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Dr Strangecraft, I presume?

Existential horror: it's not just for breakfast.

H. P. Lovecraft didn't invent horror, but he pretty much pioneered the first open-source horror mythos; a universe mind-bogglingly ancient and vast (he had Edwin Hubble's cosmology to work with, not Bishop Usher's), populated by mind-numbingly alien beings, around whose feet we are as dust. And in this eschatology Lovecraft found room for a particularly chilling apocalyptic resonance; for one day, when the stars are right, that which is not dead but sleeping will awaken and return to earth, there to impose its unspeakable and nightmarish will upon those of us who survive. Or something like that.

Sort of like this.

It occurs to me that the return of the Old Ones in the Lovecraftian mythos shares quite a lot of things with the other hoary staples of western mythology; of Armageddon and Apocalypse, of the fear of total nuclear annihilation that those of my generation grew up with, even — to pull a science-fictional twist — of the singularity (which isn't known as the rapture of the nerds for nothing).

There are some subtle differences, of course. As with the singularity, what comes after the stars come right is inconceivable by default: we are no longer the dominant species in the intellectual food chain, able to map out and name the universe around us — we are, in fact, as dust beneath their feet. In contrast, the end times of Christian eschatology are fairly extensively described (idyllic heavenly whatever for the godly, eternal boiling sulphur for the rest of us). Thermonuclear armageddon tends towards the justified-punishment-of-the-sinners in fiction; what comes after is described in gruesome detail (for example in Threads or A Canticle for Liebowitz).

But is it good horror?

My take on horror is that it is a branch of literature that reflects the human condition distorted almost out of recognition. It's there to tell us something about ourselves — frequently something unpleasant (although there is scope for redemptive messages if the author is so inclined.)

You can apply horror to just about any other fictional form by spray-painting it with a thin wash of atomized blood. Weirdly enough, in this respect horror works just like humour; you can write humorous fantasy (a hat tip to Sir Terry here), or humorous romance, or humorous hard-boiled detective stories. So why not layer the two tints? Spray horror atop humour, or vice versa, to add a sick laugh at the apocalypse in order to bring it back to earth in the fertile soil of human concerns. It worked for Stanley Kubrick in Dr. Strangelove, one of my favourite movies; it's also the material I was working with in "The Atrocity Archives" and "The Jennifer Morgue".

The former of those novels started out with a dry run in 1998, a short story titled A Colder War. There's nothing terribly funny about "A Colder War": I was groping in the dark for a way to express the alienating horror of nuclear annihilation that I'd grown up with, and Lovecraft's monsters came perfectly to hand. The existential dread they evoke is not so alien to those of us who lived through the original Cold War. But I couldn't write a whole novel in that key — there's no redemptive message in a holocaust without survivors. Hence the leavening of dark humour in "The Atrocity Archives", and the somewhat lighter tone of "The Jennifer Morgue".

For some reason I don't want to examine too deeply, I'm rather attached to those two novels — to the extent of having written a third, and having vague plans for at least two more. But schoolboy humour isn't enough to sustain or motivate a series work, so I've been floundering around looking for thematic lessons to bolt atop the structure of the Laundry series. And it occurs to me that the Lovecraftian apocalyptic singularity is underexplored. In a nutshell, it poses this question: what happens when we take the human condition, and twist? You need a topping of gallows humour just to keep it in perspective: humour is a brutal necessity when you're confronting the horrific on a day to day basis (as anyone who hangs out with medics can probably attest).

What's the role of humour in this universe? Well, one might ask what Stanley Kubrick intended when he turned "Dr. Strangelove" into a theatre of the absurd: absurdity is generated by dissonance between a situation and its meaning, and Kubrick used it to viciously anatomize the process of atomic annihilation and hold up the petty and banal motives of its perpetrators to ridicule. But "Dr. Strangelove" didn't laugh at what came after the bomb — it ended, on a double-blind ironic note (singing "We'll meet again" to a background of mushroom clouds). The bomb was the punch-line of the joke, not the set-up. What happens in a survivable apocalypse? Lovecraftian apocalyptic fiction never actually explores the consequences of the Old Ones returning, let alone the human wreckage left behind in the aftermath. It's like the Singularity in SF, circa 2000 — off-limits to exploration.

(Clears throat.) This isn't a manifesto. It's just an explanation of what I've been writing, and what I plan to write more of. It's probably best described by a portmanteau word: Strangelovecraftian (or, if you're in a hurry, Strangecraftian) fiction. It's goal is to use the eschatalogical horror of the Mythos much as recent SF has used the Singularity, to shed light on the human condition under circumstances that warp the soul.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go find a cave to gibber in ...




If you're currently writing on another Laundry novel then your recent absence here is not only excused (as if you need an excuse to live your own life) but encouraged.


Hm, yes, it IS an interesting question. Clearly, the Old Ones aren't omnipotent (unless the sleeping dead is a choice; it may be, but then a curious one), nor omnibenevolent (why would we dread their return if they were) and I am far from sure about the omniscient too.

