Posts Tagged ‘cosmic horror’

It’s been a while since I’ve done any sort of tag, so I saw this on my friend Kat Impossible’s blog and I was like, “Sounds like fun.” And while I’m not sure I believe in “perfection,” I tried to come up with stories that come close to that in my personal opinion. Most of these titles are from the horror genre, but I do add some from other genres and even a few other mediums (I can be a rule breaker when I want to be). With that in mind, let us begin the Perfect Book Tag.

THE PERFECT GENRE

(pick a book that perfectly represents the genre)

I had a hard time choosing on this, between what could be considered a quintessential horror novel, and what could be the most terrifying novel (AKA the “perfect” horror novel). In the end, I wanted to include the quintessential novel elsewhere, and I hate repeating myself, so I decided on the most terrifying novel I’ve ever read, The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum. Honestly, this novel’s show of brutality, the ease in which regular people can be persuaded to commit acts of evil and the graphic descriptions of torture and cruelty were enough to make me put the book down at times just so I could process what I was reading and get control of my dread. If you want perfect horror, this might be close enough.

Just don’t blame me if this gives you an upset stomach or nightmares. Trust me, it’s a tough one to get through.

THE PERFECT SETTING

(pick a book that takes place in a perfect place)

Again, I’m not sure if there’s anything considered “perfect” in entertainment, let alone a perfect setting. However, as far as I’m concerned, this might come damn close. The Doctor Who universe has every sort of setting imaginable. From futuristic cityscapes, to the distant past, and even our own modern times, you can find aliens, historical personages, gods and demons, magic (sort of) and science, friends and enemies, and even new universes or pocket universes! It’s an endlessly adaptable setting, and that’s why it’s my choice for perfect setting.

Also, I know it’s a TV show and the books are expanded universe and semi-canonical at best, but like I said, I like to break the rules.

 

THE PERFECT MAIN CHARACTER

(pick the perfect main character)

For this one, I didn’t pick perfect as in “they’re the best at everything and never have to improve. The story is just a way for the reader to fawn over how amazing the characters are.” Those are known as Mary Sues and Gary Sues, and most writers learn to stop creating them when trying to write compelling stories. Instead, I picked examples of characters I like to work with the most: women/girls who don’t start out as protagonist material, but as time goes on they grow into their heroine roles. Sailor Moon and Buffy are two great examples of those characters, as well as the reason I love that character type.

Neither Buffy Summers nor Sailor Moon started out as heroes who were thrilled with their roles. They just wanted to be normal girls, not burdened down with these destinies to save humanity from evil. But over time, as they get stronger and build their support networks, they become stronger, able to defy evil and inspire everyone around them and everyone watching them, regardless of age or gender. It’s part of the reason why these characters have endured over thirty years after their debuts, and part of the reason why I am who I am today.

 

THE PERFECT BEST FRIEND

(loyal and supportive, pick a character that you think is the best friend ever)

 

This one was easy. She’s smart, kind, brave, and is willing to point out when you’re wrong or doing something stupid. And she’s willing to stand up for the oppressed when no one else will, including many of the oppressed. She can be a bit stubborn, and at times she loses sight of reality when it comes to studies or other things she deems important. But honestly, Hermione Granger would make a great best bud.

 

THE PERFECT LOVE INTEREST

(pick a character you think would be an amazing romantic partner)

Let me level with you all. I may be bisexual, but I’m aromantic, so I don’t really feel romantic attraction to anyone. Sexual, definitely, but I have trouble imagining myself wanting to be tied to someone like a partner or lover. And since I don’t feel like telling the world about a character I may find sexy, I’ll just leave this one blank. Sorry if you really wanted to know what my type was or wanted to set me up with someone you know. You can’t change someone’s nature that easily.

 

THE PERFECT VILLAIN

(pick a character with the most sinister mind)

Remember that quintessential horror novel I mentioned as a contender for Perfect Genre? Yeah, IT was the runner-up. But in terms of villains, Pennywise is the ultimate, hence why he’s here. Honestly, he’s a perfect mix of both the human villain and the supernatural. He understands human fears and motivations, is a master manipulator and knows just how to get under our skin and either terrify us into a stupor or make us his pawn. At the same time, he’s this giant cosmic entity from beyond the universe, a thing we can only grasp as orange lights known as The Deadlights. His motivations aren’t born from hatred or greed or any human desire, but from the need to feed and eventually the need to procreate. It’s just another show of his Otherworldly nature.

