Thursday, August 30, 2007

High Seas Cthulhu: Below Decks

After the announcement of High Seas Cthulhu, I’ve been asked a few times how the book came about. Early on I posted an article detailing the inspiration (Surprise Anthology), so I’ll not cover that here. Instead, feel free to follow the link back to the topic. I’ll skip ahead to the framework of the anthology. (Click on the image or here to follow a link to

Initially, the premise was based upon a number of tales submitted to Dark Wisdom magazine, and to various anthologies I had edited in the past. When the book started, the underlying premise was to gather stores set between the 1500s and 1850s. At first it looked like easy sailing, but as I gathered more tales, it appeared that the anthology might become overburdened with historical works – in some cases, only loosely connected to Lovecraft and his Mythos. So a change of direction was needed. I invited a few writers, expecting most not to be interested. After all, “high seas” Lovecraftian tales do require specific historical knowledge – it is a mixture of two sub-genres. I anticipated few positive responses.

To my surprise, every writer I contacted seemed interested in the project. There were a few who simply didn’t have the time, so maybe we’ll catch them the next time around. I was delighted to learn that I wasn’t the only one with the unusual interest in the particular angle of Lovecraftian tales. Also, some authors contacted me after word of the project was out, adding to the final list.

The basic requirements, originally, were to write a story that takes place on water with Lovecraftian elements. Fearing the anthology would be overrun with tales of prowling Deep Ones, I asked some authors to avoid the topic. Later, hoping to change the pacing of the book, I tried another tack. I asked some authors for contemporary tales – and some found their way to me. Doing this created variety within the anthology, shifting across times and places.

Of course, the cover artist, Steven Gilberts did much to bring the flavor of the anthology to life, producing the cover long before the body of work was completed (and perhaps inspiring some of the tales in the process).

The final order of tales was a challenge. After much debate, I attempted to assemble the tales by thematic connection and juxtaposition, sometimes using one work to foreshadow another work. Although the references in some tales to similar occurrences in other tales was unplanned, it was very convenient when ordering the stories. And with any luck, a few authors will show up to elaborate on how they developed their ideas. Questions are welcome as well.


Charles Gramlich said...

I was going to ask if this will be available from Amazon? I've actually looked for this but, possibly because I'm rather lame at search stuff, haven't been able to locate it.

William Jones said...

Hello Charles,

It isn't you; it takes a while for the data to move through the system. The book is now online at Amazon.

Itshould appear in bookstores around October 1st. Amazon may have it sooner; it all depends upon the speed of distribution. I suspect if you give it another search, you'll now find it on Amazon -- let me know if it is still hiding. :)

Alan Dean Foster said...

In re my story DARK BLUE:

In April and May of 2006, I journeyed on board the National Geographic Explorer from Easter Island westward across the Pacific, fetching up a month later in Rarotonga. In the course of this trip the ship stopped at many places cruise ships don't go. One of these was fabled Pitcairn Island, home of the descendents of the Bounty mutineers. Another was Henderson Island.

A world heritage site, Henderson is one of the most isolated islands in the entire Pacific, located in an area visited by few ships and no tourists. Uninhabited, it has no airstrip and landings are rare and very difficult. If R'lyeh was still going to be around and unknown in this era of satellite photography and ground (and water) piercing radar, I figure somewhere in the vicinity of Henderson would be a good spot. I was going to use Ducie Island, which is even more isolated, but weather prevented landing or diving at Ducie.

I can say that the water at Henderson is indeed crystal clear, for the reason enumerated in the story, and that the feeling of isolation is profound. In February '08 I hope to visit Nan Madol on Pohnpei, which was something of an original inspiration for R'yleh. Perhaps a colony or suburb of the "main" entrance at Henderson...another story?

Most readers of my SF and fantasy are unaware that over the years I've also written numerous articles on scuba diving, which made writing DARK BLUE such a pleasure.

Alan Dean Foster

Matthew Baugh said...

Growing up in the Southwest and now living in the midwest I've been landlocked my whole life. Nonetheless, I've always loved pirate movies. The high seas adventures of Errol Flynn, Tyrone Power, and Burt Lancaster to name a few.

My story "Clown Fish" came from a couple of mental images. One was the beautiful woman in tattered raiment menaced by pirates (do a google image search for pirates and you'll find about a zillion variations. The other was the elder thing rising to grapple the ship, very much like the amazing cover turned out!

I wanted to write a fast moving high adventure but I didn't want it to be a stereotypical damsel in distress story. I can't say much more without spoiling it. :-)

Just two more quick points of interest. The Lenape words the character Hawk uses are from a wonderful Lenape language site at That and are invlauable for writers wanting to use native characters.

I also hinted that Hawk's former captain is one of my all-time favorite literary pirates. But I'll let you figure that one out.

