C.T. Phipps – “Cthulhu Armageddon”

Loaded with Cthulhu Horror, but otherwise, awkward — 3 Stars

CTHULHU ARMAGEDDON by C.T. Phipps is a tale of post-apocalyptic survival, revenge, and sanity-wrecking eldritch horrors.  I was eagerly on-board for the things it promised.  I was less enthusiastic about what it delivered.

What it is: Clearly, it’s a labor of love, brimming to the top with wonderfully rendered Cthuloid horrors. It goes beyond embracing the mythos and wallows around in it without shame, showcasing fresh blasts of the weird and grotesque at every turn. I liked that.

What’s it not: It’s not a Post-Apocalyptic Western, no matter what the cover says.  Aside from the appearance of a cowboy hat and some western-wear costumes late in the book, there’s nothing vaguely western-themed about it.  It also comes across as far more “spoofy” and less “dark” than I think the author intended. I’ve seen the author routinely describe this book as “grimdark.”  But it’s more akin to “Army of Darkness.”

Right out of the gate, I have to admit, I’m torn on this one.  I’m a huge fan of the Cthulhu Mythos and Post-Apocalyptic Horror.  CTHULHU ARMAGEDDON offers both in spades, no doubt.  But it also brings with it the cheese-factor of a made-for-television SyFy Channel original.  Which is groovy, if that’s what you’re really into.  But I favor more sincerity in my dark fiction.  Rather than picking a direction to jump, either toward dark apocalyptic horror or toward campy pulp, it meandered between them like a skier on a slalom course as if the author couldn’t decide.  Or as if he couldn’t keep his natural cheekiness in check. Considering his portfolio of comedic novels, I lean toward the latter.

For me, more went wrong than went right in CTHULHU ARMAGEDDON.  It tried to be both dark and darkly comedic, and that played poorly.  The primary means of propelling the story seemed to be the use of “…and that’s when THIS or THAT happened.” The proverbial man-with-a-gun kicked in the door with such frequency it became par for the course.

Of peculiar note, the author took aggressively to the topic of character diversity, and at face value, kudos for that. But. He attacked it with a bolt-on checklist in hand, rather than sincerity. Much was noted throughout the book regarding the race, gender, and orientation of various characters. But rather than coming across as genuine, it’s out-of-place and gimmicky — shoe-horned into the middle of gunfights and screaming monster attacks.

This became even more jarring when coupled with an apparent blind spot for the treatment of female characters. Diversity narrative seems preachy and disingenuous when you also give me a clear accounting of every female’s characters breasts and how hot-not-hot they are. And whether or not your protagonist has boned them, wants to bone them, or would be willing to bone them in the future.

The presentation of a diverse cast needs to be a product of sincerity and the fact that the world is ITSELF a diverse cast. Not the product of a checklist. The checklist approach is like a screaming siren of ‘nope’ and it pops up throughout this book like bleats from one of those little hand-held air horns.

The rich and deep delve into the Cthulhu Mythos is this book’s primary redeeming factor, and it presents the topic well, early, and often. The authors affection for the Cthulhu Mythos  is painted with sincerity and adoration on each page.  I give him great credit for that and it earns this otherwise very awkward book a third star.

Much of what was lost for me with this book was the product of false expectations and a misleading pitch. It’s not a Post-Apocalyptic Western.  It’s not Grimdark.  It’s pulpy horror in the vein of The Re-Animator.  Had the author been straightforward with that, he might have salvaged another star.

Shelve with: Extra Pulpy SyFy Channel Orange Juice, but with a generous side of healthy Cthulhu Horror.

Three stars.

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