Showing posts from 2024


Jack Vance, "Noise" in Startling Stories , August 1952. Read the story here at Internet Archive The planet on which the narrator is stranded is quite strange to him: celestial bodies with unfamiliar orbits, long days and nights, dead suns, and alien species that barely register at the edges of perception due to their almost unfathomable otherness. The story blurs the line between the contribution of the perceiver and what is perceived, suggesting that there may not be any fact of the matter about where that line is drawn. The world offers up something raw to the marooned narrator’s senses, and his mind imposes a pattern onto it, counting some things as mere noise and some things as meaningful. This doesn’t make the world any less real; rather, it elucidates what the objective world consists of. Given the different colors of the heavenly bodies that provide illumination to the world, Vance draws our attention to the idea that color isn’t something that inheres in the objects t


  Michael Shea, "Polyphemus" in  Polyphemus  (Arkham House: 1987).   The cosmic horror of this story is a weird, unknowable, and terrifying alien creature dubbed “Polyphemus.” Of the parts that the characters can see, we are not only provided with a detailed morphological description but also a partial functional description of Polyphemus; that is, the characters, to save themselves from it, offer up theories of how some aspects of the monster biologically work together. The creature’s biological/neurological functions are distributed across what appear to be distinct species. The arrangement of sharks, delphs, squids, and grass in its environment operates as sense organs, among other things. This results in a higher-order unified biological function distributed across individuals of various species—the Polyphemus supervenes on other creatures. This is all cool enough, but within this story, Shea suggests a version of transhumanism as a potential solution to the existential t

The Night Ocean

R.H. Barlow with H.P. Lovecraft, "The Night Ocean" in The Californian vol. 4, no. 3 (Winter 1936). Read the story here at the H.P. Lovecraft Archive This is a spectacular study of the weirdness evoked by the ocean, particularly the ocean at night. Barlow describes the effects of the sea on our conceptions of self as he recounts an extended stay at a lonely beach house just outside the town of Ellston. The language, the themes, and the way this story's elements work together make it one of the best Lovecraft collaborations ever published.   Human beings have a primal and deep psychological connection to the ocean. As a source of fear, awe, and beauty, the sea represents the unknown, the vast, and the source from which all life evolved. In this story, Barlow handles a well-worn theme of cosmic horror—that is, our insignificance—in a thought-provoking way that manages not to just repeat the same genre theme we've come to expect from cosmicism. Sure the night ocean has th

Haïta the Shepherd

  Ambrose Bierce, "Haïta the Shepherd," in  Tales of Soldiers and Civilians  (E. L. G. Steele: 1891). Read the story here on Gutenburg In a previous murmur covering Ambrose Bierce’s short story “An Inhabitant of Carcosa,” I argued that Robert W. Chambers takes more from that story than just the name “Carcosa.” Likewise, it is often claimed that while Chambers takes the name “Hastur” from Bierce’s “Haïta the Shepherd,” the influence of that story on Chambers’ work ends there.  I think there is a much deeper connection, and I will argue that important themes in Bierce’s “Haïta the Shepherd” carry over to The King in Yellow .  Although a central theme in “Haïta the Shepherd” focuses on happiness being elusive and that the best way to attain happiness is by not purposely seeking it out, the story is also packed with other interesting themes relevant to certain readings of The King in Yellow . The first line of Bierce's parable like tale: “[i]n the heart of Haïta, the illusio

Into Dust

Adam "Bucho" Rodenberger, "Into Dust" in Under a Black Rainbow  (2023). "People are still having sex."  ㅡLaTour Some of the best speculative fiction has a way of bringing to light the paradoxical features of our nature. Many of these murmurs point to the tensions at the heart of who we are, and "Into Dust" gives us a peek at the paradoxical sinew that simultaneously holds us together and tears us apart. Puritanical efforts to control sexual appetites rarely result in sex being controlled; instead, the control just becomes sexualized. Similarly, that psycho-sexual mechanism is at work in our protagonist. That which is neglected, ignored, and remains unused will gather dust, and when sex becomes dusty, the dust just becomes sexualized.   

The Falling Glass

  Algernon Blackwood, "The Falling Glass" in Tongues of Fire: And Other Sketches  (1924). Read the story here on the Internet Archive . Cosmic horror is at its best when it is less about the immediate danger posed and more about the horror/awe evoked by the thing's very existence. This often emerges because of its unfathomable scale, total indifference to us, and/or incomprehensible otherness. While thunderstorms are often used in horror to invoke fear based upon the danger they pose to life and limb, Blackwood taps the weather for a different kind of horror. These massive natural forces, not in the least concerned about the things we value, continue to humble us and stand to remind us of our insignificance.