As far as horror writers go, there’s one that raises far above all others: H.P. Lovecraft. In his day he wrote bizarre landscapes and horrifying monsters from the depths of time and space. Nowadays, the British author Brian Lumley draws his influences from Lovecraft and creates many a bizarre landscape of horror himself: The House of Doors being just one of many.
The House of Doors’ main plot revolves around the Thone–a highly evolved species of aliens that are looking to terra-form new planets to their own ends. The Thone have found Earth and have planted a monstrous device on our planet's surface. The device is a test to see if humanity has evolved past the point where the Thone will have to leave them be, but the Thone named Sith running this test has become corrupted and will do anything to stop the group of people trapped inside the House of Doors from winning.
The author of The House of Doors, as I stated above, is the famous English horror writer Brian Lumley. Lumley has, over the years, made his name synonymous with the horror genre. He’s added to H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, written the huge series of books Necroscope that has many spin-off titles come from it, and, in 2010 he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Horror Writers Association and the World Fantasy Award. All in all, the man knows his way around a horror novel!
The characters of the piece are a rag-tag group of people thrown together into the nightmare world that is the House of Doors by nothing more coincidence. There’s Spencer, the hero of the piece, who is able to empathetically connect with machines. Turnbull, an ex-secret agent. Varre, a claustrophobic Frenchman who is only out for himself. Anderson, an arrogant politician who is also only out for himself. Claybourne, an overly-religious, fanatical occult zealot. Haggie, a brash, back-stabbing, two-bit criminal, and Angela, a woman running from an abusive drunkard and is mostly defined by her sexuality (Lumley never misses an opportunity to describe how most of her clothes have ripped off or put her in a situation that might end with rape). All these characters are varied and vivid but after a while, they stop adding to the storyline and just start bogging it down. It’s the same with the locations which are often expunged under the gravity of all the conflicting personalities and neurosis’s when they should be the highlight of the piece.
Speaking of locations, the setting of this novel is that of an alien machine nicknamed The Castle (only later being called the House of Doors by the group trapped inside) that mysteriously appeared on a hilltop in Scotland. Within the strange alien machine there are doors upon doors upon doors that each lead to a different place be it a lush forest filled with horrible monsters or a desert crawling with werewolves and Hell fire. Depending on who goes through the doors first depends upon what’s waiting for them–each door and world within that door is a construct of the person’s worst fears and anxieties. That being said the worlds are always very human in their construct: there are no strange alien atmospheres or fantastical magic landscapes, just things that humans are scared of and all in all, that’s a little bland after a while (although I will say that Spencer’s world is pretty creepy when you really think about it).
The House of Doors is not a horror story–at least not by the standards that Lumley has set with his other works. It’s a science-fiction thriller about alien invasion and the old stand by that comes with invasion: triumph against all odds. It’s an interesting look at the characters’ psyches and some of the worlds that they find themselves in are creepy and imaginative, but it falls short of the horror mark as the humans trapped within the alien machine–the predictable human element–are put through things that humans are scared of but aren’t necessarily all that scary to read about–the worlds that Varre and Anderson create, for example, are just plain boring!
My final thoughts on The House of Doors is that it’s alright. If you’re looking for horror along the lines of Lumley’s Necroscope series or his writings on in the Cthulhu mythos, you’re looking in the wrong place but The House of Doors is still an interesting read if you’re a science-fiction/thriller fan, a Brian Lumley fan, or are just looking for a break from the usual things you read.