In this month’s edition of Locus magazine, Ian Mond reviews The Destroyer of Worlds, and he likes it:
The Destroyer of Worlds is immensely entertaining. The pacing is on point, the action set pieces are thrilling, and the stakes are high. I swallowed the novel down in a couple of pleasurable sittings… Ruff’s continued exploration of race in America during Jim Crow still packs a punch… [It] is also a delicate and tender novel about faith and spirituality… It’s nuanced, meaningful stuff that reinforces the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by the characters… And am I eagerly anticipating the next volume in the saga of the Turner-Berry family? Oh my, yes!
We’re now just two weeks away from publication. If you’re thinking of picking up the book, a preorder—either online or at your favorite local indie bookstore—would be very much appreciated, as it adds to the first week’s sales numbers and helps draw attention to the novel.
If you’re in Seattle or Portland, OR, I’ll be doing in-person appearances at Elliott Bay Book Company, Third Place Books, and Powell’s later this month. I’ll also be attending the Literary Lions Gala and Emerald City Comic Con in March. My full schedule is here. (And if you’re not in the Pacific NW, no worries; I’ll be doing plenty of online appearances as well.)
The two stories I want to highlight today aren’t inspired by the official Lovecraft canon, but they do fit thematically into the Lovecraft ethos, and they’re both very good.
Ghoul, a Netflix original three-part miniseries written and directed by Patrick Graham, is set in a near-future India where sectarian violence has led to a military crackdown on civil liberties. Radhika Apte plays Lieutenant Nida Rahim, an intelligence officer in training. Despite being a member of the Muslim minority, she’s a true believer in the system who reports her own father for subversive activity, naively believing he’ll be “reeducated” and released unharmed.
This act earns Nida a surprise posting to a government black site, Meghdoot 31, where she’s told she will assist in the interrogation of a notorious terrorist, Ali Saeed. But the “Ali Saeed” who arrives at the site is something far more dangerous—a flesh-eating shapeshifter in human form, summoned from the unseen realm to hold sinners to account.
As the ghoul uses its powers to turn the torturers against each other, Nida becomes a target: Major Das, the second-in-command, is convinced that she’s somehow responsible. Meanwhile Nida, having recognized the monster for what it is, tries to figure out which of the prisoners is responsible for summoning it, even as she fights to stay alive and to protect the one true innocent at the site. It’s a wonderfully creepy cat-and-mouse game.
Rahi Anil Barve’s Tumbbad stars Sohum Shah as Vinayak Rao, whose mother was the mistress of the wealthiest man in Tumbbad village. Fifteen years after his father’s death, Vinayak returns to Tumbbad to seek the fortune in gold rumored to be hidden beneath the decrepit fortress where his father once lived. Vinayak’s paternal grandmother—a literal monster—offers to share the secret of the treasure in exchange for a merciful death. But she warns him: “Not everything you inherit should be claimed.”
The treasure is guarded by a god, Hastar (not to be confused with Hastur of the Cthulhu Mythos), who as punishment for his insatiable greed was cursed by his divine mother to be forgotten by men and never worshiped. Hastar possesses an infinite supply of gold coins, and it’s possible to steal from him, but the method is extraordinarily dangerous and only yields a handful of coins at a time. Vinayak is willing to take the risk; he returns to the fortress again and again, and becomes a wealthy man. But as his grandmother warned, the wealth is a curse—it slowly robs him of all happiness, and, in the film’s final act, threatens to do the same to his son.
Here’s an interesting fact about Indian cinema that I learned from watching Tumbbad: under regulations passed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, all depictions of tobacco use must be accompanied by a visible health warning. As Vinayak sinks further into a dissolute lifestyle, the phrase “SMOKING IS INJURIOUS TO HEALTH” begins popping up in the corner of the screen. It’s true, but ironic in context—lung cancer is the least of Vinayak’s worries.