And let’s face it, he’s devious! It takes a special sort of evil to enjoy being an evil clown 24/7, and Pennywise does it better than the Joker. Yeah, you read that right. What are you going to do about it?

 

THE PERFECT FAMILY

(pick the perfect bookish family)

Well, they’re not from any books, at least not originally, but the Addams Family would be my perfect fictional family. You can guess why.

 

THE PERFECT ANIMAL OR PET

(pick a pet or fantastic animal you need to see on a book)

Although I’m against the breeding of white tigers (they’re a genetic abnormality and breeding them leaves the tigers with all sorts of genetic problems), White Blaze from the anime Ronin Warriors is a creature I always wanted. He’s a tiger and deadly towards his enemies, but he’s smart, kind and good with people. You could honestly have him babysit your kids, he’s that good. And in a fight against evil, you couldn’t ask for a better animal partner.

In fact, White Blaze might be part of the reason why tigers are my favorite animal. And it’s not hard to see why.

 

THE PERFECT PLOT TWIST

(pick a book with the best plot twist)

I won’t say what it was. But it left me reeling. Took me half the next chapter to realize the author was serious and wasn’t pulling my leg. Still the hardest a twist in a novel has ever hit me.

 

THE PERFECT TROPE

(pick that trope you would add to your own book without thinking)

Let’s face it, I love a cosmic horror twist. The idea of an entity that defies human conception, to the point it can drive us mad, excites me as a horror writer to no end.

 

THE PERFECT COVER

(pick a cover you would want on your own book)

I want a cover similar to this on one of my books someday. Either that, or something that disturbs just to look at it.

 

THE PERFECT ENDING

(pick a book that has the perfect ending)

My favorite endings in horror have the horror continuing on long after the heroes appear to have won. So if I have to pick one that’s a good example, I think I’ll go with Needful Things by Stephen King. Great book with an enigmatic and terrifying antagonist. If you haven’t read it yet and you have a stomach for horror, you might want to change that sooner rather than later.

 

I TAG THEE:

  • Priscilla Bettis
  • Iseult Murphy
  • Joleene Naylor
  • Ruth Ann Nordin
  • Matt Williams
  • YOU!!! (If you want to)

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Tomorrow, I finally start that essay, and then I start on a new short story. But in the meantime, what did you think of my choices? Any of them resonate with you? Let’s talk in the comments.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

2020 has gotten off to a rocky start, to put it mildly. Threat of war with Iran, fires in Australia, and now the coronavirus, or COVID-19, has gone from an abstract threat we nervously made jokes about to a terrifying pandemic. It’s caused a lot of anxiety and terrified reactions, with people rushing to the store to grab supplies, turning to every supposed cure or preventive measure out there, and being afraid to go outside their homes.

And I know, the last thing you want to see is me talking about the virus. But you have to understand: I’m doing this for me. As many of you know, I have an anxiety disorder. And as much as I keep an upbeat attitude, wonder what everyone needs that much toilet paper for, and what we’re going to get for April (I’m hoping Cthulhu rises up from the Pacific), I have been feeling anxious over this virus. So anxious, in fact, that last night, instead of editing a short story like I’d meant to, I ended up binge-watching an entire series of anime till two in the morning. Escapism!

So what’s a guy to do? Well, in my case, I have to exorcise myself. Not literally, that’s a Friday night thing. No, I need to get my feelings out on COVID-19. Because I conquer what scares me, and in this case, this is how I do it.

Strap in, kids. This might be a long one.

My thoughts

What are my thoughts on this pandemic? Well, it’s almost Lovecraftian in how it’s inserted itself into our lives. First it’s this abstract and undefinable threat that we can’t imagine touching our lives. We even laugh at it. But pretty quickly, it becomes this thing that could not only affect us, but kill us. And our own species–loved ones, coworkers, the passerby on the street–are how it extends its invisible tentacles into the world.

The only thing to do is isolate ourselves, but that’s scary in and of itself. Even our most curmudgeonly need human contact of some sort. Can we survive without that human contact? And then there’s the economic toll, as people who rely on their jobs find themselves out of work or unable to make ends meet, relying on their dwindling savings to get by. It’ll be worse in more expensive cities to live in.

This pandemic can be likened to a Lovecraftian entity. And it’s just as ugly.

And depending on where you live, your leaders may be doing a great job at fending off the horror, or an inept one.

