I experience the existential horror of sci-fi literature in a strange, almost counterintuitive way. While it seems that I’m immune to Lovecraft’s insidious neuroticism, I experience unbound dread and awareness of my own minuteness when I read the sprawling space operas of Isaac Asimov. I always read the former casually tearing through an increasingly decrepit anthology of stories my mother bought me for my birthday one year, but I shudder at the thought of ever touching anything written by H.G. Wells. For me, Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness is a romantic romp through Antarctica’s ancient past, but narratives of intergalactic empires and cyborgs grim reminders that time is running out and everything returns to dust. In my relatively uncreative mind, I used to implicitly assume that these two sides of fiction were never bound to intersect; that changed when I was sifting through shitposts one day and came across, alas, a serious post from Instagram user @theclockspider!
There’s an interesting phenomenon unfolding in the decrepit graves of dead attention spans (social media platforms) and it can be found at the intersection of bit-size content and this new thematic synthesis. The aforementioned Clock Spider (a cargo & freight company) gives us one instance: the page is riddled—from June 23 onwards, that is—with a deluge of lore pertaining to the Void War and the social, economic, and geopolitical factors that catalysed it. There’s a short story’s worth of text detailing the machinations of warlords and scrambles of nations in The Void, a place that is never really explained (probably because it’d be incomprehensible to us anyway). Accompanying these encyclopaedia-esque entries are illustrations where a human hand has prodigally managed to capture the haunting entropy of AI-generated images. What fascinates me more than anything is that this is just an interlude to the page’s regular programme of incoherent irony-posting that overlays repeats of the question over and over again, is he next up out of Atlanta? In its mesh of interdimensional Mayans and realpolitik that defies time and space, the saga of the Void War presents something halfway between the pulp history of A Line in the Sand and The Shadow Out of TIme.
Tim Molloy, an artist (who obviously takes himself much more seriously), furnishes another instance of this weird genre consisting of production stills from the long-running, time-warping, holy-war-sparking soap opera Hasturon’s Dilemma. The show, which in-universe has been running for untold millenia, seems to be the cultural cornerstone of a maddening yet familiar and, for lack of a better word, normal cosmic realm. The stills, AI-generated images, depict a plethora of notables from critic Sargash The Limbless to the writer Plumbuss Ratch. It seems that the only big name absent from the cast of Upper Hierarchy pop icons involved in the show is fan-favourite Glub Shitto. The collection of production stills Molloy collects on his page is unique: these are essentially 300-word articles you’d find in the arts and culture section of an interdimensional periodical, mundane comments on media that would drive the human mind insane in its quest to comprehend.
There’s a degree of surrealism in these works of literature (which, you have to admit, is what they are), though it’s coupled with an intense lucidity and self-contained banality that thrusts them into a category that hasn’t quite figured itself out yet. Unlike the celestial comedy of, for instance, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, there’s no anchor to our experience in these stories, no human ‘straight-man’, and yet they still indulge comedy, they aren’t fantastical. It’s difficult to find words to articulate exactly what I mean: this is a genre like comedy, it has all the trappings of it, it allows for routine humdrum, but it’s also a genre of fantasy entirely removed from any semblance of worldliness, at least for us. Reading about Hasturon’s Dilemma is like reading something the Great Unknown One wrote for a cinema studies class.
This niche is a place where I can find the feelings of dread I was supposed to feel reading about Cthulu as an angsty pre-teen. Like the recent genre of ‘analogue horror’ that grew out of ARGs (alternate reality games) to proliferate throughout YouTube and Twitter, these works pray on the unsettling bleakness of office buildings built in the early 90s and literature essays from dead John Does. To see the desolation of bare life at the cosmic level is something new, it’s not everyday you’re given something that lets you picture creatures beyond your understanding living out a Seinfeld-like situation over nameless aeons.