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The Innsmouth Cycle by Robert M. Price
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The Innsmouth Cycle

by Robert M. Price (Editor)

Other authors: Virginia Anderson (Contributor), R. Flavie Carson (Contributor), Robert W. Chambers (Contributor), Irvin S. Cobb (Contributor), Lord Dunsany (Contributor)9 more, John Glasby (Contributor), Roger Johnson (Contributor), H Lovecraft, P (Contributor), Stephen Mark Rainey (Contributor), Stanley C. Sargent (Contributor), Ann K. Schwader (Contributor), Franklyn Searight (Contributor), Henry J. Vester III (Contributor), James Wade (Contributor)

Series: Call of Cthulhu Fiction (6017)

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The Chaosium-published "Cycle" books, as edited by Robert M. Price, generally take a Cthulhu Mythos "entity" and supply a full range of literature for it: the key Lovecraft stories, likely prior influences, and later derivations. In this case, center stage is given to the Deep Ones of "The Shadow over Innsmouth." I almost skipped re-reading the Lovecraft story itself, since it is the longest in the book, and I always have other things to read. But I'm glad I didn't: it's one of my favorites, and it really held up to the repeat reading, which was further enhanced by some of Price's remarks in the general introduction, where he discusses the initiatory dimension of the tale. Given the fondness that I have for "The Shadow over Innsmouth," I thought the other stories might have a hard time measuring up. But I found this collection very strong on the whole.

With the exception of the three poems placed at the end, the contents are arranged roughly chronologically by date of first publication. Price has identified three predecessor stories. The first and least relevant is the brief Dunsany Pegana piece "Of Yoharneth Lahai." It may be the source of the name Y'ha-nthlei as Price contends, but it contributed no substance to Lovecraft's Atlantic citadel of the Deep Ones. "The Harbor-Master" was the first Robert W. Chambers story I had read that wasn't in The King in Yellow, and it was quite good; in fact it may goad me to read the remainder of In Search of the Unknown, the site of its original publication. "Fishhead" by Irvin S. Cobb is an effective little tale also. But in both the Chambers and Cobb stories, the ichthyoid men are isolated freaks of nature, whereas the terribleness of the Lovecraftian Deep Ones has a great deal to do with the extent of their society, or even conspiracy.

That element is played up well in a number of the latter-day tales, most especially "Innsmouth Gold" (Vester), "Custos Sanctorum" (Johnson), "Rapture in Black" (Rainey), "Live Bait" (Sargent), and "Devil Reef" (Glasby). I preferred these 1980s and 90s pieces to the 1960s and 70s work of James Wade and Franklyn Searight, although the Wade stories in particular can be seen as predecessor tales themselves to Alan Moore's splendid Neonomicon. The majority of the newer stories have very explicit links to the original Lovecraft story, usually mentioning Innsmouth by name and often setting their principal events in the same mythical New England town. Geographic outliers include Big Sur ("The Deep Ones"), Chicago ("Rapture in Black"), and Essex, England ("Custos Sanctorum").

The high level of inter-textual continuity is surprising, in that none of these stories are mere pastiches. I was profoundly charmed by the mystical "Transition of Zadok Allen" which concludes the prose section of the book. The trio of poems at the end are of mixed value, and they are sequenced by increasing length and greater conformity to the contents of "The Shadow over Innsmouth." The whole collection is quite worthwhile, and I would recommend it to fans of weird horror generally, beyond addicts of Lovecraftiana.
4 vote paradoxosalpha | Nov 17, 2011 |
The Innsmouth Cycle was an offering of Chaosium originally from 1998. I know for a certainty that I once had a copy but when I went over my collection of cycle books it was missing. I was compelled to get a copy of the 2006 second printing; having done that I reread it. It is a nice trade paperback that lists at $14.95, but is discounted to $11.66 on Amazon. Page count is 233, not counting Robert Price's 8 (!) page introduction, but counting his introduction for each story (in which he also tells a little about the authors). There is a useful publication history of each story at the front of the book. Cover art by HF Fassl, typical for the cycle books, is lame beyond belief. There are a few interior illustrations; I wished there had been more. Editing was pretty good; I don't recall any typos.

In some ways I am at a loss for words trying to describe this book. Maybe that is just expressing my ambivalence. Mr. Price selected the stories for this book and instead of choosing the best, newest and most exciting tales he had a different intention. He wanted to show the antecedents of HPL's famous The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and then how various authors have explored this setting over the years. Great idea for a scholarly treatise! Maybe not the best idea for compiling a pleasant reading experience. It all starts with his endless introduction which reads like a thesis for a master's degree. As I read I fidgeted like a rather bored school boy in the lecture hall.

Of Yoharneth-Lahai - Lord Dunsany - This one page fragment from Pegana is included only because the name maybe the inspiration from Y'ha-nthlei. Price's introduction to the fragment is longer than the fragment itself. Scholars only need apply.

