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What scared H. P. Lovecraft

(No, not unicorns.)

H. P. Lovecraft was born in August 1890 and died in March 1937. (And I have just experienced a queasy moment of realization: that I am now older than he was when he died.) He's remembered to this day mostly as an author of disturbing and fantastic fiction, and as the spark that ignited an entire sub-genre of horror, in which many other authors work (myself included).

But what exactly was it that fuelled his deep sense of paranoia and dread at the scale of the cosmos, and made his work so memorable?

I have a hypothesis.

We know that Lovecraft was fascinated by astronomy as a boy; and the formative years for this interest would have been approximately 1895-1910.

A trip to the McCormick Museum at the University of Virginia's online history of photographic astronomy may shed some light on Lovecraft's view of the cosmos. Prior to the development of photographic processes, astronomy was limited to what the human eye could see, with or without magnification. But from the 1840s onwards astronomers began to experiment with Daguerreotypes and later with improved photographic processes. By use of long exposure times, and telescopes on mobile platforms that kept the instruments aimed at the same point in the heavens despite the Earth's rotation, it was possible to gather far more photons than a merely human eye could sense, over a longer period of time, from fainter objects. During the 1880s the use of silver bromide emulsions revolutionized the field of photographic astronomy, and permitted the first photographic sky surveys.

(Incidentally, there's a lot more on the history of photographic astronomy and astronometry here—it's well worth a browse.)

Prior to the 1890s, our conception of the universe was very different from the cosmology we are familiar with today.

We measure the Apparent magnitude of an object to classify stars by how bright they appear to the naked eye, using a system dating to antiquity but formalized in the 1850s. (The higher the number, the fainter the object: anything with an apparent magnitude higher than roughly 6.5 is not visible to the naked eye.) There are roughly 5000 stars in the skies that are visible with the naked eye, and a scant double-handful of visible galaxies. Individual stars in other galaxies are not visible to the naked eye, and so these objects were commonly known as "spiral nebulae", to distinguish them from other non-stellar objects (which today are known to be gas and dust clouds). When we add telescopic assistance, many more stars are visible: there are about a third of a million above apparent magnitude 10.0.

So the universe into which H. P. Lovecraft was born consisted of the Milky Way, containing perhaps a million stars, and some irritating unidentifiable nebulous things.

But there's more! Remember that in 1890 we didn't know how the sun generated heat and light, or how old it was. Perhaps the best-remembered theory of the time was Lord Kelvin's paper from 1862: "the sun is now an incandescent liquid mass, radiating away heat, either primitively created in his substance, or, what seems far more probable, generated by the falling in of meteors in past times, with no sensible compensation by a continuance of meteoric action." Working backwards from this assumption, Lord Kelvin derived an estimate of the maximum age of the sun:

We may, therefore, accept, as a lowest estimate for the sun's initial heat, 10,000,000 times a year's supply at the present rate, but 50,000,000 or 100,000,000 as possible, in consequence of the sun's greater density in his central parts.

The considerations adduced above, in this paper, regarding the sun's possible specific heat, rate of cooling, and superficial temperature, render it probable that he must have been very sensibly warmer one million years ago than now; and, consequently, if he has existed as a luminary for ten or twenty million years, he must have radiated away considerably more than the corresponding number of times the present yearly amount of loss.

It seems, therefore, on the whole most probable that the sun has not illuminated the earth for 100,000,000 years, and almost certain that he has not done so for 500,000,000 years. As for the future, we may say, with equal certainty, that inhabitants of the earth can not continue to enjoy the light and heat essential to their life for many million years longer unless sources now unknown to us are prepared in the great storehouse of creation.

Remember, if you will, that the discovery of radioactivity did not take place until 1896. Lord Kelvin's speculation was based on the rigorously understood physics of the Newtonian era; working with the best information available, he placed the age of the sun at most likely less than 100 million years (and definitely less than 500 million).

So: the universe H. P. Lovecraft was born into consisted of a single galaxy containing about a million stars, and our own star was less than 100 million years old.

The universe Lovecraft died in was very different.

The first attempts at using parallax to determine the distance of stars and other astronomical objects from photographs took place in the 1890s. Instruments for comparing photographic plates taken at different times during the Earth's orbit around the sun were developed over the next couple of decades, and studies soon expanded from measurements of distance to proper motion and spectral analysis. At the same time, larger and larger mirrors were becoming available for reflector telescopes, aiding the observation of increasingly distant (and faint) objects. During the second decade of the 20th century, Edwin Hubble pushed back the distance scale of the observable universe to a dizzying extent. By studying Cepheid variables, a type of star characterised by its highly predictable variable luminosity (making them a useful standard candle), and comparing the brightness of Cepheid variables visible in "spiral nebulae" to nearer Cepheids whose distance could be calculated by parallax observation, Hubble was able to prove that the spiral nebulae were located far outside the milky way. Next, during the 1920s, Hubble used spectroscopic observation and distance estimates based on Cepheid variables to establish that more distant galaxies were receding faster, determining the Hubble constant—the rate at which the observable universe is expanding.

Finally, during the early decades of the 20th century it became obvious that the sun's radiation was powered not by gravitational collapse but by some other nuclear-related energy source. The precise mechanism was not determined until the 1940s, but in 1920 Arthur Eddington proposed that the fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium was a likely candidate; subsequently the detailed theory of stellar nucleosynthesis emerged to support this hypothesis.

Today, in 2013, we live in the Milky Way galaxy; it is believed to contain between 100 billion and 500 billion stars. The Milky Way is part of a local group of over fifty galaxies, but the observable universe is believed to contain 100-200 billion galaxies (and possibly a lot more). Finally, detailed observations have determined that our universe is 13.8 billion years old.

At the time of Lovecraft's death in 1937, the universe was considerably smaller—but it was still vastly larger than it had been at the time of his birth; with over a hundred million stars in our own galaxy, and many tens or hundreds of millions of other galaxies estimated, and the upper limit on the sun's age raised to five billion years, the universe had expanded by two orders of magnitude in age and nine orders of magnitude in size (as measured by the number of stars) during Lovecraft's life. That's eleven orders of magnitude in just over four decades.

Let's look for a modern metaphor:

The cosmos expanded during Lovecraft's life at a rate comparable to the rate of expansion of available data storage during my life. I was born in late 1964. In 1973, the total manufactured fixed disk storage capacity in the United States was on the order of 100Gb. 40 years later, it's really hard to buy hard disks that small; hard disk storage currently costs on the order of 4 cents per gigabyte, giving our 1973 USA's installed hard disk capacity a value of around $5.

I am going to take it as so glaringly obvious that our computers' power has grown exponentially since 1973 that I'm not going to bother with figures, other than to note that my mobile phone in 2013 has over a thousand times the processing power, storage/memory bandwidth, and storage capacity of a Cray-1 supercomputer from 1976 (price: $8.86 million, in 1976 dollars—$36.46M in today's money.

Forty years of Moore's law and its cousins have given us an inflating, exponentiating bubble in computing power that compares eerily to the forty year marathon of cosmological discoveries that informed Lovecraft's later weltanshauung, as expressed through fictions such as "At the Mountains of Madness" (1931), "The Color out of Space" (1927) and "The Whisperer in Darkness" (1931).

I believe that Lovecraft's sense of cosmological dread emerged from the exponential expansion and recomplication of the universe he lived in—it eerily prefigures the appeal of today's singularitarian fiction, which depends for its dizzying affect on a similar exponential growth curve. Lovecraft interpreted the expansion of his universe as a thing of horror, a changing cosmic scale factor that ground humanity down into insignificance. Not all writers from his period took this approach; to many, the expanded universe was a playground of joyous imagination. Today, singularitarian fiction is frequently aspirational, a literature of transcendence (with theological taproots linking it to the early Russian cosmists). But the inversion of a sense of wonder is a sense of dread. Which leaves me asking, where is the singularitarian Lovecraft?



Unlike HPL, my response to the size of the cosmos is mostly sadness - that I probably won't live long enough to find out if there's life in other solar systems, and that I probably will never make it into space. The sadness of the science fiction reader! I'll have to be satisfied with fiction.


The singularitarian lovecraft is Peter Watts


Peter Watts is not a bad starting point for raw high-density existential horror, but I don't think he's a singularitarian. Maybe a sociological futurist Lovecraft.


Peter could never be so florid and purple!

at least, god i hope he hasn't learned how in the last year anyways.

someone pointed out how the humans of Blindsight have become supreme satisficiers*- that was one of the most frightening things of the Wattsyverse to me, just how baldly humanity has accepted its misery and inability to make things better. To wit, they're going to VR Heaven early rather than live out their spans in redundancy on Earth...they've abandoned first person sex...they've not only made living beings redundant with machinery, they've made machinery redundant with living beings beyond themselves.

*tl:dr- maximizers of the "good enough"


I can't help but feel that racism was a much larger influence on what Lovecraft was afraid of.


I have to ask, is there any biographical or historical data to support this? i.e. is it known whether he was into astronomy, or was the general public aware of these intense changes in the knowledge of the universe?


Of course he was a racist!

But that's not fundamentally very interesting. (Privileged white New England male born in 1890 is also a racist: next up, Film at Eleven.)

Meanwhile you seem to have missed the bit at the beginning of this essay that described its scope as "his deep sense of paranoia and dread at the scale of the cosmos".


That's far more complete than my idea of what truly terrified Lovecraft: non-white people.