This may be the closest we get to actually experiencing a Great Old One invading our reality. And God, is it terrifying.

Good thing I have my collection of HP Lovecraft stories, plus four or five cosmic horror films on DVD and Blu-Ray in my collection. They’ll make great therapy. I should also see the movie Contagion again. It practically predicted this entire pandemic, so it’s worth another watch.

Anyway, there is a silver lining (and no, not the silver solution that con artist preacher is selling! That’s more likely to lead to heavy metal poisoning, the prick). Unlike Cthulhu or Nyarlathotep, there is a way to fight against this monster. As hard as it is, social distancing can limit infection and prevent further cases. So does extensive handwashing (no duh!) and other hygiene practices. And to avoid fake cures, keep this in mind: make sure to check with reputable sources like the CDC or National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. And if you don’t trust bureaucrats, remember this rule: if it sounds miraculous or too good to be true, IT PROBABLY IS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE!!!! Any fix to a medical problem always required hard work to achieve. Even aspirin took forty years to get from the labs to the pharmacy. Don’t go for the quick “cure” just because it seems Heaven-sent.

This virus is going to change things, and possibly have lasting effects on society. I hope that it teaches people to at least be more considerate of others. Because right now, that’s what we need to do in order to make it out of this pandemic with a minimal death toll.

Speaking of considerate…

Support your authors if possible

As I said, this pandemic is effecting a lot of people’s jobs and livelihoods. This includes authors. They rely on bookstores, conventions and in-person events to sell their books and support themselves. Those places are either closing down or cancelling, which is huge slash in revenue. I’m extremely lucky, even if I don’t write full-time: my job allows me to make a good living and put away savings. Other writers aren’t so lucky. This virus is going to bite into them pretty deeply.

Care about authors? Consider supporting their work during these difficult times, if you’re able.

Now, I’m aware not everyone can do this, and I completely understand and sympathize. However, if you are in a position to help your fellow writers, please do so. Buy copies of their books in your favorite format, tell people about their work in reviews or tweets or whatever. Especially if you enjoy their work. It might be small gestures, but for the writers you’ll be helping, it’ll mean the moon and stars.

And it will give us time to come up with some decent stories involving COVID-19. I’ve already had one or two.

Final thoughts

Thanks for reading this post. I needed to get this off my chest. And I think, once I’ve taken care of myself a bit, I’ll be able to get back to writing and scaring people like I normally do. As for the rest of you, remember that everyone else is in the same boat as you. They’re as scared as you, but they can also be as brave as you. And if you’re a Follower of Fear, you’re likely very brave.

This too shall pass. And we’ll make it pass faster by keeping each other safe.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to set up and test my at-home workstation. Until next time, good night, pleasant nightmares, and REMEMBER, SWALLOWING OR GARGLING BLEACH IS GOING TO KILL YOU! Why would you think it would help you? It’s corrosive!

February is Women in Horror Month. Since women writers are a big influence on my writing–JK Rowling got me into storytelling in the first place, and Anne Rice helped pave the way for me to write darker fiction–I thought I’d recommend some stories for those who want to help support the month. You’ll see some familiar names here, but also some you may not be familiar with. Either way, I hope you’ll consider giving them a read.

Tiny Teeth by Sarah Hans. This is actually a short story by a friend and colleague of mine, but it is a scary one. Imagine a world where a virus turns children into dangerous, gnawing animals, and one woman’s experience in that world. You can find it on Pseudopod.org, a website where scary short stories are read by narrators and released as a podcast. Give it a listen. Guarantee you, it’ll be 45 minutes not wasted. Here’s the link.

Garden of Eldritch Delights by Lucy A. Snyder. This is also by a friend and colleague of mine, but it’s also a great collection of scary stories. The majority of them feature cosmic horror themes and entities, which I love, as well as intriguing characters and plots. A couple of the stories also incorporate sci-fi and fantasy themes, and feature a diverse cast, which is something I love to see. If you pick up Garden of Eldritch Delights, you will find it worth your time. Here’s the Amazon link.

The Amaranthine Books by Joleene Naylor. You’ve probably seen Joleene’s name around this blog before, but did you know she’s written an entire book series? She has, a vampire series called the Amaranthine books, and they all come highly rated. Even better, some of the books are free or under a dollar under the Kindle edition, so why not take the opportunity to read them? You can find all the Amaranthine books, and then some, on Joleene’s Amazon page.

