The Al-Azif, for those unfamiliar with the lore of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, is the predecessor book to its more infamous successor the Necronomicon. Translating roughly to, "The Book of the Insect" it is a work that has been largely underutilized in Cthulhu Mythos pastiches.
With the help of Crossroad Press, we decided to get together and do a collection of stories utilizing the infamous tome of eldritch lore. All of us had written Cthulhu Mythos material before and decided to do a work that carried from one tale to the next. I'm very pleased with the final results and suspect our readers will be as well.
Let's start us off:
1. So, tell us about your storylines.
C.T. Phipps: I wrote "The Skull on the Desk", "The Last Page", and "The Laughing Skull." Basically, the first and last are framing devices for the rest of the story while "The Last Page" is a work set in my Cthulhu Armageddon series. I got the chance to figure out how all the stories worked together as well as figure out the ground rules so everyone knew what the tone as well as the mood for the story for be. In the end, I think I established a kind of Pulp archaeology-meets-horror feel that most of the stories in the volume followed.
David Hambling: In story terms, it was relatively undemanding – having established where the Al Azif would be after David J West’s story, all I needed was to plot a way for my protagonist to find it and ultimately pass it along to the next link in the chain. The fun was in the style. My co-authors’ works are more action-heavy than the Harry Stubbs stories, which are usually closer in tone to detective mysteries than Hollywood blockbusters. So in this one Harry gets to team up with a larger-than-life partner who helps turn up the action factor and Harry is soon involved in car chases and gun battles…among other life-threatening situations. Plus I wanted to weave in a number of sub-plots about the dangers involved in daring to consult the Al Azif itself.
Matthew Davenport: When I knew what other authors were involved, I dove on the chance to weave my Andrew Doran series into a narrative that would have fun crossover potential. Andrew Doran is an action/adventure hero set during the pulpy goodness of World War 2. With that backdrop he fights to keep Lovecraftian artifacts and books out of the hands of bad guys of all types, but mostly the Nazis. This story gave me a chance to take a break from the constant turmoil of the world and focus on a story that fleshed out more of Andrew’s past while also illustrating that the mythos doesn’t know borders and the horrors can be in our own backyard just as easily as they could be overseas. Add in a touch of the Al-Azif and you get what I hope is a great stand-alone Andrew Doran adventure that plays well with the other authors involved.
David J. West: I wanted to put a story together that could mix in a few elements of mood and atmosphere along with some rough and tumble characters I had been working on. I’ve been reading a bit of occult literature lately and it was fun to try and splice in some what-if’s into a story that keeps going. Its what makes sharing an anthology and world so much fun.
David Niall Wilson: I had most of my story ready before this book existed, but the anthology gave it a reason to exist, and a bit more depth. A redneck finds a giant wooden cockroach statue sticking out of the Great Dismal Swamp and brings it to his buddy. Together they create a roadside attraction, not realizing the statue is more than just a hunk of wood, and that it's influencing their every move. Among stories more traditionally Lovecraftian, mine has a touch of humor and is more about the characters than the overarching evil.
2. What does H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos mean to you?
C.T. Phipps: H.P. Lovecraft created a fascinating world of aliens, monsters, and magic that blended science fiction with the supernatural. The fact he did this in the early 20th century and it still holds up today is something I am truly amazed by. H.P. Lovecraft shared his universe and themes with fellow writers and while attitudes aren't appropriate (to put it lighty), others are even more relevant. Cthulhu is an amazing creation but so are the Mi-Go, Ghouls, Deep Ones, Elder Things, and the wide variety of unspeakable nasties that inspire you to create your own horrors. The fact these can be done in the present, 1920s, far future, or ancient times also makes them incredibly versatile.
