Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Book of Tentacles Review

The Book of Tentacles (Sam’s Dot Publishing, 2010) is a delightful genre-crossing mix of bizarre and wonderful tales and poems. You’ll find Kraken and Cthulu, soul-sucking air monsters, creeping vines, vengeful octopi, sexy cephalopods, spineless lovers, fertile aliens, and hungry denizens of land, sea, air—and underground. They are horrific and wondrous, beautiful and dangerous, monstrous and eerie.

In his introduction editor Scott Virtes writes, “We haven’t gone out of our way to make it weird or different or artsy. “Weird” just comes naturally to us.” And coeditor Edward Cox explains in his Outro, “Not only were we able to accept the choicest of cuts, but also search for diversity and ensure this anthology had the broadest range of possibilities imaginable.” The editors make good on all claims, and each entry is noteworthy.

Cthulu shows up—in court. Matthew Bey’s “Call of the Bailiff” is full of marvelous turns of phrase as the Old One battles CPS for custody of his offspring—never pretty, especially with a formless blob for a character witness. Also, Keyan Bowes delivers a lovely telling of the Kraken myth in “Blood Amber.”

Tentacled creatures inhabit the world beneath us, too. In “The Signal” by Aurelio Rico Lopez III, codebreakers discover Armageddon releases real monsters. In editor Virtes’s “P6 Is Burning” a young lady faces a car-eating monster in a parking garage on her way to a job interview—but it may end up being the hardest job she’ll ever love. A Scotsman protecting his land from trespassers in “A Ferrylouper at Stenness” accidentally summons a creature from the depths of the earth that “pushed his waking mind to the very chasm between reason and madness.” Author Christopher M. Cevasco’s skillful wrap-around makes one doubt his tale is fiction.

Heroes abound in this collection. A stepfather finds the courage to face a tentacled monster in the basement—and human ones in the kitchen—in Terry Hickman’s “Jar of Peaches.” A sarcastic scribe and his charge battle a castle-climbing Kraken in Steve Gobel’s entertaining “The Temple of Squoad.” Wounded warriors hunt an oasis-draining giant crab in “One Big Drinker” by Billy Wong. In “Cascade,” a poem by Cathy Buburuz, an astronaut rescues and beds an alien damsel—with horrible consequences. And in Laura J. Underwood’s “A Quiet Neighborhood,” a new resident finds an unlikely benefactor beneath her feet.

Camille Alexa traces the origins of the term in her poem “A Lady’s Quick Reference Note on the Tentacle,” a charming accounting of all things tentacled. Other poems explore the themes of hunger and love, sometimes combing the two. The caged monster in Marge Simon’s “Lab Assistant” appears starved but is only very clever. In Terrie Leigh Relf’s “What did she know of love?” a blind girl is betrothed to a tentacled creature, and in Joshua Gage’s “Drosera” a fatal beauty lures a survivor of an apocalypse to a secret garden.

Invertebrates can be lousy lovers, as revealed in Clinton Lawrence’s flash “Low Life” and Brian Rosenberger’s poem “Mister Octopus Hands.” Mark Lee Pearson’s story “Hideki and the Giant Squid” concerns a squid in a gourmand’s digestive tract demanding to be reunited with its mate. Creepy. In Tyree Campbell’s “Slightly Pudgy Writer Seeks Foreign Entanglement,” a flirty cephalopod takes up residence with a writer, but when he tires of the relationship, she claims, “You don’t love me because I’m an alien!” Enchanting fun from this veteran author.

“The incompletion that brought one back from the dead” motivates a murder victim decomposing on the ocean floor in James S. Dorr’s “In the Octopus’s Garden.” Dorr uses his narrator’s inexact memory to weave a beautiful tale. Another sea-dwelling monster seeks revenge on a very human one in Carl Hose’s intense “Dead Wait.” In Rob Brooks’s “Taking Root” a snide mechanic meets a creepy fate from a vengeful tattoo artist. A unique format adds powerful meaning to “The Little Sea Maid,” a poem of retribution from Kendall Evans and Stephen M. Wilson.

In “Sucker Punch” by Mark Onspaugh, a mollusk-fearing physicist attempts to eliminate the species at a critical point in earth’s evolution. Horrible energy-sucking air monsters surround us, reveal Robert J. Santa’s “Professor Hilliard’s Electric Lantern” and Jim Ehmann’s “To See.” All three stories are notably poignant.

“Azure Doom” by William Blake Vogel III describes the eerie domain of an “awakening monstrosity.” David C. Kopaska-Merkel’s scary “The Anemone Garden” follows a nosy marine biologist, and in Kali Black’s haunting “Ink and Shadows,” a Watervoice pursues Ashcan Mary through the streets of an old city.

The poems “Long & black in the middle of the night” by Sharon Bray and “The Mantle of Power” by Matt Betts are delightful, as are the “Weird Sketches” by editor Virtes.

I highly recommend this “down-home tentacle revival.”

Flo Stanton is a writer in landlocked Indianapolis whose work has appeared in The Indianapolis Star, lit mags Literally and Castle Rock, the crime periodical True Police, the anthology Traps from DarkHart, and a miscellany of other print and online publications. Find out more about Flo and her writer-photographer husband John at She received a free electronic version of this book for review.