Chances are, you've read tons of stories in the Cthulhu Mythos — but "The Litany of Earth" by Ruthanna Emrys is still something special. It's set in a world where the U.S. government destroyed Innsmouth, closed Miskatonic University, and imprisoned the true believers. And now, one survivor of the camps is trying to rebuild her life.
Illustration by Allen Williams.
This is a fascinating spin on the Cthulhu universe, in which the Deep Ones are real, and the government takes notice. And the measures the U.S. government takes to deal with the followers of Cthulhu are pretty horrific — the story's main character, Aphra Marsh, lives in San Francisco with a group of Japanese people who survived the U.S. internment camps during World War II, and it seems as though both sets of camps were somewhat similar. Except that there are some shocking secrets about the treatment of "Aeonists."
Aphra is working at a bookstore whose owner, Charlie, is frosty towards her at first — until he realizes she can help him understand some of the forbidden volumes he has in his back room. (Including the Necronomicon.) And meanwhile, a Federal agent wants Aphra's help investigating a brand new threat — a community of Aeonists who are practicing the forbidden magic again. It's great stuff, that turns all of the alienation and paranoia of Lovecraft sideways.
Here's how it begins:
After a year in San Francisco, my legs grew strong again. A hill and a half lay between the bookstore where I found work and the apartment I shared with the Kotos. Every morning and evening I walked, breathing mist and rain into my desert-scarred lungs, and every morning the walk was a little easier. Even at the beginning, when my feet ached all day from the unaccustomed strain, it was a hill and a half that I hadn't been permitted for seventeen years.
In the evenings, the radio told what I had missed: an earth-spanning war, and atrocities in Europe to match and even exceed what had been done to both our peoples. We did not ask, the Kotos and I, whether our captors too would eventually be called to justice. The Japanese American community, for the most part, was trying to put the camps behind them. And it was not the way of my folk—who had grown resigned to the camps long before the Kotos' people were sent to join us, and who no longer had a community on land—to dwell on impossibilities.
That morning, I had received a letter from my brother. Caleb didn't write often, and hearing from him was equal parts relief and uncomfortable reminder. His grammar was good, but his handwriting and spelling revealed the paucity of his lessons. He had written:
The town is a ruin, but not near enouff of one. Houses still stand; even a few windos are whole. It has all been looked over most carefully long ago, but I think forgotten or ignorred since.
I looked through our library, and those of other houses, but there is not a book or torn page left on the shelves. I have saugt permisson to look throuh the collecton at Miskatonic, but they are putting me off. I very much fear that the most importent volumes were placed in some government warehouse to be forgotten—as we were.
So, our family collections were still lost. I remembered the feel of the old pages, my father leaning over me, long fingers tracing a difficult passage as he explained its meaning—and my mother, breaking in with some simple suggestion that cut to the heart of it. Now, the only books I had to work with were the basic texts and single children's spellbook in the store's backroom collection. The texts, in fact, belonged to Charlie—my boss—and I bartered my half-remembered childhood Enochian and R'lyehn for access.
Read the whole thing over at Tor.com.