Saturday, October 28, 2006
Ramsey Campbell began his writing career re-imagining cosmic horrors in a Lovecraftian vein. In The Height of the Scream he found a comfortable middle ground between the awesome time-bending deities of HPL and the much more subtle ghouls of M.R. James's stories about haunted academics. The writing exhibits marvelous control for a writer of any age, let alone for a young guy who apprenticed himself to an ingenius pulp hack and spent his teens producing volumes of pastiche. Sometimes the hauntings here are so subtle you can finish the story without catching the ghost first time around.
Campbell transforms Lovecraft's favorite theme--the old gods attempting to break through again and conquer the universe--into a sort of urban paranoia. Things are never what they seem as ghosts and mysterious forces intrude into the modern age. His gift for figurative language and sly puns is quite satisfying.
"Ash" and "It's the Words That Count" are particular favorites here, as is "Litter." Campbell creates fully-rounded miserable characters who suffer detachment in a mechanized age, often punishing them for sins by unleashing eldritch animist horrors from beyond time and space. But he does so quietly, with respect for the neighbors--HPL often resorted to a loud thumping finish.
The stories in The Height of the Scream could be read before the parlour fire in an Edwardian manse with string quartet for backdrop. Howard Philips and Montague Rhodes each would approve of this slim chilling volume.