After some much-needed medical leave, I’m back on the job and getting back into the swing of things. While I was out of action, I spent a lot of time reading through my collection of pulp sci-fi stories and got to thinking about our concept of scale.
I’m a big fan of the space opera, naturally. E.E. Doc Smith’s Lensmen series is by far my favorite of that genre. It’s hard to get much bigger than the adventures of the Galactic Patrol and the Kinnison family. Massive ships, huge (and I mean huge) interstellar wars, universe-wide plots, you name it and Smith’s covered it. From space axes to weapons that can dim an entire sun, it makes for fantastic reading and had a huge impact on the creation of Cosmic Patrol, obviously.
But like I said, as I was sitting in the hospital and then recovering at home, I got a lot of reading done. It was mostly short stories and one of them was H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in the Darkness.”
If you’ve never read Whisperer, (seriously? The hell? Shame on you!) it’s one of Lovecraft’s best stories. It features all the hits: cosmic menace, ancient tomes, horrors which should not be names, cultists, a Nyarlathotep cameo; it’s simply a classic. But as I was rereading the story, I began to think about Lovecraft’s view of the solar system and universe.
In Whisperer, the main enemy is the Mi-Go, a race of space-insect-fungi things that menace a retiree and his dogs in rural Vermont (that sounds silly but it works, trust me). We also learn in the story that the Mi-Go hail from Yuggoth, a planet on the edge of our solar system. Though it’s not specifically stated in the story, Lovecraft would later tell a friend that Yuggoth is, in fact, Pluto. This makes sense, Lovecraft was an avid, if amateur, astronomer and Pluto was discovered in 1930, the same year he wrote Whisperer.
That made me stop for a moment. Here was one of Lovecraft’s coolest baddies and they were from our own solar system! How cool is that? Most of his big baddies are truly cosmic, pan- or other-dimensional beings that humans can barely conceive of without going insane.
Aliens native to other planets in our home system is nothing new of course. Everything from the Tharks to the Europans have native origins. But really, it’s not something you see much of anymore in modern science fiction. Back in Lovecraft’s day all the way through the 1960s, “local” sci fi was fairly common and it’s not hard to see why.
Back then, we as a race didn’t have the experience we do today and that was reflected in our creations. Now we know about hundreds of exoplanets and it’s a lot more fun to dream about visiting them than visiting, say, Venus. Anyone writing about a trip to Venus would have to deal with the widespread knowledge that Venus’ atmosphere sucks and you’d be more likely to melt than meet a race of Golden Amazons.
Obviously, one form of fiction isn’t better than the other, but it was refreshing to think about our own, small corner of the universe as a hotbed of cosmic adventure. I’m glad I populated the Cosmic Patrol home solar system with everything from Neptunian Mind Plants to Automen to Cometarians. Zooming in on Sol can be just as rewarding as traipsing around the universe, all it takes is imagination, of course.
One more thing
So, yeah, the whole medical leave thing knocked me for a loop and put me behind on my Cosmic Patrol duties. We at Catalyst also have a few other things going on that will eat up a bunch of time in the near future. That said, I’m still plugging along at development of The Moon Must Be Ours, which I promise I’ll talk more about next blog post.