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Issue 5 of The Blasphemous Tome is going to press!

This is the print-only fanzine that we create for Patreon backers of The Good Friends of Jackson Elias podcast. It contains articles about RPGs, horror films and weird fiction, not to mention plenty of sanity-blasting artwork and original content for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game.

Everyone backing us via Patreon by the end of December 2019 will receive at least one copy of the Tome.

  • $1 backers receive one copy
  • $3 backers receive one signed copy
  • $5 backers receive two copies, one signed

Featured in this issue is a new Call of Cthulhu scenario by our very own Matt Sanderson, titled “Number 22”.

A new family is moving into number 22. The circumstances of how the house came onto the market are tragic but a good deal is hard to turn down. If only this new home were as welcoming as the neighbours. Horror abounds as as cosmic weirdness bleeds into the cosiness of suburban life.

The cover comes from our good friend Jonathan Wyke, whose work adorns many of our past issues. We also have illustrations from some favourite eldritch artists, including Daupo, Evan Dorkin, Lucy Fricker, Nefeli Mandilaras and John Sumrow.

Other articles in this issue include:

  • The Ludomancers
    • Our favourite game sessions of the past year
  • Cocktail Corner
    • Matt renews his assault upon our livers
  • Number 22
    • A brand new, full-length Call of Cthulhu scenario from Matt Sanderson
  • Cosmic Rationality
    • Grant Dowell mutates logical paradox into cosmic horror
  • Nameless Dread
    • Piers Connolly explores the Lovecraftian horror at the heart of child development
  • Episodes of Insanity
    • Our favourite episodes of 2019
  • Eternity: A Manifesto
    • Scott offers a dangerous insight into the nature of time

If you would like to receive one or more copies of The Blasphemous Tome, all you have to do is back us on Patreon before the end of December 2019. If you are a backer at the $3 level or higher before we ship our first batch in late November, you will also receive one of our custom, Mythos-themed Christmas cards. Even unspeakable horrors deserve some festive cheer.

Tomes from years gone by

Please note that we do not sell copies of The Blasphemous Tome. It is purely a reward for the wonderful people who back us via Patreon.

The Blasphemous Tome is licensed for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game by Chaosium, inc.

The Kult: Divinity Lost kickstarter came to an end on March 31st 2016. Back at the start of the campaign, I put up a blog post mentioning I’d pledged for the Demiurge edition, a unique copy of the rulebook. At the time, it was only advertised as a question mark, with not even a mock-up presented. Well, yesterday (1218 days after the campaign ended), it arrived! It is a question mark no longer.

This edition has been produced by El Artesano Del Rey, the Spanish company that also produced the Luxury Edition of Vampire: the Masquerade 5th Edition. The leather is soft to the touch, slightly scuffed in places (along the edges of the covers, and the raised sections of the hubbed spine, etc.), giving it a “used” or “older” feel, and the front cover features a very shiny metal plate riveted in place with the Kult logo laser-etched, along with the Archon/Tree of Life design. This in turn is surrounded by another “thorny” metal plate, and extra rivets on the spine between the hubs. It is reminiscent, in a way of the Iron Book from the Kult setting. The two satin bookmarks are definitely helpful – I end up bookmarking the copy I use to run games with in several places.

The back is featureless, other than having the El Artesano Del Rey stamp towards the bottom-left corner.

The edges are in red, and when fanned still reveal the same “death is only the beginning” text as the other editions do (with the exception of the Bible Edition). I still think that’s an amazing touch to the design of the book!

The interior is the same as the other main Kickstarter editions (yep, more genitalia per square inch than you’ll find in the normal retail editions!) with the addition of a gold embossed El Artesano Del Rey label on the title page. It’s quite stiff to open due to the nature of the binding, so I didn’t want to force it open too much.

Having the same content, as mentioned, also means that I get to smile when I get to the first of the backer pages. It’s a fine title to have 🙂

Along with the book comes a couple of certificates and a papyrus sheet featuring the Archon/Tree of Life design again. As I don’t speak Spanish, I don’t know what the certificates say, but I can work out one of them confirms this is number “1 of 1”.

