March 13, 2010


by Seamus Cooper
235 pages, Night Shade Books

Review by Anthony J. Barker

H. P. Lovecraft’s stories illustrate that ‘voice’ is almost all you need to be a (reasonably) immortal author. His stories, intended to evoke horror, strike us now as just plain silly, but his ass-backward sentences, with their archaic nouns, neurasthenic verbs, and slithery adjectives, are actually quite marvelous. He was a bit of a racist, so mix together a cast of vaguely threatening (brownish) degenerates (‘Lascars’, half-breed ‘Esquimaux’, whatever turns you off) and throw in monsters whose excessively consonanted names are an affront to Anglo-Saxon hegemony, and you have ‘The Call of Cthulhu.’

Wonderful stuff—meant to be read under the covers, by flashlight. And how about the cover art? Jeez, don’t let mom see it!

But unimaginable horrors don’t raise contemporary hackles. ‘Nameless terrors’ sound positively cheerful compared to what people have actually seen and done since Lovecraft died in 1937. Old Japanese movies have turned monstrous sea creatures into a joke, and a game-piece Cthulhu, whose awesomeness is expressed in ‘hit-points’, isn’t scary at all.

Still, anything worth reading is worth joking about, and in ‘The Mall of Cthulhu’ Seamus Cooper gives it his best shot. For good measure (or maybe because his editor wanted something book-length) he takes other shots at other absurdities—mall culture, national chain coffee houses, vampire literature, lesbian romance literature, over-caffienated FBI agents, geeky computer-gaming vampire-slaying barristas, angry white males, Homeland Security, etc., etc. In short, a politically correct commentary on political correctness (“Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”)

It begins in 1993 at an evening rush event at the Omega Alpha Sorority. Potential pledge, Laura, is about to be kissed, or bitten. Omega sisters don’t drink tea, or even beer. Their beverage of choice is human blood, and initiation is for keeps. Laura is attracted to sister Camilla, and when Camilla asks, “Do you want it?” she assumes the “it” referred to is the same “it” that “kids in dorms all over campus were getting at exactly that moment.”

Luckily, geeky friend Ted intervenes, wielding an axe soaked in holy water. So much for Camilla, also for Bitsy, the undead rush committee chair, and Omega house itself. Ted sets it on fire—thereby ridding the campus of lesbian vampirism.

Ten years later, Laura has worked her way through Law school and FBI training. She is assigned to the Boston office, reviewing ATM surveillance tapes. It’s boring, but not as bad as Ted’s job. His campus heroics have ruined his life. He has bad dreams, he wakes up screaming, he can’t hold a real job, or get a date—at least, not a second date, once he has confided the story of his life. Laura is the only woman who understands him. He has followed her to Boston where he works as a barrista at ‘Queequeg’s’.

Laura finds Ted annoying and pathetic, but she isn’t having any luck dating, either, and she can’t forget that she owes him her life. They hang out together, sexually mismatched, but co-dependent vampire survivors. Ted brings her lattes during his morning coffee break. Yes, barristas have coffee breaks.

Returning to work, Ted trips over the bloody body of his boss. Dead customers litter the premises. A gun-toting angry white male is demanding a half-soy half-caf Mochachino. Instinctively, the former vampire slayer flings a pitcher of steaming milk, followed by an urn of Decaf Sumatra. Without checking to see what effect the boiling liquids have had, he runs from the shop, soaked in the blood of fellow employees and dead customers, not forgetting to pocket a CD dropped by the scalded customer. Are you with me so far? Let’s skip forward a little.

Ted is looking for answers in Providence, Rhode Island, the Mecca of Lovecraft studies. He is being hunted by Cthulhu worshipping white males, who take exception to his treatment of their Boston colleague. The cultists are also searching for a buried copy of Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, thought to contain the chants required to bring Cthulhu back from his ‘non-Euclidean’ dimension. This is most likely to happen near places of mystic power, where the boundaries between dimensions are weakest. Ted traces the cultists to an abandoned Masonic temple, next to a shopping mall. Get it? ‘The Mall of Cthulhu’?

Everything is topsy-turvy. Cthulhu worship, formerly the province of brown skinned degenerates, has been co-opted by Angry White Males. The FBI, which used to be a reliably white-male bastion of goodness and rightness, has been infiltrated by frustrated lesbians, and the only hope for survival of contemporary mall culture is a wimpy coffee bar employee, who has (at last!) hooked up with a pierced and tattooed beauty. Her real name is Jennifer, but she has renamed herself ‘Cayenne’. Yes, she’s hot—and a good thing too, because she and Ted will be spending decades in that alternative dimension where Cthulhu sleeps, waiting for his worshippers to bring him back to earth.

Unless Laura can figure out how to rescue them…

Well, who knows what the future will bring? Surely Lovecraft did not expect to be immortal. But he is—and it is just possible that eighty years from now an equally misunderstood Seamus Cooper will be revered as the St. Paul of Cthulhu—the man who resurrected His worship, reclaiming it from loser degenerates to the righteously dominant (white-male) culture of 2090. Here’s your chance to get ahead of the curve.

Or, wait—won’t it be the other way around? Isn’t the whole point that Ted and Laura save us from Cthulhu, making the Mall safe for democracy? Who knows, it’s a bit diffuse, and like all cult literature, subject to various interpretations.

Or we could assume it’s just for fun. There are funny things to be found here. I especially liked the idea of a secret federal agency for the suppression of vampirism, werewolves, and (during the Clinton administration) Ozark Mountain succubi.

Of course, that would only be funny if it weren’t true.

A review copy of The Mall of Cthulhu was sent to Booksquawk member S. P. Miskowski, author of really scary stories and insightful reviews. She passed it along to me. One of the delights of books with a material existence is the frequency with which they fall into the wrong hands. In the coming age of electronic publishing, will books be subject to a master toggle switch, so that only the ‘right’ people can read them?

Don’t let it happen. Support books with pages.

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