Your assessment isn't wrong, but I think that's another important part of what drove Lovecraft- he was terrified by the "other", and simple xenophobia is a vital part of his storytelling.

someone pointed out how the humans of Blindsight have become supreme satisficiers*- that was one of the most frightening things of the Wattsyverse to me, just how baldly humanity has accepted its misery and inability to make things better.

Y'know, I never particularly thought of Blindsight as "terrifying". I thought it was a wonderfully gripping "first contact" story between two interestingly alien races. I never saw anything particularly dire in it, even with the whole, "by the way, humanity? You're properfucked," ending.


Hmm... I'm thinking that the Fermi Paradox has to figure in here somewhere: All that empty out there, and nobody talking to us... what's keeping them quiet?

HPL predates the "I Love Lucy leads to Berzerker invasion" stories by about a half century, but it sounds to me he was on his way.


"Which leaves me asking, where is the singularitarian Lovecraft?"

Might I suggest that some of your own work would qualify for that? For example, some of the stories in the Accelerando series gave me some dread of godlike AIs.


"Which leaves me asking, where is the singularitarian Lovecraft?"

It strikes me that the settings of Accelerando, Glasshouse, the Saturn's Children books and Rapture of the Nerds are all downright horrific to modern sensibilities, even if the characters don't evince any sense of dreading them.

Possibly the problem is that in Singularity fiction, humanity adapts to the new reality by the time their universe reaches Lovecraft levels of horror. I can't recall anyone writing a story where humanity encounters a post-Singularity species without any prep.


Gregory Benford's Galactic Center series seemed to be informed by a dread of a galaxy full of unfathomable dangers...


Agh, you beat me to it. :) And my post should have said "culture" in place of species.


It wasn't just the scale of modern science that was disturbing. Quantum theory had overturned the very notion of causality, and the clockwork universe so carefully assembled since Galileo and Newton had fallen apart.

His other obsession was racial, of course. That was visceral, and disturbing.

It's also been pointed out that he really didn't seem to like fish. Being fish-like was the most horrible description he could think of.

If he'd just written about immigrant fish dealers and astronomers it would have been unpleasant and uninteresting, but luckily he managed to mix it up into something new.


How about Thomas Ligotti, whose stories make the point (more or less) that all horrors are just masks covering up the ultimate horror of the Void?


While chatting to Hannu and others over coffee this morning, I hatched a short story idea I need to write. Alternate history: H. P. Lovecraft stays married to Sonia, and instead of splitting up while she looks for work in the early 1930s, they up sticks and move to California. Where HPL works through some of his neuroses in the sunlight and realizes his doom'n'gloom heritage is a puritan hold-over from the Great Awakening. At which point he becomes a convert to the idea of optimism, self-help, and smiling your way through everything ... and promptly founds an early self-help cult.

At which point Self-Help Lovecraft meets and befriends a young discharged US Navy officer called Bob, who is running for Congress as a Socialist. And when in later years Bob's lodger Lafe (who is having an affair with Bob's wife Leslyn) stumbles across a cache of Howard's unpublished bad dark writings, he plagiarizes them to structure the inner mysteries of his religion, Dianetics.

Yes, the inner mystery of Scientology in this universe is not about Xenu, it's about Cthulhu ...


I'd read it.


It does occur to me that Ken McLeod has touched on aspects of post-Singularitarian dread in the Fall Revolution books (the fate of the Fast Folk) and in Newton's Wake...


I hear Hollywood knocking!


The trouble is that a Cthulhu based Scientology trying to destroy mankind through unspeakable eldritch rites might be slightly less scary than the real thing.


Very interesting look at the background numbers of what Lovecraft definitely put into his fiction (i.e., the sense of cosmicism, which is much more important defining feature than his issues with race, which is why we today can write non-racist Lovecraftian works). I'd add that Lovecraft, like many an antiquarian, probably held many pre-modern views of science; so you say that he was born into a world that thought X about the universe--but Lovecraft's first exposure to the theories about the universe was probably even more out-dated. (Parallels: Frankenstein delving into old "science"; Steve Martin reading up on out-dated comedy.)

As for your final question, "where is the singularitarian Lovecraft?"--well, where, in the writing ecology, would we be likely to find that? Sure, there's a chance for horrific singularitarianism in science fiction (are the Borg proto-Singularitarians?). Even Sterling's Shaper/Mechanist posthumanist stories have a touch of dread.

But I think the real singularitarian dread is in non-fiction, among those who are scared about the possibilities of data explosion.

(Though this ignores a difference between cosmic and computer explosions: the cosmic data was real; the singularity is a proposal. Lovecraft may have dreaded the scope of the cosmos, but couldn't wish it away--but it's easier to simply say, "Yeah, I don't really believe the Singularity will happen." Or am I missing something?)


A recent weekend anniversary event made me realise William Hartnell was only a year older then I am now when he started playing a well known Doctor.

I don't remember the first episode as we didn't have a TV at the time, first television I remember that I can pin down was getting up early to watch live coverage of the Tokyo Olympics before school.


Keep in mind that the universe is still expanding! Barely a decade ago, any statistical inferences on extrasolar planets were based on pure speculation: this was a big unknown in the Drake Equation.

Turns out that planets are more the rule than the exception! This pushes the Fermi Paradox into weirder territory: most of the other unknowns all deal with the origin and development of life, of which we currently have exactly one datapoint.

The nagging fear is still there: the Universe might be inherently hostile to intelligence over a certain level. Until we reach that level, however, there is still beer.


"Of course he was a racist!

But that's not fundamentally very interesting."

I don't know how you can make sense of Lovecraft without racism. It's like sweeping all that "longing for a semi-legendary British countryside" stuff under the rug when discussing Tolkien--whether or not you find it "interesting," it's absolutely fundamental to getting what he's on about.

To try to answer your question, if you want to find the Lovecraftian singulitarian, try digging around the same sorts of misanthropic and (by modern standards) far-right-wing philososphical groups that descend from Lovecraft's own views of the world: Neo-Straussians, human biodiversity forums, the self-professed intellectual strains of the Christian identity movement. That's where you look to find the combination of cosmic awe and seething dread that fueled Lovecraft's work. The only writer I've read who might qualify is John C Wright, and his views are so distasteful I have little interest in exploring his ideas further.

Lovecraft was not like you, Mr Stross. Don't look for his modern version among the rarefied atmosphere of disappointed British intellectuals. Look for dread, loathing, and disgust.


Lovecraft's father was committed to a mental hospital when he was 3 years old, which probably gave him a lifelong fear of going mad himself.

The disruption of Enlightenment ideas of natural law by Darwinian views of perpetual life-or-death struggle was also probably one of the ingredients.

It bears mentioning that the Necronomicon is pretty much the Bible, with the Gospels removed and Leviticus turned up to 11.


I can't recall anyone writing a story where humanity encounters a post-Singularity species without any prep.

I suppose any story where more or less modern humanity encounters vastly more advanced aliens ought to qualify -- but very few first contact/alien invasion stories have truly post-singularity aliens, in part because the whole concept is relatively recent. I agree that Benford's Galactic Center novels are probably earliest example -- and Mech civilization became more obviously post-singularitarian and less "mechanical" as series progressed. But humans in it are relatively prepared. Probably the best example of what you are asking is... "Singularity Sky" by OGH!


What about the Ophiuchi Hotline? I think the aliens there definitely qualify as post-singularity.


Nineties Greg Egan was big on the existential horror thing, imho. Check out Axiomatic sometime.


Look for dread, loathing, and disgust.

Disgust seems to correlate strongly with the authoritarian/reactionary mind-set. (This is stumbling close to highly dubious ev. psych. territory, but I think it may originally have evolved as a survival strategy -- aversion to decaying food products/excrement/side-effects of illness can be a useful trait. Of course, once language comes along the ability to associate disgust with some other property becomes politically/ideologically useful ... )

As for the neo-Straussians, have you run across their close but even more barking cousins, the neo-reactionaries? They seem to be ex-libertarians who've swallowed the corollary about self-ownership implying slavery which in turn implies feudalism and taken it to its logical conclusion, the divine right of kings. (FAQ and magisterial takedown here.)


Within the next ten or twenty years we should have telescopes capable of detecting at least basic life on other planets, in ideal circumstances. For example detecting raised levels of chemicals such as oxygen which would indicate something like photosynthesis going on. This might give us a better value for some of the terms in the Drake equation, mainly n(e), the chance of a given planet being suitable for life, and f(l), the number of planets that actually produce some form of life. So, possibly within out lifetimes we might be able to point to an are of the sky and say, 'there's life up there', abit, only some form of algae.


Oh my, you're looking for Lovecraft in all the right places. This is my most favorite thing I've read all day.

I think that the key for a successful horror writer is to start with what scares them and create a story that can share the fear with others. A deep well of phobias can fuel a lot of writing. As a kid I never understood what was so creepy about clowns. Stephen King remedied this. I grew up by the ocean and always had a dread of what I could not see beneath the waters. Lovecraft didn't have to do much work to make the Deep Ones terrifying to me.

I get what you're saying about the horror of man's insignificance. This is part of the fundamental rejection many people have of strict materialist, atheist thinking. The "yay, atheism" crowd is comfortable with the idea that there is no god, humans aren't special, there's no afterlife. But this is frankly horrifying to a great many people. It may not affect people as hard who were not raised expressly religious. There was an article yesterday talking about how the churches in the UK are fearing Christianity is a generation away from dying out. That's not a problem here in the US.

