Shadows over Innsmouth by Stephen Jones, editor
Cover art by Dave Carson, Martin McKenna and Jim Pitts
Published by Fedogan and Bremer
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
Many writers of imaginative fiction have created entire worlds out of their imaginations -- Middle Earth, Darkover, Arrakis, Pern, etc. -- but far fewer are those writers who have created imaginary places within our own world that are so compelling in their realization that many people believe them to have been real. William Faulkner had his Yoknapatawpha County, full of poor whites, former Confederate line officers, and contemptible Snopeses. And H. P. Lovecraft had his strange fictional version of Essex County, Massachusetts, with its inbred families and seekers after arcane knowledge in Dunwich, Arkham and most ominously of all, Innsmouth. Places where egomaniacal patriarchs forced their families to intermarry with mysterious entities from beyond time and space in order to gain temporal powers. Where the university library could contain books with real magic that could open real gateways to other universes inhabited by beings of incredible power. And where sanity was a tenuous thing indeed, easily torn apart by some hideous revelation that Everything You Knew Is A Lie.
Even more interesting in the case of Lovecraft is the way in which his imagined landscape has inspired generations of imitators. To be sure, Lovecraft himself strongly encouraged such imitations, urging his contemporaries to slip references to his locales and ancient eldritch entities into their own stories so that readers could have a frission of delight at recognizing them, that sense that these places and creatures have some kind of shared reality beyond a single author's imagined Secondary World.
Thus we have here an entire anthology devoted to expanding upon the imagined landscape of one of Lovecraft's last and best-known stories. Not everybody takes the storyline in the same direction, and some of them contradict one another, but it's still interesting to see the history of an imagined town being extended beyond the original Prohibition-Era setting of its source into the following decades, right into the Space Age and the Digital Revolution.
After a brief introduction by the editor, we start off with the story that inspired it, H. P. Lovecraft's own "The Shadow over Innsmouth." It is unusual for his works in including references to government agents and coverups, something that is more typical of later generations more cynical about the Republic's leadership and its trustworthiness. In this Lovecraft classic, the first-person narrator is traveling through eastern Massachusetts to study the various architectural styles found in the oldest towns of the region and decides to travel to Arkham by way of the isolated town of Innsmouth rather than directly as he had originally planned. When he arrives, he finds the town filled with an atmosphere of brooding wrongness, and meets and elderly alcoholic by the name of Zadok Allen who fills his mind with stories of Captain Obed Marsh's strange voyages and mysterious South Seas wife who may not have been entirely human. That night the protagonist encounters such strange behavior by the locals that he's driven to flee on foot and appeal to government agents -- but it's strongly hinted in the ending that it's already too late for him, and his time in the cursed town of Innsmouth has already woven his own doom.
The next story, Basil Copper's "Beyond the Reef," takes place a few years later, at Lovecraft's famous fictional institution of higher education, Miskatonic University. Shortly after the Federal Government's raid on Innsmouth, there was a major storm that caused significant damage along the coast all the way up to Arkham, maybe even farther. Subsequently, Miskatonic University began to experience a series of unexplained events. A tome of particular esoteric significance was stolen from the locked rare-book room of the Miskatonic University library. A janitor was murdered and mutilated before being dumped into a particularly odious pond on campus. And then a memorial cross suddenly collapsed, nearly killing the Dean and in the process revealing a system of tunnels that have undermined the entire city, and seem to go out to Devil's Reef, the notorious undersea structure that is said to be the home of the Deep Ones.
As the authorities investigate, it becomes increasingly clear that someone or something does not want these goings-on investigated. Equipment in locked rooms is unaccountably smashed. Careful notes vanish right off pages. Scholars thought to be unimpeachably stable suddenly become deranged and attempt murder. Even a senior officer of the police finds it difficult to carry out an investigation, so intense is the effect upon the minds of all those who try to look too closely into these matters.
In "The Big Fish" Jack Yeovil takes us forward a decade to the beginnings of America's involvement in World War II. Japanese-Americans all over the West Coast are being taken away to internment camps well inland, and the protagonist is thinking how ironic it is that Italian-Americans, even those who are showing blatant loyalty to the Fascist government of Italy, are not given similar treatment. From there, he is drawn into a Mob-ridden world of kidnappings and murders which bear the taint of beings not entirely human. It soon becomes increasingly apparent that the South Seas and the Atlantic coast off Innsmouth are not the only dwelling-places of the Deep Ones, and they've had plenty of time to insinuate themselves into California society. It's very interesting to see the tropes usually associated with the gangster story being combined with the horrific elements typical of Lovecraft and his circle.
Guy N. Smith's "Return to Innsmouth" is a flash-fiction piece about a man's obsession with the story of Innsmouth which drives him to visit, although he knows it's a dangerous place. And as he thinks he's leaving, he notices that he has undergone a transformation at once both subtle and terrible.
In "The Crossing," Adrian Cole gives us a story of a missing father and a transAtlantic connection to Innsmouth. When a mysterious letter from his unknown father appears, the protagonist can't resist trying to reconnect, and discovers that the old man's made a deal with the Deep Ones, one that involves human sacrifice and suchlike horrors.
D. F. Lewis gives us another flash fiction piece, "Down to the Boots," which tells the story of a fisherman's wife and the long wait for those who go down to sea in boats.
Ramsey Campbell is one of the best-known proteges of Lovecraft still active in the field, and "The Church in High Street" is his very first published piece of fiction in the Lovecraft tradition, as edited by August Derleth of Arkham House. Campbell was all of fifteen at the time, and one of the sharpest criticisms Derleth gave him was to stop trying to set his stories in Massachusetts and instead draw upon the dark side of the English countryside with which he was more familiar. The result is an English town every bit as creepy as Innsmouth, but in a way harmonious with the patterns of human settlement on Albion's shores.
