Monday, August 24, 2015

The Mummy Megapack, edited by Wildside Press

Where pulp fiction and Egyptology meet
The Mummy Megapack, published in 2012, is one of many genre-specific ebook collections published by Wildside Press in their Megapacks series. Here editor John Gregory Betancourt and his team at Wildside have collected 20 stories reprinted from classic literature, the vintage pulp magazines, and even a few contemporary authors. The title and the cover image conjure up images from the golden age of mummy movies, where bandaged corpses miraculously risen from the dead would terrorize the living in their search for ancient loves or to wreak vengeance on those who dug up their tombs. Only a few of the selections included here actually fit that description. The contents are actually quite diverse. Pretty much anywhere adventure or horror fiction intersects with Egyptology is fair game. There’s even one story about an Aztec mummy, and a couple that barely mention mummies at all.

The book gets off to an inauspicious start with a 1998 story from editor Betancourt, entitled “Sympathy for Mummies.” It’s a brief and bland tale that deliberately fails to deliver the goods you’d expect from this exotically titled Megapack. Luckily, this oddball offering is not indicative of the book’s contents as a whole. In terms of contemporary authors, Nina Kiriki Hoffman fares much better with her two 21st-century entries, “The Power of Waking” and “Whatever Was Forgotten.” The exceptional latter selection is particularly noteworthy for its narration from the mummy’s point of view.

I expected some startling and gory tales from the pulp fiction authors. Surprisingly, however, it is the classic writers of the 19th century who really stand out from the pack. Edgar Allen Poe’s “Some Words with a Mummy” is a hilarious comic piece about some arrogant scientists opening a sarcophagus. From Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, comes “Lost in a Pyramid, or The Mummy’s Curse,” a chilling and expertly told tale that couldn’t be more pleasantly unexpected. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle provides two tales—quite possibly the two best selections in the book—“The Ring of Thoth” and “Lot No. 249.” The former is a great archaeological thriller about the goings-on in a museum after dark, while the latter is a perfectly paced and suspenseful shocker that shows Conan Doyle at his absolute best.

One of the problems with this collection, which is common to many of the Megapacks, is that presented amidst all the short stories is one novel: The Romance of a Mummy by French Romanticist Théophile Gautier. This novel takes up a third of the entire book, so whether or not you enjoy this collection largely hinges on your opinion of that one lengthy piece. The verdict on Gautier’s novel is that it’s good, not great. It starts out as a treasure-hunting yarn, than switches to an ancient love story, then finally settles on a retelling of a familiar Biblical tale.

Some of the stories included here have a tenuous connection to the mummy theme at best. I’m surprised they couldn’t find more thrillers and chillers like the Conan Doyle stories or romantic epics of old Egypt like Gautier’s novel. Overall, however, it’s a pretty good collection—a couple duds and a lot of middle-of-the-road fare, but the highlights I’ve enumerated above do much to compensate for the bad. Despite its shortcomings, those readers who enjoy classic adventure fiction and have an interest in Egyptian lore will find this Megapack to their liking.

Stories in this collection
Sympathy for Mummies by John Gregory Betancourt 
Some Words with a Mummy by Edgar Allen Poe 
The Power of Waking by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
The Mummy’s Foot by Jessie Adelaide Middleton 
Lost in a Pyramid, or The Mummy’s Curse by Louisa May Alcott 
The Ring of Thoth by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 
The Green God by William Call Spencer 
The Book of Thoth by Lafcadio Hearn 
An Aztec Mummy by C. B. Cory 
Lot No. 249 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 
The Mummy’s Foot by Théophile Gautier 
The Story of Baelbrow by E. and H. Heron 
A Professor of Egyptology by Guy Boothby 
My New Year’s Eve Among the Mummies by Grant Allen 
Whatever Was Forgotten by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
The Forsaken Temple by C. W. Leadbeater 

The Doom of Al Zameri by Henry Iliowizi 

The Romance of a Mummy by Théophile Gautier 

Obsession, Possession by Elliott O’Donnell 

The Perfume of Egypt by C. W. Leadbeater 

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