I also wonder how young ones under a perceived immediate threat of Old Ones Returning views the world? Back in the days of "there may be thermonuclear doom raining from the sky any day now", it felt (to me) sensible to keep track of direction and approximate distance to perceived likely targets and make sure any sudden flash of light would cause an almost-subconcious move into pressure wave shadow, but what is the analogue of that for Old Ones?


Haar: I wrote it last year. It's not due out until 2011, but I've got plans for #4 and #5 in place.

Hint: CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN isn't a brief event, it's an epoch. And it's starting round about now ...


Revealing the potential of an extensive series of Laundry novels was probably unwise. Now, until the day you die, you'll be hounded by rabid fans demanding the next book in the series.

Speaking of... where's that third book?


The Old Ones may have chosen to sleep for a few aeons out of boredom: when you're omnipotent (or nigh so) and immortal (or nigh so)... eventually you may just want to see what interesting things happen after you've let the game run for a while. (Ugh. Bored Cthulhu. Bad for humanity -- we may be as dust, but what do children do with mud piles?)

I'm very curious -- in the Laundryverse -- how the Old Ones and the Dead Gods and the other Spaces and the Deep Ones, etc., all interact. There are levels of power here, with similar-scale gaps between each level, so does Cthulhu have to worry about the return of something as far above it as it is above us?


@Ingvar: I have a prayer candle "For escaping the notice of Cthullhu". That's the best analog I can come up with.


t3knomanser: where's the third book?

The third book is "The Fuller Memorandum", a draft of which is sitting on an editor's in-queue. Unfortunately the contract said it's due in September 2010 -- I wrote it a little bit ahead of schedule -- and it's not due for publication until 2011. It might get pulled forward, but that's not my department.

A common problem in paranormal fiction is that the eschatological background of vampires, werewolves and zombies eventually brings a certain dualistic middle eastern religion front-and-centre, with implications that the authors can't ignore. (In the case of Anne Rice, they ended up toppling over the edge into full-blown born-again Christian fundamentalism; indeed, the seeds of Christianity are visible in many other horror series.)

"The Fuller Memorandum" is the novel in which Bob gets religion, and wishes he hadn't -- because in the Laundryverse there is One True Religion (and we know what to do with nests of Cthulhu cultists when we find them).


I think the reason that the Old Ones are asleep is that in Lovecraft's universe, everyone is subject to the terrible indifference, cruelty and randomness of the universe. That isn't just limited to humans. We're not that special. The cruelty is that no one is above that, not even the Old Ones themselves. If there was a way to transcend that, there'd be actual hope in the universe and we know that isn't possible.


A Lovecraftian survivable apocalypse is described in Neil Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald". One of my favorite short stories, there's a lot of unexplored territory here.


I've seen a few post-Event Mythos stories. In fact, I was inspired enough to try my own (admittedly very amateurish) hand at one:


Suffice it to say that my talents don't match my enthusiasm, but I meant well.


You are so close to what I'm writing Stross but yet so very far. You will weep and whine before you are eaten, again and again like a plastic chew toy. NOW that's eternity. Seriously though you are straying into my territory and I must warn you I'm a rabid Palestinian mullah with a box of bottle rockets when I'm crossed.


Of all your many fine writings, the Laundry series is my favourite.


I know it's not exactly what you mean, but as a kid the book that scared me the most was Raymond Briggs "When the Wind Blows", (a kids graphic novel showing what happens to an old couple after the cold war goes hot).
At the time I was growing up near Cheltenham, at a distance probably just far enough away to ensure an agonising death over a few days (hence my mum kept enough paracetamol in the bathroom cabinet to kill us all, I can't imagine what that must do to a parent). I think this was the first time I realised that I might die any day, and not well either.
For some reson I'm not nearly as scared any more.


I think the reason that the Old Ones are asleep is that in Lovecraft's universe, everyone is subject to the terrible indifference, cruelty and randomness of the universe.

Interestingly there's a theme in horror that revolves around justice. In this mode, if everyone is treated as they deserve then horrific things will happen to them. The Saw films spring to mind as well as some teen-horror films. They say that if people lie, steal, cheat, bully and (especially in teen horror) have sex then they will be punished and it will be terrible. This is saying that the being ignored, and randomness of enforcement is all that makes life liveable.

Or to put it another way, take random cruelty to extremes and we find ourselves in horror; enforce cause/effect and consequence to extremes and we find ourselves again in horror.


Phuzz: speaking as an ex-pharmacist -- paracetamol poisoning is probably as unpleasant and painful as dying of prompt radiation poisoning. But yes, I understand the sentiment: I grew up in Leeds, roughly equidistant from the Vickers tank factory and the M1/M62 junction and a major railway station and a regional airport. All single-digit miles away, and all of them strategic targets.