I think the whole species is still dealing with the aftermath of the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution. The whole Death of God problem wasn't buried with Neitzsche. Many people moved their faith from religious institutions to secular ones, enshrining the State as an object of reverence and worship.

As far as a singulatarian Lovecraft goes, I think you were banging on that door with the Remastered, specifically the Unborn God. Roll them back to a pre-Eschaton world where a weakly-godlike AI is a real thing. Roll with the following assumptions:

  • People can't buy the idea of heaven anymore, God is too implausible.
  • People still have the fundamental desire for Gods and heaven.
  • We've seen singulatarians invent a new, secular religion that's just as batty as the old stuff but feels more plausible to them. Rapture of the Nerds.
  • Consider that thought experiment of the AI that would simulate and torture people who prevented it from coming into existence. Consider people were actually freaked out about this! (Don't remember enough unique words to google it, I know you posted it here.)
  • The hidden agenda of the Lovecraftian Scientologists is the creation of the Unborn God. Cthulhu and Hastur and Yog-Sothoth are all examples of ascended species that have become weakly-godlike entities.
  • From the perspective of 2013, the average skeptic would see the Lovecraftian Scientologist agenda as being as crazy as Christian rapture nuts or Muslims who are trying to bring about the 13th Imam. But this is the kind of cult smart people could fall for, very smart people. Transhumanist Aum Shinrikyo. And even a hardnosed skeptic would fear the damage these people could do even if they were wrong. The Nazis weren't on the way to making a master race even as they killed millions. Imagine how scary it would be if the Nazis were right, that they really could do it. Imagine the fear of skeptics who are looking into the cultists' plan and realizing that it could be done, that they are really pulling together the tech to make it happen. "I will be resurrected in the simulation spaces of my loving God. I will never know death or suffering. Shedding this mortal shell will not be the end of me, just a slight discontinuity in my life-log." Imagine the actions someone would be capable of if they truly believed. 72 virgins ain't got nothing on this.


    "This is stumbling close to highly dubious ev. psych. territory, but I think it may originally have evolved as a survival strategy -- aversion to decaying food products/excrement/side-effects of illness can be a useful trait."

    The Just-So Story I learned for Cthulhu's creation is that one day Lovecraft ate some seafood and had a bad allergic reaction.

    Since, between Cthulhu and the neo-monarchist crowd, we're moving into "evil god-king" territory, it occurs to me that "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" is pretty close to an evil singularity story, with godlike computer power over the physical world instead of natural computer control over an artificial reality.

    Perhaps evil singularity stories don't flourish because in a computer simulation there really is no escape: in "I Have No Mouth," people can still be physically destroyed; in the "worldwide total communism" SF stories from the same era, people still occupy a physical reality with physical limitations. Stick authoritarianism in a computer and the oppression is inescapable. You have to turn to transcendent mysticism (The Matrix) to let your protagonists do anything meaningful.


    I can't recall anyone writing a story where humanity encounters a post-Singularity species without any prep.

    Going back a while, consider Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke. The Overlords quite literally dropped in one day and said, "Hi, we run the planet now." And while they were merely vastly ahead of humanity in technology, the power they worked for was way beyond any computer singularity nonsense. It had tried doing its thing without any preparation by mortals in the past; we don't get any details, but apparently this went badly.


    An alternative theory: we already got Lovecraftian horror based on fear of computing power, but it happened two generations ago, when we still thought AI would be easy.



    I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

    Colossus: The Forbin Project

    Asimov's robots and Williamson's humanoids (these also get into Lovecraftian fears of racial displacement).

    A confounding issue is that much of this work connects to Cold-War-era nuclear fears, but then Lovecraft was influenced by World War I.


    This is exactly my take on the bulk of Lovecraft's work -- the cosmic SF/horror that he is most well-known for, anyway. He lived through a time where science was rapidly taking us from a human-centered universe to a universe where humans were an insignificant blip, subject to forces and scales of time so vast that, even though we could observe them and postulate them, we could barely comprehend them. He characterized those forces as monsters -- or, sometimes, as fairly benign aliens (The Great Race of Yith) that are nevertheless so incredibly alien to our perceptions that we can't quite wrap our minds around them and might still perceive them as monsters.


    As I recall, an epithet for Catholics used to be "mackerel snappers" because of their eating fish on Fridays. Lovecraft was a typical of his day WASP, with not only racism, but probably anti-Catholic prejudice. Catholicism was seen as a giant cult that controlled the lives of its followers, and especially, entombed young women in nunneries. (There is a whole body of literature about this.) I wonder if this was an influence on him, and his dread of fishes and fish-like beings was covert or coded anti-Catholicism.


    What about Dark Matter? What is it really up to? If the universe is 95-98% Dark Matter, then perhaps WE are the ghost and the things that go bump in the "real world", where the shadow-people leave,

    ... Speaking of which:

    Perhaps the singularity already happened a long time ago and sucked in the entire universe? This simulation have glitches, people experience time slips, ghosts, fairies, strange creatures, poltergeists, the future (but never the lottery numbers) all the time.

    This simulated universe is perhaps not as solid, secure or as stable as "it should be" and thus ... magick works?


    no disagreement about it being a great first contact novel. but again, my horror was the casual acceptance of life itself being made redundant not out in space with the scramblers, but back on Earth with Heaven and working professionals being all but anachronisms. Obviously we're heading toward that future, so it's not shocking, he just really nailed a sense of resigned low level existential dread.


    If you're talking about singularitarian horror in terms of a dread of unintelligible nonhuman but human-produced entities overtaking human society, isn't that just Neuromancer? Sure, there's a lot of other stuff in it, too, but that's always seemed the driving force of the novel to me, from the esoterically motivated AIs to the cryogenics/genetically engineered-driven hive family/corporation of the Tessier-Ashpools to just the way the regular corporations like Sense/Net treat their employees like cattle to be herded.


    Wikipedia says the first bits of EE Smith's Lensman series were written in 1934. The Arisians were definitely a post-Singularity culture.

    Smith's universe was also steadfastly deterministic and Newtonian. For the Arisians, the future was all predetermined, For the men of Tellus, quantum mechanics didn't exist.

    There were also Smith's minor social issues. No way he could have been called a racist, but politically, his creations were all on the totalitarian side.

    A number of people have described the Lensman series as "WWII in space", but it looked mostly like one group of fascists fighting another to me.

    I think that the key for a successful horror writer is to start with what scares them and create a story that can share the fear with others.

    Thus, I suppose, the incredible power of At The Mountains Of Madness; Lovecraft's cold sensitivity must have made Antarctica sound like Hell to him.


    dead, dying and, or in hiding


    I think that's being a little unfair to him, he was writing pulp fiction of the era with pretty much a black and white view. In a way it was one of the most obvious early setups of nearly perfect humans who had better insight and more power and could be trusted with the power, because they were more perfect, although he didn't really use those terms. So fascist isnt' really it at all. The gender roles were also those that were mainstream at the period.

    He did definitely swallow the Heinleinian kool aid later though.


    one group of fascists fighting another

    I think you just perfectly described 99.9% of human history.


    The hard thing about Lovecraft to me, is that he seems to depend upon the reader having his fears. I like your Lovecraftian stories better, being more about ideas.

    Horror that requires we be afraid depends upon the reader's fears. So much of it is boring to me, who has so far avoided being in scarey situations. (My wife almost dying changed me to appreciate sentimental stories).


    It had tried doing its thing without any preparation by mortals in the past; we don't get any details, but apparently this went badly.

    Not, it did not. That was a lie Overlords made up in order to explain their similarity to the devils of human imagination. The real reason was squarely in the realm of psychic powers, which Overlords were making humans forget about.


    Catholicism was seen as a giant cult that controlled the lives of its followers, and especially, entombed young women in nunneries. What, are you saying it is not??


    At the end of "Shadow over Innsmouth", where unnamed protagonist realizes he is turning into Deep One, my reaction was: "Cool! I'd like to live in the ocean forever!"


    ilya187: yellow card.

    No trolling for Catholics, please. (I believe joining a nunnery is generally voluntary in this century ...)


    Sorry, was intended as a joke.


    The thought experiment you're thinking of is Roko's basilisk (more at RationalWiki). It originates from LessWrong, where a commenter came up with the idea. The subject is off-limits on LessWrong though, as it's been declared thoughtcrime (toxic mindwaste in the local lingo).


    "Not racist"? Read the description of the redcaps in the Chicago spaceport in IIRC "First Lensman". Also the barber at the end where the Arisians' predictions are verified.

    And isn't OGH's "Missle Gap" a combination of Lovecraftian (imagine the effect of seeing interstellar sized solid objects in your sky) and Singularity horror?

    . (And I have just experienced a queasy moment of realization: that I am now older than he was when he died.)

    I got that with Robert E Howard not that long ago. And I've not published anything that will outlive me, unlike you...

    Hubble did publish his discoveries about the universe being larger than the galaxy before Lovecraft died, I wasn't sure about the timing, but I imagine he was aware of it. People don't seem to have retreated gibbering from the vast revelation though, it mostly just gets ignored, how unreasonably large this whole universe thing is.

    Posthuman contact stories? Hmmm...

    You could say Peter Watts retconned the Thing into one such story in this The Things adaptation.

    I seem to recall Heinlein had one of his characters discover a very disturbing advanced alien in the first Lazarus Long book (Haven't read the rest)

    Neon Genesis Evangelion could be considered a story of humans dealing with inscrutable posthuman invasion.

