RogerBW's Blog

Winter Tide, Ruthanna Emrys 10 August 2018

2017 Lovecraftian SF. In 1949, Aphra Marsh, one of the last survivors of the internment camps that came after the Innsmouth Raid, is just trying to make a life for herself. But her knowledge of magic makes her a powerful piece on the board even if she doesn't want to play the game.

Unpacking the premises of this series is enjoyable in itself, but to summarise: everything Lovecraft wrote was basically accurate, but filtered through his perception as a white man terrified of women, foreigners and seafood. Some things that he found horrifying become simply the customs of a people who are afraid of outsiders; some things that he found unremarkable become horrific perversions of a dangerous science.

Because this is Lovecraftian science fiction, not horror – much like the rational reading of At the Mountains of Madness, it's a story much more about people doing what needs to be done than about the uncaringness of the universe. And yes, it's a rehabilitation of the Deep Ones… but it doesn't commit the error of making them all perfect and all humans terrible. There's much more subtlety than that.

This is Lovecraft reconsidered by someone who clearly enjoys his work, but is prepared to deal with the problematic elements head-on rather than trying to down-play them.

So much for the setting. In this book, Aphra heads east to Miskatonic University, to help an FBI agent (almost but not really a friend) to find out whether anyone's been trying to find out how to make body-swaps work: after all, there are significant implications if the Russians have the trick. Matters are complicated by an observer from the Great Race (one of the best-written examples of alien psychology I've ever read), factions within the FBI (learning whether they can do it isn't so far from seeing whether we can do it, right?) and human curiosity.

"Certainly we have the Innsmouth collection," he said. "Students must show scholarly necessity. Non-students—there have been incidents. Those are dangerous books."

Already I retreated into a stiff-held spine and a face that would show only the most necessary anger. "I started reading them when I was six years old."

"Indeed?" He shuffled back a half-step.

The writing is lovely, neither overblown nor excessively clinical, and Aphra and her made-family face real problems and perils. I think this is the best modern take on Lovecraft that I've read, and I look forward to more by Emrys.

The novelette that opens this series is available free at tor.com and is a good introduction to the setting, though you don't need to have read it to enjoy the book. Followed by Deep Roots.

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  1. Posted by Robert at 10:46pm on 12 August 2018

    Thank you for recommending. Was re-reading Shadow Over Innsmouth last week and tracked this down over the weekend.

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