Joy Silence (joysilence) wrote in darkling_tales,
Joy Silence

Female Lovecraftiana Anthology

HP Lovecraft has cast a long shadow over weird fiction. Although he was a racist, woman-ignoring creature, his themes of cosmic horror and transformation have proven very palatable to modern writers of progressive weird fiction and the last ten years have seen some really first-rate anthologies of Lovecraft-inspired stories, such as Ellen Datlow's "Lovecraft's..." series or Stephen Jones' "Shadows Over Innsmouth" anthologies. Now, Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles have teamed up on an anthology of female-only Lovecraftian horror, She Walks In Shadows.

As the introduction points out, women characters hardly abound in the writing of the omniphobic Lovecraft, the main ones being "Keziah, Lavinia and Asenath". A significant minority of these tales provide a more in-depth look at these characters. Angela Slatter's 'Lavinia's Wood' is based in the same world as the original story, The Dunwich Horror, and examines the social isolation of Lavinia, the wizard Old Whateley's albino daughter (who in the original story serves as a seed-pod for demonic forces). It is of course sympathetic to Lavinia and readable in style, though ultimately it's more depressing than horrific, even though there is plenty of occult content.

Molly Tanzer's 'The Thing on the Cheerleading Squad' repurposes Asenath Waite (from 'The Thing on the Doorstep'), who in the original story is possessed by her wizard father (being a wizard's daughter kind of sucks in Lovecraft world), as a gender-fluid High School student of great confidence and popularity. This is a story that manages to be both fun and dark, and you will no doubt be relieved to hear that it is also Morally Improving. Even now there is still a gap in the market for LGBT stories that don't end in their heroes and heroines being kicked to death or whatever, so it's nice to see someone who can actually write addressing this. As for Keziah - my favourite of Lovecraft's female characters - she felt a bit under-represented, but the 'Dreams In The Witch-house" sorceress and her familiar Brown Jenkin do loom large in Lyndsey Holder's 'Chosen', told from the perspective of a lonely adolescent who gets initiated into Keziah's world and finds a sense of belonging there. The main value of this story is in its psychological and social realism. And its GIANT RAT WITH A MAN'S FACE.

Lovecraft is said to have given women a bit more of a platform in his collaborations with Zealia Bishop. One of these, 'Medusa's Coil', receives an update from Gemma Files here with 'Hairwork'. I'm afraid I haven't read 'Medusa's Coil', so I can't comment on the way the Files story interacts with that, but it does have some interesting ideas and comes at things from a post-colonial angle, exploring the dark history of plantation slavery. The central character, Marceline, is the daughter of a slave who was raped by a white landowner, and flees to the demi-monde of New Orleans and beyond, only to return in search of vengeance with the assistance of a strange wig. Unfortunately, this story's credibility as a representation of minority cultures is blown sky-high by the copious and truly shocking amounts of terrible French that Files has chosen to crowbar into it. Now, as a professional translator I realize not everyone is going to be clutching their pearls about this as hard as I am, and I don't expect linguistic perfection in fiction: as far as I can tell Lee Child is the only recent author who even bothers to use perfect French in his books, in fact. And I'm well aware that the large majority of writers nowadays just don't make enough money to pay for a translator. But with that being the case, I think it would have been better to just not bother with the French at all, or include a few words here and there rather than trusting whatever cracked-out "translation" algorithms Google is hawking nowadays. Files is a great author usually and doesn't need to insert foreign language into her work to make it better.

On the plus side, elsewhere great efforts are being made to include non-white authors and characters, leading to an anthology with a really international feel, as opposed to one where a couple of token African or South American writers are tacked onto a largely white selection. There is some interesting use of culture that you would not normally encounter in weird fiction - by far the best of these is 'The Cypress God' by Rodopi Sisamis, a near-future look at a society where strange gods are worshipped in a much more mainstream manner than is currently the case. This was a very stylish, aesthetically pleasing story.

Most of the tales are short - around ten pages long - which means a lot of variety (there are even a couple of sci-fi ones), though the downside is that many of them feel a bit weak and forgettable, or just plain confusing for anyone not well-versed in the source material. There are some very striking numbers though - Nadia Bulkin's 'Violet is the Colour of Your Energy' (which I believe is based on the agricultural horror story 'The Colour Out Of Space') is memorable, effective and also based on a very good original story. 'Lockbox' by Catherine Tobler is another one that lodges in the memory, in part due to its skilful use of footnotes. It's also very erotic for a Lovecraftian story, so no doubt it would've brought poor old Howard out in hives (sex being just one of his many fears, if what we're told is true). Amelia Gorman's 'Bring The Moon To Me' is very short, but still fascinating in its treatment of the women who sewed the original computer programs used in old space missions.

The book is also pretty (though you'll be disappointed if you're hoping to see any of those non-white characters on the cover, lol) well laid-out and not too expensive, with a profusion of black-and-white pictures inside by women artists. Ultimately, it doesn't stand up to the Datlow and Jones books I mentioned above (those are the gold standard in the industry, for my money), but if it doesn't get an 'A' it definitely deserves a 'B'. I wouldn't feel ashamed to hand it to someone who'd never read any Lovecraft, which I think is the acid test for any anthology of this kind.

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