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Literature / The Innsmouth Legacy

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The Litany of Earth.

The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys is a Deconstruction of and sequel to The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H. P. Lovecraft. The premise is the Deep Ones of Innsmouth, Massachusetts were actually a deeply spiritual and peaceful people rather than the depraved cultists in the novella. Aphra Marsh is one of the two surviving Deep One hybrids from the original Innsmouth Raid, having spent her formative years in United States concentration camps (that would eventually be used for the internment of Japanese citizens during WW2). Understandably bitter about her experience, she's become assistant to an occult bookstore owner in San Fransisco and lives there with a Japanese family.

FBI Agent Ron Spector approaches her one day and reveals the US government has "changed" and wants her help in dealing with supernatural threats. Nonplussed by the audacity of the request, she is soon persuaded due to the number of people put in danger by tampering with forces they do not understand. While the Cthulhu Mythos is Lighter and Softer here, it is not exactly "safe" either.

Books in the series include:

  • The Litany of Earth (novella, 2014)
  • Winter Tide (2017)
  • Deep Roots (2018)

The ''Litany of Earth'' is available for free from Tor's website.

This series contains the following tropes:

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  • Always Chaotic Evil: Resoundingly averted with the Deep Ones and other species shown to be alien but not evil. Played straight with the K'nyan... but even they are capable of change, albeit requiring quite extreme methods.
  • Anti-Nihilist: Aphra's entire religion is based around this as it has the view eventually even the Deep Ones will die out and become extinct. However, you should treasure what time you have on the Earth as well as the fact your race will be remembered by the Yith.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Aphra's gods are depicted as having a cold but beautiful view of the world. The Yithians zig-zag over this trope. Aphra's culture considers this to be in play, but on further consideration and lengthy conversation with one Aphra finds herself challenged on this. She is at least willing to consider that they may simply be evil. They are going to commit genocide against future inhabitants of Earth to survive their own apocalypse, not to mention that they achieve immortality in a particular timeframe by body swapping with their descendants.
  • Broad Strokes: To H.P. Lovecraft's writing. In addition to the obvious change that the Deep Ones weren't Always Chaotic Evil, the Elder Things in this story were one of the races the Yithians replaced. How that plays into the Shoggoth revolt is unknown.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: A major part of the series is how the Cthulhu Mythos isn't evil.
  • Deconstruction: This is one for the overtly xenophobic elements of H.P. Lovecraft's stories. Essentially, it moves the stories from the realm of horror to more explicitly sci-fi.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Done throughout the story with the Deep Ones' treatment deliberately invoking that of the Japanese during WW2 both in-universe and out.
    • The accusations of Human Sacrifice and other evil practices are called "blood libel" several times by characters.
  • Fantastic Racism: More or less the Deconstruction and Reconstruction of the trope is the point of the book.
"There are two ways to write fantastic oppression. One uses the imagined oppression to stand in for real experiences. You can tell powerful stories that way, but it can also make the real thing invisible, or twist the truth in strange ways. I love the X-Men, but if someone can kill you by accidentally dropping their glasses, it actually does have different legal and societal implications than if they’re gay or Jewish. My single favorite moment in X-Men is a confrontation between Magneto and Kitty Pryde, both Jewish, that engages with the intersection of real and imagined oppression. It lets the imagined one have its own nature rather than trying to stand in for something else. That’s what I’m interested in doing with Aphra’s stories. What looks the same about hatred or internment, no matter who and what you are? What changes when there’s real magic involved? What happens when you get Jews and Nikkei and Deep Ones together in a room after World War II—what do they have in common, what’s different, what can they learn from that parallax?"
Ruthanna Emrys
  • Incest Subtext: Both averted and invoked In-Universe. Caleb and Aphra do a lot of Affectionate Gesture to the Head and call each other "sister-dear" and "brother-dear", a habit they picked up in the camp to troll the guards who assumed the people of Innsmouth married their own sisters.
  • Insistent Terminology: Aphra never stops correcting people that Deep Ones are also human, just a branch of it, unlike Yithians or other species.
  • Jewish and Nerdy: Ron Spector. Though he did serve in World War 2, he's more of a scholar and admits he's not been trained for the hand-to-hand stuff.
  • Lighter and Softer: The Cthulhu Mythos is portrayed this way, with the majority of monsters just being more or less reasonable and sympathetic aliens. They may have Blue-and-Orange Morality but doesn't make them malevolent any more than the occasional criminal(some of which committed crimes similar to human cultists in real life and kicked off government investigations). Human evils, by contrast, are treated exactly the way they would be normally with no attempt at sympathy. The Mythos Gods are, for the lack of a better word, apathetic and not actively malicious or destructive, Cthulhu for example is the god of life and death in Deep One pantheon, as is Azathoth the god of cosmos and song.
    • Notably, the morality of the Yith is not markedly changed. A human who's spent five years in the Yith city as the Yith explored and studied in their body has still been treated well and they are more likely than those in the original mythos to appreciate the experience rather than being starkly horrified - but the Yith as a whole are seen as rather alarmingly remote and callous. Their study of the races of Earth is perhaps not terrible, but even in The Litany of Earth Aphra is deeply uncomfortable thinking of them bodyswapping en masse through time, stranding whole other races on dying worlds.
  • Lovecraft Lite: The Deep Ones are a noble culture that, if not pacifistic, then at least no danger to surfacers. They have their criminal elements and cultists who take the magic rituals too far similar to mundane human criminals and murderers.
  • Perspective Flip: This is the view of the Mythos from the perspective of the Deep Ones. Most of Aphra's human friends are also people who would be looked on with great suspicion, at best, by the xenophobic Lovecraft.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Ron Spector for coming to a victim of internment and genocide in order to get their help against the supernatural.
  • Sole Survivor: Aphra and Caleb are the only survivors of those captured in the Innsmouth raid, and were only released because the US government had forgotten they existed and so they were freed along with the Japanese internees when the war ended.
  • Would Be Rude to Say "Genocide": All of the inhabitants of Innsmouth, Massachusetts died either during arrest or in the camps save two. Despite this, the majority of characters tapdance around what the United States did.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: The central tenet of the Aeonist faith. The timeline is fixed, and they know that it includes the extinction of all branches of humanity. And trying to fight it is a horrible idea in any case, since the most likely result is a Yithian ensuring you were never born.

