C.T. Phipps has a knack for writing entertaining novels with memorable characters and plenty of snark and dry humor. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his Supervillainy Saga, and since I’m both a post-apoc and horror fiction fan, decided to give Cthulhu Armageddon a try. I was not disappointed.
The novel begins with John Henry Booth leading his Gamma Squadron rangers to an anomaly in the desert. The Black Cathedral appeared in the middle of nowhere, a grotesque reminder that the Great Old Ones have ruled the earth for a hundred years. Booth and his team are overwhelmed by cultists who refuse to stay dead. The abomination was created by Alan Ward, a man who used to be his mentor. Booth wakes up a month later, and he’s imprisoned at his home base in New Arkham, declared guilty out of convenience, and the government thinks he’s already been executed. Thanks to a notorious torturer, Mercury Takahashi, he’s still alive.
Her price for his freedom is an escort to relative safety in Kingsport, an outlaw outpost that’s still mostly human. Once she’s at her destination, he will be free to find and execute Alan Ward and stop his cult from destroying what’s left of humanity before the real horrors get around to it. But first he must get his memory back, make alliances, and avoid getting killed by old enemies.
Booth is a born soldier and leader, aware that he has a duty not only to the members of his squadron, but also humanity at large. He plays dirty, willing to use people he doesn’t fully trust, as long it ends in Ward’s destruction. Not surprisingly, he’s betrayed by some, and others prove to be better allies than he ever imagined. The supporting characters are as well-rounded as Booth. Mercury Takahashi has more to her than torture and murder, and Katryn, who once owned Booth as a slave, is a predator—both sexual and otherwise—and a Dunwych cultist who ultimately wants Booth dead, and Richard, a 20th-century loving, shape-changing ghoul may hold the key to Booth’s memory.
I have just a few criticisms, and these may include mild spoilers. Part of the story involves a long trip across the desert, and I think there was a missed opportunity for something very bad to happen. The trip was just too easy, and the lack of attack by something strange and twisted minimized the oft-stated dangers of the wilderness outside the semi-civilized areas. My other disappointment was the last battle. Now, the gamer in me wanted to see destruction on a grand scale, but Phipps keeps our view narrowed down to Booth’s experience. While the boss fight is indeed epic, part of me wanted a view of the whole thing, like a literary cut-scene filled with screams of victory and despair.
Cthulhu Armageddon is Lovecraftian horror in a twisted wasteland setting rather than a standard post-apocalyptic novel. Humanity knows its days are numbered, it’s a matter of when not if. In the introduction, Phipps makes it clear that it was inspired by Mad Max and many role-playing games as well as the legacy of Lovecraftian fiction.
If you like dark, apocalyptic fiction or military SF, check this out. It’s pure pulp fiction entertainment, available in eBook, paperback, and audiobook formats. There’s lots of combat and conflict, intrigue, betrayal, fight scenes as foreplay, tentacles, indescribable horrors, humor, mind-bending weirdness and no happy ending in sight for anyone.