In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware. Technically, these are mysteries, but they have horror themes about them, so I’ll count them here. In a Dark, Dark Wood follows a mystery writer invited out to a bachelorette party by a friend she hasn’t seen in years, unaware of the forces conspiring against her. The Death of Mrs. Westaway stars a Tarot reader on hard times who finds out she’s received an inheritance from a grandmother she didn’t know she had, and what that inheritance entails for her. Both are terrifying and keep you on the edge of your seat with suspense. You can check out both further on the author’s Amazon page (and I need to check out more of her work).

Kept me on the edge of my seat the whole audio book.

Within These Walls and The Shuddering by Ania Ahlborn. No joke, Ania Ahlborn is one of the scariest writers I’ve ever had the pleasure to read, and I really need to read more of her work, as should you. Within These Walls follows a true crime writer as he and his daughter stay in the home of a Manson-like cult leader, and what happens while they’re there (I actually reviewed it a few years ago). The Shuddering follows a group of young adults as they go skiing at a mountain resort, only to discover the area has come under siege from a rather hungry enemy. Either one will leave you shaking in your boots! Here’s the Amazon page if you want it.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Come on, you know I had to include this. Even if I’m not a fan of this book, it’s undeniable that Jackson’s most well-known novel, and one of the most influential horror stories of the 20th century. Following a group of paranormal researchers as they explore the titular house and the effect the house has on them, this book is still a well-known classic in the genre, and some consider it required reading for fans and authors. It’s so well known, I won’t include any links for it (surprise!).

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. Again, can you blame me? Whatever you think of the many sequels, it’s undeniable that Anne Rice’s debut novel has remained a classic for a reason. A journalist interviews a 200-year-old vampire named Louis, who recounts his creation in French New Orleans and his travels around the world looking for meaning and for more of his kind. It’s a haunting tale, the horror coming more from Louis’s psychological journey and despair rather than from the supernatural. As I said earlier, this novel also paved the way for my eventual turn to horror, so I can’t recommend it enough (and I’ll have to reread it someday). Again, no need for links. It’s that well-known.

 

What recommendations do you have for Women in Horror Month? Are you reading anything for it? Are you familiar with any of these books? What was your opinion of them?

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope you find something good to read based on this list. I’ll be listening to The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates this month on audio book, so maybe I’ll add it to a future list someday. I better get started soon!

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

A sketch of Cthulhu by HP Lovecraft, and an embodiment of cosmic horror.

Earlier today, I read a very interesting article about how cosmic horror is evolving from the state it was in when HP Lovecraft pioneered the genre, courtesy of Bloody Disgusting (you can read the article here). To sum the article up, the author states that cosmic horror originally had little room for emotions other than fear. The idea was to explore a vast cosmos filled with powerful entities and secrets that humanity can’t begin to grasp. Humanity, and our ideas and emotions, are inconsequential to these beings, and they are too much for us to fathom. However, lately the genre has been used to explore emotional themes such as closure of grief or to overcome childhood schisms and trauma.

I thought it was an interesting article, so I shared it among my fellow horror writers (as well as reserved some of the films mentioned in the article from my local library). And the responses I’ve gotten so far have been rather telling. One author I’m friends with mentioned that horror, including cosmic horror, has always been used to explore themes of emotions and the human experience. Sure, that sometimes involves things so outside the human experience our mind can’t comprehend them, but in the end, they deal with every day human fears of how much we matter, whether we’re alone in the universe.

Look at IT, for example (and yes, I am excited for Chapter Two. My sister and I are even trying to arrange to see it opening weekend). While it is about a shape-shifting being fond of the form of a clown and the people who stand up to him, it’s also about dealing with the change from childhood to adulthood, how reality hardens you and destroys your sense of wonderment. Very relevant to the human experience, underneath the clown make-up.

Another person in that discussion also mentioned how, in the age of the Internet, Twitter, and all the human-made horrors, some people doubted the need for cosmic horror. I mean, isn’t everyday news bad enough? Who needs alien gods with tentacles when you have mass shootings and human rights violations?

Well, not necessarily. Think about how, despite all the “connections,” we live more hermit-like and isolated existences these days. We live very much alone. And seeing all these awful things in the world, one can feel powerless. The world is just too much to handle, it seems, let alone take on.