     The Litany of Earth 

  • Artistic License – Religion: Aphra is appalled by all the liberties which the Aeonist cult has taken with her people's religion. She also notes that it has convinced people to swim out into the ocean to achieve immortality, missing that only applies to Deep Ones and the majority of people who do it will just drown.
  • Cult: Aphra encounters one of these devoted to Cthulhu and immortality. She is appalled by their misinterpretation of Aeonist beliefs and cultural appropriation.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • In this case, the Aeonist cult is very much like many New Age religious cults that take the religious beliefs of marginalized communities then repackage them.
    • For the post-9/11 world, a religion being demonised because of the actions of a few criminal fanatics.
  • Freak Out: Aphra's reaction when Spector first identifies himself as an FBI agent; she attacks him in a panic because she thinks she's going to be shot on the spot.
  • New Age: The Aeonist cult is a post-WW1 religious group that is adapting Deep One beliefs into a religion for humans.
  • They Would Cut You Up: Spector lets Aphra read the file on what happened to her mother. She was taken to a government experimental station, put through various tests, then left to die of dehydration while her reactions were observed and recorded by scientists the whole time.
  • Title Drop: The Litany of Earth is the central text of the Aeonist religion. It is the history of life on earth and the species that will inhabit it, both before humans... and after.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Aphra struggles to hold back her opinion on the Aeonist cult that more or less amounts to this.

