Filler content from Innsmouth – Part 2

Following on from yesterday’s blog post, the second part of a feature that originally appeared in Black Static #48:-

H. P. LOVECRAFT SLEEPS WITH THE FISHES (continued)

After an introduction by editor Jones in which he details the previous volume’s path to publication, WEIRD SHADOWS OVER INNSMOUTH (Titan Books pb, 355pp, £8.99)
kicks off with a ‘Discarded Draft of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”’. Weighing in at ten pages, this curiosity piece presents several scenes in embryo from that seminal novella and HPL scholars may find it of great interest to compare these sketches with the finished product. Next up we have John Glasby’s ‘The Quest for Y’Ha-Nthlei’, the latter being the name of the submerged city of the Deep Ones sited just off Innsmouth. Presented as the reports of three federal agents who took part in the raid on Innsmouth and attack on the Deep Ones, it fills in some of the details from Lovecraft’s novella, giving us a desperate and action packed account of the fight against the creatures from the ocean and the inbred populace of Innsmouth itself, though I have to admit only with the appearance of a giant sea beast ready to attack the navy’s submarine does the outcome really feel in doubt, as the Deep Ones themselves seem only too prone to the effects of bullets.

In ‘Brackish Waters’ Richard A. Lupoff uses an historic event, a massive explosion that took place at Port Chicago in 1944, as the backdrop to his story of an academic who gets involved with a conspiracy theorist group believing in the Deep Ones, but much of the thrust of the piece deals with Delbert Marston’s personal voyage of discovery, including his transformation into one of the Deep Ones, or a hybrid at least, the story cleverly merging the personal and the historic, and holding the attention all the way. There’s a more minimalist feel to Basil Copper’s ‘Voices in the Water’, which in essence is a haunted house story with an ichthyic twist. The artist Roberts buys an old mill, but is gradually driven insane by the voices that he hears originating from the stream that flows beneath the building. Told mainly from the perspective of family friend Kent, it painstakingly and credibly details one man’s psychological dissolution, but with more than enough to suggest that something much worse is taking place in the background of the narrative.

‘Another Fish Story’ by Kim Newman has his Luciferian figure Derek Leech (from novel The Quorum and elsewhere) adrift in the desert landscape of 1968 California and encountering the Manson family, with a descendant of the Marsh clan lingering in a bathtub and planning to bring on the apocalypse by means of flooding. This is an inventive, twisty tale, with numerous references to be picked up on as you’d expect from Newman, not least the identity of the Creighton character, and underlying all that a commentary on the true nature of the apocalypse, one that seems painfully pertinent to our present day. Drug addiction is touched on in Paul McAuley’s ‘Take Me to the River’, the story told from the viewpoint of a second string musician trying to save the life of his drug dealer friend, whose existence is menaced by a creature stranded in the nearby river, one that feeds on the life force of others and needs them to get itself free. McAuley captures perfectly the feel of the times and world in which the story is set, with a wealth of background detail on the lives of musicians and dealers that adds verisimilitude to what, ultimately, is a tale of the fantastic, one that might otherwise stretch credibility.

