Friday, April 22, 2011
Many have tried to blend H.P. Lovecraft's unique cosmic horror with traditional science fiction, but arguably, only a few have succeeded. The best Lovecraftian sci-fi tales go beyond Mythos name dropping with futuristic elements. These scant wins are usually blended into the pages of anthologies like Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and The New Lovecraft Circle.
Other writers, such as Livia Llewellyn and Mark Samuels, add Lovecraftian elements to their black science fiction. The Engines of Desire and The Man Who Collected Machen are two recent publications with stories cross-breeding the Lovecraftian with darkly imagined futures. Now, as Innsmouth Free Press is soliciting submissions for an anthology called Future Lovecraft, it's worth pondering what good Lovecraftian science fiction is.
The divide between H.P. Lovecraft the science fiction author and the horror writer is a historic and deep one. Today, many remain most drawn to his horrors, his bleak view of an indifferent universe, and his powerful wordsmithing. Weird fiction purists regularly argue that Lovecraft's more ambiguous, dream-like stories such as "The Music of Erich Zann" and "The Colour Out of Space" represent his greatest talents. But there's little denying the draw of his scientific horrors.
In fact, "At the Mountains of Madness," considered by S.T. Joshi and other scholars to be Lovecraft's finest use of scientific realism, came dangerously close to being a major Hollywood film. This story's prehistoric Antarctic horrors are very tangible, as much as the mental time travel seen in "The Shadow Out of Time," or the occult mathematics from "The Dreams in the Witch House." The magnetic draw of these stories for fans, as well as the fact that they represent late Lovecraft's writing abilities at their height, proves there is a real demand for sci-fi with a Cthulhu or cosmic component.
H.P. Lovecraft was never averse to using fantastic science fiction elements like extraterrestrials and time travel when it suited him. He always aimed to provoke a sense of frightful awe at existence, frequently accompanied by the realization of mankind's puny place inside a machine filled with indifferent or hostile natural phenomena. So, it seems to stand that Lovecraftian science fiction must echo a sense of terrible marvel. This atmospheric aspect may even make or break a good tale, and probably can't be overtaken with incredible gadgets, Mythos monsters, or exotic locales, however imaginative.
Curiously, the Lovecraftian sci-fi aesthetic pulses just as strongly outside literature, possibly more so. Games like Cthulhutech and films such as Ridley Scott's Alien warp already dystopian futures into starkly nightmarish realities by drawing on Lovecraft's work. Innsmouth Free Press' prospective anthology, Future Lovecraft, promises to give literary horror junkies a cohesive sampling of Lovecraftian sci-fi to pour over. Unintentionally, perhaps, this book may shed new light on what it really means to bring H.P. Lovecraft's vision into the stars, across time, or onto strange worlds.