2015’s She Walks in Shadows (published by Prime under the less evocative but also less ambiguous title Cthulhu’s Daughters: Stories of Lovecraftian Horror ) was compiled by editors Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles. The theme of the collection:
The present volume assembles stories about women, by women. Why an all-woman volume? The first spark was the notion, among some fans of the Lovecraft Mythos, that women do not like to write in this category, that they can’t write in this category. […] We hope this anthology will help to dispel such notions.
It’s always a mistake to think that the mere existence of an anthology filled with cosmic horror stories will dispel delusions rooted in knuckle-dragging prejudice. Still, despite the generally troglodytic nature of the Lovecraft community, this anthology won a World Fantasy Award in 2015.
Introduction • Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles
Moreno-Garcia and Stiles discuss the purpose of their anthology, as explained above.
“Ammutseba Rising” • Ann K. Schwader
A poem, a line from which the collection draws its title.
There’s another line in this poem that would make a good title for a follow-up-anthology (not to mention this review): “wisdom like the bitterness of stars.”
“Turn On the Light” • Penelope Love
Lovecraft’s unfortunate mother knew how to protect herself from monsters. Nobody could protect her from her well-meaning doctors.
“Bring the Moon to Me” • Amelia Gorman
A humble programmer does her little bit for the Moon landing program and the marvellous transformations that will come in its wake.
In Lovecraftian universes, it is always a good idea to have a raving Cultist on the team; if the team Cultist is extremely enthusiastic about one’s plan, reconsider that plan. Although even if one avoids this catastrophe, another will eventually strike … even before giants from space descend to eat us all. Or worse.
“Violet is the Color of Your Energy” • Nadia Bulkin
An abusive marriage is transformed by something/someone extraterrestrial.
“De Deabus Minoribus Exterioris Theomagicae” • Jilly Dreadful
An attempt to properly catalogue a manuscript leads to an unexpected result.
As anyone whose Call of Cthulhu character has idly thumbed through the Necomonicon can attest, even simple literacy brings with it considerable risk (at least in Lovecraftian settings).
“Lavinia’s Wood” • Angela Slatter
Lavinia’s bold attempt to escape her life of rural poverty succeeds. In some ways. Yet on the whole, Lavinia is disappointed by the results.
The possibility that unhappy proletarians might call down hungry shadows from beyond the stars would have an interesting effect on labour relations.
“The Adventurer’s Wife” • Premee Mohamed
Sent to interview the widow of an adventurer whom everyone had thought a confirmed bachelor, a reporter learns more than he could ever have imagined.
Protagonists in stories like these are almost always Wrong Genre Savvy . Greene, for example, probably thinks he’s an intrepid reporter rather than the red shirt he actually is. Knowing the truth wouldn’t actually help him survive, but it would allow him to appreciate the experience on more levels.
“Lockbox” • E. Catherine Tobler
Long-forgotten ruins lead a couple on an unforgettable journey of discovery.
If you live in a cosmic horror setting, “Kill all archaeologists” is almost as useful a rule of thumb as “kill anyone who can read.” This rule is not unique to the cosmic horror genre; adventure tales of all kinds often feature stuff that was buried for a very good reason.
“Hairwork” • Gemma Files
Generations of abuse have left one woman trapped … but the truth will set her free.
“The past is never dead. It is not even past.”
“The Thing in the Cheerleading Squad” • Molly Tanzer
Charitable urges are rewarded with an exciting makeover.
For some reason, I didn’t expect communities like Arkham to have activities as mundane as sports teams and cheerleading squads. They’re not particularly good ideas (under the circumstances) … but when you truly appreciate the nature of cosmic horror, you realize that that nothing is a particularly good idea, anywhere, any time.
“Body to Body to Body” • Selena Chambers
Only Eunice stands between Asenath and her abusive father Ephraim. Poor Asenath.
This works pretty well as a metaphor for more conventional varieties of abuse.