After reading my wife's literature papers made me read a book named "Orientalism," I think I came to understand - IMHO, Lovecraft was playing on the fears of widespread imperial revolt that imperialism entailed. Much, much more (too much?) here


Jon: you missed out Lovecraft's screaming sex-phobia, intense dislike of and contempt for the modern age, and the overt racism (which, I should note, was not that unusual for the time). But yes, there's a chunk of that in his work.

Doesn't stop us misappropriating it for our own purposes, of course.


jesus... that comic gave me cold shivers.

but only because the format is exactly the one used by some born-again publishing house in the 1980s.

it was like a weird trip back into my past.

and the old ones might be asleep because it's immortal "night-time". everyone needs a kip now and then.



When it comes to survivable apocalypses, it seems to me that the best option is to run and hide. The ideal place would be so boring to the overpowering horrors of the misanthropic universe, that they choose to devour someplace else instead.

Consider the palpable layer of mundanity in Bob Howard's bureaucratic, post-socialist, ISO-9000 certified agency. We're explicitly told that the red tape gets in the way of Bob's efforts to save the world. Now why would the Laundry, which must be headed by some fairly bright people, encourage such a counter-productive atmosphere? What purpose can such a thing serve? What method to their madness?

My hypothesis is that the Laundry's obsession with process is an extended necromantic (narcoleptic?) ritual to put the Old Ones back to sleep. Someone must have weighed the dehumanization of Total Quality Management practices against the horror of being eaten by Hastur, and decided that one was at least no worse than the other.

In short, you can hide from Chtulu, but it means standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles for the rest of your life.

How's that for gallows humor?



> What happens in a survivable apocalypse?

Has anyone ever asked and written down the account of survivers of a survivable apocalypse yet? Thinking of the Aztecs, Inka, Australian or even Tasmanian Aboriginals (probably the least developed group of people ever found) or the population of New Guinea that was only discovered in 1930 (so some who lived to see the change are probably still alive).

The questions of "the old ones" returning (from anywhere but earth) is probably a matter of basic genetic and cultural compatibility as well as the question of how did they come here? How many are they? Will there be more to come? Will they stay?

What would happen if, say, a generation ship, started 1000 years ago, reaches earth from some star system not too far away. The inhabitants, all 2734 of them, find themselves confronted with a shockingly advanced (relatively speaking) civilisation that they may subdue with their advanced technology but would still be a considerable threat to them. Of course, they are out of fuel (say, enriched uranium or plutonium plus some lithium would do fine for an orion class spaceship). Now, even if they are supplied with fuel (also ridding earth of some surplus nuclear weapons) and return, the impact would be rather significant (also because of the question if they'll come back 2000 years later ...). What happens in the meantime? What happens the second time around?

This sort of thing probably happened to several peoples over the ages that were confronted with discoverers on remote islands (from a european perspective anyway) that would not be revisited for another century or so. So, it's probably not without a precedence.


"Strangelovecraftian (or, if you're in a hurry, Strangecraftian)"

So, if you're in a hurry, you have no time for love? Brr.


Mars Guy Phil: there is a reason for the Laundry bureaucracy and QA standards and internal audits, but you have not found it. Suffice to say, it's a lot nastier. (The paperclip audits are explained in book #3, but the rationale behind the bureaucratic excess will take a few more books to explore ...)


@tp1024 ummm... you might find that tasmanian aboriginals were some of the most adapted humans. perfect exploitation of available resources.

lack of quadropeds and metals doesn't mean "undeveloped".


Talking of personal horror, have you seen entry #13 in this list?



che tibby @24 - I could be wrong but I disagree with perfect exploitation of resources. From memory Tasmanian Aborigines didn't have needles and sewing, barbed spears or harpoons or boats capable of crossing the Bass strait. There was certainly room for improvement in their fishing. Compare with other stone age cultures (Inuit, Polynesian) using similar materials.


neil @25. reasonable call. will withdraw jerky knee.


Humor can be used in an attempt to reduce a really horrible situation to human dimensions to overcome the feeling of lack of control that people feel in any sort of large-scale disaster. Humor is also used as a weapon against totalitarian regimes, in which people feel a lack of control. And those regimes often act as if humor were the one weapon that can hurt them.

So how do Cthulhu, Hastur, et. al. react to humor? Do they just not notice, or does it sting somehow? Seems like HPL's protagonists never tried; maybe Bob is onto something here.


Charlie, you taunt us with even more Laundry stories. Poking the happy fun readers who are already salivating themselves into the year 2011?
By the time we read about CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN we may be living it, darn you!

Dark humor is a personal favorite. I feel it fits extremely well into the post-apocalyptic world, as gallows humor has a long tradition. I got the end of the cold war era - the knowledge that NORAD was up the river and Los Alamos was right where the jetstream would push the fallout plume overhead.


In case you haven't seen it, Tor.com has a Laundry story that might assuage the cravings.


It's worthwhile pointing out the rather harrowing "World War Z" here. Max Brooks thought long and hard about what a plague of flesh-eating zombies would actually mean.

The testimony from the survivor 'Sharon" is heartbreaking, and the Redeker Plan so coldly compelling that I had to keep reminding myself I was just reading stupid zombie fiction.