One of H.P. Lovecraft’s inspirations was Robert William Chambers (1865-1933) an author of weird fiction whose most famous creation, The King in Yellow, is a play in book form capable of driving readers insane. The narrator of Chambers’ story “The Repairer of Reputations” describes his experience with the play this way: “I remembered after finishing the first act that it occurred to me that I had better stop. I started up and flung the book into the fireplace; the volume struck the barred grate and fell open on the hearth in the fire-light. If I had not caught a glimpse of the opening words in the second act I should never have finished it, but as I stooped to pick it up, my eyes became riveted to the open page, and with a cry of terror, or perhaps it was joy so poignant that I suffered in every nerve, I snatched the thing out of the coals and crept to my bedroom, where I read it and reread it, and wept and laughed and trembled with a horror which at times assails me yet.”
Books that harm the reader remain a popular subject in horror, though modern versions of the trope often substitute other media. In John Carpenter’s excellent “Cigarette Burns,” an episode of the Masters of Horror anthology series, the medium in question is a film, La Fin Absolue du Monde, whose premiere ended in a deadly riot. Norman Reedus plays a ne’er-do-well theater owner and cinephile who is hired by Udo Kier to track down the movie. (La Fin‘s sole print was reportedly seized and destroyed after the riot, but Kier knows this isn’t true, and he’s willing to pay handsomely to see it before he dies.)
The phrase “cigarette burns” refers to the changeover cues that let projectionists know when a film reel is nearing its end. As Reedus gets closer to his quarry, he starts seeing flashes of these cues superimposed on reality—a sign that the film’s spell is already taking hold of him. As the protagonists of such stories invariably do, he ignores the warning and keeps going.
The entire Masters of Horror series is currently streaming for free, with ads, on Tubi; “Cigarette Burns” is the eighth episode of season one. For a double feature, you might try pairing it with John Carpenter’s other entry in the cursed media subgenre, In The Mouth of Madness.
David Amito and Michael Laicini’s Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made, is a mock documentary about another supposedly cursed movie. A brief introduction gives the history of the film: At a 1988 screening in Budapest, the theater spontaneously combusted, killing everyone inside. A number of programmers at film festivals to which Antrum was submitted died shortly after watching it. When a 1993 showing of Antrum in San Francisco also ended in tragedy, the movie was withdrawn from circulation. Until now.
A liability disclaimer then appears on screen:
…and after a thirty second countdown, the cursed film is shown in its entirety. It’s a clever gimmick—undercut, in my case at least, by the fact that not only did Antrum fail to kill me, it never came close to making me believe that it could. But it did get me wondering whether there’s a version of this film that would make me believe, and what that would look like.
Antrum is currently streaming on Tubi and Freevee. (Note: if it does kill you, please don’t @ me.)
My current favorite example of the cursed media trope is Graham Reznick’s Deadwax. Hannah Gross plays Etta Price, a record hunter who becomes obsessed with finding the Lytton Lacquer, a legendary LP whose producer, Lyle Lytton, died during its creation; the sound of Lytton’s death is said to be encoded in the grooves of the record.
On its own, the Lacquer is worse than useless. Listening to even a fraction of it causes madness; listening to the whole album is fatal. To employ the Lacquer “properly,” the would-be listener must first be “tuned” by hearing three other Lytton records—Keys One, Two, and Three—played in synchrony, after which the Lacquer becomes a door to another reality. It goes without saying that this is one of those quests where success will leave you wishing you’d failed. But by the time Hannah realizes that, it’s much too late to give up.
Deadwax is billed as a series, but the episodes are short (the total running time is less than two hours), which gives it an overall structure and feel very much like that of a concept album—one that I would highly recommend. It’s available to stream on Shudder and AMC+.
With the publication of The Destroyer of Worlds just five weeks away now, I thought I’d revive this series of blog posts about Lovecraft-inspired films and TV series.
In Lovecraft’s 1930 novella The Whisperer in Darkness, a Miskatonic University folklorist named Albert Wilmarth strikes up a correspondence with a Vermont farmer, Henry Akeley, who claims that the old legends about monsters living in remote areas of the countryside are true. These creatures, the Mi-Go, are extraterrestrials from Yuggoth, an undiscovered ninth planet located at the outer rim of the solar system—but their real home is much farther away, in “strangely organised abysses wholly beyond the utmost reach of any human imagination.” Wilmarth is skeptical at first, but Akeley provides him with photographic evidence and a Dictaphone recording of one of the Mi-Go speaking to a human confederate.
