Book Review: Loathsome Voyages

Disclaimer: My copy of Loathsome Voyages was supplied by the publisher for review. All opinions are my own.

Books… they used to exist on big, dusty bookcases in libraries, and smaller, sometimes less dusty bookcases in people’s homes. I still have a bookcase in my house, for instance. It’s a relatively cheap one from Argos (a popular warehouse store here in the United Kingdom that sells just about everything) and I’ve had it for at least 20 years. It’s so crammed with books the shelves are bowing. 

Now, most of these books come from big publishing houses that have been around for many years. Companies like DoubleDay, Gollancz etc seem to dominate my collection and that’s how things always have been…

Except now we have ebooks and the internet, which has made it much easier for writers to publish their own work and for indie publishers to pop up too.

One such publisher is Skullgate Media, run by a collective of talented writers such as Chris Vandyke, CD Storiz and my old writer friend Chris Durston. Skullgate is an inclusive, friendly and approachable publisher who put out their first major book, the fantasy/sci fi compilation Achten Tan: Land of Dust and Bone earlier in 2020.

I picked up Achten Tan after seeing Chris promoting it on Twitter. I enjoyed his debut Each Little Universe (reviewed here) and figured that reading more from him was a swell idea, as well as other stories set in this strange and interesting new world. Historically I’m not a short story fan (I prefer a longer form novel) but I still very much enjoyed all of the differing tales from the desert city of Achten Tan.

Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity, when recently announced, to become an ARC (that’s advanced review copy) reader for Skullgate Media. What could be better than reading their output ahead of publishing and sharing my thoughts on this little blog of mine?

And so here we are, reviewing Skullgate Media’s new compilation of cosmic horror short stories, Loathsome Voyages

First off, how striking is that cover art, really? I remember seeing it revealed on Twitter and really digging that slimy, tentacle filled aesthetic… really puts you in the mood for some otherworldly horror, don’t you think?

Anyway, Loathsome Voyages is made up of thirteen tales, differing in length, tone and approach, all from a different author. Whilst all cover the Lovecraftian style of horror well, featuring ancient god’s, insanity and obsession among other cosmic horror tent poles, each tale comes out differently.

As a bit of a primer, here is the official description of Lovecraftian horror, as supplied by Wikipedia:

Lovecraftian horror is a subgenre of horror fiction that emphasizes the cosmic horror of the unknown (or unknowable) more than gore or other elements of shock. It is named after American author H. P. Lovecraft (1890–1937). His work emphasizes a philosophy of cosmicism, the idea that the reality underlying the veneer of normality is so alien that seeing it would be harmful.

Cthulhu, the poster boy of Lovecraftian horror, along with his elder god buddies.

As an example, let me list a few of the stories (spoiler free, of course!)

  • The “fear and awe we feel when confronted by phenomena beyond our comprehension, whose scope extends beyond the narrow field of human affairs and boasts of cosmic significance”.
  • A “contemplation of mankind’s place in the vast, comfortless universe revealed by modern science” in which the horror springs from “the discovery of appalling truth”.
  • A naturalistic fusion of horror and science fiction in which presumptions about the nature of reality are “eroded”

Needless to say, Loathsome Voyages touches on these points often, and with great success across the board. The fact that thirteen (curious choice of number there, by the way!) writers all load their tales with such cosmic nastiness, and craft such beguiling stories around this, is really deserving of credit.

Whilst it’s difficult to give a solid rating to a compliation, but I shall try to explain my feelings overall. Whilst not every story blew my mind, I would go as far as to say that there wasn’t a bad one among them. At the very least, I would reach the end of a story thinking “hey, that was really well written, even if it didn’t resonate with me, I can appreciate the effort”. At best, a few of the stories really did stick with me, a combination of excellent characters, strong stories and wonderfully chilling twists coming together to create something truly special.

If I were to use some kind of five star system, hypotehtically speaking of course, then I would say the weakest stories were at a three, the strongest a well-deserved five.

Look at these shiny stars that I don’t use…

Here are three examples of the kind of stories a reader can expect to come across in Loathsome Voyages, free of spoilers of course…

Electric Love by Michelle RiverHow much do you like your PS5? Probably not as much as the protagonist of this story likes his electrical appliances, I bet! But even fridges and toasters have a breaking point for those kinds of shenanigans, the laws of science and nature be damned…

Hell hath no fury like a refrigerator scorned…

The Life Line by Chris Durstonimagine people’s surprise when a new tube line appears overnight on the London underground.it causes quite a stir, especially considering that it seems to go around in a loop and only lets one passenger on at a time. Where does it go? What happens to those who ride upon it? The answer is guaranteed to chill!

Widow’s Walk by CM Harris – probably my favourite story from Loathsome Voyages, just for it’s ingrained mystery and otherworldly vibes, to even try to summarise it is tough without spoiling anything. Suffice to say that Widow is an excellent character and the utterly chilling Puppet Master makes for one creepy villain.

These are but three stories from a whole host and not one among them I would consider disappointing. We have different time periods, characters, outcomes and dangers, but each really is a showcase in how a horror story should be written. Eldritch gods, they’re here. Creepy mirror people? Got them. Characters developing terrifying obsessions and questioning their sanity? Of course!

But the writing in Loathsome Voyages is merely one facet of what makes it a book worth picking up. We also have to consider the editing as well. Chris Durston and CD Storiz have done an absolutely stellar job of lining these tales up and working with the authors to get everything in its rightful place. Each story is immaculate and the blurb about each contributer after their piece means that you could find them online and check out their other works (and believe me, it’s something I’ll be doing myself). So well done to CD and Chris for some wonderful editing.

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So, has Loathsome Voyages convinced me to try more stories of this ilk, to delve into more tales of insanity, twisted gods and awful demons (looking at you, Morax)? I would say yes, it has. That big dusty Lovecraft collection on my bookshelf, that I got for Christmas about 6 years ago and haven’t touched? It might just be getting browsed through shortly…

…and that’s thanks to all of the contributors to Loathsome Voyages, and Skullgate Media for helping to get their stories out there into the wide world. I one hundred percent recommend following them on Twitter, as they are a breath of fresh air!

Loathsome Voyages a brilliant book which I cannot recommend highly enough, filled with varied, creepy and ultimately hauntingly entertaining takes on the terrifying world of Lovecraftian horror.

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