    ...And of course there's 2001


    From my point of view, just the planet Earth is so much bigger than me that the sense of scale is lost. Anything bigger might as well be "around the size of Earth". The sun, the galaxy, the universe. The difference between a million and a trillion is just six zeroes, and everybody knows that 0x6=0. :-)


    "where is the singularitarian Lovecraft?"

    Isn't that you?


    The astronauts report the Overview Effect: and I've felt something similar just by lying on my back on a sunny day and gazing up into the clear blue nothingness. Space is only a hundred miles away; you can see it quite clearly.


    What about Arthur C Clarke's 2001 series? That's dealing with contact with the intelligent artifacts of a post-singularity (and post-post-singularity) civilisation.


    Exactly right. I get a much better infinity zap from clouds in a blue sky than the stars at night. And as for 'insignificant'? Try driving across the American Great Plains, starting from Kansas City and driving west.

    Shoot, any big scape gives you a sense of scale that dwarfs human preoccupations: the sea, the Rocky Mountains, etc. Whether you experience the puniness that is the human experience while traversing these scapes is a matter of taste or breeding, I suppose.


    Wow, the LessWrong crowd. Reading up on them from the link... It's easy to underestimate just how nutty smart people can become. Heaven's Gate is just a taste of it.


    Singularity Sky has people encounter a post-Singularity group (the festival) with less adaptation to it than we have currently.

    Some of the people found it horrific. The thing is, they weren't the viewpoint characters. We didn't see thier reactions as reasonable. But certainly some of the peasants on the encountered world did find it horrific, and we are told so. And many of the leaders of the New Republic found the concept unthinkable, even though they had had some initial preparation. I'm still amused at the scene where the curator flees a pair of feminine underware being waved about by a spy robot. But he was horrified.


    LessWrong is nice as long as you limit yourself to discussion of lifehacks. But try to go deeper and you'll end up talking about boxes with the unborn but infinitely powerful AIs from parallel universes that you model in your head.


    You can say "I really don't believe the Singularity will happen.", and even mean it. But we are clearly headed towards "sparrow fart" surveillance, as predicted in "Iron Sunrise". Even is there is no "Singluarlity" (and I think that depends more on your definition than anything else) many of the predictions of what will result from it are already appearing, at least in prototype form. (And, IIRC, the actual Singularity isn't expected before 2030, with some who predict it pushing it out as far as 2070. So a prototype now is hardly inconsistent witht the prediction.)

    P.S.: Too many people fasten onto just one form in which the Singularity could occur. They are almost certainly wrong. But there are many paths that could lead there at differing rates of speed. We could even follow the path of Olaf Stapeldon's "Fouth men", and genetically modify the brains of some of us to be the size of buildings. (Yuck! But it's one way that could be made to work. Fortunately, that's one of the slow paths. I'd rather stop at the "Second men", or move onto the "Fifth men".)

    OTOH, I've got to admit that I consider a total collapse of civilization to be nearly as likely as a Singularity of a different kind. (That's also a Singularity.)

    The defining feature of a Singularity is an enormously fast rate of change. Just how fast it needs to qualify is a matter of definition. How many do you count in the past? Does language count? What about fire? What about the thigh bone of an antelope as a weapon? Bow and arrow? Spear thrower? Giant meteor impact? X-rays? The railroad? Loss of the ability to synthesize Vitamin C within the body? They've happened before. They will again. The effects come in various sizes, and in various degrees of rapidity of onset. (And how COULD those who can't handle grammar adapt to those genetically predisposed to handle it?)

    We don't tend to see Singularities in the past, but to those living there, it was the present, and THEY encountered them. And the rate of change has continued to increase throughout my lifetime....though not equally in all directions. But when I was a child, most farms were small (relative to current standards). And not very productive. And diversified. (The big farms already existed, but they were a definite minority, though not in terms of profits.) My grandfather owned two cows, pasture, some fruit and nut trees, and some fields that he rented out for larger farmers (with the equipment) to plant cotton in. That kind of farm has totally disappeared from that area of the country. About half the population was rural (not quite, but nearly). Now nearly everyone lives in a city or in the suburbs. And the population has grown so that any attempt to revert back to the prior mode of operation would result in massive starvation. That is an irreversable transition (barring some catastrophe), and as such I think of it as a Singularity.

    My real point here is that the Singularity is real, it happens, and each one needs to be understood on its own terms. But you don't gain anything by taking it as a religion and "believing" in it. Also that they usually happen so slowly that most people don't notice them while they are happening. (Slow, of course, isn't true of "Giant Meteor Impact". But it's still an irreversable transition, so it qualifies.)

    If you want to say I'm being foolish, I'll help. Cracking an egg is an irreversable transition, and therefore qualifies as a Singularity, only at a nano-scale.


    Lovecraft didn't need Hubble to work himself into existential panic. 19th century thermodynamics could do it. Ever hear of Boltzmann brains ( The possibility that the next moment you experience could be as a solitary brain floating in an empty unfathomably cold dark miasma should send shivers down your spine!

    Nevertheless, it is hard to think of full-blown existential dread stories with the Singularity. I sense a nice niche there!

    The Matrix (or the Borg) have some elements of this, because they involve a form of hellish existence that seems worse than mere extinction. The virtual hells of "Surface Detail" (Iain Banks) make it clear death/extinction is not the worst possible fate. But this was set in a much bigger story where the reader knew the hells where contested and could be turned off if the Culture wanted. So as a reader, you know hope!

    In all these cases, the nasty fate can be escaped, which makes them less like a Lovecraftian horror. The only escape in Lovecraft's world is temporary and by sheer chance. Eventually the Old Ones WILL return. I think that's the key. You gotta make the torment endless and inescapable (like "A Colder War") to be really horrible.

    Lovecraft's examples and "A Colder War" may indicate this kind of thing is better off in short story form, not as a full length novel. A novel may be too long to keep sustain dread (which could become tedious), unless you're really cruel to your readers and very gradually reveal the abject hopelessness of their situation. Slowly show how all their hopes and agency were naive and self-defeating.


    The "life or death struggle" was only a minor theme to Darwin. Some of his followers really pushed it, admittedly. But the main people to push it were the "Social Darwinists", who were not Darwinists and were also anti-social. They didn't understand what he was saying, but some of his words could be twisted to appear to suppor the political goals that they already had.

    Darwin understood that mutualism and symbiosis were often, and perhaps even usually, as or more effective than competition. Understanding of this point has gotten more detailed among evolutionary theorists, and people still tend to overvalue pieces of the theory that support their pre-existing views (as Bayesian theory would predict), but I don't think ANY competent evolutionary theorists currently believes that competion is the dominant factor in the history of life. (It certainly has it's areas where it is important, as in the Cheeta vs. impala arms race, but that hardly impacts on the grass.)


    If a series of new scientific breakthroughs over the next decade revealed that the cosmos was several orders of magnitude larger and/or older than we currently believe, I have a hard time imagining that I would care. A billion years (or even a million) is already far too long for me to consider as anything other than an abstraction; turning it into a trillion or a quadrillion is barely a blip, emotionally speaking. What's a few more zeroes?

    I could imagine that others might feel differently, and I suppose 5000 stars is barely small enough that I might relate to it as a concrete quantity, but on the face of it, for someone to feel existential dread because the sun went from "incomprehensibly old" to "EVEN MORE incomprehensible old" seems pretty weird to me.


    Stick authoritarianism in a computer and the oppression is inescapable

    Perhaps you have no much of experience in the software engineering or computer security? :)

    Software bug Exploit (computer security) Privilege escalation

    Given the tremendous complexity of a software capable of a Matrix-like world simulation in a computer, it should have a plenty of exploitable bugs. And as a simulation is inhabited not by dumb computer viruses but with sentient people (and never forget of possible infiltration of things from beyond of simulation which may have their own ideas of fun not necessarily compatible with the agenda of the official Matrix rulers) it is only a question of time while those bugs will be found and exploited - and each hacker with root privileges over reality will be a rich source of new bugs.

    Security agents a-la Mr. Smith may counteract them to some degree, but without regular reboots from a backup a horror story of Matrix would be built not of the inescapable oppression but rather of chaos, violence and surrealism.


    Stanislaw Lem.

    The Trurl and Klapauzius stories are set in a post-human universe, it's robotic inhabitants talk with dread about the softling that predated them, while they deal with problems of simulatin entire civilazations, create happyness (and hilarity) by thelepathy and create alghorithmic monsters. Also, some of the Ijon Tichy stories deal with vastly posthuman societies (and religious robots). Lastly Fiasko is a first contact story that also tackles some of the brain-in-a-jar problems (and I could not stop thinking about it while reading Blindsight).

    But Lem does not deal in dread. The Other is not a tentacled clam from outter space or under the sea or anything as comprehensible. And the singularity is mostly pointless, because with Lem the logical conclusion of any train of thought is utter pointlessness. I know no other Author who's better at testing ideas to destruction.


    Well, the odd thing about Lovecraft was that he was new, different, and not that successful during his life.

    That suggests we're looking for something different.

    Here are some thoughts:

    SF where the singularity doesn't happen (heaven) nor do we go extinct (hell).

    A future where progress utterly fails (reading SF as the literature about Progress and its problems), but we don't go back to the medieval times either (the fall doesn't mirror the rise).

