Elder Prey

Elder Prey!
(Click for large version)


"In His House at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming... no, wait, he's just dead! Omigod, he's been stabbed! Someone call the police!"

Great Cthulhu is dead, stabbed with his own butter knife, the butter still warm on the blade. The only thing out of place: his autographed deluxe edition of The Necronomicon is missing from its shrieking podium.
Everyone at the party is shocked — shocked! — at this development, but Mythos Detective Lucas Davenport knows that at least one of them has to know the truth. At least one of them is guilty. And, he suspects, at least one of them... is next.
But Cthulhu's parties are legendary, a veritable who's who of hideous horrors. Dagon and Cthylla flirting at the poolside, Shub Niggurath eating grapes out on the tennis court, Nyarlathotep juggling kittens in the study... each with a motive, and each with a perfect alibi.
And then there are the others: Kourtney de Luna, Countess of the Moon and Bride to the Sun. The corrupt senator Lemonsnout, who claims to be working for the Blind Lady of Justice. Zalgo, the Nezperdian Hive Mind of Chaos who waits behind the wall, who insists they were only there for the canapés. The renowned Professor Plum, an old college chum of Cthulhu who may still harbor a grudge for an old prank. And many, many more.
Who could have done such a thing? Why? How? It's said that with strange aeons, even death may die. But at this party, it looks like death is alive and kicking... and Cthulhu isn't.

April 1, 2018

Explaining the Joke Ruins the Joke
by Roswell Camp

The April Fools' Day covers this year went through a lot of revision. And I don't mean that I changed the art and design down to the last minute — although that's true [1] — it's more that I kept changing the synopses. I had the covers in place, but the stories behind them? I was winging it, as I always do [2].
The problem is that I was trying too hard and the results were... unimpressive. The humor was too dry. The jokes weren't funny [3]. Some of the stories were actually plausible, in an "I could see this as an actual novel" way [4], when they're meant to be "This is crazy and thus clearly an April Fools' Day prank."
So, very late in the process, I scrapped everything and started over with a new rule: go for silly instead of serious [5]. Don't try to make it make sense. April Fools' Lucas has been crossed over with Star Wars and D.C. Comics! He's been abducted by aliens and fought against Napoleon in Russia and tried to defeat Canada. I don't need to take the synopses so seriously.
It worked so much better the second time around. This went from being a fairly typical tale of mounting dread to a strange mash-up of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos and Clue (the movie, not so much the game). Some of the wordplay is nice — I like the bit about death being alive and kicking — and it's got a dozen references to other works entirely.
They say it's a bad sign when you laugh at your own jokes, but this one — the revised version — had me giggling throughout. I think it works pretty well.
As for the references: Cthulhu, Dagon, Shub Niggurath, Nyarlathotep, and the Necronomicon are all straight-up H.P. Lovecraft inventions, and most people who are familiar with the genre would see that.
Cthylla — ostensibly the daughter of Cthulhu — first appeared in "The Transition of Titus Crow by Brian Lumley, published in 1975.
Kourtney de Luna, Countess of the Moon and Bride to the Sun, shows up as a mention in the April Fools' cover for Solar Prey.
The corrupt senator Lemonsnout is a stuffed animal owned by Terezi Pyrope, one of the Alterian characters from the webcomic Homestuck [6]. Terezi is the Blind Lady of Justice mentioned in the synopsis [7].
Zalgo, the Nezperdian Hive Mind of Chaos, He Who Waits Behind the Wall... is an unusual artifact, as it was done as a sort of parody of Cthulhu-like entities, but then it took on a life of its own. You can read more about it here [8].
Professor Plum is from Clue [9]. This one is probably the one from the movie version, played by Christopher Lloyd.
I don't especially know why Shub Niggurath would be eating grapes out on the tennis court. It just seemed right. But Nyarlathotep juggling kittens in the study? That's taken from a card from the Illuminati: New World Order card game — Cat Juggling. The idea being that if you play that card, you distract basically everyone from what you're actually doing. The tagline for the card is "You're doing what???". Cthulhu makes semi-regular appearances in the game.
I think that's all of them. And while clever references themselves do not make a story, I think I mushed them all together in a way that works. So... yeah. I'm happy with the result.

Footnotes

1. I was changing the cover design — the texts and effects, really — for Seven Percent Prey down to the last hour before I made everything live on the website. I never quite liked the way it looked until I sat down and went through every font I have to figure out which one works best [10].

2. Although sometimes I have ideas far in advance of when I put them down. I had no plot for Seven Percent Prey until I thought, "What if Sherlock is a computer..." and the rest kinda wrote itself. But for, say, the very first cover — Infinite Prey — I knew exactly what it was going to be about months before I did the art. I knew the narrative voice (such as it is) and the way it's presented. The more solid the idea is in advance, the better it turns out [11].

3. It could be argued that this is, by definition, impossible. If the jokes aren't funny, then they're not jokes. But whatever your stance on it, it was a problem.

4. The nadir of this trend — although I quite like it — is for The Clockwork Trilogy: Prey back in 2015. The problem is that he was working on the Singular Menace series of YA books, so it wasn't completely implausible for him to do another. And the synopsis sounds like a typical YA sorta-hazy-sci-fi novel. It's so deadpan that it kind of hurts, but I still like it. Maybe because it's so plausible. Still, it's a direction I'm steering away from.

5. My wife kept reinforcing this during the writing phase. I kept at it, trying harder and harder, and things just weren't working. So I stepped back, thought about what she'd said, started over, and it worked so much better. When writing is forced, it's not fun, and it's usually not very good. When writing is fluid, that doesn't necessarily mean it will be good, but it certainly makes it more likely.

6. In the comic, the planet Alternia didn't quite evolve like Earth did. They don't have teddy bears. Instead, they have little dragon-like plushes called scalemates, of which the corrupt senator Lemonsnout is one. The character who has them, Terezi, does not have tea parties with them or whatever. She puts them on trial and frequently sentences them to death. You know, as one does. We have a bunch of scalemates in our house. They have adventures.

7. Terezi Pyrope herself is kind of a meta-reference character, based on Marvel comics' Daredevil. So yeah, there are many different layers here.

8. Zalgo is also referenced way back in Eat Prey Love, both on the cover itself and in the jacket text.

9. As far as I know, no version of Professor Plum — game or movie — has ever had any relationship with Cthulhu, let alone one that would would describe them as college chums.

10. I have something like ten thousand fonts of varying quality sitting around on various hard drives. Most of the time I stick with Adobe's Font Folio 11, which makes things faster, and thankfully I only had to get as far as E for Eurostile before I thought, "Yes, that one."

11. Except sometimes. This year was one of those times. When I had a plan, it didn't work (except for Sherlock). When I improvised, it was good. So yeah, when someone gives you a hard-and-fast rule like "It works better when there is a plan" always remember to add an "except sometimes" to the end [12].

12. Except sometimes.