Anticipating CTHULHU’S REIGN (Part 1)
“After vigintillions of years great Cthulhu was loose again, and ravening for delight.”
– H. P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu,” 1928
“I want to know the same thing we all want to know: How’s it going to end?”
–Tom Waits, Orphans, 2006
There was a time, not so long ago, when only those who read H. P. Lovecraft’s masterful tales of cosmic horror had heard the name “Cthulhu.” In 2010 that is no longer the case. Thanks to an ever-growing legion of Lovecraft fans, books, magazines, movies, games, and web sites, Cthulhu has taken his place firmly among the Greatest Monsters of All Time.
Dracula. Frankenstein. Wolf-Man. Mummy. King Kong. Godzilla. Cthulhu.
Anyone can add a few more of his favorite monsters to this list, but one thing’s for sure: Great Cthulhu has risen into the mortal consciousness in a way that Lovecraft himself probably never imagined. And what’s not to love about this mountainous space-god with the head of a colossal squid, demonic batwings, a bloated and scaly body, and the ability to sleep for eons beneath the Pacific Ocean while sending evil dreams to haunt mortal men? Today, even folks who have never read a Lovecraft story have heard of ol’ squid-head and his legacy.
If you haven’t yet discovered the pleasures of Cthulhu fiction, skip everything else and go directly to the source: “The Call of Cthuhlu” by H. P. Lovecraft—a short story published in 1928 in the pages of WEIRD TALES magazine. You can find the story reprinted in numerous Lovecraft anthologies. Reading that one tale will set you on a path toward “the nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh,” and all the succeeding tales of Cthulhu and his malevolent star-spawn. You will find dozens if not hundreds of other stories Cthulhu-related to enjoy at your skin-crawling leisure, and there is more of this “Cthulhu Mythos” fiction coming all the time.
That’s the mark of a truly great idea: People just can’t leave it alone. Like a viral contagion, it spreads and expands, taking on new forms, evolving into an immortal cycle of myths and stories…and all of them revolving around one central truth:
Some day, when the stars are right, Cthulhu will arise from his death-sleep at the bottom of the ocean and reclaim the world for the Great Old Ones.
As it turns out, that day will be April 6, 2010.
CTHULHU’S REIGN is a new DAW Books anthology of all-original tales answering the same question: What happens when Great Cthulhu rises up to conquer the planet? The book includes 14 short stories and 1 novella, all hand-picked by legendary editor Darrell Schweitzer. It hits stores on the 6th of April, and you can pre-order it at www.amazon.com. (Please do.)
Over the next few weeks I’ll be talking with the authors who contributed to CTHULHU’S REIGN, doing exclusive interviews on their Cthulhu-thoughts, the inspiration for their stories, and other fascinatingly macabre subjects.
I thought I’d start this week by talking about my own contribution to the collection, a nasty little number called “This Is How the World Ends.” But first, here’s a look at the entire table of contents:
Introduction by Darrell Schweitzer
The Walker in the Cemetery by Ian Watson
Sanctuary by Don Webb
Her Acres of Pastoral Playground by Mike Allen
Spherical Trigonometry by Ken Asamatsu
What Brings the Void by Will Murray
The New Pauline Corpus by Matt Cardin
Ghost Dancing by Darrell Schweitzer
This is How the World Ends by John R. Fultz
The Shallows by John Langan
Such Bright and Risen Madness in Our Names by Jay Lake
The Seals of New R’lyeh by Gregory Frost
Holocaust of Ecstacy by Brian Stableford
Vastation by Laird Barron
Nothing Personal by Richard Lupoff
Remnants by Fred Chappell
That is one impressive list of writers. I am humbled to be in such company, and I cannot wait to read this book myself.
When Darrell asked me last year if I’d like to contribute my first thought was: “Wow…that is the coolest Cthulhu story you could possibly write.” It seems everybody has written their story about Cthulhu sleeping in his sunken city, or his bloodthirsty cultists preying on innocent land-dwellers, or what-have-you. But the opportunity to actually RAISE the Dreaming One from his ancient crypt and set him loose upon the world…it was too fiendishly attractive to pass up. So I turned up the volume on some classic Black Sabbath and started thinking about what the world would be like after R’lyeh rose to the surface and the kingdoms of man began to fall into the sea.
Of course there would be tidal waves…great tsunamis to flatten the matchstick towers reared by mortal hands…and terrible things would come slogging out of the waters…the drowned ones would be the lucky ones. This would be a reality where the oceans themselves wage war against the continents…amphibious monsters and marine behemoths would crawl forth to prey on humanity. Oceans already cover two-thirds of the earth, so how long would it take for the land-born nations to crumble? Not long…
Amid this backdrop of global catastrophe and cephalopodic carnivores pouring across the coastal cities, I started looking for a main character. A story idea is nothing without a strong viewpoint character…I needed someone the reader could relate to…someone who would inhabit this drowning, decaying world where hope was all but dead. I flashed to visions of John Conner in the Terminator movies, trying to survive in a world slain by merciless technology. Those stories were basically survivalist tales, and this one would be too. I remember telling someone while I was writing the story: “It’s kind of like Terminator but with giant monsters instead of killer robots.” Of course that was over-simplifying it, but the analogy held. I needed a Mad Max figure, a George Taylor (from Planet of the Apes), a figure who could walk (or run) through this panorama of cosmic destruction and kick a little ass along the way.
When I moved from Orange County, California, up to the Bay Area three years ago, I drove through the great mass of farming communities in the San Joaquin Valley. The people there reminded me of my home state, Kentucky, with traditional rural attitudes, speech, and dress. They are hearty folk who do hard work, keeping the Salad Bowl of America filled with crops to feed a nation. Since I wanted to set my CTHULHU’S REIGN story on the West Coast, I decided my main character would be a San Joaquin farmer…a quintessential American.
“Joe” had done a tour of duty in Iraq, survived the horrors of war, and come home bearing the usual scars. All he wanted now was a simple farmer’s life, the life his daddy had lived…but instead he finds himself smack-dab in the middle of the End of the World. Right there, I had my protagonist and I quickly fell into his voice. It was great fun for me to immerse myself in the vernacular and speech patterns of a modern-day Californian, especially someone who was more like my Eastern Kentucky relatives than myself.
Joe is a plain-spoken badass in a world gone straight to Hell.
I settled into a first-person groove, letting Joe tell the story, get the reader up to speed on global events in his sparse-yet-chilling manner, before getting around to his own desperate situation. Joe and several other San Joaquin families form a caravan and head away from the coast (where hordes of monsters are crawling out of the sea) toward the drylands of Nevada. What they find there reveals the true depth of the global apocalypse. Cthulhu’s newborn empire knows no bounds, and not even the great deserts can stay free from his dominion for long.
This story was a chance to ask some fascinating questions, but the biggest and most important for me became: “What can you possibly do when there is no hope of survival?”
Or is survival merely a matter of perspective?
Joe is definitely a survivor.
But what does that mean?
In order to find out, you have to read “This Is How the World Ends.”
Next week in this space I’ll be talking with Brian Stableford, Matt Cardin, Laird Barron, Mike Allen, and Ian Watson about their own visions of the End of the World in CTHULHU’S REIGN.
Until then, Sweet Dreams…