Stewart Sternberg said...


My first awareness of this project was a copy of the cover art on William Jones' website. I have always loved stories set on the high seas and to combine an historical setting with the Mythos was a thrilling opportunity for me.

As I wrote "The Others" it didn't occur to me to set the tale at any time other than the 1800's. Maybe I had read too many books by Patrick OBrien. Maybe I had watched one too many episodes of Horatio Hornblower.

What concerned me in the writing was the use of a slave ship as a setting. I was afraid that some people would feel I was exploiting or in some way minimizing the horror of slavery by introducing the mythos. The setting though was integral to the thematic statement I wanted to make about the human condition.

I think if I were given another opportunity to contribute to this anthology though, I would set the story in the present, maybe telling a story about the piracy going on off the coast of Somalia. Or...maybe not.

Charles Gramlich said...

Thanks, William, I'll have another look when I put in my next Amazon order.

Michael McBride said...

For my story, La Armada Invencible, I wanted to use actual documented events, with a fictional twist, of course. Years ago, while researching the Salem Witch Trials, I stumbled upon another interesting incidence of witchcraft: a British coven claimed responsibility for defeating the Spanish Armada using magical rites from atop the White Cliffs of Dover. So, after insinuating some fictional characters into the ranks of the factual, I threw in a heavy dose of Lovecraftian mythos, some thumb-screws, and'll just have to read the story to see if I was able to pull it off.

(And yes, I really can spell 'invincible'.)

Chuck Zaglanis said...

The nautical information found in "The Isle of Dreams" was all uncharted territory to me. My experience with swashbuckling high seas adventures were limited to various versions of Mutiny on the Bounty, Yellowbeard, “Stagger, stagger, crawl, crawl,” Princess Bride, “He is the brute squad,” and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

With research garnered from my library and online I devised some scenes I thought would evoke some sense of cosmic dread (I hope). I wanted to explore what it would be like if a person was born without the blinders that keep our fragile minds from experiencing the full horror of the Mythos. I toyed around with the idea of faith and atheism, as well as chaos and order. I figured a place touched by the surrealistic nature of “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kaddath” would be a fun spot to let those ideas ferment.

A couple points of interest: the coordinates given at the beginning of the story place the ship above R’lyeh, which is the reason for the events that transpire soon after, although it’s not the final destination of the ship. Cthulhu is the first literary creation to give me nightmares, thanks to his brief appearance in “At the Mountains of Madness,” so I felt I owed it to the big guy to throw him in, if only in a very limited fashion. I added a phantasmagorical dream sequence that I think, in its own twisted way, really cements the nature of the main players. There are a few other “Easter eggs” here and there for the Mythos savvy to find.

Heather Hatch said...

“Ice” came to me from a lot of places.

I was rifling through the school library one day and I came across a little leaflet published by August Derleth that was basically the transcription of a panel discussion he’d moderated at some convention back in the 60’s. It was a bunch of fantasy/sci-fi authors talking about Lovecraft’s work, how it had influenced them, what they’d thought of playing around in his world, and so forth.

The only author whose name I remember was Fritz Leiber. Someone asked whether any of them actually found Lovecraft scary. Most said no. But Leiber spoke up about when he was young and reading this stuff for the first time, back in the days when people didn’t take the domestication of the environment quite so much for granted, when it still felt like there were distant, unknown places here on Earth.

It made me want to try and recapture that feeling of mystery and the unknown, and I thought the arctic was a good setting. I’ve been studying anthropology and maritime stuff (where stuff = history, archaeology, etc) for a while now, and ship societies interest me. I’d done some reading the previous term on social interactions between crew and scientists on long research voyages which had stuck in my mind for whatever reason. The goal was to create a story with a strong atmosphere of menace and mystery, and to play with the idea that maybe we don’t know our world so well as we believe and that there might be consequences for our modern ignorance and complacency. I wanted to play more with some of the ideas and impulses that inspired Lovecraft than with any specific mythos elements.

Also, I was living with a friend in Toronto during a heat wave at the time, and he had no air conditioning. It was nice to be able to think about being somewhere really cold.

Heather Hatch said...

*cough* that should be *antarctic*, clearly...


Gerard Houarner said...

Another story approaching the Cthulu Mythos through the slave trade -- who could have predicted that? In my case, I went straight for the slave trade, wanting to connect various forms and degrees of evil -- Ruth's cultural entrapment, African economic exploitation, and the ways in which personal desires are chosen in ethical and moral conflicts. Frankly, I also wanted to confront some of Lovecraft's attitudes. Without all the high falutin' stuff -- I wanted a group of men who'd chosen to do terrible things, some perhaps for honest reasons and others because they're depraved, to meet a horrible end.

