Silvia Moreno-Garcia today surveys the use of Lovecraft as a fictional character. I hadn’t spotted Peter Cannon’s The Lovecraft Chronicles book yet, so thanks to Silvia for that. It’s an alternate-history fictional biography, posing the question: “what if Lovecraft had lived?” According to S.T. Joshi’s review the book has him going to England, then (improbably, but no doubt colourfully) going off to fight for the left in the Spanish Civil War. I answered the same question myself a while back, as part of the 2011 Summer School. While I took him down a different fork there were a couple of overlaps with Cannon. I also had Lovecraft try to repurchase his birthplace in the 1960s with the money from movie rights, and not writing much fiction after the 1940s.
Miskatonic Books blog writes of the excitement we should be feeling to be living at this moment…
“Imagine you were a little kid picking up the first 1960’s Marvel comics, or on the set of King Kong with Ray Harryhausen learning how to do stop [motion] action, or getting those first 1920’s issues of Weird Tales.”
He’s talking about indie horror books, but he could equally be talking about many other indie fields of activity that take advantage of the new technologies. Why aren’t we, as a culture, more excitied about this? It’s the first time in history it’s happened. It’s a moment in which creatives have, at our fingertips and either free or with micro start-up costs:
* the means of learning (forums, tutorials, how-to guides, access to gurus and “making of” showcases, access to immense libraries of inspiration, in abundance and often for free)
* the means of production (free/cheap software, cheap PCs, easy R&D on the Web, templates and Creative Commons content etc)
* the means of distribution (the Web for downloads, cheap writeable DVD’s, print-on-demand books, soon 3D printers-and-shippers, etc)
* the means of highly targetted marketing (niche blogs, Facebook groups, email, etc)
* the means of being instantly and directly paid (PayPal)
Maybe it’ll only be the kids of the new baby boom (they’ll be aged about 12-15 by the mid 2020s) who will really ‘ride out for the future’ on what we’re building now.
A round-up of the Lovecraft Birthday presents, so far arrived, for Saturday 20th August 2011…
Grim Reviews designs a new ice-cream type.
Red Wasp makes a cake.
Trunk Space is holding a real-world film show, “H.P. Lovecraft: Exhumed” in Pheonix, USA.
Boston Area Gamer network has a special gaming evening… “demos of HPL related card and board games, we’ll have some readings, some viewing of short subject Lovecraft films, We’ll have refreshments, hopefully a cake and lots of fun.”
I made a little speculation “H.P. Lovecraft gets turned on“.
H.P. Lovecraft gets turned on : a short speculation.
On the 20th day of August in the year 2040 Mr. H.P. Lovecraft finally got turned on. It was the result of 15 years of effort by a team of hundreds of scientists, scholars, writers and artists. His 150th birthday present was to be brought back to life, the first and the most important personage who would ever be created by the trillion-dollar U.S. Artificial Sentience Program (ASP). He would be able to draw on, and semantically combine and recombine, words/phrases/themes from a huge bank of his own authentic writing. In doing this, aided by the latest technology, he would seem almost as real in conversation as any other human being.
There had been much controversy in choosing Lovecraft to become the world’s first fully-fledged autonomous artificial personality. Yet he was by far the best choice. Lovecraft’s life was one of the most fully self-documented of the 20th century, and he had written about himself and his opinions with great intelligence and insight. Hundreds of people who knew him had assessed his personality with intelligence and artistic insight shortly after his death. He had used a careful and consistent style, and scholars had combed his published corpus for errors for over a century — this was critically important for the semantics technologies used. He was one of the 20th century’s most distinctive and unique personalities, and in 2040 he was still an immensely popular literary figure. And, had he not written in a most potent fashion about ‘mind transfers’, and about the ways in which dead books can be made to talk to the living? Was he not a firm atheist, so no religion would be ‘offended’ by his resurrection into the new immortality? Had not a core part of his own unique philosophy been a sort of antiquarian neo-‘ancestor worship’? Even the racism was a selling point, since people would now be able to argue with him about it. You see, in his new incarnation he would be able to learn as well as to talk.
