As a young man H. P. Lovecraft would have thrilled to the sword-and-planet adventures of John Carter in Under the Moons of Mars (1912), and the intimation of ancient alien presences on Earth in A. Merritt’s The Moon-Pool (1918); but by the time he was writing his own adult material he had largely turned to fantasy—but it was the fantasy of the pre-Atomic age. E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensmen policed the galaxy in the pages of Amazing Stories, Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age city of Xuthal was lit by radium lamps, Leigh Brackett imagined a solar system full of habitable planets, C. L. Moore’s Northwest Smith was an outlaw on many planets with ray-gun in hand, Clark Ashton Smith’s last survivors of Atlantis and Hyperborea journey to far Sfanomoë (Venus) and Cykranosh (Saturn), and Lovecraft’s monsters were not the typical witches and vampires, but stranger, alien entities.
A keen amateur astronomer, Lovecraft largely eschewed the dynamics that made space opera feasible. In his 1935 essay “Some Notes on Interplanetary Fiction” he railed:
A good interplanetary story must have realistic human characters; not the stock scientists, villainous assistants, invincible heroes, and lovely scientist’s-daughter heroines of the usual trash of this sort. Indeed, there is no reason why there should be any “villain”, “hero”, or “heroine” at all. These artificial character-types belong wholly to artificial plot-forms, and have no place in serious fiction of any kind. The function of the story is to express a certain human mood of wonder and liberation, and any tawdry dragging-in of dime-novel theatricalism is both out of place and injurious. No stock romance is wanted. We must select only such characters (not necessarily stalwart or dashing or youthful or beautiful or picturesque characters) as would naturally be involved in the events to be depicted, and they must behave exactly as real persons would behave if confronted with the given marvels. The tone of the whole thing must be realism, not romance. [...] Hoary stock devices connected with the reception of the voyagers by the planet’s inhabitants ought to be ruled rigidly out. Thus we should have no overfacile language-learning; no telepathic communication; no worship of the travellers as deities; no participation in the affairs of pseudohuman kingdoms, or in conventional wars between factions of inhabitants; no weddings with beautiful anthropomorphic princesses; no stereotyped Armageddons with ray-guns and space-ships; no court intrigues and jealous magicians; no peril from hairy ape-men of the polar caps; and so on, and so on. [...] It is not necessary that the alien planet be inhabited—or inhabited at the period of the voyage—at all. If it is, the denizens must be definitely non-human in aspect, mentality, emotions, and nomenclature, unless they are assumed to be descendants of a prehistoric colonising expedition from our earth. The human-like aspect, psychology, and proper names commonly attributed to other-planetarians by the bulk of cheap authors is at once hilarious and pathetic. Another absurd habit of conventional hacks is having the major denizens of other planets always more advanced scientifically and mechanically than ourselves; always indulging in spectacular rites against a background of cubistic temples and palaces, and always menaced by some monstrous and dramatic peril. This kind of pap should be replaced by an adult realism, with the races of other-planetarians represented, according to the artistic demands of each separate case, as in every stage of development—sometimes high, sometimes low, and sometimes unpicturesquely middling. Royal and religious pageantry should not be conventionally overemphasised; indeed, it is not at all likely that more than a fraction of the exotic races would have lit upon the especial folk-customs of royalty and religion. It must be remembered that non-human beings would be wholly apart from human motives and perspectives.
