Some thoughts on HP Lovecraft

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I watched the two movies produced by HPL HS:  The silent Call of Cthulhu, and the black and white Whisperer in the Darkness.

These two stories rekindled an interest in Lovecraft and I dug up some of my old books (I hadn't read a lot of this stuff since 1989-90) and dug into some of my favorite stories.  A few observations:

I don't think much of this would get published today.  At least, not starting where they start.  He has a lot (a LOT) of telling in all his stories.  Although I'm not sure how you would do it any other way, to be honest, so that telling is a bit of a relief-- imagine if he somehow "showed" all the information necessary for "Shadow Out of Time", for example.  Not saying it couldn't be done, and couldn't be done well, but that would be a very very unique stunt to pull off.

Thing is, the telling is a little off-putting, but there is a certain point in all his longer stories where things just begin to flow.  You know all the history (or maybe history) and it just sweeps you along.

As a general rule the great old ones, or whatever you want to call them, don't really make us do anything we didn't want to do in the first place.  The cult of Dagon doesn't MAKE the people of Innsmouth do anything, the people (certain people, at least) of Innsmouth decided that's what they wanted to do.  And they seem to profit from it.  Plenty of fish, plenty of gold (for the right people) and the immortality for your children is a pretty good deal.  Yes, you look pretty bad from a human perspective, but since you lose your human perspective, who cares?  You certainly don't.

Even in the Call of Cthulhu, the cults don't really do that much.  Sure they kind of incompetently do some waaaay-after-the-fact murders (maybe...))but the brutal ritual sacrifice in the Louisiana swamps?  Creatures!  Creatures of the swamp.  Again, we aren't MADE to do anything.  WE want to do it.

More specific:

Call of Cthulhu.  Before I get into this, let me take a brief aside.  When I was studying for the engineering test there was a woman in the class who constantly referred to differential equations as "diffy-Q".  She did this kind of thing with a couple of other things.  She also failed the test (several times, it turns out).  Some quick googling and it appears that it is human nature to give pet names to things we fear, to infantilize them and take some of our fear out of them.  We also do this with things we love, but fear to lose (pets, significant others, children) to deal with the fear of losing them.

I bring all this up because there is an awful lot of pet naming and infantilizing of Cthulhu out there in the world.  Make of it what you will.

CoC is not really a scary story, at least not at first, but does take on a kind of creepy life of its own.  It kind of takes root in your mind.  The way the story is told is odd, notes about anecdotes which refer to things someone saw or read fifteen years before.  In a way it's almost a ludicrous set of coincidences that lead to the big reveal-- which is of course the whole point of the blessed inability of the mind to not truly understand its contents.  Also this is a unique story in that the narrator has zero control over the outcome of the encounter-- in fact, he learns about it all after the fact.  He has no agency whatsoever, he has knowledge, but no power. 

Of course, there is a hint, just the barest hint, that the narrator is not quite the doormat he appears to be.   He does, after all, travel halfway around the world investigating this stuff.  He is young yet, and wealthy, and who knows that he might not try to gain a little agency.  He knows of the existence of the Necronomicon, for example, and has now gained a wide circle of acquaintances...

Also, it seems to me that most of our representations-- images!  graven images!-- of Cthulhu are inaccurate.  Cthulhu does not have eyes.  Lovecraft never misses an opportunity to describe eyes in his work and there is a notable lack of descriptions of Cthulhu's eyes.  Its face, its entire face, is described as a writing mass of tentacles.  Plus, HPL uses a lot of 'blind' language in his descriptions.  Cthulhu 'gropes' and he 'stumbles' and such. 

Also, Chtulhu is not fond of the water.  It hesitates at the water's edge before going in after the ship.  So all of Dereleth's ideas that Cthulhu is a water-god are bunk.  Bunk!  It is the water that traps him. 

Shadow Out of Time:  I like this one, but at a certain point I feel that HPL actually had diminishing goals on it.  All the odd things that happen to the narrator when the Yithian possesses him, there could have been a number of great subplots made out of that. 

Thing is, this is one of those stories where HPL has a character learn of a gruesome impossible history that they don't believe, only to find out in the end that it is true, it's all true!  Also, he uses the idea of an ancient race (in this case the Yithians) opposed to another ancient race (the Flying Polyps)-- these are themes that he leans on pretty heavily. 

One thing is that on re-reading it I think the protagonist of this story is well past madness before he ever goes to Australia.  Maybe madness isn't the right word, a kind of insane level of denial-- and that makes it that much more realistic story, in a way. 

We tend to deny things that we don't like, that we fear, that we know are going to really sting if we admit them to ourselves, so that actually makes some of HPL's stories ring a little truer.  It is also kind of cool that, again, the Yithians don't really make anybody do anything (yes, they forcibly posses your body, but you get theirs and free reign of the city, and you get your body back).  I suppose you could say that the original inhabitants of the conical creatures got a really raw deal when they found their minds transported back to Yith just in time for the supernova... and I guess the beetle-creatures that are to be our inheritors probably felt the same way about waking up to find themselves face-to-face with the flying polyps.  Omelets.  Eggs.  In the vast gulfs of space and time, these are pretty small potatoes.

Enough of this for now.  To be continued!

-Adrian S.

ArmadilloCon next weekend!

ArmadilloCon in Austin leans heavily on my experience as a swords & sorcery editor to have me talk about NOTHING SWORD AND SORCERY related!

My (Adrian Simmons) schedule for the weekend:

Fr2100SA What sciences haven't been used yet in sf?
Fri 9:00 PM-10:00 PM San Antonio
M. Dimond*, J. Perez, A. Simmons, S. White
Astronomy and physics are the heart of space opera, and biology has seen more use than it once did. What hasn't been well explored?