And that’s cosmic horror in a nutshell. Humanity feeling small, our lives not ours to control, but at the mercy of forces that don’t care one way or the other about our well-being. It was a common enough feeling for many after WWI when HP Lovecraft was building the genre, having experienced the trenches, the gas, and the flamethrowers. And it’s still a common feeling today.

And so long as that feeling of hopelessness and isolation in the face of a seemingly senseless, uncaring world is part of people’s lives, there will be an audience for cosmic horror. The genre will evolve and change, but the swirling darkness that birthed Cthulhu and other monstrosities will always be at its core.

But what do you think? Is cosmic horror evolving? What direction do you think the genre will head? Are you, like me, actually an entity from beyond this planet or realm whose true form induces all who see it to madness? Let’s discuss.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, goodnight and pleasant nightmares.

Well, I just finished another short story, if that title doesn’t clue you in. And honestly, I’m glad I did: I didn’t think I’d get this one done before the final edits on Rose come in (those are hopefully going to be sent to me later this week).

“Pinochle on Your Snout” is a short story that came from me wanting to work two very different things into a single story. The first is The Hearse Song (video of that song here), which includes this famous verse: “The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout.” That song also provides one of the best titles I’ve ever given a story. The other thing I wanted to combine was the De Vermis Mysteriis, or Mysteries of the Worm, a grimoire created by author Robert Bloch and later incorporated into the greater lore of HP Lovecraft. The book is supposedly able to summon all sorts of nasty things, and has appeared in a whole bunch of other media since then, including stories by Stephen King revolving around Salem”s Lot.

It took a bit of brainstorming, but I was able to come up with a story based on those elements. How is it? Well, it’s a first draft, so it’s shit. But I think there’s potential there. It reminds me a lot of “The Boogeyman” by Stephen King, in that it’s mainly told as a confession between a man and someone whose job is to listen to other people’s stories (though not a shrink like in the King story). And I think it has a way of drawing people in. Perhaps it could be something someday.

Of course, I’ll need to do A LOT of editing on this one before I even consider sending it to publishers. How much, I’m not sure. Fiction is the only type of alchemy where you can turn shit and other worthless materials into gold. You just can’t tell how much tinkering you need to do before the alchemical transformation is done.

In the meantime, and while I’m still waiting for the final edits of Rose, I’ll edit a novella I think has plenty of potential and may only need a few edits. It’s one of the most disturbing stories I’ve ever written, so it has that going for it. I may even know a press that’ll consider publishing it.

And speaking of Rose, there’s only three days left if you’d like to be an advanced reader for this upcoming fantasy-horror novel from Castrum Press and yours truly. The novel follows a young woman who turns into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). If you’d be interested, send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. All I ask is you read the book and consider posting a review after its release. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

It took me nearly three and a half years of on-and-off reading, but I’ve finally done it. Through wordy paragraphs full of outdated language, enough racism to make me want to punch a dude, and an increasing amount of multi-sided shapes and magical angles, I have finished reading the copy of The Complete Works of HP Lovecraft on my Kindle. And of course, after such a momentous occasion, there’s only three things I want to do: drink a beer; peruse hard copies of the same book; and blog about my thoughts on Lovecraft’s later work and its influence on the horror genre, as well as on my own writing. This is that last thing on my list.

So if you are unfamiliar with who Lovecraft is (and I find most people are), he was an early-20th century writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. While not very well-known during his lifetime, his creation of the sub-genre of cosmic horror has ensured that his work has lived on and influenced other horror creators and enthusiasts such as Stephen King, Alan Moore, Guillermo del Toro, and myself. What really appeals about this genre is the idea that the universe is a dark and uncaring place full of forces that have no care for humanity or other minor species in the cosmos and can destroy lives and civilizations (as well as usually having a vaguely fishy smell).

When you consider the dude was a sickly bundle of nerves who dealt with anxiety and depression his whole life, had a classist-type of racism where skin-color and social background were very important, was frustrated over his inability to finish his education, and felt more comfortable letter writing and staying in Providence than actually interacting with people and going to crowded places, it makes sense. And while his stories have each aged differently, there’s plenty you can get out of them, especially when it comes to the mechanics of cosmic horror.