    And so forth. The things I'm trying to break are the binary mindset (transcendence or its dark shadow), the myth of progress, and most thoroughly, the idea that our destiny is to expand to the stars without end, or go extinct, and that anything else is too horrible to contemplate.

    If you're cringing at the thought of people living on this planet for another million years, dealing with the whims of stupid elites and a constantly changing environment, every high culture eroding to dust and every new wilderness ultimately ending in some industrial shanty town, then I think you might see where there's room for a new Lovecraft. See, we don't really have much fiction that deals with this kind of future, even thought it's probably where we're going to end up.


    So what you're suggesting as a driving force for Lovecraft is the idea that Asimov explored in Nightfall?

    I admit that I've never read the original short story, only the novel co-authored with Silverberg, but that's basically the premise of the novel. People thing the universe is a tiny think which they play a significant role in then are forced to face the reality of the vastness of the universe and their own insignificance and end up going mad as a result...

    I went the other way. When I had my first psychotic episode I was completely and totally gone until I had a theophanic experience in which I seemed to experience the full scale and majesty of the universe. It rescued me from insanity although for a brief instant it was as if I truly became God. Nothing holds any fear for me as a result. How can anything truly harm me in a universe so grand?


    Say, Charlie , you might know this - is there any alternate history Soviet Union singularity fiction? I was having a conversation about this the other day and someone suggested that Soviet politics would be much more welcoming to a benevolent post-scarcity AI overlord than the usual setting of the USA...


    The singularitarian, optimistic Lovecraft?

    Looking at other writers of his time, I think of Olaf Stapledon as one possibility. He certainly had the Lovecraftian mythopoeic impulse and the sense of cosmic vastness. His Star Maker would probably be the best to look at for this.

    I might also suggest E. E. Smith. Really, his Lensman novels are full of the stuff of Lovecraftian horror—weird-shaped aliens, mind control, cosmically advanced races with inhumanly detached viewpoints, a race whose favorite vice is torturing other races and consuming their life energy, trips down a hyperspatial tube whose rupture can dump you into another cosmos, insanely addicting drugs from other planets. But the ultimate tone of the series is optimistic, with Homo sapiens being bred into the new Guardians of Civilization, the Children of the Lens.


    David Marusek's science fiction (Counting Heads, Mind Over Ship, and perhaps especially his short story collection Getting to Know You) are some of the most intense near-future science fiction pieces I've read, in the sense that instead of my normal reaction to near-future sci-fi (man I want to live there) I had more of the response "Thanks GOD I most likely won't live there!"

    His short story The Wedding Album, in addition to being absolutely fantastic, is also utterly frightening, depressing, dehumanizing, and somehow all-too-likely.


    Evolution works on multiple levels of simultaneous competition and cooperation. Also, for a number of often good reasons, the competitive aspects of evolution are generally downplayed in the popular media. Still, Darwin's theory of "the preservation of favored races in the struggle for life" has clear and unhappy implications for the less favored, who are not preserved. Evolution simply couldn't work if unfavorable variants were not culled; that's what keeps entropy from swamping the system.

    In any case, there's a big difference between the Enlightenment paradigm, exemplified by the Deist metaphor of the universe as a machine of parts working in harmony to a subtle design, and the Darwinian vision of life. That dislocation seems to inform Lovecraft's work, which portrays intelligent species' rise and fall according to no obvious plan.


    Ah yes, Homo Superior, Guardians of Civilization, the Children of the Lens, which brings to mind a sentence from another book written in the same period...

    "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever."


    If you're a fan of Erik Lund's awesome blog, the unity of Lovecraft's cosmic dread and racist loathing is very clear. The cosmic vastness? It's all the stuff you'd have to admit if you admitted your real New England family history. UNPOSSIBLE, MUST DENY. There are even clues about the fish stuff in that direction.

    As for I Have No Mouth.., my understanding is that the computer they are trapped in is their own minds, a projection of their guilt about the war. (Where, after all, is the electricity coming from to run this thing?)

    A big difference between Charlie and HPL is the key mode of suffering. HPL's is depression, uncontrollable darkness denying action, for reasons that are fundamentally internal and directed to the past.

    Charlie's is anxiety, directed to the future and externalised (shame rather than guilt), endless worry about whether that anomalous reading is experimental error, after all the radar imaging didn't confirm the weird thing on the photo recce, but what if I'm wrong?


    Grant Morrison's comic work includes both Lovecraftian and singularitarian themes, notably in Zenith and The Invisibles. More Lovecraft than explicitly singularitarian, but definitely references the idea that the Great Old Ones are a sufficiently evolved version of us.

    Not, it did not. That was a lie Overlords made up in order to explain their similarity to the devils of human imagination. The real reason was squarely in the realm of psychic powers, which Overlords were making humans forget about.

    That was the explanation for humanity's myths of the Overlords, but scott-sanford was talking about the Overmind's previous experiences of assimilating new.. nodes? It's implied the Overlords are doing the same thing for the Overmind as they had the UN do for them - laying the groundwork for their successful introduction.


    I was reminded of Hodgson's "The Night Land" (1912) which in its turgidity and grinding dark hopelessness much resembled Lovecraft's own writings and indeed Lovecraft himself referenced it in his essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature".


    I've always considered "Blood Music" and the grey goo themes to be the modern equivalent of the Lovecraftian horrors.

    Really, for a singularity at all, let alone a good horror story, you need the self-creating, self-improving characteristic. Most singularity type tales tend to focus on the 'metal' themes - which can have horror, but don't seem to have the same unstoppable force component (we always subconsciously think we can turn them off).

    The Terminator owes more to Frankenstein than anything. That was a story also born out of dramatic change the writer was living through, but was more sterile, more containable. A personalised, limited, horror.

    You only get the dread when you know you must lose - and that everyone else must lose with you.


    People looking for singulatarian Lovecraftian horror need look no further than Roko's Basilisk. Which Charlie should know since he's the person who damned us all to eternal torment by exposing us to the idea.


    Some people who read "Childhood's End" take it at face value and assume that the truth is what the devil-shaped Overlords want people to believe. That is, the employer of the Overlords is benign. However, the evidence given to the humans in the book is entirely consistent with them being a predator.


    I have a much simpler hypothesis: he was scared by impure thoughts not allowed in puritan New England. That's more complementary than contradictory with your hypothesis, of course.


    I'd have to go with fare's impure thoughts, because (1) I think all fantasists have something in common, and (2) that's what scared Chesterton into the church. He refers in his autobiography to the depths of evil he found in himself as a young man when he looked inward; and considering how few evils he actually had a chance to try, and considering his flight from sex into obesity, I think it's probably that.


    Lovecraft was a complex individual some combination of privelage and perury (he went hungry quite often) along with a certain madness riding that change wave you mentioned created his unique style.

    As for sinugulatarian scary, the best scene I've noticed recently is in a Canadian TV show a time travel police procedural called Continuum.

    That society is a despotic corporate state wracked in a civil war that has rather advanced nano-tech.

    In one scene,a young woman who acculmulated too much municipal debt and along with 100's of others was turned, begging screaming into living factory machinery to make more nano-chips.

    Very plausible if stupid (well it wuld seem smart for debt obssed evil corporations) and exactly how I think such tech may be used,

    Lord Reece Mogg suggested something along those lines in The Great Reckoning, basically as soon as someone gets good enough tech, that orginization or individual may simply enslave everyone and there is little anyone will be able to do to stop it.

    The third, basically a banquet of nasty body horror was from some very strange novel whose title I can no longer remember. It involved torture nano (for the international torture market) and rather bizzare plot that in the end turned people into solar powered machines that no longer needed food (they could disolve organic matter) clothing (couldn't wear it, teh nano attacked it) or much shelter so they could be thinking philosophers.


    I think many people here are underestimating the effect of two overriding influences on Lovecraft's life: fear of insanity and poverty.

    Lovecraft's father was committed to an insane asylum when Lovecraft was a small child. When he was in his late 20s, his mother was committed to the same asylum and died there. For most of his life, he was affected by severe night terrors.

    For most of his life he was also pretty poor--especially when compared to his mental image of himself as a Providence Gentleman. Lovecraft was unable to support himself for the majority of his life, and had his financial situation upended twice by events out of his control.

    Taken together, these factors paint a picture of Lovecraft as a man who felt he had little power over his own life--or even his own mind. As if he was the plaything of uncaring forces beyond his control or understanding...


    I'm replying to myself here, because I want to point out that of course it's not that simple, either.

    Lots of people have been positions similar to Lovecraft's. Most of them go coped or went quietly nuts. Lovecraft turned the horrors of his own life, both real and imagined, into great literature (with the greatness of literature measured by enduring influence).


    I'd suggest that it's more AD&D Lawful Good (Arisia, 'Civilisation' or whatever) vs Lawful Evil (Boskone).


    Fare: You've read Equoid, right?


    I came across a Libertarian (Inside the "Big Think" blogs) who was a classic - he'd gone right around the loop & was meeting the communist "withering away of the state" from the other end!


    "Insignificance"? "Void"? TOTAL PERSPECTIVE VORTEX

    ... but, hey, I'm still Zaphod Beeeblebrox, y'know?


    @ 36 Catholicism was seen as a giant cult that controlled the lives of its followers You mean it doesn't? Ahem.

    Look at the person masqerading as "pope Francis", and find out what he has actually cahnged as regards doctrine & orders ...


