Nuclear chaos, and all that.

Let us return to the subject of Lovecraft and the inevitable death of not only ourselves, but our civilization, our race, our planet, and any memory or trace of ourselves or our posterity, annihilated inevitably by the very universe that spawned us, and speak of Charles Stross.

Stross’ story A Colder War draws a connection between two different kinds of existential horror, using Lovecraftian entities as analogs for nuclear weapons. Less directly symbolic than that story are his Bob Howard books (The Atrocity Archive and The Jennifer Morgue). Both A Colder War and the Bob Howard books (well, I’m assuming about the second one; I’ve only read The Atrocity Archive so far) actually accomplish what Lovecraft was after better than Lovecraft was usually able to, I think. For all Lovecraft’s writing about vast intelligences beyond mortal comprehension and all that, in practice Lovecraft almost always stays focused on personal horror. His ideas were new, but the tone of his stories was fairly familiar, with cults (of dark-skinned people) performing blasphemous rites in the woods, or a team of scholars putting down the menace of an ancient god with counter-rites, or even Cthulhu being physically rammed with a boat. A Colder War sees the idea through, and I at least find it genuinely frightening.

I can’t help but speculate that Lovecraft’s failure to really investigate the implications of his universe’s alien gods might actually stem from a basic unwillingness to do so. He was not a morally brave man – his vicious racism was a way to deny and avoid his feelings of inadequacy, rather than look them in the face. I wonder if what I see as his unwillingness to really threaten humanity with extinction in his stories, except abstractly, had that same cowardice at its source. It’s kind of like it really would’ve driven him mad to look these existential horrors in the face. (This is not to say that happy endings in stories, or circumscribed conflicts, are always and without exception evidence of the moral weakness of the author, by the way. That would be nuts. I’m just interested that Lovecraft went to all the trouble of making bigger, scarier monsters than anyone else, and then wouldn’t let them act like it. Yog Sothoth’s all talk. )

Also from Stross on a similar theme: Missile Gap