Review: The Lovecraft Squad: Dreaming, Edited by Stephen Jones
The Lovecraft Squad: Dreaming, edited by Stephen Jones, is the third volume in the new interconnected trilogy that reveals the origins of “The Lovecraft Squad”—a super-secret worldwide organization dedicated to battling the eldritch monstrosities given form in H. P. Lovecraft’s fevered imagination.
The Lovecraft Squad is a secret branch of the FBI created to hold off the advance of The Old Ones, Lovecraft’s collection of ancient gods. J. Edgar Hoover created the team, and only a handful of people outside of the squad know of their existence.
This anthology contains 11 connected short stories (including the prologue and epilogue), which are mainly set from 1960 through the early 1970s, with recurring characters throughout the stories. It’s hard to know what to expect with anthologies because they can be a mixed bag. While there are clearly differences between the individual authors’ styles, the cohesion of the stories works so well that the collection could be written by one author playing with style throughout interconnected stories. Characters reappear throughout so the reader can connect right away as each new author takes over.
H. P. Lovecraft is a legendary storyteller, but his reputation is mired in his blatant racism and misogyny. And the reality of life for women and minorities in the middle of the last century is not sugar-coated in any of these stories. However, we do get to see women making inroads into what was exclusively a man’s world, and African Americans and Hispanics take their places alongside their white coworkers.
“I think Hoover’s probably hoping I fail,” she said. “So he can say ‘I told you so’ to anyone who’s tried to get him to modernize. He only let himself be talked into this because the Lovecraft Squad has such a lower public profile. That way, if I fail, I fail out of sight.”
Yahav looked openly sympathetic. “There may have been a time and a place for someone like him. From what I know of Hoover, he was forward-thinking in an era when that mattered a great deal. But those times have passed, and he’s refused to change along with them.”
“I suppose he hasn’t.” Again, discretion. Hoover had changed, but only for the worse. He’d had years to go power-mad.
Yahav swirled his mug and stared at the sludge of coffee grounds. “Let me tell you something that nobody else with my agency might ever admit to on the outside. When we go after Israel’s enemies, there are times we go through doors because of who we believe is on the other side. Terrorist cells, sometimes. On our own soil. In Palestine, Syria, Egypt.”
Then he leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms.
“But we don’t always know everyone who is going to be on the other side of the door. There’s an unofficial rule we have. There may be ten men in that room, and we know they all want us dead … but if we see a woman with them too? Shoot her first. Because to prove herself to men like that, for them to accept her, she’s had to become twice as lethal as any one of them. So we kill her first.”
Yahav gave her as frank a look as anyone ever had, pragmatic and cold and duty–bound, and she realized that only now, for the first time, she was seeing the last face that Portner might see. This was it. Not the one before, the face of the man who’d boiled coffee for them. This face.
“So be her,” Yahav said. “Be that woman.”
The tones range from terrifying to more tongue-in-cheek, but they all move forward to a huge reveal and an exciting climax. And as the subtitle would suggest, all touch on the theme of dreaming.
Dreaming is a fascinating theme because it can mean so many things. Some dreams reveal our hidden fears, others our greatest desires. There are recurring dreams and dreams in which our long-deceased relatives visit. Sometimes dreams occur in houses not lived in for decades. Then, there are nightmares that shock us awake or make us wish we could wake up.
But what if we could enter someone else’s dream? And what if those dreams are influenced by the Old Ones.
He feels terror well up as he sees they are approaching the entrance to the largest of the temples. For a second, he struggles against the force that pulls him forward, but he is nearly overwhelmed by an immediate sensation of agonizing control, and so he cedes himself to it. As he and his—Guards? Porters? Fellow ghosts?—pass beneath the massive frieze (which he sees is three times taller than he is and extends indefinitely to the right and left), for an instant he glimpses crumbling stone walls filmed in slime and dampness, but then he’s swallowed by the vast dark within the great temple.
Eyes (does he truly still possess eyes?) adjust, and he sees the temple actually pulses with its own illumination, but he cannot guess the source. The floor is occupied with scurrying acolytes. Some are vaguely human, although beneath their cowls the heads are misshapen, elongated, ridged. Others are bloated nightmares, with no hint of humanity about them; he finds it difficult, in fact, to even look at some of the things rushing about the temple.
I’m not versed enough in Lovecraftian lore to know how his monsters arrived on Earth, but it’s clear that they definitely are not on humanity’s side. What I do know is that you do not need to be a fan of Lovecraft to enjoy the stories collected here. Be ready to take a wild ride through the mid-20th century with The Old Ones.