Research delivered the story of The Wanderer, which gave me the kind of ship I wanted, as well as period material like the "Hamite" and enough ship-board references to get by (there's no documentation of anyone ever having a career like Isham's, though some came close -- I took liberties). Had some fun with Ponape Island and the Wilcox family references. The horror for me is the fate of the ship's "cargo" -- already doomed, they're cast into an even more terrible servitude.

Above all, I hoped to tell an entertaining and disturbing tale that would hit some readers where they might not have expected to take a shot.

Mark Rainey said...

"Signals" pretty much happened overnight. William asked me if I could contribute a story with a contemporary setting, since HIGH SEAS already had plenty of historical tales, and might I also leave the Deep Ones out of it altogether? No problem on either count, especially since I really have no great hankering to write about Deep Ones (of all HPL's creations, they do seem the most tired). I decided to sleep on the prospect, and when I woke up the next morning, it was with the sun in my eyes. Through the blinds, it looked as if some of the sunbeams were extending way out across the sky, and thus came the idea of a brilliant light over the ocean -- a source of messages of unknown content, sent to an unknown destination, somewhere out there. What if I were the only one who knew about the thing? I should long to share the knowledge with the world, but it would have to be on my own terms, and I would need hard proof.

And what if it didn't particularly want to be revealed -- except on -its- own terms? Well, that's why Azathoth invented bodyguards, n'est-ce pas?

So out it all popped. Pretty much in record time, too, as I think 72 hours passed between the idea's conception and the time I typed the last word of the tale.

Nothing like a deadline to get those ideas floating.

Stus said...

I have this on order and am looking forward to it! (Hardboiled Cthulhu was somewhat disappointing in a few of the stories that just did not have the proper pulp hard-boiled aspect)

Darrell Schweitzer said...

re: The Idol in his Hand

The main thing I have to say about this story is that it picks up on HPL's hints that the South Pacific and the ocean floor generally are weirder than we normally give them credit for. I also wondered about that strange statuette (or was it just a bust; as I write this I don't remember) the dead sailor had in "The Temple." Obviously we have a mix here of "The Temple," "The Call of Cthulhu" (who says R'lyeh doesn't bounce up and down off the ocean floor periodically?) and lots of pirate movies. If Long John Silver were a servant of Dagon he might have turned out like my character. (And who says he wasn't?)

Tim Curran said...

Call me Ishmael.
When I was in eleventh grade, my English teacher attempted to lure me away from the literary graveyard where I lurked with Lovecraft and Blackwood, Machen and Bloch. I was happy there. Content. What he chose to lure me away with was Moby Dick. At first I read the book only out of duty, but it didn’t take long before I was lost in the world of Ishmael and Captain Ahab, Stubbs and Elijah and Starbuck, not to mention Queequeg, an almost mythical being in his own right. And the whale, of course. Let’s not forget that ghostly white whale, which is at once a force of nature and at the same time, a supernatural force of pure demonic wrath. To my surprise, here was a literary classic that was not boring and it had that weird undercurrent that I fed upon. Great book. Loved it. Moby Dick, I knew, was a rip-roaring whaling adventure. When I re-read the book in my late twenties, I discovered that it was also a detailed natural history of whales and a minute examination of the 19th century whaling industry. Then about five years ago, I read it yet again and discovered that it was all those aforementioned things, but also a character study of blind obsession as Ahab dooms not only himself but his crew with his monomaniacal pursuit of the whale. Couched in symbolism, mysticism, themes of obsession and revenge, this is the sort of book that changes every time you read it. Not just a classic, but a weird classic. And let’s not forget that giant squid…Melville’s description of it transforms an already fearsome monster into something spectral and alien and impossibly malignant. When William Jones asked me to write a story for High Seas Cthulhu, I knew instantly it had to be a whaling story. And I knew it had to encompass some of the very themes of Moby Dick. I wanted to touch upon the graphic nature of not only hunting whales, but the gruesome business of rendering them. I also wanted to capture the brotherly affection and absolute devotion between master and harpooner. As Ahab was obsessed with the destruction of the white whale, so is the crew of my story, “The Wreck of the Ghost,” obsessed with discovering just what exactly has turned the rich whaling grounds of the Bering Sea into a graveyard as they find one mutilated whale carcass after another. What exactly is large enough and savage enough to feed upon the great leviathan and rob the crew of the Ghost of their livelihood? Well, if you’re the good little Lovecraftian I think you are, you might have a few ideas. Ever since reading Melville, I’ve wanted to do a rip-roaring whaling adventure, but to do it, I had to go back to the graveyard. Unfortunately, I had to take the crew of Ghost with me. For it is they ultimately that will have to look our primal, whale-devouring nightmare in the eye or eyes and sink their iron (harpoons) into it. As Ahab said himself: From hell’s heart I stab at thee!