The ideal place would be so boring to the overpowering horrors of the misanthropic universe, that they choose to devour someplace else instead.

The Grey Man...

Mind you, post-apocalyptic survival is officially Just Another Meme. Moorcock's Comfy Apocalypse being exhibit-A; there should perhaps be a name for the UN-runs-everything-from-congenial-semitropical-HQ version. The American Gothic Teh! Apocalypse! I burned the mall! Mall! version is a cliche too.

I'm about to read Doris Lessing's The Four-Gated City. Having read the rest of the series with absorption, flicking ahead, I'm disappointed to see that the future (at the time) section seems to do Those Awful Kids, I'll Read The Daily Mail And Believe It/Heath'n'Wilson==Hitler British 70s Dystopia followed by Comfy Clipse. Yawn.


I think you hit upon the same spirit in "Missle Gap", minus the occult elements.


So, laundry;
2004; 2006; 2011;
can one therefore extend the series n=(((n-1)-(n-2))+3) to 2019; 2030;
for books four and five?
You're a comparatively young man, but we're beginning to press on my life expectancy. Who do you think you are, Wagner?


I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that studies have shown that the "sick laugh" response is actually a predictable, reproducible response to abject horror, indicating that we need it to survive, so as not to remain in paralysis (and therefore danger) for too long. Of course it's hard to extrapolate backward regarding the nature of the early brain, but your question about the nature and use of horror and its relationship to humour sounds like the beginnings of a good evolutionary psychology abstract.

What would be genuinely funny is if the Old Ones were killed by our laughter, much as Tinkerbell is resurrected through our applause, and that the secret to our survival was forcing out giggles and guffaws as these unknowable eldritch horrors slowly putresced their way into another dimension.


The Old Ones sleep because, being eternal and omnivoracious, if they don't sleep, they run out of gooshy food -- that would be us; also the redwoods and the skinks and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air -- and wind up gnawing on the crust, with lamentable results. (There are places on the east coast of Hudson's Bay you can see the tooth marks, 2.5 billion years old, more or less.)

Old ones that can't sleep have been removed by the compassionate hand of natural selection; old ones that do sleep have a very limited (and highly competitive) time frame in which to devour, grow fat, breed, and spawn. Then they fall back asleep, in a resource depleted planet.

The spawn gets cast out into space; there are other worlds, delicate and scrumptious.

Of course, there are other worlds with old ones, too; sometimes their spawn falls on this one. Usually it winds up as a snack for the incumbents, but not always...

Sometimes it hides.

Sometimes it evolves.


David Brin touched on the theme of "humor vs. the Whatever From Beyond The Stars" in his story Thor Meets Captain America; coincidentally enough, I found that via the same Crooked Timber thread that got me reading A Colder War (which it's definitely comparable to) and the rest of our host's stuff.


I remember a post Lovecraftianish apocalypse written by Thomas M. Disch named "White Fang Goes Dingo" and "The Puppies of Terra" (the are roughly the same story, but Puppies is expanded if I remember correctly). I read them both in a book named "The Early Science Fiction Stories of Thomas M. Disch". Basic plot line was inconceivably advanced aliens have conquered Earth and made humanity into pets.


There are stories in which we are the Old Ones. Of those I've read, I consider Colin Kapp's The Transfinite Man best.


I've wrotten elsewhere about Lovecraft's Astronomy (from my august position as ex-Astronomy Professor). I've also written about the question of WHICH people were parodied as "Dr. Strangelove" -- and the fact that the word "Megadeath" which appears in Kubrick's film was coined by one of my mentors, the late Dr. Herman Kahn.

As to Lovecraft's language, allow me to excerpt from:

The Poetry of H. P. LOVECRAFT by L. Sprague de Camp (as edited by Jonathan Vos Post) (with written permission from L. Sprague de Camp)

Born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island, in a 15-room room home and a 2,000 book library, H. P. Lovecraft force-fed himself upon "the magic of forgotten days" -- Dryden, Pope, Thomson, Ovid, Horace -- thus accounting for both the strengths and manifest weaknesses of his fantasy poetry.

"As a small child, Lovecraft showed a precocious ability to memorize poetry and at six began composing rhymed jingles. These, he said later, were so bad that even he was aware of their faults and set about improving himself. He learned his rules of versification from Abner Alden's Reader of 1797, which his great-grandfather had used as a schoolbook and which he found in the attic in 1897.... He tried to purge his speech of post-Colonial words and expressions... 'I think I am probably the only living person to whom the ancient 18th century idiom is actually a prose & poetic mother-tongue .... the naturally accepted norm, & the basic language of reality to which I instinctively revert...'." [LAB, 22]

Needless to say, the 18th century language is NOT the "basic language of reality" in the scientific idiom of the 20th century, thus almost always limiting Lovecraft's prose and poetry alike to the Fantasy side of the Science Fiction & Fantasy continuum, in my opinion, even when the subject is science fictional.


I think youre all too late, actually.

