I started writing weird SF as a child because I wanted to read stories featuring female protagonists, and I couldn’t find anything. I grew up on a diet of my father’s classic hard SF novels and my mother’s thrillers. The women in the classic SF novels were cardboard characters who served coffee and spooned nutrient broth over blobs in fish tanks, and the thriller heroes were always men.
Modern weird fiction, including the mythos subgenre, must expand to include viewpoints beyond the classic stereotypes. If it doesn’t expand, it will die.
Innsmouth Nightmares is incredibly strong. A lot of the stories are some of the best I’ve read in the field. New twists, new perspectives, and yes, stories with female points of view.
In general, weird fiction has blossomed into a more literary realm. It’s a beautiful field for experimentation, not only in terms of style and structure, but also for exploring concepts such as pain, suffering, kindness, fear, empathy (or lack of it), greed, arrogance, etc., and one of my favorites, the anthropomorphic absurdities we cast on the world around us.
—Lois H. Gresh, Interview: Lois H. Gresh by Lisa Morton (Nov 2019)
There have been many anthologies centered around Innsmouth, the dilapidated colony of outsiders perched on the edge of Massachusetts, where the Manuxet River pours into the Atlantic Ocean, and where the natives swim out to Devil’s Reef on moonlit nights. Over the decades, dozens of authors have expanded off Lovecraft’s story “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” and a handful of editors have sought to collect them.
Lois H. Gresh is the first woman to edit an Innsmouth anthology. She had the experience, being a Mythos writer strongly familiar with the existing body of Innsmouth lore, and she had the vision:
This is the book of my dreams. I’ve always been fond of Innsmouth. Directly over my desk, a painting of Innsmouth hangs on an old hook left by the former inhabitants of my house. I spend most of my life at this desk, so Innsmouth is always with me. There’s something very appealing about the tottering village and its shambling denizens, the cults, the dreariness, the turbulence of the sea, and Devil Reef.
When I proposed this anthology to Pete Crowther at PS Publishing, I told him that I wanted to produce a book brimming with extraordinary Innsmouth stories. I wanted to produce a book that I would never grow tired of reading, a book that I would read every now and then for the rest of my life. I think I succeeded.
I requested stories from all the top writers in the weird genre. I desperately wanted Ramsey Campbell, but alas, Pete had Ramsey squirreled away writing a trilogy of Lovecraftian novels, so Ramsey was a bit tanked out to pen a short Innsmouth tale. Almost everyone else in this book—all the writers of weird fiction that readers go ape over. Given my obsession with Innsmouth, I was sorely tempted to add a story, but in the end, decided it would be poor form to write a story for an anthology of which I’m editor.
—Lois H. Gresh, Introduction in Innsmouth Nightmares vii
Innsmouth Nightmares (2015, PS Publishing) contains a solid mix of authors, and perhaps more importantly, a solid mix of stories. In assessing any Innsmouth anthology, it’s difficult not to compare it with every other Innsmouth anthology, from Robert M. Price’s The Innsmouth Cycle (1998) and Tales Out of Innsmouth (1999); Stephen Jones’ Shadows Over Innsmouth (1994), Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth (2005), and Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth (2013); Ran Cartwright’s Innsmouth Tales (2015)…and other, more obscure collections.
The vision of the editor influences a collection, what they choose to print isn’t decided just by what the writers turn in or what they can get the rights to (hopefully), but what the editor hoped to achieve. Price’s anthology The Innsmouth Cycle, for example, is unsurprisingly backwards-looking. The purpose of the Chaosium Call of Cthulhu Fiction line was in large part to reprint Mythos material that had been out of print like “Shadow Over Innsmouth” (1942) by Virginia Anderson, to draw aside the curtain a little and look at where the Mythos had come from, rather than push the edges of what it might be or where it might go.
Most Innsmouth anthologies, however, don’t have any focus other than Innsmouth itself. Editors don’t go out of their way to collect bad stories, or to exclude women authors, but there’s usually very little distinction between the individual volumes. If you took the cover of Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth and slipped it on a copy of Tales Out of Innsmouth, few readers would be able to distinguish any difference in terms of content. There’s never been an Innsmouth anthology that focused on the diaspora after the 1928 raid; there’s never been an all-women or feminist Innsmouth anthology, or a global Innsmouth anthology that looks at different Deep One colonies around the world. It’s amazing that one story has spawned over half a dozen anthologies (not to mention full-blown novels), but it’s hard to say if there’s been many really good Innsmouth anthologies.
In that respect, Lois H. Gresh and Innsmouth Nightmares stands apart from the rest in part because of a specific aim for a greater diversity among the writers—and this isn’t some token effort. With Caitlín R. Kiernan, Nancy Kilpatrick, Lisa Morton, and Nancy Morton women make up a full 20% of the book, which is above average for a Mythos anthology. W. H. Pugmire is represented to good effect, as is Lavie Tidhar. Beyond that, many of the writers are stretching Innsmouth stories in new styles, new directions, far and away from the pastiches which normally fill so many Innsmouth anthologies. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “Deeppunk” or make up any other silly name for it, Gresh’s editorial voice is full of enthusiasm. Optimism. These are Innsmouth stories which, by and large, look to the future of what Innsmouth fiction could be, more than what it was and has been.
I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed editing it. If you like tales about Innsmouth, you’re in for a real treat.
—Lois H. Gresh, Introduction in Innsmouth Nightmares x
Was the market ready for future? It’s hard to say. The hardback and paperbacks for Innsmouth Nightmares are long sold out; I can’t even find the ebook for sale. Several of the stories have been reprinted in anthologies, author’s collections, and other places, but it seems likely that this particular anthology is a black pearl, and readers will have to dive into the deep waters of the secondhand and collectors markets if they want a copy.
Innsmouth Nightmares is Lois H. Gresh’s most notable Lovecraftian credit as an editor, but she also edited Dark Fusions: Where Monsters Lurk! (2013, PS Publishing), which is not a Mythos anthology per se, but several of the stories therein contain Mythos monsters.