    Oops Noted yellow card for Ilya ... [ See previous post - I'm replying as I go ... ]


    Nojay Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    Always a good question to ask,


    How about H. G. Wells?

    “Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”


    The TechnoCore in Dan Simmons' Hyperion sequence? Not a "generalised" singularity, but the AI gods want to eat our brains. And come to think of it, it does have a post-singularity Earth in it...


    Oh the hysterical optimism of those who believe that removing all electronic traces of themselves or remaining ignorant will save them from Roko's Basilisk.

    I mean this is serious model breakage giving divide by zero/out of cheese errors.

    Why do they think that the Basilisk is so kind or limited that it doesn't just model the entire phase-space of human brains and experiment to find what tortures will be sufficient to induce them to a state along the lines of "Build the Basilisk! Build the Basilisk!" It could well be more plausible than taking the electronic records left by a person and deriving the one and only version of a human who must have left them :-(

    Probably the same reason that they don't think that Boltzmann Basilisks will occur in transfinite quantities, torturing every mathematically possible intelligence in every possible way.

    Of course once you have let the infinite time/space/boltzmann part of hypothesis-space enter discussion, then a little thought will show that the motive-initialisation-vector for any given instance of a Boltzmann entity could also range into providing simulated intelligences with various maximum happiness from wirehead to more and more abstract satisfaction...

    Is there a LessWrongian way of comparing estimated probabilities of models/assumptions being pushed beyond their breaking point (eg, building a stainless-steel ladder to the Andromeda Galaxy), to the net present harm of acting on the resulting conclusions from those models?


    If you're cringing at the thought of people living on this planet for another million years, dealing with the whims of stupid elites and a constantly changing environment, every high culture eroding to dust and every new wilderness ultimately ending in some industrial shanty town, then I think you might see where there's room for a new Lovecraft. See, we don't really have much fiction that deals with this kind of future, even thought it's probably where we're going to end up.

    "Count to a Trillion" by John C. Write is pretty much like that. "House of Suns" by Alastair Reynolds has the same idea (endless turnover), but on the scale of the galaxy rather than one planet.

    Now that I think of it, "House of Suns" can be a horror story if viewed from a proper angle. All protagonists are nearly immortal Shatterlings who travel around Milky Way at near light speed, skipping centuries and millennia like short naps. They watch human and posthuman civilizations rise and fall and rise again -- and seen it so many times that they have categories for ways in which a civilization can end. Some pretty horrific things happen to protagonists, but to me the real dread came from the relatively short scenes which involved planet-dwellers. What would it be like to live on a planet, perhaps to have access to few other bodies of your solar system, and to know as certainly as Sun rises, that you live on the ruins of several civilizations past (which may or may not have been your species, biologically), that night sky is filled with intelligent beings most (or all) of which you will never speak to or hear from, and that there are immortal godlike beings plunging from star to star who visit your world every few thousand years? If you are very very lucky, you will see one in your lifetime. If not, these beings are legends from antiquity.

    Several characters in "House of Suns" are guests of the Shatterlings -- people who left their worlds, for all practical purposes forever, to travel along usually in search of knowledge. I admit that if I were a planet-dweller in "House of Suns", I would not pass such an opportunity.


    I saw a comment earlier this week, I forget where, that listed the technocore as a good example of a benevolent AI.

    It left me wondering if I had read the same books.


    Unless you are left in a tank...

    In any case, thinking of that book, led me to consider the Inhibitors/Wolves from the Revelation Space Universe - and later Greenfly even maybe?

    I saw a comment earlier this week, I forget where, that listed the technocore as a good example of a benevolent AI. It left me wondering if I had read the same books.

    Sure, but Colossus ( the Forbin project ) was ultimately benevolent (for a given value of benevolent). Like the religious ask, is the human idea of benevolence identical with an omniscient beings idea of benevolence?


    A bit off-topic, but, Charlie, are you aware of Warhammer 40K? Not the wargame itself, but the lore. It's not exactly lovecraftian, but an interesting vision of the "future" nonetheless.


    Yes Charlie is aware of it:

    Personally, I know almost nothing about it.


    Personally, I know almost nothing about it.

    It's so bad, it's good. :-)


    Nope, the real answer is:



    YELLOW CARD. See the moderation policy.

    No, really. Yes, we are fully aware that H. P. Lovecraft held odiously racist opinions. That does not justify you using a term of extreme racist abuse in a public forum.

    (There are circumstances where it might be appropriate to use the N word here -- this isn't an absolute ban -- but this is not one of those circumstances. So if you do it again, you'll be banned and your comments deleted. I'm only leaving this comment in place for now because it serves as a Teachable Moment for any other cunty fuckfaces who might be wondering where the scatalogical thou-shalt-not-cross line is drawn in the sand.)

    ((Note for Americans: the C word is used rather more casually in Scotland than anywhere you're familiar with. As for "fuck", it's just verbal punctuation, approximately equivalent to "eh" in Canada.))


    well, that didn't take long, did it? :-o

    racist SF writers weren't/aren't exactly unusual

    [paedo as well]

    I wonder what made the literary tropes and stylings of HPL so culturally persistent, in a way that Shiel and Dunsany's aren't?


    "I wonder what made the literary tropes and stylings of HPL so culturally persistent, in a way that Shiel and Dunsany's aren't?"

    It's a secret. If word got out, then everyone would be writing classics, and no one would get anything done.

    In fact, getting so close to the edge of this benevolent censorship is really what scared Lovecraft.

    I'm pretty sure what scared Lovecraft wasn't Catholicism-- at its worst, Catholicism is Lawful Evil, while the Mythos just doesn't care about people and has no perceptible internal rules. I can sort of imagine Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep arguing theology with each other, but it would have to be in a humorous story.

    I wouldn't mind seeing a story about what scares Cthulhu. In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu has nightmares.

    Back to the main topic-- I'm pretty sure racism isn't at the bottom of Lovecraft's fears. Mieville and others have written really solid Lovecraftian horror without the racism.


    Firstborn became a 40K enthusiast; two years ago, we got him a starter set. Blessed with a good memory, an eye for detail, and an game-related amorality that makes Niccolo M look like Mary Poppins, the little so-and-so always beats me (it's mildly frustrating, given all the investment that HM Armed Forces made in my training).

    Eventually, I'll read the rules - meanwhile, I can teach him how to do modelling, paintwork, and lend him my airbrush. Only a few hours of work left to do on my Eldar :)

    He's frustrated because I refuse to let him buy 40K-based fiction (call it my aversion to early militarism) but I may let him read "Monastery of Death" :)


    It's a secret. If word got out, then everyone would be writing classics, and no one would get anything done.

    MP Shiel and Dunsany were very successful in their day, whereas success continually eluded Lovecraft during his lifetime.

    Yet Shiel and Dunsany are largely forgotten, but "Lovecraftian" is a literary description, and Cthulhu has a Mythos. (Cthulhu doesn't even get a red, jagged spellchecker line under it, unlike Shiel and Dunsany surnames/]

    Dunsany, with his Pegāna books created the first imaginary landscape in fantasy writing, the predecessor of Middle Earth. Trogool, from the same books, is a proto-Nyarlathotep.

    Longevity is a curious thing.

    After all, who remembers the bestselling author who launched a genre of her own, sold 1.2 million copies of her most popular book, had that same book turned into a film starring the BIGGEST film star of the day...

    yes, Edith M. Hull!



    "Singularitan Lovecraft" doesn't make much sense to me. Lovecraft is all about humanity's limits and inadequacies; the idea that we could create something to rival the Elder Gods is to miss the entire point of the Elder Gods.


    You are most likely trolling, but...

    To the extent that Lovecraft was any more racist than the average person of his ethnicity and time, that racism was a reflection of the same internal demons that drove him to create his enduring works. It is not like Lovecraft sat down one day and thought, "I hate black people; I'm going to create the Cthulhu Mythos as a way of convincing others to feel the same."

    I'm also not all together convinced that Lovecraft was unusually racist for a white person of his time. Lovecraft lived during the resegregation of the US Federal government, the rise and apex of the second Ku Klux Klan, and the time of the greatest influence of the Eugenics movement on the culture and politics of the US. Racism was part of the intellectual climate of the nation far more than it had been since the end of Civil War and more so than it would be post World War II.


    "The Poison Belt" by Conan Doyle is fairly racist too. It seems to have been standard operating procedure for Victorian/Edwardian writers to make some racist or anti-semitic remark, if only in passing. I haven't come across many exceptions.

    He's frustrated because I refuse to let him buy 40K-based fiction (call it my aversion to early militarism) but I may let him read "Monastery of Death" :)

    Dan Abnett's "Gaunt's Ghosts" series is big on Poor Bloody Infantry and pretty short on the glory of war - if I remember correctly they get accidentally shelled by another Guard unit in their first engagement. I'm not sure I'd recommend giving them to a child, but they're probably better than most about militarism. Definitely better than Tom Clancy, which I read around age 12...


    I've never been much of a gamer. Was slightly into D&D when young, but only because my brother was slightly more into it, and a friend was. The only games I ever got into were flight sims.

    I've always been bad at strategy games. At least I thought I was, my brother admitted a few years ago that he had been cheating at Stratego when we were kids.


    The modern HPL is James Cameron, as evinced by the Terminator series.

    James, however, shied away from his far future, and is making a better near one, rather than continue to confront his terrifying singularity...