Uncle (Sir) Terry got there FIRST.


Woot, bring on more Laundry stories!

That Cthulhu tract has just been passed round my office to unanimous approval, it's spot on. Already got a hell of a Chthulhu/squid/tribal tattoo ready to cover most of my back if this contract ends up going permanent at the end of this month. Can't wait...

Big up to the guy who mentioned World War Z, I loved the book and was equally impressed by the audio book. The stories are so rich and varied it's well worth a read for anyone who hasn't picked it up. I was gutted to hear it's getting the Hollywood treatment, always hoped they could do something like Masters Of Horror with it - turn each chapter into an individual hour-long feature with it's own director, cast, etc. After all the stories aren't connected by anything other than chronology, they should all have a different look to match the wildly different atmospheres. Now we're just going to get a generic, by-the-numbers zombie flick, probably involving Will Smith and a happy ending where mankind is saved by a legion of angels or something.

Oops, started ranting, apologies...


Given that the Laundry is part of the UK machinery of state, the question 'why all the pointless bureaucracy' answers itself: that stuff turns up automatically, and always has, as part of civil servants' desire to increase their armies of brainwashed servants.

If they didn't have pointless, mind-numbing bureaucracy, the Laundry books would be implausible fantasy. As it is, *shiver*


Huh. I thought that A Colder War was essentially a singularity with human survivors, most of which haven't yet realised the implications of what has just happened.

To put it another way, there are philosophical grounds for arguing that we must be living in a giant simulation. If this is the case then we are living in Lovecraft's universe: we are subject to unfathomable whims of infinitely powerful creatures who have no more compassion for us than we would have for, say, the state of the twelve-millionth bit in the fifty-seventh iteration of a program. It isn't just that escape is impossible: it is literally meaningless.

Your protagonist has very good reason to suspect that something similar is the case. He hopes it isn't, but he recognises that his life will almost certainly end in a nasty surprise. And if he's right in his suspicions then even suicide would be no way out - he might be resurrected, or recreated in another simulation, or there might already be an infinite number of replicas of him in existence, still suffering. No hope, and things will inevitably get worse. Now, that's existential dread!



Given that the writer of WWZ is going to be JMS of babylon 5 fame I think it may be better than you fear. Changeling was a reasonably intelligent movie.


I am tempted to stir Ezra Pound into the mix:

"The Old Ones have not returned."
They never left.


You all seem to believe that Lovecraft was telling the truth when he claimed that I am sleeping.


Nix @ #42:

"as part of civil servants' desire to increase their armies of brainwashed servants" is especially chilling, considering the abilities of the Laundry staff.


I've been working on an interesting reason for Lovecraft writing what he did, when he did. He was reflecting the intellectual turmoil of the time, in a pretty straightforward way.

In the late nineteenth century, all seemed well. War amongst the civilised nations was starting to be managed, stable and reasonable government was breaking out in many places, and we were starting to really understand the world. Or so it seemed. Elderly, but eniminent scientists were starting to reckon that physics would be finished soon; there was clearly a lot more to be learned in biochemistry, but, hey, it's just chemistry. No fundamental problem.

Then along came radioactivity, which made no sense in Newton's clockwork universe; quantum mechanics, needed to keep that universe running, but making no sense; relativity, which disposed of things like a stable frame of reference, and Euclidian space; and to cap it all, Godel's Theorem, destroying the attempt to rebuild mathematics on a sound theoretical basis.

From a world that seemed throughly explainable, even if the details were all known yet, we found ourseves somewhere that lots of things were truly unknowable. Not undiscovered, not difficult to predict without more information, but demonstrably beyond the ken of anyone and anything.

Add to that the horrors of WWI, when we discovered what we could do to ourselves in the name of principle and patriotism, with God surely on our side - or so the churches told everyone - and without a colonial distancing to dilute it. Suddenly, the idea of a hostile universe, ruled, if at all, by beings that would destroy the mind of anyone who apprehended them, isn't that big a jump.

Changing "unknowable because the universe won't co-operate" into "unknowable because your mind can't take it" isn't that big a leap as a human reaction, and far better as fiction.



>and we know what to do with nests of Cthulhu cultists when we find them

Having read pretty much everything Lovecraft ever wrote, and not having read everything you've written, there may be open berthing in Guantanamo shortly, although I somehow doubt that you are as kind in the Laundryverse.

It's time for that trip to Barnes and Noble that I've been putting off for quite some time now.



With regards to the Fuller Memorandum is it still inspired/an homage to Anthony Price's David Audley books or, as the title seems to hint, Adam Hall's Quiller?


This probably does not help on your more limited project, but to comment on the basic nature of Lovecraft's horror: I think HPL took a big leap forward in one of his last works, At the Mountains of Madness. There the apocalypse was surviving past meaning: the scale of time and space just overwhelms any intellect, even the vastly superior ones of the rugose cones. Their civilization just sort of erodes away, until the formless basic building blocks of their material culture, the shoggoths dissolve the etiolated surviviors. He went from: the horror is big scary things between the stars to the horror is between the stars itself. Or as the sainted Douglas said, the first thing to say about space is: it's BIG...


