2015’s SheWalks in Shadows (published by Prime under the less evocative but also less ambiguoustitle Cthulhu’sDaughters: Stories of Lovecraftian Horror )was compiled by editors Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles. Thetheme of the collection:
Thepresent volume assembles stories about women, by women. Why anall-woman volume? The first spark was the notion, among some fans ofthe Lovecraft Mythos, that women do not like to write in thiscategory, that they can’t writein this category. […] We hope this anthology will help to dispelsuch notions.
It’salways a mistake to think that the mere existence of an anthologyfilled with cosmic horror stories will dispel delusions rooted inknuckle-dragging prejudice. Still, despite the generally troglodyticnature of the Lovecraft community, this anthology won a World FantasyAward in 2015.
Introduction •Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles
Moreno-Garciaand Stiles discuss the purpose of their anthology, as explainedabove.
“AmmutsebaRising” • Ann K. Schwader
Apoem, a line from which the collection draws its title.
There’sanother line in this poem that would make a good title for afollow-up-anthology (not to mention this review): “wisdom like thebitterness of stars.”
“TurnOn the Light” • Penelope Love
Lovecraft’sunfortunate mother knew how to protect herself from monsters. Nobodycould protect her from her well-meaning doctors.
“Bringthe Moon to Me” • Amelia Gorman
Ahumble programmer does her little bit for the Moon landing programand the marvellous transformations that will come in its wake.
InLovecraftian universes, it is always a good idea to have a ravingCultist on the team; if the team Cultist is extremely enthusiasticabout 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.
“Violetis the Color of Your Energy” • Nadia Bulkin
Anabusive marriage is transformed by something/someoneextraterrestrial.
“DeDeabus Minoribus Exterioris Theomagicae” • Jilly Dreadful
Anattempt to properly catalogue a manuscript leads to an unexpectedresult.
Asanyone whose Callof Cthulhu character has idly thumbed through the Necomonicon canattest, even simple literacy brings with it considerable risk (atleast in Lovecraftian settings).
“Lavinia’sWood” • Angela Slatter
Lavinia’sbold attempt to escape her life of rural poverty succeeds. In someways. Yet on the whole, Lavinia is disappointed by the results.
Thepossibility that unhappy proletarians might call down hungry shadowsfrom beyond the stars would have an interesting effect on labourrelations.
“TheAdventurer’s Wife” • Premee Mohamed
Sentto interview the widow of an adventurer whom everyone had thought aconfirmed bachelor, a reporter learns more than he could ever haveimagined.
Protagonistsin stories like these are almost always WrongGenre Savvy .Greene, for example, probably thinks he’s an intrepid reporterrather than the red shirt he actually is. Knowing the truth wouldn’tactually help him survive, but it would allow him to appreciate theexperience on more levels.
“Lockbox”• E. Catherine Tobler
Long-forgottenruins lead a couple on an unforgettable journey of discovery.
Ifyou live in a cosmic horror setting, “Kill all archaeologists” isalmost as useful a rule of thumb as “kill anyone who can read.”This rule is not unique to the cosmic horror genre; adventure talesof all kinds often feature stuff that was buried for a very goodreason.
“Hairwork”• Gemma Files
Generationsof abuse have left one woman trapped … but the truth will set herfree.
“Thepast is never dead. It is not even past.”
“TheThing in the Cheerleading Squad” • Molly Tanzer
Charitableurges are rewarded with an exciting makeover.
Forsome reason, I didn’t expect communities like Arkham to haveactivities 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, yourealize that that nothing is a particularly good idea, anywhere, any time.
“Bodyto Body to Body” • Selena Chambers
OnlyEunice stands between Asenath and her abusive father Ephraim. PoorAsenath.
Thisworks pretty well as a metaphor for more conventional varieties ofabuse.
“MagnaMater” • Arinn Dembo
Ananthropologist’s inconsiderate methods earn him a sharp rebuke.