    I really enjoyed Dan Abnett's "Embedded", and it was after that I discovered he'd been behind some of my favourite strips in 2000AD. (I tried reading two of Sandy Mitchell's books, but even "Flashman set in 40K" wasn't right)

    Firstborn has been studying WW2 at school this year; as I explained to his teacher, I was trying to avoid the whole "lists and facts and dates" tendency. "You can have that new book once you're read 'HMS Ulysses'"; and then asking him to read GMF's "Quartered Safe Out Here" (extremely strong recommendation for both if you haven't read them).

    I didn't want to overdo it, so I never got to "The Cruel Sea", Wellum's "First Flight", or "With the Jocks"...


    vovn hichthofen @ 107 & JPR @ 115 -- at its worst, Catholicism is Lawful Evil, Ahem, err … Really? Tell that to the Inhabitants of Beziers or the victims of the Inquisition etc, ad nauseam ….. Unless, of course, you are regarding “religion” as “lawful”, which is, I suppose a legitimate viewpoint – in gaming terms, if nothing else.

    “Racism” Was much worse, everywhere in the inter-war period than before or after. Victorian England was remarkably (by the standards that applied later) non-racist: it was education, background & achievements that mattered. Look at people like Mary Seacole & Darwin’s part-time tutor (whose name escapes me) or the attitude of the RN & Army to people who were brown, but brave – they were promoted & given medals. Dadabhai Naoroji was elected in 1892 at Finchley Central for the Liberals, & Mancherjee Bhownagree in 1895 at Bethnal Green for the Conservatives for instance … Even when it now grates, the difference was deliberately pointed out by someone like H Rider Haggard – his portrayal of the “blacks” in S Africa ( & imaginary countries) was as “noble savages”, but also his condemnation of the attitude of the Boers for treating them as disposable, contrasts with the Brit one of “just needs education” – like I say, it grates now, but, even then, the message was … “excuse me, but, so they are brown & uneducated, but they are still people, who deserve respect”. It gets worse before it gets better seems to be a theme – after all, the worst period of oppression of women in the UK was 1832-1870.


    How scared was Lovecraft, though?

    I ask because, when I first bumped into the idea of the Singularity, I quite literally wanted to run and hide. It scared the crap out of me. Partly the thought that it might actually happen, or already be happening, or (worst of all) be about to start happening, but not just that - the idea of it scared me. I didn't want it in my head.

    I downloaded Accelerando in an autotherapeutic spirit ("see, nice Singularity... not so bad to play with... Internet Puppy* plays with Singularity...") but never nerved myself to actually read it. Just too scary.

    So if HPL was spending hours at a time conjuring Cthulhu's squamous brood from the eldritch depths, I don't think he can have been that spooked, by anything.

    *I didn't really think this bit, obviously(?).


    If you really want to educate GravelJunior on "war is H*11", I would strongly recommend the book I've just finished, Audie Murphy's autobiographical "To Hell and Back". This from a man who had a granduncle who fought in the Italian campaign.


    Might it not be more like picking a scab? Or self harming?


    The next big philosophical expansion of perspective is one we are going through right now - from universe to multiverse, where the latter is defined as the literal existence of all possible states.

    That, I suggest, will have a huge impact once its implications bubble through to popular culture. These range from probable immortality (whether you want it or not) to the inevitable existence of Cthulhu-like entities (hopefully a good distance from us).



    when I first bumped into the idea of the Singularity, I quite literally wanted to run and hide. It scared the crap out of me.

    Okay... why?

    My reaction was a regret that if it happened at all, I'd probably miss out on it.


    I've just finished re-reading Martin Gardner's "Fads and Fallacies", originally printed in the 1950s. I hadn't read it for thirty years, so with brain rot, it was almost like a new book...

    Gardner set a whole chapter aside for the anti-Newtownian and anti-Einsteinian types. What I had failed to remember was that so many of those people - some of whom made total whackjob assess of themselves - were otherwise-respected astronomers, physicists, or mathematicians.

    Lovecraft was hardly alone; people with serious credentials were completely freaked out, and some of them had large followings.


    I didn't delve very deeply into the idea of the Singularity, what with being creeped out, so all of this may be more about my idea of the idea of the Singularity than anything else. Also, this was happening at a time when I was struggling with depression; my mother died in 2006, and it took a while to get over it (eight years, roughly). So I'll talk about something else for a minute.

    I was reading a lot about the Semantic Web for work at the time, which involved keeping up with some fairly booster-y bloggers (Dave Weinberger, Tom Coates) as well as some sceptics and grouches (Tom Slee, Nick Carr). I think it was a link I saw on Tom Coates's blog that got me thinking about ubiquitous flat screens and phones and advertising. Picture this: my phone is in my pocket, but it's switched on & saying "Hello World" to anything that will listen. More precisely, it's saying "Hello World, this is Phil's phone, and previous purchases from Phil's phone include...". LED screens are only legible from a limited range of angles; however, for present purposes this is a feature rather than a bug, as it means that lightweight net-enabled devices can serve visual advertising tailored to you and you alone, as you pass by at walking pace. I practically had to go and lie down when I had this idea - it really was a vision of Hell. And not just because of the element of commercial scammage - it could be the Word of the Day that's popping up on those screens, or an inspirational quotation from my favourite political guru. If anything that would be even worse.

    The Singularity, for me, suggests making the world all like that all the time, only more so. And then throwing away the 'world' part, because you don't need it any more. Information at your fingertips, only without any need for fingertips. Give me grit, give me friction, give me distance, give me time, give me effort. Real bread, real cheese, and so on.

    It also suggests something almost equally creepy, which is verifiable contact with a higher intelligence. In other words, the existence of God wouldn't be open to doubt - there would be a God, the one we'd created (or helped to create). But this in itself would destroy religion - religion without doubt is religion without faith - and replace it with... something else. Worship would be involved, though, and probably abasement.


    I really think the multiverse thing is entirely likely to be ignored or have no effect at all. We've already had it in SF for decades, and I think it's been in popular TV shows somewhere, hasn't it?
    Yes it takes decades for ideas to filter through the population, but a multiverse is so big and yet so distant that I don't see it having any more effect than people thinking "Wow if I'd not looked over there/ answered my phone/ whatever I would have been crushed by that truck".


    And most of the additional installed computer memory is being used to store pictures/videos of cats (or dogs) and the stupid things their owners do.


    I've seen other examples of the British attitude of 100+ years ago. I think a common theme is that the brown natives need good leaders, and while there can be a certain grudging respect for such as The Mahdi and Ceteshwayo they can still be seen as flawed.

    And the idea of the good leader as a hero lasted until some time after WW2. It's still out there, but it doesn't go well with the development of the anti-hero. The lasting characters now are certainly either more complicated or sitting in what are, to some of us, uncomfortable corners of the social landscape. Miles Vorkosigan has the complex character, and that hefty dose of monarchism, but he is firmly in the Good Leader category. Honor Harrington? You could take the whole series as an example of revolutionary monarchism and toddle off to the next thread with it.


    " I've seen other examples of the British attitude of 100+ years ago. I think a common theme is that the brown natives need good leaders, and while there can be a certain grudging respect for such as The Mahdi and Ceteshwayo they can still be seen as flawed. "

    Well 'Flawed ' is rather a kindly way of putting it ..thus a link hereafter to a film that was broadly based upon the stories of Edgar Wallace

    And, also, you could type " Sandi the King Maker " into a google search engine and see what you will see.

    Way back in the run-up to World War the Second ... or possibly the Third if, like me, you consider that the Napoleonic Wars were the first Real World War .. the Edgar Wallace ' Sanders of the River 'stories of were extreamly popular and did tend to reflect the popular Middle Class readerships public view of that time of not so very long ago that, whilst these black men might show some promise as subject peoples ..once they became Christians of course ! ..nevertheless .. as Kiplings poem did declare ...

    " Take up the White Man's burden, Send forth the best ye breed Go bind your sons to exile To serve your captives' need; To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild-- Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child."

    " The Norton Anthology of English Literature argues the poem is in line with Kipling's strong imperialism and a belief of a "Divine Burden to reign God's Empire on Earth." [2] According to Steve Sailer, however, writer John Derbyshire has described Kipling as "an imperialist utterly without illusions about what being an imperialist actually means. Which, in some ways, means that he was not really an imperialist at all."[20]"


    The premise is that the cosmicist horror in Lovecraft's fiction reflects his own horror at the universe. I'm not at all sure that's correct; IIRC, peple on who claim to have studied Lovecraft scholarlily say he was quite keen on and enthusiastic about modern science. We've all heard that it's risky to discern an author's political views from their fiction, right? Same applies elsewhere. There are apparently something like 20,000 surviving letters by Lovecraft; reading those would probably be more informative about what he really thought.

    Wikipedia doesn't clear up the matter, but does say he was an amateur astronomer, and 'Lovecraft made no bones about being a strong and antireligious atheist; he considered religion not merely false but dangerous to social and political progress."[7] As such, Lovecraft's cosmicism is not religious at all, but rather a version of his mechanistic materialism." Lovecraft thus embraced a philosophy of cosmic indifferentism.' Indifferentism is contrasted with pessimism.

    From this perspective, his stories might not be about what horrified him but about trolling his generally religious readers.

    The Great Old Ones are not supernatural gods but extraterrestrials of vast age and power. The concept of the Singularity wasn't around but with a squint the Singularitarian Lovecraft could be Lovecraft. "Humanity would become as the Great Old ones..."