‘The Coming’ by Hugh B. Cave has a reporter involved with a religious group trying to pray away the end of the world, only what they encounter are monstrous creatures derived from industrial pollution of the nearby water course. Though more standalone than Lovecraft derivative, it’s an engaging piece, written in an agreeable voice, one that shows respect for the characters even though their beliefs are somewhat out there, and with a truly repellent vision of monsters at its resolution. There’s a similar feel to ‘Eggs’ by Steve Rasnic Tem, as a terminally ill man and his pregnant wife retreat to a lakeside cottage, only to find that something alien is close at hand, the story offering a compelling picture of personal dissolution, one in which the macabre and outré elements, effective and unsettling as they are, only play counterpoint to what is going on in the lives of the characters. ‘From Cabinet 34, Drawer 6’ finds Caitlín R. Kiernan in a playful mood, giving us a story in which a museum worker finds a fossil relic that seems to completely undermine our current understanding of the world’s past. It’s a story buzzing with manic energy, conspiracy theories and larger than life characters, and in a move that seems obvious with hindsight, ties Innsmouth mythology in with the film of The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Ramsey Campbell’s ‘Raised by the Moon’ has a teacher driving off the map and ending up in the isolated and decaying seaside town of Baiting. There are some wonderfully creepy moments as he encounters the perfect host and hostess, and then stumbles across the town’s ichthyic denizens, only to himself be ensnared in something far more sinister. It is perhaps the most evocative and unsettling of the stories in this anthology, taking Lovecraft’s ideas and giving them an even more sinister turn, though the motives of the story’s villains is almost altruistic in intent. A career burglar steals some Innsmouth jewellery from a house in ‘Fair Exchange’ by Michael Marshall Smith, but finds that he himself is the one who has fallen foul of something terrible. Smith is superb at getting us inside the head of his character, laying out the various theories that he uses to justify the way in which he acts, and then subjecting the character to something truly awful, though its nature can only be seen from the outside, by the reader.

The best has been saved to last with ‘The Taint’, a sixty page novella by Brian Lumley. It focuses on a small group of people in a dying seaside village, professionals who feel that they are slightly above the rest of the community. But as the story unfolds links to Innsmouth are revealed and what is actually taking place is a look at how the Deep Ones and their hybrid progeny might survive and flourish in the modern world. It is a fascinating and thoroughly absorbing story, one that has the distinction of not showing the sea creatures as monsters, but simply as a different life form, one that is trying to hang on against the odds. Lumley gives us credible and fully rounded characters, while seamlessly tying his story into the greater Innsmouth theme and at the same time moving the narrative on, doing for the Deep Ones what Rice, and then everybody else, first did for the vampire archetype. It is a stunning end to a very strong anthology, one that once again does the business in entertaining the reader and paying tribute and reverence to its source material.

Going down for the third time, WEIRDER SHADOWS OVER INNSMOUTH (Titan Books pb, 377pp, £8.99) opens with an introduction from editor Jones and a brief, mood setting poem from Lovecraft himself entitled ‘The Port’. After that we get ‘Innsmouth Bane’ from John Glasby, which refers back to Lovecraft’s text, detailing the coming of the Deep Ones to the town and ensuing power struggle, as witnessed by the ancestor of Zadok Allen. It’s a well-told story, but one that really adds nothing to what we already know of the back story, only explains how that information was passed down.

Kim Newman produces a delightful parody come pastiche of the Boy’s Own Adventure type comics with ‘Richard Riddle, Boy Detective in “The Case of the French Spy”’. Told in a slightly breathless style it details how a Deep One is rescued from the clutches of an evil preacher by an intrepid band of children and is a pure delight to read, with touches of sly humour and a subtext that will only be understood and fully appreciated by the adults in the audience. Lovecraft and August Derleth join forces for ‘Innsmouth Clay’, the undemanding and entertaining tale of what happens to a sculptor who moves to Innsmouth and falls under the influence of the Deep Ones. In ‘The Archbishop’s Well’ by Reggie Oliver, an archaeological investigation arouses the unhealthy interest of a Dagon cultist, with the result that something evil may be unleashed. Set in 1938 it captures well the mood of pre-war Britain, with a touch of Wodehouse to the writing and, in the figure of the cultist, perhaps a nod of the hat to jingoism.

Private investigator Nick Nightmare gets drawn into a power struggle between various Innsmouth factions in ‘You Don’t Want to Know’, the story written with a hard boiled sensibility and an awareness of its own essential absurdity, all of which makes it great fun with engaging characters and an interesting angle on the activities of the Deep Ones. Beautifully written, ‘Fish Bride’ by Caitlín R. Kiernan tells the story of the doomed relationship between a man and a woman on the brink of transformation into one of the Deep Ones. In ‘The Hag Stone’ by Conrad Williams an elderly man who stays at a wartime fort in the Channel Islands becomes drawn into the activities of the Deep Ones when a series of murders seems to lead right to his door. As ever with Williams the story is splendidly told, with details piling atop each other until character and reader alike cannot deny the obvious, while the wildness of the story’s isolated location, its disconnect from the modern world, is powerfully realised on the page.

