What if we had no choice in our ultimate
fate? What if we were just marking time until an indifferent
universe snuffs us out? Would we be burned by an exploding star?
Dispatched by a natural disaster? Or would we be devoured by
some infinitely more powerful beings who saw us as snacks?
H P Lovecraft
the most frightening counterbalance to the Shining City on the Hill
school of Future Past was the American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft
(1890-1937). Though Lovecraft's stock in trade was weird
tales about eldritch horrors that lurked in the shadows, he did not
believe in the supernatural. In fact, he was a staunch
materialist who was a hostile opponent of Einstein's theory of
relativity because he felt that it undermined the predictability of
the Newtonian world. For all their bizarre qualities,
Lovecraft's creations were never anything other than material beings
that obeyed the laws of science. Trouble is, they were always so
powerful that they made a mockery of what we regard as science as
being the speculation of infants about the nature of their playpen.
In Lovecraft's world, all of our science, religion,
art, philosophy (the whole of human history, actually) was a fool's
paradise. The universe was ruled by beings and forces so
powerful, so malevolent,
and so alien, that to catch even a glimpse
of reality would drive anyone stark, raving mad. Our Earth was
simply in the middle of a lucky breathing spell, which could not hope
to last and the horrible things that once ruled our planet and would
soon come again and exterminate us in an orgy of pain, corruption
and insanity. In the meantime, the best that we could hope to do
is to put our blinkers on and ignore the odd nightmare that squirts
into our world from the incomprehensible Beyond.
not getting you down, am I?
get the idea that this sort of mindset is exclusive to pessimistic
American horror writers. Douglas Adams (1952-2001) had a picture
of the universe in his five-part
"trilogy" that wasn't that far from Lovecraft's. The difference
was that whereas Lovecraft's was horrific, Adams's was absurd.
Sure, the Earth might be the plaything of superintelligent,
pandimensional beings, but they turn out to be mice. And if your
planet is destroyed, it's most likely to be due to being pocketed
into a black hole during a game of intergalactic bar billiards.
course, all of this pales as nothing when compared to the
gravitational vortex put out by the incredible mass of Zaphod
Beeblbrox's ego, but past this we shall tread lightly.