    Certainly was informed: "Another inspiration came from a completely different source: scientific progress in biology, astronomy, geology, and physics. His study of science contributed to Lovecraft's view of the human race as insignificant, powerless, and doomed in a materialistic and mechanistic universe. Lovecraft was a keen amateur astronomer from his youth, often visiting the Ladd Observatory in Providence, and penning numerous astronomical articles for local newspapers. His astronomical telescope is now housed in the rooms of the August Derleth Society."


    Oh, and also...

    Chief Bosambo (Paul Robeson) in good voice, rallying his tribe’s people...

    “Stamp them into the Dust into the Dust ..."

    Call it Shock and Awe?

    Though I find these stories underlying social attitudes utterly repellent never the less - although I read them as public library books in the 1950s, before teenagers were invented - I still remember them and quite a few episodes from them.

    Never underestimate the sheer POWER of fiction.


    Your point is correct about it being in SF and movies. The corollary being that most people think it's fiction, and very few indeed have considered the consequences of it being reality.



    So here's Divided by Infinity by Hugo-winning SF author Robert Charles Wilson, a short story which will hopefully scare the crap out of you. Because it takes the multiverse idea to its logical conclusion, which may not be anywhere you want to go.


    Ahh, but my point, maybe I wasn't clear enough, is that even if you can mathematically prove that this is a multiverse, unless you can either see what is happening in other universes or travel to them, it might as well just be fiction and of no relevance to most people's lives and thus won't actually have any effect. I do get the impression that the meaning of relativity and quantum stuff really only affected susceptible types, and had little effect on normal people, perhaps most when they read populistic books on the topic. I'm sure that multiverse theory will provoke a bunch of wooo books on the topic too, with all flavours of religious and philosophical silliness.


    Or (and please forgive the fucked up pics and formatting - we have moved onto another site and will close this down when the move is complete):


    I refer you to my article "Quantum Suicide - Killing Yourself For Fun and Profit".

    I strongly suspect this has already been tried, but the true cause of the deaths not publicized (unlike the deaths themselves, in the Daily Mail). Given that there was a spate of teenage girls in China killing themselves hoping to be reincarnated into a better life, you can probably understand why.


    I'm afraid I read the entire thing as a joke, so it doesn't work on me. I'm entirely open to the idea of there being a multiverse; I even wrote a short story about 13 years ago where the viewpoint character starts to become aware of the splitting points and goes a bit mad as a result. But none of what you have said means anything because of lack of evidence and relations to current reality.


    Which begs the question (in the new meaning of the phrase) - what happens if/when there is evidence? What is needed to bring it into the media spotlight? A mass suicide cult?


    Chiming in horribly late here, but it occurred to me that another cultural current might have also influenced him: Freud and the Psychoanalytic movement in general.

    Running through his stories is a horror of people not being who or what they thought they were, e.g. "The Outsider" and "Shadow over Innsmouth".

    Perhaps he felt the certainties of both the inner and the outer worlds crumble...


    It seems unlikely. I've just been reading Michel Houellebecq's 'H P Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life' and happen to have it to hand. Lovecraft's view of Freud is dismissive: 'puerile symbolism'.


    I know at least some egyptologists meet up to watch old mummy movies. No idea if there are some ethnologists/africanists doing the same with some old Tarzan movies, but knowing some of the guys[1], I wouldn't be that surprised.

    Not to speak of the CSI Arkham group we formed in the last row of an seminar on scientific methods in archaeology[2], though...

    [1] Quite good at singing Maori warsongs in translation, BTW [2] In my case, occupational therapy for depressed biology students.


    Mate, I think I can safely call myself an Africanist and even an "ethnologist", and I can also say that I know a lot of people in both trades. . . and I can honestly say that I have never, ever, come across any fans of Johnny Weissmuller and his leopardskin swimming togs.

    I do know some archaeologists who are fans of Indiana Jones, though - but not the second or fourth films (the second because it's racist tripe, the fourth because it's a travesty of the original trilogy).


    Hm, you have been initiated in the funs of ironic perception, have you? It's something of a mental defence you acquire when reading primary sources, even if it's one of the big names:

    Come to think about it, who's to know which dirty words Tarzan is using on the Africans, having been taught they are numerals...


    Well, I've always found the suicide cult possibilities of Christianity to be quite interesting to explore. When I first started reading about other religions and afterlives, I was struck by how bleak many were. You want to talk about grim meathook, look no further than the Sumerian take on it! Death was something to forestall as long as possible. Chattel slavery was a walk in the park compared to that.

    The Christian heaven is paradise, it is wish-fulfillment and if you truly believe you are going there, why wait? I had an unproven theory that the original version of Christianity had no suicide prohibition and thus there was a rash of it from new converts. The dogma was amended to correct for the self-termination bug and all references were scrubbed from the historic record due to the embarrassment factor.

    Just because we all live in an era created and shaped by the inventions of the rationalists does not mean the majority of the inhabitants must be rational. Just marvel that satellite broadcasts are used to beam the sermons of of creationist televangelists around the world.


    Post-singulatarian Lovecraftian horror? Try Steven Barnes's The Armies of Memory.


    Oddly enough, that link points to John Barnes's book of the same name.

    (Steven Barnes is the writer who worked with Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. They both write SF, but John seems to write weirder stuff. Such as Nfinity. Which got very odd.)


    who's to know which dirty words Tarzan is using on the Africans, having been taught they are numerals...

    That reminds me of an old ?myth? about the Lone Ranger (pre-Johnny Depp version). He had a native companion known as Tonto who addressed him as "kimosabe". The theory was that kimosabe was a native word for "horse's ass".

    P.S. the Spanish word for dumbass is "tonto".


    Well, if we are wondering about Angst because all our bases of knowledge are shaky, it might be time to start again. It appears that a recently discovered mathematical object (Or class of objects) called the Amplituhedron can render previously almost or completely insoluble QM problems tractable - down to a couple of lines of algebra, compared to hundereds of Feynman diagrams. There is the hope that this approach may lead to possible solutions of the Quantum Gravity problems, where QM & GR conflict. For more general information see here, too Very interesting!


    A horror of what one really is?

    Does that mean I don't know that I am a member of the Conservative Party, and I falsely identified David Cameron to Google as a spammer?


    I would suggest that spam is "any e-mail you do not wish to receive", and by that test most messages from "Call Me Dave" are spam, unless you're actually a meatspace friend of his.


    A typically rationalistic explanation, and as usual well thought out. The eldritch horrors at the core of Lovecraft's dread seem to arise from a place different from the engineering-type changes of scale that Charles remarks upon, however.

    Personally I'd opt for an alternative explanation: what terrified HPL was what terrifies us all, entropy. The superb short story "Nyarlathotep" essentially focuses that terror down to a laser beam pinpoint. And it's a valid fear. Entropy will eventually rot your body, if you're unlucky it will erode your brain with Alzheimer's, and along the way entropy will also trash all the people and places you've come to know and love.

    So I'd suggest that the whole Cthulhu mythos is just a mask for HPL's real fear: the second law of thermodynamics.


    On the topic of singularitarian Lovecraftian fiction, my mind is jumping hoops over the possibilities of injecting the Allied Mastercomputer from Harlan Ellison's I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, into the world of the Laundry Files where magic is simply a branch of applied mathematics. The possibilities of horrifically terrible outcomes resulting from such a mashup are simply delectable.


    If you want Singularitarian Lovecraftian fiction... how about Vinge?

    Consider the revelations in Tatja Grimm's World. Consider the Blight.

    Oh, and Stoddard's comment @ 71, about an 'optimistic Lovecraft', made me think.

    Which statement is scarier?

    "Lovecraft was an optimist", "Kafka was an optimist", "Nietzsche was an optimist", or "Oppenheimer was an optimist"?


    'Mongoose' by Sarah Monette and Elizabrth Bear is not a singularity piece; however, it is one of the most intriguing Lovecraft SciFi pieces I've read outside of 'Discovery of the Ghooric Zone' by Richard Lupoff.


    Where is the Singularly Lovecraft?

    Simple-it's the same place where and the same reason why there's not going to be a third book in the whole "Halting State" universe.

    By the time a writer has figured out what part of the transcendental horror that the new technology has generated, somebody has patented it, licensed it, produced a million copies, retired to a villa in the South of France or in the Sierras, and somebody is pirating copies of it in a factory run by the Chinese Army outside of Shanghai.

    Six months from now, it'll be a joke on Have I Got News For You.


    Where is the singularitarian Lovecraft?

    Charles, you might be familiar with the Eclipse Phase RP Game... that's the closer singularitarian Lovecraft you can find today.


    Really? Philosophical meditation on technical points of astronomy? So these life experiences could not possibly have played a role:

  • Possible hereditary mental instability - his father was institutionalized when Lovecraft was three and spent the rest of his life in an asylum. His mother died at the end of a lifetime of hysteria and depression -- probably bipolar.

  • Almost his entire childhood was spent in isolation due to an overbearing mother's concern for various real and imaginary illnesses.

  • He had a lifelong sleep disorder, night terrors.

  • All of that pales in comparison to the Astrophysical Journal?

    BTW, singularity authors, Lovecraftian or otherwise, are not something that interests me because they are misguided. Belief in an approaching singularity depends on the recurrent human mistake that growth which is approximately exponential in its early stages will continue to be exponential until the end of time, despite the fact that this has never panned out. It never pans out because belief in exponential growth ignores the existence of resource constraints.

    There are always resource constraints.



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