2018’s Deep Roots is the second volume in Ruthanna Emrys’ Innsmouth Legacy series.
Aphra Marsh survived an American concentration camp. She is one of very few land-dwelling Deep Ones still alive. Despite their much reduced numbers, she hopes to rebuild her shattered community. To do this, she needs the US government’s cooperation — or at least an end to active attempts to exterminate the Deep Ones.
But nuclear war threatens. Were it to happen, it would render her efforts pointless. Toleration of land-dwelling Deep Ones would mean nothing if the humans were to make the land temporarily uninhabitable. The ocean-dwelling Deep Ones would live on, but once their land-kin vanished, there would be no way to re-establish them.
The Deep Ones are not the only beings worried about humanity’s future.
Miss Frances Laverne and her boy Freddy are descended from full-blood Deep Ones. The pitifully small remnant community of Deep Ones is happy to discover them and will welcome them into the Innsmouth community. But Freddy has vanished. Aphra sets out to find him.
Before he disappeared, Freddy had made new, mysterious friends about whom he said little but hinted much. Had Freddy somehow discovered his Deep One blood and made his own way to kin? Aphra finds otherwise. Freddy has become entangled with an entirely different intelligent race, one the Deep Ones and their Yith mentors know and profoundly mistrust: the Meigo.
The Yith send their minds across time and space, commandeering the bodies of other beings for their own. They preserve their clients (and victims) in memory alone.
The Meigo, in contrast, have conquered space, flitting from world to world. Worlds may die but the Meigo live on elsewhere. So do their clients, minds carefully flensed from their mortal bodies and stored in durable containers. Alliance with Meigo offers the opportunity to travel between the stars, at the cost of some fairly substantial alterations. These are Freddy’s new friends.
The Meigo have a very different view about how best to deal with humanity. Where the Yith simply accept that at some point the humans will vanish, leaving their world to intelligent beetles, some of the Meigo are determined to steer humans away from apocalypse or at least salvage a lucky few. The Meigo are not especially adept at human psychology. Bold, unrequested efforts to help humans could all too easily be interpreted by paranoid humans as an invasion of body snatchers.
Having found Freddy, Aphra is saddled with another, far more pressing task: prevent the well-meaning Meigo from sparking a human-alien conflict for which her people would pay the cost.
I really need to hunt down 2014’s The Litany of the Earth, which began this series. Oh, wait: I have it in not one but two Brobdinagian anthologies from tor dot com.…
It’s odd that the Meigo have such a hard time understanding humans because the Meigo in this story are a very familiar type. They are well-intended, powerful foreigners determined to save the natives from themselves. They are do-gooders who blunder in without bothering with any sort of comprehensive research. In their defense, even if the Meigo accidentally trigger World War Three or worse, they can always hare off to some less radioactive world. There’s no downside here to the Meigo doing their haphazard best … at least for the Meigo.
It would have been very, very easy for Emrys to wrestle with her source material by producing fiction in which every character was despicable, cruel, bigoted, and viciously xenophobic, much like Lovecraft himself. She opts instead for a credo not too distant from Chandler’s
“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”
If we ignore for the moment Chandler’s needlessly gender-specific phrasing, we see that Aphra fits the above requirements1. Having survived humanity’s best attempt (to date) to wipe out the land-dwelling Deep Ones, she and her found family are sensibly cautious … but also focused on rebuilding rather than inflicting justly earned vengeance on squishy humans. It’s a pleasant change of pace from all too many revenge-based plots.
Emrys’ cast of characters is very likely to appeal to fans of Scott and Graham’s Order of the Air series; there’s much the same theme of people otherwise ill-suited to the time and place in which they live building a community together. Some odd pacing aside, Emrys’ writing is more polished than it was in the first book. It will be interesting to see where she takes the series.
1: Well, aside from being comprehensively bigoted against Meigo, seeming to see the mentally damaged in terms of utility, and the bit where she’s oddly palsy with a phrenology-peddling doctor.