In his own fiction, Lovecraft largely kept to these principles, the main exception being “In the Walls of Eryx” (1936), written in collaboration with Kenneth Sterling and published after Lovecraft’s death. In his own fiction, Lovecraft allowed horrors from the stars to come to Earth—most notably Cthulhu in “The Call of Cthulhu” (1926), “The Colour Out of Space” (1927), the Mi-Go in “The Whisperer in Darkness” (1930), the K’n-Yans of “The Mound” (1930), the Elder Things in At the Mountains of Madness (1931), and the Yithians in The Shadow Out of Time (1935), with passing references in other tales; he also touched on interplanetary fiction in “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” (1932) with E. Hoffmann Price and in his part of the round-robin “The Challenge from Beyond” (1935).
|Clark Ashton Smith|
In the decades since then, many writers have expanded on the creations of Lovecraft and his friends, taking them into every conceivable setting—including space—such as Richard A. Lupoff’s classic “The Discovery of the Ghooric Zone” (1977). In the late 80s a short-lived magazine focused on tales of scientifiction called Astro-Adventures (1987-1989), which included tales both old and new worth seeking out and reading. The best of the new tales might be Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette’s Boojumverse (“Boojum,” “Mongoose,” and “The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward”) full of space pirates and living ships which are fantastic.
Lovecraft himself never gave a single, consistent approach to the Mythos he created—nor did he require his friends and co-creators to adapt themselves to his philosophies of writing. The Mythos of his stories takes place in a dark and strange cosmos, where beings from distant stars and planets had visited Earth in the distant past...and some of them still survived, or their relics at least. The different approaches that the creators of the Mythos took, the occasional contradictions and fans’ efforts to reconcile disparate representations of the Mythos and its relationship to space, are all part of the fun of the setting. Mythology need not be consistent, and it need not all be true...lies, distortions, omissions, and forgotten truths underlay the mythology of Cthulhu and Hastur, Shub-Niggurath and Tsathoggua. It is up to the readers to decide where exactly is the cold planetoid Yuggoth from whence the Mi-Go come, or whether Mars and Venus ever bore life and were habitable by human beings.
In the decades before humanity split the atom, they looked up at the stars at night and dreamed of walking on other planets—not knowing what they would find there. There was a sense of limitless possibilities, with their feet upon the dusty earth, and their imaginations flying through Venusian skies, disturbing the dust in some million-year-old ruin on Mars. It was an age when solar empires were planned out with pencil and paper, and realized on typewriters. Much of it never happened, and what did happen not the way they thought it would—but it’s a fun dream to visit sometimes.
Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette: “Boojum,” “Mongoose,” “The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward”
Ramsey Campbell: “The Insects from Shaggai,” “The Mine on Yuggoth”
Robert E. Howard: Almuric, “The Vale of Lost Women,” “Xuthal of the Dusk”
H. P. Lovecraft: At the Mountains of Madness, “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Colour Out of Space,” The Shadow Out of Time, “The Whisperer in Darkness”
H. P. Lovecraft & Hazel Heald: “The Horror in the Museum,” “Out of the Aeons”
H. P. Lovecraft & Zealia Brown Reed Bishop: “The Mound”
H. P. Lovecraft & E. Hoffmann Price: “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”
H. P. Lovecraft & Kenneth Sterling: “In the Walls of Eryx”
Richard Lupoff: “The Discovery of the Ghooric Zone,” “Documents in the Case of Elizabeth Akeley”
C. L. Moore: All of the Northwest Smith stories, but especially “Shambleau,” “Julhi,” “Yvala,”
“The Cold Grey God,” and “Lost Paradise.”
“The Cold Grey God,” and “Lost Paradise.”
C. L. Moore, A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, & Frank Belknap Long:
“The Challenge from Beyond”
“The Challenge from Beyond”
Clark Ashton Smith: “A Voyage to Sfanomoë,” “The City of the Singing Flame,” “The Demon of the Flower,” “The Door to Saturn,” “The Dweller in the Gulf,” “The Immortals of Mercury,” “Master of the Asteroid,” “Mnemoka,” “The Plutonian Drug,” “Seedling of Mars,” “The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis,” “Vulthoom”
E. E. Smith: The Lensman series, especially the core four novels (First Lensman, Galactic Patrol, Grey Lensman, Second Stage Lensman)
Bobby Derie’s latest work is Space Madness!, a roleplaying game of adventure & horror in an atompunk future inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, & other Mythos writers.