Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles, Editors
July, 2012; $15.95 PB
Reviewed by K. H. Vaughan
What is the future of Lovecraft? Although they don’t express the intention explicitly, the editors of Future Lovecraft have not only produced a quality collection of Lovecraft-related science fiction, but have done a fantastic job of selecting stories that raise that very question. Interest in Lovecraft is flourishing, and may now be greater than at any prior point in history. The iconic elements of the Mythos have moved beyond cult status into popular awareness, becoming cultural touchstones with a life of their own. But despite the explosion in interest, Lovecraftian fiction is arguably in crisis. There is some danger that “Lovecraftian” will lose its meaning and become a catch-all for any work that includes tentacle monsters, forbidden texts, or other popular tropes, while ignoring the underlying core philosophical concerns of the genre. Yet, those philosophical concerns themselves do not resonate today as they once did, and must be re-examined. In particular, Lovecraft’s use of the Other as a source of horror and his sense of awe at the vast indifferent cosmos are increasingly problematic.
The idea of beings or knowledge so alien that the mind cannot encounter them and remain intact is an essential theme in Lovecraft’s work, and this was expressed in part through the portrayal of various foreigners, savage tribes, and degenerate miscegenated hybrids. His views on women, homosexuals, minorities, and eugenics, found in his correspondence and stories, are likewise out of step with most modern readers. There is a notable lack of forgotten backwards tribes and barely repressed vagina monsters in Future Lovecraft, which is necessary in the evolution of the genre. Is it an obvious point? Perhaps, but there is probably a reason that I still see calls for Lovecraftian fiction in which the editors specify that they do not want to see the racial stereotypes common in the original. Otherness cannot legitimately be defined as “anyone who is not an educated straight white male” in a global multicultural society. The editors of Future Lovecraft propose that the future of Mythos fiction is very much international, with authors from North and Central America, Europe, Africa, and Asia included in the anthology. Several of the stories were translated from the original French or Spanish specifically for this volume. The editors thus make a statement about the genre with the selection of pieces for inclusion: going forward, the Other must be truly alien, not merely different.
But even then, the existence of alien races is not even horrifying in and of itself. The possibility that they may be hostile and more technologically advanced than we are maybe, but the probability that life exists outside our solar system is increasingly accepted. So what do you do as a writer of Lovecraftian fiction? We could normalize the Mythos – the aliens and others become simply races we were not familiar with, strange, but essentially just other people with their own concerns. They become potential members of the Imperial Senate or the Federation of Planets. But when we do this, they lose some of their power as agents of horror. There is no sanity check when you enter the Cantina on Tatooine, simply discomfort. This may be fair, given the way in which Lovecraft has entered global popular culture. I have purchased cuddly Cthulhu plush toys and wished people Mythos-related holiday greetings. There’s even a Japanese light romance series with titles including Nyarko-san: Another Crawling Chaos. Is normalcy and harem anime the future of Lovecraft’s vision? I hope not. If it is, it would be unsatisfying. The stories in Future Lovecraft that attempt to normalize the Mythos and its creatures or use them as a source of humor do not work well. They are at best amusing, and aren’t philosophically Lovecraftian fiction, even if they include characters or elements. However, their inclusion does make a point about Lovecraft as horror versus something else, and so the addition of a couple of stories in that vein serves to strengthen the anthology overall.
A second major theme of importance to Mythos work is Lovecraft’s sense of cosmic emptiness or scale. It may have filled him with a sense of awe and horror, but people are increasingly aware of the vastness of the universe – that the stars we see may well have died millions of years ago. And the idea that the universe does not care about us as individuals or as a species is no longer shocking to most. Obviously, it does not. We at least believe that we have come to terms with the void. Several stories in the volume deal very effectively with cosmic isolation, reminding the reader that intellectual understanding does not equal the experience of the endlessness of space or the existential dread that accompanies an authentic experience of the abyss, or encounters with impossible geometries and broken time. The anthology is at its strongest in this territory, dealing with the horror of the incomprehensible, and the sanity-rending power of cosmic experiences.
Overall, this is a fine collection of short fiction, including works that integrate essential Lovecraftian ideas into science fiction with great skill. The quality of prose is consistent, and there are several pieces that are of exceptional quality. In general the authors do not fall prey to the needless thesaurus browsing that writers sometimes inflict upon their readers when Lovecraft is the inspiration. There are two stories that lack any clear Lovecraftian element, and seem shoehorned into the volume. This is not to say that every piece needs an appearance by a named Mythos being, but if these represent the future of Lovecraft, then the future is diluted, and at risk of becoming an empty descriptor. Their inclusion does highlight this essential concern, which may have made them worthwhile additions.
There is a liberal quantity of poetry in the volume, which seems like a risky editorial decision. The strength of the volume is in the fiction. There are probably not very many successful volumes of science fiction and horror poetry on the market today compared to story anthologies, and, for people who do not care for it, poetry can feel like filler. There was certainly nothing in the poems that grabbed my attention, but this may reflect my personal tastes more than the work itself. I would suggest a second opinion from reviewers who enjoy the form and can better compare the quality of these works to other genre poetry.
I enjoyed the volume a great deal and found the way in which the editors probed the future of the genre with their selections intriguing. Even if I did not care for all the stories, the selection of them made me think about what Lovecraft has been, and may become, in ways that were intellectually stimulating. Future Lovecraft is very successful as an editorial effort and contains some wonderful stories that I would recommend to fans of both horror and science fiction.