Sunday, December 14, 2014

Innsmouth Junkies

Shadows over Innsmouth: edited by Stephen Jones (1995/Rev. ed. 2012), containing the following stories: A Quarter to Three   (1988)  by Kim Newman;  Beyond the Reef   (1994)  by Basil Copper;  Dagon's Bell  (1988)  by Brian Lumley; Daoine Domhain (1992)  by Peter Tremayne; Deepnet  (1994)  by David Langford; Down to the Boots  (1989)  by D. F. Lewis; Innsmouth Gold  (1994) by David Sutton;  Only the End of the World Again (1994) by Neil Gaiman; Return to Innsmouth (1992) by Guy N. Smith; The Big Fish (1994) by Kim Newman [as by Jack Yeovil ]; The Church in High Street (1962) by Ramsey Campbell; The Crossing (1994) by Adrian Cole; The Homecoming (1994) by Nicholas Royle; The Innsmouth Heritage (1992) by Brian Stableford; The Shadow Over Innsmouth  (1936) by H. P. Lovecraft; The Tomb of Priscus (1994) by Brian Mooney; and To See the Sea (1994) by Michael Marshall Smith.

Innsmouth, H.P. Lovecraft's fictional Massachusetts port town, seems to have more of a claim on the imagination of writers and readers than most of Lovecraft's concepts. While mentioned in passing in an earlier story, Innsmouth didn't really come into its own until the publication of "The Shadow over Innsmouth" in a small-press chapbook in 1936. And as that publication sold very few copies, it wasn't really until the magazine publication of the story in the early 1940's that any significant readership got to visit this curious and unwelcoming New England seaside community.

This is the first in what will soon be a trilogy of Innsmouth anthologies edited by the prolific anthologist Stephen Jones (the third arrives in January 2015). Here, the writers are all British with the exception of H.P. Lovecraft and his original story. Some of the stories occur in the British Isles, some return to Innsmouth, and some are darned peculiar.

Once upon a time, Innsmouth was just another New England fishing village. But then, Captain Obed Marsh brought back something from the South Seas. Perhaps plenty of somethings. And gradually, as the years passed and new generations were born, more and more citizens developed The Innsmouth Look. To be succinct, as people aged, they looked more and more disquietingly like giant, bipedal frogs. 

Marsh and his businesses flourished. A new church set up shop in Innsmouth, dedicated to the Esoteric Order of Dagon. And out on the Devil's Reef in Innsmouth harbour, strange beings gibbered and frolicked in the waves. Normal people began to flee Innsmouth or to disappear mysteriously, never to be seen again. This is the point in the 1920's that Lovecraft's novella begins, its narrator a man with Innsmouth heritage travelling to the town for the first time and discovering horrors.

I don't think there's a real stinker among this array of first appearances and the occasional reprint. Neil Gaiman's entry is a bit too arch to be effective as horror and not really funny enough to be effective as humour. But it's not awful. Basil Copper's period piece, set in HPL's equally fictional Massachusetts city of Arkham in the 1930's, invests the bipedal amphibians (aka the Deep Ones) with just a few too many new and plot-convenient powers, but it's still a fun read.

The Ramsey Campbell piece, from his impressively early-career collection of Lovecraft pastiches, has only a peripheral connection to Innsmouth. Going further (and farther) abroad, Nicholas Royle's "The Homecoming" uses Lovecraftian terminology and imagery in the disturbing and disquieting service of a story about just-post-Ceausescu Romania. 

Recurring supernatural investigators battle ancient menaces in several of the pieces, including those by Gaiman, Newman, and Mooney. Brian Lumley contributes a nearly pitch-perfect modern-day pastiche of Lovecraft by way of August Derleth. Michael Marshall Smith's "To See the Sea," while not a stylistic homage to HPL, is nonetheless a fairly straightforward frightener that demonstrates once again that in horror fiction, you can go home again, but you really shouldn't.

Originally, this was one of the Lovecraftian anthologies that helped kick off the revival of publications that tipped their rugose caps to the Revelator from Providence. The Titan books revised edition is a nice piece of work, as have been all their Lovercraft entries over the past couple of years. And the range of fiction here demonstrates much of the range possible when dealing with Lovercraft's legacy: pastiches are but a small portion of the fictional spectrum available to those gazing upon Innsmouth. Highly recommended.

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