Jim @50: yes, it was originally going to be an Adam Hall hommage ... but then I caught a bad dose of Anthony Price. However, Major-General J. F. C. Fuller (Ret) had sneaked into the plot mechanics by that point, and the title pun was just too good to throw away. So it riffs off Anthony Price (if Anthony Price wrote Lovecraftian Horror in the 21st century).



Ah that explains it-it was the Memorandum part that reminded me of Quiller.


For some reason I don't want to examine too deeply, I'm rather attached to those two novels

Glad to hear it - they're definitely my favourites of your work so far. =)


Soon Lee@29:
Unfortunately, been there already. Definitely appreciate Tor.com and Charlie for putting it out there, to help me stave off the shakes during the detox stage. I hit a wall with new pieces I want to read, and must wait Richard K Morgan's new release in the US, amongst a few others.
Back to the re-reads I guess, for the time being!


If universe is indifferent, why Cthulhu is humanoid?

Or perhaps humans are cthulhoid? Which is even awesomer.


Charlie, when researching Fuller, did you get to see his letters from Crowley at the Liddell-Hart Centre?
Fun reading - I was on a YOPS scheme there years back and read the Fuller-Crowley letters in my lunchbreak.


Anatoly @56: If this seems humanoid to you, I'd hate to visit your neighbourhood after dark.


Graydon @35, excellent!

Greg @40, did you see Terry has been fitted for a new hat that experiments indicate may slow or even somewhat reverse Alzheimer's?


Actually, a lot of geeks wonder about the post apocalytpic world every day. Look up Cthulhutech, a tabletop RPG about battling mythos nasties with mecha empowered by the same mystical science they use. Imagine the laundry with 100 years of good R&D and some anime thrown in. I've not played it, but it sounds fun.

Also, take a look at the zombie short film I love Sarah Jane


@ 51:
"...the horror is big scary things between the stars to the horror is between the stars itself."

Oh, dear, really!

Game of Rat and Dragon, anyone?

I've got a supervillain's white tom-kitten, who is ONLY TOO READY to play.
Name of Ratatosk since he seems to be ready and able to carry messages between the over-middle-and-underworlds.

He looks something like these: Only even cuter .....


Sorry about that ...

@ 51 - the horror is the space between the stars (ish), well ....
For the Game of Rat and Dragon, try playing against
Ratatosk here, and oh -

Note the Cordwainer Smith instruction texts behind him ....


Gran Morrison's Zenith series had a pretty good post-Lloigor world. Copywrite lunacies mean that it is only available...stealthily



Cordwainer is 1950's; Mountains is 1930's. And quite frankly I don't think Rat and Dragon really addressed the idea that the scale of the universe itself was going to dwarf any conceivable intellect/species over the course of Deep Time. No matter how advanced it becomes, eventually it is just going to fizzle out or morph into something unrecognizable from the original. Bruce Sterling might have found a way around this when he invented a spacefaring species that only develops self cognizant intelligence when circumstances require. And of course, Peter Watts pushed related concepts to a psychotic extreme in Blindsight.


I remember that Brian Lumley had some strange perspectives on Cthulhoid horror in his Titus Crow books. Maybe someone else can remember what his specific conceit was?


Alan Dean Foster's hero in the book Parallelities ended up in a post Lovecraftian Apocalypse world at one point. It was very interesting. Everyone went to work as normal and the police were replaced by Shoggoths :)


63: yes, what on earth happened there? Very annoying.


I just always assumed there WAS no "after" once the Great Old Ones returned... that it wasn't necessarily instantaneous, but that it pretty much meant the end of human life in short order.


James Reynolds @58:

Two legs, two arms, two eyes, walking upright. Its humanoid.

Four fingers, though. Hmm... its disney humanoid.


JustAnotherMe @68:

I've occasionally wondered how long it would be before you humans went extinct after the Return of the Great Old Ones / Elder Gods. From my researches, I've found that a majority (63.1%) of humans who have a GOO/EG close encounter go catatonic; the remainder either commit suicide (20.7%) or are frightened to death (13.4%). Only a very few (2.8%) become psychotic cultists who attempt to worship their GOO/EG overlords.

There would be a few humans who didn't immediately perceive the GOOs/EGs and thus did not go insane or die as outlined above; however, since human "civilization" immediately collapses after the Return, those humans would quickly find themselves scrounging for food as they tried to avoid becoming Shoggoth-chow. Not pretty for you guys, but the universe is, after all, not fair.


Maybe because I had read "A colder war" before I was waiting relatively long before I bought (and read) the Laundry stories. The humourous tint was clearly visible from the inside, but not so clear from the outside. I'm glad my preconception as "horror, don't read" didn't come true.

That said, and totally unrelated: "Strangelovecraftian" hints not only at the bomb and the GOO ((huh, nano-gods, anyone?)), but has some touch of "steamcraft". I.e., the victorian prequel to the laundry.



