With Lair Of The Crystal Fang (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), writer S.A. Sidor is leading his third trip to the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired world of the board game Arkham Horror. In the following email interview, Sidor discusses what inspired and influenced this cosmic horror novel.
As we discussed in the interview we did about your novel Cult Of The Spider Queen, Arkham Horror is a board game inspired by the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. What then is Arkham Horror: Lair Of The Crystal Fang about, and when and where does it take place in relation to both real life and the game’s timeline and setting?
Lair Of The Crystal Fang starts where Cult Of The Spider Queen left off. It’s 1928. The Jazz Age. The place: the city of Arkham, Massachusetts. During a much-needed upgrade to the city’s crumbling subterranean drainage system, excavators uncover a mysterious crystal formation with connections to Arkham’s buried occult past. At the same time, a monstrous killer is using the sewers to kidnap and kill victims out of sight from the above-ground world. A team of investigators who have each encountered supernatural horrors in the past, and suffered the consequences, must now regroup to conquer a cosmic terror that threatens to destroy Arkham itself and spread chaos and calamity throughout the planet. Will they meet the challenge?
And is there any connection between Arkham Horror: Lair Of The Crystal Fang and Cult Of The Spider Queen to your first Arkham Horror novel, The Last Ritual?
Lair is a sequel to Queen in that the story involves three of the main characters from Queen. The story can be read as a stand-alone, but thematically these characters are living through the trauma visited upon them in the previous book. They’re damaged souls. Their eyes have been opened to the supernatural and the existence of the Ancient Ones. Andy, the young reporter from the Arkham Advertiser, shows up in all three of my Arkham Horror novels. Each of these novels can be read as a stand-alone, but Queen and Lair form a deeper 2-part story.
What about the other Arkham Horror novels that Aconyte have published; are there any connections between them and Lair Of The Crystal Fang? Besides their connection to the game, of course.
The Aconyte team really strives to make everything harmonize between the various Arkham Horror fictions, and the long history of the Arkham Horror games. The editors at Aconyte keep plots and characters in line while still giving writers the freedom to strike out on their own in new directions. And the creative folks at Fantasy Flight Games take great care to make certain all the multiple strands we pull together don’t conflict with anything that’s been explored in the games or stories that have come before us. For example, in writing Lair, I incorporated background on Dr. Carolyn Fern, who was featured in the novella Fight The Black Wind by Jennifer Brozek, which was in the collection Grim Investigations, and Wendy Adams, who appeared in Aconyte’s Arkham Horror anthology, The Devourer Below. It’s super fun.
So then where did you get the idea for Arkham Horror: Lair Of The Crystal Fang?
I wanted to write about something evil lurking beneath the city of Arkham, both literally and in the sense of Arkham’s layered eerie history. My jumping off point was the discovery of an odd artifact with occult connections found beneath the city: a sort of throbbing, evil energy source influencing the people living above in ways they can’t understand. Dropping the artifact in the middle of the hunt for a terrifying killer who’s using the city’s drain system fit nicely. The witchy history of New England blended everything. Claustrophobia-inducing, dank, underground passages are creepy to me. It turns out Arkham’s bedrock is riddled with them.
And was it always a crystal fang or did you play around with the idea of it being a crystal frog or a crystal skull or maybe a crystal candy dish?
The network of sewers, storm drains, and natural caves under Arkham felt like a living organism to me. So, the crystal, which is hidden in the sewers, appeared in my imagination as a tooth. I wanted its appearance to feel threatening, and powerful; I needed it to seem scary but also awe-inspiring, the kind of object certain people would feel drawn to, or even worship. I’ve had an amateur interest in geology since I was a kid. The mystery and excitement of digging up something old and beautiful has an allure. But for this story, I didn’t want the object to be clearly archaeological. Was it natural? Unnatural? Did it come from space? These were the kinds of questions I hoped that the fang would inspire in my characters.
Arkham Horror: Lair Of The Crystal Fang is, obviously, not your first book. Are there any writers — aside from Lovecraft, of course — who had a particularly big impact on Fang but not on anything else you’ve written, and especially not The Last Ritual and Cult Of The Spider Queen?
Jeff Long wrote a novel in the ’90s called The Descent. The concept is that Hell is a real place underground. The book mixes elements of technothrillers, fantasy, and epic adventure in a way I’ve never read before. I love that book. The thrilling sense of exploration and subterranean terror stuck with me after all these years.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Aside from Arkham Horror, of course.
The team approach of a show like Fringe appeals to me. And the monster-of-the-week episodes on that show as well as The X-Files and the ’70s show Kolchak: The Night Stalker were always among my favorite watches and surely burrowed their way into my imagination. I like the fun, the wackiness, and the overpacked pulpiness of the stories, the way they took parts of different genres like mysteries, horror, and science fiction and put them in the same pot.
On the flipside of that, do you think Arkham Horror: Lair Of The Crystal Fang could work as an expansion to Arkham Horror?
I think Lair would work as an expansion. The story really stresses the team effort rather than any individual players, and I made a point of using multiple Investigators from the game across various locations that would be familiar to Arkham Horror players. I really wanted the threat to feel city-wide in the book, though the action focuses on well-known settings like Arkham Sanitarium and the Rivertown neighborhood. And the new twist would be the sewers.
So, is there anything else people need to know about Arkham Horror: Lair Of The Crystal Fang?
Fans of fast-paced pulp adventure will feel at home here. I’ve brought in crime elements (kidnapping, occult murders, political corruption) and hopefully a lot of heart with characters who care for each other but aren’t perfect people. I made the story scary and thrilling, but it’s also about friendship and pulling together when things turn dark. If you like your monsters (human and otherwise) seasoned with a pinch of questionable human medical experimentation, a dollop of covens, and a sprinkle of smart, wisecracking young people, then Lair Of The Crystal Fang is the book for you. Did I mention mind control and hypnotic visions?
Finally, if someone enjoys Arkham Horror: Lair Of The Crystal Fang, they’ll probably read The Last Ritual and Cult Of The Spider Queen, if they haven’t already. But once they’ve done that, what Lovecraft-ian novel of someone else’s that isn’t connected to Arkham Horror would you suggest they check out?
T.E.D. Klein’s The Ceremonies is an old fav that I’ve reread several times. The pace is slow building. A drip-drip-drip of paranoid fear and odd suspicions. It’s a dense dark mulch of weird cosmic horror. The writing is delicious. Klein slowly invades the reader’s mind. I love the vibe.