The passing of 20th Century Copyright Liberation Act of 2033 had, of course, greatly aided the cutting-edge project. Everything he had ever written was carefully transferred and sifted into a new and highly advanced neural AI system (hem hem… it is impolite to call these proto-beings ‘computers’ in 2040), together with a highly-advanced semantic and factual structure that was painstakingly extracted from all the scholarly work and then refined and tested for nearly a decade. All this runs under a billion-dollar personality emulation module that arises from the popular wave of commercial ‘virtual immortality’ packages, consumer technology which had rapidly pushed forward personality-emulation in the 2020s. These services began simply as a means for keeping Web blogs as a ‘living archive’ after death, but they soon became pseudo-conversational interfaces with the dead. These rapid advances enabled the generative arts to move far beyond simply juggling with a chance fall of symbols. Then the ASP project had begun, deliberately scaled and promoted as a project with the same scope and importance to the 21st century as the moon landings had been to the 20th. Allied to Lovecraft’s highly advanced AI and software were — for the sake of the publicity — the wonders of 3D “in-air skin” holographic projection from a robotic synthoid base, and advanced on-the-fly speech synthesis. A bit of a problem, that last one — since there were no recordings of Lovecraft’s voice. In the end the ASP team just plumped for a blend of classic old ‘New England / old British’ accents with a rather formal tone and no modern slurring or clipping of words.
The great day came and President Schwarzenegger Jrn. pressed the switch. Trillions of dollars had been spent, and the hundreds who had worked on the ASP held their breath — the project was now fully autonomous and before a live audience. The hologram slowly powered up and coalesced around its rubbery robotic shell before the assembled world. The new H.P. Lovecraft II’s optic sensors detected a large crowd in front of him. His face twitched and his first public words were a rather frantic… “I am Mr. H.P. Lovecraft, and I am on this planet. I… am on this planet!” But then he took a breath and calmed and looked down at his smart formal suit with a certain amused approval, checked to see if his shoes were shiny and his nails were clean, and looked up again to speak perfectly rationally to his new public… “Ah! … now this is interesting… life after death! I really had not expected that. So… I suppose I should say a few memorable words, on such a momentous occasion. Er… Cats! They really are the most personable of creatures! …” He then launched into a long disquisition upon the wonderful ability of the house cat to convey a distinctive personality without the benefit of speech. President Schwarzenegger Jrn. suppressed a smirk when he recognised the knowing irony of Lovecraft II’s choice of topic, while many of the ASP staff blushed at the boldness of Lovecraft II.
Tavik Frantisek Simon (1877-1942)
“I had seen it in the sunset from a bridge, majestic above its waters, its incredible peaks and pyramids rising flowerlike and delicate from pools of violet mist to play with the flaming clouds and the first stars of evening. Then it had lighted up window by window above the shimmering tides where lanterns nodded and glided and deep horns bayed weird harmonies, and had itself become a starry firmament of dream, redolent of faery music, and one with the marvels of Carcassonne and Samarcand and El Dorado and all glorious and half-fabulous cities.” — “He” (1925) by H.P. Lovecraft, based on a longer description given in a letter, of sitting with Loveman watching the sunset after a long day of walking in May 1922.
“… the lapping of oily waves at its grimy piers and the monstrous organ litanies of the harbour whistles.” — “The Horror at Red Hook” (1925)
The library now has a notable archive of letters by Lovecraft.
“Lovecraft began reading Providence in Colonial Times at the very end of July 1925. Since he could not check the book out of the New York Public Library [he] had to read it in the genealogical reading room during library hours” — S.T. Joshi, H.P. Lovecraft: a life (1996).
“the horror tales of deep and dark chasms have their realistic counterpart in descriptions of the cavernous streets of Manhattan.” Unknown article including some commentary on Lovecraft in Landscape: Volumes 15-16 (1965).
“Loveman, Howard and FBL dropping in at a cafeteria on Seventh Avenue for coffee and doughnuts, a rather stocky figure arising from a table near the door. “Howard, how are you? Sam didn’t tell me you were in New York!” — Marginalia, 1944.
