aims for original lovecraftian horror, as opposed to the normal pastiche, a noble endevor I can support.

I've had the idea that I'll try and read a short story and do a review of each a day, as on getting a seemingly free book, the least I can offer is some critique and advertisement. No promises on such speed though, I'm a slow reader. I will summarise the plot in these, so expect mild spoilers. Awesome information, exact details and the like will likely be spared. In this case the spoilers are pretty heavy. That said these are short stories in an anthology, I doubt it'll be much of an issue. Onto the first review;

The Crevasse, by Dale Bailey and Nathan Ballingrud

The story begins in my favorite of lovecraft's locations, Antarctica, some short time after the first world war. There, we meet our protagonist, Garner, a doctor who served in the war, and has bad memories of it. He's traveling with a small group of dogs and 3 other people on two sleds, when suddenly the ice beneath the other one gives way. It's caught on the edge above the titular crevasse, too deep to see what's in there, its pitch black, and visibility's poor at the moment. One dog, the strongest too, is hanging over the edge already as it was at the front.

Garner checks the state of things, here we meet the other three characters; Faber, who injured himself, is in a morphine induced state of unconsciousness. Bishop, the friendly one, who in this accident has sustained an injury to his ankle, but he'll get over it quickly. Bishop insists they cut the big dog free and abandon it before it drags the rest of the sled down and dooms them all due to lack of supplies. He tries, but chokes on the last rope, here we meet Connelly, the token asshole practical type. I couldn't help but imagine him with all the jerk works, British accent, bishounen look, short blonde hair, manages to climb up and takes the knife from Garner, cutting the rope. 

They make a temporary camp for repairs and healing, Faber lies asleep mumbling, Garner critical successes his medicine roll for Bishop's leg, and Connelly reveals they've lost two dogs, as another broke a leg, and he goes to shoot it, making the snide comment that he can't ask Garner to kill the dogs, apparently. Personally I assume it was just because this was now after midnight and he needs to remind everyone he is an asshole at least once a day. Garner admits he's right, its the only humane thing to do and he couldn't  to do it himself.

There's a problem though, from the crevasse, they can still hear the first dog, alive down there and whining. It's still alive. With a mix of flashbacks about his wife who died while he was in the war, flashbacks from the war, trying to find a way to say 'I'm an atheist' in 1920s talk, and finally what he claims is one mouthful of Dutch courage while he thinks on Connelly's words and the dog's howl. I assume here he gets too sloshed to mention the other half dozen sips it takes for him to decide to go out on his own, climb down a cliff and put down the dog without telling anyone with an frostbitten man in his charge.

To be fair, he's pretty fucked up in ways alcohol wouldn't augment.

The crevasse isn't that deep, it turns out, and the dog is indeed alive, though it's broken ribs, it's old and tough enough to stand, but it is indeed a lost cause, and he does the humane thing, killing it. Before he leaves though, he thinks he heard something deeper in the crevasse, and inspects it. It turns out it's the frozen over entrance to what seems to be some sort of massive city, presumably the city of the elder things, and starts down, before he has an odd trip remembering his wife and thinking he's down there.

Fortunantly, Connelly's found him and lures him back out onto the surface before anything more then strange murals have been seen. Unforutnantly's it's Connelly who found him and proceeds to try and beat Garner up for being a moron, I'll say it again, he's a jerk, but he's a smart and justified one. Bishop intervenes and gets them to find some sort of stand still, he looks at the city and slightly freaks, they start to agree that after they get Faber safe, they'll have it checked out, when suddenly something, they don't see more then a talon'd foot, drags the dog's corpse away suddenly, and they all freak.

Faber, especially though, screams, they rush to him and he starts insisting that something has "Layed an egg in him." They think he's hallucinating, attempt to drug him, but he freaks, kicks over the stove and burns down the tent. They rush repairs and try to just go to the depot they were intially heading for now.

Faber sadly dies during the trip, but the rest make it back intact. Now they can only wait for the rest of the expedition (Lead by someone named MacReady at that, I'm going to just say its expedition of Who Goes There/The Thing fame, also inspired by At The Mountains of Madness) Connelly spends this time being pissy, Garner tries to avoid stirring anyone's ire, and Bishop's gone into full on denial mode about seeing anything, He goes into full on nihilism and the story ends with him thinking of just going out onto the wastes and go back down.

Despite joking, it was a very well done serious story. I don't read many short stories these days so I cannot really explain if it was well written in experienced or nuanced ways. I liked it for one big reason that sadly is also my largest complaint.

Nothing exact actually happened. They saw no monster, there was no indication if the egg thing was real or delusional, the corpse just left a trail of blood when it was taken. They didn't even truly explain the murals. That was, I think, the point, it was a hurried, brief glimpse at more then man was meant to know. Or more then they could accept at least.

I did like it. It just seems like the thing that would happen, if, when presented with an adventure on a tabletop game, the PCs just say "No that sounds insane we get out of here." and no adventure can be told. There's a place for that, I suppose, and it does provides a very laymen view for the Cthulhu mythos.

It was a good start to the book, and I hope more stories are like this. Me? I'm hoping this was enough to give me interesting dreams now.


  1. Interesting post!

  2. Spoiler for every single Lovecraft story:

    Man sees eldritch abomination beyond human comprehension, goes insane.

    All kidding aside, I do like his work.

  3. You know, I don't think it's possible to set a horror story in the Antartic without referencing either "At the Mountains of Madness" or "Who Goes There?" They are kind of the iconic tales set in such a place, at least.

    Hm, if I am EVER crazy (not to mention influential) enough to go do physics down there, I'd have to bring a copy of Return to the Mountains of Madness and run that campaign. Or would playing CoC set in Antartica at MacMurdo be a little too crazy? On the plus side, everyone would know what they're doing in terms of survival.

  4. I never got into Lovecraft