“Magna Mater” • Arinn Dembo
An anthropologist’s inconsiderate methods earn him a sharp rebuke.
This is one of the rare cases where the inevitable result of hubris is limited to the guilty party. More usually, the consequences are entirely disproportionate and totally unjust to innocent bystanders.
“Chosen” • Lyndsey Holder
What would you sacrifice to be sure that you were special?
“Bitter Perfume” • Laura Blackwell
A close-knit family takes some comfort from the fact that, while they can never truly assimilate into mainstream culture, they will always have each other.
Just goes to show why multiculturalism is better than the melting pot model. It’s a shame that a few minor quirks will lead to ostracism if we expect everyone to share the same culture and rules.
“Eight Seconds” • Pandora Hope
A rodeo star uses her skills to bond with her estranged daughter.
This was oddly life-affirming, given the events it depicts.
“The Eye of Juno” • Eugenie Mora
The inhabitants of a Roman outpost in Britain must live with the consequences of their master’s decisions.
This would be an example of disproportionate results: one person made a bad choice and a lot of people paid for it.
“Cthulhu of the Dead Sea” • Inkeri Kontro
Bold research offers a chance to utterly transform the Dead Sea.
This was an unusual apocalypse, in that the necessary conditions are such that this will likely be a localized event. Very Bad Things whose spread is limited because most but not all of the Earth is inhospitable to them are not unknown ( The Kraken Wakes would be an example—or would be if Earth weren’t mostly covered by ocean) but they sure are uncommon.
“Notes Found in a Decommissioned Asylum, December 1961” • Sharon Mock
A newly discovered archaeological site sends the lone survivor of an expedition on an exciting voyage of discovery.
Archaeologists are bad, but the ones who have some clue to the bad thing they are investigating and persist are even worse.
“Cypress God” • Rodopi Sisamis
When family, friends and society cannot help, there is always the solace of religion.
“When She Quickens” • Mary A. Turzillo
When you betray a god, take care to conspire out of earshot of that god.
A bold scheme to sequester a despised ruler manages to transform that ruler into something even more lethal. I really should not have to say this but “let’s imprison them in a way that will surely result in our painful deaths!” is a very bad idea. Yet deluded characters in adventure stories keep coming up with this one.
“Queen of a New America” • Wendy N. Wagner
Imprisoned in a frail body, the former queen bides her time. She has ways to amuse herself.
“The Opera Singer” • Priya Sridhar
To the world, she seems a woman trapped in a wheelchair. To her daughter, she seems a contemptible figure. But she is rock unbending to the horror trapped within her.
Sometimes it is the monsters who should be scared….
“Shub-Niggurath’s Witnesses” • Valerie Valdes
Door-to-door missionaries selflessly share their knowledge of the certain doom that awaits us all.
“Provenance” • Benjanun Sriduangkaew
Trapped in a decaying space station, bold visionaries pioneer memorable coping mechanisms.
“T’la-yub’s Head” • Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas
The living can travel into the realm of the dead … if they are willing to pay the price.
I wonder if cosmic horror isn’t just Lovecraft’s disgusted reaction to the fact that people outside his narrow class and ethnicity existed. Perhaps it is also a symptom of people trying to find something to replace the framework that religion once provided. Lovecraft being Lovecraft, what he arrived at alarmed him almost as much as the existence of Italians. It’s a vast universe out there, and humans are an insignificant and doomed part of it.
Does this anthology live up to its purpose? Well, these women are clearly familiar with the genre and they demonstrably are able to write not just cosmic horror but award-winning cosmic horror. As far as dispelling foolish notions that women do not read or write cosmic horror? Well, ignorance is an ever-blooming flower. Just as the grand women of 1970s SF were actively erased from common memory in the 1980s, so I expect it will take the boys of cosmic horror about a week to decide this anthology never happened.
But it did.
She Walks in Shadows is available here.