This time around diving into his work, I finished out reading his work with some of the most famous of his latest work, which included At the Mountains of Madness (which was also the nickname for the summer camp I went to), The Shadow over Innsmouth, and The Shadow out of Time. By this point, Lovecraft was consciously trying to add scientific concepts to his work wherever he could, especially in Mountains of Madness and Shadow out of Time. Sometimes that works very well, such as in Mountains, but other times, like Through the Gates of the Silver Key, I just found myself scratching my head in confusion (not sure angles work like that, dude). You can also see that by this point, he’d really gotten a grasp over this fictional world of his, throwing casual references to numerous recurring elements in the course of a single story. For once in his life, he was comfortable with something.

Also, while the racism is still evident, it’s kind of mellowed out at this point. Not much, but enough that I don’t feel so uncomfortable reading during certain passages of his work. Progress, I guess.

So were any of these stories any good? Well, old HP’s work has always been hit and miss with me, but there were some good things here. At the Mountains of Madness, while not my favorite, did have a great premise and kept me engrossed for most of the story (he probably could’ve cut parts about the Elder Things’ history and city, though. That went on forever). And Shadow over Innsmouth is probably my new favorite Lovecraft story: it’s this freaky Gothic tale of a town whose citizens have basically sold their souls and their humanity for prosperity and long lives, and the one person who ends up upsetting that arrangement. I’d totally check it out if you’re interested in a different sort of Gothic horror story.

Elder Things from “The Mountains of Madness!” They’re not pleasant!

That being said, I was not a fan of Shadow out of Time. I know that one’s pretty beloved by his fans, but I just thought it was too wordy, to the point where I would look over entire sections and forget most of what I’d just read. The Thing on the Doorstep had an interesting premise, but I felt it wasn’t as scary as some of his other works. Dreams in the Witch House also had a great idea, but I think a couple of changes could’ve been made to improve it. And I’m never going to get back the hour I spent reading Through The Gates of the Silver Key. Seriously, only real enthusiasts should try that one, and only if they’re really sure about it.

Still, it was all worth the dive, in my opinion. I’ve learned a lot by reading the work of HP Lovecraft over these few years, and getting a grasp of why people still read him and write cosmic horror today. And I think over time, it could lead to me writing better stories. Hopefully. I’ll let you be the judges of that, though.

In the meantime though, I’m going to continue working on my own stories and start reading some work by an author who’s older than Lovecraft but somehow easier to understand. Who is that, you ask? The Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon, William Shakespeare.

That’s for all now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll hopefully have a new review for you guys soon. Until then, Hail Cthulhu and pleasant nightmares.

 

For my other examinations of HP Lovecraft’s work, check out Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4. Also, I highly recommend this video from the YouTube Channel Overly Sarcastic Productions. They look over Lovecraft and five of his most famous works with fun illustrations and hilarious commentary. Trust me, it’s worth a look.

I’ve mentioned things like “Lovecraftian horror’ or “cosmic horror” before on this blog, but I’ve never really gone into what those terms mean. And given that someone on the Internet is probably wondering what those terms mean and I need a break from trying to figure out how to end a short story, I thought I’d take a moment to look over what it means when horror fans call something “cosmic horror.”

I actually summed up cosmic horror pretty well last month with a little joke that I shared on my social media. Here’s how it goes:

Knock knock!

Who’s there?

Yog-sothoth.

Yog-sothtoth who?

Your mind couldn’t handle the answer.

Now you’re probably confused by that joke. But in actuality, it summarizes what cosmic horror is pretty well. Namely, there are answers and truths to questions that the human mind can’t handle. And not just answers, but even beings, beings that don’t fit into any sort of recognizable mythology or concept of good and evil. In this sort of horror, humanity is the equivalent of ants in the grand scheme of things, and if they come across any of the things that they shouldn’t–beings of unimaginable size and power, truths that go against everything we’ve ever believed, abilities and technologies that seem blasphemous to human viewpoints–the very contact could kill us or drive us insane. And even if our minds survived in some recognizable state, we would be forever changed. And probably not for the better.

If you haven’t grasped why that’s so scary, let me use an analogy: imagine you’re a farmer living in England in 1066, and a man from the year 2166* comes by and tells you that the world isn’t flat, but round; that the Earth flies around the sun and not the other way around; and that space is a cold and mostly empty void rather than a sphere surrounded by God’s Heaven and angels. Well, you’d obviously think the man from 2166 was crazy. But then he takes you back to his time, and he lives on a ship orbiting the Earth. You see the round Earth below while you float weightless in space and see the dark void beyond Earth. And things like science, gravity, etc. mean absolutely nothing to you. And everything’s new and strange to you, lights too bright and shadows too dark, and the sounds you hear make no sense.