In "innsmouth Gold" David Sutton tackles straight-on the matter of the mysterious gold jewelry for which Innsmouth was famous -- or notorious -- and its relationship to the gold refinery that the Marsh family ran in that ill-starred town.
Peter Tremayne's "Daoine Domhain" draws surprising parallels between the story of the Deep Ones and Irish folklore. The protagonist had grown up believing his grandfather to have been a deserter from the US Navy, and had always been somewhat resentful of the situation, regarding the stain on the family's reputation as unjust. Then a mysterious stranger appears, claiming to have knowledge of the old man's true fate. When the protagonist queries further, he receives a long-undelivered letter, telling of his grandfather's participation in the raid upon Innsmouth, and his subsequent misadventures in Ireland, where he discovers that he has attracted the attention of those who resent that attack. And as he reads it, the protagonist realizes that revenge may reach across eras and generations.
In "A Quarter to Three," Kim Newman gives us a story of a woman with a most peculiar pregnancy. A pregnancy that seems to be controlling her in the most untoward and malign ways.
Brian Mooney's "The Tomb of Priscus" takes us to an archeological dig, a remnant of the time of the Roman occupation of Britain. What terrible secret led the entire family of Priscus to be erased from every Roman record as if they never existed? Given that the leader of the expedition is named Wayt, which is a variant form of Waite, one of the leading names of Innsmouth, it soon becomes obvious that this is not something good.
In "The Innsmouth Heritage" Brian Stableford takes an approach reminiscent of the old Scooby-Doo cartoons, in which the story would always start with terrified appeals to the supernatural to explain some frightening event, but would end with the protagonists' revelation that there was a completely logical explanations for the strange goings-on that had caused the fear. Our protagonist is a geneticist who has been corresponding for some years with a woman from Innsmouth. When he finally gets to visit the half-abandoned town and do a study of people afflicted with the characteristic stigmata, he demonstrates that it is merely an unfortunate miscopying of part of one chromosome. As a result, certain embryonic characteristics remain beyond their normal developmental stage, leading to the appearance of gills on the neck and other deformities. However, this cool rationality is undermined at the end with puzzling hints that something really does lurk beneath the waves in Devil's Reef.
Nicholas Royle's "Homecoming" is a story I feel intensely uncomfortable about. On one hand, the parts about the protagonist's return to Bucharest after the revolution that overthrew the Ceausescu family and her discovery of the horrible truth of her brother's life are quite moving. On the other, the equation of the Ceausescus with the Great Old Ones seems forced, as if it were applied simply to make the story qualify for this anthology and could be stripped away without disrupting its heart -- or needs further development to suggest that Communism was in fact a fraud perpetrated upon humanity by agents of R'lyeh .
In "Deepnet," David Langford brings the Digital Revolution to Innsmouth, creating an interesting and sinister parallel to the Primary World's Route 128 Corridor development of tech companies in Massachusetts. It's interesting to see how computers can still be imbued with a sense of menace even if the old "computer takes over" story has become implausible with the growing computerization of daily life.
Michael Marshall Smith's "To See the Sea" gives us a story of a young woman whose mother survived a shipwreck because the overturned ship trapped enough air for the passengers to survive, along the lines of that hoary old disaster movie The Poseidon Adventure. But as Sarah's obsession with the sea grows, we get increasing evidence that the story of survival against impossible odds isn't as neat and tidy as it would appear. In fact, it's starting to unravel rather badly and some very ugly secrets are peeking through.
In "Dagon's Bell" Brian Lumley gives us the story of Kettlethorpe Farm, where some mysterious seaweed began to come ashore. The place has long been the home of an old recluse who wanted it completely abandoned after his death. However, the debts he left behind precluded that disposal, and it soon comes into the hands of a man whose curiosity leads him to discover hints of terrible rites once held upon that land, rites that summoned things which still remember, and await.
Neil Gaiman has a reputation for the quirky and unpredictable, and "Only the End of the World" is no exception. Werewolves aren't exactly something we associate with Lovecraft -- he preferred to avoid the typical folkloric supernatural horror. But Gaiman actually makes the werewolf protagonist of this story work, although it may not be to all tastes.
On the whole, it's a fairly interesting volume. There are a few stories that I found somewhat unsatisfying, mostly because I felt that the authors were stretching matters to fit in the Innsmouth connection, but that's always a risk with a themed anthology. Sometimes it's the result of an author who really wants to be in an anthology but can't come up with a story that fits, and thus just tacks on the element as an afterthought, but sometimes it's the editor who wants the story really badly and persuades the author to add some superficial elements that will make it fit.
Table of Contents
- Introduction: Spawn of the Deep Ones by STephen Jones
- "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" by H. P. Lovecraft
- "Beyond the Reef" by Basil Copper
- "The Big Fish" by Jack Yeovil
- "Return to Innsmouth" by Guy N. Smith
- "The Crossing" by Adrian Cole
- "Down to the Boots" by D. F. Lewis
- "The Church in High Street" by Ramsey Campbell
- "Innsmouth Gold" by David Sutton
- "Daoine Domhain" by Peter Tremayne
- "A Quarter to Three" by Kim Newman
- "The Tomb of Priscus" by Brian Mooney
- "The Innsmouth Heritage" by Brian Stableford
- "The Homecoming" by Nicholas Royle
- "Deepnet" by David Langford
- "To See the Sea" by Michael Marshall Smith
- "Dagon's Bell" by Brian Lumley
- "Only the End of the World Again" by Neil Gaiman
- Afterwords: Contributors' Notes
Review posted July 21, 2011
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