Justice for Innsmouth – Winter Tide by Ruthana Emrys

Everything cleaned up in the mornin’—but they was traces. . . . Obed he kinder takes charge an’ says things is goin’ to be changed . . . others’ll worship with us at meetin’-time, an’ sarten haouses hez got to entertain guests . . . they wanted to mix like they done with the Kanakys, an’ he fer one didn’t feel baound to stop ’em. Far gone, was Obed . . . jest like a crazy man on the subjeck. He says they brung us fish an’ treasure, an’ shud hev what they hankered arter. . . . – Zadok Allen in H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth

My favorite Lovecraft story is his novella The Shadow Over Innsmouth, a tale of a mysterious town inhabited by men who are descended from humans forced to breed with aquatic Deep Ones, producing hybrids that have a fish-like “Innsmouth look” and often metamorphosis into Deep Ones themselves, taking to the water where they can live forever.

There are some unfortunate implications in this narrative—a lot of xenophobia and racism, especially concerning the mixing of races. The tale ends with a major event in the Cthulhu Mythos on Earth – the government actually raids and empties out the town. It’s the climax of Chaosium’s Escape From Innsmouth adventure and the starting point of the Delta Green organization.

Emrys’s Winter Tide examines the consequences of this raid, some two decades later. It supposes that the Deep Ones are just people – a branch of humanity – capable of acts of wickedness and kindness. The government raid nearly wiped out the Deep One hybrids—the inhabitants of Innsmouth were taken to a concentration camp in the desert where they slowly died—some dying of their transformation, unable to go to the sea as their biology demands. There are only a few survivors left when, come 1942, the camp is repurposed for Japanese-American internment. It is then that siblings Aphra and Caleb Marsh, children at the time of their imprisonment in 1928 are “adopted” by Mama Rei. Whether intentionally or through oversight, they are set free with the Japanese-American prisoners and settle with Mama Rei and her family in San Francisco.

The plot of Winter Tide is not all that intense – in the late 1940s Aphra is recruited by FBI agent Ron Spector, with whom she has worked before and who has shown her some kindness (in the free online novelette The Litany of Earth – which I’ve not yet read but found the story easy enough to follow). There is concern about Soviet agents getting their hands on body stealing magic, taking her and an “apprentice” back to the east coast and Miskatonic University.

There Aphra meets new allies and adversaries and is reunited with her brother Caleb, who has been trying to get access to the books taken from Innsmouth by the university. He is greatly disadvantaged, being barely literate—he was taken to the camp as a young child and, fearful of magic, the Innsmouth residents were forbidden writing materials or any written texts.

In Arkham and the surrounding communities, Aphra and her allies find themselves facing some of the uglier aspects of late 1940’s America. Women not given the same educational opportunity as men. Anti-semitism. Homophobia taken for granted. Racism. Aphra and Caleb, having the Innsmouth look, are easily prejudged and, at the very least, looked down upon for their ugliness.

Beyond the presence of the Deep Ones, there’s a fair amount of supernatural – for example, a descendant of K’nyanians from Lovecraft and Bishop’s “The Mound” appears as does a member of the Great Race of Yith. I’d not consider it quite the level of cosmic horror that one finds in Lovecraft – rather, the supernatural horrors reflect all too mundane horrors that humans can create.

Listening to the audiobook, I did find myself wanting for a bit of a tighter plot at points but nevertheless found myself very engaged and wanting to know what became of the characters. Emrys provides a great example of what one can do when taking Lovecraft’s Mythos as a starting point and looking at them with modern eyes.

~ Dan Stack

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