Alan Dean Foster's hero in the book Parallelities ended up in a post Lovecraftian Apocalypse world at one point. It was very interesting. Everyone went to work as normal and the police were replaced by Shoggoths :)

Posted by: Stephen | January 15, 2009 2:12 PM

63: yes, what on earth happened there? Very annoying.

Posted by: ajay | January 15, 2009 3:24 PM

Accidentally brilliant juxtacommenting.


I am ashamed to say this, but I haven't read any Lovecraft at all...so that being said, what would be the best novel/story for a Lovecraft virgin like myself?


Start with AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS (my favorite). This story, a novella I think, was the longest thing wrote. Everything else I know of is short stories.


What else, anybody?


I've occasionally wondered how long it would be before you humans went extinct after the Return of the Great Old Ones / Elder Gods. From my researches, I've found that a majority (63.1%) of humans who have a GOO/EG close encounter go catatonic; the remainder either commit suicide (20.7%) or are frightened to death (13.4%). Only a very few (2.8%) become psychotic cultists who attempt to worship their GOO/EG overlords.

Dear sweet naive Nyarlathotep.

Modern mankind has been preparing for the ReGOO/EG event for decades now. We have been systematically training our technical, military and government classes in dealing with functioning in the face of suicide-inducing despair, in performing when faced with dread horror, in carrying on and keeping on when faced with Things No Man Should Face. When the ReGOO/EG event occurs, you are in for a horrible shock as we simply pick up guns and blast back, immune to the soul-blasting and brain-numbing effects you so treasure.

Yep, it turns out that the endless avalanche of Powerpoint presentations do have a purpose...


Charlie, I'm really glad that you've seen that Jack Chick-style religious tract that explains so well in an easy to follow cartoon format such forbidden knowledge that is contained in the Cthulhu Mythos. I actually find it kind of cheering to read. What's wrong with me?


There's a much older Cthulhu-themed Jack Chick tract that's been around for a while that you might enjoy.


Lance@73, "Call of Cthulhu", "The Dunwich Horror", "Pickman's Model" are good short stories to get HPL's flavor and style. "At the Mountains of Madness" is also good, but almost novel length. Others include "Shadow Over Innsmouth" & "The Colour From Outer Space". Avoid "Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath" and "Beyond the Walls of Sleep" since those are more Dunsany-esque (Dunsanian?) fantasy rather than horror.


Gotta disagree with the above poster about the novel _Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath_. Yes, it's fantasy more than it is horror but it's still a fantastic read, especially if you enjoy weird fantasy not so grounded in the medieval european mythos.


Oops, that didn't work - trying again - and can I ask Charlie to delete the previous message, as it is meaningless without the picture?
HOWEVER - trying again:

I'm going to rain on this parade ....

Horror, per se. is a complete waste of time, and book-paper.
I think the only reason it gets written is to take peoples minds off REAL horrors, of which we have plenty enough already, thank-you very much.

Never mind the obscenities perpetrated by the "churches" (all religions) up to 1900, just think, if it doesn't hurt too much of all the vileness inflicted on humans, on each other during the past 108 years - usually for asome semi-religous "cause" or other, with the ends "justifying" the means.

That's why, perhaps, Charlie's "laundry" stories are OK (to say the least) they're NOT horror, they're humour - black/gallows humour, to be sure, but they're FUN.

And that reminds me .... Bob Howard's works bus? ... and what was it doing in my neck of the woods?


I have to respectfully disagree with the first part of the above post.

Horror, while perhaps something of a distraction, can provide a safe and controlled way of experiencing the feeling of exhilaration that accompanies the classic fight or flight reaction, thus acting as an outlet for anxiety.

I am a person who has suffered from severe anxiety that builds up, very much the same way that stress does, and have found that the controlled thrills provided by horror (generally in the form of b-movies) greatly improve my ability to cope.
This is especially important because I am highly sensitive and intolerant to the effects anxiolytic drugs.

So, if the matter of the genre's usefulness is in question, I can firmly say that it is useful and even beneficial, in certain instances.

If you simply don't like horror then, by all means, use a Stephen King novel to prop up your wobbly coffee table but please don't accuse it of uselessness.

In other news, I just read Down On the Farm and I loved it!
It's now almost 4:30am so I think I'm going to go to...zzzzz....waffles...


Isn't an apocalypse by definition the end? If this is so, a survivable apocalypse is an oxymoron, isn't it?


Jesse@81: Props to you. My wife suffers from Panic Attacks- yes, a full blown event deserves the capitals. She noticed long ago that reading horror stories seems to bleed off the accumulating pressure at least as well as the medications she is on. One psychologist advised her to to stop reading "those stories" and her attacks got much worse, not better,


Isn't an apocalypse by definition the end? If this is so, a survivable apocalypse is an oxymoron, isn't it?

No. For example, the end of civilization is not necessarily the end of the human species.


PrivateIron@64, you said: "No matter how advanced it becomes, eventually it is just going to fizzle out or morph into something unrecognizable from the original".

