We’re back and we’re setting our long-range scanners to search the cosmos for the insidious influence of the Mythos. One of the things that set Lovecraft’s work apart from the Gothic tales that had previously dominated the genre was the way it incorporated elements of science fiction. This isn’t to say that Lovecraft was the first writer to mix horror and SF—they have been kissing cousins since Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein.
Instead, Lovecraft used science fiction elements to make a kind of supernatural horror that had no reliance on the supernatural itself. By using aliens as his gods and monsters, he created something that felt both familiar and utterly different from anything that had gone before. H G Wells’s Martians may have had tentacles and travelled to Earth on meteors, but no one ever worshipped them as gods.
Our discussion focuses on how a number of classic science fiction tropes are used in Lovecraft and Call of Cthulhu. The main topics we cover are aliens, space travel, other dimensions, time travel and mad science. We also look at some published games and Call of Cthulhu settings that bring the SF aspects of the Mythos to the forefront. We wrap things up by brainstorming some science fiction scenario ideas of our own.
This episode also sees a brief audio review of a new collection of Mythos stories, The Private Life of Elder Things. If you want to read a more in-depth review, we published one recently.
As we also mention this episode, there is still time to ensure you receive a copy of issue 2 of The Blasphemous Tome. This is the fanzine that we produce exclusively for people who back the podcast on Patreon. If you are a backer at the time of release (probably in early February) then you will receive at least one copy. Please see our recent update for more details.
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I feel that, while ‘Call of Cthulhu’ games can and often are occult horror (which I love), I have to interpret Lovecraft’s best stories as science fiction. I find it hard to be frightened of devils and sorcery because they’re not real (sorry). I enjoy them in a pulpy, Denis Wheatley way.
However, the terror of what intrudes from outside, and the thought that the natural scientific principles that have built my world, that I rely on every day, could unknowingly reveal us to such things… well, that makes me feel uneasy every time.
I think that’s what made Lovecraft’s approach unique for his time. It found a rationalist pretext for the trappings of occult horror, allowing people with no belief in the supernatural to share in the chills. It’s a fine balancing act sometimes, but he usually managed to pull it off.
I tend to stay away for explicitly occult elements in Call of Cthulhu. Ghosts, vampires and the like feel out of place, unless they are Mythos phenomena being mistaken for something else. For me, the Mythos will always be alien science, and while our attempts to use its power may look like alchemy, demonology or other such practices, that’s simply because humanity doesn’t understand it well enough to know otherwise.