Book Review: The Hastur Cycle

The thing with collections of short stories is that, in theory, they should serve as your narrative buffet. You take the stories you like, and if there’s one you don’t like, you can move past it and go on to the next. However, much as some buffets have nothing to like, occasionally some short story collections have nothing enjoyable to them. Thus is the case with The Hastur Cycle and me.

As someone who has enjoyed some of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction, and playing the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, I had thought this collection would be right up my alley. I was wrong. As a collection of stories, it has a profoundly unpleasant tone to it that seems to permeate every work in the story. There’s recurring motifs of cruelty to animals in general and cats in particular that particularly turned me off. One story has the “lead” (I wouldn’t call him a protagonist) attempting to murder a cat with their cane, and then another draws a connection between a bus driving off a road into a flood with a sack of kittens being downed.

The latter example felt particularly unnecessary, and bounced me hard out of the story in two different directions. The first was in the context of the image being particularly gross. The second was because I had to ask myself – how and when was this particular act – drowning kittens – widespread enough that it was something that an author would feel is familiar enough to draw reference to – and finding myself really not wanting to know the answer, as learning it would be bad for my sanity.

This isn’t helped by the stories not being in any real chronological order by publication. Some of the earlier stories fit, but the rest don’t have any information in terms of when they were published, and consequently it makes it hard to figure out what stories and conceits came from HPL, and which were contributed by those particular authors.  Looking at the list of stories and diversity of authors in this book, I was hoping was an aspect of the Cthulhu Mythos where Lovecraft was influenced as much as he was influential. Unfortunately, this book does not contain the answers to those questions.

That said, the central focus of the stories – Hastur, Carcosa, and the King in Yellow – are concepts of the Cthulhu mythos that I hadn’t run into that much, and I was interested in reading more about, so this made the fact that the book bounced me out all the more disappointing. It does make me wonder if this particular issue is particularly intrinsic to stories related to Hastur, or if there are short stories and novels where this isn’t an issue.

I can’t recommend this book, though I admit the issues that caused me to bounce out of this book might not be issues for other readers.

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