Unfortunately for Akeley, the Mi-Go are jealous of their privacy, and they know he’s been telling tales about them. Some of his letters to Wilmarth are intercepted in transit; those that get through describe an increasingly dire situation in which the Mi-Go stage nightly attacks on Akeley’s isolated farmhouse. He’s able to hold them off for a while with guns and police dogs, but his days are numbered. “I am fully resigned,” he writes at last. “Can’t escape even if I were willing to give up everything and run. They’ll get me.”
This despairing missive is followed a day later by another letter—this one entirely typewritten—in which Akeley’s attitude is completely transformed. It was all a big misunderstanding, he says. He’s met with the Mi-Go and it turns out they’re TOTALLY friendly! They’d really like to meet with Wilmarth too, so he can see for himself how friendly they are! He should come up to the farmhouse as soon as possible—there’s a convenient train that’ll get him into Brattleboro, VT just a few hours after dark! And, oh yeah, as long as he’s coming, he should bring along Akeley’s letters, and the photographs, and the Dictaphone recording…
You’ll never guess what happens next.
Andrew Leman and Sean Branney followed up their 2005 silent-film version of The Call of Cthulhu with an adaptation of Whisperer (trailer here). Like the prior film, it’s shot in period style—this one’s a talkie—and the black and white photography makes the low-budget special effects more persuasive. Matt Foyer gives a good performance as Wilmarth, and even the hammier acting—like Daniel Kaemon’s turn as the villainous Mr. Noyes—feels both deliberate and appropriate, exactly what you’d expect from a 1930s horror movie.
The screenplay improves on Lovecraft’s novella in a number of ways, starting with the fact that Wilmarth’s decision to go to Vermont feels a lot more believable. There are still plenty of warning signs, but nothing so blatant that only an idiot could fail to see that the Mi-Go have laid a trap. And the film’s climax is both more elaborate and more satisfying, with Wilmarth doing his best to disrupt the Mi-Go’s plans for world conquest before attempting a desperate escape in a crop duster’s biplane.
From the January 1 edition of Library Journal, another positive advance review for The Destroyer of Worlds:
Readers can expect the same genre-blending, dark humor, and creepy atmosphere from the first book, but this time Ruff presents each character and their compelling journey in alternating chapters. As the narratives overlap and come together, readers will be held captive until the thrilling conclusion. This series excels in how it continues to draw parallels between its pulpy plot and the entire civil rights movement. The cosmic dilemmas make for a great read, but the unease is amplified by readers’ knowledge that these Black characters are about to be thrust into a very real fight for freedom.
This holiday season I did that thing where you promise yourself you’re going to get a lot accomplished in the downtime between Christmas and New Year’s, and then proceeded to accomplish almost nothing, unless leveling up all fourteen character classes in Soulstone Survivors counts as an accomplishment.
But no matter, I’ll be busy soon enough. The publication date of The Destroyer of Worlds is just seven weeks away. I’ve started listing confirmed events on my appearances page. For now it looks as though my in-person events will be limited to the West Coast, but I’ll be doing plenty of online promotion as well. If you’re interested in scheduling an interview or a remote author appearance, please get in touch with my publicist, Rachel Elinsky.
Where its predecessor was constructed of separate stories focusing on different family members, this book operates with more interwoven narratives that Ruff manages to yoke together into one ripping yarn with shocks and surprises at every turn… The best news this book delivers is that we’ll likely be seeing more from its vivid cast.
We’re still four months away from publication, but Publishers Weekly has an advance review of The Destroyer of Worlds, and it’s a rave:
Ruff’s sequel to 2016’s Lovecraft Country delivers another virtuoso blend of horror, action, and humor… Ruff makes the most of his inventive concept and his care in crafting memorable characters means that the fates of even minor cast members make an impact. Fans will find this a worthy sequel.