(What, a blog from me? Insert “It’s more likely than you think” gif here LOL)
Occasionally a reading binge stumbles onto a theme without any planning or purpose behind it. I just go from one title in my To-Be-Read pile lingering on audiobook or eBook or physical shelves to another title and suddenly discover a commonality between the choices that I didn’t intend on.
It seems very appropriate that this recent theme happened during that spookiest of months: October.
In this case, it was Lovecraft retellings, specifically of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” Now, I’ll admit, I haven’t read much - possibly any, though I can’t be sure with the sheer number of books I’ve read over the years - of H.P. Lovecraft, mostly because of the truly awful bigotry that he left all over the page.
What can I say - I try to avoid writers that are that out and proud with their awfulness, even and sometimes especially when they’re considered SFF classics. But there is a delightful thrill to reading books based on Lovecraft’s by authors that he absolutely would despise. And honestly, I think all of these are so much better written in general as to utterly leave him in the shade. Though, maybe that’s just me.
But on to the mini-marathon through Lovecraftian remakes and homages!
First up in the accidental list were MAPLECROFT and the sequel CHAPELWOOD of The Borden Dispatches series by Cherie Priest. This delight of a duology imagined the infamous Lizzie Borden case from the perspective of a Lizzie who did indeed kill her parents, but who had very good reasons to do so. Reasons to do with Innsmouth’s Deep Ones. These books had a fantastic storytelling style with the whole of it told in epistolary form from diary entries to medical notes to reports from fire fighters to actual letters and scraps of news articles. I am SUCH a fan of epistolary and mixed media/found document styles, and these were a great example of an author who can nail that format. An added bonus was that we got a bit of jumping across timelines with some perspectives in each book taking place prior to the main timeline. It gave the reader this great sense of a slow creeping menace. I will say that this is one of those duologies where I did enjoy one more than the other, mostly because there was a thirty year gap in the timeline between the two, and thus the second book lost some of the things that I loved about Lizzie (and several other characters) in the first one. It was still a great book, but it almost felt a little bit like a different series or perhaps a companion novel than a true sequel, if that makes sense. Regardless, I definitely recommend these and wish there were more of them!
Next on my cosmic horror journey were Ruthanna Emrys’s Innsmouth Legacy series featuring WINTER TIDE, a prequel novella (that actually got the whole series started on Tor.com) THE LITURGY OF EARTH (and which I read after the first full novel because I’m occasionally well behind the curve on these things), and DEEP ROOTS. These had a completely different feel than the Borden Dispatches - more lyrical dark urban fantasy than true horror - and also unlike Priest’s books, here the Deep Ones were not the enemy to fight. They instead were our main characters and fantastically relatable ones at that. They are a sequel to “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” and show the Deep Ones during and after their internment in the camps as all but two slowly succumbed to death in the desert far from their ocean home. They’re even joined by the Japanese interned during WWII, and the family the two surviving siblings of Innsmouth built with some of their fellow prisoners was a really lovely part of the overall story for me. There is such a gorgeous sense of the culture of the Deep Ones, too, hitting on multiple creatures and characters from Lovecraft and winding them all together in a really cohesive world that just dragged me down into the words in the best of ways. It’s definitely another series I would love to see more from. The rebuilding and repopulating of Innsmouth could have such potential from this perspective!
The last author I wandered into shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s asked me about my favorite books lately. The only surprise was that I didn’t plan to end up reading yet more Lovecraftian horror when I started Seanan McGuire’s anthology LAUGHTER AT THE ACADEMY and stumbled right into another tale of the Deep Ones in “Down, Deep Down, Below the Waves.” And yes, I know it was a collection of mostly pre-published stories, and I should have read more of them previously with how much I enjoy her work, but somehow I had missed this one. And holy hells, it was such a fun read! Like Emrys, McGuire gave us a glimpse into the perspective of one of the Deep Ones; like Priest, these Deep Ones weren’t exactly friends of humanity. I really enjoyed the scientist’s perspective centered here, and it felt like hanging around college grad students which is the best complement, I think I can give considering I work at a university, often with grad students, and felt like I knew these folks.
Now, technically the last novella doesn’t quite follow the trend of the others, in that, I read it on purpose in keeping with the string of Lovecraftian stories I’d read immediately previous. And it also was the only one I’d read before: IN THE SHADOW OF SPINDRIFT HOUSE by Mira Grant. For those who might have missed the connection, as apparently many folks due as evidenced by the dozens and dozens of tumblr asks I’ve seen pop up on her feed, Mira Grant actually is Seanan McGuire, only under her more horror/thriller pen name. So it really wasn’t shocking that I had read it before, considering I’m slowly but surely making my way through her entire massive 40 plus book backlist, but it was a little surprising that this was one of the very few of her books that I only sort of enjoyed upon the first read. But then, I hadn’t read any other Lovecraft homages prior to it, and I missed a lot of the nuance and connections I might have otherwise. And let me tell you, reading it again, this time after knowing the story that inspired it and having devoured the other books in this blog - reading it again was so much better! This time I really slid into the world and felt the slow readerly dread as I caught details that the characters didn’t understand. I caught that sense of impending doom that is the best part of a horror read for me. And yes, now it too will be a title of her’s I’ll rec, especially to anyone who enjoyed Lovecraft and wanted a less-racist take on his types of stories.
And there you have it! October was a wild right through the depths of the ocean and into the vast, unknowable voids of the cosmos. I honestly only regret that I won’t get to read any of these for the first time again. They definitely will be on the re-read list though, and have earned a place of pride for physical copies on my bookshelves.
Have any of you delved into some Lovecraftian or cosmic horror and have a title you love that you’d recommend to me? Have you read any of the above books/novellas and did you love or hate them? Let me know!