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The Shadow Out of Time
Bar Harbor
Continuing the Lovecraft theme, I just read The Shadow Out of Time. This story presents the grandest depiction of Deep History that I have read in HPL. It's a depiction that raises a lot of issues, however, issues that Lovecraft (or at least his narrator) show little awareness of or interest in.

Much of the story is concerned with the (self-named) Great Race, a sentient race that inhabited the earth millions of years before humanity. We get to find out lots about them because they have a technology that allows psychic time travel. Individuals can swap their mind with that of another sentient being far removed in time and space. They are historians, collecting accounts of dozens of different races across the history of the solar system. They pretend to be natives, and soak up as much information as they can.

The people who get their brains swapped also add to the records of the Great Race, being treated somewhere between prisoners and guests, depending how cooperative they are. When they are returned to their own time, they are subjected to a memory block, erasing their memories of their time with the Great Race. This erasure is not always perfect or permanent, however, which is how this information comes to us.

The Great Race is not native to earth. They came here using mental projection from an "elderly, dying world". When the pre-human version of the Great Race is destroyed, they project themselves into a beetle-like race that rises after humanity's fall. And when the beetles fall in their turn, the Great Race flees, again, to another planet.

When the Great Race first arrived on earth, they found it ruled by yet another race of alien invaders. These rulers are weirdly semi-physical, and have minds which the Great Race cannot exchange with. They are never named, but I will rever to them as the Wind People, since they are associated with unusual winds. The Great Race is able to drive the Wind People from the earth's surface, confining them to deep chambers within the earth. After some millions of years, however, the Wind People will burst forth in an orgy of vengeance to wipe out the Great Race. Afterwards, they retreat back beneath the earth, leaving the surface world to other sentient races that rise and fall over the aeons. Over time, the Wind People dwindle, and they are extinct by the era of the beetle race that immediately follows humanity.

Thus far, I have been summarizing details from the story. Now, onto my reactions.

Since we see them largely from their own point of view, the Great Race seem sympathetic on the surface. But they're really quite monstrous from a moral perspective. They repeatedly renew their species through the sacrifice of others. The story includes one brief reference to how, when they first came to earth, the minds they displaced were banished to the dying remnants of their old world. This is genocide on astoundingly large and cruel scale. How much worse is their next flight, where they leave the minds of innocent beetle-folk in their strange, cast-off bodies, to be torn apart by the Wind People, in retribution for crimes they never committed.

Even when the Great Race are not committing genocide, their researches involve kidnapping other sentients for years at a time, hugely disrupting their lives. And, while they officially frown on the practice, it's clear that many individuals of the Great Race seek to evade death from old age by stealing other bodies. These are *not* nice people.

Conversely, the Wind People are seen by the Great Race as horrific, but actual evidence of their evil is slight. Reading between the lines, the Wind People must have been sharing the earth at least semi-peacefully with another sentient race for a considerable time -- until the Great Race took over the minds of that race, en masse.

The one bit of direct experience we have of the Wind People comes when a human explorer discovers some ruins they inhabit. Though he flees in terror from them, they do not harm him. Indeed, it seems that they *rescue* him when he falls into an abyss. He doesn't seem to realize this, however.

The story clearly establishes that, by the time of the sentient race which immediately follows humanity, the Wind People are extinct. What painful irony if they were wiped out *by* humanity, due to prejudices inherited from the far more evil Great Race.

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