Hello, my darklings!

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to actually encounter an Old One? You know, those tentacled, madness-inducing horrors that writhe between the pages of nearly everything Lovecraft wrote?

Well, look no further! This week’s issue of Strange Horizons brings us a short tale that deals with just this very thing!

Now, before I get into the meat of this review, let me start by saying that, as usual, I first reviewed this for Tangent Online and you can see the original for yourself here. Below is a modified version of that review. I’m also including a link to the story itself, as I just realized I’ve forgotten to do that in every review I’ve added to this site so far (hint: it’s in the story title just below this line)!

“The Oldest Solution” by Priya Sridhar

Sridhar’s story a yound lady named Nisha who’s visiting a new psychologist, Dr. Olk, over relationship issues she’s having with her girlfriend, Khala. Dr. Olk, himself possessed by an Old One, offers her several treatment options, from being possessed herself to talk therapy. Nisha must choose how she’s going to move forward into the future.

While the story doesn’t immediately bill itself as Lovecraftian, I wondered whether this was going to be the case after reading the term “Mother of Pus” in the third paragraph. As it turns out, it both is and is not.

It’s sort of a softer, gentler version of the Lovecraftian mythos where the Old Ones are re-imagined as strange benefactors of humanity. Nisha’s world is one where the Old Ones take care of humans (in their own way, of course). While they still see humans as insignificant, it doesn’t seem like possession is a terrible thing. Gone are are the mindless, hungering, destructive cosmic monsters we all know aren’t a part of this world.

That said, there is an attempt to establish a sense of the horrific, to create a feeling of dread, but it just doesn’t work. The narrative isn’t interesting enough nor is the premise explained well enough. Even in short stories, especially those of this nature, some amount of world-building is required and while Sridhar does give a cursory description of the environment that establishes the Old Ones’ presence, how they came to be a part of everything isn’t remotely touched upon.

Unfortunately, using Lovecraftian elements as stage props to dress up what amounts to little more than a mundane medical conversation doesn’t make for interesting reading. Nisha doesn’t have a real breakthrough moment to make it interesting on a human level and Dr. Olk and the Old Ones aren’t remotely terrifying, which would have given it that horror vibe.

Ultimately, I found this story to be boring and uninteresting. It just never really takes off into anything particularly worthwhile.

What did you think? Have you had a chance to read the Sridhar’s story yet?