The Harbor Master - Robert Chambers - Well, I always welcome a chance to read something unfamiliar by Chambers. This was a story that may have inspired the Deep Ones. I like Chambers.

Fishhead - Irvin Cobb - Originally published in 1913 and known to Lovecraft, this may also have inspired the Deep Ones. It dates from probably the most abysmally racist time in US history and the text reflects this. Maybe Price hasn't got a racist bone in his body and wants it here for historical purposes (He after all authored The Dope War of the Black Tong and probably just intended it as a sort of Howard-like pastiche reflecting pulp stories from the 1920s. The problem is it reads as incredibly racist.). I personally would have let Fishhead sink into well merited oblivion.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth - HPL - In my early teens this was one of the stories that hooked me on Lovecraft for life. I must have read it 20 times in those first few years. In some ways it is HPL's only action story. Now, however, I viewed its inclusion with significant misgivings. Who come to this book not having already read this story? I can't even begin to figure out how many copies I have in other anthologies. These 50 odd pages could have made room for 2-3 other new stories.

The Deep Ones - James Wade - James Wade wrote a few mythos stories that are scattered about in various anthologies. Dating from 1969, I think I read this story a few times in some other format many many years ago. Back when I first read it I thought it was heady stuff, with hippies, drugs and implied sexuality. A paranormal researcher tries to help a scientist and his lovely (even if there is something fishy about her) assistant communicate with a dolphin. I still found it a decent read, although very predictable. I am not a fan of recapitulating the plot of HPL's story every time we read about Deep Ones. I am not a fan of italicized endings. I think someone new to this story would like it better than me.

A Darker Shadow Over Innsmouth - James Wade - This is a satirical piece using some of HPL's devices to critique the nuclear age. Geeze, Officer Krupke, I've got troubles of my own.

The Innsmouth Head - Franklyn Searight - In the Hippocampus Press single author collection The Lair of the Dreamer this story is seen more in its proper context. It is decent enough, a reasonable introduction to Alan Hasrad, descendent of the mad Arab himself. Be careful what trophies you take while fishing off New England.

Innsmouth Gold - Henry Vester - Mr. Vester wrote a story with Pierre Comtois, The Dreams of Yig, that I have never read. He had one story in vol 2 of Rainfall Books' Lost Worlds of Space and Time that was so-so. Like The Deep Ones above, it was a pretty good read. A man finds a chest Joe Sargent has left on the beach and finds a tiara in it. The owners want it back. As is the case in most of the stories here, we are elbowed in the side regarding the Innsmouth mythology instead of the author assuming we all know it. I liked the action scenes, unusual for a mythos story of that era.

Custos Sanctorum - Roger Johnson - I was not blown away by Mr. Johnson's In Memoriam in Rehearsals for Oblivion. This story, however, may well have been the best, most original story here (HPL excepted of course!). I only know of a few other stories that adopt the viewpoint of the Deep Ones on-land servitors who have not yet changed.

Rapture in Black - Stephen Mark Rainey - This is included in Rainey's new collection, Other Gods. This is a great story, reminding me a bit of Topping Out by Denise Dumars. A young woman determined to be fiercely independent in Chicago is swallowed up by forces beyond her understanding. Great plot, great prose, inventive, a clear winner.

Live Bait - Stanly Sargent - This may have been my favorite of all of Sargent's work. You can also find this in his book The Taint of Lovecraft. Very originally, we find out what was the response of the normal humans in Innsmouth subjected to so many torments over the years. My one *MAJOR* quibble is I hate the plot device of HPL as an author who wrote the truth disguised as fiction. It adds nothing, just useless baggage.

Devil Reef - John Glasby - OK, over the years since I first read this I have had a very tepid response to Mr. Glasby's mythos fiction. Devil Reef may be his best story, where a thug tries to find the secret source of Innsmouth's treasures. The ending, however, was pretty weak and was just about killed by being in italics.

The Transition of Zadock Allen - Lewis Theobald - We find out one version of whatever happened to old Zadock (Who the hell would name their kid Zadock?). For me it was a big ehhhhhh.

Poems by three authors follow, and they did nothing for me.

So what was I left with? Hmmm. Maybe I come across as too harsh. I liked most of the stories inspired by HPL (much more than the ones that inspired him), even on re-reads. The ones by Rainey and Johnson were darned good; others were certainly worthwhile. All collectors need all the cycle books. I wish Price would not use these science fiction collections as sounding boards for his own erudition. Just give me a good book of monster stories and skip the pontification. ( )
1 vote carpentermt | Sep 23, 2010 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Price, Robert M.Editorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Anderson, VirginiaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Carson, R. FlavieContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chambers, Robert W.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cobb, Irvin S.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dunsany, LordContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Glasby, JohnContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Johnson, RogerContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lovecraft, H, PContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rainey, Stephen MarkContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sargent, Stanley C.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Schwader, Ann K.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Searight, FranklynContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Vester III, Henry J.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wade, JamesContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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