Sa1000SA Imagining a World without Fossil Fuels
Sat 10:00 AM-11:00 AM San Antonio
E. Bear, A. Porter, J. Reisman*, A. Simmons, K. Stauber, F. Stanton
Discussing the implications of this all-too-plausible scenario.

Sa1400SM Imagining the Future: World Politics, Global Economies and More
Sat 2:00 PM-3:00 PM San Marcos
L. Antonelli, C. Brown, G. Faust, J. Nevins*, A. Simmons, S. White

I can probably spin "Fossil Fuels" and "Imagining the Future" into Mad-Maxish post-apocalyptic nightmare word discussions.  I might also have a reading in there somewhere, too.

Soonercon in OKC this weekend

So this weekend I (Adrian S) will be at SoonerCon pushing HFQ, Scrumbrawl, and various and sundry.

The schedule? Behold!
Friday, 2pm,
Science vs. Magic:  Arthur C. Clarke's 3 Laws of Prediction In the Modern  Communication Age

Saturday, 10am
Conan, John Carter& Everything Old is New Again:  The Resurgence of Heroic Fantasy

Saturday, 5pm
Modern Mythos:  The Role of Fantasy in Popular Culture

Sunday, 3pm
Is It Aether?  How spaceships fly in steampunk

Sunday, 11am

Wilderness Adventure!

I went on a solo backpacking trip a couple of weeks ago.  I hauled 35 pounds of stuff with me over 23 miles.

In THE HOBBIT, I always thought it was a bit odd that when the goblins of the Misty Mountains attack Thorin's party, they don't actually attack the dwarves themselves, they steal their ponies-- and the dwarves risk their lives trying to get them back, and get captured.  It seemed a little extreme to me, especially since (in the book at least) the dwarves are mostly unarmed.

But then I started backpacking and realized that if you lose your gear, you could be in a bad way.  On my hikes I am, at most, maybe six hours walk from a forest road, and another two from a highway and a reasonable expectation of help. So the bear (or the goblins, should leave their lairs in the Winding Stair Mountain) can have my tent and sleeping bag, and food and everything else. 

I am NOT, I should emphasize, out on the slopes of the misty mountains.   In that case, I might have to just roll for initiative against that bear and take my chances.  Thorin's dwarves don't have much in the way of weaponry, but they do have a lot of gear, and they have ponies to carry it-- and the goblins go after both the ponies and the gear.  So it's a much more desperate situation than it appears at first glance.  Sure, they can survive the rest of the night in the cave, but what  Happens to Thorin and Co. the next day, or the next? 

Of course, that's exactly what happens later (and these are SPOILERS, for the one or two of you who haven't read THE HOBBIT) in Mirkwood.  They don't have much equipment (goblins took it), and what they do have (thanks to Beorn), doesn't seem to be enough, especially the food.  Which leads to wandering off the path to try to hunt, and then trying to beg from the elves.  The elves leave 'em lost in the woods to be devoured by giant spiders. 

So, lack of equipment leads to getting eaten by giant spiders.  Or, put another way, small disasters lead to panic, which lead to big disasters. 

-Adrian Simmons

Submissions, some numbers

After two and a half years, HFQ switched to being open one month per quarter for fiction.  Our first submissions period under the new policy was the month of March.  We got 115 submissions, roughly (there are some queries for artwork and other things mixed in).  I was actually thinking we'd get around 150, but that shows what I know.

Anyway, we've divided them up between the three editors and are going through them with the goal of getting all responses out by the end of April.

-Adrian Simmons

(no subject)

When I first heard about the John Carter movie, I was torn.  On the one hand, it made me feel welcome, as it was clearly made for those in-the-know as they didn't bother to put "of Mars" or "of Barsoom" or any of that in the title.    On the other hand, that certainly was a foolish way to market a movie.

And, as you may have heard, John Carter did not do very well at the box office.  "Biggest bomb EVER" has been tossed around. 

Don't believe the hype.  It really is a very fun movie.  I was finally getting to see Tharks up on the screen, and they weren't claymation, so that was very cool.  There was also a lot of good humor in it, which was unexpected, although a nice surprise.  Also, given what I remember about the first three books, the way they were presenting the story with the Therns was interesting, and I wanted to see where it was all going. 

Plus, well, we are drowning a world of great British fantasy movies, and by the gods I wanted to see something that was

unequivocally, uniquely, true-blue American, dammit!

As a JCoM fan from way back, I'll admit that it isn't quite what I hoped it would be (the Tarkas/Sola relationship should have had more punch ((and, although I can't prove it, I suspect that ERB drew from Don Quixote for some of that)), but it had the look right, and the pacing was good, and the action was keen. 

Which, of course, may not happen due to the biggest-bomb-EVER thing. 

Now, I can understand your more standard garden variety movie critic not being enthused about this; they are not truly of the heroic fantasy body, after all, much less the rarified "Sword and Planet" body.  Thing is, one of the loudest braying critics of this movie seems to be, well, Disney itself.  As discussed here, that don't make no damn sense.  Why shoot your foriegn markets and DVD sales in the foot? 

I don't know if JC will pull out of its bad press quagmire, and that's a pity because I really wanted to see how they were going to make the next two movies.  Maybe it will be a straight-to-DVD kind of thing.  Worked for Starship Troopers.   I do think that, like Blade Runner, it will be recognized as a better movie than we've been led to believe. 

Chances are that if you're reading the HFQ blog, you have already seen this movie and know the truth of my words, but if you haven't-- get out and see this on the big screen if you can!

-Adrian Simmons