Thisis one of the rare cases where the inevitable result of hubris islimited to the guilty party. More usually, the consequences areentirely disproportionate and totally unjust to innocent bystanders.
“Chosen”• Lyndsey Holder
Whatwould you sacrifice to be sure that you were special?
“BitterPerfume” • Laura Blackwell
Aclose-knit family takes some comfort from the fact that, while theycan never truly assimilate into mainstream culture, they will alwayshave each other.
Justgoes to show why multiculturalism is better than the melting potmodel. It’s a shame that a few minor quirks will lead to ostracism if we expect everyone to share the sameculture and rules.
“EightSeconds” • Pandora Hope
Arodeo star uses her skills to bond with her estranged daughter.
Thiswas oddly life-affirming, given the events it depicts.
“TheEye of Juno” • Eugenie Mora
Theinhabitants of a Roman outpost in Britain must live with theconsequences of their master’s decisions.
Thiswould be an example of disproportionate results: one person made abad choice and a lot of people paid for it.
“Cthulhuof the Dead Sea” • Inkeri Kontro
Boldresearch offers a chance to utterly transform the Dead Sea.
Thiswas an unusual apocalypse, in that the necessary conditions are suchthat this will likely be a localized event. Very Bad Things whosespread is limited because most but not all of the Earth isinhospitable to them are not unknown ( TheKraken Wakes wouldbe an example — or would be if Earth weren’t mostly covered byocean) but they sure are uncommon.
“NotesFound in a Decommissioned Asylum, December 1961” • Sharon Mock
Anewly discovered archaeological site sends the lone survivor of anexpedition on an exciting voyage of discovery.
Archaeologistsare bad, but the ones who have some clue to the bad thing they areinvestigating and persist are even worse.
“CypressGod” • Rodopi Sisamis
Whenfamily, friends and society cannot help, there is always the solaceof religion.
“WhenShe Quickens” • Mary A. Turzillo
Whenyou betray a god, take care to conspire out of earshot of that god.
Abold scheme to sequester a despised ruler manages to transform thatruler into something even more lethal. I really should not have tosay this but “let’s imprison them in a way that will surelyresult in our painful deaths!” is a verybad idea. Yetdeluded characters in adventure stories keep coming up with this one.
“Queenof a New America” • Wendy N. Wagner
Imprisonedin a frail body, the former queen bides her time. She has ways to amuse herself.
“TheOpera Singer” • Priya Sridhar
Tothe world, she seems a woman trapped in a wheelchair. To herdaughter, she seems a contemptible figure. But she is rock unbendingto the horror trapped within her.
Sometimesit is the monsters who should be scared.…
“Shub-Niggurath’sWitnesses” • Valerie Valdes
Door-to-doormissionaries selflessly share their knowledge of the certain doomthat awaits us all.
“Provenance”• Benjanun Sriduangkaew
Trappedin a decaying space station, bold visionaries pioneer memorablecoping mechanisms.
“T’la-yub’sHead” • Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas
Theliving can travel into the realm of the dead … if they are willingto pay the price.
Iwonder if cosmic horror isn’t just Lovecraft’s disgusted reactionto the fact that people outside his narrow class and ethnicityexisted. Perhaps it is also a symptom of people trying to findsomething to replace the framework that religion once provided.Lovecraft being Lovecraft, what he arrived at alarmed him almost asmuch as the existence of Italians. It’s a vast universe out there,and humans are an insignificant and doomed part of it.
Doesthis anthology live up to its purpose? Well, these women are clearlyfamiliar with the genre and they demonstrably are able to write notjust cosmic horror but award-winning cosmic horror. As far as dispelling foolish notions that women do notread or write cosmic horror? Well, ignorance is an ever-bloomingflower. Just as the grand women of 1970s SF were actively erased fromcommon memory in the 1980s, so I expect it will take the boys ofcosmic horror about a week to decide this anthology never happened.
SheWalks in Shadows is availablehere.