Wednesday, May 09, 2018

The Lovecraftian Thing a Day (2018) No.129: A Colder War by Charles Stross

Nominally a ‘sequel’ to At the Mountains of Madness, Charles Stross’ A Colder War imagines a secret history of the 20th Century - one premised on the assumption that various of the world’s governments gained access to alien technology in the aftermath of the events of Lovecraft’s novella.

What follows is a reimagining of the latter years of the Cold War, seen through the eyes of a CIA analyst who is witness to the weaponisation of the Cthulhu mythos by shady government agencies - and Oliver North - at the behest of the global superpowers. One memorable scene, which characterises the mood of the piece - involves the ghastly aftermath of the CIA’s use of Elder Thing gate technology to smuggle arms and heroin into Afghanistan.

This is, to my mind, one of the best - and most horrifying - modern Cthulhu mythos tale ever penned, contemporising Lovecaft’s fictive mythology in ways which allow it to speak to acutely modern , late 20th/early 21st Century fears and anxieties. It also has one of the bleakest endings in a literary genre notable for its prolific use of the bleak ending.

Stross’ later Laundry series employs some of the tropes and themes of A Colder War, but are not direct sequels and handle bureaucratised Lovecraftian cosmic horror with an intentionally lighter, comedic touch. Whilst I thoroughly enjoy the Laundry books, I can’t help but wonder what Stross might have produced had the Laundry novels been written in the same vein and mood as A Colder War...

Helpfully, A Colder War is freely (and legally) available to read here. There is also an excellent and chillingly narrated audiobook version here.

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