     Winter Tide 
  • Ambiguously Gay: Professor Trumball had a relationship with a (probable) woman in a Yith's body while they were both in the future. She also had a very close relationship with her maid that she was upset had been severed by the Yith. Justified by the time period. The following novel confirms it outright.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Caleb fulfills this role for Aphra. His confrontational angry personality contrasts strongly against Aphra's more sedate one.
  • Ax-Crazy: The Mad Ones Under The Earth are this by reputation; even the Yith are wary of them.
  • Behind Every Great Man: Mary is actually the hidden brains behind Barlow's team, though ostensibly only his secretary.
  • Blackmail: The FBI get admittance to Miskatonic University by blackmailing one of the professors who enjoys forcing his attentions on his maids. So the FBI make sure to provide him with a maid who happens to be working for them.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality
    • The Yith are more interested in their acquisition of knowledge than any petty human concerns like World War III breaking out. However the idea of the humans misusing body-theft (as opposed to themselves for data acquisition or racial survival) does annoy them.
    • Aphra has to talk the Elders out having some human witnesses to their meeting bound as thralls so she can use them as slaves or breeding stock. She makes it clear that after what she witnessed in the concentration camps she's not going to indulge in slavery or rape of a prisoner.
    • Barlow's team are obsessed with the idea that the Deep Ones may be cooperating with the Soviets. They fail to realise that due to their immortality such issues aren't of much concern.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • As frequent in this series, the treatment of Miskatonic University of the Innsmouth books and records resembles museums and academic institutions taking artifacts from cultures that they refuse to return. All in the name of "preserving historical relics."
    • Members of a religious group having to continually 'prove' their loyalty; in this case Spector (Jewish) and Aphra (Aeonist) but it could just as easily be Muslim in the present day.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Subverted; the Irregulars break into Barlow's office to search it, but don't find anything useful. Aphra suddenly realises where Barlow would hide something important and rushes off there but it's actually because she's been caught in a summoning spell.
  • Evil Counterpart: Barlow and his team are depicted as these to Spector's Irregulars. They are Fantastic Racist practicing Science Hero types who ignore all the religious elements of Aphra's advice.
  • Grand Theft Me:
    • Spector first comes to Aphra because the FBI is worried that the Soviets might have gotten hold of the ability to do so, and use it to take over government officials for sabotage or subversion. Aphra finds evidence that Ephraim Waite might have passed on his knowledge to a Russian student, but decides to keep this to herself for fear it will spark a Witch Hunt that will be worse than any actual sabotage.
    • The Yith do this as a God Test, momentarily swapping with the person they're speaking to.
  • I Have Boobs, You Must Obey!: Lampshaded when Audrey gets information from Barlow just by looking vulnerable and pouting at him. She notes that Spector wouldn't fall for it (ostensibly because he never switches his brain off, but actually because he's a closet homosexual). Aphra can't help being envious of this.
  • Infraction Distraction: Some students break into the Miskatonic library and set off the alarm. Barlow's team use this as an excuse to lock down the library to gather evidence, so they can gain access to the restricted books themselves.
  • In the Blood: A distant ancestor of Audrey may have been a human experiment by the Mad Ones Under The Earth, and it's speculated that her fearless nature might have something to do with this. Unfortunately, while the experiments did give her a radically enhanced magical system that can attack curses and contamination, it is Sealed Inside a Person-Shaped Can. It activates to resist her being possessed by an Eldritch Abomination, but nearly takes her over instead.
  • I Want Grandkids: Aphra is nonplussed that all the Elders want her to breed as quickly as possible. Still traumatised from her decades in a US government concentration camp where she saw everyone except her brother die, she's really not happy at the potential heartbreak involved in raising children. In fairness the stakes are a bit higher than normal; as far as they know Aphra and Caleb are the Last of Their Kind who can have children. The Deep Ones are effectively immortal but they can be killed, so it may well be a question of species survival.
  • Kick the Dog: The Yith possessed Trumball removes Mary's ability to read as punishment for her attempting a too-powerful summoning. To the Yith this is A Fate Worse Than Death, though Mary proves too determined to allow it to hold her back.
  • Power is Sexy: Aphra has the 'Innsmouth look' so knows she's ugly by any standard, but finds herself being hit upon by Jesse under the assumption that she's a Deep One priestess.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero
    • The Yithian possessing Trumball tries to hypnotize her way past the FBI men at the university gate. In its arrogance it never considered that the humans would be prepared and have protective amulets. It gets them arrested and arouses the suspicions of Barlow's team.
    • Several of Audrey's friends stumble into the Irregulars' meeting with the Elders. One gets injured and the others are coerced into silence, but this only drives them into seeking Barlow's help.
  • Right Hand Versus Left Hand: All the conflict in the story is caused by the different agendas of the two FBI teams working at Miskatonic, although they're ostensibly looking for a Russian spy who may not even exist.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: The Yith choses to abandon Trumball's body just when they really need its help, because Barlow's team have accidentally summoned an Eldritch Abomination that has taken up residence in Sally and Audrey.
  • Shout-Out: The Irregulars interview Daniel Upton, still in an asylum after the events of The Thing on the Doorstep.
  • Summoning Ritual:
    • Aphra and Caleb use this to make contact with the Deep Ones, who they haven't seen in two decades and who have had no news of what happened to those caught in the Innsmouth raid.
    • Barlow's team attempt a non-specific summoning ritual which is a very bad idea. You don't know who is going to show up.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Professor Trumball serves as this as long as she's possessed by one of the Yith. She gets much better once that's no longer the case.
  • Twice-Told Tale: Several different people tell the origin of the three branches of humanity - 'standard' humans, Deep Ones, and K'nyan. It gets to the point that when the Yithian is about to start telling it again Aphra cuts it off and says she's heard it before.