Caitlín R. Kiernan’s ‘On the Reef’ recounts the details of a ceremony at which cultists sacrifice themselves to the service of the ancient gods, the story perfectly capturing the essential weirdness of its material, the strangeness of what is taking place juxtaposed with the very human need to feel potent, that our actions matter. ‘The Song of Sighs’ by Angela Slatter takes us to an unusual academic institution, one where a professor is remembering her past and coming to a realisation of her true nature, the story told mainly through suggestion and a sense of dreaming, before ending on a powerful, assertive note, one that does not bode well for mankind. A woman with animal whispering abilities is taken to a secret US prison in ‘The Same Deep Waters As You’ by Brian Hodge, her task to communicate with the prisoners taken from Innsmouth when the town was overrun by the authorities in 1928. This is another story that builds splendidly, each detail fitting into the overall pattern and helping to make it credible, and while solving the riddle of what happened to the captives taken back in 1928 it also addresses modern concerns, such as Guantanamo Bay. From Ramsey Campbell we have the darkly comedic ‘The Winner’, with a man stepping into the wrong pub and finding himself in a world that is disturbingly off kilter with the rest of consensus reality.

Completing a trilogy of tales by Caitlín R. Kiernan, ‘The Transition of Elizabeth Haskings’ elicits our sympathy for a woman who is afflicted with the Innsmouth disease, its matter of fact relation showing that Elizabeth is as human as the rest of us, beset by the same appetites and desires, despite the physical differences that set her apart from the common stock of humanity. An artist with a painting block finds that Carmel is not like other towns in ‘The Chain’ by Michael Marshall Smith, the story written with an almost Stepford Wives feel to the action, and an ending that, after the constraint shown throughout, really lets rip in the final reel as the Deep Ones and their overlords take centre stage. It is, as the title implies, a story that celebrates and marks the connectivity of everything.

From Simon Kurt Unsworth we have ‘Into the Water’ as television journalists report back on unprecedented flooding that threatens the UK. Of course, with various occult signs and cryptic comments from some of the characters, it’s implied that the rising water levels are the result of intervention by Cthulhu and his peers, but as a side issue Unsworth addresses issues such as global warming and its consequences, his story bringing to mind the flooding and environmental concerns of recent years. Angela Slatter is back with the brief and mythic ‘Rising, Not Dreaming’ in which a musician lets down his wife by allowing the Old Ones to wake, the story entertaining in its way but not really engaging the interest as strongly as one might hope.

Last of all we have ‘The Long Last Night’ from Brian Lumley, set in a future where the world is ruled by the Old Ones and the remnants of humanity live on in the cracks or serve their alien masters. One man hopes to blow up the Twisted Tower, home of the entity known as Bgg’ha. It’s an engaging read, particularly for the picture of a world ruled by the Old Ones, but at the same time somewhat predictable, to the point that you feel the scientist character must be the only one who is actually surprised by the act of betrayal that leads into the story’s grim denouement. No matter, as I enjoyed it despite that, and in fact nearly all of these stories had something to commend them. Let’s hope that the fourth volume of Innsmouth tales Jones mentions in his introduction doesn’t turn out to be the one that got away.

Other stuff I should mention. Fedogan & Bremer sent us a review copy of their edition of WEIRDER SHADOWS OVER INNSMOUTH (F&C hc, 332pp, $36), and for those who like rarity the publisher also have a limited edition retailing at $110. All three volumes have contributors’ notes in which the writers not only provide biographical details but also talk informatively about the genesis of their tales. And there is an abundance of illustrations provided by Jim Pitts, Dave Carson, Martin McKenna, Bob Eggleton, Randy Broecker, Les Edwards, and Allan Servoss, all of which should leave you feeling appropriately squamous.

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