Monday, 6 April 2015

Review - Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth

Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth

Edited by Stephen Jones

'Respected horror anthologist Stephen Jones edits this collection of 17 stories inspired by the 20th century’s master of horror, H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” in which a young man goes to an isolated, desolate fishing village in Massachusetts, and finds that the entire village has interbred with strange creatures that live beneath the sea, and worship ancient gods.'

I always get nervous whenever I read stories influenced or inspired by one of the greats – I get even more nervous when the work is directly related to the original work of the author. I get the feeling that I’m going to be horribly disappointed in a L. Sprague de Camp ‘Conan the Liberator’-type way; a great author in his own right who seemed to totally miss the mark of what makes Conan great.

Thankfully, ‘Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth’ doesn’t give me that feeling but it does leave me with the sense that there was something lacking, that the stories within were relying on Lovecraft’s work to give the stories credibility, rather than the stories standing on their own. Could this be personal bias, being the Lovecraft fan that I am? Perhaps I expected too much? Maybe.

This is not to say that the stories are bad, or pale pastiches or emulations of Lovecraft’s work. In fact, the stories themselves are an enjoyable read and I found myself speeding through the book at a decent pace. The stories do vary in quality and none of them are bad, but then they’re not truly outstanding. If I had to be pinned down on a comment I’d have to say that I simply enjoyed them.

The stories are:

THE PORT, a poem by H.P. Lovecraft
INNSMOUTH BANE by John Glasby
RICHARD RIDDLE, BOY DETECTIVE in "The Case of the French Spy" by Kim Newman
INNSMOUTH CLAY by H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth
THE ARCHBISHOP'S WELL by Reggie Oliver
YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW by Adrian Cole
FISH BRIDE by Caitlin Kiernan
THE HAG STONE by Conrad Williams
ON THE REEF by Caitlin R. Kiernan
THE SONG OF SIGHS by Angela Slater
THE SAME DEEP WATERS AS YOU by Brian Hodge
THE WINNER by Ramsey Campbell
THE TRANSITION OF ELIZABETH HASKINGS by Caitlin Kiernan
THE CHAIN by Michael Marshall Smith
INTO THE WATER by Simon Kurt Unsworth
RISING, NOT DREAMING by Angela Slater
THE LONG LAST NIGHT by Brian Lumley

If I had to pick the not-authored-by-Lovecraft stories that I enjoyed the most, it would have to be Kim Newman’s ‘RICHARD RIDDLE, BOY DETECTIVE in "The Case of the French Spy"’ – a sort of Famous Five-meets-Lovecraft, sans two kids and a dog, and written in an adventurous tone reminiscent of the Enid Blyton classics. It’s fun and a refreshingly different take on the Mythos, which makes for a fresh and strangely enjoyable story, even when the blood is flying and the heads are rolling.

My second choice is Caitlin R. Kiernan’s story ‘THE TRANSITION OF ELIZABETH HASKINGS’ – it was suitably creepy and the body horror – in this case the transformation of a human being into something else and all that entails both physically and mentally - is disturbing. It’s a very short story but I found it quite powerful.

‘Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth’ is a good book filled with some well written short stories, but I do think that, considering the source material, I spent too much of my time and efforts comparing these new stories to Lovecraft’s original work. Considering that the stories are all linked in some way to the original story that’s almost inevitable, so perhaps I’ll revisit the stories again later in the future and try to purge my mind of all things HPL, and try to approach the stories differently. I can recommend the book, especially to Lovecraft fans.