Jeff Edwards said...

Darrell, thanks for mentioning "The Temple," that's a favorite of mine. Re: statuette vs. bust... "Our men searched him for souvenirs, and found in his coat pocket a very odd bit of ivory carved to represent a youth's head crowned with laurel."


Steve Gilberts said...

It was during GenCon 2006 that William approached me about illustrating the cover for High Seas Cthulhu.

Beginning with the basics, the illustration was done with acrylic and is on compressed fiberboard.

Initially the discussion focused on what type of ship it would (or should not) be. This led me on a merry search through the internet for images of old sailing ships, and consequently became an interesting history lesson. The resulting craft was actually an amalgam of various ships and ideas. Perhaps historically inaccurate, but with a shoggoth in the picture it is obviously not for a school text book. As William took note, the sails are rigged for speed, indicating that the crew is trying to get the heck out of there.

I have never illustrated a ship before, so for my first sailing craft I don't think it turned out too bad.

Now as an artist with a penchant for illustrating Lovecraftian mythos, my obvious focus would be the monster. I was always fond of shoggoths, as "At The Mountains of Madness" was one of the first H. P. Lovecraft stories that I read ( fall of 1985 if I remember correctly).

I wanted to approach the danger posed by the beast from both above and below the surface.

On the surface I depicted the pitched hopeless defense of the ship. The shoggoth is obviously only marginally affected by the cannon shots. Below the surface is where the insidious nature of the beast is apparent. Here I had two ocean hazards in mind. The first one was the obvious metaphor of the creature as an iceberg, what is seen above the surface is huge, but in actuality only a small part of a vaster threat.

The other idea is that of a danger familiar to swimmers, the Portuguese-man-o-war. With this creature, a brightly colored 12" float sits atop the water. Beneath is the business end, tentacles that contain nematocysts, coiled and ready to inject a neurotoxic venom akin to that of the cobra (that can put a damper on a day at the beach). The tentacles can stretch to as long as 60' (!) from the float, hence again the idea of a greater danger below that of the obvious.

William asked that I make the illustration predominantly red. The title, " Red Sky at Morning", is from the old adage of sailors "red sky at morning, sailors take warning", an indicator that bad weather was approaching. I thought a shoggoth would at least be equal to a tempest.

C.J. Henderson said...

re A Kind of Fear

Well, I wish I had a better story to tell here, but my inspiration came pretty simply. When the call came for High Seas Cthulhu stories, I did what I always do, of course, which was to try and think of something no one else would. Somehow I got stuck on the idea of doing something revolving around pirate booty rather than the sea itself. I figured everyone else would be worried about doing something on a boat, and I'm always looking for something different. As I tried to come up with an idea, I remembered something I had read in "The Encyclopedia of Unsolved Mysteries," a terrific book by British philosopher and sci fi writer Colin Wilson. The book gives you all the known facts on scores of true enigmas, Shroud of Turin, Yeti footprints, Agatha Christie's disappearance, stuff like that. I remembered a particularly fascinating case about a suspected buried treasure site, so I went back to the book, reread that chapter, and then launched into my own whimsical interpretation of the events. Much simpler than most of my inspirations. Indeed, let me tell you about the time I ...

John Shirley said...

In "Those Who Came to Dagon" it was my intention to write in a voice that, if not Lovecraft's, was somehow Lovecraftian, or one that might have come from one of his Weird Tales contemporaries. There may be some Poe in it too. (I have a desire to write a historical novel set in the 19th century and have actually written the first chapter of one set in the Napoleonic era-- this tale might be an extension of that desire).

I read a great deal of Lovecraft when I was a boy, and in my early teens. I went so far as to order some special editions of the Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath and even his poetry collection, Fungi From Yuggoth. The story was partly inspired by a recollection of some particulars of the Dagon mythos,and partly from a desire to say something about 19th century slavery and the high seas. When I think of horrors having to do with the sea, I think of Lovecraft and Dagon, and I think of slaveships. Man has no need to of the supernatural or the fantastic to uncover horror: mankind creates its own.

The story is not set on a slaveship, however--that story has been told by many other writers. This one is about the consequences of slavery elsewhere, and the revenge an ancient culture might take. In my opinion, we still live with the consequences of slavery in our own culture, here in modern America.

Lovecraft, though a great writer, was a human being with human flaws: Amongst other things, he was culturally and racially prejudicial, at least as a young man. A recent biographer suggests that he outgrew that tendency in later years. This is not a story about racism per se--it's a horror story about Dagon set at sea--but I like to think I was "channeling" Lovecraft who was indirectly trying to make amends.

Finally, the story contains an allusion, perhaps more than one, to the writings of Patrick O'Brian--I am a fan of O'Brian's tales of 19th century seamanship.