If you are anything at all like me, you’re surrounded by people who revere H.P. Lovecraft as a master of the weird fiction genre. But also, if you’re like me, you grew up reading modern writers – or at least writers that were still alive in the eighties, such as Asimov, Heinlein or Robert Asprin, to name a few genre figures I recall from my early days of reading science fiction and fantasy.
Every once in a while, an essay (generally found in one of Asimov’s collections) mentioned this legendary “Golden Era” from whence all that is good in the genre originated, but the publications mentioned therein where antediluvian. There were a bunch of new books being published every year by great authors (Thieves World!). Why waste time on the older stuff.
Well, there are various good reasons to do so. For starters, Asimov was right when he gushed about the era. If you enjoy can-do attitudes and heroes willing to overcome whatever an unfriendly universe can throw their way, then the Golden Age is a good place to start. If you want to see everything from the limits of space travel to the boundaries of mental capacity explored through a scientific lens and with innocent joy, this is the era to go. Admittedly, if literary experimentation or diversity are the main things you look for in your fiction, then this is probably not the right era for you. These are straightforward stories written to entertain, and they do that job well.
So it was with those expectations that I picked up my first Lovecraft, a Del Rey paperback of The Doom that Came to Sarnath and Other Stories.
I found it interesting, but not the mind-blowing experience that the Lovecraft fans had led me to expect.
Why? Well, in these tales, Lovecraft does what so many editors who rejected him criticized him for: writes in a forced archaic tone which helps create atmosphere and add to the dread, but also slows down the reader – which, come to think of it, was likely also intentional.
I left off of Lovecraft to read more pressing matters after that, but, thanks to Easton Press and their now-discontinued Horror Classics series, I ran into the man again.
And this time I got the message.
The book Easton Press selected was At the Mountains of Madness. It has become the book that I send people who ask me: “What’s all the fuss about Lovecraft, anyway?”
The reason for this is that this one is told by a modern-day (remember it was written in 1931) explorer in his own colloquial voice, but it still combines many of the elements found in his other tales, including Shoggoths, the hint of the old ones, Miskatonic University and namless fear leading to madness. It’s all there, but it’s also readable. Those who wish to explore further can do so in his other work.
Plus, if you want to know where writers and filmmakers who placed their horror stories in the wasteland of Antartica got their inspiration, you need look no further.
As an added bonus, this one is short enough to read quickly – and he street cred that having read Lovecraft brings among SFF fans is priceless!
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist. His best-known novel is probably Siege, and that’s likely why it’s the one being adapted into a graphic novel.