     Deep Roots 
  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: The Mi-Go split into two factions over whether to intervene in human affairs, with the interventionists seeking to manipulate human events in order to avert World War III. Putting a thumb in the Yithian's eye wouldn't hurt either. Unfortunately, the methods of manipulation are extremely questionable.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Deconstructed. Aphra treats the Mi-Go as being blasphemous and eldritch when they actually have a morality very similar to the Federation from Star Trek. Most notably, they believe that the future can be changed. This violates the most fundamental tenets of the Aeonist faith, which forms the core of Aphra's world view.
  • Fantastic Racism: The Aeonists find themselves on the other side of this when confronted with ghouls and Mi-Go, people whose practises they find abhorrent because they don't understand their perspective.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Aphra intends to breed with Frank, much to his surprise and irritation since they don't really like each other.
  • Genuine Human Hide: An artificial version. The Outer Ones can pose as human using Latex Perfection, except theirs works a lot better because it's made of human skin grown in their laboratories.
  • A God Am I: It's part and parcel of being K’nyan, and unfortunately their terrifying magical powers back it up. It's hereditary and incurable short of drastic means like removing your body entirely. At one point a character exposed to it describes it feeling like blasphemy that reality didn't bend to her every whim.
  • Hypocrite: Aphra notes that for all their talk of egalitarian exploration and multi-species equality, the Mi-Go's controls are still designed for use exclusively by their specialized appendages. The K’nyan cackles that she noticed.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Could be the situation with Audrey and Aphra as she's implied to have no interest in sex.
  • Mythology Gag: Aphra's final speech is a parody of H.P. Lovecraft's The Horror at Red Hook where she looks at New York as a beautiful celebration of humanity using the same reasons as for why the writer treated it as a Wretched Hive.
  • Our Ghouls Are Creepier: We meet some of the ghouls of the Dreamlands in this story. They're honestly quite reasonable despite their diet and disgusting magic, which oddly enough matches the source material.
  • Out Of Body Experience: The Mi-Go offer their human collaborators a chance to see the universe this way. The Deep Ones however insist this is an insidious means of mind control, as the people detached from their bodies become utterly dependent on the Mi-Go for protection.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: The Deep Ones have to walk around in daylight disguised in a carnival costume. It doesn't quite work.
  • Perspective Flip: Aphra gets one of these when she's confronted by the Mi-Go about a lot of her cultural preconceptions about space travel, the Yithians, and the importance of the body.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The Mi-Go tell Mary how the Yith tampered with her mind. This kills off whatever trust she has for Aphra, who falsely told her that a Magic Misfire was the cause.
  • Self-Restraint: One of the brains in a jar is a K’nyani, one of the Mad Ones Under The Earth. She is quite happy there, thank you very much. It is explained that removing her body also removed her powers and most of her racial insanity. Interestingly, by the Mad One's standards this makes The Fettered, while to a more sane perspective she is still quite the opposite.
  • Spot the Imposter: Audrey realises that Agent Spector has been replaced by an imposter, a human collaborator working for the Mi-Go, because this closet homosexual is Distracted by the Sexy. Unfortunately the imposter knows everything the real Spector does because the Mi-Go can read his mind, so they're unable to convince Barlow of this. Worse, they can't reveal how they knew in the first place because it would mean the end of Spector's career.
  • Token Evil Teammate: The K’nyan, and keep in mind this is after she's voluntarily restrained herself to get better. At one point they have to give her body back for a few minutes because her powers are necessary and pray that she can hold her sanity together long enough to not kill them all horribly.
  • Transformation Horror: When Aphra is forced to operate a control panel not designed for human hands.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The interventionist faction of the Mi-Go are willing to use their mind-control powers to try to take over the world—to prevent humans from destroying themselves.