David Hambling: The great thing about the Cthulhu Mythos is that it is a sandbox which Lovecraft invited everyone to come and play in. During his lifetime he encouraged other writers to use his creations in their own stories and become part of an extended universe. His alien-monster-gods were highly original, utterly unforgettable and immediately suggest all kinds of story ideas. While you could in theory have a collaboration like this based on someone else’s universe, I can’t think of anyone who could compare to Lovecraft. His impact in the wider world, through Call of Cthulhu and other games, plus an increasing amount of pop-culture exposure, show how well Lovecraft’s vision strikes a chord even ninety years later.
Matthew Davenport: I’ve been a mythos fan since I was in highschool and first came across The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Horror that leaves you asking questions when it’s done is the best kind to me, and so it didn’t matter what I was reading or what was going on in my life, I would always find my way back to mythos books. When I first began to write, I played with those ideas and stretched them and tried to mold something of my own out of them. The adventurist standing between the world and the horrors that are trying to destroy it was where I found the most fun. To me the mythos is a fun break from reality, a means of finding like-minded friends/authors, and an interesting thing to let your mind drift to when you’re waiting for the next step in your day.
David J. West: To me Lovecraft’s work is such a wonderful dichotomy of science and sorcery, a blending of the unseen that lurks in the shadows and our hearts – whether we care or not. Its there, waiting. His work is seminal in influencing not only horror writers but a massive cultural outlook on the universe itself and the deep past. Who else is a self-proclaimed atheist and yet creates those dark gods to fill that terrible void? The mysterious deep gulfs that he began to reveal have so much more yet to show us.
David Niall Wilson: Unlike the others in the book, Lovecraft himself holds little interest for me. The idea of deeply powerful Old Gods, though… that has alwas intrigued me. I've been writing for a very long time now, and though I am not a huge fan of HPL, I've written a lot of stories that are "Lovecraftian" in theme, if not style. He's clearly had a deep influence on the horror genre, and I respect that, but for me it's his "ideas" more than his execution.
3. Would you describe your story as an adventure or horror? How do these two go together?
C.T. Phipps: I have multiple stories set in the book. The first one is a tale of how Abdul Al-Hazred acquires the Al-Azif and is inspired to go down his path of corruption followed by madness. He's a man who seeks knowledge at all costs and is alienated from his Medieval Islamic brethren. Later, I have a short tale set in the post-apocalyptic world of my Cthulhu Armageddon books. It's meant to wrap up the stories in the anthology as well as the final fate of the Al-Azif. Doing two tales with such wildly different settings was a lot of fun.
David Hambling: The distinction can be subtle. It’s like the dividing line between Alien and Aliens: in the first one, the characters are simply there to get picked off one by one by something nasty, in the second one its more of an actual fight, even if the odds are stacked. This lies somewhere in between, as there are some characters who are actively defending themselves and trying to fight against inhuman forces, while others are in a less fortunate situation. You might say it is an adventure for some, but a horror for the various characters who come to unpleasant ends along the way.
Matthew Davenport: While I try to weave horror elements into my story, I focused mostly on turning a horror story into an adventure. Anything goes and anyone can die or be tortured or who knows what, and that’s where the horror comes in, but at the end of the day my story is most plainly an adventure. Or perhaps an adventure chapter in the middle of a horror novel.
David J. West: I would say adventure, but the horror is so integral to everything about it. I sincerely hope that I creep out the reader and make them look over their shoulder at every passing shadow.
4. What did you think of the other stories in the volume? Which one was your favorite?
C.T. Phipps: That's a tough call as I loved everything done by my fellow authors. I will say that I was perhaps most impressed by "Cockroach Suckers" by David Niall Wilson. It's so very different from all the other stories in the volume. Most of them contain heroic Pulp heroes trying to save the day against an enigmatic supernatural force. This story is just about how some really dumb yokels get in over their heads wielding powers far beyond their control. I also give kudos to David Hambling's work as he creates a well-researched period piece that involves anarchists, magic, and collectivism. Honestly, there's nothing bad in this book. Every story was one I strongly enjoyed.