While it’s a very nice book indeed, it’s not quite what I was expecting (unlike the pledge description, I didn’t actually get a say in the production in the end, which was a little disappointing, but I think I would have gone for the same choice of leather as it’s so nice to touch), but it’s definitely a unique volume in composition and quality compared to the rest of my collection.

In my mind, I was hoping for some heavier-grade paper, so the book would be thicker (a bit like the Temple Edition was for Call of Cthulhu) and the cover to have featured the pyramid/eye design representing the Demiurge that was used in the recent Kult tarot deck. I kind of wish the metal plates had been sunk into the cover (a bit like the Orichalcum Edition of Exalted 3rd Edition), as that would look a lot nicer, and I wouldn’t worry so much about it scratching anything around it. However, it’s definitely growing on me and I’m happy to have been able to get it. Like I said, who wouldn’t want “the Iron Book” after all?

Wounds: Six Stories From the Border of Hell by Nathan Ballingrud. Published 2019 by Saga Press. Reviewed by Scott Dorward.

Wounds cover

What Came Before

Nathan Ballingrud’s first book, North American Lake Monsters, is my favourite short story collection of recent years. If you and I have spoken or interacted online, or if you’ve delivered pizza to my house, I’ve probably told you at length about its poignant tales of damaged people struggling with the intrusion of the unnatural into their lives. North American Lake Monsters won the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Single-Author Collection in 2013 and Hulu have recently commissioned a television series based upon it. It is a hell of a book to live up to.

You can find a full review of North American Lake Monsters in issue three of The Blasphemous Tome, should you happen to have a copy lying around. Alternatively, you can get a short insight into the collection by listening to the episode we released about Ballingrud’s story, “Wild Acre”.

In the six years since North American Lake Monsters, Ballingrud’s focus has shifted. The stories in Wounds also pack a flurry of emotional punches, but they largely do so in a more playful manner. Where Ballingrud’s earlier stories were rooted in the horrors of real life, most of those in Wounds abound with weirdness and vivid imagination. This is a fun collection — not a description I’d readily offer for North American Lake Monsters, no matter how much I love it.

Overview

Wounds is comprised of four short stories/novelettes and two substantial novellas. One of the novellas — “The Visible Filth” — was previously published as a standalone book by This is Horror in 2015 and has been revised for this collection. Between them, the novellas take up the bulk of the book. “The Butcher’s Table” is a shade under 100 pages, making it the longest piece of Ballingrud’s work currently in print. It is also the only story original to this collection.

One of the elements that make Wounds special is the sometimes understated connections between the stories. With the possible exception of “The Atlas of Hell” and “The Butcher’s Table”, there is not a direct narrative connection running through them. Instead, Ballingrud reuses names of places and sects, laying the groundwork for an implied mythology. This is somewhat reminiscent of Lovecraft’s approach, although more subtle.

A Mythology of Hell

The mythology that Ballingrud is weaving is largely that of Hell. While Hell does not feature directly in every story, the whiff of sulphur permeates them all. What makes all this special is that the presentation of the infernal owes less to classical depictions than to the awesome power of Ballingrud’s imagination. His Hell is uncanny and utterly inhuman, the mere sight of it capable of driving human minds to madness. When it touches upon our world, it is a corrupting and transformative presence. The power and knowledge it offers are dangerous to more than one’s immortal soul. It is home to demons that sculpt human flesh into vast works of art and places with unsettlingly evocative names, such as the Love Mills. This is not a Hell any of us have seen before and it is all the more unsettling for this.

I hope that Ballingrud revisits his vision of Hell in future stories. Its sheer bloody weirdness makes it one of the more memorable creations in modern horror.

The Stories

Let’s delve into the stories themselves. While I shall avoid major spoilers, there will be some plot details by necessity. Go and read the book now if you’re spoiler-averse and already sold on it. Otherwise, here we go…

The Atlas of Hell

A number of critics have compared Wounds to Clive Barker’s early work — particularly The Books of Blood and The Hellbound Heart — and I largely agree. They offer a similar cocktail of blood and imagination, although Ballingrud’s touch is defter, relying a little less on shocks while still delivering them aplenty.

“The Atlas of Hell” is perhaps where this comparison is most apt. The mix of hard-boiled adventure and occult horror is reminiscent of Barker’s Harry D’Amour stories, although morally murkier. The protagonist of this story, Jack Oleander, is no hero. The owner of a seedy bookshop in New Orleans, Oleander is well-connected in the occult underworld of his city. As well as providing him with a living, this also makes him a target.

In classic noir fashion, Oleander is strong-armed by a local gangster into locating and obtaining the titular atlas. This leads him deep into the bayou, travelling through swampland that has been touched by Hell, and into ever-increasing danger.

While the plot of “The Atlas of Hell” is relatively simple, it is brought to life by horrific detail. The touches of Hell we encounter are nightmarish and gruesome, and the nature of the atlas itself will haunt the reader long after. This is a strong opening story and one that sets the tone for the collection perfectly.

As an aside, “The Atlas of Hell” was originally supposed to lend its name to this collection. This was changed late on, to tie into the name of the film adaptation of “The Visible Filth”. While Wounds is a perfectly fine title, and using it was a sound commercial decision, it is nowhere near as evocative as The Atlas of Hell. In a few years, after the dust has settled on the film, it would be lovely to see this book reissued under its original name.

The Diabolist

“The Diabolist” is an odd, deceptively gentle story that unfolds into something truly disturbing. Unlike most of the rest of the book, there is little gore here, but that does not mean that the story is not horrific.

Our narrator is an imp, summoned from the Love Mills of Hell by a recently deceased diabolist. Perplexingly at first, the imp speaks of itself in the first-person plural, telling us of its imprisonment in the magical workshop of the late sorcerer and its awkward attempts to forge a bond with his uninterested daughter.

While there is plenty to love about “The Diabolist”, it is perhaps the slightest story in the collection; it is certainly the shortest. Clever tricks with narration and the richness of unsettling detail keep it from being ordinary, and it builds to a satisfying conclusion, but it is still overshadowed by the other pieces.

Skullpocket

“Oh, how I would love to go to a place made only for screams.”

In a collection packed with variety, “Skullpocket” still manages to stand out. This is Ballingrud at his most playful, telling a tale of a strange little town near Chesapeake Bay, home to a carnival run by ghouls.

This is the story of Jonathan Wormcake, the Gentleman Corpse of Hob’s Landing, and his part in the history of the Skullpocket Fair. It introduces a unique take on ghouls and their lifecycle, both humanising them and making them utterly alien. And, if that weren’t enough, the story is filled with other monsters and a most repellent charnel god.

The horror in “Skullpocket” shifts tone drastically throughout the story, keeping the reader off-balance but never feeling like it has lost its way. At times it is whimsical, as a floating head in a jar plays storyteller to a group of enraptured children. Other times, it is sad and beautiful, as we peek inside a most unusual freak show. And there are moments of more gruesome nastiness dotted throughout, such as the origin of the name “Skullpocket”. This is a story filled with macabre delights and a wicked sense of fun.

While there is no explicit connection to the infernal elements of the other stories, a brief mention of Hob’s Landing in “The Diabolist” ties “Skullpocket” into the larger continuity of Wounds.

“Skullpocket” is the first instalment in a planned series of stories detailing the history of Hob’s Landing. If the others live up to the dark wonders on offer here, this will probably become my favourite strand of Ballingrud’s work.

If you would like to sample this story before splashing out any money on Wounds, “Skullpocket” is readily available online, both to read and listen to.

The Maw

Hell has burst forth into the mortal world, transforming a section of an unnamed American city. The area it has consumed, now known as Hollow City, has been sealed off for public safety. Demons walk the streets, mutilating any humans they catch in the most nightmarish of ways.

People, however, are capable of adapting to almost any situation, sometimes even profiting from them. Mix has built a new career for herself, sneaking into Hollow City to retrieve lost people or items. When she is hired by an old man named Carlos for a rescue mission, the two of them stumble upon the demons’ true purpose on Earth.

“The Maw” is probably the most viscerally nasty story in this collection. It is also the most uplifting. Perhaps even more oddly, it turns bloodshed and mutilation into something beautiful. While this is a short piece, with a tight focus, the glimpses of Hell it offers will linger in the reader’s mind long after the book has been safely hidden away on a shelf.

The Visible Filth

The Visible Filth

Will is a bartender at a New Orleans establishment that caters to seedy regulars, slumming college kids and endless waves of cockroaches. After a bloody fight in the bar, Will finds a mobile phone dropped by one of the brawlers. Before he gets around to finding the owner, the phone starts receiving messages that lead Will and those around him deep into nightmare.

“The Visible Filth” is a grimy story, both in the grubby, sweat-sodden, cockroach infested world it presents but also in the inner world of the characters. Will is not a good or happy person even before demonic forces enter his life, and his self-centredness and lack of empathy make tragedy inevitable.

At various points in Wounds, Ballingrud’s vision of Hell borders on Lovecraftian horror. This is especially true in “The Visible Filth”. The cult that target Will and his girlfriend Carrie feel more like something from the Cthulhu Mythos than simple Satanists. And the forces they deal with are not just morally corrosive but maddening in a way we might associate with cosmic horror.

But the horror in “The Visible Filth” is not only cosmic or infernal. The sadism, gore and pure cruelty here are as upsetting as anything I have encountered in horror fiction. Ballingrud hints at many of these elements, tantalising us with scant details, but when he wants to show us something nauseating, he does not hold back. This is a deeply unpleasant story.

“The Visible Filth” is a novella and Ballingrud gives the story plenty of space to grow. Some apparent digressions — such as Will’s infidelity — work not only to add to the sense of moral degradation but also to hasten his isolation from the support structures of normal human life. Everything about this story drives us deeper into darkness, even when it is not immediately obvious how. And the ending, when it arrives, is both cruelly abrupt and terrifyingly weird.

Out of all the stories in this collection, “The Visible Filth” most resembles Ballingrud’s earlier work. While it touches upon his burgeoning mythology of Hell, it is also rooted in the kinds of everyday problems that grounded the stories in North American Lake Monsters. It feels almost like a transitional stage between the two books.

At the time of writing, the film adaptation of “The Visible Filth” — named Wounds and thus giving this collection its title — has only been shown at festivals. It is slated for release in 2019, so we shouldn’t have long to wait. Apparently, Babak Anvari (director of the exceptional Under the Shadow) has made a faithful adaptation, and the shocking imagery has upset some critics, as has the near-hallucinatory storytelling. Personally, I can’t wait to see what these horrors will look like splattered all over the screen.

The Butcher’s Table

Taking up over a third of the page count, “The Butcher’s Table” is this collection’s big beast. It is also a difficult story to sum up simply. This is a heady mixture of elements — satanic horror, romance, intrigue, adventure and, of course, pirates. There is something for everyone here.

The Butcher’s Table of the title is a pirate ship, chartered by a gentlemanly satanic cult called the Candlelight Society to pay a visit to the shores of Hell for a special feast. Of course, no such journey could be a simple one and the means of travel lead to their own terrors and complications.

These complications multiply as the different factions involved in the journey pursue their own agendas. The cannibal priests of the Buried Church may share similar satanic beliefs to the Candlelight Society, but their methods and appetites are far less genteel. Distrust metastasises into bickering and violence at all the worst possible moments. All of this would be dangerous enough if everyone was exactly who they said they were and the ship wasn’t being pursued by monstrous forces.

Once again, Ballingrud presents us with depictions of Hell that are compelling, nightmarish and unique. The climax of this story is a glorious descent into madness and bloodshed, set against a wonderfully bizarre backdrop. And, neatly, one particular atrocity sets up the events of “The Atlas of Hell”, looping us back around to the beginning of the book. At times, Wounds feels like a wet jigsaw puzzle made up of a thousand wriggling pieces.

At its dark, charnel heart, “The Butcher’s Table” is the kind of story I love best. Its narrative is driven by hidden motivations, betrayals and nasty surprises. The unpleasantness of its characters and their actions only makes them all the more compelling. This is a thoroughly satisfying romp into terror.

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned at the outset, Wounds is a very different book than North American Lake Monsters. I can easily imagine a reader falling in love with one of them and struggling with the other. Wounds is probably the more accessible of the two — while its horrors don’t feel as personal, they are glorious eruptions of blood and imagination. And while many of the elements I love about North American Lake Monsters are absent here, or maybe only present in “The Visible Filth”, I never found myself missing them.

There is not a weak story in this collection. Some stand out more than others — “Skullpocket” is probably my favourite, but it is a close-run race. The variety of tone and sheer bloody fun of it all means Wounds is a joy to read, even when it is making you squirm and wince with discomfort.

Issue 4.5 of The Blasphemous Tome is out!

The Blasphemous Tome is the regular fanzine that we create for Patreon backers of The Good Friends of Jackson Elias podcast. It contains plenty of sanity-blasting content for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game, along with original artwork, fiction, reviews and many other articles.

Unlike previous Tomes, issue 4.5 is a PDF, not a print publication. This is a special interim edition, packed with articles we couldn’t fit in issue 4 and lots of new content.

Issue 5, due later this year, will be print-only as usual.

Everyone backing us via Patreon by the end of July will receive a digital copy of issue 4.5.

Contents

Featured in this issue is a brand-new Call of Cthulhu scenario by our very own Paul Fricker, titled “Fall Out”.

Jonathan Weisner has taken hostages and is holed up at his country house in Massachusetts. Elements of the past are about to mix with the present, leaving the investigators to pick up the pieces.

The cover comes from John Sumrow, one of our favourite eldritch artists. There is plenty of interior artwork too, featuring pieces from Evan Dorkin, Emily Fricker and more from John Sumrow.

The articles in this issue include:

  • Sounds Alarming
    • Scott offers troubling insights into the noises we make for our backer songs
  • Cocktail Corner
    • Another of Matt’s favourite cocktail recipes, along with a little history about the drink in question
  • “Fall Out”
    • A brand-new modern-day Call of Cthulhu scenario from Paul
  • “Diary of an Unnamed Corpse”
    • An eerie tale of black magic set in 1920s Vienna, by Joerg Sterner
  • The Sanderson Collection
    • Matt reveals another rarity from the dusty corners of his library
  • Secrets of Milton Keynes
    • Scott presents the first in a series of Call of Cthulhu scenario hooks set in the home town of the Good Friends
  • Possible Worlds and Realism
    • Grant Dowell offers techniques for making our game worlds more realistic by using formal logic
  • The Forgotten
    • A macabre weird tale by Scott

How Do I Get a Copy?

If you would like to receive your copy of The Blasphemous Tome 4.5, all you have to do is back us on Patreon at any level before the end of July 2019.

Covers from bygone Tomes

Please note that we do not sell copies of The Blasphemous Tome. It is purely a reward for the wonderful people who back us via Patreon.

The Blasphemous Tome is licensed for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game by Chaosium, inc.

Just when you (well, maybe just Scott) thought it was safe to hide in the dark – where you thought the darkness could save your eyes from the plushy horrors – something has come to ruin your best laid plans…

The C is for Cthulhu Glow-in-the-Dark Plush is here!

This one’s a pretty short Kickstarter, only running for 10 days (until Saturday June 22nd 2019). At the time of posting, they’ve reached their funding goal.

There’s two size of glow-in-the-dark plushes on offer this time – the usual 12-inch high version to match the normal ones, and the smaller 6-inch high version in line with the baby versions they produced in their last Kickstarter.

This was initially announced a few Kickstarter’s ago, but production went through a few variations before they finally got what they were looking for. This one doesn’t have an internal light, it’s the fabric that glows all by itself.

As with other Kickstarters from the same team, they’re running a caption contest due to close this week (June 19th) with the prize being a free Jumbo Cthulhu plush (not the GIANT one that we terrorized Scott with some time ago, but one that’s about 24-inches tall).

If there’s anything else you wanted from previous Kickstarters you may have missed, there’s a whole bunch of add-ons available too.

Enjoy 😉