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Mountains of Influential Madness
Bar Harbor
alexx_kay
I have just reread (though after decades, it almost counts as a first read again), H.P. Lovecraft's _At the Mountains of Madness_. I did remember that it was an effective horror story, but I had forgotten what an excellent SF story it was at the same time. And, as I read, I kept seeing echoes of influence in other works I've enjoyed.

Quite a few story elements from AtMoM turn up in John Campbell's "Who Goes There?", twice adapted for film as "The Thing". I suspect it is no coincidence that John Carpenter made both The Thing remake and a film adaptation of AtMoM itself. (I have not seen this. Any good?)

The description of the early stages of shoggoth technology made me wonder if the mysterious masters of The Village had used lost Old One tech to create Rover. Which would be hideously dangerous, of course -- but well within the realm of plausibility for arrogant, paranoid Cold Warriors.

Which leads us naturally to Charles Stross. Lovecraft in general is a clear influence on his work, but his "A Colder War" is nearly a direct sequel to AtMoM, though differing much in style and setting.

Yet Stross was not the one whose echoes I heard loudest while reading this. To my surprise, this book appears to have had a tremendously strong influence on Rosemary Kirstein, of all people. Discussing that influence requires some fairly major spoilers for her (excellent) Steerswomen books, so, if you haven't already, you should go read those before continuing.

I am talking specifically about the 'demon' plotline in _The Lost Steersman_. Kirstein's demons bear a notable resemblance to Lovecraft's Old Ones. Both have radial symmetry unlike any advanced earth life. Both have extended senses that allow them to manage without sight. Both exude sounds and smells that humans find quite disturbing. Both build cities in ways which are very different from human cities. Both cities are located in spaces outside normal human access.

In both stories, an investigator doing an autopsy is baffled by the lack of the resemblances that all earth animals share with one another. In both stories, small oddly-complex objects are originally thought to be the result of natural phenomena, but are later revealed to be alien artifacts containing lexical information.

Perhaps most tellingly, in both stories, the humans and the aliens fail to recognize, for some time (longer than an astute reader), that the other side are sentient beings, not just dangerous monsters. In each story, the aliens take a human subject for study, echoing the way the humans earlier studied the aliens. Both stories also feature other forces, greater, barely-glimpsed horrors, that are a threat to both sentient races.

Not to say that Kirstein is merely copying, of course. Her aliens are more impressively *alien* than Lovecraft's -- or 99% of *all* SF aliens, for that matter. And Lovecraft follows the "There are things man was Not Meant To Know" school, which Kirstein's heroine vigorously rejects. Still, the similarities are fascinating.

Last and least, there's one bit of AtMoM that quite tickled my fancy, and is a great example of HPL's occasional absurdist humor. It's what a horror movie fan would call a "cat moment", where the heroes are startled by something that turns out to be quite harmless. Only here, it's nothing so ordinary as a cat. No, our heroes get to be startled by six-foot-tall blind albino cave penguins Squaaawwwck!
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Haha, I loved the cave penguin part.

Yes, the six foot albino penguins really call out to be put in a cheesy horror movie, I'm thinking stop-animation like --I'm zoning on his name, but the guy who made "Jason and the Argonauts" --those skeleton warriors totaly freaked me out when I was a kid, and our local creature double feature show used that clip in their opening blurb, so I saw it every Saturday for years. The uncanniness of their slightly jerky movements just made them creepier, and i can definitely see albino penguins in the same style.

Harryhausen! He was amazing.

It doesn't bear quite the strong similarity on the points you mentioned, but your description got me thinking of Peter Watt's _Blindsight_ also as a story which contains some of those Lovecraftian tropes.

You can find the complete works of Lovecraft at a number of sites online, but I usually go to
http://www.dagonbytes.com/thelibrary/lovecraft/

_Blindsight_ would be another member of that 1% of SF with *really* alien aliens.

I would say, rather, that he's got really alien humans. The aliens are just a black box; we see them fighting, and we get hints that they're nonconscious; but they're really there as a foil to explore wildly aneurotypical human beings. That he does well.

I admit we never get full understanding of the aliens, but I would claim they are far more than black boxes.

That said, I agree with your appreciation of his "alien humans".

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