Even when its publication date is mere months after Cthulhu by Gaslight’s, which we will review soon, Atomic-Age Cthulhu is to some extent the opposite kind of book, that is, a lot of adventures, and a small sourcebook. We will start with the latter.
The 1950’s Sourcebook is a 28-page guide (in a 224-page book) describing America1 at that time. That is the first problem for me. I love America in the ‘50s, mainly because of all its clichés…and because of Rock’n’Roll, but nevertheless, I think it would have been very interesting to cover some of that Cold War feeling in Central Europe (and maybe add some espionage). Focusing on what it is actually in the book, we find a short description of the main topics that defined the US at the time, through two different groups: things that made America the envy of the world (cars, TV, Rock’n’Roll…), and things that showed it was far from being an ideal society (racial segregation, McCarthyism, juvenile delinquency…). I think it is a very interesting and very honest approach, enough to give some 50’s flavor to our adventures, but that is it. The sourcebook also contains new or reviewed skills, new professions and some background information for the investigators (UFOs, medicine, drugs…), as well as lists of sci-fi movies, tv shows, and popular songs of the decade. I think this section is pretty good, albeit too short, especially for those like me who are neither American nor history majors. I think it would have been great to add a chronology regarding certain topics (such as the space race) and more “sinister seeds” to base our adventures on real events. Another thing I miss is a more detailed explanation of the communist menace, the FBI, the Mafia, UFOs and other such elements that, if used correctly, could be the source of a large number of adventures. In the end, this is the problem of the section: there is enough information to give a “Golden Age” flavor to your stories, but not so much on how to use parts of history, namely conspiracies, in them. Personally, I would have preferred a larger sourcebook and fewer adventures, much like Gaslight. Had they done so, there always would have been the possibility of publishing a second book with all the remaining adventures, but maybe I am asking too much.
In the seven adventures included, we see a few of the cliches of the “Golden Age.” The stories are not related to each other, something that it is not necessarily a bad thing, but what if we want to use our 1950’s investigators for more than a oneshot? I think the easy answer is for investigators to work as FBI agents or working at any other government agency (is there a better decade to play pseudo- X-Files?). The quality of the stories is average to high, there are some that are pretty good by themselves and others that could be very good with a little bit of extra work from the Keeper. Here you have a short description of them, almost spoiler-free:
- "The Village was made for us," by Christopher Smith Adair: A purported suicide. A small town fully devoted to atomic research. The perfect place for an alien invasion wanting to bring the Nuclear Chaos to this planet.
- "T.V. Casualty," by Matt Sanborn: In the archetypical suburban town, violence starts among people who were “good neighbors ” just a couple of weeks ago. Is there any relationship between these crimes and the new TV sets that are being installed in town?
- "The Return of Old Reliable," by Oscar Rios: A story combining the space race, Nazi scientists (not the kind who worked with V-2), and colorful sci-fi that is so 1950’s. There is hardly any Mythos in the story, but that does not mean it is a bad one. Who said that pulp died in the 1930’s?
- "Forgotten Wars," by Brian M. Sammons: The investigators are a tank crew in the Korean War, but they get involved in a much older conflict. It is my favorite one, because of the solitude it reflects, and because it clearly shows that it does not matter how much weaponry you have, the Mythos will always be the Mythos.
- "High Octane," by Tom Lynch: A small town with a "Twin Peaks" ambience, teenager gangs, bikers, commie cultists, and investigators right in the middle…it cannot end well, can it?
- "L.A. Diabollical," by Brian Courtemanche: L.A. Confidential…with tentacles! A mysterious disappearance, a beautiful woman that is more than meets the eye and a lot of rich bored people with a thing for occultism. A good story, maybe because I am crazy for noir movies, but with a few add-ons from the Keeper it can be something memorable.
- "Destroying Paradise," by Michael Dziesinski: A pseudo-Elvis rock star travels to Hawaii in the months before the islands become a state to film a movie…only to get involved in a fight between a Mythos cult and a well-known race…Mutated by nuclear tests!
In summary, Atomic-Age is a good supplement without being essential. It has a good number of interesting stories and resources to give them the right flavor. You should buy it if you are, as I am, in love with this era, or if you are looking for a collection of stories that are a little bit different than the average ones. If you are looking for a detailed guide to 1950’s America or if you are only interested in global campaigns…you can continue pass on by.