Polyphemus

 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 threat of cosmicism. Faced with a cosmic horror so profoundly alien, one that renders our existence insignificant, we must become something different, something bigger, something akin to the alien itself. Much of the story is given over to the characters coming together and operating as an extended mind, evolving into something new and arranging themselves analogous to how Polyphemus functions.

 

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