Karl Schroeder had a similar point to make from the viewpoint of evolutionary biology in _Permanence_. (Key part of that particular sub-sub-plot-point: an organism that can survive in a given niche without tools is more fit for that niche than one that requires tools to survive there. Extend, considering long-lived technological civilizations to be one or more niches. An excellent book, strongly recommended.)


> There's a much older Cthulhu-themed Jack Chick tract that's been around for a while that you might enjoy.

Oh yeah, that's a good one. If anything, even more Jack Chick-ian. Thanks Todd.


I have to say, after reading Accelerando and Iron Sunrise and liking them very much I was thrilled after discovering the two Laundry books -- as a CS Major you just have to appreciate jokes about Knuth's 4th book :)


The best Lovecraft book? I may be a heretic, but I come back most to reread "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" (originally 'The Madness Out of Time'), with Lovecraft's first realisation of Yog-Sothoth as the perfect embodiment of a chaotic universe within which organic slime had the misfortune to evolve into sentience. Then again, I have a soft spot for Clark Ashton Smith's Mythos stories as well. His Tsathoggua seems to be the only Old One with a sense of humour that genuinely enjoys its work.



Re: Christian Walter @ 82

> Isn't an apocalypse by definition the end? If this is so, a survivable apocalypse is an oxymoron, isn't it?

Strictly speaking, an apocalypse is a revelation, not the end of the world. We conflate the two notions because the Biblical book Revelation (or Apokálypsis in the original Greek), and a whole body of literature like it, is about the end of the world (which does have survivors, by the way).

Apocalyptic literature is not restricted to eschatology. In her book The Rapture Exposed, Barbara Rossing presents an interesting discussion of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" as an example of apocalypse, as Scrooge, like John of Patmos, has a visionary experience which reveals the truth to him, partly in an allegorical form, and with a glimpse of the future.


Edward @89 Strictly speaking, an apocalypse is a revelation...

Meanwhile up at @7:

"The Fuller Memorandum" is the novel in which Bob gets religion, and wishes he hadn't -- because in the Laundryverse there is One True Religion...

Assuming Bob's revelation is survivable, it's still likely to resemble what most people thnk of as an apocalypse.

On the other hand, Sir Terry talks about this in Thief of Time, about how the 4 horsemen would ride out everytime there was a (local) apocalypse - the city sacked, a volcano destroying the island etc. but in each case someone got away.

(Of course this is part of the analogy of the horsemen being like a band so there has to be an audience and as time goes on they pursued solo careers, which is why plagues or wars didn't knock people down quite so far as before)


It might be interesting to do an "everything happens at once" multi-apocalypse cage match: Nuclear war vs Awakening of the Great Old Ones vs Singularity vs interstellar war vs amok nanotech vs Monty Python's Funniest Joke In The World. What would be left might be a function of what hit it in which order.


Anthony: It's been done -- you want to hunt down a copy of "Earthdoom" by Dave Langford and John Grant. (NB: It's been out of print for about 20 years, IIRC -- the warehouse computer remaindered it due to a database keystroke error, about two weeks after it was published.)


Charlie, Abebooks has sellers that say it's print-on-demand, so I emailed Langford to see if I could buy from the printer, or had to buy from the seller. Will report back.


I've dabbled in a bit of horror art myself:


Here's Langford's page on Earthdoom, including how to obtain a copy.


Earthdoom! has been reprinted at least once: I got a new printing of it a couple of years ago. It's a hoot. I think it conflates forty or fifty disaster scenarios into one chaotic and hilariously badly-written plot. The sort of inspired awfulness that only skilled writers can manage. :)

(it has a lot of drinking/counting games in it: e.g. one based around the adjectives used to describe the female characters', er, physical attributes. I'm fairly sure that none are ever repeated, and that every mention of any female character is adjectivally *enhanced*. They get extremely stretched by the end.)


Echoing 89, apocalypse ("unveiling") is really just another way of saying "the Moment of Truth" (as the bullfighters call it) - either when you find out what's really been going on all this time, or when you find out whether your plans will really work. In that sense, every Agatha Christie novel finishes with an apocalypse.


Thanks for the mention of Earthdoom! Since a couple of people have been led to ask me about its availability, here's a link to my web page with details of the 2003 reissue from BeWrite Books.


Go forth! Buy Earthdoom! Doom! Doom! We're all doomed!


In John Carpenter's movie IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, the Old Ones return *through* us -- i.e. humans mutate into Lovecraftian monsters which take over the world...

Throwaway idea: What if you suddenly discovered that this has already happened -- to everybody?


Yngve @98:

Didn't you get the memo? It already has....


Well there The Last Trumpet, by Stephen Mark Rainey. I think the final story in the book deals with what happens after "the stars fell."


@ 102
"Last & First Men" ?????


I just heard that those madmen in the british antarctic survey have been mapping the mountains of madness. I hope shoggoths aren't sensitive to ice penetrating radar.