The story behind the anthology Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth is almost more interesting than the stories in the book itself. It’s the third in a series edited by Stephen Jones, all inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s 1931 tale “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” featuring the mutated denizens of Innsmouth and following in the damp, amphibious footprints of Shadows Over Innsmouth (1994) and Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth (2005). Both of the prior volumes were published by Fedogan & Bremer, a press that specialized in handsome hardcovers in the vein of Arkham House until ceasing operations after the death of co-founder Phil Rahman. After several years of dormancy, F&B was revived in 2012 by co-founder Dennis Weiler, with Weirder Shadows being the second volume issued since the press’ return from the dead.
As with the prior volumes, editor Jones has assembled an impressive list of contributors, with authors such as Caitlin Kiernan, Conrad Williams, and Ramsey Campbell headlining the line-up of seven original stories and ten reprints. So, to start… since I cherry-picked those three author names, let’s start by taking a look at their contributions.
Kiernan actually has three stories included here, all reprinted from her subscription-based online periodical, Sirenia Digest, and two are excellent. “Fish Bride” is related via the post-coital bedroom conversation between one of the blasphemous fish-people and her human lover. Between the dialog and the human’s internal monologue, the tale perfectly captures the tensions of the cross-species relationship. “The Transition of Elizabeth Haskings,” meanwhile, begins as a story of a lonely, repressed female librarian and her relationship with her gay male coworker, but is gradually revealed to be something much more.
Conrad Williams offers up “The Hag Stone,” a lengthy tale of a recent widower who decides to get away to a remote inn in the Channel Islands, but soon finds the locale less than idyllic, plagued as it is by invaders from the nighttime seas. I’m a huge fan of Williams’ work, and this unfortunately isn’t as good as he’s capable of, but it’s still an engaging piece. Finally, Ramsey Campbell’s “The Winner” is likewise set far from the original Innsmouth stomping grounds, but the chosen locale — a bizarre pub, where a man and his family find themselves stranded after their ferry to Dublin is canceled — is suitably damp and disturbing.
The danger with any tribute anthology like this — and especially with an anthology series that stretches to three volumes — is that the stories will start to seem too familiar, too rote, and that is occasionally an issue here, but for the most part, contributing authors manage to put an interesting twist on their events.
Take, for example, Reggie Olive’s “The Archbishop’s Well,” which successfully merges Lovecraftian horrors with an antiquarian ghost milieu of the sort that Oliver frequently employs. Or Brian Hodge’s “The Same Deep Waters as You,” which marries the Innsmouth basics with recent political events, resulting in a fast-paced and intriguing story of Innsmouth residents forcibly relocated to a Gitmo-style prison, where they exert a strange influence on the female protagonist, who was recruited by the government based on the work she’d done on her Discovery Channel show, The Animal Whisperer.
Michael Marshall Smith’s “The Chain” is another tale that transports the Lovecraftian terrors far from their origin, to the unlikely destination of Carmel, California, a picturesque coastal town that’s strangely devoid of any homeless population. Simon Kurt Unsworth’s “Into the Water” is perhaps my favorite story here, a quiet chiller in which global warming and dramatically rising waters afford the Innsmouth amphibians the opportunity to expand their territory.
Of course, as is almost often the case with a sizable anthology, there were other tales that didn’t work so well for me, such as those by John Glasby, Kim Newman, and Adrian Cole, to name a few. Nonetheless, Weirder Shadows is overall a strong gathering of admirably diverse stories, nicely buttressed by a wonderful Les Edwards dustjacket painting and interior B&W illustrations by Randy Broecker. Fedogan & Bremer has another anthology, as well as a collection by Scott Nicolay, scheduled for the coming months, and I recommend you put this reemergent press back on your radar.