Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth
Originally for the Candlemass, 2006 mailing of the Esoteric Order of Dagon (#133)
|Recently, I have made the acquaintance of one
Steven Bissette, an artist whose work I have been in awe of for more than twenty years.
Who knew that I would find him working in the hills of Vermont? Along with Alan Moore and
John Totleiben, Mr. Bissette really helped to create a renaissance in comics that weren't
just for kids. After decades of laboring under the stifling and arbitrary rules of the
Comics Code Authority, Moore, Bissette and Totleiben's Swamp Thing provided the
comics industry with definitive proof that not only was it possible to write horror comics
and not get in trouble with the law, but also demonstrated that a company could make money
How, then, does this little story work into a review of the Lovecraft-derived Weird Shadows over Innsmouth? Because Lovecraft is another one of those truly original and creative thinkers; someone who creates a genre all by himself, who has so much interest and fascination packed into his stories that when we come to the end of them, the concepts have not been mined out, but instead have opened new and greater vistas in the minds of the reader. Lovecraft seldom created direct sequels to his own work, at least partially because his mind was so ferociously creative that he didn't need to rely on his previous inspirations for ideas. So original was he that devotees are still finding corners and ways to tie into his visions.
As can be expected from the title, this anthology's strength is also its weakness: all the stories deal in some way with Innsmouth or Deep Ones. If you're all right with that, then the anthology is fine. More than most anthologies, this is made up of authors picking up the scraps of Lovecraft's work and making them their own.
It is good to see Fedogan & Bremer back on the job. I am a great fan of small presses, so long as they put out quality work, and with one exception, all the F&B books I've purchased have been excellent. The materials they use are high-caliber. The paper is strong and finely textured, and they still completely cover their boards with clotha binding that is seldom applied even to expensive coffee-table' books anymore. You pay for it; the anthology is $35, and no doubt will be issued in paperback form by Del Rey in a few years. But my inner bibliophile is much more interested in this hardcover, and also the rather grotesque but beautiful illustrations by Randy Broecker, Les Edwards, and Allan Servoss. These high-quality pictures add to the overall feel of the book.
Weird Shadows over Innsmouth begins with an interesting introduction by Stephen Jones, detailing trials and tribulations of getting the previous anthology, Shadows over Innsmouth, published, and how that lead to this new anthology. Jones is an engaging writer, and the journey is interesting. Following that, we have several pages from a discarded draft of Lovecraft's "Shadows Over Innsmouth", which are fascinating. As a struggling writer, I find it comforting to learn Lovecraft's stories did not simply spring fully-formed from his head. The draft simply tosses off several of the jolting revelations of "Innsmouth" as part of expositive narration, where they have little or no impact. As a new and fairly insecure author, I am immensely comforted by this draft.
John Glasby's "Quest for Y'ha-nthlei" is a more detailed description of the military action that takes place off-stage during "Shadows Over Innsmouth." As a story, it's not quite as rich as A. Scott Glancy's "Once More, From the Top" from Armitage House's Dark Theatres, but it's a good story, and a fitting start to the anthology.
"Brackish Waters" by Richard Lupoff is set in the San Francisco Bay Area during World War Two. Although not my favorite story of the anthology, Lupoff creates a suitably weird tale with an ending that ties into a true anomaly of the period.
"Voices in the Water" by Basil Copper follows. Until this story I have not understood the attraction of Basil Copper. His "Shaft 247" appeared in both New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and Cthulhu 2000, and the story has never compelled me to seek out more of his work. "Voices in the Water", on the other hand, gives me some pause. The story is engagingly written, although a touch trite; the narrator is an author who purchases an isolated house with an unfortunate past. Despite these shortcomings, the story is well-constructed, readable and quite enjoyable.
"Another Fish Story" by Kim Newman may be the crowning glory of the collection. Beginning and operating as far away from Innsmouth as one might think possible, both physically and culturally, it is this distance and Newman's sideways approach to the subject of the anthology that separate this story from the . It is, however, a wholly remarkable tale, at least partially because it approaches the subject of the anthology in a very sideways fashion.
I greatly admire Paul McAuley's "Take Me To The River", because the author sets the story very credibly and tangibly in London during the extremely hot, dry summer of 1976. And when the main character moves through the drug-soaked counterculture of the period, he encounters some very vividly-drawn, extremely strange characters that are just fascinating.
"The Coming" by the late Hugh Cave is a strange story of a church picnic that goes horribly awry. As is usual with Cave, the story is well-written and creepy, and it's placement here, roughly in the middle of the collection works as a break from the overtly Lovecraftian stories that come before and after.
Steve Ransic Tem's "Eggs" offers slightly more modern and direct take on one of Lovecraft's more subtle Innsmouth themes; that of reproduction, and the problem of children. I found this story curiously effective, for all that stories involving the desire for children or children in peril seem to leave me cold.
"From Cabinet 34, Drawer 6" by Caitlin Kiernan. Ms. Kiernan is an author, like Basil Copper, whose work I have not warmed to. I have heard her praises sung by John Pelan, who was thrilled to have her story "Nor the Demons Down Under the Sea" appear in his Children of Cthulhu, but the few stories that I have read have not grabbed me. This one does, with its overtly scientific approach, clear prose and subtly building sense of otherness.
Ramsay Campbell needs no introduction, and it should be no surprise that he contributed a story. "Raised By the Moon" is influenced as much by Shirley Jackson as it is by Lovecraft, the two mixed into a wonderful melange that is familiar without being trite or dull.
"Fair Exchange" Michael Marshall Smith is a bit of an oddity in the anthology. While the story is rich and quite wonderful in its details, which has to do with petty larceny in London, the ending is rather abrupt and doesn't feel properly developed.
"The Taint" by Brian Lumley is a well written but slightly overlong "spot the Deep One" story. As always, Lumley's prose is solid, but somehow, the story fails to soar. There is little tension in the story, and it never seems to have quite enough momentum to take off, leaving the reader with the feeling of a missed opportunity.
Stephen Jones has used stories that are very broad in their approach to Deep Ones, and that is part of the wonder of this book. This book encourages me greatly because it clearly demonstrates that in the hands of someone creative, even the old and trite can become new again. And again and again, with so many of these stories taking such wildly different approaches and having such radically different ideas in reaction to the same story. I have read several anthologies of Innsmouth and Deep One stories, and I daresay this is the most diverse. The stories in the first Shadows over Innsmouth anthology tended to concentrate more closely on Innsmouth, while these stories are much more varied approaches to that ferociously creative original story, utilizing a wide variety of interpretations and settings, yet never stray so far that the influence of Lovecraft becomes indiscernible.