Lovecraft was a big fan of the The Arabian Nights in his youth, and he’d no doubt be pleased to hear the the foremost British writer on myth and fairytale has written a 500-page book about it. Independent scholar Marina Warner‘s Stranger Magic: Charmed States in the Wake of the Arabian Nights is due to be published by Chatto & Windus in the UK, and Random House in the USA. Seems they’re going to try and get it out for the New Year book token market.
“A dazzling history of magical thinking, exploring the power of The Arabian Nights and its impact in the West, and retelling some of its wondrous tales. […] Translated into French and English in the early days of the Enlightenment, this became a best-seller among intellectuals, when it was still thought of in the Arab world as a mere collection of folk tales. For thinkers of the West the book’s strangeness opened visions of transformation: dreams of flight, speaking objects, virtual money, and the power of the word to bring about change. Its tales create a poetic image of the impossible, a parable of secret knowledge and power. Above all they have the fascination of the strange — the belief that true knowledge lies elsewhere, in a mysterious realm of wonder. […] With startling originality and impeccable research, this ground-breaking book shows how magic, in the deepest sense, helped to create the modern world, and how profoundly it is still inscribed in the way we think today.”
Joseph Cornell (1903-1972), like Lovecraft he had a great interest in astronomy. There’s a book, Joseph Cornell and Astronomy: A Case for the Stars…
The new Library of America e-Newsletter interviews
S.T. Joshi about Ambrose Bierce (PDF link, full interview).
The bull-o-meter nudges the top end of the scale in some of the opening publisher quotes in The Library Journal‘s new cover article on the fantasy/SF renaissance. But otherwise it’s an interesting survey of the ‘big publisher’ trends in the mad scramble from Sept to Xmas. The highlights…
* Gritty ‘dark fantasy’ infiltrates the sort of over-padded fantasy epics that you can stop a door with. But who wants to slog through a 3,000 page trilogy full of ‘grim’, in the current climate?
* A new trend for historical/fantasy desert settings, Arabian Nights style. Interesting. I could imagine a lot of Lovecraftian elements could creep in there, if done well. There’s certainly a lot of public domain material to mine for authentic descriptions and background.
* Growth “in the male urban fantasy market”. That sub-genre must have completely passed me by. Sounds like it’s a 20-something target market, for guys afraid their manhood will shrivel up and fall off if they read about faeries and elves?
* Authors who write about zombies are moving them into political satire and comedy. Best place for them. They’re such dull monsters, the only thing left to do is poke fun at them.
* Steampunk continues to flounder about looking for fresh settings and twists, judging from the article.
* New galactic-spanning space adventures have become very rare, as 50-something SF authors churn in a mire of near-future gloom and angst. Publishers will be republishing their old “upbeat” space epics, to compensate.
* There’s a gap in the market for smart optimistic young-adult hard SF, which will increase as the economic recovery starts.
The biggest news is probably that Neal Stephenson is back with a new novel, Reamde, in September. It’s another 1000-page doorstopper. I don’t mind the size and I really enjoyed Anathem — but it seems that Reamde is more like Cryptonomicon which while gripping was forgettable. No news of any new book from Stephen Baxter, sadly.
Lower Clinton Street, Near East River, NYC, 1941. Is this the right Clinton St. for Lovecraft?
The present-day location of Lovecraft’s “dismal” room at 169 Clinton Street. It was then on the fringes of the Red Hook slum area. The Brooklyn Heights blog explains…
“Lovecraft’s description of 169 Clinton, at the corner of State Street, as “at the edge of Red Hook” may seem odd to Heights residents today, but in the 1920s “Red Hook” included all or much of what we know now as Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, as well as what we now call Red Hook.”
The 2011 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival will be showing a restored print of Lovecraft’s favourite movie, the time travel feature Berkeley Square (1933).
“This movie was considered by many to be lost […] This will be the first time this print has been screened, and probably the first time the movie has shown anywhere in decades.”
New theatre production of “The Dunwich Horror”, set to be staged this Autumn in London England…
“This production has been in development for over a year, from a script completed after extensive work-shopping. The premise was to keep extant as much of the text from the original story as possible, while opening up the piece to an engaging theatrical experience. The production will take place as part of the London Horror Festival at the Courtyard Theatre [Hoxton, London UK]”
No dates or box office yet, but the Festival dates are 25th Oct – 27th Nov 2011.