This Halloween, we give thanks to writer H.P. Lovecraft for all the unspeakable horrors he has introduced into our lives. Lovecraft’s stories, especially his nihilist tales of the Great Old Ones, sleeping gods who will someday wake to bring death and terror to mankind, have inspired death metal ballads, tentacle-filled artwork, and the Alien films. We offer as our sacrifice a list of science fiction novels and stories inspired by Lovecraft, and pray that when dead Cthulhu wakes from his dreams, we’ll be eaten first.
“To Mars and Providence” by Don Webb: Set in Lovecraft’s hometown, “To Mars and Providence” blends Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos with H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. It’s an apt conflation since Lovecraft’s short story “At the Mountains of Madness” helped popularize the concept of ancient astronauts, the notion that creatures from afar arrived on Earth long ago, and, as with Wells’ buried Martian invaders, they will one day emerge to destroy humanity. Lovecraft himself is the star of Webb’s tale, and is still mourning his father’s death when the Martian invaders touch down on Providence’s Federal Hill. He soon learns that the Martians have arrived on Earth not for some desperate land grab, but because they are fleeing Mars’ fearsome sleeping Elder Gods.
Charles Stross’ Bob Howard Series: Stross’ tales of Bob Howard, an agent for a British secret intelligence agency known as The Laundry, are frequently described as Lovecraft meets James Bond. Magic exists as a form of applied mathematics and it has all sorts of dubious uses, such as summoning beings from other dimensions and yoking demonic beings to mechanical bodies. Another Stross story, “A Colder War,” poses an alternate history of the world where the Antarctic expedition of “At the Mountains of Madness” actually happened, and a follow-up expedition leads to increased Cold War tensions. Parallelities by Alan Dean Foster: Max Parker, a tabloid reporter, finds himself traveling uncontrollably between various parallel universe. In one universe, he wakes up to find that the Elder Gods have taken over the world, just as Lovecraft’s stories predicted. Despite the awesome terror and regular human sacrifices, most humans on this Earth go about their business as usual. Shadow Scourge by Mark Ellis: The post-nuclear holocaust universe of Ellis’ Outlander series is already replete with tyrannical gods. Mystical creatures from Sumerian and Celtic mythology have manipulated humanity’s fate since the beginning of time, and now live among us. But it isn’t until the 13th volume, Shadow Scourage, that the series’ heroes must content with Ocajinik, an ancient force living beneath the bayous of Lousiana who echoes the Old Ones of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.
“Maureen Birnbaum and the Looming Awfulness” by George Alec Effinger: The titular character of Maureen Birnbaum, Barbarian Swordsperson engages in a genre-bending romp through space and time. In the penultimate tale, Maureen (Muffy to her friends) is sent back in time to fight off the Lovecraftian horrors of Yale University. And, when she relates her adventures to a friend back in the present, she takes a moment to poke fun at Lovecraft’s somewhat florid writing style:
"Bitsy, have you noticed that my narrative style has become like, you know, dated, clumsy, and ornate?"
“Pickman’s Modem” by Lawrence Watt-Evans: Published in the anthology Cthulhu 2000, Watt-Evans updates and parodies Lovecraft’s story “Pickman’s Model,” about a artist who painted brilliant but disturbingly ghoulish works. Instead of paintings, the narrator is disturbed by postings on an online bulletin board, whose author is in the thrall of a demonic piece of machinery. “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr.: Campbell is another writer inspired by “At the Mountains of Madness.” His fictional team of researchers also travels to Antarctica, where they find an alien spaceship buried beneath the ice. And, as if in imitation of an Elder God, it starts to devour everything in its path. “Who Goes There?” has enjoyed a long legacy of its own; it inspired Howard Hawks’ film “The Thing from Another World” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing.”
The Spiraling Worm by David Conyers and John Sunseri: Like Stross’ books, The Spiraling Worm combines the Cthulhu Mythos with spy thriller trappings. Seven interconnected stories follow Australian Army Intelligence Mahor Harrison Peel and US NSA Agent Jack Dixon as they battle Lovecraftian monsters intent on having humanity as a snack. The Tommyknockers by Stephen King: Much of King’s work is strongly influenced by Lovecraft, with extradimensional beings invading small New England towns. But The Tommyknockers, inspired by Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space,” is the most clearly rooted in science fiction. A novelist from Maine discovers a long-buried alien pod, which, when opened, begins its conquest of humanity, transforming them into the aliens who left the pod behind.
The Mind Parasites by Colin Wilson: Wilson wrote several fantasy stories extending the Cthulhu Mythos, but, with The Mind Parasites he takes Lovecraft’s ideas and makes them his own. Much as the sleeping god Cthulhu touches the minds of some men in dreams, the parasites of Wilson’s novel live in the consciousness of human beings, gradually draining our life force and threatening us with annihilation. But unlike the hopeless protagonists of Lovecraft’s stories, who must either forget what they know or surrender to madness, Wilson’s heroes push forward, trying to save the world by improving the cognitive powers of mankind. “A Study in Emerald” by Neil Gaiman: The 2003 anthology Shadows Over Baker Street challenged writers to place a Sherlock Holmes story against the backdrop of the Cthulhu Mythos. Gaiman created a Victorian era tale with an alternate history twist: the Great Old Ones awoke on Earth several hundred years earlier and, after a war with humanity, rule over all mankind. The Old Ones portray themselves as benevolent, though immortal and autocratic, leaders, but some humans in London are starting suspect that they are, in fact, soul-gobbling monsters. Gaiman also authored the much more humorous study “I, Cthulhu.”