By Randy Stafford
Thomas, G.W. Book of the Black Sun II: The Book Collector. RAGE m a c h i n e Books: 2014. Kindle USD $4.99. ASIN: B00JV252XS.
I always like to see one of G.W. Thomas’ “Writing the Mythos” articles show up here at Innsmouth Free Press. His various essays on pulp authors and genres, available on his website, are worth reading as well. So, I was eager to read some actual fiction by him.
Thomas has introduced an innovation to the field of studying dangerous and forbidden books. You no longer have to steal them from Miskatonic U’s library or know some New England backwoods degenerate. You can rent them from a man named Telford. It only costs $2 million. Naturally, some renters try to skip out with the books. That’s where our narrator, the never-named Book Collector, comes in. If he can repossess them in 24 hours, he gets a cool million dollars.
And the Book Collector needs the money. Not so much for his Mazda Miata and collection of old pulp magazines. Mostly, he needs the money so he can rent from Telford. Plus, if he gets his hands on a book a few hours before the deadline, he can spend some time reading it.
The first story, “Sitting in the Lap of Shubb,” sets up the series’ formula and tone. The Book Collector goes after the Book of the Black Sun. He’s a von Junzt man himself, but, by story’s end, he’s a whole lot more interested in Garius D’Toma’s work. On the steel pages, in what passes for English in 33,3333 AD, D’Toma, a sorcerer-scientist, wrote an account of a future war between humans and the “eldritch ones.” That account is the Book of the Black Sun.
The Book Collector goes on ten more repo jobs. About half of them worked well for me. “Goon Job” was one because I’m usually up for a ghoul story. “Merlin’s Bane” was a nice recasting of the Merlin and Morgana Le Fay conflict from Arthuriana. “Cthulhu Express” is a surrealistic train trip to D’Toma’s future. “Such Bitter Business,” with its body-hopping interstellar parasite, was reminiscent of the film The Hidden, but Thomas adds plenty of humor to that setup with taunting phone calls from the alien slug to the Book Collector.
There’s actually a fair amount of grim, hard-bitten humor here, as you might expect with the noirish tone. Thomas doesn’t scrimp on the suspense, though. A simple, yet effective, device he uses is time-stamping every section of a story to remind you where the Book Collector stands with his deadline. Also, Thomas figures out ways to open the geography of the stories to more than just the New England of the U.S.
The world of the Book Collector is one where pulp writers like Clark Ashton Smith and Lovecraft exist alongside their “creations.” The longest story here, “Shades of Auburn,” has a full mix of violence, humor and Mythos references. It involves a lost Clark Ashton Smith manuscript, a science fiction convention, and time travel.
There are some problems, though.
The biggest one is the format. While the stories are all enjoyable and would make a good TV show, they all adhere, to one extent or another, to a single formula with only a few subplots bridging particular stories. Binge reading is not advised for this series.
Questionable Batman logic (I refer to the old TV show) undercuts some of the Book Collector’s deductions. There were a couple of times when I didn’t think Thomas laid enough groundwork to make them credible. I thought that especially a problem in “Hag-Seed,” which Thomas says is the most experimental story here.
I also would have liked more grenades and fewer grimoires, more bullets and fewer magic sigils, stories more like those in Shotguns vs. Cthulhu. In almost every story, we get a line something like this as the Book Collector gets his monster kill kit:
I opened the trunk and took a few items from Travel Case #3. Pistol with liquid silver slugs. A vial of Shaggai insect spit. A roll of paper with a crushed rock inside. Lastly a shotgun filled with M’Nar stone ammo.
However, that’s a matter of taste. For all I know, most detectives in urban fantasy do that these days.
Production-wise, as with most self-published stuff I see, there are a few typos and homonym problems. But, to be fair, you regrettably sometimes see that stuff from commercial publishers, too, these days.
Finally, you do not have to read Book of the Black Sun to follow this book. They share little except some references to D’Toma’s book. I did my due diligence as a reviewer and read the first one after this volume. There is also a link, in one of the stories in this book, to Thomas’ Athenodorian series. All four books are worthwhile but pretty independent of each other.
Pseudopod has audio adaptations of “Goon Job” and “Merlin’s Bane.”