Can you start to see how this could tear at someone’s mind? That someone could be afraid of this?

A universe of incomprehensible beings and terrible secrets is the basis of cosmic horror.

And that’s why cosmic horror has been so popular since HP Lovecraft basically created it back in the early 20th century (which is why it’s also known as Lovecraftian horror). It basically takes the old Judeo-Christian concept of good vs. evil, God versus the Devil, etc, which is essentially a closed and somewhat understandable system, and throws it wide open to a universe where there are multiple forces, none of which are easy to grasp or empathize with, let alone categorize into good vs. evil.

But how do you write it? Well, it’s more than including big, powerful beings that drive people mad (though that is often a feature). They’re more a vehicle for the broader theme: a sense of helplessness, that the universe is big and dark and full of awful things, that humanity is inconsequential and our dealings with the big players never lead to anything good. That, and a sense of untapped mystery can’t hurt. Think the first two Alien films or a dark version of 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s aliens, and you might get the idea.

If you want a better grasp of cosmic horror, I’d suggest looking at some of Lovecraft’s stories.** I recommend The Temple, The Call of Cthulhu, and The Dunwich Horror. I also recommend checking out other writers who use cosmic horror, including Stephen King, Guillermo del Toro, and so many more. Heck, I’ve got a few stories that have some cosmic horror in them. If they ever get published, I’ll let you know.

Cosmic horror can be hard to wrap your mind around sometimes, but once you do, it can open you to all sorts of terrible worlds. And if you can stand what you find, perhaps you will delve deeper. Just be careful when you do. You might not be the same when you come up, after all.

Do you like cosmic horror? What cosmic horror works would you recommend to the unitiated?

*Assuming humanity lives that long, what with global warming and a rising population. You know it’s true!

**If you can stomach his racism. Yeah, I love his work and contribution to horror, but I hate what he believed. If he were around today, I’d either punch him, ignore him for being an asshole, or recommend he take some anti-anxiety medication, get some therapy and maybe some exposure to other communities.

So I started up a binge on H.P. Lovecraft again right after the new year. I’m not sure why; maybe I was just in the mood for him, or maybe something I read made me think of good old Mr. Lovecraft and I wanted to pick him up again.Or maybe the YouTube video where I discovered Uzumaki mentioned him, and that did it. Whatever the case, I’ve noticed that the gaps between my binges are shortening with every binge. I first put him down in September 2015 after first buying my edition of his collected works, picked him up again in June 2016, put him down once more the next month and picked him up again in January 2017. I wonder when I’ll be in meeting Mr. Lovecraft again? Early summer, maybe?

Now if you don’t know who H.P. Lovecraft is (and there seems to be a lot of you who don’t), let me tell you about him. Lovecraft was a writer from New England who wrote in the early 20th century, and is considered the father of cosmic horror, a sub-genre of horror that deals with man’s inconsequential place in our universe, and that some revelations about that are so powerful, they cause you to go mad (it’s the kind of stuff that keeps you up at night if you think too much about it).

I started reading Lovecraft two years ago because I heard he was very influential on some of my favorite writers and filmmakers, and each time I delve into his work I like to write my thoughts on him (see Parts 1 and 2 here). So what did I think this time around?

Well, I have to say, the further I get into Lovecraft’s work, the easier it is to read. I’ve mentioned before that he writes like he’s living in the 1820s rather than in the 1920’s, but I think as time goes on, he learned to write in a more contemporary style while still sounding like he was a contemporary of Poe. I’m not sure that the collection I have of his work is chronological, but if it is, then I’m definitely seeing him develop into a better writer. I also think I’m getting a better grasp at what makes Lovecraft so memorable. Before, I probably would have used generalizations, such as “he’s creepy” or “vaguely disturbing.” Now, however, I’m able to point out what exactly about the story sticks in my mind and why it is successful or not successful, such as the mysterious nature of the monsters in one story or the twist at the end of the story in another.

I also think that the stories written in this period (assuming that the stories are ordered chronologically, of course) are much better than his previous works. I got to read one of his famous stories “The Call of Cthulhu,” and I found it very interesting. Not just because it contains one of Lovecraft’s most famous characters, but it has the essence of his cosmology and philosophy in that story. The idea of man as the insects of the universe, and greater beings just waiting to come back and take over is succinctly and powerfully presented through the narrator’s encounters with the titular demon-god’s cult.

Got to read the story with this guy.

 

I also really liked the short story “Pickman’s Model,” about an artist who draws very disturbing paintings in an old colonial home. It was well told, and I really enjoyed the twist at the end, which even I didn’t see coming.Same with “Cool Air,” a short story about a doctor living in an apartment building. I read the list at the end of that story, and I was like, “Damn! That’s actually very clever.”

If there was any story I did not like, then it was the last story I read by him this particular binge, and also the longest. “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” a novella that felt like an acid trip ending  in a Lewis Carroll ripoff.* It was too long, silly trying to be serious, and like I said, the ending rips off Lewis Carroll in the most obvious way. I kind of wish I had skipped over this one.

All in all though, I’m really starting to gain a healthy respect for H.P. Lovecraft. He added a lot to the horror genre, even if he didn’t live to see his influence, and I can see why he’s still read today. I don’t know when I will pick up his work again, but I have a feeling I am in for a treat when I do.

In the meantime, I found out there’s a movie version of “Call of Cthulhu,” so I will try to get my hands on a copy of that. Hopefully I’ll get it soon, and when I do, you’ll hear my thoughts about it.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope to have a new author interview out Friday, so keep your eyes peeled for that. Until then, pleasant nightmares.

*Weirdly, it wasn’t acid he was on. LSD wasn’t invented until year after Lovecraft died, so there’s no way he could have gotten his hands on it. Or Lewis Carroll, for that matter. Which begs the question: if those two were high when they came up with their respective stories, what were they high on?

Well, I’m writing this at a time I’m normally preparing for bed, but what can I say? When you’re on a roll and nearing the end, you just don’t stop writing.

Now, if you didn’t know, I’m taking a short break from working on Full Circle to work on some short stories. This particular short story, The Red Burst, is one I particularly had fun writing. The story is about a man and his husband who go to visit the former’s sister in a small town, only to find out that something that gives off bursts of red light (hence the title) is driving the residents insane. It’s definitely a dark story, and it’s special too for a number of reasons. One is that this story is very HP Lovecraft-influenced in many ways.

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with HP Lovecraft, he’s a horror author who wrote during the first half of the twentieth century, and has become very influential since (see my posts on my forays into his work, Part 1 and Part 2). A lot of his themes include the idea that humanity are ants in the grand scheme of things, that there’s no real meaning to existence, and that there might be things in the universe that are bigger than us and might see us as a food source or playthings. This is called cosmic horror, and I tired to incorporate those themes into The Red Burst. I got so hooked on the Lovecraft aspect of the story, I actually started reading his work again, and I listened to Lovecraft-themed relaxation videos on YouTube while I wrote the story (yes, those are a thing. Look up Ephemeral Rift on YouTube if you’re interested).

Another thing I liked about this story was that I got to incorporate a gay couple into the story. Even better, a Jewish gay couple! I like having diverse characters in my stories, and I know a lot of LGBT Jewish couples, so it was interesting having that sort of couple in the story, portraying not just their relationship but also their faith and how the events of the story affect that faith. I have a feeling though some of those LGBT couples I know will be coming up to me asking if I based the characters on them. The answer to that, of course, is no, because they haven’t done anything horrible enough to warrant that treatment from me.

And a final thing that I enjoyed with writing the story was that I got to use a drone in it! I don’t know why, but including modern elements in horror stories is just a blast for me. It’s like, “look, there’s a powerful demon from Hell, and now there’s an augmented reality game!” Or, “there’s a ghost after me, but at the same time, superhero franchises!” It’s like they don’t go together, but at the same time you make them go together, and it’s an incredible result. Plus with some, like the drone, you feel like there aren’t that many stories with the same elements in them, so you’re kind of exploring new territory. It’s a real thrill.

So what’s next for this story? Well, I’ll give it some time and return to it at a later date to edit it. It’s around 7,500 words, but I’ve discovered quite a few Lovecraft-themed magazines that are open to longer stories, so I may find this one a home. And if it does get published, I think people will really enjoy it. Especially Lovecraft fans who like a story with his themes but without language that was prevalent in early 19th century.

In the meantime, I’ll return to Full Circle ASAP and get to work on finishing that. I still have quite a ways to go, but after working on some short stories involving werewolves, cars, and insanity-causing red lights, I think some gangster science fiction shouldn’t be too hard. I’ll let you guys know if there’s anything new going on when the time comes.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear! Pleasant nightmares!