David Hambling: I think they are all good representatives of their very different series. The most successful one may be Matt Davenport’s Andrew Doran story because he has fitted it so well into his larger story arc (hmm, wasn’t this whole thing his idea in the first place?) , and because this type of treasure-hunting quest falls so naturally to Doran. On the other hand, David J West’s story has an undeniable atmosphere of menace and takes full advantage of the pyramids-and-mummies milieu, while CT Phipps pulls more stops out than anyone in terms of special-effect extravaganzas. David Wilson’s Cockroach Suckers is a slightly different beast as it is a stand-alone short story and nor part of a series, but is arguably the most cosmically horrific (and hence Lovecraftian) of the lot. It will be interesting to see what the critics make of them all!
Matthew Davenport: Well, this isn’t a fair question, and I’m going to give a cheater answer because honestly, I do love them all for different reasons. Cockroach Suckers was comical, yet had me turning pages quickly. It’s the kind of comedy that fits really well in a Lovecraft collection because you don’t expect it to stay that way and no matter how it turns out you’re racing to see who got possessed/eaten/maimed/etc. David West’s story was right up my alley. It was the kind of story I like to write and read in that it was pulpy action with historic elements that and a healthy dose of Lovecraft. It made me excited to grab more of his books. Phipps’ stuff is my go-to for reading almost any other day and his story was just what I needed. I’ve been begging him to send me the newest Cthulhu Armageddon story and was freaking excited when it turned out to be part of the larger collection. Finally, is David Hambling’s story. I’m first and foremost a huge Harry Stubbs fan and when I’m looking for Cthulhu fiction to read, the UK backdrop with a bit of the 20’s feel probably is the first thing that I’m looking for. While Lovecraft was more a New England presence, I think a lot of people (including Lovecraft) think his own style and stories work better in an England backdrop and Harry Stubbs is just a great character. All of these stories were great and it was great to get the chance to work with such talented writers.
David J. West: Tough call. I’m a Harry Stubbs fan but I also really got a kick out of CT’s ending. I’m just pleased that tehse guys let me tag along and be a part of the collection.
5. What do you think fans should take away from this collection?
C.T. Phipps: I think this is a collection that will hopefully give fans a new appreciation for Pulp heroism as well as a fun collection of stories by authors who are full of love for the subject. If you're inclined to read the books of the authors set in the Cthulhu mythos, this is a great introduction. Andrew Doran, Harry Stubbs, and The Call of Distant Shores are all wonderful works. Even if you're not a Lovecraft afficianado, I think you'll enjoy this work.
David Hambling: I’m think they’ll enjoy it as a piece of collective storytelling very much in the Lovecraftian tradition which shows what different writers can do with the form, using a whole range of setting and time periods. I don’t think anyone else has done much with the Al Azif, which gets pretty much ignored in favor the of spin-off Necronomicon…so the collection breaks new ground with insect-themed Mythos adventures. It should certainly alert them to the great series out there, and it’s a good starting point for further explorations. “There’s more where that came from!”
Matthew Davenport: I hope they get from it whatever they were looking for. When I’m skimming the book descriptions and trying to find my next read I’m always looking for something specific, even if I don’t know what it is at the time I started looking. I want fans of each of our works to find an entire universe at their fingertips. If Andrew Doran fans discover one of these other great authors in here then I hope they chase them down the rabbit hole and find what they were looking for. If they just want a decent Lovecraft artifact to chase, I hope they get their enjoyment as well. Whatever brought you to us, I hope that you find it and that we incentivized you enough to keep looking for more.
David J. West: With so many hungry readers out there for the Lovecraft milieu, I’m sure there is something for everyone here. As was said before, this a is a great jumping off point to check out more tales of horror and adventure. R’lyeh was built before we got here but the stars are right for all us to come and play.
David Niall Wilson: I guess that the main message of such a collection is that you can have a theme without all of the stories being so similar that it gets monotonous – a variety of voices singing the same song in very different keys. It's different, and hopefully some will become fans of the various series characters as well, seeking out further adventures.
Tales of the Al-Azif is available here: