Achtung! Cthulhu: Dark Tales from the Secret War
- Format: Kindle Edition
- 317 pages
- Publisher: Modiphius (13 Dec. 2015)
- ASIN: B019CCX8R8
It seems to be a standard trope that whenever a story involves the Third Reich and any form of technology, contact or lifeforms that are fantasy or horror-based, it is inevitable that the Nazi regime begins to Meddle With Things It Should Not Meddle With. (I’ve never seen a story that posits the Nazis digging up something forbidden/alien/fantastical and deciding that it’s probably better to leave it alone; although now that I think about it, I really want to read something like that.) To an extent this is understandable, as in reality the leadership of the Third Reich dabbled extensively in esoteric, arcane and generally dubious occult areas before and during the Second World War: the SS expedition to Tibet, the Thule Society, and Himmler’s interest in racial purity and related mysticism are all generally well-known and provide sufficiently fertile soil to generate a distinctive and popular sub-genre of stories.
The flip side of the above coin is that the Nazi Meddling must be opposed by the Allies in some form; usually by a small group of agents from an official yet shady/mysterious agency within one of the Allied governments. This is fine, as it’s an integral part of the sub-genre, but my greatest issue with this is the fact that the Allies are usually portrayed as the good guys. I know that this follows the general historical narrative, and in a sub-genre rife with fantastical objects and Lovecraftian horrors it might seem ridiculous to use the phrase ‘realistic’; but to me it seems unrealistic in portraying the Allies as paragons of virtue, fighting the good fight against the Nazi menace with only a Thompson and a stubble-covered chin. Indiana Jones is an excellent example of this, and the only counter-point I can think of is Charles Stross’ brilliant The Laundry Files series, which hints that Her Majesty’s Government engaged in repeated attempts to harness Lovecraftian horrors to its own advantage.
I therefore had the above in mind when I picked up a copy of Achtung! Cthulhu: Dark Tales from the Secret War, an anthology edited by John Houlihan, author of The Trellborg Monstrosities, The Crystal Void and The Tomb of the Aeons. As with the previous titles I’ve reviewed, the anthology is based in the world of the Achtung Cthulhu! RPG, and the marketing blurb on the back cover initially seems to play into the standard trope, pitching the villainous Nazi Black Sun and their rival organisation Nachtwolfe against “…the heroic Allied forces of Section M and Majestic.” However, as you progress throughout the anthology, it quickly becomes apparent that the Allies (and particularly the British War Office) are no better than the Third Reich in terms of their attempts to use occult means to win the war.
Usually when I read an anthology, I find a handful of stories that stand out as excellent, with the rest ranging from decent to good. However, with Dark Tales, John Houlihan has excelled in curating a collection of stories that are of a unanimously high standard. It would take too long to review each story in detail, but there are a particular few tales within the anthology that I think need to be highlighted due to how well-written and enjoyable they were.
David J Rodger’s Shadow of the Black Sun is an excellent introduction to the anthology, taking a grunt-eye level of occult warfare through the eyes of a bored and fractious Wehrmacht squad guarding an isolated section of Norwegian coastline, who soon realise that the Black Sun is far more of a danger to them than the Allies could ever be. Shadows of the 603rdby Richard Dansky is based around the oft-neglected activities of battlefield deception, and sees a specialist group of American engineers, artists and designers challenged with constructing what initially appears to be a film set under battlefield conditions. They rapidly realise, however, that not all is as it seems, and that their eye for detail may actually be the only way to save the entire war effort. The King in Waiting by Dan Griliopoulos and Concerning Rudolf Hess, Mr Buckle and the Book by Paul Cunliffw are perhaps the best tales in the anthology, and both are focused on the lengths that elements of the British government will go to in order to win the war. In particular, Griliopoulos’ tale of Nazi and British agents fighting to control Sir Oswald Mosely depicts a British establishment that not only wants to use occult experiments to triumph in the war against the Third Reich, but will also go to extreme and disturbing lengths to preserve the British Empire as well. Finally, John Houlihan’s Servant of the Dark poses the intriguing question of which is worse: men who use evil actions to further a cause they believe in, or men who try and benefit from those evil actions without sharing that conviction.
In conclusion, this is an action-packed anthology full of well-written and –paced stories that deserves to be on the shelf of any horror or Lovecraft fan. I hope to see a sequel to it in the future, one which would hopefully focus more on the neglected Eastern and Pacific Fronts; despite the huge impact these fronts had on the Second World War, and the huge amounts of Russian and Japanese mythology available to tap into, these countries are very rarely featured in this sub-genre.
This review was written by Adam Selby-Martin ‘Fantasy Fan’ @Skinny878
Blurb from the back;
Dark Tales is a collection of 13 stories set in Modiphius’ Achtung! Cthulhu universe, a world which mixes the terrors of HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos with mankind’s darkest yet finest hour, the second world war.
13 unhallowed stories await within it’s covers, which range from the wilds of the South Pacific, to the dark depths of the Black Forest, to the icy wastes of Norway, and they come from a stellar cast of writers including David J Rodger, Destiny The Taken King and Fable: The Journey writer Martin Korda, Splinter Cell’s Richard Dansky and the strange mind of horror master Patrick Garratt!
Inside you’ll find dark tales involving the nefarious Black Sun, Nachtwolfe and their Nazi masters, who are opposed by the heroic Allied forces of Section M and Majestic. Expanding and exploring the Achtung! Cthulhu universe in bold, new narrative-led ways, Dark Tales can be enjoyed purely on its own as a collection of thrilling stories, but it will also serve as an inspiration for many more adventures in the Achtung! Cthulhu universe.
Dark Tales From the Secret War
Shadow of the Black Sun – David J Rodger
Bloodborn in Sarandë – Patrick Garratt
Der Alptraum – JE Bryant
Terror of Tribeč – Martin Korda
Shadows of the 603rd – Richard Dansky
The King in Waiting – Dan Griliopoulos
Servant of the Dark – John Houlihan
The Heart of the Sea – Mick Gall
Danger Nazi UXO – Will Salmon
In the Flesh – Josh Vogt
Amid the Sands of Deepest Time – Jason Brick
Concerning Rudolf Hess, Mr Buckle and the Book- Paul Cunliffe
The Curse of Cthulhu – Jake Webb
About the Editor – John Houlihan has been a writer, journalist and broadcaster for over twenty five years, working in news, sport and especially videogames. He has been employed by The Times, Sunday Times and Cricinfo, was PC editor at GameSpot and is a former Editor-in-Chief of Computer and Video Games.com.