Chaosium’s “Cycle Books” are a fantastic series of themed anthologies (for the most part). But they do have one thing that I’m not thrilled with, usual series editor Robert M. Price. It’s not one thing I can necessarily point to. Sometimes his introductions give away major plot points and spoil the story’s surprise. That’s annoying. Especially as short stories often live and die on their dramatic or surprising endings. He also has a sort of Tom Snyder style pomposity. There’s something in his writing style that makes me think of a boorish cocktail guest, speaking too loudly, relentlessly name-dropping, and smoking especially rank cigarettes. And finally, I find myself in disagreement with him on his interpretations of Lovecraft and the Mythos on a semi-frequent basis. However, I must admit that his knowledge of the subject is deep and profound, with a wide reach. He frequently pulls stories and information from surprising sources.
With “The Yith Cycle” he has collected several stories either directly involving the Great Race of Yith, or dealing with related topics like mind transference or unusual time travel. The Great Race featured in the original H.P. Lovecraft story “The Shadow Out of Time,” which is among my very favorite. Their history is strange and convoluted, but the gist is that they’re aliens from somewhere very distant, who transferred their minds into creatures in Earth’s distant past. From there, they reached forward into the minds of various beings throughout Earth’s history (including the protagonist of “The Shadow Out of Time”) and into our far future. In that future, in a time after Humanity has passed into forgotten history, they will eventually project themselves into beatle-like things in that future. The Great Race is not especially evil or hostile. In fact, while they certainly couldn’t be said to have Humanity’s interests at heart, they are fairly civil, and for an alien species, somewhat relatable. Simple, right?
The anthology starts with the novel, “The Purple Sapphire,” which I have reviewed previously. I was not a fan. And in truth, I just don’t see why it was included. Connecting it to the concepts of the Yith seems like a stretch. You could have put in H. Rider Haggard’s “She” or any number of other “lost civilization” or “reincarnation” novels and it would have had just as much point, and perhaps less racism (perhaps?). From there things improve. There are several good stories and interesting reads. I especially liked ‘The Horror from Yith,’ a round-robin story by three authors. Each segment explores and expands upon a theme, using some recurring characters. One of the authors has a follow-up story included, ‘The Changeling,’ which is also quite good. ‘The Sands of Time’ is a cool old science fiction story, reminding one of Edgar Rice Burroughs and others of his ilk. And the next story, by Richard L. Tierney is quite interesting, building on Lovecraft, but also on ‘The Sands of Time,’ and using other genre references. It has a very 70s, anti-hero kinda thing going on.
One thing that started to bother me a lot were the typos. I know Chaosium isn’t a big publishing company, but I found the frequency of typos, especially in the second half of the book to be off-putting.
The book would have been stronger without the inclusion of “The Purple Sapphire,” but features enough good stories that anyone interested in The Great Race should certainly give it a read. If you want a bit more science fiction in your Lovecraftian, cosmic horror, this is the way to go.
-Matthew J. Constantine