(This review was originally posted on goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/5228059223 A review copy was kindly provided by the amazing Cody Goodfellow.)
Of all the sides of HP Lovecraft’s writing, his fantasy-genre Dreamland stories have been the least imitated, so a new anthology of Dreamland-inspired writings is exciting. Edited by Cody Goodfellow and Joseph S. Pulver, Sr, this anthology veers towards the horrific side of the setting, if “setting” it can be called since these stories refreshingly avoid any Dreamlands “canon” and have few familiar place-names. (And no new place-names, for that matter — Lovecraft and Dunsany’s love of listing exotic far-off lands is absent here.)
The few weak stories here include a few surreal, almost non-narrative pieces, seemingly included for their ‘dreamlike’ feel, though copying the delirium of real dreams was never high on Lovecraft’s priorities. The book is most at home in horror territory; two memorably nightmarish stories—Zak Jarvis’ “Blacktongue Blues” and Philip Fracassi’s “Over 1,000,000 Copies in Print” tell similar-but-different tales of a Dream apocalypse invading the waking world, while from the opposite direction Scott R. Jones’ “The Dankness Over Dylath Leen”, the only comedy in the book, sees Memes invading Dreamland. Several stories approach the Dreamlands from the perspective of skeptical psychologists and researchers in the waking world; of these the most interesting is Nick Mamatas’ “The Onionland Tangle”, which mesmerizingly combines ASMR, sentient animals and other occult-science mixtures.
Other stories involve familiar Lovecraft monsters like night-gaunts, ghouls and gugs, but they’re overshadowed by tales which come up with original visions of Dreamland beauties and terrors: Orrin Grey’s “Pandora” with its hordes of underworld monsters and alternate selves; Matthew Bartlett’s “The Malls of Ulthar” which vividly describes an almost J.G. Ballardian dystopian space which happens to be named after a familiar Lovecraft city. Some of the few tales which stick close to the “fantasy adventure” aspect of the Dreamlands, inspiringly, do so while rejecting Lovecraft’s reactionary themes: Lucy A. Snyder’s “Ruby Soul, Bone Moon” follows a woman’s quest through Dream to heal the atrocities of historical slavery (or at least her own contribution to them), while Rios De La Luz’s “The Sea Witch” explores a woman-centric Dreamland.
There’s good stuff here, so I’m veering into personal bias as I offer my main misgiving, which is: where’s the Dunsany? To me at least, Lovecraft’s Dreamlands stories are so clearly Lord Dunsany pastiches that it’s surprising to me that only one story here, Christine Morgan’s “At the Crossroads”, has a Dunsany-like fabulistic structure (being a clever modern retelling of “The White Ship”– the Internet as Dreamland. (If there’s a second Dunsany-influenced story here, it might be Jayaprakash Satyamurthy’s ambiguous “Inhata”, if I’m not incorrect in guessing it’s a response to Dunsany’s Orientalist use of ‘animated idols’.)
Of course, I’m not expecting a book titled “NEW Maps of Dream” to contain fannish imitations of Dunsany’s style (although, only Darrell Schweitzer and Gary Myers have really done this so it’s not as clichéd as Lovecraft pastiches). But there’s almost nothing here in the fairytale/fable/metaphorical Dunsany style, nothing in the list-of-citynames/Marco Polo/Italo Calvino Dunsany style, nothing in the jeweled, sumptuous, objectionable Orientalist Dunsany style, and not even much in the creepy-quirky surreal zone where reality and Dream meet as in Dunsany’s very best. I don’t know whether the editors specifically asked the authors “No Dunsany pastiches”, which is a bummer but understandable, or if no authors responded to a Dreamlands anthology invite with what is (to me) the most obvious and fruitful source of Dreamland inspiration. Three stars (***) for me as a Lord Dunsany fan, and four stars (****) for folks who just like Lovecraft’s horror stories.