H. P. Lovecraft and Astrobiology

One of my editorials, the Autumn 1995, for the small press publication ‘Beyond The Boundaries’, speculated as to the nature of science fiction, which might have some relevance to the new Astrobiology degree being run at the University of Glamorgan.
I think it was Arthur C. Clarke who said that any unknown technology would appear as magic to a society that did not understand it. This has been the basis of more than one ?fantasy? story. This same perspective can also be applied to aliens. Probably the best examples of aliens being so strange and different that society tries to interpret them into its superstitious folklore are the writings of H. P. Lovecraft (particularly his Cthulhu Mythos stories) . What he wrote about were ancient and powerful races of aliens. In fact these were so powerful and so strange (alien in its purist sense) that, from the point of view of the characters in the story, they appeared as demons from a gothic horror stories. From a publisher and bookseller?s point of view they were Gothic Horror stories. The mechanism used to create the fantastic amongst the mundane, however, remained science fiction. Perhaps the greatest risk to the protagonists in Lovecraft?s stories was that of losing their sanity. There were two main causes for this, firstly the shear degree of difference, of having no common points of reference with the aliens encountered was very unsettling, but often the real clincher, I suspect, was finding out that man wasn?t the ???king? standing on top of the evolutionary mountain after all. I think both these points have relevance for any real encounter we may have with some alien race one day. Perhaps Lovecraft should be included on the reading list for the degree?



    April 9, 2005

    As a big fan of “At the Mountains of Madness”:http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0586063226/qid=1113076140/sr=1-6/ref=sr_1_11_6/202-8913220-7093401 and other assorted sanity busting stories I totally agree with Peter’s comments of H.P. (“Beautiful Brown Sauce”:http://www.hpfoods.com/brands/hpsauce/) Lovecraft. Indeed the recent Big Screen Mike Mignola Comic Book Adaptation of “Hellboy”:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0167190/ featured some of the Cthulhu Mythos in the form of the elder gods. The trouble is that SF is so big and our modules so small, we can’t possibly fit everybodies favourite SF in (except mine – after all there have to be some perks in teaching the course) … perhaps the answer is either explore these issues in your “independent studies”:http://case.glam.ac.uk/CASE/Degrees/S&SFmod.html?#indStudy or if that format isn’t long enough, stay in UoG, enroll for the “MSc”:http://case.glam.ac.uk/CASE/Degrees/CommSciMSc.html and make it your Postgrad “dissertation”:http://case.glam.ac.uk/CASE/Degrees/CommSciMScmod.html?#diss topic !!

    Mark Brake

    April 9, 2005

    Good idea, Peter.

    In fact, in our third level ???astrobiology??? module “Life in the Universe”:http://case.glam.ac.uk/CASE/Degrees/AstroBiomod.html?#LITU we study, among other things, the way in which such cultural forms are often unconscious and, therefore, particularly valuable reflections of the assumptions and attitudes held by society.

    SF has been a particularly effective vehicle for generating
    thought about the alien form.

    In the module we also run science communication sessions in
    which students conduct seminars in order to critically and
    imaginatively communicate the nature and evolution of the
    extraterrestrial debate through SF (this may be a handy place
    into which you could slot, at least some, H. P. Lovecraft?).

    Two such science fictional influences on the ET debate have been “Olaf Stapledon”:http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/S/Stapledon.html and “Arthur C Clarke”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_C._Clarke

    In Stapledon???s “Star Maker”:http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/S/StarMaker.html , alien biologies, together with
    terrestrials, search for the supreme intelligence in the new
    universe. The book is an exploration of extraterrestrialism and
    the quest for the spirit of the cosmos, an entity at the head of a
    new, and cosmic, “great chain of being”:http://www.stanford.edu/class/engl174b/chain.html.

    Stapledon wrote ???it was becoming clear to us that if the cosmos had any lord at all, he was not that spirit [God], but some other, whose purpose in creating the endless fountain of worlds was not fatherly toward the beings that he made, but alien, inhuman, dark???.

    So, much more than science itself, it is the fictional elaborations
    of extraterrestrialism that define the pervasive position of the alien idea in popular culture today.

    Clarke was greatly influenced by Stapledon, famously writing
    ???the idea that we are the only intelligent creatures in a cosmos of
    a hundred billion galaxies is so preposterous that there are very
    few astronomers today who would take it seriously. It is safest
    to assume, therefore, that They are out there and to consider the
    manner in which this fact may impinge upon human society???

    And, of course, it was Arthur C Clarke himself who was
    instrumental, in the second half of the C20th, in developing
    extraterrestrialism for the mass market. Even though the
    imaginative and innovative flood and sweep of the alien theme in fiction is impressive, as far as the propagation of the
    extraterrestrial hypothesis is concerned, it was the reworking of
    representative examples of such fiction, particularly that of
    Clarke, for the “cinema”:http://www.filmsite.org/twot.html , that accelerated the process even further.

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