Finally, part V shows some change to both our narrator and Herbert West. If one would remember part IV, the actions of both the narrator and West take some dramatic turns, but the piece ends there and readers do not get the consequences until this part–part V.
The narrator is quite disgusted with West, as he has gone beyond the goal of reanimating a fresh corpse, and has now moved on to reanimating just detached limbs from human bodies. In West’s quest for specimens, he joins the efforts of WWI as a surgeon and drags the narrator along with him. Strangely, the narrator is critical of West but seems unable to do anything other than help West in his quests. This makes me wonder why power West has over the narrator, and whether the narrator is not a reanimated subject with programmed memories, whose only purpose is to help West achieve his goals. If not, I find the fact of the narrator helping West dubious at best.
This sets up the last part of this story, Part VI. While Miskatonic University and Arkham are commonly mentioned in this piece, the whole of it is less interesting to me than stories focusing on the mythos of Cthulhu and the pantheon of gods HPL created. While I will finish Herbert West soon, I will be glad to be done with it.
Robert Reed is a mainstay in the F&SF short-form market. His stories are enjoyable, if not mind-blowing. That being said, this is my favorite piece I’ve read by this author. It follows humanity through time from the perspective of a higher life form, that watches and observes and even influences certain historical events. This entity was sent as a diplomat, thought what diplomacy it really does within this piece is debatable.
Through the narration of this entity, readers see different wars throughout human history. The insights it has to the human environment and the tragedy is unique among pieces recounting war. And that’s what the strength of this piece is–the narrative style. It is omniscient in a way, yet first-person as well. Due to the narrator’s otherworldliness, the takes readers through times of first life on Earth all the way past our present and into the future. The ending was underwhelming for me, due to the fact it was a chunk of exposition that tried to explain a concept, rather than a real resolution. (C+)
While part III didn’t seem to progress the story or the characters much, this installment into Herbert West finally does.
In his attempt to reanimate a corpse Herbert West concocts a new preservative so that any corpse they procure can be kept fresh. When the narrator is out of town, West gets an exceedingly fresh corpse of a man who was visiting the town, but from St. Luis. West lets the narrator know the corpse will keep until the narrator returns.
When he does they set up the experiment again, and West injects the corpse with the revitalizing potion. When the corpse opens its eyes, the narrator asks it all manner of questions. When the reanimated man finally speaks he says some condemning words, though what they are I’ll leave up to readers to discover.
As a whole, some revelations are certainly presented in this section. It is also devoid of bigoted rhetoric, which is a nice change. I had a friend mention the other day that it’s great to know HPL didn’t get any money from my purchase of this book. His literary contributions notwithstanding, I would be appalled to have validated this man during his lifetime.