The first part of a feature that originally appeared in Black Static #48:-
H. P. LOVECRAFT SLEEPS WITH THE FISHES
While most of us abhor his racist views, there is no denying that H. P. Lovecraft’s influence on the weird tale and horror fiction itself has been immense, with a plethora of writers over the years having adapted his ideas to their own ends. Many have taken inspiration from ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’, HPL’s tale of a decaying New England fishing port and the ichthyoid beings that live in the sea outside its harbour, exerting a malign influence on the town.
Back at the end of the 1980s editor Stephen Jones cast his net upon these agreeably troubled waters and hauled in a bumper catch of Innsmouth derived fiction. These tales eventually saw publication by American press Fedogan & Bremer in 1994 as the World Fantasy Award nominated anthology Shadows Over Innsmouth. Jones returned to the theme twice more, with further volumes released by F&B in 2005 and 2013, and so we come to the present day with the Titan Books publication of all three volumes in a uniform paperback edition.
SHADOWS OVER INNSMOUTH (Titan Books pb, 485pp, £8.99), after an introduction by Jones, appropriately opens with the novella that started it all, ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ by H. P. Lovecraft, a classic and seminal horror story in which a man visits an isolated seaside town where the inhabitants have inbred with the Deep Ones, creatures from the sea, the author’s disgust at this miscegenation coming over on the page, and with the various elements of the tale precisely delineated. Basil Copper takes up the tale and history with ‘Beyond the Reef’, moving events further inland to Arkham and the Miskatonic University, where workmen discover a series of tunnels leading to the sea. Concurrent with this we get a police investigation that leads to Innsmouth and an academic attempting to translate certain ancient tomes, all of which is wrapped up with a desperate fight for survival in the tunnels. It’s a bravura effort from Copper, the various strands merging perfectly and the story holding the interest as the reader watches the pieces of the puzzle slotting neatly into place.
In ‘The Big Fish’ Jack Yeovil tries to capture something of the style of Raymond Chandler, with the Deep Ones and their nefarious schemes transplanted to Bay City. Against the backdrop of the Second World War and a country terrified of Japanese attacks, a private investigator is hired to find the missing baby of a crime baron and a film star, the trail leading him to an offshore gambling boat and an encounter with one of the Marsh brood, the “ruling” family of Innsmouth. It’s a delightfully tongue in cheek piece, with the hard boiled and world weary tone captured perfectly, a wealth of genre references for the aficionado, and some memorable characters, all wrapped up in a compelling and credible plotline. One of the weaker pieces, Guy N. Smith’s story has its protagonist undertaking a ‘Return to Innsmouth’ and losing his shadow as a result, the story unmemorable and with a going through the motions quality to it. More impressive was ‘The Crossing’ by Adrian Cole in which a man’s search for his absentee father leads him to a fishing village in North Devon and an encounter with the numinous as he learns the terrible secret of his family’s line and what is expected of him. Cole cleverly ties his story into the legends of Innsmouth, but gives it a subtext concerning familial duty and what a father will do for the son he loves, the idea of sacrifice and bargains with the unspeakable at the story’s heart.
A woman confronts the loss of her latest husband in the enigmatically titled ‘Down to the Boots’ by D. F. Lewis, the shortest story in the book and one in which the obliqueness of the prose reinforces the impression of something terrible taking place off the page and captures how people are reconciled to and able to live with such events. Ramsey Campbell’s ‘The Church in High Street’ builds its effects gradually, as a man goes in search of a friend who went to live in the accursed town of Temphill, but in doing so finds rather more than he bargained for, the story strong on atmosphere and the sense of something implacable snapping at the edges of existence, willing to devour the whole of human life and still not satiate its monstrous appetite. ‘Innsmouth Gold’ by David A. Sutton makes for an engaging read, with its account of a man who goes seeking gold abandoned in the swampland around the deserted town, tying in the legends of the area effectively, but while entertaining enough in a pass the time sort of way the reason given for our hero’s search seemed rather tenuous to me, a bit too much clutching at straws for plot convenience.
In ‘Daoine Domhain’ by Peter Tremayne a man learns what happened to his grandfather, who went missing on a visit to his ancestral Ireland, and that he is to share a similar fate, the story absorbing and holding the attention until the expected denouement, even if with hindsight it does seem slightly contrived. Kim Newman’s brief ‘A Quarter to Three’ is a sheer delight and ends with an audacious piece of wordplay guaranteed to bring a smile to even the most curmudgeonly of readers’ faces, as a pregnant teenager waits in a rundown diner for the father of her child to arrive. There’s little new to ‘The Tomb of Priscus’ by Brian Mooney and with a cosmetic change or two it could easily pass muster as a bog standard tale of a revenant disturbed by an archaeological dig, and yet while I might seem dismissive it was in fact my favourite story in the book, thanks to the author’s lightness of touch, the effortless storytelling, and the creation of a larger than life, ebullient hero to whom the protagonist plays the role of amanuensis. All things considered it was a splendid piece of entertainment.
Brian Stableford applies scientific method in ‘The Innsmouth Heritage’ with his protagonist studying the genetic makeup of the town’s oldest families, but not realising what he is dealing with. It works both as scientific study and as a tale of genuine tragedy with a romantic sidebar, holding the interest all the way and ending on a note of ambiguity crossed with bitterness. In ‘The Homecoming’ Nicholas Royle reinvents Lovecraft’s novella as the tale of a political exile returning to Romania after the fall of Ceausescu. It’s an intriguing concept and works very well, with events paralleling those in the source material and a similar brooding atmosphere of decay and desuetude, but given a freshness and relevance thanks to the political dimension of the narrative. David Langford takes an equally novel approach in ‘Deepnet’, with the Deep Ones infiltrating human society through the means of computer software, and at a push you can find a subtext concerning the pervasive presence of Microsoft in our world today.
There’s a touch of The Wicker Man in ‘To See the Sea’ by Michael Marshall Smith as a man and his wife go to stay in the seaside town off which her mother nearly died in a shipwreck, but the truth is even more strange and frightening. It’s a story that builds well, with the atmosphere of an insular community captured perfectly on the page, all of which leads into a truly unsettling end reveal. Brian Lumley’s story ‘Dagon’s Bell’ has a man and his wife take up residence in Kettlethorpe Farm, whose previous owner disappeared without explanation. At first they think the place is haunted, but something far more terrible lurks in the tunnels beneath the ancient building, the story a textbook example of its type and thoroughly entertaining for the time that it takes to read, though I doubt I’ll remember much about it in a year or so.
Finally we have ‘Only the End of the World Again’ by Neil Gaiman, the narrative bubbling with energy as the werewolf anti-hero thwarts an attempt to summon the Old Ones by the members of a cult. As ever with Gaiman the prose is effervescent and the characters are larger than life, while odd touches of detail, such as the undigested fingers of a small child, help to keep it all painfully real. It was a strong ending to an overall excellent collection of tales, all of which pay appropriate tribute to their source material while attempting to move the narrative on from Lovecraft’s point of origin.
(TO BE CONTINUED)