Visit Assam, India, where a British dilettante wakes up one morning covered in bruises and welts, with a dead man in her bed and o memory of what happened in the last 24 hours. Her only clue is a trashed invitation to the exclusive Black Ram Club.
—back cover, Jazz Age Cthulhu (2014)
Jennifer Brozek knew what the readers wanted, and determined to give it to them, good and hard. Mythos fiction as a self-defined genre may be something that Lovecraft and his contemporaries created in the 1920s and 30s, but generations of fans have read through everything they could get their hands on and still clamored for more. The form and tropes of the fiction have progressed, passing through pastiche into a rarified species of fiction—one with its own language of tropes, intimations, and old familiar horrors. Such is “Dreams of a Thousand Young.”
Brozek’s novelette reads like an adventure for the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game, too pulpish for real horror but hitting its marks. Attention is paid to the accuracy of the setting, the characterization of the British Colonial atmosphere, marked with the unsubtle distinctions of class and ethnicity. There is action and excitement, a new cult and and an old favorite horror, a bloody-minded nun and a penchant for Elder Signs as prophylactic device that August Derleth would have approved of. And there is a beautiful woman who was at the center of a ritual and who may now be quietly gestating something inhuman.
As with “The Thing from Lover’s Lane” (1996) by Nancy A. Collins, Brozek’s achievement is one of execution and characterization. Lady Helen Keeling is the viewpoint character, and the story rises and falls on how believable and compelling her views are. Rather than the fainting Gothic heroine or the prim and virginal British lady, Keeling is…complicated. Not a slut, but far from innocent; genuinely a victim, but determined not to play the victim; born along by the course of events, but taking her own active role in things as well.
“Dreams of a Thousand Young” is reminiscent of “ALL THIS for the GREATER GLORY of the 7th and 329th CHILDREN of the BLACK GOAT of the WOODS” (2012) by Molly Tanzer; not because of any inspiration Brozek took, but simply because both authors were working from similar sources. The cults and mythologies of Lovecraft and his contemporaries were often ambiguous, tenuous, sometimes contradicting. Cults didn’t always have names, robes and hoods were optional and often absent; sorcery, sacrifices, and summonings were undefined in capabilities and requirements. The roleplaying game was always much more concrete, defining spells and the names of critters—it is no surprise that the Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath which appear in both stories are strongly inspired both in name and appearance by the critter of the same variety in the game.
It is very weird to consider that today some writers are drawing on, not the original fiction by Lovecraft and his contemporaries or even the second wave of fiction by the next generation of writers like Ramsey Campbell or Brian Lumley, but from reference materials derived from those previous works. When writers don’t go straight for Lovecraft and Derleth, but reach for The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia or S. Petersen’s Field Guide to Lovecraftian Horrors, the stories that result are no longer pastiche in any real sense; the stylistic aspects of the individual original authors is lost. The material has been through too many hands and minds, a lot of the odd details are smoothed out, and the result is strangely—consistent.
Which is what many readers want from their Mythos fiction.
So Jennifer Brozek gave it to them, with skill and craft.
“Dreams of a Thousand Young” was first published in Jazz Age Cthulhu (2014). It has not been reprinted.
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.